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Guest Mama – Valentina

This week I am honored to introduce you to Alexandra.  She is a beautiful mama who reached out to me a few months ago.  Her baby girl Valentina was born with Down Syndrome and unfortunately a lot of other health issues.  Alexandra hasn’t been able to share her story completely yet, until now.  I am so grateful that she trusted me to help bring Valentina’s story to you. 

Not many understand what you feel. Everyone feels something different when they have to say good-bye to their baby. No parent should ever have to bury their child, but sometimes you just have to.

I was very much jealous of the new moms, having their baby’s around the time Valentina was born. It did not seem fair at all. They give birth, they have visitors at the hospital, they go home, they take tremendous amounts of pictures of their newborn. Social media made it worse; you begin to envy them. Then you have to learn how to turn away from it or look at it in a new perspective. I do not remember when I stopped being jealous of others, but it did happen without me even realizing it.

My first time being a mother, was being a mother to a sick child. I believed we both suffered, but I suffered more…because I had to witness what my daughter endured. A baby, a small baby, after one day of being old…has surgery. The next surgery happens forty-eight hours later, an emergency. surgery at that. I remember why that happened. Ugh. The third surgery follows a week after that. Only one week with no surgery, but of course there were obstacles. Your newborn has to be transported to the children’s intensive care from the NICU, because they find blood clots. A few days later…machine becomes faulty, causing your baby’s heart to stop and having to be revived. The scariest phone call at six in the morning ever. I forgot I was recovering from a caesarean. That week goes by, but the beauty of that week, was seeing my baby open her eyes again after so long. Understand she is incubated, and under heavy medication. Fourth EMERGENCY surgery, we were told the chances are very very very slim. I honestly believed that when the doctor left the operating room, she was going to come back with the worst possible news ever, but no! I got another day with my baby. Surgery five comes along to finish up surgery number four work. A few days after that reality sets in. I learned within a one week time span, my daughter being incubated, was her being on life support. If she were to be off it, her heart will slowly stop beating. She was living because of a machine, the machine was assisting her. She was strong through all that though. My daughter did fight very hard, but at the end I felt as if she were fighting for me and her father. Fighting for us to realize that she is meant to be with our God. Those five weeks we had her…her father and I kissed her, hugged her, held her, smelled her, washed her hair, combed her hair, read her books, played her music, told her stories, and always told her we love her. I hardly ever left her side and if I did, I felt guilty.

I had to find a new strength within myself that I never believed I had. In doing so, I felt the dedication and determination to still provide the best I could ever provide to my baby. Even though she was incubated, she had a G-tube in her stomach for her feeds. She was being supplied her nutrients and TPN, but there was an occasion or two she was able to have breastmilk. Those were one of many happy moments. I pumped everyday, up until the very last day I had with my sweet girl. In five weeks I was able to store 498 ounces of breastmilk, which I donated to Mother’s Milk Bank in MA. There were many times I wanted to give up, because i just knew she was not going to have my milk, but I could not find myself ultimately stopping. Pumping, was my hope that my baby will come home. I have endured the horrors of pumping. They promote the beauty of breastmilk, but not the hard work that comes along. Being a milking cow was not easy, but it was my hope.

Five weeks, thirty-seven days of happiness, sadness, and stress. Will I do it all over again? Yes, yes I would. I had my baby in my belly for thirty seven weeks. I saw my baby. I held my baby. I kissed my baby countless amount of times. I learned a lot in those five weeks. My daughter taught me her strength, and I had to be just as strong. I tried not to break down in front of the nurses or doctors, because I simply did not want to be bothered with a social workers. So much occurred in such a short amount of time, I honestly cannot believe I experienced it. I admired my husbands strength too. He was there day and night, and still working his full time job. I know he was exhausted, but he loved his little girl. I know he loved her more than me, he would not admit that of course. My husband and I married AFTER our daughter passed away. We felt we needed to be united as one, and be a strong family. We were told many times, many of those who are put in our situation, do not make it. My husband and I surround ourselves with love, and we made sure our sweet girl knew of it.

We both learned from the beginning we had to be strong and fight. We had to have faith. It is so hard to have faith when you cannot see it, but if you allow to fall back on God, faith will always be there. God never left our side; we may have here and there…but He never left our side. He guided us every single step of the way.

