Maybe it's because I can't believe I have a ten year old or maybe it's because we have a 1 week old newborn but I've been reflecting on my kids' birth stories a lot this week. I realized that while I've written their stories down privately I've never really written them down for others. So for their birthdays this year I'm going to try and record them here.
I feel like I've told Emeline's birth story millions of times but then I'm always surprised by close friends and family who have never heard it. So I've decided after a decade I'm finally ready to write it all down :)
It's not that I don't like telling it but there are a few reasons that make me pause. 1) It was a very stressful night but also one of my most sacred. I regard a lot of the story a miracle but I know not everyone believes in those. 2) I hate when people tell newly pregnant ladies their "horror" stories and 3) because I know I have some friends who have not had happy endings to their stories like these and I love them and don't want to cause them pain.
Sometimes I feel like Emmy's story has become a kind of urban legend in my small town. People will often ask me to tell it in groups. Medical staff that were present use it to freak out new nurses when we go in for Emmy's annual check ups. I will still to this day have firefighters, paramedics, and nurses that I don't recognize come up to me and say that they were there the morning Emmy was born and that they still remember everything. Every time we have to see a new specialist and they read her medical records they always say "this has to be a typo". But it isn't! So here it is...
We moved to our little town when I was about 7 months pregnant with Emmy. Since I was switching obstetricians so late in the game my new doctor decided to do a new set of ultrasounds. In those ultrasounds Emmy was not moving, had a low heart rate and hadn't grown as much as she should have by then. At that point I was labeled high risk and had to start weekly non-stress tests where they have you drink some cold water and track the baby's movements. After a few weeks of failing the NSTs and Emmy not moving or growing they decided there was a problem with Emeline's umbilical cord and it would be best to induce labor and get her here.
So on Aug. 2nd I went to the hospital to have our first little girl. After about 19 hours and a couple rounds of pitocin I was stalled out at about a 7. I finally decided to go ahead and get an epidural at about 2:00am on Aug 3rd. By 2:30 I was ready to push and Emeline was born at 3:03.
Emeline was pretty purple and the doctor could not get her to breathe. After two minutes of trying to get her to breathe the doctor tried to use an oxygen bag on her but there was something blocking the air from getting to Emmy's lungs. At this point she lost her heartbeat also and a code blue was called. We were lucky to live in a small town because no patients were in the E.R. that night so they sent up two doctors from there to help us. Our pediatrician was also called and made a 12 minute drive to the hospital in about 4 min. (Something he is very proud of!). By the time everyone was assembled Emmy had been without oxygen for 15 minutes and had lost her heartbeat once. The E.R. doctor that came to assist started working on placing a chest tube but her little lungs still wouldn't inflate.
The first time I remember looking at the clock was at 3:23. It had been exactly 20 min. since Emmy was born with still no cry, sound or breath and I remember thinking this was it. In moments like that your brain goes through a lot of different thoughts at once. Terror, wishing for miracles, complete blank. At one point I remember thinking, we'll just get pregnant again and have another baby. And then you snap to and think "No, I want THIS baby!!!". I remember wanting to pray for Emeline but I couldn't get words out or remember how to put a prayer together. The hymn "The Lord is my Shepard" popped into my head and I started singing it out loud. One of the doctor's told the nurse to get me out of the room because I was losing it and so I told them I'd be quiet if they let me stay. Then suddenly the chest tube worked and they got oxygen into the lungs.
Unfortunately the pressure blew a hole through the bottom of her right lung but they were able to start doing some breathing for her. Once this happened they needed to wheel her to another room for more space and I think also because they didn't want Alex and I in the same room if they lost her. 5 minutes later my doctor came in and said that they had lost a heartbeat a second time and that they had tried everything but Emeline wasn't going to make it. This was when I finally started crying and we quickly called my parents to tell them to come to the hospital so that they could at least meet Emmy.
At 3:33, 30 minutes after Emeline was born my doctor came back in the room and told us that after Emeline's heart failed for the third time they had decided that nothing else could be done and stepped back from Emmy. She then told us that she wasn't a religious person but that once the doctors stepped back "an unseen presence entered the room and put life into Emeline". Her heart started beating, she took her first unaided breath and turned pink.
While Emeline was now stable the next question was what the lack of oxygen had done to her body. The three things they worry most about are the brain, eyes and kidneys at this point. The doctors told us that even though Emmy would probably survive there was a chance that she might be brain dead. In order to stop the brain from receiving further damage they decided to basically put her into a coma using medication. Before doing that they allowed Alex, me and my parents to see her.
I was still being put back together so to speak so I was the last one to be wheeled into the small closet of a NICU that they have at our little medical center. While I was on my way she peed for the first time which was a hopeful sign for her kidney functions. When I got to the room there was only one little hand that didn't have something attached to it. I held it and gave it a little kiss and said that I was her mom and I loved her and then she turned her little head and opened her eyes for the first time! The nurses got very excited because her eyes opening was another hopeful sign that she could respond to things.
