Monday, February 18, 2019

Meant To Be: Coming Full Circle

How our second fistula campaign came to be in Vanga. It shouldn’t have happened. But God broke down the barriers one by one. This blog meanders but stick with it and I promise you will be amazed as well. God cares about the details.

Shortly after Whitney’s birth, as we were contemplating our last few months in Africa for this season in our family, Dr. Tim Rice made an interesting proposition. If you don’t remember Tim, you probably haven’t been following our journey, but I’ll remind you. Tim is the Saint Louis University doc that I first went to Congo with in 2012. For 2.5 yrs, our families were inseparable. We went to language school together and then were in Vanga, DRC until our family moved to Togo. We’ve stayed in close communication, and their family has visited us in Togo, Kenya, and on brief stays in the US. Tim’s proposition was for our family to make a stop in Vanga “on our way” back to the US.
Whitney had never been to Vanga
Tim, now the medical director at Vanga Hospital, had a critical conversation with Dr. Paulin Kapaya, a urologist living and working in Kinshasa at St Joseph’s Hospital. Dr. Paulin had received part of his medical education in Vanga, and he had been part of the fistula team led by Dr. Delores back in the summer of 2016. (Read about that in my blog “Realizing the dream.”) Tim and Paulin met and discussed the plight of women in that area of Congo, along with the capacity of Vanga Hospital to potentially become a center for fistula care. Many women had been transferred, at great expense and inconvenience to families, to get fistulas repaired in Kinshasa at St. Joseph’s. The alternative was to repair these childbirth injuries during local fistula campaigns. Considering the success of the first campaign, it was certainly possible to do it again in Vanga instead of continuing to pay for them to travel to the capital.
Rivers are a major means of transportation
Village life
Dr. Tim’s question to me was whether we could make it a priority to come to Vanga in order to be part of the surgical team for a fistula campaign. At the same time, our family could come back to a much more peaceful setting (than when we left) and see our beloved househelp, the midwives we had taught, the maternity nurses, the students and doctors who are our friends, the place where Zack was born, and the place where part of my heart will probably always stay. It seemed like a pipe dream, but we promised Tim to check on the possibility.

Samaritan’s Purse gave us the approval to travel for the fistula campaign. Step one of many completed. We needed to get our Congo visas. They are notoriously difficult to obtain. Normally, they must be applied for in one’s passport country. Living in Kenya, this would mean sending our passports by mail to the US and back. Also, they may or may not approve a visa, and the reasons for refusal are not often known. The time it takes to obtain the visa is not consistent. It is a reminder of just how difficult it can be to live in Congo and dealing with the uncertainty of a process.

As I described in my blog about Whitney’s surgery, her paperwork and documentation all needed to be in order prior to our quick trip to the US for my younger brother’s wedding in October. We absolutely did not want to miss that wedding because her passport was in the mail or waiting on the DRC visa in Washington DC. We were thus unable to apply for the visas until after our family’s October trip. There was a short window between the October trip and her original surgery date, and this was the window we needed to apply for the visas.

I prepared all the documents, gathered the passports, wrote down the address for the US embassy, looked up the DHL office location, hired a taxi driver for the day, and headed to Nairobi with Whitney on a mission to get our visas applied for. There was a slim, minute chance that I would be able to apply for the visas in Kenya because we were Kenyan residents, but I wasn’t holding my breath. We drove to the central business district to a nondescript office building, and I let the taxi driver know that I would call him once I figured something out.

The DRC embassy was on the 12th floor. Other than a large Congolese flag, it was hard to know that I was in the correct place. A small waiting room with one desk was on the right, and two or three locked doors flanked the small hallway. That was it. The process was unclear, but that isn’t surprising. I sat down with Whitney and waited for someone to come to the desk. A business woman entered and took her place behind the desk and I waited for the other people in the room to make a move. They sat there. Finally, I went up and presented my documents. She looked at them and said, “Oh, these are the wrong forms.” Face palm. That’s five copies of unnecessary paperwork. Sigh. She looked at the baby in my arms and offered to help me fill a couple of them out. One of the other ladies in the waiting room offered to hold Whitney. I started working on filling out the exact same information (in the same order too) on a form that looked very similar. Sigh.

