My Baby Girl’s Ordeal

When Mom asked me to share my story about times when I’ve felt desperate as a mother, the memories came flooding back.  (You can read my Wyatt story from yesterday here.) I have four children, and two had serious but short term health issues as newborns. Recalling what I went through made me think about whether some of you may have much more serious concerns with your children. I’m sure my story doesn’t compare with those of other moms who deal with the daily challenges of chronic illness or special needs children. You are my heroes and I hope my experiences don’t sound whiny compared to what you have gone or are going through.

I wanted to let you know that today’s story includes some images you may find disturbing. When I found them for Mom the tears came all over again. Let me explain.

Partly because Annie, our third, was nearly born in the car on the way to the hospital, PJ and I decided to have our fourth at home. With Dad and a couple of siblings speeding home from a youth retreat to try and make the birth (they arrived just 10 minutes late) and Mom coaching me again through transition, Danae Jewel arrived. She was perfect except for a cyst in her left nostril. Thinking it was simply a blocked tear duct, a specialist assured us everything would be fine. However, after attempting to drain the tear duct through her nose an infection broke out, resulting in the area around her eye swelling to about the size of a golf ball.  A follow up visit to the specialist was scary, especially when he panicked and rushed us to the hospital with warnings of cancer, infection hitting the optic nerve causing blindness or death, or other possible horrible outcomes.

It was hard to look at my baby girl without crying.

It was hard to look at my baby girl without crying.

Again I held a newborn baby in desperation.  She, unlike Wyatt, was not screaming. She was peaceful even in intense pain. She cried only when they put iv’s in her tiny head and then again right before she fell asleep before surgery. Once again I had a sick newborn that caused me to fall on my face because I felt so out of control and there was nothing else to do.

I cried out to God to protect my son from a life of disability and that we would make it just one more day. I prayed for myself – that my anger would not cause me to do something I would regret.  Then I sobbed in the hospital room looking at my baby girl covered in iv’s with her little face so swollen, yet giving me a big, dimpled smile.  I laid my hands on her many times a day praying, hoping she would not only fight the infection but also be spared from the scary side affects.

Things went from bad to worse. People looked away; I understood why.

Things went from bad to worse. People looked away; I understood why.

God used sick newborns to teach me something I didn’t learn from years of being raised in the church by godly parents: God’s grace is always sufficient even when I’m too tired to ask for it. God’s grace gave me strength to not only love my son, but to also form a bond with him that still grows to this day.  Because of his sickness, for six long months I was forced to hold and care for him when I was exhausted, and to spend what energy I had begging God for help. Then two years later that same grace was sufficient in the hospital room when dark thoughts came. When the enemy tempted me to believe that God would take my daughter as a test. When Mom left and I laid there holding my baby girl alone in the dark. When specialists couldn’t tell me exactly what would happen.

Danae third imageHis presence was there to comfort and to help me trust Him when my faith was weak.

Since Wyatt and Danae’s births more trials have come. Trials I would have never imagined I would face. The beautiful thing, though, is how God used the desperations I experienced as a mother to prepare me to rely on Him in some even darker times ahead.

God really does choose our trials. Health issues with my kids taught me to trust Him when life is out of control. I wish I could say I walked through the post newborn trials without faltering in my faith. I didn’t. In fact, I failed miserably at times. But when I read that “God causes all things to work together for good” now, I believe it as never before.

Such a happy baby. And now a happy little girl.

Such a happy baby. And now a happy little girl.

He could have chosen for Wyatt and Danae to have serious consequences from their newborn issues. Danae could have had cancer or died from the infection. I’m grateful that, as you can see below, they are healthy and just celebrated their 5th and 8th birthdays this past week. But I’m glad that He used them and their suffering to remind me that my only hope is in Jesus and that even when I’m weak and faithless He is strong and faithful.

That was worth it.

My princess at her princess birthday party last week.

My princess at her princess birthday party last week.

My little man. How I love him!

My little man. How I love him!

Desperate Fatigue

One of the mothering trials that can produce desperate mothers is health concerns with our children. Watching my oldest daughter, Jaime, walk through the fear and fatigue of watching her babies suffer was one of the hardest things I have endured as a mother.

Do you have a child with health challenges or know someone who does? Whether the trials you face with a child’s illness last weeks or months or years, I pray Jaime’s story will encourage your heart. I’ve asked her to open her heart and story to you today and tomorrow.

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Wyatt newborn

He was a cute and healthy newborn. But things soon changed.

Desperation in a mother’s life can have many different faces.  I have seen many of them through various circumstances and challenges I have faced in nearly 12 years of motherhood. There are two times in those years, however, when desperation tested my faith and pushed me toward God like never before….

From the first days after my second born, Wyatt, was born I knew something wasn’t right. He didn’t nurse correctly and didn’t start gaining weight. He seemed to be alarmed by every little noise.  Hours after his birth Mom flew to Texas to witness the birth of my older brother’s first child just three days later; we shared many late night long distance conversations trying to “fix” the problems.

