Friday, August 26, 2016

We Are Heading to Houston!

After hearing that Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital would consider me, I began speaking with other moms that had gone through fetal surgery and hearing their stories. This surgery is truly brutal and the recovery is one of the toughest I’ve ever heard of. Deep down, I knew I would not be capable of moving forward. There were too many logistics to sort out; too many details on how to care for the kids, and I just knew it wouldn’t be possible. I’ve had many surgeries in my life including heart surgery only a few months after Bryce and I married but this one was truly getting to me.
In true Bryce form, my husband trusted God completely. He said that if it is meant to be that things will begin falling into place. “Is that how you think it works?” I asked him. “Things only fall into place if I make 8,000 phone calls and fight people like I’m in court all day long.” The truth is, we were both right. We needed a lot of God, and a bit of mamma bear going to battle for her baby.
The next day I got a message from my insurance case manager. He had done some of his own research to find out that Hermann Children’s Hospital is in our insurance network. EXCUSE ME? Our own Children’s Hospitals are not in our insurance network and only a couple states even take our insurance. Yet this state, this hospital…things began falling into place. Fear began melting away and I got some mojo back. It was time to fight for my baby. The phone calls began.
We are officially scheduled for a week long consultation from September 5-9 in Houston. We could have only gotten this far with the help of dozens and dozens of friends and family members deeply wanting to see this surgery succeed. At the end of that week, the surgical team will decide if we are officially accepted for surgery. Bryce and I will return home for a week and then I would return to Houston without him indefinitely.  I would be the first Diabetic to ever receive this surgery. Making history and eating Tex Mex Baby. Sounds like a dream!
I have spent the last week working like I’m back in the corporate world. So many more things need to work out for this to succeed the way it would need to. I did find out that although the hospital is in our insurance network, none of the doctors or surgeons are covered (thanks Cigna). There are 5 doctors involved in performing the surgery since there are 2 patients- Caleb and me. I have appealed to The State for more nursing hours to help care for Miles until I deliver Caleb. I have reapplied to our grant company to keep our nanny longer as she is the only person in our lives that is capable of watching Weston or Miles, plus we trust her completely. I have asked our insurance to consider covering some of the surgical costs. I have reached out to charities to help us pay for my relocation costs. My mom and mother in law will have to travel and tag team caring for me until my delivery. I had an amniocenteses- you know, that giant needle they stick in your uterus to test amniotic fluid. Caleb and I will need to pass every lab and MRI to even be considered. Our nurses will have to sacrifice their time and health to work overtime hours for us.
But we have faith. We have a good, good Father that is bigger than any single one of these things. He can easily make them all happen. He only wants good for our family.
If I have the surgery, I will be in Houston a minimum of a month. If I return home, I will be on strict bed rest the rest of my pregnancy and can only get up for doctors appointments with a wheelchair and caregiver. The goal is for a C Section at 37 weeks but few moms make it that long. We will need full time caregivers for me, Miles and Weston. The entire burden of life and the household will be put on my sweet husband. It is also a very real possibility that I will not get to leave Houston and I will be delivering Caleb by myself out there and staying with him until he is safe to fly home. We are also preparing that I can be gone for 6 months.
Time away from my kids. So much time. This will be the absolute hardest part. I’m missing Weston’s 1st week of preschool while at the consultation and it’s ripping my heart out. The preschool has made an exception for Weston to be dropped an hour early because even they understand the magnitude of our family being apart. Everything will be turned upside down.
But we fight for our kids. We sacrifice our bodies, our happiness, and everything that makes sense to keep them safe. We make really hard choices with only them in mind. I am bummed to be out of commission for the good weather, the holidays, pumpkin spiced lattes and fall. Those are my favorite things. But I am getting a chance to serve my son with my mind, body and spirit. What a privilege to be given this opportunity.
Weston just said to me, “Grandma lives far far away. You will not go far away right mommy?”
Well son. I may be going far far away. And you won’t understand why I can’t hug you. But it’s because I don’t just love you now, I love you forever and I want to make the best life for all of my sons forever. One day you will understand.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Plot Thickens- Caleb and Fetal Surgery

The twins at Church this morning.
As some of you may remember, I spoke a little about fetal surgery when I was pregnant with Miles. In this surgery, the defect on the baby’s back is operated on in the mother’s womb in hopes for a better outcome to their health in the long run. My doctors and I made calls to all the big hospitals in the country that offer this surgery and the answer was always “no” because of my Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetics are excluded from getting this surgery. We even considered flying to Brazil to get the surgery before we eventually accepted that it wasn’t in the stars for us.

