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Hello, Sweet Baby (Eisley’s Birth Story)

**Note: Open talk about surgery ahead.  If that’s not your jam, you might want to skip this post.**

 

The night before I went into preterm labor with Haven, I had no idea I would be giving birth the next day.  I was several weeks away from my due date.  So, I assume I got a pretty good night’s sleep, or as good as one can get at 35 weeks pregnant, anyway.

The night before Eisley was born, however, I knew exactly what was going down the next day.  She had been diagnosed with spina bifida halfway through my pregnancy-a birth defect in which her spinal column failed to close properly, leaving a portion open and exposed on her back.  We had decided with our specialists that a cesarean was the safest route for delivery, and I had spent the rest of my pregnancy slightly terrified of the impending surgery.

So, even though I knew I needed rest the night before, I just couldn’t go to bed.  I put Haven to bed on her last night as an only child.  I triple checked that my bags were packed.  Took a shower.  Laid in bed and tossed and turned-I was a giant bundle of nerves.  I’d say I was about 50% excited and 50% scared.  Not only was I having surgery, but my newborn baby would have surgery as well to close the defect on her back.

I somehow managed to squeeze in about 2 hours of sleep before it was time to go.  In the wee hours of the morning, we packed our hospital bags in the car and got ready to go.  I crept in to Haven’s room to whisper goodbye, and a tear slid down my face.  I knew she’d be fine staying with both of her Grandmas the next few days, I just didn’t know if I would be fine without her.

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Right before we left for the hospital.  This was my last belly pic at 39 weeks and 3 days.

When we arrived at the hospital, I got checked in, changed into my gown, and two nurses came in to start my IV.  The nurse who was placing it seemed like more of a newbie, and it took her a couple of tries.  She told me, “Wow!  Your vein just blew up like a balloon!” Not a good thing to say to someone who hates thinking about or looking at veins.  Ugh.  Even just typing it makes me want to puke.

As they wheeled me out of the room, I said bye to my Mom, who would wait in my recovery room during the surgery, and Josh was instructed to change into his scrubs.  The ride to the OR was shorter than I expected-through one set of double doors and we were there.

I slid down off the hospital bed, and shuffled into the OR, holding my gown closed so as not to moon any of the staff.  The room was COLD.  Like, frigid.  So, this is what an operating room looks like, I thought.  This was surgery numero uno for me, so I don’t know what I expected, but it was still surprising to me.

It took the anesthesiologist three tries to get my spinal block in, which wasn’t awesome, but it also wasn’t as bad as I expected.  It was such a strange sensation to suddenly have the entire lower half of your body numbed, and as they laid me back, strapped me down, and raised the curtain, I marveled at how I could sort of feel, but sort of not.  If you’ve had a c-section before, you know what I’m talking about.

Josh was finally allowed to come in, and I was relieved.  He was a little nervous for me, and we tried to make light conversation as they began the surgery.  It was weird to make small talk with my husband of 7.5 years, as if we had nothing better to talk about than the weather, but I needed to keep my mind off of the fact that I was being sliced open as we spoke.

I had pre-warned the OR staff that I did NOT want a play-by-play of what was happening, and they assured me that they would try to be as vague as possible.  But, then I heard, “We have a bleeder!”

Shoot.  That’s not good.  I may be no medical professional, but I’ve seen enough Grey’s Anatomy surgeries to know that bleeders are never a good thing.

The atmosphere in the OR became a bit more tense as they tried to stop the bleeding.

A few months before, as I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that I was definitely going to have a c-section, a friend with three cesareans under her belt told me that it feels like someone has a hold of your legs, and is tugging you back and forth.  As I laid on the operating table, I realized that’s exactly how it felt.

“Rupture!” A nurse called out, indicating when the amniotic sac broke open.  As they lifted her out, I suddenly felt lighter, like my body lifted from the table, ever so slightly.

And then, a cry.

When Haven was born a year and a half earlier, she weakly cried out once, and then nothing.  She did not have the strength to inflate her lungs on her own, as she was a month premature, and she was quickly given oxygen to help her breathe.

I hadn’t given much thought to how I hadn’t really heard much of a cry after Haven’s birth, but as I heard Eisley’s cry, it brought a wave of emotions that I hadn’t really expected.