I mentioned my husband and I had learned from the beginning to be strong and fight, well that is because we learned while I was still pregnant at twenty-two weeks that our daughter had a heart condition (AV: atrioventricular canal) that required open heart surgery, we also learned that she had Down Syndrome, which is very common for these babies to have a heart defect. I honestly hated myself after. I only say this, because when I learned of the results, I became selfish. I prayed for the doctors medical report to be wrong, and that my baby was going to be healthy. I was scared while being pregnant. The society we live in is so scary, I did not want people to mistreat my girl. I automatically wanted to protect her. I thought me knowing of her having Down Syndrome was going to mentally prepare me, instead it taught me, even while being in denial, that I had to be strong. I had to enjoy my remaining weeks of pregnancy with my baby. I could not let the countless amount of appointments bring me down. It was almost taking a toll on me, that I took control and cancelled so many of them! Of course my OB had to explain the what if’s, but I knew she trusted my instincts.

Just know that we (family and friends who knew what was going on) prayed hard for our girl. Heart remained strong, her having Down Syndrome was not a problem, she was born with a completely different condition that is apparently also “common “ in Down Syndrome babies…imperforate anus…no anal opening. At first I thought it was funny; I tried to have a sense of humor during the difficult times. Her having this condition, caused the many surgeries. At first everything seemed okay, but something else was wrong.
My daughter became septic. When exactly? I do not know.
Her heart remained strong.
Down Syndrome what?
Imperforate anus what?
Hello sepsis…Good bye sepsis.
At the end of it all. There was a miracle. It was not what I wanted exactly, because I wish my baby was here on earth with me.
Her soul was too beautiful for this earth.
She belonged with God.
I felt her soul was no longer here on earth, when she took her last breath in her parents arms.
Yes, my husband and I decided that enough was enough.
My baby was tired, and she fought hard for me, her dad, and herself.
It was time that we all had some peace. It hurt for a very long time, and everything felt like a dream, and sometimes it still does.
What can I say? I am human, you think these things. You question our God, and then you feel guilty for questioning Him; well at least I did.
My God was by my side anyways. He knew what I was going to say or do.
He wrote both our stories.
My daughter’s story is beautifully written.
I will still cry here and there, like I said I am human.
I will always love her. I will always miss her.

I am currently pregnant with her little sister. I was scared at first, but I am also leaning to enjoy this pregnancy day by day.
That is another day for going into details about being pregnant after infancy loss.

Valentina Faith Mejia. My favorite girl.
I will always celebrate you.
I know your presence is around me always.
I love you.

-Alex

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Guest Mama – Meet Olivia

I am honored to introduce you to Marina.  She is a beautiful mama with the most gorgeous girl named Olivia.  Olivia is so full of life, happiness and strength.  I’ve loved watching her grow through her mama’s Instagram feed.  She comes from an amazing family and I am so glad to share just a small bit of who she is with you!  Btw…this post made me break down in tears…so good luck IMG_20170303_201003_387🙂

I love her. I love her so much. When I look at her I speak my thoughts out loud. I tell her how beautiful she is. I squeal when I can hardly stand how cute she is. I’ll scoop her up and squeeze her and smother her in kisses. I swear that her sweet baby smell still releases endorphins in my brain. I think she’s so amazing and so beautiful and so utterly wonderful. This is what I think and feel everyday that I’m with her. And when she’s sleeping or I’m away from her, I miss her and that is what I think about.

IMG_20170302_094606_347Sometimes when I take her places I’ll notice people staring. In that moment I can’t help but imagine what they see. Her little bald head, no eyebrows, no eyelashes. Her little ears, the way they curl in, one more than the other. Her almond eyes. The way they turn up as if an artist over exaggerated their slant. Her teeth, the way they are more crooked than most toddlers. Her tongue, the way it tends to peek out of her mouth more often than not. For a millisecond I can see what they see and my heart feels heavy and beats like thunder. They see ‘imperfection’. They see a child that not only looks different because of Down syndrome but appears to be ill because she has no hair from the Alopecia. It’s a double whammy. In those moments I want to scoop her up and run. I want to turn and yell “Don’t stare at my baby!!!” But I don’t. I manage to control myself and steady my hands and my heart. I manage to adjust my eyes too. Then when that moment passes, when they walk away or better yet, smile, then I can see her again. I can see her clearly. I can see what God sees. My perfect girl. I see her beautiful round head that smells so good. I see her beautiful eyes that twinkle and dance when she smiles. I see her rosy cheeks that are soft and sweet. I see her tiny rosebud mouth and her gorgeous smile. I see her adorable ears that are so kissable and work so perfectly. I see her delicate and doll like button nose. I can see her satiny smooth skin and how perfectly pink it is. Then she takes my breath IMG_20170221_211618_978away.

