Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Ella Amazing" - featured in MOPS Newsletter

Ella Grace was a miracle from the beginning. I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant since baby #1 sent my hormones into chaos. My thyroid decided to take some time off and thus, I was an exhausted new Mom. My doctors agreed: getting pregnant again would be a challenge. That was devastating news, but with a two-month old baby and a nap nowhere in sight, I decided to worry about that later.
Later came quickly. As I took another mid-afternoon rest with my baby, Owen, I wondered why I was so tired. The last time I needed a nap every afternoon was…. OH CRAP. I was pregnant again and had a six month old baby. We spent the next hour laughing and crying. This was a miracle, but I would have appreciated a little more of a “spaced-out” miracle.
And so became another unorthodox journey for us. Nick and I always did things that people talked about. We were engaged for only three months before we tied the knot – not because I was pregnant, but believe in condensing time frames. We moved to California with no jobs and nowhere to live. We quit our stable jobs to start a business and moved to Indiana all while being 8 months pregnant. And just when people started to think we were boring, we were joining the “two under two” club. Actually, forget that, we were in the “two under 16 months” club and my membership package did not include the spa treatment.
My first and second ultrasounds were too early to get a clear due date. But, one thing was certain: this baby was hanging out a little too low in my uterus. My midwife wanted me to be prepared for bleeding. Bleeding? There was a good chance that my body couldn’t “maintain” the pregnancy. And so, we just went on as if all was well. And it was.
When Ella made her grand entrance on February 22 of this year, she wasted no time. Seventy-five minutes after my water broke she was here with a full head of dark hair and olive. She was prettier than I ever imagined. Still, I felt like something was wrong. She had 10 fingers and 10 toes, but she cried a lot and would not breastfeed. Isn’t it funny how a mother always knows?
“Your baby has something called a cleft palate.” A what? I had heard of a cleft lip, which she obviously did not have, but what was this? “She also has something called Pierre Robin Sequence.” Within a few hours, we met with an Occupational Therapist who would be helping us feed Ella, a Respiratory Therapist who trained us on how to use an Apnea Monitor and signed us up for CPR classes. I heard nothing.
A cleft palate is a hole in the roof of the mouth. Ella’s cleft is in her soft palate, which is about as high and far back as you can reach with your tongue. Pierre Robin Sequence is a series of “birth defects” that include a cleft palate, small jaw, small chin and a tongue that falls back and blocks the airways. I decided I should find this “Pierre” guy and kick his you-know-what.
And so our journey began with therapists, feeding tubes, blocked airways, swallow studies, surgeons and fear. There was no hope in our home. This was not what we bargained for or planned. If we weren’t crying, we were fighting. And when the fighting stopped, the pain was deafening. We weren’t sleeping or eating well. We felt horrible. Each week we received more bad news. “She could be deaf. She will be blind. She will be developmentally delayed. “ It was too much.
We received some bad news about Ella’s eyes from a Pediatric Ophthalmologist when she was three months old. The optic nerve in her right eye stopped developing before birth. Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, he called it. Ok, we said. What do we do? Therapy? Glasses? Patching? Medicine? Surgery? Whatever it is, we will do it; let’s make this nerve grow! What we did not understand was this something that couldn’t be changed. The developing had to be done before those beautiful blue eyes left the womb. There was no humanly possible way that Ella could see out of that eye. Our baby was legally blind.
And as we walked to the car, my husband sobbing and carrying our sweet baby who had already gone through so much, I couldn’t help but feel peace. I remember thinking weeks ago: God is going to heal her eyes. At the time, I didn’t know there was anything to heal. What is humanly impossible to man, well, felt like a big fat challenge to God. I was scared of believing he could to this, but what was the alternative? Blindness? Never being able to read? Never learning to drive? Never getting to see how beautiful the flowers are in the early spring and how rich the leaves are in late September? Would Ella never see the beauty of her own eyes or recognize my face? And so, I chose to believe. I spent the next two weeks praying and reading stories of ALL of her “defects” being healed. Anytime we held her, we prayed. Anytime she slept, we prayed. I finally started to believe that God could do this, even though the world was screaming, “HE CAN’T.”