Relief at hearing that my baby was ok. Wonder at the fact that I was hearing this person for the first time that I would love so much and know so deeply, and yet knowing nothing else about her in that moment other than her cry.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  And somehow, under all these emotions for my second born, a twinge of grief for my firstborn and how we had missed this moment with her.  If you’ve had an unexpected or traumatic birth, you know what I am talking about.  I think I will always carry little pieces of grief for both of my birth stories and how I wish I could change some things about the circumstances.

The anesthesiologist lowered the curtain a bit, and the doctor held Eisley up for us to see her.  I tried to lift my head, but either I couldn’t lift it far, or the angle I was at didn’t allow for me to see her.

They took her to the adjoining stabilization room to sanitize and cover her open defect on her back, and Josh went with her.

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Right after delivery.

Suddenly, I felt alone.

I could hear the OR team talking through closing me up, and I knew the anesthesiologist was somewhere behind my head, but it felt like it was just me and the ceiling tiles I was staring at.

I tried to busy my thoughts so I wouldn’t think too hard about what was happening with my body.  Then, the nausea hit.

“Umm,” I told the anesthesiologist, “I feel like I have to throw up.  What do I do?!” I felt a little panicked.  It’s not like I could run for a trash can to puke in.  “Just turn your head to the side,” he told me.

I turned to the side and dry heaved.  I was relieved I hadn’t actually puked on the OR floor.  That would have been embarrassing.

I don’t know if it was the 2 hours of sleep catching up to me, the blood loss, or the anti-nausea meds I was just given through the IV, but suddenly, I NEEDED to close my eyes.  I felt like a cartoon character from the 40’s or 50’s with anvils attached to my eyelids.  “I’m reeeeeeally tired,” I told the anesthesiologist. “You can sleep if you want to,” he said.

So I went to sleep, right there on the operating table as they put me back together.  It was the best sleep ever, I tell you.  When I woke up, which I have absolutely no idea how much time had passed, I felt like a million bucks.  Well, as much like a million bucks as you can while being operated on.

One of Eisley’s doctors came to update me.  “She is doing great,” he said. “She is 7lbs 5 oz, and 19 3/4 inches long.  We have covered her back to keep it sterile, and we are working on placing her IV.  Then, she’ll head down to the NICU to get settled in.”

Finally, they were done with me, and I felt like a weird, numb board as they tilted me back and forth to place a sheet under me to move me back to the bed.  As they wheeled me out, the same blunt nurse who had placed my IV earlier said, “It looks like a bloodbath on the floor.”  Ahem.  Again, NOT a good thing to say in front of your patient.

I was wheeled back to my room, where my Mom waited for me.  I spent the next hour or so trying as hard as I could to wiggle my toes.  The sooner I could move around, the sooner I would be able to get to the NICU to see Eisley.  My nurse told me that the c-section moms who deliver at this children’s hospital (who typically have babies who need medical intervention), are up and around much faster than other c-section moms in the community, because they are extra motivated by the incentive of getting to see their babies in the NICU.

Josh came back, and told us they were still trying to get her IV in.  Apparently, she was a very hard stick, and it was taking their very best people to get it right.  A few minutes later, a team of nurses wheeled Eisley in to see us. “Can I hold her?” I asked.

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I knew, going into Eisley’s birth, that I may not be able to hold her.  It was a hard reality to come to terms with, especially given the fact that I had not been able to hold Haven until several hours after she was born, and even then it was with wires everywhere and a bulky CPAP strapped to her head to help her breathe.  They assured me throughout my pregnancy that they would do their best to try to make it happen, but it really just depended on Eisley and how stable she was.

But, miracle of miracles, I got to hold her.

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It was only for maybe about 5 minutes, but it was 5 minutes that I didn’t know I would have, so it felt like heaven.  It was also healing, in a way.  While I still grieve that I didn’t get anything like this with Haven, I was so thankful that I got a few moments with Eisley, even if it was two hours later.

They took her to the NICU, where she was evaluated by neurosurgery.  They decided that she would have her closure surgery that day rather than waiting until the next day, and that she would, in fact, need a shunt to drain the extra fluid from her brain-a common side effect of spina bifida.

So, at seven hours old, she went in for surgery.  Oddly enough, I didn’t feel scared or anxious during this time.  I trusted the hands and the wisdom of the surgeons as they placed her tiny nerves back inside her spinal column.