As she was going through Whitney’s information, she noted that Whitney did not have a dependent’s pass that was valid for 6 months after our trip to Congo. I explained that we would be going on to the US and not coming back to Kenya. She said it was the rule. She went out to talk with her boss. I waited, praying fervently that there would somehow be favor. Her boss came in and talked with me, saying they could probably get visas for all of us except Whitney. Would I be willing to travel without the baby? They assumed not. And here I was stressed that our residency cards had expired, and we were all on residency extensions. But instead we were dealing with a problem with Whitney’s residency status. They went again behind closed doors to talk with someone else.

My hope dwindled. I continued to pray. I really didn’t want to be spending all this time in this office just to turn around and have to spend time and money finding the DHL office and sending our passports into the oblivion that is international mail. Yikes. They came back at one point and asked me for our old passports. More prayer. More waiting. Finally, the boss came back. She said, to my surprise, “Looks like you guys are still considered residents of Congo with your 5 year permits which expire in 2020. So we will allow your baby to come as well. Just go pay the application fee and the visas should be ready by Monday.”

I could hardly believe it!! Not only could we get this done in Kenya and not risk losing passports in the mail, but we also knew for certain that our applications were approved before we paid, and we could plan our trip for the fistula campaign with certainty. A minor benefit was that the visas would be ready in 3 days instead of the 10 days which is clearly written in multiple places as the processing time. I praised the Lord over and over again and still am in awe of this little miracle confirming our trip to Congo was in God’s will for us. Step two complete.

Last school assembly at RVA
In order to apply for a Congolese visa, we needed to have flights reserved coming and going to Kinshasa. Step three complete, or so we thought. We turned all our attention on getting through Whitney’s surgery and finishing well at the school, both monumental tasks which I tried to describe in my last blog. After the successful surgery and easier than expected healing period, we strove to say goodbyes well, packing up our lives into 4 checked bags (not counting some bags which others volunteered to carry for us at various times throughout the year). The night before we left for Congo, as Ryan was checking into our flights, he realized we had overlooked a crucial detail in our busyness. We hadn’t actually booked our tickets!

We are so thankful that Ryan was checking in online 24 hrs ahead of time and that the US is in the middle of a work day as we are going to bed. Though extremely stressful, on top of our baseline stress, after 4 hours we had confirmed tickets to Congo. Whew. Step three actually complete. Our flight to Congo was uneventful, other than seeing two men riding camels on the side of the freeway going north. We joked that they were going to find the Christ child as it was early December and they were headed in the direction of Bethlehem. 😊

In Kinshasa seeing some of our best doctor friends, former neighbors in Vanga
Our kids got to know each other too :) Zack was born a month after their oldest
We made it to Kinshasa. After a day of rest and reunion with several Congolese friends who had moved to the capital in our absence, we joined up with Dr. Kapaya and the Rices for the flight to Vanga. Grass runway, hundreds of kids, and a friendlier governmental process awaited us. Several midwives I had taught were overjoyed to see me. The reunions and memories they conjured were at once joyful, painful, sweet and healing. We walked the same paths we had walked before, showed the kids where Zack was born, where Sydney chased piglets, where Grandpa made the swing for Sydney, where we had pizza nights at the Brothers, where we sat on the porch swing overlooking the Kwilu, and of course, the Kwilu River where we swam most afternoons/evenings.
Grass runway and Vanga village. Kwilu River and Vanga Mission and Hospital at the top