I recently read that we shrink the size of God to the size of our biggest problem. That doesn’t allow much room for the impossible, does it? But, He is so gracious and allows some room for our own faith to be lacking and to grow. He never disappoints, never breaks a promise and never leaves us to sit alone in our pain.
And so we asked for help. We had our friends come over to pray over this sweet baby who had already gone through so much. The crowd agreed that God was performing a miracle and the final word would be the doctor’s confirmation.
About a month later, we headed off to the doctor again. He couldn’t believe what he saw. “I must have made a mistake.” We knew it was no mistake. “I don’t understand this, but if her nerve has grown this much already, it might just keep on growing. I think she will be fine.” (We got a second opinion and the second doctor confirmed.) There was so much freedom in those words.
We decided it was time to slow down and get to know our new life and new daughter. And so we took July off from doctors and surgeons and swallow studies. We started to bond with her as a child, not as a tragedy. How fast our love grew! At 5 months, she finally started to smile and laugh. And each time she did, we cried with joy.
We spent the rest of the summer enjoying our life. Ella began to open our eyes to all that was worth living for in our world. Have you noticed the wind lately? It’s the same wind that has been around since we were kids, but have you stood outside and not worried about the state of your hair and let the wind blow across your cheeks? I hadn’t noticed it for years, but Ella did. She shuts her eyes and leans back her head and sighs – every time. And did you know there was sand at the beach? For so many years I was only worried about my tan and sucking in my stomach, but Ella showed me there was sand. And if you close your eyes, you can rub your feet across hot sand and you may even be tricked into thinking you are getting a foot massage! She has showed me how to “just be.” How I long to lie in bed and just relax and not think of all the things I’m not doing, but to just be here now. I love to watch her lying in her bed, just rolling around and smiling. She doesn’t worry about tomorrow, or the rest of today, she just is happy being Ella Grace, cutest baby of all time.
And that is not the whole story. Her first two weeks of life were spent in the Critical Care Unit in the NICU on IV fluids and an NG feeding tube. She failed six hearing tests, only to pass at seven months, finally. She has Torticollis and Strabismus, both which she receives treatment for. She has therapy three times per week, monthly swallow studies, x-rays, two surgeries down and one to go. She wears tiny purple glasses and eats from a tube in her belly. But, those things don’t define her anymore. She is a spunky, sixteen pound, brown-haired, blue-eyed beauty with a spirit that will make you smile. She has kicked every prognosis she was ever given in the rear end! We are so blessed that time, therapy and surgery should take care of all of her problems.
As for me, I have seen the person I truly am through this experience. I am not just an overtired, overweight, emotional wreck of a person. I am strong – strong enough to stand up to the most famous of doctors, strong enough to ask for help, strong enough to tube feed a baby every three hours around the clock, strong enough to be weak sometimes.
I think as wives and moms, we despise that dumb Proverbs 31 woman because she is everything we are not. She always looks good and always makes dinner and always makes her husband proud. A day of wearing sweats, frozen pizza and a messy house isn’t what we would consider an accomplishment! That woman is so misunderstood! When the scripture says, “She rises when it is still night,” it is not saying “She gets up at 4:30 a.m. to work out and make sandwiches for her family and put on lipstick.” The message there is that even when things were hard and life was dark and sad, she kept going. She didn’t quit on life or herself. She did what she didn’t always feel like doing because it was what needed to be done. She is strong. You are strong. I am strong. Ella is strong. God can use our weak times and our tragedies and turn them into stepping stones to the rest of our lives.
I received an email recently from my sister-in-law about Ella. She let me know that during the latest surgery, they had been praying. She continued to let me know that their daughter Lucy couldn’t wait to meet Ella and had renamed her “Ella Amazing.”
Tears poured from my eyes as I read those words. People always say I am lucky that to have such a happy baby in these circumstances. It was not luck. Ella has experienced the worst – being poked, examined, discouraged, stared at and scared– and now she knows what is the best. She is grateful for sunny days and gusts of wind and teething biscuits and warm baths. She loves the softness of her big brother’s hair and the warmth of her daddy’s shoulder. Ella loves life and has taught us to love it too. She truly is “Ella Amazing” and I am so grateful for her.