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And for my next trick!

One year ago today, my second daughter Matilyn was born at 2:57 p.m. Every child is a blessing, but this girl is a miracle sent straight from Our Father's hands. One year ago this past weekend, I stood on the other side of the unknown. For twenty weeks, I had carried my child with the knowledge that she might not live. At 17 weeks gestation, we learned our baby was a girl for the first time at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. We had been told to expect a neural tube defect, which made me think brain defect or spina bifida. Then my sweet doctor said it was likely an abdominal wall defect as there had been a question about our baby's abdomen in her first ultrasound at 12 weeks. I'd never given a thought to my baby's abdominal wall before!

On that fateful day in October, 2005, I stared at the ultrasound screen and gazed into the eyes of my very heart. Matilyn Faith was dancing around within me. And her bowel was floating beside her beautiful face. As only a mother can do, I immediately looked to all the beauty that was my child. Her face was perfect and her heart had four chambers and her brain looked healthy. Her spinal cord even looked perfect. So what if she had an opening in her belly that let her insides float out in the amniotic fluid with her? She was mine and she was beautiful and I knew she was fearfully and wonderfully made and I praised my God for her. Doctors continually reminded me that Matilyn's gastroschisis was "potentially fatal" and that all we could do was monitor her progress and proceed accordingly. That was merely the background music to the miracle God was telling me all about. My mother just knew I was worried and wouldn't admit it. I couldn't believe I was not worried. I was filled with the peace that only comes from God. And it was so much more than enough.

When my husband and I arrived in that delivery room to induce labor on that sweet Monday morning, I was filled with every emotion known to man. Matilyn taught me more about praying than I could have learned from any one else. I asked Matt to pray with me before "the show began" and we stood with our foreheads together and our hands on my belly as we prayed to God to give us the strength to face the day, to give our child the strength to face the greatest battle of her tiny life, to give the medical staff the knowledge they needed to care for our miracle girl, and for, above and beyond all else, the Lord's will to be done. I viewed my position that day not as an expectant mother in a delivery room, but instead as that of a missionary. I could show these people, all these overly educated people who though they had seen it all, the peace of God. I could really rest in the palm of God's mighty hand and let them see what that looked like. I could keep my eyes on Him and know this all would be over very soon.

Labor with my first child went fast, so we anticipated this one to be no different. To our surprise, labor was not progressing as quickly as it had with my first daughter, Hope. I remember looking at my sweet husband at 2pm and saying "Matt, if I don't start dilating soon, I may have to have this baby by c-section. And they say that would increase her chances of having fluid on her lungs. We don't want that. You say a little prayer and I'll say a little prayer. Then let's try to take a nap." I was almost asleep when my dear nurse came in to say they'd lost track of the baby's heartbeat and she needed to adjust that annoying strap on my belly. She thought perhaps the baby had dropped. I told her I did feel like the baby was resting lower than before. She checked me and I was a 4. Okay! She walked out the door to get me some ice chips and when she came back, I told her I felt pressure. She checked me again and I was a 6. Literally five minutes had passed! She looked at my contractions on the monitor and got nervous. She started alerting everyone. Let me just say that this nurse was sent to me straight from God. She made sure my epidural was started when I wanted, and after waiting until 7cm to ask for one with my first child, I decided we'd should waste no time and start the epidural less than an hour after the Pitocin. I even had a button to push when I felt any pressure at all. Now that is how God surely meant for labor to be!

By 2:30pm, just a half hour after Matt and I had decided to pray and nap, I was told not to move, laugh or even sneeze! This baby was ready to be born, but my doctor was still on his way from a nearby hospital. I'll never forget lying on my side with a room full of doctors, residents, nurses, interns, and every other person in blue scrubs within a five mile radius. One resident said "Wow, you're calm. I want you to have my babies for me!" I just smiled at her and told her I was praying. A silence fell over the room. It was amazing. My doctor arrived, I was positioned for delivery, and God started showing off. I can't tell you how close God stayed to me that day. When I couldn't be still for my epidural, I saw Jesus's back, striped and bruised and bleeding for me in my mind and knew I could surely endure this for Him. When I was scared throughout my pregnancy and while I labored, I always felt as if God was putting his finger to my mouth to hush me and remind me that I just had to do this for Him. Birthing my girl was the most amazing experience of my life. I laughed, I smiled, I cried as I felt her head come into this world with my right hand and her tiny feet sliding down underneath the skin on my stomach with my left hand.

I am covered in chills as I tell you as that the baby whose voice I only dreamed of came into this world screaming. By the grace of God, I looked right past all the intestines and organs that were outside of her body and into her face. I wondered whose nose she had and gazed at her beautiful toes. She was taken to the side by the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit team, wrapped in a sterile covering, swaddled in a blanket, a tube was placed down her throat, and her head was covered with a tiny hat. And they gave her to ME. There are no words to describe how I felt in that moment. There just aren't. For months, I just dreamed of seeing her little face one time. I just begged God to let her develop enough to breathe for a little while. Then, I rejoiced when I thought she'd developed enough to maybe live long enough to be a donor so that other parents might not lose their little ones as soon as I would. I knew the odds were against us. I was not bitter. I was not pessimistic. I was thankful. I was thankful for every moment. I knew God was God and I was not. And I praised Him for every moment, every kick, every hiccup I shared with my girl.

