On the Fifteenth of May in the Jungle of Nool…

I had the opportunity to assistant direct our school musical every year that I taught. Last year, our students performed Seussical Jr., and since our last name is Norton they made many jokes about the our baby being named Horton. It was cute. Because of my pregnancy being a complete disaster for lack of a better way to phrase it, I stepped down from that role early on in the school year, but I still went to rehearsals when I could just to see the kids being awesome. In the first act, there is a song that begins with the title of this post. I will think of this song and those sweet theatre kiddos on Evan’s birthday probably for the rest of my life. My favorite line from that musical (which is also probably the most famous) is “a person’s a person no matter how small.” How fitting for our little nugget of joy.

On May 14, I went in for my weekly blood pressure check and labs to check for preeclampsia. So far I had made it by on the diagnosis of gestational hypertension. They took my blood, and I went on my merry way not expecting to see or talk to them until my non-stress test later in the week. I still had so much I needed to do in order to be ready for Evan’s arrival. The number one thing on my list that day was to finally go back to the school and clear my personal items out of my classroom (with help, don’t worry). When I got everything packed up into my car, I noticed I had a missed call from the hospital. They didn’t leave a message, so I figured if it was something weird about my labs, they would call me back. I more or less just shrugged it off. I had been feeling crummier than usual lately but I was also 34 weeks pregnant, so feeling crummy seemed normal to me.

Around 5:30 the on call OB called again and I answered. She said, “so your labs came back, and we’re going to need you to come hang out with us at the hospital at least overnight.” She then explained that my labs not only showed that I had developed preeclampsia but that I was developing something called HELLP syndrome as well because of it. Basically, my platelet counts were dropping and my liver function was dwindling because of my hypertension. She said that if my labs stabilized and didn’t seem any worse, I would likely go home the following morning, but I needed to be monitored that night. I was kind of dumbstruck. I was so sure that I wouldn’t develop preeclampsia and now I had it and something else on top of it. I dumbly asked her, “so I mean, should I like bring our hospital bag for like having a baby?” (Yes, I definitely said like that many times.) She said, “Yes, you should. Worst case scenario is you leave the hospital not pregnant anymore.” In other words, “hey so I know you were really just concerned with getting your classroom cleared out today, but you actually might have a baby instead.” WHAT!? I calmly said, “okay,” and she explained the process of getting admitted once I got to the hospital. We said, “see you soon” and I hung up.

Then….I said some choice words. My friends, Holly and Ross, were with me so they can vouch for that. I said a lot of choice words unbecoming of a new mother, but I mean she just told me I have a life threatening condition and my already abnormally teeny tiny baby with unknown medical issues was about to be born over five weeks early. You’d have some choice words too! I called Alex, and I think I was calm about the situation on the phone. Honestly, I don’t remember all that well. I know I started it with, “Hey so you can’t run rescue tonight, we have to go to the hospital.” Wow. Way too casual and vague. We met back at the house and finished putting last minute things into our hospital bags and headed out.

When I got admitted, the nurse asked me about contractions and I casually (why am I always overly nonchalant?) told her I had been having them for four weeks, but that I wasn’t having a baby that night. They hooked me up to all the monitors, started an IV, and drew blood for more lab work. Since I was there for my blood pressure, I got to get it taken every 15 minutes for the first couple hours we were there, and then they spaced it out to every hour through the night. Since I might have been having a baby that night, I wasn’t allowed to eat dinner. (Woo! Not.) Around 11 or maybe midnight, they told me I could eat something since my labs didn’t look any worse. That was the best tasting crappy hospital cafeteria cheesesteak sub I have ever eaten in my life.

From the intensity of the situation, I started having stronger contractions than I had been having, so I was so uncomfortable. Between that and the BP checks, I barely slept that whole night. I think Alex slept some, but honestly, I am not that sure. When we “woke up” that morning the dining services people brought in a breakfast tray for me since I wasn’t on restrictions anymore. Our day nurse came in and said that from the report she got that night it looked like we would be able to go home and remain on bed rest getting monitored more frequently. About 30 minutes later, the OB comes in and tells me that she discussed my labs and BP with the high risk maternal-fetal doctors, and everyone agreed that it would be safest to deliver Evan that day.

