Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Paradox


I'm happy to report that our little Rosalie's recent surgery went well and 24 hours later she was cleared to come home (21 days after our ER trip due to her shunt infection). It has been a big adjustment having her home again, which means we still haven't fully figured out this family of 5 thing...but I'm thankful for being reunited so we can learn our new normal sooner than later!

This photo was taken on November 30, 2017. The calm before the (latest) storm. Since Thursday night I have called the on-call pediatric neurosurgeon multiple times and had an ER bag packed & ready to go at a moment's notice.

Thankfully (hopefully), I think what Rosalie is experiencing is mostly the normal neurological developmental phase known as the "purple period of crying" aka colic and we haven't yet hit a breaking point to suggest shunt issues. But since that day she absolutely refuses bottles - and at the time my milk supply was only enough for half of what she eats (a constant struggle as a result of so many hospital days since her birth), leading us to worry more each time she cries. Is she eating enough? Is there something wrong with her shunt? Is this just colic (and man, oh man, "just colic" is still quite the challenge in and of itself!)?

It took me a surprisingly long time to acknowledge and accept that we are now officially special needs parents. Really long. Like, embarassingly long. Until her recent hospital stay I only toyed with the idea, wondering if Rosalie really even falls into the special needs category (denial much?). But I finally accepted that no matter how you slice it, a hydrocephalus diagnosis requires special monitoring, regardless of how well Rosalie is doing. Even if Rosalie continues to be on track with her development there is no way to ignore that she has a brain condition that requires routine scans and regular appointments with specialists. And so, for the first time I have been deepening my previously shallow understanding of what it means to have a special needs kid.

It doesn't always mean that a child will have cognitive delays or physical delays (although that is often the case). But, it does mean that as parents we are always hypervigilant, scrutinizing each and every baby cry or movement, constantly discerning whether or not it is just normal baby stuff or if there is something bigger going on.

In our case it means having multiple numbers saved in my phone so I can contact whatever specialist I need if I ever get far enough past the hospital visits and recoveries to finally make it out of the house. It means having an "ER bag" packed by the coat closet - because I already have experience rushing Rosalie to the ER and have learned better what I could do to prepare.

It means following medical associations and foundations related to Rosalie's condition and joining parent support groups so I can arm myself with knowledge. It means a crash course and firsthand experience being my child's advocate - educating nurses about specific PT-given protocols for best shaping Rosalie's head, pushing the nurses to switch my daughter's room so she could have more eyes on her at all times, hounding each resident, PA, and attending physician with the same important questions to get the desired answers and results. It means being strong for my daughter, overcoming my natural discomfort for asking questions or making demands of strangers in order to protect and care for my child.

There is no doubt that becoming a mother has put me in plenty of situations throughout the years in which I had to overcome my own fears or discomforts in order to best care for or stand up for the needs of my kids - but being a special needs parent requires me to take my "mama bear" instincts to an entirely heightened, new level. 

I'd also be lying if I didn't admit that having a child with special needs has placed new demands and strains on my husband and me in our relationship - and I thank God that He has thus far granted us the graces needed to somehow find our way back to love and honest communication each time we begin to take out our stress and issues on one another.

There is no question that becoming special needs parents to our third child has been a unique, heavy cross that my husband and I are learning (and sometimes struggling) to carry together - but when I reflect on all the different types of crosses others carry I cannot help but feel that ours is a particularly beautiful one. After all, this cross comes with the best gift the Lord could possibly give us - a precious life to nurture and love! When I see that the reason for such a cross comes with having Rosalie in our lives that cross suddenly seems so light!

A couple of months into this journey and I feel like I've stumbled across the paradox of having a child with special needs: while it seems that the cross of constantly worrying about your child's medical health and safety and sometimes watching them struggle or suffer should be one of the heaviest crosses a parent can carry, it is surprisingly light precisely because our child and the love we have for them overshadows the rest and makes all the challenges worth it simply to have them in our lives.

Although I think St. Teresa of Calcutta said it far better:

"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."