What I never expected was a miracle. But that's what my sweet Father gave to me in Matilyn Faith. (I named her after the two strongest, faithful men in my life and both of her fathers, Matt and God. Faith alone carried her here.) Her apgar scores, even with all of her small intestine, part of her large intestine, part of her stomach, and her fallopian tubes outside of her body, were 9 and 9! She wasn't blue. She was pink and she was yelling! I held her close to me for a brief moment in time and the whole world stopped. She stopped screaming when I spoke to her and she looked at me with one tiny eye opened. Through my tears, I told her I loved her and to be strong. That child took me at my word.

God assured me time and again that He would heal my lamb. He reminded me so many times that this would be for His glory. It would not be fun and it would not be easy, but He would not leave me and He would not let go of His little Matilyn Faith. I did not know if my lamb would be healed on this side or at home with Him, but I was peaceful and confident that He would heal my lamb. I read, over and over, Psalm 139 and I read the story of Abraham and Isaac. I rested in knowing that Matilyn's form was not hidden from God and that it was He who was knitting her together in my womb. I reminded God that He had spared Isaac and I told Him how I longed for Him to spare my Matilyn, but I would give her to Him and allow Him to have His way with her. After all, He knows best, all the time.

It is the greatest honor of my life to be the only one who can tell you this story from this perspective. For twenty six days, I stayed by my child's side in the NICU. Two hours after she was born, she went to the operating room for the first time. The man's hands God used to heal our girl were the same hands God had used to heal our fourteen month old daughter Hope only three months prior to this day. When my husband and I married less than four years ago, we gave God the reigns. Six months later, we discovered our first child was on her way! She was born beautiful and healthy, then we found a mass on her neck at seven months old. For months, we were caught in limbo without answers as we waited for tests, etc. This was when God first started teaching me about patience and being still and knowing that my children really were not mine, but His. Hope had a cystic hygroma, which was a benign mass that was filled with fluid that did not drain from her lymph nodes. Dr. Edmund Yang removed that golf ball sized mass from Hope's sweet neck on her fourteen month birthday. She has not looked back since. So, we were confident and peaceful about sending Matilyn with Dr. Yang. We don't understand why God's trusted us with such miracle girls, but we have learned to never take them for granted. We are better for having walked this road, though we would have never chosen it. Everything happens for a reason and the way Hope's journey prepared us for Matilyn's is perfect proof of that. Imagine that! God was telling the truth in Jeremiah 29!

Back to Matilyn though! Just hours after she was born with what my husband described as more intestines and organs than both of his big hands cupped together could have held outside of her body, we saw her and she was beautiful. A tiny bandage covered what was now her bellybutton. (Ah, let me just show you. Send me an email and I'll be happy to supply a few pictures from then and now!)

On day 2, nurses who cared for her the day she was born came into her room, only to walk right back out, thinking they were in the wrong room. No one believed that everything was able to placed back inside her five pound, thirteen ounce body. Four days after she was born, Matilyn came off the ventilator and breathed on her own. Fifteen days after she was born, she was given her first 5cc of Pedialite. I sent out an email begging everyone I knew to pray for poop! If Matilyn could just have a dirty diaper, we'd know there were no blockages in the intestine that had potential to be so damaged from floating outside of my body for so long. Just hours after Matilyn's first feeding, her belly became distended and the feedings were stopped. My heart sank. Then I looked up and God lifted it again. On the morning of Matilyn's 18th day, I entered her room to see her swinging in her baby swing. When the nurse helped me get her out so I could hold her, we both smelled an answered prayer! Our prayers had been heard and Our Lord proved Himself faithful once again. Matilyn had no blockages, and we had proof!

On day 23, I was able to nurse my second child for the first time. She was a champ. Praise God! For two days, she was monitored and she was tolerating feeds well. Now there was no reason for all these wires. She could breathe, she could eat, she was healed. I begged Dr. Yang to let us go home for Easter. We're not sure if Dr. Yang's a believer, but we had reason to suspect he's not when he asked when Easter was. We told him Sunday, just two days away. He said he'd try to let us out in time, but no promises. On March 26, 2005, Matilyn's twenty sixth day in this world and the day before Easter, we took our girl home. Can I just tell you what she wore? She wore a tiny purple Easter dress with bunnies in the smocking. It's precious, but not only because it's cute. I first saw that dress on the morning of my last doctor's appointment in my hometown, just three days before I gave birth to my miracle. I did not buy it because I did not know if the Lord would let us keep her in this world until Easter. When she started making such amazing progress, as if she were listening only to God's voice in her ear and hearing nothing the medical staff had to say, I came home and bought that dress. I brought it to the hospital and told her she was going to wear it on Easter, even if she had to do it in her hospital bassinet. My husband and I were floating on clouds when we carried our tiny daughter out of that hospital in her beautiful Easter dress. We brought her home to meet her eighteen month old sister for the first time and we were overwhelmed with the grace God had showed to us as we celebrated Easter at home as a family and realized that God still moves stones.

Now, Miss Matilyn's been home with us for almost a year. I watched the clock all day and relived the day of her birth in my mind and in my heart. That was such a pivotal point in my life. I will never be the same. And I need you, my dear friends to know that each of you played a very important role in seeing me through that time of my life. God is faithful. He is so faithful. Matilyn ate birthday cake tonight and didn't have a care in the world. Sunday, she will have a party with close friends and family and we will celebrate her life, as I do every moment. God is good. If you need to see pictures as proof, I promise I have them. :)