Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Broken, But Mended Heart

    A busy week is an understatement.  I will never schedule 9 appointments in one week again.  Even if some of them are two therapists seeing Asher at the same time.  It was also the week our church had Vacation Bible School.  I also had a few meetings, work, keeping my kids alive, you get the picture. 
    On Monday, Asher went to the cardiologist.  We were hoping his heart defect had closed.  It in fact has not, and will likely need to be repaired within the next year.  The well meaning cardiologist asked if he is enrolled in early intervention.  If you are close to me at all, you know why I found this hilarious.  I left disappointed.  Many people, including us, were praying for healing.  Healing would have made such a great story.  When I got into the car, the song "Even If" by Mercy Me was playing. Here is how the song begins:


They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now, right now I'm losing bad
I've stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it'll be alright
But right now, oh right now I just can't

It's easy to sing
When there's nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I'm held to the flame
Like I am right now

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Good thing
A little faith is all I have right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You'd just say the word
But even if You don't

My hope is You alone

    We've been praying since before Asher was born that he wouldn't have a heart defect, and when one was detected that it was healed.  Well, about 50% of children with Down syndrome have heart defects.  Asher had three when he was born.  He now has one.  The one he has will most likely be repaired thru a cardiac cath instead of requiring open heart surgery.  We are incredibly thankful for that and hopeful that the procedure will be successful.  The song continues:

You've been faithful, You've been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You're able
I know You can

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You'd just say the word
But even if You don't

My hope is You alone

    We invited one of Addison's friends to come with us to VBS this week who doesn't attend our church.  Ordinarily, I would have offered to take her friend to and from VBS with us.  When her friend's mom offered to split the carpooling with me, I gladly accepted, which is unlike me.  She drove the girls the day of the cardiology appointment to VBS, which allowed me to not rush and arrive early to the appointment.  I even had time to make it to the grocery store before they came back!  When I am at the grocery story with only one of my children, I always try to smile kindly at the moms who are pushing around three or more children, especially when the children are acting wild.  I don't have time to smile when I have all of my kids.  I am sure those moms think, why is that mom smiling, she has no idea, she only has one child.  Of course my five year old asked her to stop at Sonic on the way home and buy them all lunch.  




    After they got home,  I took all three kids to the dentist.  I was hoping to get some advice on strategies to help us brush Asher's teeth, since he hates it and we have spent the past month or two working with his speech therapist and occupational therapist to avoid long term problems with this.  I brought all of his special toothbrushes and speech therapy tools and showed them our whole routine.


Of course he opened his mouth like it was no big thing.  I did get a little advice, though.  And...found out my seven year old needs braces...like next week😳.

    We also had four therapy appointments and an appointment with the Early intervention service coordinator this week.  For whatever reason, they all fell on the same day--Wednesday.  One of the therapist saw him at school that day, but I was with him for all the other appointments.  Amazingly, Asher remained in a good mood throughout all of it.  

     This also happened to be the day to do the six month review of the IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) which is kind of like a precursor to an IEP.  It has never been a big deal to me before this week.  It includes goals we have for Asher to accomplish in the next 6 months.  His developmental therapist was present to help with the process as well.  We also reviewed the goals we had made for him 6 months ago, and I realized he had not met most of his goals.  That was what was hard.  One thing I've heard and adopted as my philosophy for Asher is to concentrate on what he can do instead of what he can't do.  Well this forced me to do the opposite.  One of the goals we made 6 months ago was that he would be pulling to stand...well, no, he isn't there yet.  And it went on and on.  And then there was the goal they didn't think he had met: "follows one step commands."  Fortunately, Asher decided to cooperate, and I promptly showed them a couple of one step commands he could follow without me giving him any hints!  I still think they wrote "emerging" by that goal, but I will be working on "following two step commands" for the next six months.  While this was going on, my sweet boy, obviously bored with being ignored, signed to me that he wanted to watch his favorite sign language video--and I let him.  