Rosalie, I will proudly carry this cross for you - and if it is my path to heaven then I cannot thank the Lord enough for making my path such an easy one. Because caring for you is one of the most simple, natural, joyful things in the world. You are made for big things and I'm humbled to have a part in your life's journey. Xoxo.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

That Newborn Smell


You know, whenever people used to talk about that oh-so-good "newborn baby smell" I never fully understood what they meant. Baptism chrism oil smell? Sure (and I do love it so!). But the normal smell of newborn skin? I was a bit clueless. This is probably because my nursing babies were ALWAYS with me/on me/next to me - and it is difficult to fully appreciate a smell you're constantly surrounded by....

Then came Rosalie.

When she was in the NICU they gave me a small butterfly blanket to put inside my shirt and leave with her so she would be comforted by my smell, but because of the limited positioning we could hold her in after her brain surgery I did not yet fully know HER smell. Once we brought her home I quickly got to know all about her - but I still had no idea how she filled our house with her smell.

Then, after spending over 24 hours straight at the hospital for her recent ER trip and emergency surgery I went home to shower and get some things; I walked into our downstairs guest room where she and I had been sleeping and her scent completely wrapped itself around me, like a familiar blanket or favorite sweatshirt. 

I tried hard not to cry because suddenly - for the first time - I knew her smell and I missed it in ways that made my heart ache. I wanted so badly to be holding her in my arms, but she was back at the hospital.

Every day since then I have spent an average of 10 hours at the hospital (some days more, some days less) and the majority of that time is spent clutching her to my chest, smelling her forehead. Never before have I known so intimately the exact smell of one of my babies or cherished it so much.

If you are blessed to have a baby in your home, please give them a long hug - and don't forget to smell the top of their precious, little head. I pray that the day never comes that you first discover your baby's smell because they are no longer with you.

I'm so incredibly thankful that our dear Rosalie will soon be filling our home with her sweet smell once again! Please pray for her next shunt surgery to go smoothly on Monday morning - with NO infection this time!

"It's a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what's changed is you."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald

Friday, November 10, 2017

Back to life in the hospital....


Unfortunately our 6-week-old hydrocephalus warrior has undergone a 2nd brain surgery far sooner than we ever imagined.

After a few good weeks at home, Rosalie began acting more fussy than usual for a couple days leading up to a breaking point early Wednesday morning when she became inconsolable and spiked a fever. Shunt issues are certainly on our radar & fortunately we had educated ourselves well enough on the signs of both shunt infection and shunt malfunction to know something could be seriously wrong. So, I rushed Rosalie to the ER. Her fever had increased her temperature to 101.3 degrees and they began the process of taking samples to check for infection. After speaking to her neurosurgeon they were instructed to transport Rosalie to Duke University Hospital so that she would have her usual specialists & they could tap her shunt to check for infection.

Long story short, I spent an entire day in the ER as Rosalie got an MRI, a shunt series of Xrays, & multiple cultures taken from bodily fluids which led us to discover that not only was a shunt revision necessary, but her shunt was infected & would have to be replaced.

Ready for surgery, waiting for her operating room.

Late Wednesday night (11/8) once the shunt infection was confirmed she was whisked away for surgery to immediately remove the infected shunt. They placed a temporary external draining system that will manage the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) levels while she is shuntless; once antibiotics can flush out the infection throughout the next week or so then a new shunt will be placed.

This means that Rosalie will be in the hospital for at least a week, possibly longer depending on how long it takes for the infection to clear.

The risk of infection with Rosalie's brain surgeries is about 8-10% & we were well aware that after a shunt surgery the risk of infection is pretty high for the first few months, but we never imagined that Rosalie's very first shunt would become infected (her incision healed beautifully, so the cause is most likely that a tiny bit of skin flora got in during the surgery). It is not uncommon for children with hydrocephalus to experience multiple brain surgeries (in the double digits) to either revise or entirely replace shunts but we were hoping we might be some of the lucky ones that wouldn't need any additional surgeries - at least for a long time.

