Tomorrow Kinsley will turn one year old. The realization is a lot to take in.
Consider this: the odds of becoming a human being are 400 trillion to 1– it is basically a miracle that any of us exist the way that we are. On top of that, dare I say Kinsley is lucky to be alive: the odds of being born with TEF are 4,000 to 1, and while it is not the rarest congenital defect to exist, the complications that come with it can be fatal.
She is alive and well on her first birthday, despite her congenital defects, which we happen to be very grateful for. In every way the odds have been in our favor–to others it may not sound like it, but I believe it depends entirely on how you view things. Let’s go back and have a look at a unique perspective.
I woke up the morning of Sunday, June 25th around 5 am with slight contractions, similar to what I’d been having for the previous week. Nick and I had breakfast at JW Filmores and when we got home he left to have his hair cut. By the time he returned we decided we should head to the hospital.
We arrived at McLaren Northern Michigan’s emergency room around 1:00 pm and were situated in our birthing room shortly thereafter. I was dilated to 2 cm, which meant we had some waiting to do. By 5:30 I was dilated to 5 cm and within the next 45 minutes I was up to 8 cm. My doctor finally came in to break my water at 6:45 pm and I was told to push at 7:10 pm. Kinsley was born about 25 minutes later at 7:37 pm. The ease of my birth experience was made up for by the difficulties that followed.
Kinsley was placed on my chest, for maybe three minutes at best.
My placenta was abruptly pushed out without warning or explanation of what was being done. I did not opt for the epidural, but I had to be stitched up where I tore and I apparently was administered numbing medication to do so, though I could feel every thread being pulled through my skin. Kinsley was taken from me to be weighed and measured, while my body was in shock, shaking uncontrollably from pain.
Immediately after she was weighed, there was a moment of confusion; something had gone wrong but no one was talking. It was terrifyingly silent and urgently noisy all at once. I felt shrouded in thick fog, every second moving past in a slow blurry sludge. I kept looking to my mom for an answer but could only see terror across her face, mouth hanging open, hands trembling, eyes moving back and forth from me to the table Kinsley had been moved to. A light was shining on her purple, turning deep blue body, and three, maybe four nurses were huddled around her, counting with deep concentration.
“What’s going on?” I repeated probably fifty times. But no one would answer me.
I can’t remember how we got to the next bit, it was a sensory overload for me… but by some miracle even greater than 400 trillion to 1, the emergency was over and she was breathing again.
The next thing I knew, we were in separate rooms. Nick and I in one, Kinsley down the hall in another, hooked up to some contraption. It took a while to figure out why she couldn’t breathe on her own. A specialist was called in and it was determined that constant suction was needed to keep her airway clear. Finally they found she had Tracheoesophageal Fistula with Esophageal Atresia. Another hospital was called.
By this time she was 4 or more hours old. I had held her for 3 minutes, seen her near dead on a table for slightly less than that. It was not at all what I had expected or envisioned, the planner that I am. I didn’t know it then- maybe I had an inkling, but no real idea- that the next several months would not be like anything I ever could have imagined or prepared for.
Kinsley was taken to the Helen DeVos Children’s hospital. She arrived there before I could even leave Petoskey. The separation was vast, like nothing I had ever known or felt before. Looking back, I recognize that this is when the bitterness began. There was so much hurt that I couldn’t possibly know how to process.
Kinsley’s pain was physical. She underwent two surgeries: One was just two mornings after she was born, the other 2 weeks later. She had several procedures, saw many specialists, encountered dozens of angels in disguise, and by the grace of God she began to recover and thrive.
In the meantime, Nick and I were trapped in a bubble. Stuck in a place no one seemed to understand, feeling things our friends and family had never felt. It was as if time had literally stopped. Everyone else’s life continued on as we watched from the outside. Other people got up and went to work like normal, had their babies and took them home like normal, enjoyed their summer beach days like normal…but all along, there we were, reliving the same day over and over and over again, stuck in our own personal time warp. It wasn’t easy, but we had each other.
Kinsley turned one month old in the NICU. Two weeks later she was discharged and the time warp finally broke, but the bitterness remained because even though we weren’t at the hospital anymore, everything still wouldn’t be normal yet.
Together the three of us had cleared an enormous hurdle, we had moved a mountain none of us even knew existed. It seemed things would be easier out of the hospital, but once we were home safely, other struggles began.
