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One Month HOME

*For anyone who needs a recap, our little Sunley Summit has Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome (HRHS). Specifically, she has Double Inlet Left Ventricle (DILV) and Double Outlet Left Ventricle (DOLV), which is incredibly rare. What should have become a right ventricle is just a strip of tissue in her heart near her aortic valve.  Her prognosis has many unknowns, but we are very hopeful for her future. We are getting care at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX, whose heart center is ranked number one in the nation. There is no real cure for Sunley’s condition, so the plan is to do a total of 3 heart surgeries (PA Band, Glenn/DKS, and Fontan). Our hope is that these surgeries will work well enough to avoid a heart transplant and she will lead a long, full life with only those 3 surgeries. We moved from Midland to Houston on March 7th, 2018 and Sunley was born the next month. Sunley spent her first 6 days in the NICU, went home (Houston home) for a while, and then spent 26 days in the hospital after her first surgery (PA Banding) at 6 weeks old. She had a one week hospitalization for dehydration at 4 months old, then went home for a month. At 5 months old, she was hospitalized for low saturations for 5 days, and underwent what I’ve officially termed a “doing-something cath” (atrial septostomy). On November 6th, Sunley had her second open heart surgery, which required bypass: a Bi-Directional Glenn and DKS procedure, and incredibly went home only six days after that. We had to stay in Houston until after her Glenn recovery. On January 7th, when Sunley was 8 months old and after exactly 10 months away from home, we returned to Midland with ALL 3 of our kids!

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I can’t believe we have been home for a month now! This time last year, we were in the middle of a very long diagnosis process, unsure of whether or not we should even pursue any treatment at all, and now we are home with ALL THREE of our beautiful babies. We spent January going back and forth to Houston a bit, but officially moved OUT of the Houston apartment on January 27th and made the 9 hour trek home. That last trip to Houston included an echo, Xray, and cardiology appointment which all went fantastic! Sunley’s saturations have a wide range, anywhere from 73-88, but usually land around 77. Her pulmonary valve has what Dr. Ayres called “trivial leakage,” but it isn’t anything to worry about right now. She said that it isn’t uncommon after a DKS. Sunley is gaining weight perfectly (almost 15 pounds now), which is so wonderful after such a long struggle in that area. Her appointment went so well, in fact, that she doesn’t need another check up until May! She is almost 15 pounds now, which is actually just about what her big brother (heart healthy) weighed at this age.

While we were in Houston this last time, our buddy Oliver CAME HOUSTON-HOME!! Having the two of them playing on the floor together is something we waited for for a long time, and it was so incredible for us. When we left before, I was very sad to realize that we wouldn’t be in Houston for his homecoming, but God allowed it. And it was such a wonderful “bonus” to be there! We have spent so many hours praying for these sweet babies, and it was just so precious to have them both together. As soon as beautiful Ivy goes home, I think we will feel like chapter one is finally complete <3 All 3 babies, and 4 bigs together is something I picture daily. We love our heart families big time. I don’t know how this year would have looked without these people and our really warped sense of humor. While our journeys have each been very different, the hurts are the same, the joys are the same, and the faith required in this CHD world is the same. I’ll stop rambling about my love for these people. Just so thankful. And thankful for all the prayers on our friends’ behalf as well <3

On the last night in Houston, I realized that I still hadn’t taken a rooftop photo of TCH that I had been eyeing all year. This was the sunset God sent me for the photo <3 Just another little way of Him telling me, “I see you.”

(If you are reading this on a phone, you’ll have to zoom in to see TCH!)

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Another exciting update is that Sunley Summit is CRAWLING! She is getting faster every day, and it’s so amazing to see her discovering her world in this new way. I find myself daily just staring at her, amazed that we didn’t end up with significant delays after all of her hospital time and procedures. I think a huge part of this is because we were able to go home and wait for her PA Banding Surgery. I regret not allowing the doctors to give her an NG tube that week (long story), but at the same time, if we had done an NG tube, we would not have gone home before that first surgery. Always pros and cons.

It finally feels real to not be in the hospital. New Years day marked 50 days that Sunley had been out of the hospital, and that was the longest stretch for her ever, until now. I’m officially not counting how many days it’s been out of the hospital, because we have no plans to go back for a very long time! We were so encouraged to overcome RSV at home, and Sunley is currently battling another bad cold, but handling it so well. Thank you all so much for your prayers. To say that we feel loved and supported is an understatement. 