Rosalie's shunt removal surgery went well and her neurosurgeon is working hard with the infectious diseases team to help pinpoint exactly what types of bacteria are present in the CSF - so they can hone in on which antibiotics to continue with. 

She is being cared for in the pediatric "stepdown" unit, which is a less stressful environment than the intensive care nursery with a more intermediate level of care. She is hooked up to several monitors and is being watched around the clock, but thankfully the stepdown unit is a much more family-friendly place. We have a recliner, which allows us the option to stay overnight - and the unit has a parents' lounge, restroom, kitchenette, & even provides a shower stall with toiletries. We are allowed to have food and drinks & as a breastfeeding mom I am provided meals. So, we are able to stay in the unit with Rosalie with greater ease and comfort than her days in the ICN & for all of that we are grateful.

It is also worth mentioning that with this unforeseen emergency situation our local Catholic community has truly rallied around us, offering assistance with things like childcare until my mom can arrive, meals, having our groceries delivered(!), and providing much emotional and prayer support. We even have a friend that works at the hospital in pediatrics, so during his shift he brought me food right before Rosalie's surgery. Seeing a friendly face after a very long, isolating day filled with doctors and nurses (while my husband unexpectedly worked from home & cared for our boys) was a very welcome and much-appreciated encounter. I cannot express how blessed we have been by the people that we know here & I constantly thank God for leading us to this place - a place where Rosalie has such incredible medical care & we are surrounded by such good, faithful friends that go above and beyond supporting us during a crisis.

I wish that I could say more, but right now is a busy time and I need to get ready to head back to the hospital once my mom arrives to take care of our 4 and 2 year old boys.

So content after surgery because she was able to eat for the first time
in nearly 24 hours!

Thank you again for all of your prayers & support. Our little hydrocephalus warrior is so strong and handling all of this very well, but please pray for the infection to heal ASAP so she can get her new shunt and come home soon!

“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
-Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

Monday, October 16, 2017

Introducing Rosalie Elisabeth!


After a long-anticipated arrival, I am happy to officially introduce our sweet Rosalie Elisabeth! She was born on Monday, September 25th, at 9:05am and is officially 3 weeks old today.

In her daddy's arms shortly after birth
~36 hours old, after her first bath in preparation for surgery

As you can see, Rosalie's hydrocephalus caused her head to be very large/swollen at birth (these particular photos hardly do it justice). Then, at 2 days old Rosalie had brain surgery to drain the excessive amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) that had accumulated throughout the pregnancy & to place a shunt, which will continue to manage her hydrocephalus. 

At birth Rosalie was 20 inches long and weighed 8lbs 10oz, but over a pound of her weight came from the extra CSF in her brain. Shortly after surgery she weighed about 7 lbs 5 oz. Additionally, her head circumference at birth was about 46cm and after surgery it was 39cm. It continued shifting between 37-39cm in the following days and probably will for some time as her bone plates settle and her fontanelles eventually close. 

To say that Rosalie (and Michael and I) have been through a lot of changes in the past 3 weeks would be a severe understatement. 

Rosalie spent 11 days in the intensive care nursery and I'm pretty sure those days were both the longest & shortest of our lives. I have so many thoughts about having a NICU baby, but for now I'll simply say that I'm thankful we have moved beyond that chapter of our lives and can now be together as a family at home. Her adoring big brothers are thrilled as well!

It is crazy to think that today, October 16th, was Rosalie's actual due date because I cannot wrap my head around what these past few weeks would have been like if we had not yet seen or held Rosalie, or lived through all that we have experienced with her already. 

As soon as we learned about Rosalie's hydrocephalus diagnosis I took great comfort knowing that her due date fell on the feast of St. Gerard, the patron saint of expectant mothers known for working miracles for mothers and babies in dangerous pregnancy and/or labor situations. However, I'm grateful that Rosalie was not born on this day - because a neurosurgeon made it clear to us months ago that not only would the severity of the swelling in Rosalie's head require a C-section, but it would also require her to get a shunt as soon as possible...which led to her birth being scheduled for the very day she reached full-term (37 weeks).