Later that night, I was loaded up into a wheelchair, and my nurse pushed me down to the NICU while Josh followed behind, wheeling my IV pole.  We made our way to the back corner of the NICU, and I was able to sit next to Eisley’s bedside.

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She was still intubated from surgery, and she laid peacefully sleeping on her belly.  The monitors beeped as I leaned in, trying to ignore the pain in my abdomen, and I placed my hand gently on her upper back.  Her skin was soft and warm.

A whiteboard above her bed read, Today’s plan: Rest and Recover.

You and me both, Sweet Girl, I told her.

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Diagnosis Day

“Ok, we’re all done,” the ultrasound tech told us.  “I did see something fairly concerning, though.”

I steeled myself.

“Ok?” I replied.

“Have you ever heard of spina bifida?”

Honestly, the only context I had for spina bifida was Zola Grey Shepherd, the African orphan adopted by Derek and Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy.  I had no idea what it was, but I knew Derek had fixed her with his magic neurosurgeon hands and she was a perfectly normal girl.  But that was TV, and this was real life.  Magic neurosurgeon hands like Derek Shepherd’s do not exist in real life.

The ultrasound tech had us wait in the waiting room, while she called our nurse practitioner across the building to alert her to our situation.  As we waited, I began to cry.  After a preterm delivery with Haven, all I wanted was a healthy baby and a normal delivery.

We waited.

Waited, and waited.

In the spina bifida world, they always say, stay off of Google.  Google is your worst enemy.  I couldn’t help myself.  Sitting there with the name of a diagnosis but no knowledge except for Zola Shepherd was agonizing. I Googled.

A birth defect in which a developing baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly.

Can’t be cured, but treatment may help.

Pictures of babies with round, open defects on their backs.

“What is spina bifida?”  Josh asked me.  “I don’t really know,” I told him.  “But I know it’s not good.”

We were finally called back to speak with the nurse practitioner.  She told us that the baby had a neural tube defect, and the ultrasound would be reviewed for further information for official diagnosis.  She said that the defect was low, which usually means less of an impact on mobility.

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I felt ridiculous for crying, but I just couldn’t believe this was happening.  As we listened to the nurse practitioner, I sat with a tissue scrunched in my hand, wondering why we had to go through even more than we already had.  Miscarriage.  Premature birth and a NICU stay.  Now, this???

As we left, we began to call our family and friends to let them know.  I felt shattered.  This baby I was carrying suddenly felt foreign.  I felt like I was pregnant with a diagnosis, not with a baby.

We had asked the ultrasound tech to write down the gender and place it in an envelope, so we could be surprised at our gender reveal party two days later.  After learning of the baby’s diagnosis, we questioned if we even wanted to do the party anymore.  Hanging blue and pink decorations and cheerfully holding my belly in anticipation of learning if it was a boy or a girl was the last thing I felt like doing.  But, we decided to go ahead with the party.  I knew that if we just opened the envelope, we would be disappointed with how we found out, and we needed something to be fun.

The next day, as I drove back from the house of my friend who was hosting the party, I found myself alone in the car.  The tears came slowly, then turned into sobs.  It was the first time I really let myself vocalize the grief I felt.  I don’t want this, I sobbed. It’s too much.

I couldn’t be the parent of a disabled kid.  I had never even considered the possibility, but the reality was suddenly thrust upon me, and it felt overwhelming.

The next day, I was able to pull myself together a bit more.  It was party day, and I was relieved that I would finally learn more about who this person was.  I needed to bring my mind back to the baby, not the diagnosis.

We had planned a fun, backyard grill out for our gender reveal.  A few days before, we gave the envelope with the gender to a friend, and she had ordered Holi powder, the colored powder used in the Indian festival called Holi, as well as in color runs.  When I had envisioned this gender reveal months before, I imagined a cloud of pink or blue colored powder floating through the air.  We had done silly string for Haven’s reveal, so I thought Holi powder was as least as fun, if not more fun, than silly string.

We ate burgers and macaroni salad, kids ran through the sprinkler, and friends made guesses about the baby’s gender.  They all knew of the diagnosis, and solemn talk about what it meant for the baby was peppered in with the excitement of learning if it was a boy or a girl.  I felt mostly happy, but the party was still tinged with sadness.

