February 14, 2013

greater love has no man than this... choosing life.

[Note--This post makes me laugh as I read back over it. It sounds pretty morbid!  I honestly don’t spend my waking hours contemplating death, nor do I feel the need to defend myself to the world.  This post was something I wrote to help me process.  I think I need to mention death 50 times in this post to announce to the world (and myself) that YES, I am very aware what COULD happen.  It scares me, but I’m OK with the risk.  I’m not naïve or stupid.  I am choosing LIFE.  And to me, LIFE is worth the risk.]

After an hour long, intensive ultrasound, my Fetal Medicine Specialist folded his arms and said, "Well, this doesn't look good."  Although he is a very skilled doctor, at a great hospital (one hour from my home), he is referring me to the top guns of surgery up in Portland (two hours from my home.)  He said that my surgery is going to require an extensive team and he just doesn't have access to that many specialist.


A study from 2002 suggested that those with my condition had a 10% mortality rate, I have a one in ten chance of dying.  Whoa.  (I'm sure my % is much lower because I have been diagnosed early and am under incredible medical care.)  A couple of times during our conversation I would ask what the risk would be of avoiding a hospital stay or not taking the baby early, my doctor would reply, "Maternal death."  I would laugh and say, "I know, but how?  Why?  What exactly is the risk?"  I teased him that he just liked saying that death word to get me to stop asking questions.  He laughed and said, "Well, it doesn't work with you."  He could feel that I'm just not afraid of dying.  I really think I'm going to be fine.  But, if not... I still think everything would be fine.

Without giving you a huge lesson on my uterus (I am planning on explaining the details in an upcoming post if you are interested), I will tell you my basic and more recent diagnoses.  I have a pretty rare and mild blood condition called Beta Thalassemia Minor, complete Placenta Praevia, and  a very extensive case of Placenta Percreta (the most serious form of Placenta Accreta).

Today we learned that my placenta has attached almost completely to the wall of my uterus and has leaked through my previous c-section scars and attached to other organs, like my bladder.  Following the delivery of my baby (hopefully around 34 weeks), they will do a very extensive hysterectomy and reconstructive surgery.  It's a pretty intense surgery and maternal death due to blood loss is their biggest concern.  Aside from the risk of a premature delivery due to early hemorrhaging, my baby is developing well and should be born completely healthy.

I am currently on complete pelvic rest, and modified bed rest.  Modified bed rest means, I need to take it easy, avoid exercise and heavy lifting, and listen to my body.  In reality, my daily routine is very affected.  I'm doing much less than I'm used to doing and I just know that I need to lay more than I ever have before.  I honestly feel that doing too little is as harmful to my body as doing too much.  Laying around makes my body weak and it hurts.  I think it's important to maintain my strength for my upcoming pregnancy and recovery.

This condition is rare and is not something I ever knew about prior to conceiving this baby.  Getting pregnant is always a risk, but despite my large family, I am a young, healthy woman.  No doctor has ever told me that it was risky for me to get pregnant again.  The fact that I have two previous c-sections did increase my odds of getting Accreta, but even then it is pretty rare and can affect someone pregnant with their first child as well as someone pregnant with their eighth.  {As a side note, I will say that Placenta Accreta is drastically on the rise.  So many women are opting for c-sections and c-sections increase the risk of this serious condition.  I did not "opt" for a c-section.  Both of mine were life saving and emergency.  Please be aware of the risks that optional surgery may present to you.}  Even if you ARE the most healthy person in the world, sometimes life hands you difficult cards. 

Yes, there are health risks to having a large family.  There are some that think I'm dumb to have so many, some feel sorry for my children.  (Yes, they have told me this.)  I laugh.  Judge me for choosing to have children, but, while you are judging keep in mind that I have NEVER smoked one cigarette.  I have never drunk alcohol.  I have never done drugs.  I barely even take Tylenol.  I don't drink caffeine.  I live a very healthy lifestyle.  I eat healthy, I exercise, I drink green smoothies (ha!).  I get a good night sleep and (prior to this pregnancy) have a happy and healthy sex life with my husband.  I am young and my womb is healthy.  

AND-- I married a man who is just as healthy as I am.  We have a great life, we are financially stable, we have been happily married for over 15 years.  We are great parents with seven wonderful children and we WANTED this baby.  We prayed for him and we planned this pregnancy.  Todd and I have never had sex with anyone else.  We have no STD's or even the possibility of other sexually transmitted diseases.  