There was feeding therapy, doctors appointments, medical procedures to perform on our own at home, special feeding routines, pumping for breastmilk every two hours to keep a supply up that no one, not even my baby, could help me do.
In the hospital I had felt the unfairness of it all clinging to everything around me- every step, sight, smell, and sound a constant hovering reminder of how brutal life can be when dealing its cards. Though, when I got home it was something I had to really acknowledge face to face. Everywhere we went (which wasn’t many places or very often due to the severity of the consequences that would result if Kinsley were to get sick) I felt the stares. I felt the curiosity. I felt the questions and the wonder and the ignorance freezing every inch of my heart. In the grocery store. At the dentist. Even getting a coffee.
Sometimes it hurt my feelings; even though people stared because they didn’t know, which is okay, I wanted them to find courage to ask and learn because then I could have at least set the record straight. Not that I needed to, but I wanted to, for Kinsley. She deserved to be recognized for all her accomplishments, not stared at for all her differences.
Once I was at Starbucks with her and I had sat down at a table to wait for a friend. A man came up to me pointing at Kinsley and said, “So what’s with the tube?”
He asked kindly, and since I appreciate and prefer the courage it takes to ask rather than the fear that makes people stare, I gave him the brief explanation I had given so many times in the month we had been home: Kinsley was born with a defect called TEF that caused her esophagus to dead end in her throat and the portion attached to her stomach to be attached to her wind pipe. She had emergency surgery after she was born and now she has the tube to help her eat until everything is healed up and strong.
The man smiled and told me how lucky I am and how beautiful and perfect she is. He asked if it would be okay if he prayed over her. Then he asked if he could touch her. I said yes.
This stranger put his hand on Kinsley’s shoulder, and got on his knees beside our chair and prayed that Kinsley be healed from the top of her head to the very soles of her feet. He prayed that her doctors see perfect, miraculous results at her next visit and that she continue to develop well as time goes on. He then stood up and thanked me for allowing his day to be made by giving him the opportunity to pray for my precious baby girl.
Little did he know, two days later we had our first follow up in Grand Rapids, complete with swallow studies and an esophogram, and the results were perfect. In fact, in the year since Kinsley was born, and the ten months she’s been home, there have of course been challenges, but her overall growth and development has been spot on… her results have been miraculous, even ‘perfect’ if that’s how you choose to look at it.
I don’t know what the odds are that that man was able to find me where I was that day and speak words to me that I needed to hear, I guess 1 in 7.4 billion, but he did, and it helped develop my perspective and ease the bitterness still oozing from my scars.
Something in my heart sparked from our conversation, from the prayer this stranger gave us. He was completely honest and genuine when he said “your daughter is beautiful and perfect, you are so lucky.” He didn’t say it like he felt bad for me or her, which is what I was used to hearing from the day she had been born- this sort of, half-smile i-don’t-really-know-what-else-to-say gesture. It was pure, and I could tell he meant it. I realized then that if a stranger could see it, without knowing first hand all she had overcome, then I should be able to recognize it too. From then on I adopted the phrase “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you look at/react to it.” There was nothing I could do about her congenital defects; it was what it was and we had to make the best of it. The least I could do was look at the bright side of things rather than dwell on all the bad.
This type of thinking had its challenges. When I really realized there was nothing I could say to change how others viewed her, or me, or our struggles- and let me tell you, quite a few people to this day did/do not understand the severity of her complications, they probably never will- it was hard not to try to change their minds. But I had to realize that those things are beyond me, all I can do is control how I react to them. So I just stopped. If it didn’t require my attention, I didn’t give it any.
More importantly, once I stopped looking at Kinsley from the viewpoint of “there’s all this wrong with her” and I instead started pointing out all her triumphs and everything she’d overcome, I was able to stop comparing and calling out differences between Kinsley and other babies. I could finally let go completely of the bitterness I’d held toward others whose babies were ‘perfect’ and who never had to go through the same struggles we had gone through. The expectations had vanished and I could focus on her only.
The odds of making the best out of a difficult situation are 50-50. It was all up to me, so I chose to react to the situation differently, and my new perspective helped change our lives for the better and move us in a positive direction. This was only one thing I learned from our unique situation.
