Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Madeline in a Year

August 2022, 13 months!
Headband: gifted 
Polka Dot Bodysuit: thrifted
Navy Bloomer Shorts: Carters clearance 

I've been waiting to share these "Madeline in a year" pictures, until I took the last one of her at one year! I took these with the boys as well, almost every month, from newborn until one year. It has been a fun little tradition. I did miss several months with Madeline but got in a few extras too! 

We were given these Cuddle and Kind dolls as baby gifts from some sweet friends, and we used them for the monthly pictures with each of them. They are super high quality dolls and so soft and cuddly. I highly recommend them for special baby gifts or just for fun for your own kiddos. They are one of our little ones' favorite toys! 

The one Madeline has in all these pictures is the Charlotte doll. SO CUTE!

Also for fun, I'm sharing her little outfit details since I love to hear where other people find their children's clothes, and some of you might be like me. =)

First off, because I missed taking these pictures the first few months, here are a few without her doll. 
September 2021. 2 months old, the day we brought her home
Headband: gifted
Sleeper: gifted
October 2021, 3 months old
Headband: from this set
Outfit: gifted
November 2021, 4 months old
Headband: gifted from a friend 
Auntie Onesie-gifted from Auntie Anna M (all three kiddos have worn it!)
Leggings: thrifted
 
December 2021, 5 months old
Headband: from this set
Long sleeve bodysuit: Carters clearance 
Pink leggings: thrifted
December 2021, 5 1/2 months old.
Headband: from this set
Long Sleeve Bodysuit: thrifted
Leggings: thrifted
Boots: thrifted
January 2022, 6 months old
Headband: Gracious May
Shirt: gifted 
Jeggings: thrifted
Booties: from Ross, worn by her brothers also! 
(one of the only clothing items I've used for both genders)
March 2022, 8 months old
Headband: from this set
Hooded Bodysuit: OshKosh sale
Leggings: thrifted
April 2022, 9 months old.
Headband: from this set
Floral Bodysuit: thrifted
Leggings: thrifted
April 2022, 9 months old
Headwrap: gifted, similar here
 Floral Bodysuit: Carters clearance
Leggings: thrifted (also worn by her brothers!)
May 2022, 10 months old
Headband: gifted
Outfit: gifted
June 2022, 11 months old
Headband: gifted
Shirt: thrifted
Pink Bloomer Shorts: Carters clearance
Current: Almost 14 months and "GROW AS FAST AS I CAN AND NEVER HOLD STILL". =)

This weekend, it will be exactly a year since we brought her home from the NICU. What a gift and joy her little life is to our family!! I will never take for granted her healthy and happy little self!
-Chels

Note: all of the items linked in this post are items that I own and love. Amazon links are affiliate links. Please read my affiliate disclosure here.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

The Birth Story of Madeline Sue

Today, July 9th, 2022, is Madeline's first birthday and I am just now publishing her birth story. I started writing it literally the day after she was born, and added little bits here and there since. Reading and finishing this post has brought back so many memories all over again. She had such a rough and early entrance into this world, but how thankful I am that she made it and that she is here, happy and healthy, today. 

Her birth story really starts on Tuesday July 6th, 2021, three days before she was born, but I will start with the events of Monday the 5th....

I had a great day; no morning sickness and plenty of energy. The morning was spent at home and then the afternoon I spent in "the city" by myself, with coffee and lunch, a midwife appointment, and some fun shopping, while my amazing husband watched the boys at home. Everything was great. I got to hear a super strong little heartbeat at my appointment, and I had a lovely time chatting with my midwife and then enjoying a little solo time out and about.