Yes, there is calculated risk in choosing to give birth 8 times and I'm not denying the toll that takes on a woman's body.  I am very aware, however, that we live in a society today where it is socially acceptable to mock and judge and roll your eyes at someone with a large family at the same time it is taboo to say anything negative about a culture of STDs, abortions, homosexuality, prominent physical and sexual abuse, and excessive addictions.  This sounds harsher than I intend it to.  I'm just saying, look at the whole picture- risky involves more than just choosing to have children.

This condition I have did not come as a direct result of my large family.  Large families are not 'unhealthy', families are the reason we need our health.  In my humble opinion, having a baby is even a greater physical accomplishment than running a marathon.  A baby is worth the 'health risk' whether you have having your first or your eighth.  We can choose many things in life, but we can not always avoid trials by our choices. 

The hardest thing about this pregnancy right now is mental- the uncertainty.  Mentally, I feel a bit like I'm gestating a time-bomb.  I could bleed out at anytime and loose the baby.  If I wasn't so aware of this situation, I could begin bleeding and die before I got to the hospital.  The unknown is the hard part for an OCD planner like me. 

There is no evidence that really says that there is anything I can do or not do to prevent a future bleed.  My fetal medicine doctor said I could bleed out laying in bed as easily as I could bleed out cooking dinner.  He says I just need to listen to my body.  Probably, the next few months are going to be fairly uneventful, followed by a pretty eventful climax and a long, more intense recovery.  My doctors are always saying things like, "this is a life and death situation."  I am very aware of the risks.

I'm someone who needs to understand what is happening.  I like knowing the best and worst case scenarios   I want the doctors to talk to me like I'm smart.  With my whole soul I believe that I will be blessed with wisdom to navigate these next few months.  I believe I am directed every day, ESPECIALLY when things get tough. 

I am grateful for modern-day medicine and I completely believe in a God of miracles and a Great Plan of Happiness that includes sickness, sorrow and death.  I find joy in the sometimes difficult journey of life.  Finding peace in the midst the uncertainty is going to be my mental struggle. 

Sure, I let myself grieve and be afraid and be angry.  But ultimately, I feel the best when I get to the place of just taking one day at a time.  I know that I am known.  There is a God and He has a specific plan for me.  Whatever happens, it will be alright.  I live in America, I have great insurance and incredibly skilled doctors, this is the 21st century and I'm grateful for this experience, no matter the outcome.

This afternoon I was talking with a family member.  I said that things don't look good for my insides, but that the baby looks perfect.  They replied.  "I don't care about the baby.  I'm worried about you.  You already have seven children.  You have to take care of yourself and them."  From the rest of the conversation and previous conversations, I get the impression that some people think I should abort this baby.  Not only that, I feel that they think I'm stupid for not considering abortion more seriously.  (This could be my hormones talking.)  I've had so many people ask if the doctors are trying to encourage me to abort the baby.  Today, this conversation made me a bit crazy.  And, that is why I'm writing this blog.

Honestly, No.  No doctor or nurse has ever asked or suggested that I abort this baby.  Everyone has seemed as excited as me to see a healthy baby or hear a beating heart.  We have talked about abortion in general, and they ALL agree with me that abortions are way too common.

We met with a geneticist for a LONG time.  She asked questions prior to our first major ultrasound that included things like whether or not we wanted an amniocentesis done.  We said only if it will help them care for me or our baby.  We told her that test results wouldn't affect our choice to keep this baby.  We would not abort the baby based on any suspected abnormality or defect.  Perhaps that answer kept them from asking us point-blank if we wanted to abort this baby.

We talk all through our ultrasounds.  The sonographers know, just like you do, how miraculous I think creation is.  They know how blessed I feel to be carrying this baby.   Actually, they all agree with me that this baby, no matter the trouble it is causing, is a LIVING, MOVING, PERFECT being.  I could NEVER, EVER, EVER choose to kill him.  Even if I die giving him life.  If the doctors, sonographers or nurses have said anything, they have said that they agree with me about the miracle of life and that they admire our decision.

The sonographer today said that it was sad this would be my last baby, she thought Todd and I were the type of people that should have 12.  I thought that was sweet of her to say.  I believe LIFE is a gift even when it is inconvenient or imperfect or unsure.  This baby is a GIFT to me.  I am overflowing with gratitude for him.

Statistics and genetic testing makes me a little crazy anyway.  So many of my friends have been told their baby had problems and they have given birth to perfectly healthy babies.  There is no statistic that could guarantee aborting this baby would even make my surgery and recovery any safer.  

Do we really know anything for sure BEFORE it happens?  You could be pregnant with a baby and think it is the absolute worst timing ever.  You could think this baby's life would be horrible because of lack of money or stability in your life.  You could think a baby's life is not worth saving because of a genetic defect.  And, you could be completely WRONG.  After having given birth and living with your child you could learn that that baby was indeed a GIFT not a burden.  You might be surprised at how your perspective changes with time.  Life is like that.