The song ends:

It is well with my soul

It is well, it is well with my soul  




Thursday, October 27, 2016

Surprises and Challenges

October is Down Syndrome Awareness month and I have asked my friends to ask any questions they may have about Down syndrome and I am attempting to answer them all.  I have been asked what surprised me the most and the biggest challenge is raising a child with Down syndrome.
The biggest surprise is the number of appointments that are involved in raising this little fellow.  He currently has 11 appointments a month for therapy (speech, occupational, physical, developmental and the coordinator).  They are all helpful and needed.  This does not include medical appointments.  I recently filled out an application for Asher's preschool.  I needed to list his physicians.  There were 5 blanks.  He has 6 physicians.  He is relatively healthy, he has a few minor medical problems, but somehow has 6 physicians.  All this is surprising and challenging.  It makes me very thankful that I am able to work part-time because I am not sure how I could manage all this and work full-time.
The other thing that surprises me is how people with Down syndrome are so often underestimated.  I did this myself prior to meeting Asher.  People with Down syndrome have achieved great things.  
Hands down, the biggest challenge is seeing a friend lose a child with Down syndrome.  The community is small and close.  You are instantly bonded with someone when you have Down syndrome in common.  When a family in your community loses their child, it is heart wrenching.  I cannot imagine how hard it is for them.  This has happened in my local community twice in the past 6 months.  There is nothing I can say that can make things better.  I can only pray for them when I think of them, which is often.
In loving memory of Baby L and Baby J.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Unspoken Oh

     It happened.  The unspoken "oh."  The reason why I have been so open about Asher having Down syndrome even before he was born was so that everyone would "know" in hopes to lessen some of the awkward moments.  I also try to share what I have learned about Down syndrome to hopefully educate others through social media.
     Recently I ran into someone who I am not friends with on Facebook and whom I have not seen in a while.  I was pushing Asher in his stroller and he looked at it inquisitively.  I said, "did you know we had another baby?"  "No," was his response.  If he didn't know that we had a baby, then he didn't know we had a son and that our son had Down syndrome.  So I turned the stroller around and introduced him to my sweet Asher.  Then there was the unspoken "oh."
     The "oh" can mean many things and I can't always interpret it.  It can mean, "oh, he is so sweet".  Usually that "oh" is accompanied with oohs and ahhs and lots of baby talk.  This is my favorite kind of "oh," because, after all, he is adorable.  Sometimes the "oh" can mean pity, like "oh, I am sorry."  Most of the time it probably means "oh, I don't know what to say."  I am not sure which "oh" this was and I thought about saying something about him having Down syndrome, but thought that I shouldn't have to "explain" my son.  I instead said nothing at all.  If I could do it over again, I would say something like this:
      We found out that Asher had Down syndrome before he was born.  Initially we were shocked and upset.  Now that he is here we are really doing ok.  We are actually doing better than ok.  He is a true blessing and brings joy to our lives.   Sure, there are times where I wish things weren't so hard for him.  For example, he has to work for every milestone (like sitting and rolling over) while typical children do these things with ease.
     I probably would have stopped there, but I could go on.  Asher has shown me that sometimes difficulties can become blessings.  I've always known this, theoretically, and James chapter 1 tells us this, but it is one of those things that is easy to say, but difficult to live.
     When Asher was a few months old, he was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and was prescribed medication.  Not a big deal.  Except that he had to take the medicine by spoon.  Remarkably, we managed to get him to take it from the spoon.  He has also had some problems swallowing because of his low muscle tone.  Early on he had to have his milk thickened and he saw a speech therapist who specializes in feeding because of his difficulties.  We had to hold him a certain way, give him a specific type of bottle, and thicken the milk, and most of this was learned by trial and error with her guidance.  She led us through all of this, and eventually he outgrew the swallowing problems and we were able to stop thickening his milk.  We continued to see the speech therapist and she was there guiding me as I gave him his first bite of food, on a spoon, that he already knew how to use because he had been taking medication daily for a while.  She also instructed me along the way on advancing his diet, showing me things to do to help him chew his food properly, etc.  Who knew eating could be so difficult?  Now, he is actually eating pretty well.  Because he had the problems early on, we had the speech therapist early on and because he has a thyroid problem, he used a spoon way earlier than he needed to for eating.  Both of these things have helped us avoid bigger problems like food aversions, gagging, and even refusal to eat that are commonly seen in children with Down syndrome.
So what is next on the agenda?  Eating his first piece of birthday cake!
"Give thanks in all circumstances..." 1 Thesalonians 5:18