February is CHD Awareness month, and I plan to participate in the coming years, but pretty much ignored it this year, as I am still trying to figure out life without Sunley’s CHD being the only thing of which I think or speak (definitely rearranged that sentence so that it wouldn’t end with a preposition. *Mic Drop*). Derek announced an update with one of our heart buddies, Ivy, at church on Sunday morning, and Hadelyn leaned over and said “What about me? I’m sick, too.” Without being too overly analytical, I’m sure that my two heart healthy kids have felt a little left out, what with their TWO ventricles and all, so it’s something I’m trying to balance. With everything still so fresh, I think it’s ok for us to ignore the CHD awareness for this year and just focus on our little family unit’s process of moving forward. That said, next February, you may want to brace yourselves for ALL the heart baby Facebook posts.

Everyone I’ve seen so far since being home has been so understanding and supportive. No one expects me to be 100% ok and happy all the time, and that’s been very encouraging for me. It’s a complicated thing having an experience like we had and then being shot right back into day to day life — with Derek leaving for work, me (not working now) making lunches, going to the grocery store, and cleaning ALL the live long day. We saw some pretty incredible things in Houston, and we also saw some pretty unforgettably horrible things, and to see for yourself the vast range of things that happen inside the walls of a children’s hospital is an incredible privilege and extremely humbling. It also makes doing the mundane, daily things of life kind of difficult at times. Of course I am overjoyed that I brought home my daughter. The drive home WITH a carseat in the back is the only way I wanted to come home, and we did just that. I am so, SO grateful that we are home and our lives are moving forward. But, I am also not done with the CHD journey. We still have the Fontan ahead of us, and even after that we will always be looking for improvements for Sunley’s health.

I have learned that actually you can feel exactly OPPOSITE emotions at the same time. I can feel so happy to have all 3 of my kids with me, and also feel lonely. I can feel so happy to be discharged from the hospital, and also miss getting to see and talk to other heart parents. I can feel relieved that Sunley has her left ventricle (the typically stronger of the two ventricles), and also nervous because her anatomy is so rare and the outcomes are more unknown. I can feel like Derek and I did a good job taking care of her, and also feel debilitatingly guilty for leaving my two bigs. I know I’m not the only one who has experienced such complicated emotions like this. Any sort of process involving grief probably feels similar.

I think we really isolate ourselves when we don’t allow others to grieve with us. 

I have heard one phrase OVER and over since we got the diagnosis a year ago: “I know this is nothing compared to what you’re going through, but…”

That phrase is such a stupid lie that we have ALL said, and one that I think we all find ourselves believing over and over again. After being diagnosed a year ago, I very quickly learned that I had a choice in my reaction every time someone offered advice. Of course, sometimes people are going to say the “wrong” thing. But I can tell you, the only time I felt hurt was when people said nothing. I can only speak for myself, but I think it is much better to say the wrong thing than to say nothing at all. I could list out several things to never say to a heart parent, but I think all that does is scare people away from saying anything at all, thus further isolating all of us with our own feelings. I think God equipped us all to empathize with each other, regardless of the specific situations we are in. No matter what we are going through, there is always someone who has it worse, and always someone who has it easier than us. It is a lie straight from the devil to think that no one can relate to what I’m going through. It’s a lie that has kept me so many times in the past from reaching out to friends who are hurting BIG. I learned quickly that I can learn from the experiences of other Christians, whether sick-baby related or not. Right after we were diagnosed, a friend started a sentence with “This is nothing compared to your situation, but when my dog died…” and I’ll admit that I started to close off. Reflecting on that conversation later, though, I realized that her actual advice was exactly what I needed to hear. She spoke about focusing her days on Scripture, filling her time with prayer, and finding a new normal without her companion. What a gift God has given us in each other, and we so often push it away. It is so easy when your whole world is changed to become extremely isolated in your grief, and not want to listen to what anyone has to say. It would be so easy to slip into a very bitter place, full of worry and guilt and fear, and that is just exactly what God doesn’t want for me. My daughter has an incurable heart defect. Do you know how angry that can make a person? I have nowhere for that anger to go, no one to blame, and no one who can change it. I think that’s why it’s tempting to ignore the stories and advice from other people. Because if I pretend like my problem is bigger than their problem, then at least I’m winning at something, right? At least it gives me a valid reason to be angry. It’s super evident, though, that actually my problem is not the worst problem in the world, and actually even if your biggest tragedy in life is that your dog died, we still have a lot in common, and you have wisdom to offer me from a very difficult experience of your own. Grief is grief, anger is anger, and all I will accomplish by winning the problem game is more loneliness. (And by the way, spending 10 months in and out of a hospital showed me quickly that things could be way worse, no matter where I was on the problem scale.) ALL of that rambling to say that, for me, there is no problem comparison, and the only wrong thing to say to grieving friends is nothing at all.