Tuesday morning I was hit with morning sickness. This was nothing unusual for me in the third trimester-with both of the boys I have had morning sickness right up until 37 weeks and this pregnancy was on track to be just the same. But after throwing up, I still wasn’t feeling better and developed a stomach ache as well, so I ended up going back to bed late morning. Thankfully John was working from home for the day and was able to take care of the boys. I didn’t eat much during the day but I managed some yogurt, chili, and a few other things, and then lost it all that evening after a hot epsom salt bath. It was very strange-I don’t normally throw up at night, with morning sickness, but that night I did. (Note: Later in the hospital I tested negative for any kind of sickness -and they tested me for EVERYTHING-so it obviously must’ve been morning sickness, just unusual for me that it was in the evening) 

Morning sickness continued into Tuesday and by Wednesday I got dehydrated because I was struggling to keep anything down. I developed a bad cough (that we now know was directly related to my heart condition) and that is what ultimately caused the contractions to start. 

On Thursday morning I woke up around 5am to hard contractions. I already had two labors/births under my belt, and I knew the signs, and I knew it was WAY too early to be experiencing what I was definitely experiencing. (I was 30 weeks pregnant, so only 3/4 of the way through, technically)  This wasn't just a few Braxton hicks; this was definitely the real thing, and they weren't slowing down. As the morning went on contractions continued, quickly building to five minutes apart. Under normal circumstances I would've been even more worried, but I was too sick to be able to think about it too much. All I knew was that it was way too early to have a baby, so obviously something was very wrong, and hopefully I would get better and it would all be "fixed". John was in touch with my midwife and we (they) finally decided we would head into the hospital to get me IVs for hydration and try to get contractions to stop. 
(we got a selfie right before we left the hospital that afternoon. Little did we know we would be back so soon.)

We went to the same hospital where I delivered Axton and they got me started on IVs for fluids right away. We were there for several hours and the contractions slowed down and I started to feel better. Before we left I ate part of a banana and drank some ginger ale and it all stayed down which was a first since Tuesday night! The contractions got light enough that I was able to talk through them and the nurse and John couldn't even tell I was still having them unless I told them. We prepared to leave and I was just so thankful everything was okay and I was feeling better!

I was so relieved that everything was settling down. We got in the car and headed for home. Ten minutes into the drive, the contractions started up again. We both thought that surely they would stop, esp with feeling better and getting meds that would help me keep food down. We stopped by the pharmacy for the prescription, and then once we got home, John made me a smoothie to take with the meds, and headed over to my in-laws to pick up the boys. While he was gone, I drank the smoothie and took the meds…and then lost everything all over again. Contractions were back to normal and stronger than ever. My cough was continuing and worsening as well. At this point I was still in denial I think-I knew I was totally in labor, there was no doubt of that, but I kept thinking "surely they can stop it at the hospital. Surely. Now that it's really serious, surely it will get stopped. Babies don't come this early. It's got to stop." 

I honestly was really worried. At one point when John came in to check on me, I asked him to read me Psalms 91. For some reason I kept thinking of that Psalm (I memorized it when I was a child) and just needed to hear it. He read it to me and and I remember just grasping to the words even though I was in and out with the contractions...

John got the boys down for the night and called his sisters to come over and we put a few things in an overnight bag and headed out again. I was in a lot of pain with the contractions and being so wiped out from constant vomiting and the previous weakening from dehydration, and even getting out the door was rough. On the way I called my mom. I didn't really say much but for some reason I had this strong desire to hear her sing to me. When I was a child, she often sang Steve Green's "When I am Afraid" song to us and I wanted to hear her sing that song again. I was in the middle of a strong contraction as she sang it over the phone but it brought such peace to me, even at that time, and I will never forget it. (thank you, mom!)

We got checked at the hospital again which felt strangely reminiscent of Axton's birth, the main difference being that I wasn't pushing yet, and I definitely wasn't expecting to have a baby yet. My contractions were close together and super hard by now and I was absolutely in full blown labor, but no one except us seemed to realize it. All I could think was "they are going to get everything slowed down." The nurse was super chill and relaxed. (in hindsight, I’m pretty sure I maybe wasn’t as out of control as her normal laboring mama patient and so I don't think she quite realized what was happening) 

A doctor came in and checked me. “You’re only dilated to a three. That baby is so high and settled in there, you’ve got nothing to worry about. She isn’t going anywhere. We’ll get these contractions slowed down and you’ll be out of here in no time.” 