Now in our second round of being pregnant with a Spina Bifida baby, we again inquired about fetal surgery. Again we were met with the same answers for the same reason and we didn’t push it too hard. To be honest, we were aware of how risky the surgery is and we didn’t think it would be plausible to uproot our lives with the care that Miles requires. Our plan was to deliver Caleb at the same hospital, using the same doctors as Miles. We didn’t need to research and we still know everyone there. Heck, we were just discharged a year ago.

But then…

I got a text from my sister in law with a photo of a business card for a neurosurgeon at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. Through a crazy connection, the mother of the little boy she nannies has a working relationship with this doctor. She mentioned my case to him and he told her to have me contact him directly. I sat down immediately and wrote a lengthy email trying to concisely describe both my sons’ cases. Right away, I was on the phone with the Fetal Department Director. He spent an hour on the phone with me and in the end I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Yes, I’m a candidate. I would be the first Type 1 Diabetic to ever receive this surgery, but they are willing. They will evaluate me.

Whoa. This just got real.

I was flooded with excitement as I researched and watched videos and began obsessively talking to moms that had gone through the surgery. Along with that excitement entered sheer terror. You see, when this surgery was a hypothetical it was extremely appealing. Now we needed to hash out the dirty details; the pros and cons. Suddenly, there were a lot of cons.

In the fetal surgery, I would relocate to Houston for an indefinite amount of time. There is a large team of surgeons that would perform an incredibly complicated and risky surgery on Caleb and me. I would spend at least the next week in the hospital on an epidural and a drug called Magnesium Sulfate. The horror stories of this drug are fairly scary, but it is to prevent your body from immediately delivering the baby. When I recover, I will be moved to hotel for a couple weeks and will need a 1 on 1 caregiver. I will also be managing a lot of pain. If all goes well, I will be able to return home. If not, I will be delivering Caleb in Houston by myself.

If I make it home, I will be on strict bed rest. As in, I can’t do ANYTHING bed rest. As in, I will need my own private caregiver bed rest. I will be at huge risk of life threatening complications- uterine rupture, placenta abruption, yadda yadda yadda. And then there is my Diabetes. These babies are all born early via C-Section. They shoot for a 34 week delivery, but most of the moms I have spoken with have delivered between 28 and 33 weeks. Then you have a tiny preemie facing a whole slew of complications. And a mother that has put her body through a lot. Some moms say it took them 2 years to physically recover.

So why would we consider something like this? Sounds like a huge drag right?

Because we would do anything for our baby and this could improve his life. Miles’s outcome has been rare. We have been told he is the .001% of Spina Bifida kids that has the worst complications. Caleb looks so similar to him on ultrasound, we want to try and give him the best future possible. Not only for him, but we also believe it will improve the quality of life for all of our children. Not in the short run. We will sacrifice a lot for this. But in the long run, we can focus on each of their individual needs best if we don’t have two kids on ventilators.

But we are really, really scared. There are so many things that would have to fall into place for this to work. First, Caleb and I would need to be accepted for the surgery when we go to the consultation in Houston. I will need to find someone to be out there with me to be my caregiver as Bryce will need to stay home to work and be with the kids. The state would need to beef up our nursing hours for Miles and we would need to find nurses to train and fill those hours. We would need the grant company to renew our grant so we can keep our nanny. Our nanny would have to sacrifice another job she has to stay with us longer. And the biggest battle, our insurance has said they will not cover this. Even ACCHS covers this surgery, but our insurance won’t. There are so many details it makes my head spin. We have to figure all of this out in the next couple weeks.

If God says yes, then we say yes.

In church this morning, a verse in a worship song really stood out to me.

“God, When you move, you move all our fears.”