*Cue the insecurity of whether or not that came off the way I wanted it to. Ended with a preposition.

hypoplastic right heart syndrome

What the Lord Has Done in Me

*For anyone who needs a recap, our little Sunley Summit has Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome (HRHS). Specifically, she has Double Inlet Left Ventricle (DILV) and Double Outlet Left Ventricle (DOLV), which is incredibly rare. What should have become a right ventricle is just a strip of tissue in her heart near her aortic valve.  Her prognosis has many unknowns, but we are very hopeful for her future. We are getting care at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX, whose heart center is ranked number one in the nation. There is no real cure for Sunley’s condition, so the plan is to do a total of 3 heart surgeries (PA Band, Glenn/DKS, and Fontan). Our hope is that these surgeries will work well enough to avoid a heart transplant and she will lead a long, full life with only those 3 surgeries. We moved from Midland to Houston on March 7th, 2018 and Sunley was born the next month. Sunley spent her first 6 days in the NICU, went home (Houston home) for a while, and then spent 26 days in the hospital after her first surgery (PA Banding) at 6 weeks old. She had a one week hospitalization for dehydration at 4 months old, then went home for a month. At 5 months old, she was hospitalized for low saturations for 5 days, and underwent what I’ve officially termed a “doing-something cath” (atrial septostomy). On November 6th, Sunley had her second open heart surgery, which required bypass: a Bi-Directional Glenn and DKS procedure, and incredibly went home only six days after that. We had to stay in Houston until after her Glenn recovery. On January 7th, when Sunley was 8 months old and after exactly 10 months away from home, we returned to Midland with ALL 3 of our kids!

It is no coincidence that I haven’t updated the blog since our kids arrived in Houston. Life would be just completely insane with 3 healthy kids, let alone a heart kid, a move, a holiday trip, and two major illnesses.  It has been a year since we started this CHD journey of ours, and what. a. journey. And we are just getting started!

After spending Thanksgiving apart from our kids, we were all FINALLY reunited in Houston in early December. The five of us had not been together since Labor Day weekend. That was, of course, not the plan. Originally, we had planned to bring the kids to Houston every other weekend. Every single time we made those plans we had some type of issue — either Sunley went to the ER, or one of the kids was too sick to let them be around Sunley — and we kept having to postpone the trips. While that period of time was heart wrenching for us, the kids really did great with it all. They lived with my mom and dad and really thrived in the routine that was set up for them, so that helped our momma and daddy hearts. 

The biggest news is that we all were able to LEAVE Houston! We had planned on going to Midland the day after Christmas, but (long story) had to cancel that trip due to a scheduling issue for Sunley’s RSV shot, Synagis. This shot is only available for high risk babies like Sunley, who would be in a VERY dangerous spot if they contracted RSV. It is not a vaccine, so it doesn’t keep her from getting RSV, but would help her fight it if she caught the virus. I was told by one of the TCH doctors that RSV is one of the top killers for single ventricle babies after the Glenn. Needless to say, we did not feel comfortable leaving until she had that in her system. 

