Wednesday, February 29, 2012

All Because of a Smoothie

As always seems to happen, the day before Abby's birthday is awash with memories, for it is the day before she arrived that her story really begins.

I'd had a very normal and healthy pregnancy. Everything was progressing just as it should - blissfully normal. I didn't even have any weird pregnancy cravings like pickles and peanut butter or Big Macs for breakfast - no all I wanted were smoothies. Any kind would do, banana and strawberry, blueberry and yogurt - I wasn't picky. My favorite, though were the ice cream smoothies - really, who doesn't like a good ice cream smoothie? We even invested in a fancy smoothie maker, I was in heaven.

Thirty-four weeks in we had our first baby shower. The church and school where I teach held a big bash and it was wonderful. We finally had what we needed to get the nursery organized and just right - in plenty of time for the baby's arrival. As luck would have it they were predicting a whopper of a snow storm the Monday night after the shower, so with thoughts of a snow day in my head I whipped up an extra special ice cream smoothie and began digging through the piles of newly acquired baby clothes.

The pain hit me that night about one or two in the morning. It wasn't "baby" pain but it was sharp enough to cause me to get sick. To this day I can still point to the exact spot where that pain materialized.  Thinking that it was better to be safe than sorry, we bundled up and headed to the hospital, in the thick of that winter storm we'd heard so much about. We arrived safely and were rushed quickly to the maternity ward. I was swiftly hooked up to monitors and blood samples were taken - then we waited. I still remember what my father-in-law said when we called to tell them we were at the hospital: "Too many smoothies!"

After an ultrasound on my gallbladder it was decided that I'd had an attack. Apparently, that is one of the side-effects of pregnancy. Your gallbladder can get lazy and let sludge build up. Seriously, that's how they explained it to us! All was just fine....until Jason went to see if I could get something to eat. It was now morning and I was starting to get seriously hungry. That's when the doctor came in.

I remember him going on about my liver enzymes and how they weren't going down as he'd expected. I remember him talking about something called HELLP syndrome. I remember him saying that there was a danger of my platelets dropping and my blood no longer being able to clot. I remember him telling Jason we didn't have time to get me to another hospital - one that could better handle a baby so premature. I remember him saying that if he didn't deliver the baby now I wouldn't make it.

Not 10 minutes after he made his proclamation I was on the operating table with people swarming around me like bees. All I wanted to do was yell at them all to stop. I needed just a minute to process what was happening. I wasn't ready. It was all happening too fast. As the anesthesiologist placed the mask over my face she kept saying, "You're doing great! You're doing just fine." My last thought was, I'm not doing anything!

I awoke to Jason standing over me telling me we had a little baby girl and that he had named her Abigail Elizabeth. I was still pretty out of it and since she was so small (4 lbs 11 oz) they immediately put her in the NICU for observation. They wheeled me past her, and I was able to see just the top of her head, but that was it.

I will forever be thankful for the drugs that kept me fuzzy for the next few hours, because that's when it got really scary. Abby began to have trouble breathing and they needed to put her on a respirator. Since our hospital was not fully equipped to deal with a baby as sick as she was they called the university hospital near us. A helicopter was dispatched and thankfully, despite the snow, it was able to land.

My hours old baby was packed up and flown through a snow storm to a hospital forty miles away. Jason and his dad followed in the car. I remember sitting in my bed, alone in my room, and thinking, What just happened?

It was the next day that Jason would tell me about Abby's heart problems, her breathing problems, and how the doctors speculated she had Down syndrome. To this day my biggest regret about those days is that Jason had to carry so much on his own.

He brought lots of pictures, but nothing could compare to being able to meet my daughter in person, which I did two days later. She was attached to a tangle of wires and machines, with a great tube taped to her mouth which was helping her to breathe. It would be a week before I could hold her in my arms, and just as long for them to confirm her diagnosis of Down syndrome.

As I sit here writing Abby is right next to me playing on "her" iPad. I look at her and see how much she has changed in the seven years since her rocky start - we both have. As she grows she continues to mold and shape me. I think back to that woman sitting by her child's bedside and wish I could whisper in her ear that everything would be more than "alright", that she has no idea of the wonderful adventure that awaits her, and the incredible blessing that is sleeping before her.

Jason never did forgive that smoothie maker for Abby's early start. When I got home from the hospital it had "magically" disappeared, and the word "smoothie" is still a bad word around here. Although I wish she did not have to struggle so mightily those first few weeks, I can clearly see God's hand in everything that happened. After all, I've learned that it is the unexpected blessings that I am the most thankful for.

This was the first time I got to hold her. It was the sweetest thing to have her look right at me. This still melts me.

Jason barely left her bedside. He would sit for hours just watching over her.  If only she knew then how her little hand held his heart.