It was a relief to hear that. But instead of success with getting everything slowed down, contractions picked up, and labor kept progressing. I started vomiting again. (Again, in hindsight, we now know I had hit transition-I always start vomiting during that point of labor. But because I had been vomiting already for several days, neither John or I realized that it was indeed transition) The nurse came in now and then but mostly we were left alone. Details at this point are a bit fuzzy for me but after several hours and then this vomiting at the end, John went to get the nurse and was very insistent that something had to be done, since labor wasn't slowing. The nurse checked me again and was shocked: "oh my, you're fully dilated!" 

It is still so crazy how I got to that point so fast. Everyone was confused because it wasn't normal, but it was too serious for anyone to be confused for long. I suddenly knew it was time and said “I have to push!” Apparently that was the final word to get everything really moving.  The nurse: “oh no, you can’t push, you need to wait, we've got to get the doctors in here.” Thankfully for her I didn't have the energy or stamina to get mad at her or I would've totally lost my temper. Instead I think I said something like, "I actually can't wait.” At that point she turned to John and said, "Go get help." 

I tried to wait but as any mother knows who has had a non-medicated birth, there is nothing more true than "when ya gotta push ya gotta push". It isn't exactly a time for a pause button! Things are still super blurry to me but everything moved so fast at that point. In no time there were nurses and doctors and NICU team everywhere. My water broke first and kinda exploded everywhere (it was so foggy in my mind and at the time I don't think I realized that was what it was, but I asked John later “was it my imagination or did my water break right before she was born?” And he said “yeah, my hoodie got wet”. =)) 

Two pushes and our daughter was born. Technically the easiest birth ever in terms of pushing and size but not in any other way! I was extremely weak and felt terrible and other than the time pushing, it was my hardest birth yet. The doctor laid her on my chest for just a few seconds but I was so weak and having a hard time breathing and I barely even could see her. I think I touched her but again, I was so out of it and she was so tiny and looked so so fragile and the whole thing was just so different than the typical relief one feels after their baby is born. It was not at all like the euphoria after my boys’ birth and felt heartbreaking in so many ways, specifically afterwards.
She was only there for a matter of seconds before they whisked her away to be worked on by the NICU team in a corner of the room.  (above picture, I think my midwife took it) At this point I really don't remember much except that the nurses and doctors were saying I had to have oxygen and I was fighting them tooth and nail. I felt like I couldn't breath (which I couldn't!) but somehow in my foggy state I was associating that feeling with the oxygen mask they were trying to put on me. I felt like the mask was hindering my breathing. PTL my midwife was there with me (she was waiting and came in immediately after Madeline was born) and encouraged me to just keep it because that was best. I trust her implicitly so I remember basically thinking I would try for her sake. If she hadn't been there I really don't quite know what I might've done. I was wheeled away, still in my bed, for a CAT scan and John stayed back to be close to Madeline. 

After the CAT scan I was taken to a room and my midwife was still with me and stayed with me for the next ten hours. (so grateful for that!!) I managed to get a few hours of sleep in there. Around noon they finally let me be off the oxygen which was wonderful. I hated having those tubes and wires everywhere (I had EKG stickers all over my chest for days as well) because it just made me feel claustrophobic; I was so not used to stuff like that! (don't get me wrong-I am ultimately so thankful for them because they saved my life and everything was a part of the process. It was just hard at the time) 

My sister in law Melanie came in and stayed with me for the rest of the day when my midwife left. John and I couldn't be together until the end of the day because we wanted one of us with Madeline and I couldn't be with her until all of my tests came back clear. (they were certain I had covid or pneomonia or something and honestly I don't blame them-I looked and sounded and felt terrible and it would've been extremely unwise for me to go into the NICU with as sick as I had been) 
It was amazing to have Melanie with me. She had experienced several NICU babies herself so it was known territory to her. Since I didn't have John there, I was so thankful to have someone who could answer questions/talk to the hospital staff, help me get started with pumping, and overall just be my advocate in a time where I really couldn't function or make decisions for myself.