Of course we'll never know if those 3 weeks would have made a difference in regards to Rosalie's hydrocephalus and its impact on her brain, but we (along with her medical specialists) feel strongly that it very well could have. 

Rosalie's MRI at birth showed a head so filled with fluid that you could barely see ANY of her greatly-compressed brain matter. However, about a week after surgery (and relieving the extreme pressure from her brain) her MRI showed how beautifully her brain had been "decompressing" or "expanding," which is a very, very promising thing in regards to her future cognitive and physical development because it appears that the corpus callosum is the only brain structure that did not form (a common occurrence with hydrocephalus). Had we waited another 3 weeks her brain may never have decompressed as much as it did...and there is always the chance that her brain's lateral ventricles could have been so swollen she might not have made it....

In short, we are so grateful that our daughter has access to such excellent medical care; we are surrounded by intelligent doctors that have given Rosalie a very bright start & we are thrilled that her surgery has been successful!

Our journey with hydrocephalus has hardly begun and there are still many unknowns, but it is an exciting time because it means that - after what felt like an agonizing number of months of anticipation and uncertainty - life with Rosalie Elisabeth here in our arms is well underway. :) 

To all of you that have been following Rosalie's story and praying for her all these months: I cannot thank you enough. May God bless you, because your prayers have greatly blessed our family and especially our little girl. We truly could not have gotten through the pregnancy as we did without your prayer support. 

"Before you were here we dreamed of you, we imagined you, we prayed for you. Now that you are here, we hope for you, we love you, we thank God for you."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Ready for Rosalie


Somehow this pregnancy has managed to pass in the blink of an eye - even though some parts of it felt slower than molasses.... It's hard to wrap my head around the fact that we discovered Rosalie's prenatal diagnosis about 18 weeks ago. 18 weeks! These past 4.5 months have been quite a journey and now we find ourselves preparing for an even greater adventure in just a few days - life with Rosalie Elisabeth!

36 weeks pregnant (okay, 1 day before, but close enough!)

We learned awhile ago that the severity of Rosalie's hydrocephalus meant I would need a planned C-section at 37 weeks (as soon as she is considered full-term/not premature) so that she can have a shunt placed in her brain as soon as possible. Way back when we first learned of her hydrocephalus diagnosis we also learned that there is nothing to do about it during pregnancy - besides monitoring the swelling, hoping, praying, and arming ourselves with all the possible knowledge through various consultations with specialists, of course. Beyond that, we simply had to wait.

Well, we've waited. And waited (and kept ourselves busy preparing for what we can as we've moved forward). And here we are in the homestretch!

Rosalie Elisabeth will be born bright and early Monday morning on September 25th. Assuming a safe delivery, the plans for her first 24 hours of life include: having an MRI, meeting her big brothers, getting baptized, and having brain surgery to place a shunt (which will begin alleviating all the extra pressure her brain has been experiencing from the build-up of cerebral spinal fluid). I'll join her in the intensive care nursery as soon as I can get out of recovery, but thankfully Michael will be by her side right from the start.

Honestly, I'm probably a lot more anxious about everything than I've let on (or even allowed myself to previously admit to myself) because this final week has brought on a whirlwind of sudden, unforeseen emotions and 9-months-pregnant tears...but there are so many things that have also brought me great peace and joy along the way. 

Number one, your prayers have helped. I don't like to admit that I have struggled to pray about all of this as much as I feel I should have been praying all along...but there are many times I felt too drained to pray myself. Just knowing so many of you have been holding us in prayer has truly carried me through. 

Secondly, we have had wonderful, compassionate support - from medical professionals, our family, friends, and the fantastic people we've met through the Be Not Afraid ministry. I've been blessed with friends to cry with, talk with, celebrate Rosalie's life with, and I cannot believe the incredible tangible gifts people have given us - through watching our kids during medical appointments and/or showering us with thoughtful notes or gifts for our baby girl.

