Rachel...God's Little Blessing
Every little baby is sweet and precious to their parents. Rachel is no exception. But Rachel is especially dear to our hearts because of the struggles we went through, the challenges to our Faith, and the love of God that overcame in order for us to have this little blessing in our lives. Many of you may know bits and pieces of Rachel's story but I wanted to write it out so that someday she can know the whole story of just how much she was prayed for and loved.
Nicholas was easily conceived in the second month of trying to get pregnant. He was born in April 2004. For the perfect little family, I thought it would be nice to have another child when Nicholas was a little over two years old, maybe 2 1/2 or so. So according to my master plan for our lives, we needed to start trying to conceive in late 2005/early 2006. However, as usual, God had other plans for us. "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9 NIV
In December 2005, Stuart was laid off from his job. It was the scariest time in my life. We had a family of three, a home mortgage, and without any notice we now had zero income. I was able to get a job right away and went back to work for a few months. Stuart was Mr. Mom while he kept looking for work so Nicholas never had to go to daycare. It was a great time for our relationship because we really got to walk in each other's shoes. Stuart got a real appreciation for how hard it can be staying home with a child and keeping up the housework and grocery shopping. I learned to appreciate how tired Stuart felt coming home from work and wanting to play with Nicholas but feeling dead tired. Stuart got a job at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra which let me come back home to take care of Nicholas but the job didn't pay as much as his previous job so we were still feeling some stress. It took him about 6 months to find a great job that paid enough that we could finally take a deep breath once again. We survived that time thanks to the prayers and support from our friends and family. We depleted our savings and ran up some credit card debt but we were able to pay all of our bills on time and we still have our house and good credit rating. Although I felt fear in the beginning, Stuart's faith in God's plan for us started to rub off on me and somehow we both just knew things would work out for us. We never felt that God had forsaken us. Instead we held strong in our faith and asked, "What next, God?" We knew that God was taking us from point A to point B. We knew that point B was better than point A. We just didn't know how long it might take to get to point B and what trials we might have to go through before we got there. Stuart's faith was amazing during this time and it really helped me to grow stronger in my faith as well. As a result, we both grew closer in our relationship to God during what seemed like a terrible time in our lives.
In the summer of 2006, Stuart found the absolute perfect job for him. He says that it is exactly what he wanted to do and it paid even more than his previous job. What a blessing that job loss turned out to be! But the emotional and financial stress leading up to this time put our plans for a second child on hold for a while.
It took at least six months before we again felt ready to start trying to have another baby. I was getting a little upset because my plan was getting off schedule. Doesn't God know that I should already be pregnant if I'm going to have these children 2 years apart?! Now there would be a bigger age gap between our two children but I figured that it was still ok...as long as we got pregnant soon. My brother and I are 4 years apart and I felt that was too big of an age gap. I wanted our children to be closer in age to each other so they could grow up playing together as friends and not just siblings.
But even if I got pregnant right away, I would be 36 years old when I had the baby. Doctors get concerned when the mother's age crosses the magical age of 35 because they say that is when pregnancies can become more high risk due to age. As the parents' age increases, it only makes sense that things in their bodies might not work as well as they used to so there is an increased liklihood that a baby could have Downs Syndrome or other abnomalities or that the mother will have complications during the pregnancy or delivery. We were concerned about this but we prayed about it and felt that God had placed this desire for a child in our hearts so surely He would amaze us with His blessings if we allow him to. We decided to go for it anyway and continued to pray for God's grace.
