It all began in September 2002. I found out I was pregnant with my second child. Then we went for the exciting ultrasound in January 2003 to hopefully find out what the gender would be and to see the baby on the screen for the first time. The ultrasound tech did not indicate there was any problem of any kind. Then my doctor walked into the exam room with a strange look on her face and asked me if the ultrasound technician had said anything to me. My response was "no, and is something wrong?" Then I received news that no parent ever wants to hear. My daughter (we at least knew it was another girl by this point) had a diaphragmatic hernia and I was to be sent to the specialist the very next morning.
My first response was a "diaph.... what?!?!" The doctor than repeated it and little did I know by the next day, I would be able to pronounce it and explain what those terms meant. So I thought to myself, no big deal. Things with babies are irregular all the time, so it couldn't be anything of great concern. What I found out on January 7, 2003 changed and permanently altered my life. We arrived at the specialist's office the next morning and had another ultrasound. I was just laying there in my own little world wishing they would hurry up so I could get back to work until I heard the words I can still hear him say today "Only about 50% of these babies survive." "WHAT??" was my only response. Then my tune quickly changed and I immediately realized how serious her condition was.
In my own terms, this is what I learned a diaphragmatic hernia to be. The diaphragm is supposed to close up when a fetus is approximately 10 weeks old. Well, for some reason our baby's did not close up and there was a hole in the diaphragm. This made all of her inside organs and intestines move into places they should not be. Basically all of her intestines and organs were pushed up into her chest and her heart was positioned into her right chest instead of in the center.
So we were then escorted into a room with a counselor. We basically had two options ~ carry on the pregnancy and take the 50% chance that our daughter would survive or do the unthinkable and abort the pregnancy and not deal with the consequences that were slammed in our faces within 24 hours. Well, there was NO decision to be made. My child had a 50% chance to live and I could not live with myself if I didn't give her a fair fighting chance. Statistically her condition was a fluke thing (nothing genetic) and only happened in 1 out of every 2500 babies. Oh, and we were the 4th case of it to be seen in that office in the last few months. Like the old saying goes, "when it rains, it pours" and even though her condition was rare, it must have been the chosen one that year.
The counselor also told us a little bit about what would happen the next few months. Then the doctor informed us that when the day came and our baby was born, she would immediately be put in the newborn intensive care unit and would require surgery within a week or so of being born. The surgery was necessary so that her intestines could be moved into their proper places so that she could survive on her own. So not only would our daughter have a 50% chance of surviving, she would require surgery to even give her a fighting chance at life.
So the next 4 months presented a series of tests, finger pricks, amniocentesis procedures (which was excruciatingly painful), and several more ultrasounds. Plus knowing 4 months of ahead of time that our daughter only had a 50% chance to live gave us time to prepare for the inevitable, even though deep down in my heart, I believed heart and soul that she would live and be a normal child someday.
We told my oldest daughter who was 3 at the time that she had a baby sister who would be born, but that she was sick and had to stay in the hospital for awhile after she was born. Even though my oldest didn't fully understand, she was fully aware of the fact she was going to be a big sister and she was excited no matter what.
We were trying to pick out a name for our daughter. We really liked the name Mindy, but we had no idea what middle name could work with Mindy. I liked the name Anna because I had a great grandmother with that name but "Mindy Anna" just didn't work for my taste. So I was walking through my kitchen one night and it hit me like a ton of bricks. The word grace just flowed out of my mouth. I put the two words together and now my daughter had a name ~ Mindy Grace. It was an instant agreement with my husband at the time, and big sister who we allowed to have a vote too.
