The Other Mother Theresa

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In a recent post, Sisterhood Sticky Notes asked the question, ‘When did you feel loved today?”I have felt loved all week and it has everything to do with one very special friend called Theresa.

I first met Theresa when Jon and I were new to Perth and visiting different churches in the city to try find one that felt like home. When we walked into Freedom Life she was one of the first people to greet us, but not in the formal handshake-at-the-door kind of greeting, but more the Tigger-from-Winnie-the-Pooh-bounding-up-to-say-hello kind of greeting. It was not so much the crazy hair, piercings, loud accessories and colourful wardrobe that left a lasting impression, but more the warmth and friendliness that oozed out of her. You felt loved and accepted and special within seconds of chatting to her. In fact, Theresa herself was probably the main factor that drew and kept us at this church.

There was definitely no forgetting her face, but she also made it easy for me to remember her name. She introduced herself and said that she has five children, so I could go ahead and call her Mother Theresa if I liked! Now, Theresa does not just have five children: she has five boy children. All between the ages of 14 and 7. This in itself would qualify her for the title of “The Other Mother Theresa”. But wait – there’s more…

Theresa shares something in common with the late Mother Theresa: she demonstrates her love through acts of service. It’s been a challenging and emotional week for Jon and me with Lucy going to hospital and getting her cast (spica) put on. Theresa knew this and knew that we would need a lot of love. So, instead of just sending a loving text, she set about loving us in very practical ways:

*She cooked us three nights’ worth of delicious suppers

*She bought us a ready-made meal to heat up on the day we got back from hospital

*She gave us snacks to take with us to the hospital, including delicious homemade brownies

*She came to visit me and Lucy to get us out the house for a coffee to make sure we weren’t just sitting around at home getting lonely

*She prayed for us

*She sent encouraging text messages

*She phoned to check up on us

*She asked what things we will need for our new house that we’re building and in a few days had sourced a double bed, a bedside table, a chest of drawers and an almost-new microwave 

*She rounded up a friend to help Jon with painting the new house on the weekend (thanks Tony for giving up your whole Saturday!)

All of the above just in the last week.

This is love in action. This is the type of love that captured the world’s attention when Mother Theresa was nursing the sick and helping the destitute and feeding the hungry. This is the type of love The Other Mother Theresa is demonstrating to her five boys. She doesn’t tell  them to love others – she shows them how to do it.

Let us all love like Theresa loves.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18
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Surgery and the Spica

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So, at the age of seven-and-a-half months, Lucy was scheduled to have her first ever surgery. We had to check in to Princess Margaret Hospital at 6:45 a.m. for her 8:15 a.m. operation. I set my alarm for 4:45 so I could grab a quick shower before waking Lucy at 5 for her last feed (she had to fast for three hours beforehand). This was an early start after getting to bed late due to packing my hospital bag and getting various things organised, not to mention Lucy’s multiple wake-ups during the night!

Lucy all dressed up in her hospital-issue pj's, looking like a jailbird! And a bleary-eyed mama trying to be strong.

Lucy all dressed up in her hospital-issue pj’s, looking like a jailbird! And a bleary-eyed mama trying to be strong.

Before the procedure we had to speak to several people all asking pretty much the same questions, have Lucy weighed and measured up for her cast, sign various consent forms, select the colour for the cast and then decide who was going to go through with her when they put her under anaesthetic. In my mind it was always going to be me but at the last minute I told Jon it had to be him because the closer we got to 8:15, the more frayed my nerves were becoming and I lost confidence in my ability to keep smiling while she was being put to sleep.

As the team of medical staff arrived to wheel her off and Jon went along with them, I couldn’t help myself and burst into tears in the busy waiting room, the lack of sleep and suppressed anxiety taking its toll. (I’ve wisened up now and know to wear waterproof mascara to all medical appointments!) Jon was back within probably two minutes. Lucy had been completely calm and very quickly went to sleep when they gave her the gas, without any dramatic rolling of eyes or convulsions!