But soon we had a new concern. Stuart's niece was about 6 months old around this time and she wasn't meeting the normal developmental milestones for her age. She was very weak, not gaining weight, and not even trying to roll over. Her pediatrician was not doing a great job of making a diagnosis of any kind. Around this time, there was an incident in which she quit breathing and had to be resucitated. She was admitted to the hospital and eventually transferred to a children's hospital for further testing. It was very hard on the family to see such a sweet little girl be in such distress but even more upsetting was that doctors could not make a diagnosis. Her parents were told one diagnosis but then a test would come back that ruled out the diagnosis and so more tests were done. The diagnosis changed a few more times until they finally narrowed it down enough to determine that it is a metabolic defect in the mitochondria of her cells. Being at the cellular level and affecting all of the cells in her body, the disorder can not be cured at this time and the doctors can really only treat her symptoms. The doctors also determined that her condition is a recessive genetic disorder and that both of her parents are carriers for it. If Stuart's brother is a carrier for this disorder then it is very possible that Stuart might be a carrier for it as well. Unfortunately, without having a clear diagnosis for his niece, there was nothing that the doctors could test Stuart for without just randomly running a ton of genetic tests without any direction. We struggled with this issue for a while. We were quite happy with our little family of three and with the increased age issue and the genetic disorder in the family maybe we should just call it quits and not push our luck. We prayed about this for months. Still we both felt that we were supposed to have another baby and we knew that God would provide for us, either by giving us a healthly child or by giving us the wisdom and surrounding us with the medical care we might need if the child was not healthy. We would welcome it into our family and love it either way.
We tried to conceive for about a year with no luck. During that time I started developing some unusual pelvic pains and other symptoms. With my mom's history of ovarian cancer, I didn't waste any time in getting to a doctor for an exam. Fortunately, no ovarian cancer was detected but the doctor also couldn't find a cause for the pain. I became very frustrated as I wasted time and money on repeated doctor visits with three different doctors, multiple sonograms, and CAT scan. No one could diagnose the problem and they pretty much just threw up their hands.
Stuart and I continued to pray about the baby we dreamed for. People in the Media team at church prayed for us, our Home Team (Bible study group) prayed for us, and our other dear friends prayed for us. I even attended a support group meeting at our church called Faith and Fertility. It was hard coming to terms with the fact that we were having fertility problems. It just seemed unreal since we had gotten pregnant with Nicholas so easily. How could we possibly have fertility problems? But it was true. We were trying diligently every month, watching the calendar, doing ovulation testing, and scheduling our activities around particular times of the month. While trying to conceive can be fun, it quickly loses its thrill when each month is filled with disappointment. Each time I would get my hopes up and anxiously wait the few weeks before I could take a pregnancy test, just knowing that this time it worked and we're really going to have a baby. Then I would learn that I wasn't pregnant and not only did we need to track it all over again but now I was one month older and that much more likely to have difficulty getting pregnant or that the pregnancy would have problems. I remember telling Stuart many times that if we aren't meant to have another child then I can accept that and get on with my life but this roller coaster ride each month was just devastating. It was especially hard when during this time we saw couples all around us getting pregnant, several were by accident, and although we were truly happy for them it was hard being reminded that our dream of having another baby might never come true.
I was really on the brink of giving up but I started talking to my friends about our frustrations. It was comforting to hear that many other couples were like us in that they had conceived their first child easily but had trouble getting pregnant again. Some moms had even used artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization to get pregnant the second time around. Several people suggested that we see a fertility specialist too. I'm amazed at what technology can do these days but these options just didn't feel right for us, and they cost a ton of money, so we didn't even consider it at first. But finally, some friends in our Home Team convinced us to just go talk to a fertility specialist for a diagnostic workup to at least see if he could determine why we weren't getting pregnant after trying for so long. Based on the findings, maybe the monthly roller coaster ride could end one way or another. Maybe we would at least know if we should bother to keep trying so diligently or if there was some real problem that made it impossible to have another child.