Wyatt spent the first six months of his life screaming. He literally didn’t stop crying, would sleep in only 30 to 45-minute spurts only to wake up to start screaming again. He was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder, a neurological condition that prevents the brain from properly integrating certain information received from the body’s five basic sensory systems. These sensory systems are responsible for detecting sights, sounds, smell, tastes, temperatures, pain and the position and movements of the body.  For a newborn, this meant that ANY new stimulus would send him into a frenzy for days.  One week, for example, I decided to take a huge risk and go to Target.  Bad idea. Wyatt didn’t sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time for 72 hours after that trip.

He would be quiet for minutes at a time with a passy - we had lots of them.

He would be quiet for minutes at a time with a passy – we had lots of them.

I spent six months of my life at home: shades closed, praying and playing soft music (yes, I spent some serious time on the internet looking for any possible help.) I begged God to heal him and to help me to love this fussy, demanding little boy. My frantic internet searches resulted in panic a few times when I read what his problems may have been.  I feared for his future as a man. What if he NEVER left the house!  A lot of this was somewhat irrational due to sleep deprivation, but it felt real. It was certainly real when I called my mom over and over to assure me he was okay, but mostly to sit up with him so I could get some sleep. Again.

Those months were some of the darkest of my life. First time motherhood had been a comparative breeze to the exhaustion and fear of having a sick newborn. Would he be okay? Would I give in to resentment toward God and my little son for my maternal dream of life with my daughter and son remaining a nightmare instead? And how self-pitying could I be for having to care for a sick baby when others faced much more serious situations with their children that I was walking through?

Wyatt burping

Dad was a master burper and spent many hours over the months pacing with his grandson. Such a good Papa.

Exhaustion, guilt, questioning God, and fear were stalking me daily. Night after night I tried to sleep and just when my eyes got heavy he would start to cry…again. Then the next morning 4-year-old Kayla would wake up happy and ready for a new day. I’m glad she can’t remember those long days with an anxious, weary mommy.

Wyatt slowly improved. Once we learned his frenulum (the skin attaching the tongue to the backside of the gum line) was tight, we had it clipped. Before long the gassiness subsided and he became an adorable, happy and chubby little boy.

Dad and Mom stopped having to come over to pace with him on Sunday nights. Mom stopped getting as many S.O.S. calls and didn’t have to come as often to scrub toilets or stay with the kids so I could get a short break. For a few weeks I was sleeping for several hours in a row each night before feeding Wyatt and then watching him fall peacefully to sleep again. I was finally starting to normal.

I finally had a chubby, happy little boy!

I finally had a chubby, happy little boy!

Until the day when he was just eight months old when I called Mom in tears. Maybe she would convince me that the positive pregnancy test I just did was wrong.

Wyatt was finally getting better and I had hope that I wouldn’t be exhausted forever. How was I going to face morning sickness, pregnancy fatigue and agonizing anxiety about how I would cope with two children in 15 months on the heels of some of the hardest months of my life?

What if the next baby was like Wyatt? There was no way I could go through that again.

She wasn’t. Annie was a pretty easy newborn but God chooses our trials and our blessings. You’ll probably laugh (just like Mom nervously did on my next shocking phone call). When Annie was just nine months old I was pregnant again.

And this time there were different trials that I couldn’t anticipate and would have never chosen.

Three children in three years. And two of them were sick newborns.

I’ll share the rest of the story tomorrow.

Bites and Hair Pulls Now: Friends Later

This is my oldest daughter, Jaime, with PJ and their adorable kids. Jaime is guest posting today as I continue a series on sibling relationships.

I have always said I should have been born first.  Instead, I was the second of seven. This meant that once I got old enough to babysit I did the cooking and cleaning; bathed the little ones; and was the one who reported to Mom and Dad when they got home, but Josh was still “in charge”.  He loved bossing me around until I was an early teen – that’s when I grew taller, stronger, and more athletic than him. (All of which he’ll probably comment on at some point, but believe me instead.)

Hey, we’re only 9 and 10 here…so certainly I out grew him soon after this! I’ve always loved my big brother!

But I am not here to talk about Josh’s past nightmares and bitterness but about how my parents did their part to help us kids to love each other.

I used to hear my mom introduce us as her “liter” at times.   She would laugh about how we all had to do everything together and never wanted to be alone.  I thought she was crazy since, at that time, all I wanted was to be alone. I idolized my neighbor friend, Christina, who was an only child who had her own room; daydreamed about what it would be like to not have Janelle tagging along and breaking everything I owned; wished I didn’t have to worry about Jesse saying something strange and embarrassing me in front of friends or total strangers; and resented Josh being the boss when I did all the work.

The reality is, Mom was right.  (She loves it when we say that!) Regardless of the moments when I craved solitude or sinless siblings, I wanted them around. This became most clear to me when I got married.  I found myself still going to pick up a kid or two to go to a movie, the playground or the grocery store.

The age gap lessened and now they really are my friends.

How did this happen?