I have known many families who have experienced the death of a baby, due to sickness or tragedy.  Although death is HARD and SAD and HORRIBLE to endure, I'm not sure that any of these couples would say they wish their baby had never been born.  Most would choose life, even if it meant experiencing the pain of loss.  I know many who live with the regret of abortions.  I don’t know anyone who has a child and wishes they had aborted it.  I have seven children.  I can’t imagine my life without one of them.  They are gifts to me and bring unspeakable joy to my life along with the effort they require to raise.

I also know many parents with special needs children.  I'm not sure that one of those parents would trade their child for a child with a more perfect body.  Sure, all parents wish for the best for their children.  But I don’t know one mother who would prefer a dead child over an imperfect child.  Life is good, even when it is not easy or ideal.

Sure, I'm going to have a pretty intense surgery after this delivery.  I could die.  I could DIE.  Yes.  We are all going to die someday anyway, all of us.  I could die tomorrow in a car accident.  So could you.  I believe that God, not just nature, not man or skilled doctors, is the gatekeeper to LIFE and DEATH.  Death, illness, trials, hard times, these are ALL part of life.  The hard times go hand in hand with the great joys of life.  No pregnancy is wrong and no death is an accident.  

God knew that I would be conceived to two unwed, imperfect people 35 years ago.  He blessed me with this specific little boy and this difficult pregnancy, He is walking beside me now and He knows just when I'm going to die.  He knows when each one of us will die.  He knows our trials and He is with us through them.  My life has a purpose and a plan.  God loves me and He is blessing me and my family.  No matter what happens, it will be OK.  All things will work together for my good.  I know it.

I believe in a Divine Creator and an Omnipotent God.  I don't believe He causes Earthly trials or health problems, but I do believe that He is an active parent.  He knows and He lets us experience joy and sorrow, because both make us better.

Would it be hard for my seven children to grow up without a mother?  Of course it would be, it would be horrible.  It would be hard, but it would also be strengthening and character building.  It is hard for them to grow up with me as a mother too, sometimes.  If I died, they would still be blessed.  They have a great father and an extended family that would support and help raise them.  They would never be without a mother, they would have a mother who lived and died for her family.  Not ONE person here on Earth can escape trials in life.  That is all part of the plan.

I completely believe in Heaven.  I believe death is temporary.  I believe in angels and I know that, even if I did die, I would be near them as often as I could be.  I would teach them by whispering in their ears, I would love them, and I would STILL be their mother.

I don't want to die.  I don't think I'm going to die.  But, I would die for this baby.

If I were in a school and a crazy man started shooting people, I would die to protect someone else's child.  I wouldn't even think of letting someone else's child die because I have seven children at home that need a mother.  It would be instinctual.  I would not hide, I would fight and protect life.  I know I would.

How is it any different with this baby in my womb?  This is MY baby.  Of course I am willing to risk a difficult delivery to get this baby here.  Even with a 10% chance of death... there is a 90% chance I'll be just fine.  Would you kill one of your children with a 90% chance that you did it unnecessarily?  COME ON?!

I know there are so many women out there who choose to abort babies.  I know that it is heart-wrenching decision that is NEVER made lightly or easily.  It's just not something that I could ever do.  Ever.  Not even if my life were in danger, not even if I were raped, not even if they told me my baby would not survive birth.  I wouldn't choose to kill my baby.  Ever.  I can barely kill spiders I find in my house.  I just couldn't do it.  Death is a natural, difficult and beautiful part of life.  Choosing to kill is another matter. 

I saw my little guy again today.  I have seen him since I was 6 weeks pregnant... I had JUST barely missed my first period and wasn't even sure I was pregnant.  The first thing we saw was a little peanut baby and his strong, beating heart.  Creation is a miracle.  Life is a gift.  I love that boy.  He is most definitely ALIVE and REAL.  

Today he is almost 7 inches long and about half a pound.  He had fingers and toes and eyes and a spinal chord.  He moves and kicks and swallows and he is alive.  He is perfect.  He is my son.  I feel SO blessed.

Yes, this pregnancy will be stressful.  Sure, I'm going to have a pretty rough recovery.  It won't be fun, but is there anything MORE worth the pain?  Isn't life worth the risk?