How could I possibly be so fortunate to be her mommy? What good things have I done to deserve her? She brings us so much joy. She makes us laugh everyday. She makes us do and say a thousand ridiculous things because we’re all so crazy about her. We take such pride in every new word she speaks and in every accomplishment no matter how.small. When she carries her baby doll and kisses it, I want to cry at how tender she is. When she wraps her tiny arms around my neck and presses her soft cheek against mine, I’m sure this must be heaven. My daughter is smart, my daughter is beautiful, my daughter is kind and funny. My daughter loves music. My daughter loves animals and coloring. My daughter loves exploring. My daughter loves popcorn and going to the beach. My daughter loves long car rides and reading books together. My daughter rocks a hair bow like no other. Most importantly, my daughter loves people. My daughter will IMG_20170218_094816_315smile the sweetest smile at the biggest, ugliest, grumpiest, smelliest, foulest person she meets and she will exude genuine love and acceptance with every ounce of her being. My daughter is a blessing and my daughter is way more perfect than I could ever wish her to be.

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Heart Warrior

When Jana was born she had two defects in her heart.  One PDA (In PDA, abnormal blood flow occurs between two of the major arteries connected to the heart. Before birth, the two major arteries—the aorta and the pulmonary (PULL-mun-ary) artery—are connected by a blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. This vessel is an essential part of fetal blood circulation)  The second was a ASD (A “hole” in the wall that separates the top two chambers of the heart.  This defect allows oxygen-rich blood to leak into the oxygen-poor blood chambers in the heart. ASD is a defect in the septum between the heart’s two upper chambers (atria). The septum is a wall that separates the heart’s left and right sides.)   Last year she had a full ECHO and EKG done to monitor these defects because surgery was not needed at birth.img_8755

Yesterday we had to do the ECHO and EKG once again…

First of all, whoever thinks getting a toddler to lay still for over an hour to do the ECHO is CRAZY!!!  Seriously, I can’t keep this child still for anything!  Except…yesterday 🙂  We had to leave our house at 5:30 am in order to take the 2 hour drive to Rady Children’s Hospital.  This meant, Jana got taken out of bed, and put straight in her car seat.  She stayed asleep till about 6:30…normally she is up around 8:00.  So that right there messed her whole schedule up.  We arrived with her favorite move (HOME) downloaded on our IPad, as well as a few episodes of her favorite show (Kazoops!)  We img_8750got checked in and they put the monitors on her chest and tummy.  Then, asked us to keep her still for the duration of the test!  For the most part she did stay img_8747still…even fell asleep for about 30 min!!  It was probably the most I’ve snuggled with her in a long time!  But around the 50 min mark, not just Jana, but mama and daddy were fed up and ready to move around!  Luckily they were able to view her heart as well as main arteries in her neck and lower chest area.  How she did it, I img_8757have no idea!!

It was now 10:00, and time for the EKG.  This LUCKILY is a very quick procedure and she is allowed to at least sit up.  They hooked her up to what img_8756seemed like a hundred wires and the test itself took about 2 min!  Our girl was going strong.  She hadn’t thrown a single fit and was still being her adorable self.

Finally it was time to see our Cardiologist.  The last time Jana saw him, she was smitten 🙂  We’ve said he is her favorite doctor because he is the only one img_8751she has ever flirted with.  Unfortunately, by the time she got to see her McDreamy , she was sound asleep 😦  But that just meant, mama and daddy could talk to him a little less interrupted.

img_8758 So what did the test show?  Well, her PDA has completely fixed itself.  That means, that is no longer an issue and can now be left alone.  Then came the pause…..  Her ASD is currently open about 6mm, that means it is letting blood flow into the right side of her heart.  Meaning, the right side is slightly larger than the left.  If left untreated, this can cause serious health issues.  So a surgical procedure will be done next summer to fix this issue.  They will be going through her main artery in her leg and hopefully be able to fix it without fully cutting her open.  He feels waiting one year will help her vessels grow a little.  Currently they are roughly the size of her pinky, and the instruments he needs to use are just about the same size.  Obviously that is an issue!