Greeted at the airport/runway by former midwife students :)
 Despite the looming overdue presidential elections to be held later that month, the atmosphere in Vanga was calm and welcoming. The sense of suspicion and heavy spiritual darkness was gone. The new district pastor had forbidden the witch doctor from coming on the mission and disturbing people. So, a nice change indeed. The good people who had faithfully worked in hard circumstances before now seemed to be flourishing. Life is hard, death is all around, but a less oppressive and corrupt atmosphere goes a long way. When there is a gap between expectations and reality, placing trust rather than suspicion in that gap is a relief. (I stole this concept- not mine!)
Greeting hospital staff on our arrival. Can you see that the sun is hot?
Swimming in the Kwilu again!
Aunt Kathy reading stories. Kids' happy place
Whitney learned to sit in Vanga
After a couple of days getting reacquainted with village life prior to the medical work commencing, we had a setback when we realized that the main Vanga doctor coordinating the fistula recruitment efforts was unavoidably detained at a remote village without much ability to communicate. He would not be present for the week. Despite this huge disappointment, we pressed on. It was clear the Lord had made a way for at least the Potter family to participate. Soon Dr. Paulin Kapaya, the urologist, shared the obstacles he had overcome and we were blown away. I’ll try to be objective and truthful, as I know anything posted on the internet can be abused. People everywhere are people, and thus make mistakes. I’m far from perfect.

The Kwilu River. Upriver by several hours is the city of Kikwit.
If I understood correctly, the UNFPA had allotted money for a fistula campaign in the nearest large city of Kikwit for the 2018 year. Nothing had been organized nor was this widely known when we started making plans for the fistula work in earnest in Vanga this fall. Health officials in Kikwit called St Joseph’s Hospital to find out Dr. Delores’s availability, only to be told that she was out of the country and Dr. Kapaya was her backup. They contacted Dr. Kapaya. He was already committed to the fistula work in Vanga, a non-governmental hospital with private funding separate from the UNFPA. They ordered Dr. Kapaya NOT to come do the fistula campaign in Vanga. He was called in by the provincial health minister and told, in no uncertain terms, that this would jeopardize their need for the fistula campaign in Kikwit. No fistula campaign. No funding from the UNFPA.

Dr. Kapaya told the health minister that he had already committed to Vanga and could not turn his back on “his community.” This relational aspect is a much stronger component in Africa than it ever would be in the West. The health minister contacted St. Joseph’s Hospital to try to force his hand. St. Joseph’s then told Dr. Kapaya that he was not permitted to do this fistula work in Vanga. Dr. Kapaya solved this by taking a leave of absence without pay and carried a document that stated he was not getting paid by the hospital during this time. He kept it with him during the fistula campaign.

Officials in Kikwit also contacted other doctors at Vanga and told them not to do the fistula campaign. Dr. Kapaya was even told to gather all the patients who were planned for surgery in Vanga and transport them from Vanga to Kikwit. Money talks. The UN has money. Our private funding through donors was not nearly as profitable for the doctors or hospitals who have big organizations involved with their funding. There was an invisible war on, and it sadly had nothing to do with the plight of the women suffering from obstetric fistula. The love of money is the root of all evils, right? Well, evil did not have the upper hand. Dr. Kapaya was faithful to his word to Dr. Rice and to Vanga, and we went ahead with the campaign in Vanga despite the obstacles!

Papa Modja, nurse anesthetist and head of the operating room,
 consults with Dr. Paulin Kapaya and me as we get a game plan for the week.

The women came from far away villages. We transported 4 of them by airplane, and 6 came by motorcycle from a remote hospital. They had suffered from urinary incontinence for 3 months up to 40 years, and some had previously had attempted repairs 2 or 3 times. It was a busy week. In all, we operated on 32 patients with incontinence or prolapse, 26 for true obstetric fistulas. It was a great atmosphere and we had camaraderie. He was a urologist and I am a gynecologist. He preferentially operated on the abdominal cases and I did the vaginal cases. The tables are in the same operating room, so he would come and verify my work or make suggestions on difficult cases, but I was working primarily with my assistants as he worked on the most complex cases, some involving ureteric reimplantation or flaps. It was a great confidence boost for me as I’d been out of practice for many months after Whitney was born. Fistula surgery is technically difficult on any day. Praise God for His guiding my hands.