Then fast forward to April. We decided the big day to induce labor should be May 20. So it was set, written on the calendar and all. Little did I know, God had other plans for my child. He chose this day, 6 years ago, for Mindy Grace to make her entrance into the world. It was a Sunday morning about 6:00 a.m. I was laying in bed and all of a sudden I thought I peed my pants. Lord almighty, it was something that can happen to pregnant women but I was annoyed! So after doing some investigating, something was different. I ran and got my What to Expect When You're Expecting pregnancy book and read the signs of labor. Yes, I had been through labor once before, but they broke my water at the hospital so this was all new to me. I quickly realized I had signs of labor so I called my doctor and he said it sounded like my water had broke and I'd better get to the hospital. So off we went to the hospital, not completely sure I was in labor, but had a feeling I might be. I think it was more of the fact I was in denial because I knew it was too soon for Mindy Grace to be born because she was already going to have a rocky start into the world. And being born 3 weeks earlier than originally planned made her chances even slimmer.
So we arrived at the hospital and the nurse checked and said I was dilated to 7 and I would be delivering my daughter that day. I had a moment of panic breakdown reaction and started screaming "no, no, no, it's too early." But I had no choice and ready or not, I was going to help bring Mindy Grace into the world that day. One thing I always think about, even looking back, was that Mindy Grace was safe and alive while she was still inside me. And reality told me I could not stay pregnant with her forever. But once she was no longer inside of me, safe and secure in the womb, the battle began for her tiny little body to keep herself alive. I could no longer protect her, she was in God's hands at the point she entered the world. So at 11:48 a.m. Mindy Grace made her grand entrance on this earth only to be whisked away 2 seconds later off to the NICU (newborn intensive care unit). I was then taken from high risk pregnancy unit and moved to a normal maternity room. A regular maternity room that normally housed a mother and her healthy baby; not a mother who had to walk downstairs to visit her daughter in the NICU. But that was ok because I knew it was up to God at that point what plans he had for Mindy.
I stayed in my room for about 4 hours before I was permitted to go to the NICU to meet Mindy. I remember they made me ride in a wheelchair and I hated that. I am so independent and could walk on my own but I had to follow the hospital's procedures and be a good little patient and ride in the darn wheelchair. I remember my mom was there at that point. So she went with me and Mindy's dad to meet her. I took one look at her and knew she was mine. She looked so much like her daddy. Even through all the tubes and needles and wires, it was clear who she belonged to. She was beautiful and had a full head of brown hair. No wonder I had so much heartburn during the pregancy with the amount of hair she had!
The next couple days we had a few visitors that came to the hospital to see us. We were allowed to bring one visitor at a time and her dad or I had to be with the person. Life was a roller coaster ride from hour to hour with a newborn baby in the NICU. One minute she was doing fine, and the next minute changes were made to keep her more stable. Well on Tuesday morning, or day 2 of her life, we received a call in my hospital room at 9 a.m. They told us to come down to the NICU immediately. We ran downstairs only to hear devastating news. They expected our daughter to live maybe an hour, if we were lucky. So all of a sudden as we prepared for the worst, a team of about 10-12 doctors and nurses were surrounding our baby working on her trying to stabilize her. It all happened so fast but they were only doing their job. She had to have a blood transfusion and I do remember signing the paperwork for that. Well I can say without a doubt, Mindy Grace was a little fighter because not only did she survive that little ordeal, she lived another 7 days for a total of 9 days on this earth.
I remember I was released from the hospital to go home later that day. That was the strangest feeling ever. I walked out to my truck to go home after just having a baby. Only something was missing ~ the newborn daughter I had just brought into the world a couple days earlier who laid in the NICU fighting for her life. But again, it was ok because it was all in God's hands and I was not in control of the situation anymore.
The next few days were the biggest roller coaster ride of life I have ever been on. Things were good one day, and not so good the next. The doctors assured us that was normal. They were trying to get her to the point they could stabilize her so she could have surgery. The surgery was high risk and a very serious operation so she needed to be stable to have a chance of surviving the surgery. We did receive some good news though ~ it was cold season among young children and the NICU would not permit anyone under 12 years old in the NICU. Well, the next weekend, they lifted that ban and would allow children under 12 in to the NICU. So this now meant that my oldest daughter would get to meet her younger sister she had waited months to meet. So the very day we could take her, we did. And she got to meet her 1 week old baby sister on Sunday afternoon.
