By the time Rebekah was 1 month old, she was having such severe apnea attacks that we nick-named her 'Blue Belle' because she frequently turned blue. In fact, in one 24 hour period, her monitor recorded a total of 384 events and maxed out the memory after just being downloaded! So its really no wonder why she was our Blue Belle.
Despite her apnea, she managed to grow and fight for life - but we were worn out. Finally, in a point of desperation, exhaustion, and hope, we decided 'palliative care' was not enough and we admitted her to the local Children's Hospital. It didn't take long for us to hear more than one conversation with a medical professional that our 'incompatible with life' daughter most likely had central apnea because her brain wasn't functioning properly and, if we continue down the path we were headed, she would end up trached, on a ventilator...a virtual vegetable with no emotions, reactions, awareness. And looking down the road a year from 'now', we would, like so many other parents, regret the decisions we were about to make.
Thankfully we did not listen to those opinions, and we requested a bunch of tests to determine exactly why Rebekah was having so many apnea attacks. She had a CT scan, a bronchoscopy, a sleep study, a swallow study, an MII (stomach acid probe test), all kinds of blood tests and cultures. Surprising all of the doctors, the evidence post-tests pointed to obstructive apnea in her upper airways, most likely caused by her micrognathia (small jaw). Within a two week period of these tests and trying out various solutions to address the obstruction, it was decided the easiest solution to give her the best quality of life outside of the hospital was a tracheostomy. Exactly one year ago on June 2, 2009, Rebekah had this life-saving operation and began the road to 'Redefining Incompatible with Life'! So yes, the doctor was right about the tracheostomy. But the rest of the picture is significantly different.
Was it easy? No, absolutely not. There were a lot of sacrifices across the board in our family. Our children were cared for by friends and church members for a month while Michael or I stayed by Rebekah's side around the clock. When she came home from the hospital, she was extremely fragile and we did not go anywhere or do anything. My kids' had a pretty 'boring' summer with no fun things to do. We didn't venture out very often. I was consumed with the task of caring for Rebekah and their quality time with Mommy and Daddy suffered for many months and into the fall school year.
Was it worth it? Absolutely YES! Despite all of the sacrifices and lack of 'fun', our family learned some very important lessons.
- We make sacrifices daily for the ones we love.
- We stand beside people when they are at their weakest.
- We help those who cannot help themselves.
- We love people (such as those who did not agree with our pursuit of extending Rebekah's life), even when they are unlovable.
- We humbly accept help when we cannot do something alone.
- We get to witness the hand of God at work when we are faithful and loyal to Him.
- Most of all, I think they learned that Mommy and Daddy love them all and would do anything for any one of them, and that EVERY life deserves a chance (even those that do not fall into the category of 'normal').
Rebekah may be extremely delayed, we cannot just get up and go somewhere at a whim anymore, and our family life doesn't fall into the category of 'normal', but here we are a year later with a thriving happy baby that most definitely knows us, loves us, and has an opinion about many things that she is more than happy to share! And, all praise given to God for Rebekah's progress and strength, this summer will restore the memories of fun summer breaks with vacations, visits to family, and lots of activities to fill up weeks on the summer calendar.
It still isn't easy...
- We've had some stressful moments along the way, but adversity can bring family closer together if you are willing to love one another and sacrifice for each other.
- Our family makes choices and decisions based on a love of God, a much deeper understanding of the fragility of life, and believing in the blessing of children. So our choices and decisions do not always follow the mainstream way of thinking. For that, I am often excluded from the crowd.
- I've lost some friends along the way. I'm sure it wasn't on purpose on either side, but when you just can't up and go when you want to, well...people tend to forget about you after awhile. (Out of sight, out of mind...). So I hear from my 'old' friends a lot less and that is jsut a sad fact of life. It does, at times, make me feel very lonely and secluded though, and I may have a momentary pity party for myself. That is, until my four boys come and give me a big hug and Rebekah bestows on my a smile that would melt the coldest of hearts.
- There is always that fear in the back of your mind that the scale will inevitably tip the other way and I will have to eventually face the inevitable. Each week brings more news of T-18 pregnancies that resulted in sadness or sick children that have lost the battle. The statistical evidence glares me in the face daily, and I feel like a momentary lottery winner with my 'long-term survivor'. But the truth is that death is a reality for every single one of us here on earth, because NONE of us are guaranteed another moment. So we need to enjoy each moment we have and fill it with important, purposeful things that we will not regret when we look back on our life.
How can I? I have a husband that loves and cherishes me, I have a beautiful family of five kids, I have a support group of t-18 friends that understand the hardships and blessings, and I know more than ever before that my Lord and Savior holds me close and comforts me.
Besides Rebekah redefining incompatible with life, I think I have also redefined me. I think the Lord has opened my eyes a lot in the past year. In general, little things bother me a lot less than they used to. It's not quite so important for my way to be the way things are done. It's not as necessary to get the last word in during a conversation or disagreement. I don't need to impress anyone. It's a lot less important to keep up with the Joneses, or for that matter, even care what they are up to. And I think I can truly love others much better than I could before (or at least understand what that means!).
I am in a good place right now. Our family is in a good place. And it is due to the blessing of raising Rebekah. So a year later, I asolutely do NOT regret any decision we've made or the changes it has brought to our family. We are blessed.
John 1:16 (NIV)
From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.