Dr Paulin Kapaya

Whitney got plenty of time in the operating room as
I needed to feed her regularly while operating all day. 
Mama Lutti, our previous Congolese nanny, easily got into the swing of things again with the kids, falling in love with Whitney immediately. Zack and Sydney enjoyed romping around outside in the sand and mud, climbing on the huge fallen tree and playing with Aunt Kathy’s legos and reading books. Ryan mostly hung around the house with the kids but took them exploring several times. We got out on the Kwilu River with Tim’s awesome powered dugout canoe a couple of times, and at the end of the busy fistula surgery week, we had a picnic at Lunungo Beach.
Whitney trying Tata Mbuta's pizza. He was our cook and now the Rices employ him
Chilling with Mama Lutti

Outdoor bathtime because it was hot!

Making sugar cookies!
Picnic with the fistula team at Lunungo Beach
I was called to the hospital at night a couple of times during the week for catheters that had fallen out, but other than those couple of concerns, our patients did great. They stayed in Vanga for quite a while, getting fed through the nutrition center to help their healing tissues. We tried to avoid a long motorcycle drive back to the villages by providing transport in a vehicle, and just this month we heard back from the women who had been transported by plane. “The women, when they arrived back at Kikongo, were very, very excited by the results and immediately headed back to their villages to celebrate their recovery.”
Rounding on patients post-op

Dugout canoe with an outboard motor
A perfect getaway on the Kwilu!
Mama Lutti
Getting ready to fly out
 I want to celebrate too! It was such a good way to cap this season in Africa, doing surgeries which I’ve dreamed of being able to provide to the poorest of the poor. We were able to use some of the donations sent in to us expressly for this purpose. It was a joy to be a part. It was wonderful for our family, and so healing for my heart. Who knows what the future holds?  

Zack loves to fly

Monday, January 28, 2019

A New Smile for Whitney

When Whitney was born, the doctors told me that she could have corrective surgery for her cleft lip when she was 3 months AND 10 lbs. We were planning to move back to the US in December, so I mentally calculated that it would be mid-September or maybe October when she could have the surgery. We could get the surgery done, I thought, and then apply for her US citizenship and official passport in time to leave the country in December. Obtaining all her documentation after surgery would minimize the number of reminders that she was different or had a “defect.” No one from the US would even meet her until it was fixed.

Our plans changed, however, when my brother got engaged to a beautiful girl from western New York. Waiting for us to return in December for a wedding in the snow belt was foolish. They decided to get married in October, the month we were planning to have Whitney’s surgery. After discussing options with Dr. David Nolen, the surgeon, we agreed that postponing the surgery until after the trip to the US for the wedding was the most prudent. Whitney would be bigger, there would still be time for her to heal prior to our departure, and we wouldn’t be wondering if she was in pain when she was crying on the long international flights.

We did not have any reservations about doing the surgery in Africa, as there was a center for cleft lip/palate within walking distance of our house, and the surgeon was a good friend of ours who had special training in facial plastic surgery. So, November 1st became the initial date we nailed down for her surgery. I mentally pushed away the anxious thoughts about the procedure itself. My biggest concern was for her ability to nurse both for the 6-8 hours before surgery and for the 2 weeks after. Dr. Nolen had explained to me that she would not be allowed to suck on anything- pacifier, fingers, bottles, or breastfeed immediately after the surgery. Whitney primarily comforted herself with thumb sucking and nursing; she had no special blanket or comfort toy yet. I dreaded the two weeks. Feeding by cup sounded miserable with a capital M.