I don't remember a whole lot from that morning but one thing I do remember was BEGGING for a shower. =) I wanted a shower so so badly. With both of the boys births I was showered and clean and had makeup done when I went into labor. With Madeline, I hadn't had a real shower all week (every time I had tried, I ended up vomiting) and I literally looked and felt so so rough. I don't think I've hardly ever had a shower that felt SO GOOD as the shower I was finally allowed to take around noon that day!

While John and I couldn't be together, we texted back and forth talking about a name. We had just found out in May that our baby was a girl; we definitely did NOT have a name yet!! It didn't take too long to chose her name-Madeline was one I had jotted down on a random list a while before, and John liked it too. For middle names, we have used a short family name with the boys. We decided on another family name-Sue-which is Melanie's middle name also. 

By afternoon the immediate tests were cleared and John was able to come see me. Our pastor and his wife came in and prayed over us and that was a beautiful moment. I think we were all in tears. There is nothing like having your baby's life hanging in the balance to make one realize how fragile and short life truly is. We were in the scariest time of our married life thus far and to be surrounded by our church, our families, our friends, and even people we didn't know, was such a blessing. I'll never forget the literal feeling of those prayers and countless others, holding us up. 

Shortly after that, I finally got to go to officially meet our daughter. Still makes me tear up just to write this to remember how I wasn't there with her after she was born, and for so much of the months following. John pushed me down the long halls in a wheelchair. We got to the NICU, got passed to enter, washed up at the wash station (we had to scrub for several minutes, a specific process, every time we went in) Then he wheeled me around the nurses station and into Madeline's little area with her isolette. 
(this is the first picture I have holding Madeline, that day)

Having her finally in my arms, for real, was so hard to describe. One doesn't realize all the things one takes for granted with life and birth, until one doesn't have them. In the moment, all I knew was that I was thankful that I was able to hold her, I was thankful she was okay for the present, and I was thankful that I knew our boys were in such amazing care while we could not be with them.
And that was the start of little Madeline's life. Obviously if you have been following along on her journey for the past eleven months, then you know the "rest of the story" of her NICU stay and the amazing progress she has made. If you are a new follower, you can read all about that by clicking on the "Madeline" tab over on the left hand side of the blog. (If you are reading via your phone, simply scroll to the bottom and click "view web version" and that will show you the "labels" section on the left hand side where you can chose the Madeline label)
                 
(Tiny, tiny fingers....)

I'll end with a two pictures-the first picture ever taken of her, and then a recent picture I have of her, from the other day. Such a transformation in a year! So thankful for all God has done in her little life and the ways we have experienced His love and grace for our little family during her birth and through the following months. 
This was the first picture we got of Madeline, soon after she was born. She actually looks pretty good in this picture; the ones taken in the following days, like the first one at the top of this post, show better how truly scrawny and tiny she was. 
                     
                          
Ending with one of me and her. Goodness, I love this girlie. I guess I need to do a whole post of recent pictures of her because I have so many good ones! (anyone want to see a post like that?!)

And that is the birth story of little Madeline Sue. She had rocky start to life, but she is making up for it now by being a super determined and feisty fireball of a little lady! We are so glad she's ours!

Have a wonderful weekend, all!
-Chels

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Update from My Follow Up Appointment

(we took Madeline with us to my appointment and she loved every minute of charming everyone she saw =))

As I mentioned in my last post, I was scheduled to have my follow up with my cardiologist last week on Friday. Upon arrival, I had another echocardiogram done first, but I didn't have to be put under for this one, so it was a much simpler process. 