My little pin cushion :(

My little pin cushion 😦

After two-and-a-half hours, two doctors came through to report back to us. The anaesthetist explained that it had taken her a whole hour to find a vein to put the cannula in for the second dose of anaesthetic and that Lucy’s arm would look like a pin cushion. <SOB!> Then the doctor reported that they had injected her hip socket with dye and taken an x-ray to see exactly what was going on before they operated. The x-ray showed that there wasn’t any build-up of tissue in the socket, like they had previously thought, which meant that they didn’t need to operate after all! All they needed to do was put the cast on, and this procedure is known as a ‘closed reduction’ (‘closed’ because no surgery was required to get the hip socket into the optimal position). The cast has to stay on for three months in total and will be changed after six weeks to accommodate Lucy’s growth.

I was then taken through to the recovery room as Lucy was coming round from her anaesthetic. The nurse explained that I should breastfeed her straight away to reassure and comfort her. This was somewhat tricky since she was now in a bulky, heavy, scratchy cast and had some tubes attached to her. The nurse took her temperature a number of times and each time it was well below normal. To warm her up, they placed a blanket-type thing over her into which a pipe was blowing hot air. We sat there for ages until she had eventually warmed up and could be taken through to the ward where we would spend the night.

Getting in a nap despite the noise of a busy children's ward

Getting in a nap despite the noise of a busy children’s ward

The room we were in was so much better than I’d anticipated! I thought it was going to be a huge room filled with babies but there were only three beds in it and a fair bit of space so we weren’t on top of the other families. The nursing staff at the hospital were all friendly and efficient and Lucy was very well taken care of. Jon was allowed to stay pretty much as late as he liked so long as he didn’t actually spend the night. After a long day, he headed home around 9 p.m.

Lucy and I then had a very long and disrupted night. We were both exhausted and desperately trying to sleep but the odds were not in our favour. I wont list all the factors involved except for the main one that prevented us from getting any decent sleep: one of Lucy’s room mates was a seven-week-old bub with a condition called sleep apnea. According to the Babycenter website, babies with sleep apnea stop breathing during sleep. The baby might gasp or gag as he finally takes a breath. He may also turn blue. This poor little boy was hooked up to a machine that monitored his breathing and whenever his oxygen levels got too low an alarm would go off loudly to summon the nursing staff. This happened a LOT. And when he was awake – he cried. A LOT. So yes, a very long night was had by all in Room 5.

Lucy as bright as a button on Day 2.

Lucy as bright as a button on Day 2.

The next day we were more than ready to get home but had to wait until they could do an MRI to confirm that Lucy’s hips were in the correct position in the cast. The MRI is a pretty scary procedure for anyone who gets claustrophobic and for babies it can be especially scary because there are all sorts of wierd noises that go off during the scan. It lasts about 10 minutes. I went in with her and had to sit at the one end of the tunnel to hold her arms still and speak soothingly to her. She surprised us all by staying totally relaxed and was falling asleep by the end of it!

"Get me outta here!!"

“Get me outta here!!”

By mid-afternoon, the doctor was able to review the scan and confirm that all was well and we could leave. It had only been a day and a half but it felt like we’d been in there for a week! As lovely as the hospital staff are, we couldn’t wait to get home again.

To end off, I’d just like to thank everyone who sent texts and Facebook messages to us during this daunting time. That long night in the hospital was made a lot more bearable thanks to all of your encouragement and prayers. I truly did feel buoyed by your support.

And I’m sure your prayers had a little something to do with the fact that Lucy didn’t have to have surgery in the end…

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What happened to my miracle?

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God, I have to be honest (which I think you prefer over lip service): believing you had healed my baby only to find out her condition has worsened and she has to undergo surgery is hard. I feel like a kid at Christmas who unwraps the gift I’ve been begging for all year only to discover it’s faulty and has to be sent to the manufacturer for repairs. And all the other kids around me are happily playing with their presents and showing them off and posting pics of them on Facebook.

I know that you are not a genie in a magic lamp who I can summon at will and present my wishes to. But you said in Luke 17:6: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

I’m pretty sure I had at least a mustard seed of faith, possibly even an acorn. And just in case I didn’t, I asked my friends and family to pray too so that all of our prayers together might be enough to move your hand.