My internal monologue in that moment: “Ummm…what? Sure. Okay. Cool. Cool. Cool. No big deal. AHHH!”

“Mrs. Norton, when did you last eat?” Ugh. “Umm about 30 minutes ago.” That darn french toast! It wasn’t even good! And now because of it, I had to wait until 3:30 that afternoon to have my baby! I had to just sit there and stress over all the possible scenarios and how everything could play out. Good. My blood pressure isn’t already sky high, let’s just let me stew in my own angst for seven hours. Let’s add stroking out to that list of possibilities.

Evan was breech. Always breech. Folded up like a little taco. I knew we would be doing a C-section, but they checked with an ultrasound just to be sure. She said that Evan would be taken up to the NICU when he was born, but that Alex could go with him. We already knew that was where he would be going. That was one thing we felt ready for.

They told me how the day would go and then said “sit tight and try to relax.” RELAX? Are you crazy? So crazy freak out mode went into overdrive and I sent Alex back to the house because I needed more things including Evan’s swaddle blanket with his name on it. I still laugh at how crazy I was over that blanket, like somehow having it would make everything okay. I knew he would be going into an isolette or radiant warmer with no clothes, but he needed his name blanket. I am the one who needed that blanket. It was a symbol of plans gone right and hope for me. If he had his name blanket, he would be okay. He would live. He would eventually get wrapped in it and be fine. Pregnant logic is the most ridiculous thing in the world– ask any partner of a pregnant woman.

3:30 came…and went. There was another pre-term delivery happening and the OB was stuck until that one was over. So we waited an extra 45 minutes, which felt like 45 days if you ask me. Nerves really started kicking in the closer and closer we got to go time. Alex prayed over me and Evan, and that’s when I finally let myself cry. I told him how I was scared, and I didn’t think I could do it. I’m not even sure to this day what all I meant by “it.” Having major surgery? Being a mom? Having a sick baby? Who knows?

They finally took me back, got me prepped, and let Alex come into the OR. By the way, my blood pressure was 180/111 when they started prepping me. That’s considered a “hypertensive crisis,” so I guess it was a good thing we were about to have this baby. If you don’t know, the only way to “cure” preeclampsia or HELLP syndrome is to end the pregnancy. Evan had to be born that day or we would have been in some trouble.

One second they started and all of a sudden Evan was out. I will never get over how fast it seemed to be. I watched them hand him off to the neonatal team. He was gray. Like not the normal “oh the baby is covered in goo” kind of gray. The “oh shoot, somebody needs to do something quick” kind of gray. I craned my neck to see them working on him. I couldn’t see what he looked like at all. Just a gray fleshy blob. They called out his APGAR score: 1. (It’s out of 10 if you don’t know.) He was only taking random spontaneous breaths. His heart rate was too low; his oxygen saturation was too low; he was gray and not moving. The nurse asked Alex what his name was and when Alex said it, all of a sudden, Evan’s vitals started to come up a bit. He knew his daddy’s voice.

They were able to stabilize him enough to get his weight. That’s when I saw his sweet tiny beautiful little body for real. He didn’t look like a potato! (Let’s be honest…some babies look like potatoes.) He was so cute! And wait! He doesn’t look as disproportionate as we thought he’d be! The NICU team even questioned if they had the right baby when they saw him. He was 3 lbs 15.7 oz. I prayed for at least four pounds! We were so close. As one of our favorite pediatric residents says, we should have just rounded.

This is the first picture Alex sent me from upstairs.

But then as quick as he came, he was gone. They wheeled him out, and Alex went with him. They stitched me back together and wheeled me to the recovery room where I just waited for Alex to come back and tell me Evan was okay. I have no sense of time, since I am pretty sure I was heavily medicated, but Alex came back to show me pictures of him and tell me how nice his nurse was (Hannah, we love you). I told him to just go back to Evan. I would be fine by myself. Evan needed him more than I did. They took me to my room, and all I could do was text Alex. I wasn’t allowed to go up to see my baby. C-sections are no joke so those out there who think it’s the “easy” way to have a baby–you are crazy. I was in so much pain despite the medications they had me on, and my blood pressure was still around 140/90.