So this summer she will have a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy then next summer her heart surgery.  Which means, I have a full year to stress and freak about my daughter having heart surgery!!  Ugh!!  I am honestly trying to stay positive about it.  Our situation could be much much worse!  We are very grateful for our babies health but it does not make surgery any easier.  It is scary, it is stressful, but it is needed!  Our girl is a warrior and I have no doubt she will amaze all of us during these surgeries.  I trust that God’s had is watching over her, giving her the best doctor’s for the job, and will see her through it all.  I just need His help a little more to deal with the extra worries.       

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A moment to never forget

2-24-1Ok…I’ve mentioned it before, but truthfully, before Peanut, I was always very uncomfortable around special needs people. Well…sometimes even scared. Today Peanut had therapy at our local Center for Exceptional Children. She was walking down the hall and blocking everyone’s path. This young man was trying to pass by. He was about 18 or 19 and he was special needs. I couldn’t tell you what his disability was, but I can tell you he had a massive smile watching Peanut go. We moved her to the side and his mom went past first. He stopped and held out his hand for me to shake. I smiled and shook his hand, he then raised my hand and kissed the back of it. No words, nothing else. Just another smile and he walked away. Now let me ask you, why in the world was I ever uncomfortable around people like that?!  Yes, special needs individuals are different. But they are different the most amazing ways!!  So full of love, compassion and strength.  Worth so much more respect than the world gives them.

This young man probably won’t remember me.  He probably didn’t even think what he did was a big deal. But I promise I will hold on to that moment.  He made an impact on my life quicker than most people I even have conversations with.  If I didn’t just stop and look at him, and not his disability, I would have missed this opportunity. 63def18c4d59a139e6804055810bff8e

Next time your out, if you do run into a special needs individual, just say hi!  Don’t ignore them or shy away because you are unsure of what to do.  Open your heart to the possibility of something amazing!  I know you wont regret it!!

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Night to Shine

This morning I received a link to this amazing organization.  I needed to share it with you all today!  (Thank you Illi!  I love how you send me random bits of awesomness!!)

I think for the most part, the majority of you can look back and remember your prom night almost perfectly.  For the girls, the day consisted of getting our hair done, getting our make up just right and finally getting dressed in the dress that took weeks to find!  For that one night, everyone is a princess!  Unfortunately, for a lot of teens with special needs, this night never happens.  Yes, there are amazing stories of teens who go to schools where their peers have accepted and loved them.  They are able to join in on all the glitz and glamor of the night and cherish the memories they are making.  But sadly that isn’t the case worldwide.  Which is why, Night to Shine is so amazing!

What Is Night to Shine?

Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. On one night, February 10, 2017, 375 churches, from around the world, hosted Night to Shine for 75,000 honored guests through the support of 150,000 volunteers!

Check out the Official 2017 Night to Shine Highlight Video featuring Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts below:
https://youtu.be/kfSLyfFwDks

Doesn’t that look like just the best night ever!?  Each invite is treated to the royal treatment and through the night, each one will be crowned King or Queen of the Prom 🙂  How amazing that for this special event, each teen is given their chance to shine, the way they were intended to.  I would love for Jana to experience something like this one day!  Who knows, maybe she’ll even be able to meet her Prince Mikey face-to-face 😉

Learn more, or even help out by checking out this link!  Night to Shine

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On the Move

2-10-2Last time I gave a therapy update, Jana was still struggling to stand on her own and just started taking a few steps.  What a difference a few months makes!!  Jana officially can stand on her own and pull up on just about everything.  She officially started climbing up steps and making my days even more interesting.  She can walk pretty decent amount with just holding my hands or using her walker given to her by her physical therapist.  This girl is on the move and nothing is getting in her way!!  It is so amazing to see her working so hard to reach her goals.  In the past week alone, I’ve seen a huge change in her confidence and strength.  She is constantly freaking us out by climbing on furniture and getting herself in tight spots.