Friday, December 25, 2015

Three stockings

This holiday season, there is a lot we are thankful for.  Mostly the outpouring of love shown to us because of the birth of our son.
I am thankful for:
My husband, who is such a loving, patient father to our children.
Addison, who has again shown what a great big sister she is.  She is sweet, sensitive and kind.
Anna Kate, who has risen to the occasion of being a big sister.  She has endured countless doctor's appointments and therapy sessions, where her brother got all the attention, with patience, maturity and grace.
My parents who have gone above and beyond in helping us care for our children.  They have kept the girls when we had to take Asher our of town for a doctors visit, keep my kids while I work, met me to do "drive by" drop offs when I am running late coming from work to make appointments, dropped everything to pick up Addison from school so that I could take Asher to a medical test they worked him in for because it needed to be rescheduled, and many more things that would take to long to write.
In laws who always send special packages for my children, watch our children when they visit, and give special attention to each of our kids.
Therapist who love my son, and get excited when he masters milestones.
Countless prayers on our behalf and words of encouragement from family and friends.
Friends who have watched my children while we go to medical appointments, even picking Anna Kate up in a wagon so that I would not have to pack the kids in the car!
Multiple delicious meals that were brought to our house.
Boxes and boxes of hand me downs for our sweet baby to wear.
A high chair given to us with love.
Hand me downs with Asher on them!
Most of all, I am thankful that I have three stockings to hang by the fireplace.

But as we all know, it is not about the stocking, but about what is inside the stocking.


Merry Christmas!



Saturday, November 21, 2015

Half birthday

Yesterday, Asher had his half birthday.  He is six months old.  It was also exactly one year from when we found out we were having a son and that he had Down syndrome.  We thought the news was devastating at the time, but have since realized it was life changing, but not devastating.  To celebrate, I am posting an essay I wrote and submitted for publication in a book about how children with Down syndrome enrich parents' lives.  Hoping it will be selected!