The tiniest, sweetest babe.

Hours went by and Alex floated up and down the hospital floors as he divided his time between us until he finally crashed at about 1 in the morning. I still hadn’t been able to go up to see my baby. I guess I wasn’t considered stable enough with my BP and labs still out to check on my platelets and liver function. As soon as Alex woke up the next morning, he went up to check on Evan. The nurse told me I should be able to go see him, but the doctor had to sign off on it first. Finally, at 11AM the day after he was born, I got to go see him for real. It felt kind of anti-climactic when we got up to his carespace because they had just started doing his cranial and abdominal ultrasounds to make sure all of his organs were present and the correct sizes. So I just held his tiny hand and waited so I could spend at least one minute “alone” with my boy.

“Hi. I’m your mom.”

Almost every new mom will gush over that first moment she had with her baby. It was love at first sight. I couldn’t believe I was holding this perfect angel. Blah blah. And don’t get me wrong. I am for it. I love the new mom gooey, warm and fuzzy stuff. But I didn’t get to have that. Not even a little. I barely saw my boy when he was born. Then I had to wait 18 hours longer to see him again and touch just his little hand for the first time. All the while, I was hearing about him having seizures and desaturations. My baby was sick, and I couldn’t do a thing. It wasn’t until the next day that I would be able to hold him for the first time with the help and reassurance of his nurse (Amber, we love you). Holding my baby was rare and terrifying. I couldn’t even do it by myself. I had to have a nurse place him on me because there were so many tubes and wires, and he was just so tiny and floppy. In those first few days, it seemed like every time we held him his vitals would start dropping. If you got to have that moment with your child, relish it. Cherish it. Soak up every precious second of it.

Evan was born on a Tuesday. I got discharged from the hospital on Friday. Leaving the hospital that night was going to be horrible. I knew it. I was leaving WITHOUT my baby. We had prepared for this, I thought. But we barely made it 2 miles down the road before I started bawling my eyes out. I had told Alex I would wait until we got home to cry. Whoops.

Evan was small. He was getting his nutrition through his PICC line. He needed respiratory support. He was on anticonvulsants. He needed extensive testing to assess how to best care for him moving forward.

And I kept hearing that song in my head…”on the fifteenth of May, in the jungle of Nool…” The scene goes on “Horton, the elephant, heard a small noise…. he heard it again, just a very faint yelp, as if some tiny person was calling for help…” Then Horton sings, “…He’s alone in the universe. I’ll just have to save him, because, after all, a person’s a person no matter how small.”

My person was small. He needed help. But he wasn’t alone in the universe. His God went before him, stood with him, and walked behind him. When we couldn’t be there, His eternal Father was.

Evan’s name means “Yahweh (I AM) is gracious.” God’s grace came at us like a hurricane, and over the next 87 days that we spent in the NICU, we drowned in His all-consuming love.

The Three P’s of My Pregnancy: Puking, Pajamas, and Preeclampsia

I have wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. Since beginning my walk with the Lord when I was a teenager, I felt more than a normal desire to be a mom; for me, it was a calling. I am certain Jesus has been preparing me to be Evan’s mom my entire life. In retrospect, it is crazy to see the ways He was shaping me all along so He could entrust this amazing little boy to me (and Alex).

Before Alex and I started trying to have a baby, I read every single book, article, and blog I could get my eyes on about trying to conceive, pregnancy, labor/delivery, and parenting. I wanted to do everything “right.” All you seasoned mamas are probably chuckling right now, as you should. Because as the old saying goes, “Man plans; God laughs.”

I think the only thing that went somewhat “according to plan” was being good stewards and making sure we were in a good place financially so I could be a stay at home mom when Evan arrived after my school year ended. He was due on June 20, so the timing seemed perfect. I wouldn’t even need to take maternity leave! How awesome! No docked pay from taking weeks of FMLA. It seemed perfect. Those of you who know our story, know that that is not how things went.