At the meeting afterwards, my cardiologist wanted to know how much better I felt since the surgery. It was hard to quantify how much I have improved, since my mitral valve stenosis really just affected my "bursts of energy". (like I mentioned before-exercising, playing sports, birthing a baby, etc) I told him what I've been telling everyone , though, and that is that although I don't notice a difference daily, I definitely can tell it is so much better! My cardiologist said he wants me to "hold nothing back" for the summer; to do anything and everything I want to do, to basically "test" how much improved I feel. At the end of the summer/three months, we will meet with him again to discuss. He said that, with having had this condition likely for most of my life, I have no idea of what it is like to feel normal. (very true, and it all sure makes a lot more sense now!) His concern is that because I have always struggled, I won’t know what is actual improvement. 

Sadly, there was bad news. My valve leaks now, which we knew was a possibility. (they told us there was a chance ahead of my surgery, and then they told us afterwards that a leak developed during the surgery) However, after looking at the echocardiogram, he feels that the leak is worse than they even initially thought. That means the next time my heart needs intervention, I won't be a "candidate" for another valvuplasty surgery, but instead will have to have the valve completely replaced. (open heart surgery)

For those curious about the actual condition of my valve and the numbers and that sort of thing...the cardiologist said the valvuplasty surgery opened my valve from 1.1cm to 1.8cm. It is wonderful to have that improvement. For reference,  a "normal" persons heart has an opening of 4.5cm or better. 

A huge blessing is that the surgery helped me gain about 60% improvement in the opening, and that I am feeling much better when exercising/etc. And it really is a big difference. I literally felt like I was going to pass out so many times before in my life, when exercising/walking. Whereas now, the first time I went on a walk after my surgery, and the first time I did a workout, I felt out of shape, yes, but I felt good when I was done! I am starting to realize what people mean when they say, after a workout, "wow that felt good." I never felt that way before now!

Although the leak/future open heart surgery isn't what we would have chosen, we know Jesus will continue to take care of me. He saved my life by Madeline arriving early. I am so sure of that. (As a side note, John read the other night that a number of moms with this condition, die within 30 mins of giving birth, due to the change in fluids and exertion) The fact that I am even here to tell this story is still such a miracle to me! And we are thankful for the very first cardiologist at the hospital where I delivered Madeline, who insisted on an echo to get to the root of the issue. If it wasn’t for all that and the ensuing surgery that followed, I likely would not have survived another pregnancy. 

God is good all the time, even when the future is uncertain, and I am just really really thankful for the knowledge and belief of that. 

Thankyou all for caring and praying. We are so thankful!

-Chelsy

Friday, April 22, 2022

Easter Sunday and An Update

Good morning! I hope you all had a blessed Easter weekend and Sunday! Ours was lovely---sweet family times just the five of us, amazing service at our church, and then a big Sunday dinner with all of our local extended family.
Something was wrong with my phone camera so the pictures all turned out fuzzy, but they are priceless to me just the same! 
Many people have been so kind as to ask how I am feeling since my surgery and if I can tell a difference?! It is really hard to explain because, again, this condition didn’t affect me on a daily basis-it was only if I was exercising/playing sports/hiking, or doing something extremely strenuous like birthing a baby. :) So on a daily basis, no, I can’t tell a difference---I feel great, just like I mostly did before! I’ve started working out and that is going really well. I’m out of shape of course, but I don’t feel like I am going to die from the exercise like I would’ve pre-surgery. I rested very well for a week after my surgery and I think that also has helped me pop back quickly! 

I'll be meeting with my cardiologist for a follow up echocardiogram on May 13th, so will know for sure the current status of everything then. However, all should be well, as the doctors were happy with the surgery and how everything went.

