Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Nurturer - an Empowering Portrait

This is part of my Empowering Portrait series, where I interview people who have a story to be told... survivors, artists, mothers, students, everyday people who inspire me!

I've known Bonnie since middle school, back when our biggest problems in life concerned nail polish, capri pants, and Leonardo DiCaprio.  How time flies!

As we’ve gotten older, Bonnie and I have stayed in touch; thanks to Facebook, I’ve been able to watch from afar as she’s gotten married to a great guy, Rick, gained an adorable step-son, Reise, and become a mother in her own right.  Throughout it all, she has maintained a quiet, constant grace and calm that made me think, “Maybe I could be a Mom someday too.”

Growing up, Bonnie always knew she wanted to become a mother.

“Like all other kids, I always said I wanted to be a lawyer, doctor, vet, etc.,” she said.  “But one time I told my friend the truth, that I wanted to be a mom by the time I was twenty.  She flipped!”  Still, Bonnie didn’t let that discourage her.  Little did she know that her path to motherhood would be an extremely difficult one.

A couple of years after getting married, Rick and Bonnie found out they were expecting.  They were about 19 weeks along when they went in for their anatomy sound, to find out if their baby was a boy or a girl.  After finding out they were having a boy, they were sent to the waiting room until a doctor could see them.

“We announced to the world through text messages and Facebook how excited we were to be having a son,” Bonnie recalled.  Then the doctor arrived and delivered some serious news.
Bonnie & Elijah
Bonnie and Rick’s son had a condition known as Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia, or CDH.  It occurs early in pregnancy, and affects one in every 2500 births.  During development, a baby’s intestines form outside the body.  The diaphragm forms and closes completely, then the intestines work their way back in; in CDH, the diaphragm doesn’t form properly or the intestines return early, getting in the way of the diaphragm.  This causes a myriad of complications; 50% of all babies diagnosed do not survive birth.  Of those that do, 50% require Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO, essentially baby life support) and half of those babies do not live to be removed from life support.

The news was a crushing blow to Bonnie and Rick.  They drove to a larger hospital to confirm the diagnosis.  Bonnie described the next two days as the worst in her life.

“Rick and I rented movies and ordered pizza and laid in bed and cried,” Bonnie said.  “There was nothing either of us could say to make it better.  The doctors kept reminding us of our option to terminate.  The first day I cried for his sickness; the second day I cried because I didn’t want him to think I hated him.  For the rest of my pregnancy I cried for a loss that I can’t even put into words.   I guess it’s the loss of a dream.  The loss of how you thought your pregnancy would be and all the things you wanted to do and were excited to experience.”

Bonnie and Rick decided not to terminate their pregnancy, and named their future baby boy Elijah.  From then on, their life became a series of visits with OBs, surgeons, neonatologists, and teams of doctors running tests like MRIs and echocardiograms.

“We didn’t plan for [Elijah’s] birth by getting a nursery ready or having a baby shower,” Bonnie said. “We planned by reading all we could about this condition and finding others who had gone through it.  I read about so many babies who passed, some at one day old... six months old, six years old.  We had to simultaneously prepare for his birth and the possibility of his death.”

Elijah was delivered naturally after Bonnie was induced, and she saw only his little hand as he was taken to be intubated.  She saw him twice before he was taken to another hospital to be put on ECMO.  Throughout it all, Rick and Bonnie were there to keep each other strong.

"The best part of being a wife is living with your best friend and having him there to share in your happiness, fears, etc." Bonnie said, "No relationship is perfect, but I am so thankful I had Rick at my side during the last year.  This has made me closer to my husband, friends, and family.  It's made me realize that nothing is more important in life than those around you.  I no longer take my work woes home with me; they just don't matter in the big picture.  It's made me want to help others out there the way I was helped when I was in need."

There are other lessons learned as well.

"I know that eating the right foods and doing all the right things during a pregnancy really doesn't matter sometimes," Bonnie shared.  "I've learned that birth defects, although they may be caused by a mother's poor choices, aren't always, and it is unfair to judge.  I've learned that tiny babies can be stronger than any adult.  And I've learned that good health insurance is important."

Today, Elijah is alive, home with his parents, and smiling and laughing like any other boy his age.  While he's working on fattening up, he's a good baby and shows a lot of personality!

When she has a moment to herself, Bonnie loves reading (especially medieval English history!) and photography.  Her new camera ensures she'll be able to capture every moment of her life with Rick, Reise, and Elijah.  We've come a long way since our middle school days, and Bonnie has truly come into her own.

“I think that I was just born to be a mom and I knew it,” Bonnie said.  I think that I agree.

Empowering Portrait Lightning Round Questions!
If you turned on my iPod right now, I'd be listening to: Forget You (by Cee-Lo Green)!  I just can't get enough of that song.

I never leave home without my: cell phone, but I hate being a slave to it.

If I could teleport to any place in the world right now, I'd be: in Europe, showing Rick the sights.

I have never: partied for Little 500 [a bicycle race/event in southern Indiana].

If I were an animal, I would be: a cat.  I would love to sleep all day and play all night.

If you had some advice for your 16-year-old self, what would it be? I'm not sure I would tell myself anything.  I am where I am today because of all of the mistakes I've made and the experiences I've had.  They've made me who I am and I wouldn't change a thing.

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