A Doctor’s Blessing
It’s hard being a doctor and a patient.  It’s hard being a doctor and choosing a doctor---especially an obstetrician.  You can go to one of your partners, but you have to be comfortable with everyone knowing your business.  You can go to someone you do not know, but then you risk the unknown.  And it seemed like in each of the large groups in town there was at least one doctor that I either knew too well and didn’t feel comfortable with them delivering my baby (but would recommend him or her to a friend) or had heard something about someone in the group that made me feel distrustful.  The best case scenario is what I found when I was pregnant with my third child--your partner leaves your practice and starts her own practice.  Not only did she leave, but two of my favorite nurses left and went with her, making it seem like family when I went to my appointments.  She was more than my former partner, she was my friend.  We had met each other in that miserable first year of medical school.  
When it came time to offer me prenatal testing for chromosomal abnormalities, she said something like, “you do not want it do you?”  Because she knew me and she knew it “wouldn’t change anything” as many of my similar minded friends say.  But it would change something.  It would allow me to be prepared.  I am a planner, after all.  Noninvasive prenatal testing was not available when I was pregnant with my two daughters.  Not only did I want to know about the results of the test, but I wanted to know if I would be having a boy and therefore have to redecorate the nursery!  
Then the wait.  I was hoping the results of the test would come back the next week because I, the ultimate deal finder, had my eye on the cutest bedding set at a store that was going out of business the next Saturday.  It would look so cute in a little boy’s room!  The results took longer than I thought, however.  She texted me 10 days after my blood draw and asked if I was working.  That was a little odd.  I was expecting her nurse to call and tell me everything was alright and to reveal the gender.  So I texted back that I was indeed at work, but not busy and needed to know if I was having a boy or girl.  No response.  That was unusual, but I am sure she had just gotten busy.  She was at work, after all.  So I called her after I left and left a message telling her yes I had indeed left work, she could call me at any time.  Then I received the phone call that would change everything.  
Yes, indeed I was having my boy, and he had a 99% chance of having Down syndrome.  She was prepared for the questions she probably knew I was going to ask.  This test boasts a less than 0.01% false positive rate.  She let me hand pick my perinatologist and got me an appointment for Monday.  It was Thursday, the day after my husband’s birthday.  She also told me that when the nurse showed her the result that morning, she cried, but she felt comforted imagining my husband, my two girls and me with our new little boy.  She told me this was the hardest thing she had ever had to do during her medical career.  She reminded me that of the three chromosomal abnormalities the test checked for, trisomy 21 was the one you wanted.  It had the best outcome, the best long-term survival and less associated medical complications.  Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal abnormality among live born infants occurring in 1 in 700 babies in the US.   Ultimately, he has a common, well known, well studied syndrome that many doctors have expertise and he will be well taken care of.
All my life and the questions that I had as to why things were the way they were made sense in that instance.  Why had I remained in my hometown instead of moving away like my sisters?  I was the traveler, not them.  I understood why I stayed at my current job giving me more flexibility with my schedule, when the organization basically split and the majority of my close colleagues left to work for another health center. 
I spent the next few days mostly in tears, in prayer and with very little sleep.  I was mostly mourning the loss of the son I had imagined.  I was fearful of the unknown.  What life would be like?  This wasn’t supposed to be happening to me.  I am a doctor.  I am supposed to be the one delivering bad news, not receiving it.  I reached out to the Down Syndrome Association in my area and was put on the phone with the executive director who had an adult daughter with Down syndrome.  She was very reassuring and kind.  I also spoke to a friend from high school, who I hadn’t spoken to since graduation, about her toddler with Down syndrome.  She made me realize my life was not over, it was just beginning---that I should not underestimate my son, that he would enrich my life.  And she was correct.  
The weekend dragged on.  I went to the perinatologist preparing myself to hear bad news.  I had decided against invasive testing and did not really want to hear about it or about termination.  I knew it was his job to inform me about these, so I went in saying that I did not want invasive testing and that I was moving forward with the pregnancy.  He was very kind, I knew him, and he treated my husband and me as friends.  I could tell he was worried. I wanted answers and he was very cautious.
Prepare, I did.  I scoured the internet, read 6 or 7 books, some medical some not.    The pregnancy was a roller coaster.  Once I got over the initial shock, I for the most part was doing okay, but then I would not be.  Every time I went in for a high risk appointment, I had come up with a new medical problem that I was sure he had, and was relieved to find out he did not have it.  My faith was really what sustained me.  
Initially, we told our immediate family and a handful of close friends.  Within a couple of days, we wrote a letter we sent to other family members and friends.  We eventually shared the letter in a blog and shared the link on Facebook.  I wanted everyone to know, so there wouldn’t be questions when people met him after he was born.  It still was an awkward subject.  I would run into someone I knew, nothing would be said about it, and I wasn’t sure if he or she had seen my post or not.  Most of the time, they had, they just didn’t know what to say.  My 90 year old grandma was the first person I told who did not react like it was bad news and did not say she was sorry.  She assured me that he would be a blessing. 
I knew I had finally come full circle when at the end of my pregnancy I was awake one night worrying about the fact that I did not yet have a wreath for his hospital door.  I had finally gotten to the point of almost enjoying my pregnancy and worrying about typical pregnancy things.  
The last few weeks of my pregnancy, I saw my doctor twice a week for testing.  One Tuesday, I went in to my appointment.  I had the rest of the afternoon free because my girls were in preschool that day because I had taken off work to go to the appointment.  I was planning on getting a manicure and pedicure after I left the appointment.  I never made it to the nail salon.  The baby decided to not cooperate with the testing and I was sent in for induction.  The nurses asked if I had a birth plan.  I did, I just wanted to hold my son.  I was afraid he would be whisked off to the NICU and that I would not be allowed to hold him.  The next day, exactly 6 months after hearing his diagnosis, I was holding my son.  The birth was joyful.  I had done all the grieving and was prepared as much as I possibly could be, so that all that was left was joy and happiness to finally meet him.  He did remarkably well.  He has only a few minor medical problems. 
We are so grateful for our Asher.  Asher means “happy, blessed.”  We are happy and blessed to have him in our family.  He has taught me how to love fiercely and how to celebrate small victories.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