Looking back, I now understand why Mindy Grace was here for 9 days on this earth. If God had taken her from us on day 2, then my oldest never would have met her younger sister. So that was God's way of allowing her to meet Mindy. And I thank God everyday for that huge blessing.
Day 9 ~ Tuesday May 6, 2003 - Disaster strikes. We received a call at 5 a.m. to get to the hospital immediately. Mindy had fought for 9 days but she was worn out. Her little body was tired of fighting and it was time for her to be called to Heaven that day. Her heart rate was fluctuating all over the place and they unhooked the machines shortly before 8:00 a.m. They was nothing more they could do so they placed Mindy on a pillow and both her dad and I got to hold her for the first time. She took her last breath and went with the angels at 8:20 a.m. while laying in her Daddy's arms.
It was hard watching our daughter lay there lifeless, but it was also kind of a relief. She was no longer fighting for her life and struggling each day. She also had a curvature in her spine so she would have had other difficulties if she had survived. She might have been confined to a wheelchair her entire life, we don't really know. But I won't do the "what if" scenario because God chose to bless us with our second daughter for 9 days and not spare her any more pain or heartache. And we are so thankful for that.
Mindy Grace was laid to rest 3 days later. She was buried next to her great grandmother who passed away 3 months before Mindy was born. So I know in my heart that she is in Heaven being taken care of by my wonderful grandma. In fact, when we buried Mindy, a family member of mine painted a picture in my mind for me. The funny thing is I had seen the same image before he even told me what he envisioned. I pictured my grandma sitting in her rocking chair with Mindy in her arms. Rocking her and taking care of her just like she used to take care of me when I was a baby. So I know she is ok in Heaven because she is with my grandma, and the angels and God and Jesus.
Back to present day ~ Mindy was born 6 years ago today. Much time has passed but it also feels like it was just yesterday. I can remember all the nurses names, what they wore, and all the details of the day she was born and the day she passed. It is a memory that will be forever engraved in my mind. I wouldn't change a thing about what happened because we were meant to be Mindy's parents, and she was meant to go to Heaven sooner than others in our family. I am so grateful that I had the chance to have her for 9 days, even though it was a short time span. Mindy Grace taught me so much about life. She was a little helpless child that fought for her life with all she had. I have learned to thank God for my blessings and to be grateful for what I have been given in this world. I have learned that each second I breath is a blessing. I have learned if I can make a difference in one person's world, then it was worth what I went through to be able to do that.
One thing that helped me tremendously was the fact that my doctor's office put me in contact with another mother who had a child with Mindy's condition. Her son was born a couple years prior and had survived the surgery and was a perfectly normal healthy little boy. I have never met her but I have been in contact with her all of these years. She really helped me get through some of those tough moments, especially in the beginning.
I have also been able to help a couple of people who have lost a child or had a miscarriage or something of the sort. Our 7 year old neighbor was killed 3 years ago and I have become good friends with his mother. I have changed as a person because of losing Mindy, but it was a change for the better. Everyone deals with death differently, and there is no right or wrong way to handle death. I believe I handled it well, considering the circumstances. And knowing 4 months ahead of time made all the difference in the world. Time heals all wounds. We will never forget Mindy Grace but dealing with her death has became easier as the years have flown by.
We have an annual tradition where we let a balloon off at her grave each year. We get her a "Happy Birthday" balloon and send it up to Heaven to her each year. Normally we always watch the balloon disappear into the sky. It's a tradition that began on her first birthday, and will continue each year.
If you have read this post, thank you. I'm sure there will be some tears shed over reading it, I cried a little bit myself while writing it. I have always wanted to share Mindy's story with someone, so the blog is a perfect place for that. For those of you who knew Mindy, you know what a remarkable little baby she was and how incredible her story was. For those of you who never met her, I hope she has touched your life in some way or another. She was a beautiful little girl who will always be a part of me, her daddy, our family and friends, and anyone who takes the time read her story.
From Earth to Heaven ~ Happy 6th Birthday Mindy Grace. You are loved and missed everyday and we will meet again someday!