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A few days after her Synagis shot, we went to Oklahoma City for a short trip. Some of you may remember that we started our long diagnosis process just a few days before Christmas last year. We annually go to the New Year’s Meeting in Oklahoma, and it is always an incredibly encouraging experience. We haven’t missed a year since we met in 2006, and I look forward to it every year. The last night of the meeting is spent singing gorgeous a cappella hymns from memory, and it’s about the closest thing to heaven you’ll find on this side of reality. Last year, we attended with heavy hearts as we wondered what New Years would be the next time we were there. Would we even be able to go next year, or would we be in the hospital? Would our baby be delayed or brain damaged from her surgeries? Would we even have all three kids next year? The entirety of 2018 was spent focused on our kids and the impact that this diagnosis has had on our lives. I couldn’t help but have the goal of attending the meeting with our sweet heart warrior in our arms, and I was ecstatic that she was cleared to leave in time to attend. While her journey this year was very successful, we understandably had some low points. I will always remember long hours spent in the hospital trying desperately to console a baby in pain, while dealing with wires and tubes and following sternal precautions. It’s not easy trying to snuggle a baby in that position, and so sometimes I would just put an arm under her, my face by hers and sing, and picture us all together, singing at the New Year’s Meeting. It was really more to console me than for her, to make me feel like I was doing something to help. More often than not, the song I would sing is called “What the Lord Has Done in Me.” It has this gorgeous chorus that, for me, turned into a chant during some of our roughest days — some in the hospital, and some at the apartment missing my bigs and worrying about the future. This song became the anthem for my spirit over the last year. 

So fast forward to New Year’s at the meeting, which felt like an incredible victory lap for us. Last year we arrived in Oklahoma with a big belly and a scary diagnosis, and now we are here with an incredibly smiley, NOT delayed, gorgeous little baby, and our two big kids, all together again. I am already overwhelmed with thankfulness, but when we walked in to this auditorium of 900+ people it really hit me how MANY people care about my kids. We had complete strangers coming up to us just to tell us that they had been praying for her. Tons of young kids wanted to see her, several sweet friends that we haven’t seen in a year, and even family members that hadn’t met her until then. Of course, we were unbelievable germaphobes while we were there, only went to the last service of the meeting, and only let 3 or 4 family members hold her. Remember the a cappella singing I mentioned on the last night of the meeting? It’s always very old, very traditional hymns because it’s all from memory. Two friends of ours, Tara and Jeremy, printed out copies of “What the Lord Has Done in Me” and passed them out to all 900+ people there, and we sang it that night. I shouldn’t say “we.” The auditorium sang while Derek and I boo-hooed through the whole thing. At the top of the sheet music was a paragraph about how this was Sunley’s song all year, and I just about fell on the floor when I heard that chorus. It’s hard to explain to people because it’s just such a unique experience that we’ve had, but I truly think that was probably the happiest, most victorious, spiritually deepest moment of my life. Everything felt very full circle, and I felt so incredibly loved and humbled that so many people genuinely care about Sunley and our whole family. I know I will never have another experience like that, and I know I will close my eyes and relive that moment over and over for the rest of my life. The sheet music is now framed in my house (Thanks Mom!), and it will always hang proudly on my wall.

Because I haven’t cried enough, our church in Houston also very sneakily learned this song without us knowing, and sang it for us on what should have been our last Sunday in Houston…Unfortunately, we didn’t go to church that day because Sunley had a bad cough. They recorded it for us and just sent me the file today. I have no words. These people are just amazing.

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The thing about having a baby like Sunley is that heaven just feels closer now. I constantly feel like we are “almost there,” even though I actually have no idea how much longer we all have in this life. It’s a wonderful feeling to have. Since being removed from the world for so long, we have really slowed down our pace and focused on really simple things. I can honestly say that life is better now than when I thought all 3 of my babies were healthy. That’s crazy right? A year ago, I would have looked at a heart mom and felt sorry for her, but trust me when I say I do not need any pity. I’m a happier person, a better mom and wife, and most importantly I’m closer to God all because of some really terrible circumstances. We are definitely not done with Sunley’s heart journey, and I don’t know how or when it will end, but we are officially done with phase one, and it feels good!

After Oklahoma, we went back to Houston for a few days to start the packing for the move to Midland. We wanted to space out the trips a little bit to give us a break, but also to be back in Houston just in case Sunley caught anything at the meeting. We had our heart buddies over one last time on Saturday night for what I now call a “half-hearted breakfast feast,” and it felt bittersweet. We miss them so much, and we are all anxious for those two babies to go home. This year would have been VERY different without these other parents, and by different I mean about 1,000% less fun. The only down side to having our kids back with us (if there really was a down side) was that we couldn’t just get together with them anytime, and we have really missed that connection. God absolutely wanted our paths to cross, I have no doubt, and I’m so very happy that they did. We had a really great “Last Supper” with everyone, and I DIDN’T EVEN CRY. Later that evening, Sunley started coughing. 