This situation seems almost impossible to me. And the thought of being drawn and quartered…well it’s unappealing. But where God leads me, he erases the fear, doubt and shame of my emotion. He will only lead to the good, glorious and beautiful. Let’s hope that’s all in the big ‘ol state of Texas ya’ll!

If you would like to see how the surgery works, here is a series of short videos explaining Spina Bifida and the procedure. If you get queasy, don’t worry. This is more of an advertising video and doesn’t explain gruesome details.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Would I Choose This Life?

Miles pondering the meaning of life, 18 months.

When Bryce and I were engaged, he lived in Chicago and I lived in Arizona. It was long distance for 5 months as I planned the wedding and we relied on phone calls to keep in touch. He had just started his first big boy job as an auditor for PwC and the hours were absolutely brutal. He would usually call me as he was getting off work at 1 am. When he first got there, he worked in the North Suburbs and didn’t have a car. After work one night he missed all the buses and trains home. He couldn’t find a cab and was walking in deep snow in his dress shoes with no coat on in the middle of nowhere. He was overwhelmed.

On my 28th birthday that fall, Bryce didn’t call me. I know, I know. He was in his new job and wasn’t able to, but you can’t expect girl on her birth to be rational. I was so mad. In the many years since, he has learned my very appropriate expectations for my birthday. Gowns, private jet, Filet Mignon, dripping in diamonds…am I right girls?! Anyway, his best friend, Erik, text me happy birthday and asked how we were doing. Bryce and Erik are very close and for some reason I just spilled my guts to him that things were really hard and frustrating and I was wondering if we should even get married. (I’m telling you, my birthday is REALLY important to me!) I’ll never forget what he said.

“Now is the time to see what you guys are truly made of.”

That was all he needed to say. This is when we get to see the nitty gritty of our relationship. Were we made of the good stuff or bad stuff? The forever stuff or the give up stuff? It was up to us. I know we were made for the deep down, good and bad, never ever getting rid of each other stuff.

I love putting my husband in the hot seat and asking him philosophical questions. He always humors me and honestly answers, hoping that we can quickly move on to watching reruns of The Office.

“If you could know that our 4th child would also be disabled, would you stop having children?” I realize this is a loaded question to ask as Pam and Jim are reminiscing of their love for mixed berry yogurt.

“Not necessarily.” He seemed confident in his answer.

“If you could know our 4th child would be healthy, would you have another one for sure?”

“Not necessarily. One at a time Allison.” Hmmmm, that answer was the same and I needed to pry more.

“If someone could tell you that two of your children would be disabled, and you would go through everything we have gone through, would you still make all the same choices?”

“Yes I definitely would.” Say whaaaaat? I mean, that’s what I wanted him to say but he was taking it a step further. He said he wouldn’t ponder it and be afraid. He would CHOOSE this life, exactly as it is. And if someone could have given him a crystal ball at 22 and told him how it would play out, he would gladly move forward into it. Did I feel the same way? I had to chew on that for a bit.

Let’s say an angel could give me a message about what the future would hold before I had children. She is telling me to move forward without fear and not change my course because this is God’s plan for me. Well, honestly I may need a little convincing because it sounds frickin scary Angel! This is how imagine it going:

ME: “Will I be able to keep my mojo? The fun side of me that is carefree? I don’t want to lose myself.”
Angel: “You are going to change a lot. Don’t limit yourself to who you thought you would be. Let yourself become the woman God intended. It’s much better than the woman you once were. And yes, you will still have mojo. Like, tons of it.”

Me: “What if others judge us? I don’t want a whole future full of that. I’m more sensitive than people think.”
Angel: “They will. They will also have someone to answer to for that. But honestly, that was going to happen either way. That’s people and that’s life. Don’t place your self-worth in others dumb dumb.”

Did Angel just call me a dumb dumb?

Me: “I’m worried about my oldest son. What if I can’t be the kind of mother he needs because I’m so focused on the other children?”
Angel: “Oh come on! You know that kid is a child prodigy in every way. Besides, you grew up in his shoes and you are an absolute hoot to be around.”
Me: “Wow Angel. Now I’m blushing.”