We picked a great fertility specialist, Dr. Rodriguez. He is the medical director for the reproductive program at a hospital in Plano. I had to have many appointments with him for the diagnostic evaluation process. He also did some tests on Stuart. He was a nice doctor but I never felt good when I went to see him. In fact, I was often on the verge of tears as I drove out to Plano. Each time I had to go to his office, I couldn't deny the fact that we had fertility problems and I was reminded of all of the disappointment we had experienced over the last two years because of not being able to get pregnant. I also would worry about what test he was going to do this time, how much would it cost, and what kind of problem he might discover. I got in the habit of always playing my Chris Tomlin CD when I went to Dr. Rodriguez' office. Chris Tomlin is an inspirational Christian singer and somehow these songs always helped me to feel God's presence with me on those trips back and forth to Plano. I would start playing it as soon as I left the house and I'd sing aloud to myself in the car all the way there and back. I might still cry on the way but I knew that God was there in the car with me to hug me and tell me that everything would be alright.
Dr. Rodriguez tested everything he possibly could and finally determined that I had a growth of somekind in my uterus. Again, with my mom's history of ovarian cancer I was definitely concerned about this news. But Dr. Rodriguez said that he thought they were just polyps on the uterine lining and that it probably was not cancer but he wouldn't know for sure until he went in and biopsied it. He planned to remove the growths completely while he was in there doing the biopsy. Of course, I worried a lot about the procedure. I had never done anything like this and I didn't know what to expect for my recovery. Fortunately, Stuart's mom came to help take care of Nicholas during the procedure and for my recovery.
On Friday, November 9, 2007 I had outpatient surgery. Stuart played my Chris Tomlin CD for me as he drove me to the hospital that morning. I remember them wheeling me back but I don't remember closing my eyes. It was kind of crazy waking up and having it all done. Dr. Rodriguez confirmed that the growths were not cancerous and only benign polyps but they were extensive. He said that the walls of my uterus as supposed to be smooth but mine were more like the Rocky Mountains. He pointed out that this would make it impossible for any fertilized egg to implant in my uterus. He expected that this was the reason for our infertility problems. We may have had many successfully fertilized eggs but unfortunately they never stuck and just passed on through. Dr. Rodriguez also explained that the polyps were probably the cause of the undiagnosed pain and other symptoms that I had been having for a while. He said that he was successful in removing all of the polyps and that the lining should heal up just fine.
At our follow up visit with Dr. Rodriguez, he confirmed that the procedure was successful and I was healing well but he wanted to talk to us about considering fertility treatments. He explained that from the diagnostic evalution he discovered that Stuart and I each had some other issues that could impede us getting pregnant but he was most concerned about our age. With increased age, it becomes more difficult to get pregnant and considering our current age we really didn't have a few more months to spare to just keep trying unsuccessfully. He implied that it would be short of a miracle if we got pregnant on our own and he talked about his different treatment options, all expensive and none with exceptionally great success rates. We weren't excited about spending $20,000+ and then hoping that it was successful enough to make a baby when perhaps it just wasn't in God's plan for us. We prayed about it and decided that we would put off any fertility treatments for the time being. We felt that we had done what we could to make way for a baby and it would happen naturally if it was meant to be.
Around this time, we saw a sad story on the news about a very young child being brutally abused. I was torn apart at the thought of the fear and pain the little child must have endured and I was sad that anyone could do such a horrible thing to an innocent child. Stuart felt this too but he had a much stronger reaction. He got angry. He was angry at the child abuser for what he had done. But he was also angry at God. Why did he give children to people who will just hurt them? Why did he put this desire in our hearts and then not fulfill it? Why wouldn't He give us a child when he knows that it will be raised in a loving, Christian environment? We got into a big discussion about this at our next Home Team meeting (Bible study). We have some great friends in that group and I thank them for letting us vent and helping us work through these difficult emotions.
By the next Home Team meeting, Stuart had found a change of heart through lots of talks with God. He had come to realize that God still had great plans for us even if they may not involve having another child. We both grew to accept this and found our love and faith in God strengthened again. We realized that nothing we did on this Earth would change what God had planned for us so we were able to relax and let His will take over. "Be still, and know that I am God…." Psalm 46:10 KJV. And when you let go and let God take over in your life, amazing things will happen. At the next Home Team meeting, we happily announced that we were pregnant!