A week before the meeting, I had come down with a horrible cold. I did my best to keep away from Sunley, but any mom understands, when you’re sick, you don’t really get to be sick because you’re a mom. Long story short, Sunley definitely caught it. We left for Midland on Monday January 7th, even though Sunley had a cough, and we hoped it wouldn’t turn into anything serious. Thursday, I finally took her to the pediatrician because it was getting worse and worse, and looked like we may need to head to the ER over the weekend. Turns out, Sunley has RSV — The one specific virus we were warned about. The pediatrician told me not to panic, and I laughed out loud and said, “You don’t understand; I don’t panic anymore. My brain is so far past panic, all I have left is a calm ‘Let’s see what happens’ shrug.”

Praise the Lord Sunley had the Synagis shot before we left Houston, because she has amazingly stayed out of the hospital throughout the virus. I can’t get people to understand how amazing that is. I don’t think I know a heart baby, especially single ventricle, who has managed to get through RSV without the help of a hospital visit. I actually don’t know many HEALTHY babies who can stay out of the hospital with RSV. We are pretty ecstatic that she managed to do it, and very thankful for the prayers and especially for the advice to get the RSV shot! You better believe we will never miss a dose of that liquid gold. Ruger and Derek now have the same bad cold that Sunley has, but those two have, like, WHOLE HEARTS, so they’re doing just fine :)

We have been in Midland now for one week, which has flown by already. Driving into Midland and seeing all the familiar places was a little tougher than we thought — I think it just was the first time we really had to look at and confront what we lost when we joined the CHD world. We are so happy that we get to move forward with some sort of new normal, but the emotions are complicated. It’s not exactly like returning home, because of course we aren’t in our house and we just aren’t the same people who left. It feels so good to be near family and our church family again, but we also really miss Houston, and mostly I think it’s just hard to move forward when there will always be so many unknowns for our future as a whole family. I think because SO much has changed in our lives, we both still feel a little misplaced, and it will take time to find a new groove yet again. I’ve driven by our old house a few times which just really tugs at my heart strings — I REALLY loved that house. But, duh, we have SO much to be grateful for, and that’s what we choose to focus on each day. All of 2019 will be a rebuilding year for us, and we are taking everything one step at a time!

Six Day discharge and Thanksgiving

*For anyone who needs a recap, our little Sunley Summit has Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome (HRHS). Specifically, she has Double Inlet Left Ventricle (DILV) with an extremely small (almost non-existent) right ventricle and large VSD. Actually, the “right ventricle” is really just a small strip of tissue, so there is debate about classifying her as Double Outlet Left Ventricle as well, which is incredibly rare. Both the Aorta and the Pulmonary Artery are well developed and going into the left ventricle (as far as we can tell right now).  We are getting care at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX, whose heart center is ranked number one in the nation. There is no real cure for Sunley’s condition, so the plan is to do a total of 3 heart surgeries (PA Band, Glenn/DKS, and Fontan). Our hope is that these surgeries will work well enough to avoid a heart transplant and she will lead a long, full life with only those 3 surgeries. Sunley spent her first 6 days in the NICU, went home for a while, and then spent 26 days in the hospital after her first surgery (PA Banding) at 6 weeks old. She had a one week hospitalization for dehydration at 4 months old, then went home for a month. At 5 months old, she was hospitalized for low saturations for 5 days, and underwent what I’ve officially termed a “doing-something cath” (atrial septostomy). On November 6th, Sunley had her second open heart surgery, which required bypass: a Bi-Directional Glenn and DKS procedure, and incredibly went home only six days after that. She is currently 16 days post-op from that very invasive surgery.

