Jul 7, 2014

2 years later...

It is crazy to think that two years ago we were on a plane coming back from the DR to Devos children's hospital - I get chills and tear up just thinking about it.  It has been a while since I've written a real update since then.  I'm not really sure where to start with one now either but I guess I just feel like it is time.  When we were celebrating the 4th the other day, we started reminiscing back and remembered Kenya's first 4th of July.  She was laying nearly comatose in the NICU in the DR and I was laying on the floor outside, unable to see her and just praying and sobbing and begging God for a miracle when someone on the phone mentioned fireworks outside and it was hard to fathom that life continued in other parts of the world while it seemed to be crashing down all around us.  But the total miracle that we prayed for is what we got.  I get totally overwhelmed all over again just thinking back to those first weeks and the way Kenya was healed and her life was spared.  From her conception through pregnancy, birth and beyond, it has been a very rocky road and she has been our miraculous survivor through all of it.  I also will never ever forget the unbelievable amount of love and support that was poured into Kenya's life during those first weeks and months.  The endless amount of prayers, emails, notes, financial support, gifts, open arms, listening ears, words of advice, medical letters to get us out of country, and even people starting up support groups just to help us out will never ever be forgotten.  Though these very special people who dropped everything to help us may not have heard my words of gratitude in a while, please know that I will always hold a special place for every single one of you in my heart and will forever be grateful for the compassion you shed on our family.  From friends and family in the DR and Michigan, to acquaintances and strangers everywhere in between, we felt surrounded by angels throughout that entire experience and will forever be thankful to God for the miracle He worked in Kenya's life.  There were people who went to extreme measures to help us through that scary situation and when we tried to give our sincerest thanks, we just heard "thank God, He was the one who told us to help".  So we thank God and thank those of you who answered His call to reach out to help us.

2 years can make a world of difference...
So what's happened in the past two years since then?  It has been a rough road, but we have been blessed with so much along the way.  Kenya continues to grow and be a beautiful little miracle in our lives.  She brings us so much joy every day.  We are thankful she has not had any seizures since those first weeks of her life.  She has struggled with some chronic colds and issues and we are trying to rule out allergies/asthma.  But for the most part she has been our healthy little miracle and we are so thankful for that.

Dave is back working at Velocity selling bicycle rims and I am fortunate (especially in Michigan) after that first year at home to be teaching again - 3rd grade Spanish Immersion.  During those first months after Kenya's birth, I honestly did not think I would ever be able to teach or work again.  The injuries from Kenya's birth were so severe and life was so painful that it was hard to ever see any light at the end of the tunnel.  I couldn't see beyond my cloud of trauma and a trip to the grocery store felt like Everest.  Though I will always deal with the permanent injuries caused by her birth and the doctors' (there have been a lot of them) words have been less than encouraging, I do feel like I have come a long way and have made a ton of progress, especially when I think back to the first days of feeling so broken and destroyed.  But through this experience, I found myself connected to the millions of women in the developing world who are literally broken, paralyzed and destroyed by birth - who lose their babies and their dignity to injuries inflicted upon them by what should have been a natural and joyous event.  Even though I never would have chosen to have to suffer all of the pain that I have, I do think all of this was supposed to happen.  People have said that they can't understand why something so bad could happen to good people who were just out trying to do good in the world.  Though it took me a long time (and a lot of counseling) to get here, I can now accept that I was chosen for this to happen to me and God had a purpose behind my suffering.  Where millions of other women worldwide lose everything (including their babies and families), are literally shunned from their communities, have no access to healthcare and have no voice at all, I have been blessed with the exact opposite throughout this storm and I have the opportunity to be a voice for all of these women.  Sometimes I wonder if I will always feel pain from Kenya's birth and I think that pain (as mild it is usually is) is always there as a reminder - a voice of the millions of other women reminding me "we're still here, we're still suffering, we still need your help".  Though I haven't had much time to help these days, I believe I was chosen to raise awareness for these women and be the voice for those who don't have one.  For girls sold into marriage at a young age and forced to give birth before their bodies are ready for it.  For women who go into childbirth with greater risk than our soldiers, knowing they have a 1 in 6 chance of mortality.  For women who labor for days or even over a week only to give birth to a dead baby.  For women who are paralyzed and never walk again because of giving birth.  For women who are abandoned and literally shunned by their families.  For women who will be permanently incontinent and forever live in shame and disgrace... unless someone steps in to help.  Even though I would have never chosen to suffer the way I have (and trust me that it has been nothing compared to what these women endure), I am thankful for my injuries because they have connected me to this beautiful world of women who I really knew nothing about and who needed me to be their voice.  Those who know me already know that being a public "voice" is not my thing.  The first time I shared my story at a "Half the Sky" event, I'm not sure I even looked up once from my lap as I mumbled out my whole crazy story.  But each event led to another and people welcomed me and my terrible public speaking skills to come share my story at fundraisers and to nursing classes at WMU and Calvin.  And my hope is that my story (and those of millions of women I share about) will reach people who will be inspired to help.  Here is where I'd love to say now... now join me on my journey as I go and build a maternal healthcare center to help these women in Africa (I do dream of this all the time).  But with my hands full with teaching and Kenya and lots of student loans to pay off, I'm definitely not there yet.  What I do hope is that I can raise awareness, continue speaking, hold more fundraisers and that my voice will bring light to the women who don't have a voice and who continue to suffer everyday without hope.  And I do hope that you will partner with me in helping these women and being their voice, just as you have helped and support Kenya and I in tremendous ways.  Let me know if you want to find out how you can get involved. :)  I have already met some incredible people who are already working in this arena and hope I can be a support to them.