Emeline needed to be transported to a bigger hospital about an hour and a half away but she needed too much equipment to fit into the usual helicopter. So we had to wait until a small airplane could come up from the other hospital to get her. We are LDS, so during this wait time Alex called our bishop (which is the ecclesiastical leader for our church group) and he came and helped Alex give me and Emeline priesthood blessings of health and peace. Our pediatrician, then realizing we were LDS, talked about how one of his sons friends had given them a Book of Mormon and that he'd read part of it before. He then told us about how he'd been in the room when Emeline started breathing and that he knew it was a miracle. He still tells this story as often as he can. Pretty much any time we are at the doctor's office for Emmy he'll pull a nurse into the room and say "see this girl, she was born dead and look at her now!" Each of the other nurses and doctors who had been part of helping Emmy also told us about the experience and how it was the biggest miracle they had witnessed. With many adding "and I'm not a religious person" :)
The airplane couldn't land at the hospital so Emmy needed to be taken to the airport via ambulance first. When the airplane was ready about half of the fire department came to the hospital to pick up Emeline and get her to the airport. There wasn't room for Alex and I to fly with her so Alex and my dad started the drive down to the new hospital. My doctor decided that I had lost a lot of blood and needed to stay one more night in the hospital before I could drive down.
By the time I finally made it down to see Emeline again she was about to be taken off of her ventilator. Finally, about 48 hours after she was born, I got to hold her for the first time! Over the next two weeks in the NICU she continued to get better and stronger. She passed test after test and was allowed to come home. She was still on an oxygen tank and some prescriptions that kept her pretty sleepy but we were out of the hospital at last!
From that point it was just a waiting game to see what parts of the brain would be affected. But she kept meeting many of her benchmarks. She was eating well, smiling, responding to sound, etc. As we continued to meet with an occupational therapist we did start to notice that in gross motor she began to fall behind. She started to sit up at about 1 year and was almost two when she took her first steps (during a game of charades by the way!). She had a hard time swallowing and drooled a lot. This made eating and talking difficult for her too. Around 18 months she started working with a physical therapist and speech therapist. At 3 years old she started at the developmental preschool in our district so she could have even more access to speech, OT and PT services.
Today Emmy is doing wonderfully! She has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She wears braces (AFO's) on both legs to help with her gait. She's graduated out of speech but will probably continue with OT and PT the rest of her life. She is such a hard worker and is always competing against herself to do things better, faster, etc. Once when she was around 4 years old this little boy at the park kept telling her how slow she was. So she came over to me and asked me to time her on the ladder to the slide. She kept doing it over and over until she thought her time was fast enough. That story always sticks with me because it really illustrates Emmy's approach to life!
I've sometimes been asked by other special needs mamas why I don't talk about it more. I just want Emmy to be able to tell her own story in the way she wants it told. I step in when she asks me to and we've talked with friends, or family, or classmates about what cerebral palsy is. But I don't want Emmy to be defined only by cerebral palsy. It's a part of who she is but it's not everything. Just like I'm not just a special needs mom, it's a part of who I am. And honestly, now that I have 5 kiddos I can see that all of us have special needs. Some of our needs are easier to see than others but all of us have strengths and weaknesses that we are working on all of the time.
I am so grateful for all of the things I've learned by being a mom to each of my kids. Emmy teaches me new lessons daily. (I have a lot to learn!) Even though I wish I could take away her struggles and I still grapple with feelings of guilt from her birth experience I do have peace that this is the way things are and the way they were supposed to be. I know that our family has grown and changed so much because of it. I think sometimes we look back and play the what if game. And we always assume that had we done things differently maybe it would have turned out better. But I think we have also acknowledge that maybe they would have turned out worse. Even though so many things went wrong with Emeline's birth, so many other things went right. There were ER doctors to spare, our pediatrician could get there quickly because it was the middle of the night, etc.
I'm so grateful for all of the people who were involved in saving Emeline's life. I can't even count all of the people who have been involved in her healing and growth and learning since then. We've been blessed with amazing doctors, specialists, nurses, therapists, and teachers who love Emeline and do so much good in her world! I sometimes read stories about people mistreating others with special needs or articles about "what not to say to mom's of special needs kiddos" etc. And while there have been hard moments where family or friends have not understood Emmy's disability or said something thoughtless there are mostly really happy moments where people just go out of their way to love Emmy or help our family. I love watching how kind other kids can be. I love getting to meet other parents or people that just give so much time to serve my little girl.
I can't believe it's been 10 years since she was born. When I think back to that first day, there was no way I could have ever predicted what life would have looked like today! -For one thing, I thought Emmy was going to be an only child :) I'm so lucky to have such a great kid! She's an amazing big sister for her siblings and she's got a giant spirit! I hope she has a great birthday. I love you Emeline!
Thanks for reading!