Mid-October came quickly, and Ryan and I were able to leave Sydney and Zack with good friends in Kenya while we made the whirlwind trip with Whitney. We had three solid days in the US/Canada for the wedding before we turned around. We chuckled when people consoled us on the long flights because “it must be tough with a baby.” After so many years of having multiple kids on these international trips, having just sweet Whitney to hold was a pleasure. :)

Whitney in the US for the first time
Brr cold

Meeting my brother Carlin before the wedding
With the beautiful bride (Rebekah) right before the ceremony
 We had a little over a week after we returned from the US to get resettled before the surgery date. And our family caught THE PLAGUE. Not really, but it was bad. The coughing and congestion were so bad for our older two that they vomited phlegm at night. Either that or they concurrently had a GI bug as well. Though Whitney hadn’t gotten symptoms yet, and though I tried to keep them separated, I felt it was inevitable that Whitney was going to catch it from them. I mentioned it to Dr. Nolen when I saw him on Sunday. His face grew solemn and he confirmed what I had feared, “Actually, even a little cold is a big deal in a baby having surgery. Let’s watch her closely, but typically an anesthetist will want to wait 2 weeks after a runny nose and 4 weeks after a cough, especially since this is an elective surgery.” He suggested we watch her carefully and have her examined by the pediatrician before deciding one way or another.

On Monday night, we were already planning to host our pediatrician and her family for dinner and games, because in a small medical mission station, friendship and work often intersect. Whitney was still her smiling, content self, and so Dr. Ari said that she wasn’t certain we should cancel. Towards the end of the long evening together, she commented, “Let’s just pray that it is obvious what decision we should make, one way or another.” Not even 5 minutes later, Whitney coughed. She coughed again, and then a third time. It was so insignificant I would not have thought about it, except that surgery was coming up. Ari looked at me and said, ‘Well, we can’t ignore a direct answer to prayer like that.”

Dr. Arianna Shirk with Whitney just after birth

I was really bummed, but I reasoned that at least we were canceling three days ahead of time and not the morning-of. I had a few days to process and adjust my expectations. And I knew it was probably for the best. Everyone, it seemed, on our boarding school campus, was sniffing or coughing or staying home from class for diarrhea/vomiting. We postponed the surgery until the 10th. During that time, though, Whitney needed to be well. I contemplated leaving our infected house, living and sleeping in the nearby guesthouse with Whitney, but that seemed like an impossible thing to maintain. Instead, we washed our hands and bathed the kids like we never have before. Ryan showered immediately after coming home from teaching and before touching the baby. Despite these measures, I worried that Whitney was getting worse and not better. I worried that I was not being objective as a doctor because I was mom. (Of course I wasn’t objective!) I don’t consider myself a worrier in general, but I was consumed with it.

It’s hard to describe the anxiety of those days. Ryan and I had discussed that we could postpone surgery until November 20 at the latest because we were traveling to Congo two weeks after that, and I would be a key member on the surgical team. Less than 2 weeks after a surgery would make that trip unsafe for Whitney and the surgical campaign nearly impossible for me as her mom. So if the surgery needed to be postponed after November 20, we would have to do it in the US. To do it in the US would mean we didn’t have a surgeon or pediatrician that we knew. To do it in the US would mean that we would have to be working for a while in order to be able to afford it and to be able to have insurance. To do it in the US would mean that we would have to take time off of the new and necessary jobs in order to care for her. Everything was in ready for us to have surgery in Kenya- bloodwork, anesthesia, a surgeon, OR space. Whitney just needed to have healthy lungs.
During the Halloween party, Zack already had the first symptoms of the PLAGUE, so a mask was appropriate
As Nov 10th approached, I found myself praying constantly that I would be able to give the results to God. I physically opened my hands and stretched them upward in an act of trust, giving Whitney and her surgery up for God to control. And almost as quickly, I felt myself grabbing back for control. Did I really trust God? Dr. Nolen called to check up on Whitney. He explained that Nov 12 would be better for the OR team than the 10th. I described Whitney’s condition to him, but I couldn’t be objective. I subconsciously explained away any semblance of a cough as her just clearing her throat. For that matter, the surgeon may have been having a hard time being objective as this elective surgery was not as elective with the deadline of us leaving. We had both been looking forward to this since she was born in June when he had come in to see her at only a few hours old.

