Life at its best is swaddled in hardships
. This realization engulfed me as the Intensive Care Doctors whisked my new baby away from me seconds after they lay her on my chest. The next time I saw her, she was covered in tiny wires that tied her up to big machines. Machines are supposed to be for grown people who are sick from old age or bad habits. Not for brand new pink babies who haven’t had the chance to cuddle with their mommies and daddies yet. But for our little girl, those wires were vital.
For us, the birthing room wasn’t just a celebration party, it was also a race. When baby girl Roos emerged at 8pm on a Monday evening in early December, fifteen doctors and medical staff quickly began evaluating and monitoring her. The first priority was to keep her vital signs stable until her open heart surgery. For Mikayla to survive independently, the anatomy of her walnut sized heart needed to be switched around and stitched into the right places within a few days after birth.
The Arterial Switch procedure, although very complex and fairly new in the treatment of Transposition of the Great Arteries, has proven to be extremely successful. The surgeon performing the procedure was highly skilled and most babies who have this surgery live normal lives. I knew all of this. Yet handing her over to her impending fate broke me. Could my tiny baby survive this trauma so early in life?Shortly after her birth, I watched as the paramedics prepared her for transfer to another hospital. I stayed behind feeling like a horrible mother. I knew she would be just down the road getting the care she needed yet self condemning thoughts consumed me. How can I let her go and not be there with her? Who will hold her close during her first night in this crazy world? Who will silence her cries and nurse her when she becomes hungry? I wouldn’t be rocking her to sleep that night. Instead, she would drift off to beeping machines and humming fluorescent lights.
This whole situation was so unnatural. God designed Mommies to nurture their newborns from birth. A mother’s drive to protect her baby is so strong that for once in this self indulgent life, self forgetfulness conquers the world. The tension between God’s supernatural design and my reality saddened me. I didn’t even know when I would be able to hold her again.Later that night I rested in my hospital room defying the sleepy effect of the pain medicine I had taken earlier. I thought about Mikayla’s birth and recounted all I had experienced that day. My husband and I woke early to get to the hospital. I was so sick. A few days earlier I had come down with a brutal sinus infection. My head throbbed as we drove. How would I give birth in this condition? Maybe I would feel better by the time they induced labor. I hoped for a successful delivery since I had a previous emergency c-section. I knew the potential risks of attempting a “v-bac” and I was nervous. I prayed that all would go quickly and complication free. Everything I petitioned the Lord for was answered in the most compassionate way I could imagine.
Early in the day, God impressed on my heart that our baby would come into the world at 8 pm. 8 hours of labor seemed like nothing compared to the marathon labor I experienced having my son. Once labor was induced, time went quickly and with the help of pain medication my contractions were manageable. Just before I began pushing, the nurse put an ice pack on my face and within a few minutes my headache was completely gone. Excitement filled the room at the approaching arrival of our daughter. The Doctors and Nurses were incredibly encouraging as they cheered me on. Mikayla Brielle entered the world at 8:02 pm. They held her up for me to see. I felt deeply satisfied. When they announced her weight, I was shocked: 8 lbs. 9 oz.! I was expecting a much smaller baby. The last ultrasound showed her weighing just over 7 lbs. God graciously hid Mikayla’s true weight from me. He knew I would have chosen a c-section. Instead, I had a complication free delivery and my road to recovery was going to be much easier. I felt a sense of pride in the Lord and an assurance that He who had been gracious and compassionate toward me, would also show mercy to my little one.I look back on December 5th as one of the best days of my life.