First, we were homeschooled.  (Disclaimer:  I do not believe that you have to be homeschooled to have good sibling relationships or that homeschooling is for everyone. I am only sharing ways my parents instilled a love for each other in our particular family.)

Back when my parents started homeschooling there no homeschool co-ops and they knew only one other family in our entire county who was homeschooling. (No, we didn’t live in the hills of West Virginia but in suburban Washington, DC.)  Our “socialization” come from each other.  We were the basketball, front-yard soccer and street hockey teams; study partners; tutors; field trip partners and debate team competitors.  This created an environment where we had to rely on each other for friendship that other kids could easily find elsewhere.  Although annoying at times, and something I sometimes greatly disliked, I am grateful to be one of those rare people who is still best friends with those I went to school with.

Second, like Jake said on Friday, mom forced us to pursue reconciliation and and to ask each other’s forgiveness. That’s right, she literally forced us to apologize to each other. And she didn’t just make us apologize but also had us look at each other’s eyes and hug one another! Although that may sound like it was “fake” or wrong because it was mere outward behavior, it created in us the habit of righting wrongs.  Yes, at 14, when I had to apologize to 8-year-old Janelle (again) for yelling at her, my heart was not all there.  I may have been faking my regret, but I was developing a habit of going back and admitting I was wrong.  And Missy was developing a habit of practicing forgiveness. Regardless of what was going on my heart at 14, or 10, or 4, that habit turned into a conviction. Now I pretty routinely go back and ask for forgiveness when I have wronged somebody – even if I still don’t feel like it. In the process of asking my siblings for forgiveness hundreds of times, we  learned that having a tender conscience resulted in realizing we really did love one another enough to “get right” with one another. Over the years I learned my siblings not only know me best but were the first to genuinely forgive me – even and especially when my weakness and sin hurt them badly.

I may not have had the full regret and remorse of my actions at 14, but at 18 my actions rocked my sibling’s world; yet they were eagerly waiting to forgive me.  That heart continues. Last week I reacted impatiently and harshly to my brother, Joey. When I called to work things out with him he responded with,“I know you and knew we were already fine before this call.”  We may not have been so quickly “fine” as young children, but the practice of having to humble ourselves and be reconciled (at least on the outside) — instilled in us by my parents as young children – means now that we’re adults an apology isn’t even always required to forgive one another.

Through the many trials through which our family as walked, many people came and went. I’ve learned (the hard way at times) to rely on God, my parents, and my siblings…no matter what.  The trials were small when we were young (like having to share a room with my little sister) but as the trials have grown we now run to each other to reconcile.

Finally, and what might sound a little strange, is this: my parents told us to be and act like friends.  I can’t count the number of times we had conversations about the importance of friendship with our brothers and sisters.  As Mom has mentioned, she learned this from my Nannie and her siblings.  I hated the “I dream that someday you and Missy will be friends so you need to start treating her like one now” comments. I listened politely but argued in my heart. Yet, it had an affect.  I was a mean sister to her. But even when I thought I had damaged my relationship with Janelle too much, I had a glimmer of hope because Mom said it could happen.

Biting and hair pulling? These two cuties? Yep! But they do love each other.

After a recent fight between my two youngest girls (ages 4 and 6) I sat them down to talk. One had bit her sister, and the other retaliated by pulling her sister’s hair.  They were both crying and giving each other mean stares.  I asked them if their Aunt Nelly and Mommy were friends.  6-year-old Anniston said, “Yes, like best friends or something.”  “Yes, we are. But when I was your age I didn’t like Nelly. She drove Mama crazy and I wanted to bite her and pull her hair.”  They both stared at me with wide-eyed shock. I explained to them that they could be best friends when they grew up, were going to love each other so much and needed to treat each other kindly now because of that.  Afterwards, I “forced” them to ask forgiveness.  🙂

She loves to hear him come into her house...

Recently he surprised me by driving back from law school late one night…I love it when I hear him come through the door.

Days later I heard Danae tell someone that Annie would be her best friend. I smiled. I smile when I hear Kayla say the same unkind things to Annie that I did to Janelle or treat Wyatt the same way I treated Jesse.  Why does this make me smile?  Because I know that they are getting to know each other. They will know each other’s shortcomings more than anyone else. I smile more when I see them playing basketball out front together, or watch Kayla help Wyatt with math, or listen to one of them try to convince everyone to get in to pool because it’s more fun to all be together. I hear Mom in my own voice when I explain to Kayla that Wyatt is way younger than her now — but someday she will probably get really excited when she hears the front door open and realize it’s him coming over to talk about politics or sports or to watch a show with her. Yeah. Like when our hearts jump because Uncle Jakey just walked in.

My husband, an only child, now benefits from the relationship with my brothers and sisters as well.  They are his brothers and sisters and his best friends, too. I’m thankful that Mom and Dad homeschooled us, forced us to forgive (and love each other at times), and told us to be friends. Although it was certainly annoying as a child, I am now annoying my own children with faith that one day the first person they call when something annoying, happy, sad, devastating, or just random and funny happens is one of their siblings.