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SIX days post-op and we were discharged. Amazing. Saturday, November 10th, we were able to move to floor 22, and after tweaking her meds just a bit, we got to go home on Monday, November 12th. She was sent home on Aspirin, Enalapril, Lasix, Hycet, and Tylenol. She hasn’t had a headache in 2 days now, so she is only occasionally getting Tylenol now, and hasn’t had Hycet in several days. It has been ROUGH having a baby so fresh from surgery home, but of course we are glad that she’s done so well. It’s been rough because she is incredibly grumpy, clingy, and eating like a HORSE (which is fantastic to see after 6 months of feeding struggles). Pre-surgery, Sunley ate about 750 mL’s per day, and now she eats about 1100 plus three avocado feedings. She is quite obviously putting on weight, but of course I have been conditioned to worry about fluid retention when I see weight gain, so it’s hard to let myself get too excited about that. The Glenn headaches are so hard to watch —she would just cry and grab her head with both hands. But I think we may be done with those, finally! Each day has gotten slightly easier, but she’s been waking up multiple times a night, and just never wants to be put down. Let me be clear: Sunley NEVER wants to be put down. If her butt touches the bed, she cries. If you get up and walk away to the trashcan to throw out a diaper, she cries. It’s been unbelievably exhausting, but each day gets about 2% better…so by that estimate, in approximately 50 days, I think we’ll be back to normal.

We really don’t have the heart (no pun intended) to let her cry it out at all, but maybe in a few weeks when we feel more confident that her DKS and everything has healed more completely we can try some gentle sleep training. To put into perspective how ridiculous her 6-day discharge was, I drew a before and after of her heart pre-surgery compared to after the Glenn and DKS.I’m assuming this is accurate, but a heart surgeon could probably see some flaws!

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It’s hard to believe how quickly she progressed. Below are some photos from the evening after her surgery, and the days following. I know that to a lot of people this may be hard to see, but we couldn’t believe how GOOD she looked! I was so glad she was able to be closed, and we couldn’t believe how pink she looked. Since being extubated, she’s actually become slightly more cyanotic, but I’m looking forward to post-Fontan pinkness someday! One of the sweet nurses already had her name drawn on the board when we got there. Little things like that go a long way for parents! Also, do you remember how last time we were inpatient, I had to take down all my decorations, and I was super sad about it? Well, I heard a lot of reasons, as far as that paper and tape were a bacteria hazard, so I bought page protectors and suction cups, and voila! Interesting fact: I asked the nurses about it this time, and no one knew what in the world I was talking about. Sounds like just some normal growing pains with moving to a new tower — not everyone is on the same page with new/old rules. Moral of the story is, I got to decorate :)

While we are so happy with Sunley’s progress, we did have some bad news the day of discharge. Her last echo showed a weakened squeeze from the front portion of her only ventricle, and she had some mild pulmonary valve regurgitation. Neither of these things were issues that should keep her in the hospital, but it’s something to watch in future checkups (Next checkup is November 28th). Because of this, her sats are lower than we’d like (again, in the low 80s this time). No one can tell us what will happen in the coming years, but of course I’m concerned about that weak squeeze, concerned that the tissue below her aorta will continue to build up and cause problems, etc. It’s frustrating to look at her and know that at best, she will always only be well enough to not be in the hospital; she will never be WELL. The best phrase I’ll ever get to use concerning her health will be “She’s doing well for right now.” But who knows? Maybe we’ll get to be in that space for decades before encountering any major issues :)

On a brighter note, we are feeling like we’re SO close to going HOME to Midland!! Home by Christmas feels like a solid possibility, and we can’t wait to have our family back together. We were planning on trying to get our big kids here for Thanksgiving, but they have both been sick, and we just can’t risk Sunley catching anything at all right now. It breaks my heart, but we are going to have a second Thanksgiving in January, and I think we might make that a permanent tradition. There really aren’t words for how much I achingly miss my kids, but it is what it is, and it’s almost over, Lord willing. The coming 2019 will be the rebuilding year for the Nichols clan, and I can’t wait to get back to being my kids’ parent. Someone will probably need to remind me of this when I start to potty train Ruger.

While I’m completely OVER being away from home and away from my kids, a part of me is absolutely dreading returning to our everyday life. Everything has been completely paused for us, and I’m not really sure anymore how to not be in and out of the hospital, or how to interact with people outside of the hospital. Mostly, I am just really going to miss the friends we’ve made here. God didn’t answer our prayer of complete healing for Sunley, but He did send us into the arms of some pretty incredible heart parents who have uber-quickly become lifelong friends, as well as a couple doctors and nurses who made this whole thing bearable. Those friendships have made five separate hospital stays FUN. WHO says that?! Of course, no one wants to see their children in the hospital, but we are so blessed to have some actually really great memories accompany the hard ones.