So, Dr. Rodriguez, I guess miracles do happen :) Our God is not limited by the laws of medicine. He is bound by the supernatural! Just because we don't see a way that something can happen, doesn't mean that our God can't find a way to make it happen. For with God, all things are possible. I called Dr. Rodriguez's office shortly after I had the positive pregnancy test at home and gave them an update. They wanted to see me to do an ultrasound to make sure that the embryo was well attached to the uterus and everything looked ok. Of course, since it was a trip to Dr. Rodriguez' office I still played my Chris Tomlin CD - although I sang it a little louder with a much bigger smile on my face this time.
They did the sonogram and I got to see the tiny little peanut-shaped baby on the monitor. How exciting! After all of this time and all of the disappointments we faced, we were finally pregnant! However, the doctor was a little concerned though because of a large spot on the screen. Sonograms are so grainy and hard to read that he couldn't be sure what it was. He thought that it might be a patch of blood, perhaps from when the baby implanted in my uterus. He referred me on to a regular OB/GYN doctor and said that he would send records over to the new doctor along with pictures of the sonogram they had just done.
I made a follow up appointment to meet my new OB/GYN. Stuart came with me to meet the doctor as well. Their office did another sonogram. The unusual spot was still there but this time I was told that it wasn't just a patch of blood. Upon closer inspection they were able to determine that I had actually gotten pregnant with twins but only one had developed. The patch they saw on the sonogram was the blighted twin who had died and not developed. The doctor said that it would dissolve away on its own and the surviving baby should be fine. I remember having such mixed emotions during this time. So excited about the precious little life growing inside me, a true testament to God's love and a long awaited answer to our prayers. But I was also so sad for the loss of the other life, equally as precious to this mother, that I would never get to know. As a precaution for the surviving baby, the doctor wanted me on a modified bed rest until he was sure that the other twin was gone. I wasn't required to stay in bed all day long but I was told that I shouldn't move around more than I really had to. He didn't want me doing housework, grocery shopping, etc. Wow, doctor's orders to rest and take it easy? Fine with me, doc!
About a week later, I started hemmoraging. Of course, all I can remember from those first moments was pure panic. I couldn't help but worry that I was losing the other baby. Concerned that I was having a miscarriage, the doctor's office got me in right away. I remember going to Adventure Kids to drop Nicholas off and then getting back in the car and bursting into tears. I cried and prayed the whole way to the doctor's office...and yes, I was playing Chris Tomlin. They did another sonogram and thanks be to God, they said that the baby seemed to be fine. However, they were a little surprised to see that the blighted twin was still there. The doctor said that sometimes it may take a while for the twin to fully dissolve and that this was most likely the cause for the bleeding. However, for the next few weeks I continued to bleed and the doctor had me come back into the office on a regular basis to run more sonograms to check on the baby and the blighted twin. Eventually, the twin disappeared and the bleeding stopped. No one can imagine the relief that I felt to be past that stage of the pregnancy and finally getting close to entering the second trimester.
The rest of the pregnancy was rather uneventful. We struggled with the decision of whether or not to have amniocentesis done to test for any chromosonal abnormalities but decided against it. We really wanted to know if our baby was healthy but the test has a small chance of causing miscarriage. Any chance of miscarriage was more chance than we were willing to take. God gave us this little blessing as part of His plan for us. We knew that we could not abort the pregnancy even if we learned that the baby had Downs or any other disorder. So what difference would it really make for us to know of about a disorder ahead of time? Nothing so important that it would be worth putting our little baby at risk.
Rachel was born on October 20, 2008 and she turned 4 months old yesterday. She is happy, healthy, and meeting all of her developmental milestones. She and Nicholas are 4 years apart, just like my brother and me - and just like I tried my hardest to avoid. But I realize that God had a bigger plan for our family and the timing of her birth is a perfect part of his plan, even if we don't completely understand it. "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV
There were so many bumps along our journey to become second time parents. So many times that we were sad or frustrated or angry. So many times that we considered just giving up. But we kept the faith and felt God's guidance through it all and He has overflowed his blessings on us.