happy birthday, janneke!

So, it’s been a year. With this blog. With our family of six.

Why blog? Our original intention was to keep family and friends connected when Janneke was born and in hospital. From the updates, the blog turned into short stories or weekly blurbs. It has become therapeutic for the author, at times. Yet, there is sometimes a sense of “why bother” or an urge to qualify the blog by saying that we are not trying to draw pity or attention. The truth is, there are many stories out there.

Our blog does not want to become bigger than what it is, our connection to family and friends. There also a bit of distance for us in what we write. We respect our daughters’ privacy for certain things, and the matters that lay deep in our hearts might remain there. That’s just who we are.

Yet,there has been an urge to write this post, for whatever reason. To share a part of Janneke’s birth story -and I say this, sensitive to those who cannot birth a child. But, it’s part of the story behind our first post. It’s the experience of having our world turned upside down.

It was early Saturday morning, just after midnight, and Rachel had been up again. At that hour, on March 14, 2009, I walked to her crib. As I spoke to her and changed her, I felt the baby inside of me shift and then push down. An intense contraction followed, and I knew it was time. Just like on TV, I had to wake up my husband and say, “It’s time.”

How excited I was! Our baby, our Janneke Grace - for we knew she was a girl and we had named her - was coming, and we were excited for a normal, celebrative birth. Normal. Wouldn’t Ralph’s sisters be thrilled with a niece named after them! I had been told a week prior, March 5, 2009, with an ultrasound that our baby was looking normal, healthy, and about 7 lbs. Normal.

We connected with the midwives at the small hospital in Grimsby. It was a full moon, and I remember having to walk through the middle of a conversation between four drunks in the ER. Excuse me, I’m in labour.

In those quiet hours in the labour/delivery room with our midwives, there was a feeling of genuine joy. These women were just as prepared as we were to welcome a healthy normal baby girl - somehow this moment would bring resolution from the trauma of Rachel’s birth.

But as the contractions intensified, the pain changed. No longer was this pain familiar. This was a different pain, and in my heart of hearts, I knew something wasn’t right.

And it wasn’t right. As I laboured, tears came in anticipation of something dark and sad. I was losing this baby girl. She was not going to make it.

The tension in the room was obvious. Even though I felt as if I was floating above the concerned women and my anxious husband, I knew they were worried.

Then the tension rose to a whole new level, the pain grew to yet another level, and I was repositioned in a matter of seconds by several sets of hands - and then there was nothing.

Our baby, our Janneke was gone from this world. Right? For that is what I felt.

But no. She was alive, all 9 lbs and more. She had been held in the birth canal by her shoulders, but there she was, lying on the warmer. Ralph leaned over to see her - and then the look on his face as he turned to look at me.

Just like Rachel. Not normal.

God? Where are you?

I’m here. Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will be WITH you.

As the midwives examined Janneke and prepared to call in reinforcements, Ralph and I faced each other. Another daughter with special needs? What would we tell Emily and Sophia? I wanted to call Aunt Jean. I wanted a mom to wake me up from this sad dream.

Janneke was placed in my arms. She was dark purple and moaning. Truthfully, she did not look very alive. I looked down at her and willed her eyes to open, her moaning to stop, and for her to be normal. Not so.

Big swallow. We would love her even though she was not at all what we thought she would be. Here we go again.

We were thankful she was breathing on her own. That meant we could hold her.

Within minutes, the list grew of her imperfections. The more she was examined, the more the docs became concerned. Sadly, we knew the lingo, and we knew the path we’d be taking. We could only hope for a NICU within driving distance.

I remember being put in recovery room with two other new moms - with their first babies. There were balloons, phonecalls, and many excited visitors for those normal babies. I wanted to shout at them, to tell them it wasn’t fair that I had to share their room and listen to their jubilation. Yet, who was I to take away their joy? I did not appreciate their quiet whispers in my directions, particularly when they saw my dark purple moaning baby girl. But, I couldn’t blame them.

Thankfully, our midwife was able to secure a private room. With a full moon, there was a line of women in labour. But, with all the busyness, I was given a quiet private room. A nurse was called from another hospital, assigned just to me and to Janneke. So, this wasn’t a dream. Not normal.

And Janneke’s story began. A new normal. Our days now include tube-feedings for two kids, stretching, massage, physio therapy, food therapy, and any other therapy that might help stimulate our girls’ brains. The days are structured by a typed schedule, and it isn’t unusual for the washing machine to wash bibs twice a day to keep up with the drool.

For some time now, Emily and Sophia have been counting down the days to Janneke’s first birthday. Lest Ralph and I wallow too long in our sorrow over recounting her birth, we have been pushed to celebrate. Em and Soph have been “secretly” preparing for the big day, making sure Janneke doesn’t see all the cards and presents her big sisters have been making. They used their birthday money to buy Janneke a wind-up rabbit and a clown that plays a song when you pull its nose. And there is a big balloon tied to her chair. Shhh... don’t tell.

Tomorrow, we will eat cake -covered with sprinkles and loads of icing- and we will sing. We will celebrate, we will embrace the sugar high. Monday will be a big day for Rachel with her growth hormone testing, but tomorrow is Janneke’s big day. So we sing. Great is His faithfulness, for He has carried us through this year and promises to stay alongside us in the years to come.

Happy Birthday, Janny-Bunny. You are loved.