Me: “Well what about my husband? What if he isn’t satisfied with this life and secretly feels held back or disappointed in choosing me?”
Angel: “Who Bryce?! Ummm, he will adore his life with you and you know that’s a guy after God’s own heart. I’m not even going to tell him you said that insane statement because he would laugh and say worrying is a sin so you better buck up you just get over this nonsense!”

Wow. This Angel really has some sass. I like her.

Me: “Why do my children have to experience more suffering than others? And what if I lose them too soon? I won’t be able to handle it. Actually this all sounds like a lot Angel. Are you sure this is the plan?”
Angel: “Listen to me. Hard things bring you closer to God. Do not envy those that breeze through life Allison. They won’t get to experience some of the beautiful things you will. And you will never handle this alone. That’s why I’m here.”
Me: “Couldn’t it all be that way without this disability stuff? The pain, the heartache?”
Angel: “No it can’t. Stop overthinking it girlfriend! Your kids are the cutest ones God has made yet! You won’t be worrying about this stuff every day. Now do you want me to tell you who the next Bachelor is?”
Me: “No! Don’t spoil the entire future for me! I like surprises too. Sheesh.”

Well that solves it. I would choose this life too. Over and over. Because that’s what has been asked of me and also because it’s so beautifully worth it.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Paying Hope Forward- A Letter To Our Doc

We had a very interesting visit with our Perinatologist last week. We really like her and she is the same doctor that gave us Miles’s Spina Bifida diagnosis. This conversation was obviously different and we mostly talked about how shocking it is that it’s all happening a second time. She said our chances were less than 5% that it would happen again. She said she spoke with some Geneticists she knows and they were all very surprised about our family with 3 cases so close in a family. She recommended we look into some studies and contribute our genes into research.

“How can I have a healthy child? I’ve always wanted to have a girl.” I asked her.

“Keep having children! This won’t happen every time.” We liked her answer. “I can’t wait for you to come back to me next time when you are pregnant with your daughter.”

She commented that she had never seen a family so positive and light hearted.

After that meeting, one of her comments kept coming back to me. She said usually gets the hardest and most complicated cases. I imagine she sees a lot. We felt inclined to send her the following letter.  

"Dr. Kuhlman,

Bryce and I wanted to thank you for the way you handled our diagnoses of Miles and Caleb. I know you must give hard news often and it is very emotionally taxing for you. We felt like you are truly walking through it with us, without making it seem too good or too bad. We also appreciate that you told us to have more children. We have always wanted a lot of kids and this has made it discouraging. Many medical professionals think we are crazy for wanting more children, and maybe we are, but we love our kids all the same.

I also felt inclined to mention something that crossed our hearts after our last visit. You had said that you often get the toughest scenarios; the hardest ones to diagnose. I imagine you see parents in their darkest points, making the hardest decision of their lives. We know that feeling very well, times two. One thing we gained after learning of Miles’s disability while pregnant, was that those horrible feelings of despair, hopelessness and depression all go away. Feelings are fleeting and constantly changing and it’s difficult to make a life altering choice in the midst of sadness.

If there are parents faced with similar news as we have gotten, we would love to offer to speak with them if they would like. We do not want to influence their decisions or pass judgement, but simply be a listening ear that knows exactly how it all feels, and also share our story. We have gained a lifetime of wisdom in the last few years and the most important thing we have learned is this: Just because life doesn’t turn out the way you expected, doesn’t mean it’s not a good life. And just because the whole world may not see your child’s life as worthy of living, doesn’t mean it’s not a great life to live. We have been privileged to learn lessons that most never get to learn and we have so much more joy because of Miles’s life, as we will Caleb. We are the lucky ones.

Again, we don’t want to represent your opinions but it helped me a lot to talk with other mothers that had heard the exact news that I had. Also, my husband seems shy in our visits, but he is wise beyond his years. I know that fathers have a whole different set of worries to consider and he would be a great guy for another dad to talk to. He has still exceled in his career, still goes golfing and still loves life. It won’t be as scary as one might think.

If people aren’t interested in speaking to us, they can also watch this video we had done when Miles was placed on hospice. It speaks into how each of us were effected.

Here is another happy video of Miles.

Sincerely, Allison Lefebvre"