It was a relief to me when David suggested that Whitney be examined by the pediatric anesthetist who was going to be there for the surgery. She could evaluate Whitney so that everyone would be on the same page. I took Whitney in to see the anesthetist on Thursday November 8th. I prayed that I would give up control—I prayed that I would report her symptoms truthfully—I prayed that I would accept the answer. Above all, I just wanted my baby to stay safe. The anesthetist examined her carefully and gave Whitney a clean bill of health, but she still decided that it was best to postpone the surgery again to be on the safe side. She suggested November 15,16, or 19—nearly the last day we had decided it was possible.

Quarantine area vintage rusty metal signWe checked with the Dr. Nolen. He was out of town the 19th, and the 15th and 16th were already overbooked. Ahhhhh!! He said he would get back to me. It was another long weekend of waiting. It turns out that Dr. Nolen was actually sick himself. I regretted bringing Whitney to church on Sunday as I listened to the cacophony of voices around the auditorium coughing. Was the whole world sick?? With two other preschool-aged kids and a husband who worked with students all day at a boarding school, was this even possible to stay healthy? On Tuesday I finally heard back from the Dr. Nolen regarding getting the next surgery date nailed down. He would make Friday, November 16th work. Whitney just had to stay healthy.

From then on, I quarantined Whitney. We didn’t have other children over to our house, Whitney didn’t go out of the house and mainly stayed in our bedroom area. Sydney and Zack didn’t touch her. As I went to bed on Thursday night, I was counting down the hours. My anxiety about her health prior to surgery had eclipsed my dread for the actual surgery. I set my alarm and got up to feed her one last time. She ate a LOT. I was so relieved that she would have a full tummy and sleep well until the morning when we would, hopefully, finally, have her surgery. I fell asleep.

Only 30 minutes later, I woke up to find that Whitney was vomiting. All that milk that she had downed came up. I thought that it was most likely an overfull stomach, but I knew that I would not be able to replace what she had just lost. Sure enough, at 3:30am, she was awake and crying out for milk. It was a hoarse cry, and as I paced the house, unable to soothe my baby by nursing her, my tears fell. I knew she didn’t understand why I wasn’t feeding her. I was exhausted from trying to keep her well for the last few weeks, exhausted mentally from trying to release control. It was something I only had a tiny bit of control over anyway! This is what I had been dreading all along- this six-hour window of time when I could not explain why I was not giving her what she wanted most. As hoarse as her cry was, I worried that she was finally getting sick and that we were all going to be doing this in vain. Uncertainty is so much harder to deal with than adversity. I continued holding and pacing and praying and crying. I ran my hands under the faucet to get them wet so that I could at least relieve Whitney’s parched mouth. It did help. Just as I was about to get Ryan up for his shift (something we had already talked about in preparation), Whitney drifted back to sleep. It was 4:30am. Only 2.5 hours to go.

When she woke at 5:30am, the sun was coming up. Though hungry, she no longer cried. Ryan and I took turns walking with her outside and showing her flowers and trees and bugs. The other kids were up, and it seemed like time flew by until it was time to walk down to the hospital for surgery. The walk was the same path I had taken when I was in labor with Whitney. Dr. Nolen was on his way into the hospital, so we walked in together as far as the operating room waiting area. He went on to prepare things in the room. I kept waiting for Whitney to cough or for something to happen. Instead, the anesthetist came to get her promptly and I waved goodbye to her. As I watched her go, I realized that my main emotion was relief instead of worry. It is strange, perhaps, to think about, but my relief came from releasing my personal responsibility for her health into the hands of an anesthetist and a surgeon to fix the defect in her lip. This time I had no temptation to try to regain control. My hands were open.

Hungry Whitney
Just before surgery

My main task while waiting for her to have surgery was to pump milk for her. This was not only for Whitney to have something to drink after surgery, but also for me as I had not nursed her all night. I walked over to Dr. Ari’s house, my friend and Whitney’s pediatrician. We were able to catch our breath in a chaotic moment and enjoy being friends. Too soon, it was time to head back to the hospital: Ari to the peds ward and I to the waiting room. Ryan was still there, busy grading math tests to pass the time. We didn’t have to wait too long. Right around the 2 hour mark, Dr. Nolen texted me that the surgery was done and had gone really well.