Let’s start at the beginning. After a year and a half of my “healthy lifestyle change” to get in shape and as healthy as I could be to have a baby, we finally started trying. So exciting! Within a few months, we got that positive test. I’ll never forget that night. I remember being so sad that whole week because three different couples announced their pregnancies that week, and I was so sure this month would be another negative test. **Side note: To anyone who has experienced infertility or miscarriage, my heart is broken for you, and I would love to pray for your journey. I cannot fathom the pain you have experienced, and I want you to know you are loved and your worth does not come from a pink line on a test.** We had planned all week to take a test on Friday night so that I would have the weekend to either be super excited or mope in my pajamas. When it came time to take the test, I tried putting it off because I wanted one more day of “maybe” since I was certain it would be negative. When those lines turned pink immediately I lost my mind. I couldn’t believe it. I’m pretty sure Alex was not sure what to do as I was running and jumping around our room like a crazy person. I even got so excited and worked up that I threw up. (Sadly, vomiting is my body’s normal reaction to extreme emotion.)

A baby!
It’s a boy!

By week six of my pregnancy, “morning” sickness hit me full force. I was so sick I could barely get out of bed. That November, I think I took seven sick days because I couldn’t go more than an hour without throwing up. I felt like I was already failing at being a mom because I couldn’t keep myself hydrated or nourished at all in my entire first trimester. Even with medication, my nausea and vomiting only decreased in severity and frequency just enough for me to power through a work day to collapse on the couch in my pajamas every evening. I remember getting so annoyed with people telling me to try eating crackers before waking up, take my vitamins at night, chew gum, eat small meals, etc. I was doing all of that and taking prescription medication, wearing motion sickness bands, and sucking on anti-nausea lozenges all the time but nothing worked. When week fifteen hit and there was no improvement, I was sure my entire pregnancy would be me puking my guts out. I think I was finally able to stop taking Zofran around week 20 of my pregnancy, and things started turning around. Other than the normal aches and pains of pregnancy, things were so much easier! I figured the worst of it was over.

On March 23, 2018, we went for a follow up anatomy scan. I was 27 weeks pregnant at the time. I will never forget how I felt that day. Our OB told us that there were some “abnormalities” on his scan and that we would need to see the high risk pregnancy team for additional scans and testing. We were told that Evan’s long bones were measuring behind and his umbilical cord was missing a vessel which can cause growth issues as well. She told us that we were probably looking at some sort of genetic disorder, but that we may not know the answers until Evan was born. Our main goal with the Maternal-Fetal doctors was to monitor Evan’s health and make sure we had the safest delivery plan possible.

25 weeks!

On March 30, we saw the Maternal-Team and met with their geneticist. She very solemnly told us that our baby was “very small” and that it was difficult to see parts of his brain that should be easily seen by ultrasound at that point in pregnancy. She explained that we could do an amniocentesis to see if Evan had one of the more common genetic disorders, but it likely would just pop up a result of an “abnormality” that would require further testing when he was born anyway. We chose not to do it because the small risk of early delivery wasn’t worth it to us. We knew that no matter what he was our son, and we would do our best to be all that he needed when he was born. A diagnosis wasn’t going to change anything for us. We did do a fetal echocardiogram and MRI because they posed no risk to the baby and could help the doctors have a better care plan when Evan was born.

When I was 30 weeks pregnant, I started showing early signs of labor and my blood pressure was too high. That coupled with Evan’s diagnosis of Intrauterine Growth Restriction and “anomalies” put me on modified bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. So I would have to take maternity leave after all. I remember how stressed I was scrambling to make six weeks worth of lesson plans, worksheets, study guides, and tests. I had to modify the assignments I had planned for my students since I would not be the one personally grading their projects at the end of the year. That first two weeks of my “bed rest” may have been the most stressful of my entire pregnancy. Being a pregnant teacher kind of sucks. Being a teacher on maternity leave sucks even more. I never really felt like I was actually “done.” I would get emails and calls from my administrator and other teachers needing direction for my students. I even had to forward several emails from parents to my admin because my students failed to mention to their parents that I was not going to be there for the rest of the year. Bless it.

At this point, I was living in my pajamas watching way too much TV and only really leaving the house to go to my 2-3 appointments every week to monitor me and Evan. I had my blood pressure checked at every appointment (it never went down), and Evan got an ultrasound and a Non-Stress Test every week. It was necessary but exhausting. However, the best part of having a high risk pregnancy is bonus ultrasound pictures. We ended up filling the entire fridge with pictures of Evan before he was born. It was awesome.