I found this online:

The average age to begin walking in a child with down syndrome is 25 months (with a range of 14-42 months), versus a child without down syndrome, where the average age is 13 months with a normal range of 9-17 months.

2-8-1So Jana is actually above the curve from her DS buddies in walking, and just a little behind her typical friends.  I am so so proud of her!!  At times it is still tough.  To watch her try so hard but still not be able to do it.  I can see her little brain telling her tiny body what to do, but it still not working.  There are times she gets very frustrated and just tries to give up.  But she is stubborn and independent, so not much stops her from reaching her goals.  (Even as I type this she is trying to figure out how to climb onto the couch so she can take my computer away 🙂 )

I don’t see her having to use the walker for long.  But if she does, that will be perfectly fine.  She is proud of the steps she can take unassisted and it helps bring more independence in her life.  I know when people see it with her, it confuses them.  I mean really, the walker screams SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD!!  But you know what, when I see her beautiful face light up when she can move on her own, I don’t care what anyone thinks!  My girl is perfect just the way she is!  And if people are uncomfortable with that, then thats just too bad 😉

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Guest Mama – Bridget’s Story

This week I’d like to introduce you to Megan!  She has the most adorable baby girl who is getting stronger and stronger each day!  I am so glad she was willing to share her story with all of you!

img_5006Our precious girl, Bridget Regan, was born December 5, 2016, but her story began long before that. I was just out of my first trimester when on June 30, 2016, I got a call that would forever change my life. I opted to have NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing) for no other reason than the test was 100% covered by our insurance. I can promise you that had this test not been covered (it can be quite expensive), I would not have had it done. Without giving it much thought, I figured the test would completely rule me out as a carrier for any kind of disorder or disease; I literally never gave it a thought that my baby may come back with an abnormal test result. Early that June morning, I got the call from my OB that my NIPT testing had come back as high risk for Down syndrome. Even with this news I figured, “oh ok, but what does ‘high risk’ really mean? And I’m sure these test results have false positives all the time…” As the news started to sink in, I scoured the internet for stories of false positives. There were a few, but I quickly realized that the new NIPT testing was far more accurate than the Quad screens of days past. A knot grew in my stomach and in my throat as the reality of what I may be facing quickly hit me like a brick wall. My OB scheduled an appointment for me at a Maternal Fetal clinic to do a full body scan that day.

img_5011I remember the feel of the leather of the couch in the genetic counselor’s office. I remember what she wore, what I wore, the art on the wall, the carpet underneath my shuffling feet, the path down the hall we walked as I felt the tunnel vision closing in on what she was about to tell us. Our baby had a 91% chance of having Down syndrome. She asked us a myriad of questions that no new parent wants to face – did we know anyone with Down syndrome, any history in our families of genetic disorders, and finally the very worst of all – how would we proceed with this pregnancy. Until that question came, I wasn’t listening to all the words she was saying. It’s like I could see the words coming out of her mouth but my heart was in a tailspin of emotion and my mind was trying to catch up with my heart. What did she mean what would we do? This was our precious baby and though the news was heavier than I could have ever imagined, there was no “option” for us. This life was ours to raise and protect to the best of our abilities and not to be discarded based on a preconceived notion of a diagnosis. Our baby is more than worthy.img_5002

Following that conversation, we had a full body scan ultrasound where a heart condition was discovered that all but confirmed the diagnosis. Then a brand new fear crept in as they explained that our baby’s condition was so severe that it would require surgery within six months of life. We’ve been closely followed by cardiology teams since then and Regan is expected to have surgery sometime in March.

Our sweet Regan has now been in our lives for exactly two months and suddenly I couldn’t imagine a world without her. She is gaining weight like a champ and her sweet disposition makes me so proud to call her mine.

img_5050Throughout this journey, I’ve had the pleasure of following other mommas and families of these precious children with Down syndrome. What started as a scary diagnosis opened a window into some of the most supportive and compassionate people I’ve (virtually) met. These first few months with Regan have been such a joy but certainly not without their difficulties. I imagine Regan’s future will be the same: filled with happiness and some stumbling blocks, but I can’t wait to see what it holds for us. The fear of the unknown is washed away when I look into her precious blue eyes and know she’s already changed my heart forever, and I know she’ll change the rest of the world’s hearts too.