The final thing that has brought me a lot of peace and immense joy has been preparing our new house for Rosalie's arrival. I nested hard, acquiring and installing curtains, artwork, frames, & shelves in ALL of the kids' bedrooms, among many other things. Most especially, though, designing and arranging beautiful (girly!) decorations for Rosalie's room gave my heart something happy, lovely, and productive to focus on during all those months of waiting to meet her and start getting some more answers about how she may be impacted by the hydrocephalus.

Now, simply standing in the nursery is cathartic for me as I look around and see tangible signs of our love, prayers, and joy that we get to finally hold her soon. Naturally, I am happy to share a few pictures of the finished product with all of you:

I was super excited to support a few Catholic artisans when choosing artwork for all the kids' bedrooms and could not be happier with everything I ordered! Rosalie's room features a floral heart with a custom quote from JustLovePrints (above left) and a floral watercolor of North Carolina from FawnlyPrints (above right).

Did y'all know that Raleigh, North Carolina is called the City of Oaks? That fun fact led me to find some beautiful artwork on Etsy, including a print (above far right) that features the quote, "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow." I still can't get over how perfect that is for our little hydrocephalus warrior's nursery!

Months ago we began asking everyone to pray for Rosalie through the intercession of St. Gianna, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Gerard, so it was really important to me that I display their pictures somewhere (see the little frames above). The bird print seen here is from yet another Catholic Etsy shop, WhenBeautyMetTruth.

And finally...her ever-increasing collection of headbands and bows. ;) Even more touching is the fact that a friend hand-painted that canvas featuring Rosalie's name and a verse from 1 Samuel. It was such a thoughtful gift I received at Rosalie's baby shower this past weekend and it matches her room's decor beautifully!

At this point, we've done all the "big" things and are simply tying off a few, small loose ends (like packing a hospital bag, getting myself a haircut and mani/pedi, & meeting the priest that will baptize Rosalie when I go for confession and the anointing of the sick in anticipation of my C-section). But realistically, we are so ready to meet you, baby Rosalie. 

To all our family and friends: if you would like to receive Rosalie's medical updates please make sure to get the link to her Caring Bridge site within the next few days (or reach out to my mom or someone else for that info if you're reading this when I'll be in the hospital).

As always, thank you for your continued prayers!

"Just when you think you know love, something little comes along to remind you just how big it really is."

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Celebrating Life (with Professional Family Photos)


In the past I never really wanted to get any professional photos taken during pregnancy. Sure, I would admire other people's sweet family/maternity photos, but somewhere deep inside there was a vain part of me that had no desire to spend money on images that highlighted me when I was anything but my "normal" self. Don't get me wrong - I have loved capturing "baby bump" images throughout all 3 of my pregnancies (as evidenced somewhat by this blog and largely by my private Instagram account)...but to actually invest money in maternity photos? No thanks.

But boy, did a prenatal diagnosis entirely change my thinking.

The first couple of days after our 18-week anatomy scan were emotionally tough and draining as my husband and I processed everything we had been told (and further researched) about our daughter's brain condition. Honestly, it wasn't until the afternoon of the 3rd day that Michael and I finally got to a good place as a couple; only once each of us had gone through 2 long days of our individual processes of handling the initial grief were we blessed to have a fruitful, beautiful conversation that ended with us being on the same page moving forward.

Before that afternoon conversation, though, we had Saturday morning plans to do a fun gender reveal for our kids - something we had been planning to do well before we discovered anything out of the ordinary.

As I made play dough and crafted a little volcano filled with baking soda and pink food dye the night before the gender reveal, I remember Michael questioning if I still wanted to do it for the boys as originally planned. By the time he asked me, though, I had already firmly resolved not to allow any tears, worries, or fears stop us from also celebrating all the good things we had to rejoice about. And man, oh man, was I excited to share the news with the boys about having a baby sister!