I started dilating and having pre-term contractions pretty regularly at about 31 weeks. These are different from Braxton Hicks contractions. They are real and super annoying. For those of you who have labored before, imagine those first few hours of contractions but for four straight weeks at varying intensity and frequency but always there. That was my life. Every morning I set a goal for myself: do not have a baby today. With how small and behind Evan was and with all the question marks surrounding his health, I was terrified to add prematurity into the mix. I needed to keep him cooking as long as possible.

He ALWAYS had his feet in his face.

As much as I hated “going there,” I began preparing myself for all of the worst case scenarios. We were prepared to be in the NICU with Evan especially since it was looking more and more like he would be coming early in addition to his questionable medical needs. We were prepared for having a special needs child. We had no idea what Evan’s needs would be, but we knew his life was not going to look like what we had pictured. I even began preparing for the possibility that I would not be bringing my son home with me. With the information we had from our doctors and all the possibilities for his potential diagnoses, there was a chance that our guy wouldn’t make it. I knew that, and I knew that ignoring that possibility was not going to be healthy for me.

I remember so many people telling me story after story about how they knew this person whose doctor said “the same thing” about their child, and they were totally wrong and had a perfectly healthy baby. I feel like I heard that every other day. And, please do not take offense to this, but if you find yourself wanting to tell someone things like that when they are faced with medical uncertainty, please stop. It is not helpful at all especially when that does not end up being the case for that family. It invalidates the fear and grief that person is feeling and makes them feel like they are not allowed to process. Ignorance is not bliss. Denial is not healthy. I knew our doctors were right. I could feel it in my bones. I knew that this is what the Lord was putting before us. It was not pessimism; it was acceptance.

Aside from the mental and emotional battle we were facing, I felt like garbage 90% of the time. But I was so sure I would not develop preeclampsia even though I was getting labs for it almost weekly. The high risk doctors worked with my OB to determine that I would not go past 37 weeks if I made it that far without going into labor on my own (which wasn’t very likely). Stay tuned tomorrow for Evan’s birth story.

Spoiler alert: I did develop preeclampsia.

Here We Are

Thank you for being here to read along with our story. I have felt compelled to start this blog for a while, but as in most things bold and brave, I naturally cowered for a while. I made it my goal for the New Year to actually get started, and 28 days later here we are. This first post I just want to share my heart behind this blog. I apologize in advance for those who are grammar savvy and like good organization in what they read. This post may make you cringe as I am really just typing and seeing where my thoughts go this morning as my little one snoozes in front of his Christmas tree. I also will likely start and stop writing multiple times before finishing this and every other post because I have a needy little diva who loves his mama a whole lot.

This is our family: me, Brooke, Alex, my husband, and Evan, our little miracle. Our boy is eight and a half months old, and in that time we have experienced joys and sorrows deeper than we ever could have imagined.

Our tiny man has changed us in so many ways. For me, he has given me a new purpose in this life. I spend most of my days fighting and advocating for his health and well-being. But I don’t want to stop there. I want to fight and advocate for other babies like him and other families like us. He is a special baby–in the most simple terms, he is a giant question mark. There is so much we do not know about him still medically. But what we do know is this: he is a miracle. He is a fighter. He is a picture of heaven. His life has radically deepened my faith and spurred me to share truth in as many ways as I can.

I want this blog to be a place of truth. My truth in being Evan’s mama. The truth about who God created him to be. The truth about what it’s like to be a special needs family. I want to educate, answer questions, share joys, share pain. In my new role as a stay-at-home mama, I am realizing how much of a blessing social media can be. Because we are confined to the house and only leave for doctor’s appointments in order to keep Evan safe from germs, the majority of my social interactions happen on my phone and the computer. My hope is that this space will be a way to connect, share experiences, and empower those navigating their way through uncertainty.

I titled this blog Everyday Evan for a reason. The word “everyday” is used to describe normal things. Evan is our normal. He is fearfully and wonderfully made, perfect in the eyes of his Creator. Perfect in our eyes. We love him with a love that cannot be described. This is us. This is our story. Here we are.