In other news, my Bells Palsy is truly healing, and I am more happy about that than I can say! SUCH A BLESSING. I also got a temporary tooth as the implant process won't be fully completed until August (such a loooong production!) so I feel like I'm getting closer and closer to having my full smile back again and I could literally CRY with happiness. 
My parents came for a week after my surgery and took care of us. It was such blessing to have them here and the kiddos LOVED every minute!
Accidental matching with Gramps!
My four siblings still at home, got to come for a few days also and that just filled the boys' happy cup to overflowing to have their aunties and uncles here!
Can't believe Madeline is nine months old!
(check out her Cuddle & Kind Charlotte Dog, here! My kiddos LOVE these dolls!)
Such a little ham! =)
Flowers from my sweet former church family in Iowa.
Morning smiles!
Easter morning table. (pre food and people)
Table settings: plain white sheet for a table cloth, wooden coaster (I don't think mine is bamboo, it was gifted, but looks identical to this one!) toddler silverware & sippies courtesy of Walmart, toddler plates from Ikea, these gorgeous goblets, this white corelle, and other pieces from random and various places/gifts. 
Our first cookout of the season!
Snuggles.
Elliot was struggling with finishing his breakfast one morning. Axton went over, picked up his fork, and helped him finish, all the while speaking the sweetest little words of encouragement, "good job Elliot! You finished!" Melted my heart!
Love my babies.

And that's just a little pop in to say that we are well and thank you all for your kind well wishes and prayers! We are truly grateful for each of you.

Happy Weekend, friends. 
-Chels

(Note: all of the items linked in this post are items that I own and love. The Amazon links are affiliate links. Please read my affiliate disclosure here)

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Home and Recovering!

Our smiles say how happy we are to all be back together again. =)

Well actually, the kiddos smiles are all because Gramps and Nana were taking the picture and being hilarious. =) But truly it is SO good to be back home together and recovering from the comfort of my favorite place! I was released from the hospital yesterday late morning and now am posting this from the happy spot of my living room.

For those who are curious about the actual surgery I had, here is a little info! Valvuloplasty is when the surgeon inserts a very small, narrow, hollow tube into a blood vessel in the groin and advances it up and then through the aorta into the heart. The goal of the surgery is to then use the tissue "ballon" on the end of the tube to help open a stiff (stenotic) heart valve. I had two tubes inserted, one on each leg. So although it is definitely a big deal and there is recovery needed, I didn't have to be technically cut open. 
Subsequently, the healing process shouldn't be too rough, which is a huge blessing. 

The surgery took longer than was expected due to the doctors having some trouble crossing over from one side of my heart to the other. They started right at 11am on the morning of the 24th and finished around 1:15pm that afternoon. The cardiologist was happy with the surgery and said it was successful. We will meet back with him on May 13th for another echocardiogram and overall assessment.

So far I've had to take things for the pain a few times, but other than that it has been manageable. I'm not supposed to lift anything for a week, but I am able to walk around pretty well, which is kinda crazy if you think about my status 48 hours ago! I think the main difficulty this next week will be for me to remember not to do anything. I'm supposed to rest, however, it's really hard to stay put when one is feeling pretty good, and especially when that person has Bontrager bloodlines, haha. =) But my dear husband and family are taking care of me and running the house, and our church is bringing meals, so resting is what I am going to do! 

 Thankyou all for your prayers, messages, comments, and love. It truly means so much to us. 
Happy weekend!
 Chels

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Surgery Completed!


The surgery is finally finished. It took longer than the doctors expected but it was successful!!
Thankyou for your prayers!


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Life Update and Upcoming Surgery

Finally, an update from us. Thankyou all for your prayers and for checking in! 

Many people have been asking about Madeline. Oh my, what a little fireball she is. "Small but mighty" is always what comes to mind when I try to describe her in a few words. She is still very petite- right at 12 1/2 pounds. I finally put away the rest of her 0-3mon clothes the other day and she is wearing 3-6mon currently! Her size is almost the only preemie thing about her though. I love to watch people watch her when I lay her on the floor, and hear their gasps as she promptly rolls over and over and over, moving the whole way across the living room in less than a minute. When one sees a baby this tiny, they don't expect the movement and coordination that she has, which is completely understandable! She is exclusively on bottles and I don't think solids are anywhere in her near future. But that is very normal for premature babies and although she doesn't weigh much, she has tiny little rolls around her thighs and she is healthy as can be! She is doing so much better with her eating and reflux issues and I am so thankful for that. All in all, she is a happy, healthy, and energetic little lass who seems to be just thrilled with her little life!