Although I was looking forward to seeing her, I also was prepared that I wasn’t going to have all happy emotions. A couple of other women at RVA had shared their stories of family members with cleft lip and palate. “After surgery, it’s like you are getting to know a new baby,” they told me. The old smile and face will be gone, so there is actually a loss as well as the gain of what is considered a normal appearance. In addition, with the healing and swelling, it looks worse before it looks better. Because I had been counseled about this, when I went to see her in the PACU, I felt emotionally prepared. God had placed the right people in my path to help guide me.

Only one parent was allowed into the PACU. This was hard, as Ryan was just as anxious to see his baby girl as I was. I took the milk I had pumped as well as the cup with which to feed her. We had practiced a few times with the help of the occupational therapist (amazing friend who does this exact work all the time!) but I was worried about the additional variable of post-operative pain. David had, over the weeks leading up to the final surgery date, started hinting at the fact that newer research was showing that forbidding breastfeeding may not be necessary and that there was no difference in wound dehiscence (when it breaks apart). He had tried early breastfeeding for a few of his patients during the two weeks prior to Whitney’s operation with no issues. I wondered what this meant for us and hoped he would allow breastfeeding after the initial post-op period, maybe after a few days. We were planning to spend the night in the hospital, anticipating feeding issues and possibly pain issues.

Dr. David Nolen just after the surgery

Dr. Nolen brought me back and I entered the tiniest little space- the infant warmer took up most of the room. And there on the warmer was our baby, crying intermittently and looking groggy even with her eyes closed. David explained to me that he was able to move the nasal septum and bring the left nostril in using stitches from the inside. “It’s high and tight, but that is on purpose because the tissues will relax, and we are aiming for it to be symmetrical. It will get better.” I gazed at Whitney’s new face almost intellectually, mentally imagining how he had done the surgery and blocking out the emotional mama piece. Dr. Nolen went on to explain how he had successfully brought the muscles of the lip together and finally done a special technique on her lip to make it fuller. Fascinating really!

Poor baby. Immediately postop

David left to prepare for the next surgery case of the day, and the anesthetist came shortly after. She found me still staring at Whitney as she whimpered under the lights of the warmer. “She’s a thumb sucker isn’t she. It was the first thing she did when she woke up- tried to stick her thumb in her mouth!” We laughed, but she quickly admonished me, “Well, pick her up and feed her!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I asked her if that is really what she and Dr. Nolen had decided. She nodded and helped me get Whitney out of the warmer and comfortable in my arms. I cannot describe what relief I felt as she nuzzled in. Her heart rate monitor which had been loudly announcing her high heart rate in the 170 range slowly showed her relaxation at finally getting to do what we both eagerly desired. Beep beep beep it signaled her calm. Down to 130, down to 110. It was so cool! The alarm turned off. Aside from the incredible scratchiness of the many stitches in her mouth, her latch was exactly the same. Prior to surgery, she had been unable to cheat and use her lips for suction, so she was not tempted to use her lips after the surgery, though pain probably would have put a stop to it as well.

She nursed twice in the first hour post-op, so after discussing the best course of action with Dr. Nolen, we decided to take our baby home. Somewhat incredulously, we walked out of the hospital at 1pm. We walked back up the steps and up the hill to our house, stopping a couple of times along the way to talk with students or staff who had been praying for her. The first student to see her was especially eager to see her because he himself had undergone bilateral cleft lip surgery at a similar age.
At home afternoon of the surgery
Sydney trying to make Whitney laugh

Maximum swelling was a couple of days after surgery

Over the past few months, she has continued to grow and change, and now people have commented that they cannot easily see that she ever had a cleft lip. We are so thankful to God for the people He put in our lives who were able to come alongside us during a stressful time.
Ornery, amazing, beautiful girl