And when you were knitting Lucy together in my womb, as per Psalm 139:13, we prayed that she would have the best of Jon and the best of me in her. I’m not sure how this translates into a genetically pre-disposed hip condition. Did you drop a stitch?

Walking with you can be perplexing and some scriptures seem so paradoxical. I find the older I get and the more I read and experience, the less I know.

But I’ve walked with you now for over twenty years and there are a handful of things I do know beyond a doubt. I have experienced the truth of them enough times to be convinced of them:

You are a good father. (Psalm 100:5)

You will never leave me or forsake me. (Deuteronomy 1:6)

You are constantly at work to make every circumstance beneficial for me. (Romans 8:28)

Lucy gets so upset now whenever I leave the room and I have to console her on my return. I find myself saying soothing things like, “Oh my baby, just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I’m not here”.

And, “My darling, you need to learn to trust me. I’ll never leave you on your own.”

And, “Lucy, everything I’m doing is only for your good.”

And I can almost feel you poke me in the ribs and chuckle and say to me, “Sound familiar, Jen?”

And then I know – regardless of the confusion of prayers seemingly unanswered – that everything really will be alright.

Another Setback. Seriously?!

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A week and a half ago, just as we were starting to get used to the Rhino brace, I got a phone call from the hospital asking us to come back in to ‘discuss treatment options’. My heart sank all the way down to my toes. By now I am familiar with what the treatment options are for DDH and so I had a pretty good idea what the conversation might involve.

We went along to the appointment last Friday and my worst fears were realised: Lucy has to have an operation.

Basic anatomy of the hip joint (image sourced from Wikipedia)

Basic anatomy of the hip joint (image sourced from Wikipedia)

After the last x-ray, the doctor showed the images to his colleagues and director at their weekly meeting. They agreed that putting Lucy in a Rhino brace wouldn’t actually solve the problem because some tissue has built up in her hip socket, preventing the femoral head from sitting snugly in the acetabulum. An operation is needed to remove that tissue and set the hip joint correctly.

While there are risks involved in operating on a seven-month-old baby, it’s not necessarily the surgery itself that I’m dreading. After the operation, Lucy will need to be in a plaster cast called a spica for six weeks.

This is similar to what Lucy will be in, except hers will go to her toes. There is a space left in the groin area so that you can change nappies. (image sourced from visn22.kramesonline.com)

This is similar to what Lucy will be in, except hers will go to her toes. There is a space left in the groin area so that you can change nappies. (image sourced from visn22.kramesonline.com)

If her hip is looking good after six weeks, she will transition into a Rhino brace again full-time for a further six weeks. If all is well after that, she will only have to wear the brace at night for a few more weeks until the doctors are happy that her hip is stable.

Her operation is scheduled for the 11th of February at Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth, which is the only hospital in Western Australia that does this procedure. She will stay overnight and then be allowed home.

We have a long road ahead!

Living with a Rhino

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I’m sure your curiosity is slightly aroused by the unusual name of the brace Lucy has to wear. Sadly the explanation is a rather boring one: they are made by a company called Rhino!

Lucy has to wear the brace 23 hours a day. We’ve had three weeks now to get used to it and it’s changed how we do things in a number of ways:

Clothing: Her once extensive wardrobe (thanks to very generous friends and family) has now been trimmed down to a few key items. To prevent chafe, she needs to have clothing underneath all parts of the brace. I put her in a sleeveless babygrow and a pair of leggings, day and night. This is the only way I can make sure all the affected areas are protected. Unfortunately for her, it is summer here in Perth and our temperatures have been hovering around the mid-thirties plus. Having to wear leggings means that she is usually wet with sweat, particularly at night when the temperature in her nursery averages 28 degrees celsius. I’ve bought a stack of the sleeveless babygrows from Kmart for $3 each. The selection is minimal so her wardrobe really has become more of a uniform.

Lucy in her uniform!

Lucy in her uniform!