Honestly, I happened to watch Dr. 90210 (while laying in bed one afternoon) and I was AMAZED at the extensive surgeries people will endure to fix their physical appearance.  It's pretty intense.  If people would endure pain and suffering and risk to get bigger boobs, a smaller nose, and a flatter tummy, then shouldn't most people understand that I would  be willing to endure a pretty involved surgery for another person?!  What would you endure for another person's life?

Obviously, there are at least 40 million people in America today who disagree with me.  Abortion is common and those who vote for legalized abortions out number those of us who vote against it.  I am not meaning to cast a judgment on other people, but I am just standing up for my right to choose life.

Most, if not all, of the people I come into contact with are SO kind.  Most of the "take care of yourself" comments I receive are referring to my need for rest and are accompanied by thoughtful offers of help.  I don't imagine that there are these angry mobs of people trying to get me to abort this baby.  Most who know me, love me and respect our big, crazy family.  But, anytime you are confronted with a life and death situation, you have to think.  People always do make comments and ask questions.  I am just addressing underlying currents.  As I sat down to write this blog my mind was exploding.  Thank you for listening to me sort things out.

I do not love this baby in my womb any more or less than the babies in my home.  Life is a gift.  Trials are blessings that help us to grow and become stronger.  We are loved and known.  I know it.  

Ultimately, the decisions concerning the timing and size of your family, especially when the life of the mother is at risk, are decisions that should NEVER be made lightly.  We all must make some difficult choices.  Decisions of life and family planning should be made prayerfully.  They are decisions that should be made by the mother, the father and God.  Maybe you agree with me, maybe you would choose differently.  I respect that.  

We are all trying to live the best way we know how.  We all must be true to the light and knowledge we have at a given time.  How I hope we can ALL love each other and respect each other and recognize that everyone's circumstances are individual and unique.  We just don't need to judge each other-- we're ALL doing the best we can.  Let us love and comfort each other in our individual journeys.  

Life is FULL of choices.  This is my choice.  Today, I am full of peace and joy as I think about my future.  Today I am grateful for life.  I am grateful for this trial.  I feel very blessed.  

Here are some more posts about this journey...

Week 21
Week 20
Week 19
Week 18
In a Moment...


Cheryl said...

Jen, I've been thinking of you and praying for you, and I LOVE this post. You are awesome and soooo right. I would do the same.

Love to you and your sweet baby.

valerie in TX said...

Sweet friend. Don't even know what to say. I wish you were here so I could bring you dinner and pick your kids up from school and K could come play with your little girls while you rest. Miss you, love you, and praying for you.

Anonymous said...

WoW, what a wonderful post! I have only just stumbled across your blog (I am an Australian mother to 6). I know in my heart you are going to be just fine...and so is baby! Congratulations on another little blessing. I would make the same decision you have.

My last pregnancy I delivered 15lb of twin baby boy at 38 weeks, and I had a heart problem from 22 weeks gestation. It was pretty horrible. 11 months later, Here I am ready to do it all over agin!

Praying for you and wishing you a safe delivery of little #8!

Amelia xxxxxxxxx

Jilene said...

I forgot to mention in my comment the other day that I have a friend here who is in the hospital with a similar condition. Her blog is survivingaccreta.blogspot.com.

Momzoo said...

Lovely! You have been in my prayers.

Katie Richins said...

Jen - I love your perspective. Thank you for sharing it.

Jennie Plastow said...

Amen! That's all I can say. Amen. Do you mind if I post a link for your blog onto mine? I know you posted it in the comments, but just wanted to double check.

jenifer said...

Sure. I never mind if someone links to one of my posts. (plus, I already linked to your blog in one of my posts... Oops. Hope you didn't mind!)

Jennie Plastow said...

Nope don't mind at all :)

Birrd said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! Thank you for bearing your soul and letting the light in it shine.

My 4 Gooches said...

I found your blog through a friend whose sister is your friend. AMAZING post! I never, ever could have said it better myself! I appreciate your honesty and completely agree with you with all my heart. If I were in your position, I would be doing the exact same thing.
Since you wrote this, you've just delivered sweet little Ben. You're not done with your surgeries yet. I wish you the best of luck and know that whatever happens, it is God's will. You are a strong mother and your children are extremely lucky to have you and your faith. What a blessing to have the gospel in your lives at such a critical moment!

Corine said...

"Would you kill one of your children with a 90% chance that you did it unnecessarily? COME ON?!" LOL - This is WONDERFUL! :) I agree with you on EVERY LEVEL! I wish we lived near by each other... I would love to meet you and be friends and hang out with you! You are an awesome lady and I just LOVE the way you are! Way to be!!!! :D

PS. And... you both made it! :D What a BEAUTIFUL, and Heart Warming story. Thanks for sharing it all!!!

Corine :D

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