The boys of the family are doing great as well! John continues to wear a million hats and is constantly expanding his areas of interest and business. I seriously never cease to be amazed at how talented and skilled he is at SO many different things. He does so well at balancing family life and work and taking time for the babies and me. 

Axton and Elliot adore Madeline and they are so sweet with her. They are both super excited about the warmer weather we've been having lately as the backyard is their favorite play spot! Axton is growing up so fast and is becoming such a little man with a very extensive vocabulary! Elliot loves hanging out with him and being his little sidekick but when I watch him drink his bottle in the morning or see him laying on the floor cooing to Maddy, I am reminded that Elliot truly is still a baby himself. Ah, what fun they are. I ADORE being their mama!

Here are a few favorite pictures of recently, because I know everyone is wanting to see Madeline, and also because what is a blog post without pictures?! =) And then keep scrolling to the end to read the main reason for this post. 

(Yes, I marked out some text on John's shirt. We are are involved in a lot of things that we don't publicize so hence a few things need edits now and then. =))
a

And finally, a little update on me. This portion is going to take up the better part of this post, and it is a little strange for me to write, because I've come to realize that I don't really love to write about my struggles and there are definitely a lot of OTHER things I'd rather share than what I am about to write. However, I do not take for granted the friends, family, and online community that cares about us and has prayed and supported in so many ways during our very traumatic past summer of Madeline's birth and NICU stay. So with that in mind, I want to share these things with you so that you will maybe join with us in our current prayer needs, yet again.

As you all know, Madeline was born ten weeks early, totally unexpectedly, following a very scary illness for me. Through her birth and subsequent complications, we discovered that I had (and apparently have had for years, without knowing it) mitral valve stenosis. I almost died when she was born, and had to be on oxygen for 12 hours afterwards, which resulted in extensive testing for what was going on. We asked one of our doctors there at the hospital what cardiologist he would recommend, and we got an appointment set for September. Over the rest of the summer we focused on our little family and getting Madeline healthy and home, and only told a few people about appointment that was looming in the future. We knew it was serious but we just needed to wait to cross that bridge until we had the time, energy, and strength for it. In September we met with the cardiologist and were told, among other things, that my condition was the worst he had ever seen in someone my age. When we left his office, we were prepared and expecting that open heart surgery was a very real and probable possibility. I'm not going to lie, we got to the car and both sat there and cried. It all felt so overwhelming and extremely serious and just SO HARD. Over the course of the fall/winter I had to have another more in depth echocardiogram and several visits with other cardiologists. Appointments, tests, waiting, opinions....I had never been admitted to a hospital prior to Axton and then Madeline's births, so you can imagine that this has all been a brand new roller coaster experience, and not in a good way. Finally it was determined that since my heart valve hadn't calcified, open heart surgery could be put off for a number of years, and a much less invasive surgery could solve the problem for the time being.

Also over the course of the past year, I have had some of the craziest dental stuff going on. This may sound minor compared to heart problems (and it is!!) but balancing countless dental appointments and decisions, before and then in the middle of my pregnancy and then Madelines NICU stay and first few months home, hasn't been exactly easy. Keep in mind that I am the girl who didn't have a single cavity for years. My siblings and I brushed religiously and never got cavities. But apparently ten adult years of no dentist visits (out of convenience, because who wants to go to the dentist with healthy teeth) and three pregnancies can really work a negative number on ones teeth. (mamas, listen to me and go to the dentist! I so wish I could do that over!) I had two teeth that basically broke off/fell out last year. One resulted in an emergency root canal in the spring, and the other was literally too bad for a root canal, so I had to have it extracted and am in the middle of the process of getting an implant. Oh, throw a batch of cavities in there too for good measure. I've lost track of my number of visits to my dentist. There is a little silver lining on the cloud, and that is the fact that I found a dentist that I love and whom we will be using as our family dentist in the future. So if I have to be going so often, it is nice to have a place with which we are happy.