Feeding: I am still breastfeeding Lucy and, while awkward, continue to use the cradle hold with a cushion underneath her for support. It looks pretty funny with her leg hovering in the air but it works and she seems comfortable! The bigger challenge comes with feeding her solids. Our wonderfully convenient bumbo and highchair are now redundant as she doesn’t fit into them. I think I’ve come up with a winning solution though: we have an old couch in the shade outside which is covered with a sheet. I prop her into the corner, sit next to her and do my best to get as much into her mouth and as little everywhere else as possible – no small feat! If things get a little messy, I just pop the sheet into the wash and I always have a carton of wet wipes on hand to keep things tidy. It’s actually really pleasant feeding her outside, looking at the garden, and super comfy too.

My hungry little gannet ready to eat!

My hungry little gannet ready to eat!

Nappy changes: No problems here other than it taking a bit longer as I have to take the brace off and put it back on again. Strangely enough it’s actually become one of my favourite activities during the day. No really! Every time I change her nappy, Lucy gets a short time out of the brace and is able to kick her legs freely and roll around a bit on the change table. It also allows me to monitor her left leg in case the nerve gets affected like it did in the Pavlik harness. So far so good on that front.

Sleep: I knew it would take a while for Lucy to adjust to sleeping with the brace on. Prior to the brace, she had become so mobile and loved to roll around in her cot, often getting stuck then crying for me to roll her back over again, only to flip over immediately after I’d rescued her. Sound familiar?! She had also taken to sleeping on her side, with one hand holding onto the side of the cot. She traveled extensively during the course of a night, and I would never find her in the same location that I’d left her in! Needless to say, she found the brace incredibly frustrating for the first week and a half. She slept fitfully and I was in and out of her room throughout the night for ten nights running, at times really struggling to console my very miserable baby. It was EXHAUSTING! Fortunately her sleep has since started to come right and she’s only waking up about twice a night at the moment.

I put a cushion under her feet when she sleeps to minimise strain on her lower back

I put a cushion under her feet when she sleeps to minimise strain on her lower back

Playtime: This is another major area of frustration for Lucy, again because she had become so mobile before she was put back in a brace. Where I used to be able to leave her playing happily on the mat for a few minutes, now she cries as soon as I leave her. I spend most of her waking hours sitting behind her so that she can sit propped up and play and know that I am with her. I get very little else done in a day! I can’t put her in the bumbo or highchair and make supper or unpack the dishwasher or strap her into a carrier and hang up the washing. All chores now get done when she is napping or at night when she’s in bed.

Milestones: The doctor assured us that being in a harness won’t restrict Lucy from meeting all her important developmental milestones. I suspect, though, that it is probably going to delay them a bit. She was never keen on tummy time (an important precursor to crawling) but now it’s extra-challenging. I make sure she does a bit of time on her tummy each day, even though it’s not very comfortable. Some babies apparently learn to crawl and roll over while wearing the brace so we’ll see if Lucy will beat the odds. Sitting isn’t a problem and I think the brace actually provides a bit of extra support. She wasn’t quite sitting on her own before she went into the brace and I’m still right behind her for the time being. I hope it won’t be long before she can do it on her own.

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If anything will motivate Lucy to crawl it’s her favourite toy – our dog Stella!

Travel: The lovely new car seat we’d bought for when she was ready to transition out of her capsule is unfortunately not wide enough for her now. I had it checked out by an occupational therapist at the hospital and she tried to modify it with some foam padding but it still didn’t work. She then took me across to the wonderful not-for-profit organisation called Kidsafe and they offer seats for hire at a cost of $70 for three months plus $40 for the extra long strap that I needed to accommodate Lucy’s brace. A technician from the hospital then fitted it for me. I feel much better knowing that Lucy is in the right car seat with proper support. Fortunately she is still able to fit into her pram and I’ve just had to put a cushion behind her back to ensure her feet can straddle the edge and not get pushed inwards.

When she first had to go into the brace, I felt completely overwhelmed by the challenge of it but it hasn’t taken long to adapt and find solutions to make things work smoothly. Thank you to everyone who has sent messages of encouragement. I need and welcome them!