In fact, all of the learning that happened during Kinsley’s first year was unexpected. I figured I’d learn things like how to feed, bathe, change and soothe a baby. I thought I’d learn how to juggle work and caring for my child. I anticipated learning how to breastfeed and all that jazz. I assumed I’d have to master holding an infant while folding three loads of laundry, but it wasn’t like that at all.
Instead I learned that ‘perfect’ comes in so many forms, you just don’t know it until you do.
I learned that blue eyes are so overrated, it’s those honey colored hazel eyes that can melt hearts and fold even the toughest line into a soft smile.
I learned its OKAY to listen to your body and your heart and not force yourself to pump around the clock because society tells you breast is best, but no one understands that its even harder to do when your baby CANNOT EAT except through a tube.
I learned how to keep quiet when other mom’s complaints consisted of clipping finger nails/changing outfits because of spit up…while my complaints were about arguing with carelink because they couldn’t get my kid’s medical supply orders right and she needed that stuff to eat/having to drive to traverse city in a snow storm to get her a shot so she wouldn’t get RSV and be hospitalized.
I learned the difference between all the sounds my baby makes, without any doubt the ones that mean distress and the ones that don’t warrant an over the shoulder look, even when the at home nurse is sweating bullets on the edge of the couch because she’s never heard a baby sound this bad while breathing.
I learned how to place a nasogastric tube down my child’s nose, through her esophagus and into her stomach.
I had to figure out how to stuff days worth of medical supplies and baby ‘stuff’ for doctors appointments three hours away into a diaper bag that I had only ever planned on taking to the grocery store or a coffee shop downtown.
I learned how to be a secretary and a mom and a partner all in the same space.
I learned who was there for me and who wasn’t, that my partner would stand by me and be supportive in a crisis situation.
I figured out how to survive when money got really tight; how to live without things I used to think I needed.
I got good at crying and breaking down and expressing my frustrations in a healthy way and listening to and leaning on my main supporter, and providing all the same courtesies to him.
I got really good at scheduling doctor appointments and keeping track of medical records and applying for help and giving insurance account information to bill collectors and all kinds of hard things I never saw myself having to do before Kinsley was born.
And you know what? I’m better for it. I am better because of my struggles. The perspective you gain and the things you learn when you struggle is immense.
Everything we’ve been through with Kinsley has been exactly what we needed. If you had asked me if I thought I’d be able to say that in a year, twelve months ago I’d have told you no while crying to my mom over the phone in a hospital hotel lobby behind a slow elevator door, praying I wouldn’t lose service on the way up to my room because I needed someone to hear me and feel what I felt, how I longed for a few moments of less stress and anxiety and freedom from constant worry and fear of the unknown.
Today I know that our challenges with Kinsley have such a great purpose, despite practically crushing us at the time. When it all began we were grasping at short threads, trying to find a light, feeling small and weak. We are in a much different place today, so much so that I often forget, sometimes for days at a time, that we had such a challenging and unique start to parenthood in the first place.
A friend of mine texted me about a week ago explaining that he was telling his coworker about me, explaining my life a little and how we know each other. He said, “You’re honestly so impressive to talk about,” he’s a grad student, so I replied with the laughing emoji and said “But I don’t have a job.” He said, “You’ve done so much as a mother…” and it really hit me then that in one short year, despite all the difficulty, despite being stripped down to nothing and being forced to learn about who I really was, I have grown into everything that I am now, and being a mom to a miracle baby is impressive. There’s nothing I’m more proud of- no degree, no job, no accomplishment is greater.
There is nothing I would change about the last year with her. Not one second. She was not at all what we expected, but now I am certain that the universe took its time on her, crafted her precisely with a great purpose in mind, so she could offer the world something distinct from everyone else. If we had not had such a difficult start, I’m not sure I would know this with such certainty.
Today Kinsley June is the beat in my heart and the air that I breathe. She’s the light of my life: my sun, moon, and every star. Being her mom is an amazing job, and the best part about it is it’s only just been the first year of an entire lifetime of learning with her, witnessing her growth, and watching her take the purpose she’s been given and turn it into something beautiful.
I am so grateful for our first year together, all the good with the bad, exactly the way it is. It has changed me, and now I can be the perfect mother for her.
Happy Birthday Kinsley June, mommy loves you SO much.
May you continue to rise, fight, and overcome any odds that are against you.