In November, when we were back in Iowa visiting my family, John and I were involved in a wreck which nearly totaled our truck. (if we had been in our car I wouldn't be here and alive to tell you about it) Again, long story...we were both completely fine physically, which was a miracle, but it was a scary wreck and was traumatic for me, especially afterwards. John spent most of Thanksgiving week lining up a place to do major repair to the truck, and shopping for a new car to get us home. I am so grateful that our kiddos weren't with us in the truck at the time of the wreck! 

Finally, the week before Christmas, I woke up one day with the weirdest twitching going on in my left cheek and eyebrow. I noticed it again later that morning when I was doing my makeup. By the afternoon we were in at our doctors office and I was diagnosed with Bells Palsy. If you don't know what it is (I didn't!) you can google it; just be prepared to be frightened. Some of the pictures you'll see are pretty scary, and a lot of the pictures I have on my phone of me from the last three months are pretty scary too. After everything else we'd gone through, the Bells Palsy honestly just felt the the cherry on top in the WORST way. I tried everything for it. Steroids, anti viral, creams, oils, meds, supplements, vitamins, acupuncture, massage, chiropractor...you name it, I tried it. Nothing seemed to help. Some people recover from it in a few weeks, and for others it takes months. There is no known cause, and no known cure. It would appear by now (three months in) that my case is one of the "takes months" cases. I am so thankful that we are slowly SLOWLY seeing improvement. Those who have seen me regularly from the beginning can see improvement too, and PTL I am able to talk normally now and don't have pain or tiredness, both of which were a problem at various points early on. All the pictures in this post are from this past month, so the ones of me don't look nearly as rough as it did in the beginning, but I still am a far cry from having a beautiful smile again and a lot of my face is still very affected.

Anyways! That feels like quite the dump of "stuff". And if I'm being open and honest here, I have to admit that the past eight months of all this have been unspeakably difficult. I'm not one to complain, and those who know me personally know that I am very upbeat and positive about life, even when it is hard. That is why I haven't preferred to talk about all this much. To me, there isn't much of a point to complain, and it is hard to be honest and say what all has happened, without it sounding like complaining, because it has been a lot of really hard circumstances. But there is a time to share, a time to ask for prayer, and this is one of those times! God is good. I can say that. I trust in Him. Has it been easy? No. But has He been MORE than merciful, and with us every step of the way? Yes absolutely. So much yes. 

In spite of a failing heart, a failing face, and a failing mouth, I am so lucky to still be feeling mostly great (as long as I don't exercise or birth a baby, haha!) and getting plenty of sleep. Getting enough sleep is something that we have prioritized ever since we got married. I genuinely don't know what it is like to not get plenty of rest, even as a young and very busy mama of three babies. Our kids are all amazing sleepers and love routine so we have settled into a new normal even with having three now. I am so so thankful to be going into this surgery feeling rested both physically and emotionally. 

My heart surgery is called valvuloplasty and it will be happening this Thursday morning, March 24th, @ 8am. I would greatly appreciate your prayers for safety and wisdom for the doctors! We are blessed with the most incredible network of extended family on both sides and our kiddos will be well cared for and loved while I am in the hospital and recovering afterwards.

Thankyou all so much for caring and following along with the bits I post here and there about our little family! As I said before, we don't take it for granted and we are thankful!

Lord willing, I'll pop on to say "it went well" as soon as I am "with it" enough to do so, following the surgery! 

Life is short and precious and blessed. If there is one thing I'm learning through this, it is to never take life and health for granted. Hug your people a little tighter and tell them you love them, and rejoice in the opportunities to do so!

Be Blessed! And happy Tuesday!

Chels