While this update is already turning into a novel, I guess that leaves me with a few questions that I have been asked a lot lately - really it seems like every day so I will just put it out there.  People always ask if I can have more children - and while a few (often unsuspecting) people have listened to me pour my heart out on the topic (like a few of my new co-teachers who just come in my classroom to talk about a Math lesson or something, bless their hearts), it is not really something I like to talk about as casually as what I'm having for dinner (not that I don't appreciate the concern).  There really isn't a definite answer.  When I first came back from the DR, I was told to give myself three years for total healing and before thinking about more kids... but then they found a lot more internal damage.  I was told that on a scale of 1 to 5, that six weeks after birth those muscle groups should be back at a "5".  For me 3 months after Kenya's birth, they were less than a 1.  After one year of intense pelvic floor rehab (which I'm thankful for but was not fun), I was told the muscles were still less than a 1 and that there was just "way too much trauma".  After a year of hearing discouraging news week after week, I stopped going to doctors (and just got super consumed with teaching too).  I do feel like despite their reports, I have come a LONG way and am so grateful.  Two years ago, I couldn't even stand long enough to take a shower and even walking across the room was so incredibly painful and the idea of riding around in a wheelchair while sitting on a big pool tube kept me from going out in public much.  It does scare the daylights out of me to ever think about going back to that lonely place in my life that another pregnancy could bring me back to.  Another pregnancy would come with huge risks, not just that of being able to safely carry a baby to term, but also of doing much further damage to my body.  My bladder and intestines were also damaged in Kenya's birth, but I have thankfully refused all surgeries and have been happy with my albeit long healing process - putting the pressure of another pregnancy on my body could put it into a much worse place that I don't want to have to live with (i.e. a colostomy bag or even worse).  So I don't believe having more children biologically is something that is in my future as much as that always breaks my heart to say (especially over and over again).  I do however have (and have always had) a strong desire in my heart to adopt a child (or children) and that is something we definitely want to explore when we are ready.  I know that's a lot of personal information for any random reader to digest but I wanted to put it out there since it's something I'm asked about what seems like everyday lately.

The last piece... will we ever go back to the DR? (I get asked this one a lot too)  No definite answer here either.  I guess the answer is "if/when God wants us to".  It's hard to understand why I was presented with the dream opportunity of opening a home for girls only to have it stolen from under me so quickly.  I know there are people who have been disappointed in our decision to stay back in the states, but believe me when I say there is no one who had a harder time accepting this than we did.  I miss the DR every. single. day.  And though Kenya's birth experience was absolutely horrific, this experience was the exception to our time there.  It was the most incredible experience with some of the most beautiful, kind-hearted and amazing people I have ever met.  I miss those people and my time there every day.  God worked things out for us right here though too.  While I will always miss those very special people who became our family in the DR, we live just 2 blocks away from an awesome Spanish speaking church which we love that has a majority Dominican population (what are the odds right?).  I have a class of kiddos who I can speak to in Spanish all day everyday and share my experience with (at least the parts that are appropriate for 8 year old ears) and hope they will be inspired to change the world in their own ways using their gift of being bilingual (I've seen them already pour into humanitarian efforts in extraordinary ways and have been so incredibly proud of them this year).  More than anything, I have my family here and we are (mostly) pretty healthy and I could never ask for more than that (though of course I often do).  While someday I would love to be back in the mission field (abroad) and be in Latin America, that is on God's time and for now we are thankful to be able to bloom in the community we are in right here in West Michigan.

So I guess that's it for my update.  Sorry to be so longwinded but I'm sure anyone who has read my blog is used to that by now. :)  Thank you for the continued prayers and for being a part of our family's journey.  It has been a rollercoaster but I thank God everyday for the blessings and angels He always provides along the way.