It was finally time.  Our friend in the know brought out the men’s black dress socks filled with the powder (random, I know.  It was the best solution I could come up with for a container that you could reach into but not see).  Josh and I were given a sock each, and we reached in to pull the powder out to throw in the air.  The sock bounced off of my belly, leaving a pink mark.

“It’s a girl! It’s a girl!” One of the kids yelled out.  I was a little disappointed I didn’t find out with the cloud of colored powder I had imagined, but I threw it in the air, anyway.  Everyone cheered.  Socks were passed out to everyone, and a pink powder fight ensued.  It was quickly realized that the best way to color fight was by hitting each other with the socks.  It was as fun as it was hilarious.

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I turned to Haven, on my hip.  “You’re going to have a sister!”

The next day, we decided to name her.  Just like with the gender reveal, we needed to know her as a person, as more than her diagnosis.

We decided on Eisley Mae, and made a fun video with Haven to announce it to our family and friends.

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Over the next weeks and months, as we learned more about Eisley, spina bifida became less scary.  We knew she would have to have surgery right after birth to close the defect, we knew that she would definitely have a NICU stay, and we knew that she might have issues with mobility and might need a shunt to drain the extra fluid from her brain.

But she was still Eisley, and as my sister reminded me, she was always meant to be a part of our family, and we were meant to be her parents.  And I’m so thankful she is ours.

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New Name, New Season.

Every year, when the time comes to renew my domain name, I put it off.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because I’m a chronic email-notification-swiper-awayer, and then I forget about it, or because I inevitably end up letting it expire and it becomes more of a headache than it needs to be.

Whatever the case, this year, I decided I wanted a fresh start to my blog.

Many things have changed since I started it.  I began writing here while we were part of the way through with The World Race, so I could have a space to continue writing as we came home.  After returning to the States, we started trying to conceive and experienced the difficulty of a miscarriage, conceived again and had Haven, who was born a month early and had a NICU stay, Josh began the perfect job for him-working with inner city youth and camp ministry, and we had Eisley, who has spina bifida.

Along the way, I have discovered that my passion and my heart for this season lies with my children and my husband.  Earlier in our marriage, my heart was for the Nations and to serve outward, but now that has changed to serving inward to pour into my family.

As I was pondering a name change, I asked my sister if she had any suggestions.  She suggested Mend and Bloom, and I instantly fell in love with it.

Mend is a play on our last name (Mendenhall), and also references Eisley’s spina bifida, and how she was mended (get it?!) after her birth.  If you are wondering what spina bifida is, check out the Spina Bifida tab at the top. In short, it is a birth defect that develops in very early pregnancy.  A portion of her spinal column did not close all the way, leaving it to be open on her back.  She had surgery to place her spinal cord back inside her back at 7 hours old.

I also love the imagery of mending a family together.  There are too many times to count when Josh and I have said or done something that hurt or angered the other person.  We have a rule that we never go to bed angry, even if that means staying up until the wee hours of the morning to work it out.  Or there are the many times that my toddler is being disobedient or just cannot do the thing and she is on my last nerve.  Or when the baby is crying and the exhaustion sets in and I feel like there is absolutely no way that I can give any more of myself than I already have.  It’s in these moments that I remember that I can’t do this alone, say a little prayer, and find a way to fix it.  Mending and holding the family together is part of my job, and it’s one that I (usually) delight in doing.

And finally, Bloom.  At the beginning of this year, I wanted to find a word that I could focus on for the year.  My first thought was improve, because there were several areas of life that I wanted to improve in.  But that felt too rigid and dry.  The idea of improvement morphed into thrive.  Because yeah, I want to improve, but not so much so that I am miserable in trying to attain these ideals of perfection.  I want to do what I can, and celebrate the progress-I want to thrive in whatever stage I’m in.  I also want to help my family thrive, in the midst of the crazy, the mundane, and the challenges of life.  We’re on the cusp of Spring, and just yesterday, Josh pointed out that a tree across the street from us has the tiniest little blossoms starting to show.  I love all seasons for the special things they bring, but there is just something about the first blooms of Spring that makes my heart come alive.

20170225_215439-02.jpegMy super artistic doodle-drawn with jumbo crayons over naptime.

So.  I hope you will join me on this journey of pouring into my family and helping us to thrive.  If you’d like to follow along, there’s a little bar there to the right to enter your email address.

I hope you have a great week!

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