To the moms of the children with special needs in my daughter's class

     As my daughter started kindergarten this year and my work schedule was graciously reduced per my request after having my son, I decided to become co-room mom.  (I do not recommend this, it is WAY more work than you would think!).  There are two boys with special needs who are in the class and do some work outside the class with the special education department.  Research has shown that the more a child with special needs stays in the classroom with his or her peers, the better.  Several of the parents I have met through the Down Syndrome Association talk about how they sometimes have to advocate to get their children into the classroom with their peers.  
     The other room mom and I are doing monthly crafts and we recently did our first one--an apple sun catcher.  I volunteered along with 4 other parents.  It was very difficult for the 5 of us to maintain control of the classroom.  The kids were everywhere, I am not sure how one teacher manages that many five year olds.  As the craft got started, the teacher called down to the special education department and had the two boys come down.  Two assistants came with them and helped them with their projects.  I may not ever get the chance to meet their moms, but if I did, this is what I would say:

Moms, 
I want you to know, I did not overlook your sons.  I was extra kind to them, I called them by name.  I made sure they had their supplies.  I took several pictures of them for the class photo album.  I noticed their empty seats during the curriculum night for the parents.  Maybe you were in the special education department trying to figure things out and going over things?  Maybe you do not consider them a part of the class?  I want you to know moms, I do.  I am pulling for your boys.  I am trying to teach my daughter to be extra kind to them.  I am hoping that she will talk to them, even though she has decided that she does not talk to boys, I am hoping that she will make an exception.  I told her she should talk to them because they may not have as many friends as her because they are not in the class all the time.  I know that I will be in your shoes, moms, in 5 years.  I am hoping someone else's child will be kind to my son.  I am hoping that he will be invited to birthday parties and have someone to sit with at lunch.  I am sorry that I never would have thought much about this until I received my son's diagnosis.  Thank you for leading the way for my son.  
Sincerely,
Your room mom

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What makes you different makes you special

As my oldest daughter is starting kindergarten, I've been trying to prepare her for that inevitable day when someone makes fun of her.  I am also aware that some day someone will say something mean to her about her brother.  I came across a post someone made using the phrase "what makes you different makes you special" and I really liked it.  So, I explained to her that since she had straight hair and her sister had curly hair, they were different from each other, but that their hair made them special.  I asked her what was different about her brother.  Her response was that his hair was short like his dad's.  Even now, she still just sees him as her baby brother.
He also has proved us wrong.  The last time his physical therapist saw him she warned me that it would be a while before he began rolling over.  I agreed with her, saying "I know he is no where near rolling over."  The very next day, he got so mad about being on his stomach (which is one of his exercises) that he rolled himself over to his back!!!!  I keep trying unsuccessfully to capture it on video.  He is still not doing it regularly, but he has done it a few times.  He is also cooing quite a bit (usually when I am somewhere that he needs to be quiet), smiling and laughing.