That resolution about pushing forward with the gender reveal and creating a happy family memory amidst Michael's and my own struggles with initial sadness or anger laid the foundation for how I would begin to approach the rest of this pregnancy.

Since that day I have found much peace in doing ALL the things I can to truly cherish this pregnancy (despite it looking and feeling unlike anything I could have imagined). I find myself constantly doing my best to intentionally live it to the fullest and be thankful for it - uncomfortable aches or pains and all. After all, we have been blessed with a daughter(!) - our Rosalie.

So, for the very first time during a pregnancy I truly wanted to get some professional family photos taken, despite the reality that I may feel uncomfortable or awkward. But, with all the other things we've had going on and budgeted for as we continue settling in our house and planning for Rosalie's arrival (landscaping, installing a fence, purchasing a van, just to name a few) I never would have dared to suggest out loud that we budget the time or money to have our photos taken.

Cue my friend, Giedre! She's an incredibly talented photographer that just relocated to North Carolina. She approached me about doing a family session to help build her local portfolio as she transitions her website from looking iconically "Chicago" to "Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill." Thank Goodness she thought of us, because it was just the push Michael and I needed to actually prioritize photos in the midst of everything else we've had going on.

And her photos are ones we will cherish for years to come. Here are some of my favorites:





Another perk of Giedre approaching me when she did was that we were able to do the photo shoot during my grandmother's recent visit! Getting some photos with her was an extra-special bonus.

Seriously, if you need a lifestyle portrait photographer in the Triangle area of NC check out Walking Dot Photography. Photographing 2 toddler boys is no easy feat, but Giedre managed to get some beautiful, honest images of our boys (and the entire family).

Truly, she captured Gabriel's (right) and Peter's (left) personalities in a single, sweet photo (above)!

Plus, she made sure the pregnant mama felt beautiful and loved with lots of kisses. ;)

I don't think Giedre had any idea just how much this photo session meant to me, but I'm immensely grateful she captured this precious time in our lives for us. Someday I hope to show these pictures to Rosalie - and she will see the love our family has for one another and how she was included in that love long before she was even born.

"For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him."

1 Samuel 1:27

Monday, August 28, 2017

Introducing...(A Baby Name Reveal!)


Hands-down one of my favorite parts of pregnancy is going through the process (with my husband) of discerning our baby's name. I specifically say "discerning" rather than "choosing" because we feel strongly that names help reveal something about who we are as the Lord intends us to be - which means as parents we take care to find the "right" name that our child will be called for all eternity.

When I was pregnant with Peter we initially had a wonderful name all figured out and agreed to sit with it and pray about it - and sure enough, within a month or two my husband and I both felt that it simply wasn't right for him. We didn't know why, nor did we know what name we SHOULD give Peter at the time, but after prayerful consideration we knew the first name just wasn't him. So, we kept at it and eventually found the name we felt at peace about - the one we feel is surely who he is.

Because of how seriously we take the naming process, my husband and I tend to keep our name choices to ourselves until the day the baby is born (which is NOT to imply that people who share names earlier do not take it seriously - I'm simply sharing the reasoning behind our typical process). Waiting gives us time to rightly discern who we think our baby is (because clearly sometimes we feel led to change our selections!) as well as have that time to simply bond with the baby in a special way before inviting the entire world in.

But, as with all things parenting-related: sometimes our position changes and/or our process evolves with each child to suit the specific circumstances. Which is just a fancy way of saying that this time around we have decided to share our baby's name sooner!!!

Because of our daughter's brain condition, many of you have asked if we would share her name early so that y'all can be praying for her by name - and at this point my husband and I have agreed that it just makes good sense to do so. Plus, we have been confident about her name for awhile now.

Without further ado, I would like to introduce to you:

I plan to share more later about how Rosalie got her name, but for now I will simply point out that Rosalie is a French name meaning "Rose" and Elisabeth is a Hebrew name meaning "My God is an oath/oath of God" or "God is satisfaction/My God is abundance."

Thank you again to everyone holding sweet Rosalie in your prayers!

"God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it."
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2158