I’m also really grateful for how much this journey has forced my brain to slow WAY down. I miss traveling and shooting weddings a whole lot, but I’ve been able to spend time with other creative outlets that I hadn’t before, and it’s all just for me, with no deadlines. I’ve written a ton of poetry and lullabies that’s just for me and my kids, I’ve been doing some watercolor just for fun, and of course I’m still editing photos (just not getting paid for them, ha). It’s been kind of fun to just let myself be a mom and an artist and not have to find a working balance between the two. I’ve been singing Sunley a short little song I wrote the day of her surgery, when we found out that the DKS was a real possibility. I was super worried about her ability to recover from such an invasive procedure, especially considering her issues with a previously weak squeeze, and even though it probably sounds morbid to a lot of people, this little song made me feel a lot better, and still does. Also, if you feel like this is dark, then just consider the lyrics to Rock a Bye Baby, and it makes this song sound like Happy Birthday ;)

If you take her, take her peaceful

Do not let her mind be fear

All I want is to see her smiling

All I want’s her to know You’re near


If you take her, take her laughing

By the ocean, bright and sunny

Feeling sand and watching sailboats

With her sister and brother running


If you take her, then take me also

For I don’t like this world alone

But if I stay while she leaves smiling

Then give me grit while we wait for Home

I am very sad to not have my bigs here today for Thanksgiving. Of course, we got about 5 different invitations to spend today with other families because we are surrounded by the sweetest people. But we just decided to spend the day with our small little unit, make chili dogs, and thank the Lord that we got to keep this little drop of sunshine in our lives <3

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Waiting on the Glenn

*For anyone who needs a recap, our little Sunley Summit has Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome (HRHS). Specifically, she has Double Inlet Left Ventricle (DILV) with an extremely small (almost non-existent) right ventricle and large VSD. Both the Aorta and the Pulmonary Artery are well developed and going into the left ventricle (as far as we can tell right now).  We are getting care at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX, whose heart center is ranked number one in the nation. There is no real cure for Sunley’s condition, so on June 11, 2018 she had a  PA Banding surgery, and will later receive a Glenn, and Fontan (a total of 3 heart surgeries). Our hope is that these surgeries will work well enough to avoid a heart transplant and she will lead a long, full life with only those 3 surgeries. Sunley spent her first 6 days in the NICU, went home for a while, and then spent 26 days in the hospital after her first surgery at 6 weeks old. She had a one week hospitalization for dehydration at 4 months old, then went home for a month. At 5 months old she was hospitalized for low saturations for 5 days, and underwent what I’ve officially termed a “doing-something cath” (atrial septostomy). Right now, we are waiting on her Glenn, which is scheduled for November 6th (that date is not set in stone).

It’s been an uneventful couple of weeks, and I love the word “uneventful.” We check Sunley’s saturations daily now, and they are consistently in the 80s. Praise God! I’m so happy to see those numbers. I’m really hoping we will continue with high 80s saturations after the Glenn. I’ve been wanting to post a video explaining in detail what we’ll be doing in her surgery, but have been waiting on our consultation, which has finally been scheduled for this Thursday. So, I’ll post a video soon!

We were told after our last ER visit to really try and make sure Sunley isn’t exposed to too many germs between now and her surgery (scheduled for November 6th), because even a runny nose could postpone her surgery. I call this “newborn restrictions,” so we aren’t letting anyone hold her, I’m not taking her out much at all except for church, and we decided not to have our big kids come visit (since they both have congestion right now). That was a really difficult decision, and I’m getting really sick of not parenting my kids. Don’t get me wrong, the clean house and napping opportunities are fantastic! It’s getting to the point now though where I can barely get through the day without crying, and I just really need to see them. I went back and forth on whether or not to go to Midland — I’m worried that seeing me will just upset them — but ultimately, I’ve decided to fly in on Friday and leave Sunday, and I CAN’T WAIT!! Sunley will stay here with Derek and a freezer full of breastmilk. I’m really hoping for no more unexpected ER trips, especially while I’m gone. Another concern is, of course, the germs from the airport, so I plan on being the germaphobe on the plane, complete with Clorox wipes.