Just a few miles away, Mikayla was in her hospital crib stabilized with Prostaglandins. All babies are born with a hole between the upper chambers of their hearts. In a healthy baby, the hole begins to close 24 hours after birth. Babies with Transposition need this hole to remain open for their blood to continue mixing properly and Prostaglandins accomplish this. Surgery was scheduled for Friday morning, only 4 short days after her birth. But the next night, when she was just 24 hours old, the holes in her heart began to close up in spite of the medication and her oxygen level and vital signs became very unstable. Wouter, who was sleeping in her room, was awakened around 2 am by the high volume of medical staff coming in and out. The monitor alarms were sounding: her heart rate was fluctuating between 180 and 215 bpm. Her oxygen level was at 60% and her breathing was in the high 70’s. Her blood sugar was low and the Nurses drew blood from her foot every 15 minutes. Mikayla was uncomfortable and sleepless. The x-rays revealed that the small tubes supplying the Prostaglandins to her heart were in too deep. It was too late to readjust them and at 6 am the Doctors asked for our permission to perform a Balloon Septostomy procedure, something we hoped she would not need. Wouter consented and was then asked to leave the room. Mikayla was put on paralysis and given a breathing tube for the procedure. A thin tube was inserted into her main artery and threaded up to her heart. A tiny balloon at the end of that tube was inflated and pulled through the upper chambers. This reopened the hole that had closed. While Wouter was in the waiting room, he called me to tell me what was happening. When my phone rang I wasn’t surprised. I had been awake the entire night thinking and praying for both Mikayla and my husband. When he spoke, I knew he was heartbroken. We both were.When Wouter was permitted to re-enter Mikayla’s room, he was relieved to see her in a state of rest. Her vitals were stable and her oxygen level was about 90%. The Cardiologists told us that her surgery would be postponed until early the next week. This would give her body the chance to grow stronger. Although we wanted the surgery behind us, we needed to trust the Doctor’s judgement. We were shocked when later that night, the nurse called us and told us that the surgery was moved to the next morning at 7 am. The head surgeon felt that Mikayla was strong enough to do well. At just 2 and half days old, Mikayla underwent her 8 hour open heart surgery.
I don’t know much about what happened in the operating room the next day. But I do know that Mikayla’s main arteries were switched, her coronary arteries were moved and she was given a chance at life. I thank God every day that He has gifted certain people with the insight, ability and boldness to accomplish such a difficult feat. And I thank Him for providing us with access to an amazing medical facility.
When Mikayla was wheeled into the recovery room, we were overjoyed. She looked so sweet in her little bed with her pink skin and shiny lips. Things had gone perfectly in the operating room and the hardest part was over. Within 24 hours her paralysis was lifted and she opened her eyes. In the following days her wires were removed, machines disconnected and medications reduced. I thanked God for the progress she was making. Each day I prayed that I would receive more good news. I felt greedy. I often watched fearful mommies and daddies receive bad news. I wondered how I would cope with all of this if I didn’t know the Lord. Compassion for the children in the hospital exhausted my emotions and brought me to tears daily. I knew God was allowing me to see into their worlds and experience some of their pain. My baby was expected to make a full recovery and live a normal life, but many of the children in the next rooms were not so fortunate. It was during that time that I stopped asking God why all this was happening and started thanking him for Mikayla’s future. There are some aspects of life we’ll never understand and questioning the causes of our trials is very burdensome. Trusting the Lord in our difficulties even when we don’t know the reasons for them brings peace and perspective. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”Matthew 11:28. He doesn’t say, “Come to me and I will give you thereasons.” Sometimes life just happens…
When Mikayla was first diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, I felt betrayed by God. I thought I deserved a completely healthy baby and a wonderful delivery. That was what God owed me. I lost sight of the fact that when you are a child of God, there is a beautiful paradox between hardships and holiness. Hardships have a way of chipping away the flesh and releasing the spirit of God within you. Something invaluable emerges from the very thing you wished wasn’t happening. There is no such thing as a trial free life here on earth. I am thankful for that.
“We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Although Mikayla’s surgery was just a few short weeks ago, it feels like a distant memory. It is like a coat pocket you forget you have until one day you notice it, reach in and find something you dearly value.
Mikayla won’t remember any of her trauma but the scar on her chest will tell the story. And her name which means Who is like God? will cause her to thank Him alone for the mercy He has shown. There truly is no one like Him who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds! Psalm 147:3