It was really hard to decide to go to Midland, because I really REALLY don’t want to be there without Sunley. I am desperate to see my kids, but I thought the first time I’d be back would be with my whole family, and doing it by myself and without Sunley is just not what I had pictured. I have missed our church family in Midland SO much, and I can’t wait to see everyone and worship together — but be warned, I’ll be an EMOTIONAL WRECK without my 2 missing pieces! Overall, I just don’t really feel ready to be back in Midland, but this trip isn’t really about Midland; it’s about hugging my bigs. I don’t want to see any part of my “before” life, and I really REALLY don’t want to see my house. I am incredibly homesick for our house. I haven’t lived in it since February 14th of this year, and probably never will again, and I think I really resent the fact that we had to leave when I had just finished drawing the plans for our add-on. I was so looking forward to building the spaces in which my kids would grow up. I was so ready to settle in and plant roots, and we had to just completely let go of that dream so suddenly. I am incredibly grateful that we were able to rent it out, and that money has been such a huge blessing. Still, I miss my funky house, and my lime green front door. For a while here, every once in a while I would grab a shirt to wear and would notice that it still had my house smell (all my prematernity clothes had been stashed in bags for a while), but I’m finally out of those clothes. It’s weird the things that your mind remembers. For some reason, the thing I picture the most is the way my front door handle felt opening my door — How weird is that? My big 2 kids happened to take their first steps in the exact same spot in the living room and I picture that a lot. And I have a vivid memory of painting Hadelyn’s bedroom with my mom when we first moved in. And looots of memories of putting my kiddos to bed — I think about that every night (probably because who DOESN’T love the kids GOING TO BED).

We own a couple rental properties in Oklahoma, and it’s funny to me that right now we have 3 houses and one apartment, but no home. When we get back to Midland, the plan is to live in my parents’ empty rental property while we look for a new home and a fresh start. We finally decided to just keep our house as a rental property instead of adding on to it. I completely agree that this is the right thing for us to do, but I think I’ll always be a little sad about having to leave our first house the way that we did. I’m completely aware this is a classic “first world problem,” but that doesn’t make the homesickness go away. I’m choosing to just focus on loving on my babies instead of being sad or overwhelmed with all the feelings…Maybe if I ignore them they’ll just go away? The feelings, not the babies. Ignoring babies just makes them more tyrranical. I’m usually more upbeat about this whole thing, but I think a family can only take this kind of separation for so long, and I’m about done with the whole thing.

I’m actually not feeling too worried about leaving Sunley, even though I’ve never been more than 10 minutes away from her. I’m worried that her heart will decide on another ER trip while I’m gone, (PLEASE NO) but I can grab a flight and get here relatively quickly if that happens (although I’d be a wreck if it does). Derek can definitely handle her for a few days, and the freezer is stockpiled with milk. I even have some bottles from Oliver’s stash, thanks to his generous mommy — Gotta love milk-sharing! 

On a happy note, we took Sunley to the beach for the first time!! It’s just 40 minutes from our apartment and we went on the most perfect, sunny day :) We are being super germ-conscious right now, so we only stayed for a little bit and didn’t put her in the water, but it was so wonderful and MUCH needed for me. I’ve always said that I think God threw in a little bit of sand and salt water when he created the recipe for my soul, because the beach (ANY beach) is where I feel the most peaceful.

I forgot to mention that we have Sunley down to just ONE medication now! We took her off of Zantac (for reflux) so now she only takes Enalapril twice a day (not for blood pressure) to help her ventricle fully relax in between squeezes. We LOVE only having to remember one med, and she is so good at taking it. In fact, she is the most well-tempered baby! Sunley is all smiles all the time, and rarely cries without good reason. She is SO close to crawling, too! Her 6 month developmental evaluation is coming up on the 25th, but I can already tell you that she’s got no delays (mom-brag), which is such a relief! I really think that’s a result of those first 6 weeks prior to her PA Banding surgery. If you’ll remember, she was supposed to have surgery at 1 week old, and instead got to come home and be a normal baby after just a week in NICU4, and stayed home for 5 weeks! I really think it laid a good foundation, even with 6 weeks of sternal precautions afterwards. Sunley has been in the hospital 4 times, but in between all of those visits has had a very “normal” at-home baby life. She’s also been the center of attention with the bigs gone so much (pros/cons).

Our leftie bestie is set to have surgery this coming week, so be keeping him and his family in your prayers! We’re all hoping the Glenn will give both of these kids better and hardier physiologies to handle baby/toddler life (and its many germs). In our case, we are mainly hoping for stable function and high sats to help Sunley Summit get some good (preferably several) years in before the Fontan.

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