Friday, December 11, 2015

December 11 - Dear Nicholas Sparks (Guest Blogger Judi Toth)

Dear Mr. Sparks,

I'm retired from the Army (3 years now) and had my son Christopher on February 2, 1989 while I was stationed in The Netherlands. I was a single mom, with no family members there to support me during the pregnancy and also my "nightmare" (they were all in CT). I did have a good network of friends and coworkers and friends from 2 churches I attended. They were my lifeline at the time. 6 weeks before delivery they performed about the 20th ultrasound (I lost track - I was hospitalized 3 different times with contractions) and it wasn't until then that they noticed that they couldn't find his stomach. They thought that it would be a blind pouch, a sealed esophagus, or no stomach. All of which could be surgically repaired. They told me that they couldn't do anything until he was born. They would have a pediatric surgeon on call as soon as I went into labor (which they did). Christopher was born on due day - February 2 after a long labor. They immediately whisked him away from me and out of the room. About 30 minutes later, Dr. Zandfort came back in and tried to tell me about CDH and how that's what Christopher had. I couldn't comprehend it. I just wanted my baby! They told me they had to transfer him to Maastrict University Hospital where they could operate on him. I would be given a few minutes to spend with him before they took him away. I wasn't prepared to see him in an incubator and on oxygen. How could this be happening to him? He looked normal besides all the tubes. The nurse pulled away the blanket covering him and I couldn't see what they were talking about. I told them his stomach and chest looked normal! They told me I could touch him. I did and stroked his little arms. He immediately grabbed my right index finger and wouldn't let go! He squeezed my finger so hard as though he was saying "don't worry Mom, I'll be with you." Shortly thereafter, they came to take him away. As they wheeled his incubator away, I knew deep down in my heart and soul that I'd never see him alive again. I screamed so loud and to tell you the truth, that's when I knew what it was to have your heart ripped out. They took me into surgery to remove my placenta (it wouldn't come out due to placenta acreta -- the placenta grew roots into my uterine wall and wouldn't come out. It was as though it was cemented in place). As soon as I woke up in the recovery room that's all I wanted and screamed for was my baby. They wouldn't listen to me! They spoke a few words of English to me and then in Dutch so I wouldn't understand. What were they saying? Why couldn't I be with my baby? I kept calling for Dr. Zandford. They insisted that I wait 2 hours before they would release me to my room. That was one of the longest 2 hours of my life. Finally, back in my room, Dr. Zandford came back in and explained once again. I wanted to be taken to him. He told me Christopher would be having his surgery that day and that I couldn't see him anyway. He promised me he personally would take me to see him the next day. All day long, I prayed, I asked for updates. Friends visited and prayed with me. My family and friends were calling from the States. Finally, exhausted, they told my visitors to leave about 8 pm. One friend, Lana, would spend the night in my room with me. While she was in the restroom changing I prayed to God again, one on one and told him to do what was best for Christopher. I was letting go and letting God. At about 830, a strange doctor came in the room. I had never seen him before (or after). I took one look at him and immediately knew. When I asked him when, he told me about 30 minutes ago. That's when God took him -- when I let go and let God. There was no sleep that night. My American doctor came to visit along with my minister. The next day it was a steady stream of visitors. They told me they would bring Christopher to me. I wanted him baptized even though I knew he was already in heaven. My minister agreed to perform the baptism. I asked my good friend Pam to bring me a white rose for the baptism. She couldn't find any. But she did find white tulips. He was baptized with a white tulip. My other close friend Jo, who was also my labor coach and mentor, assisted my nurse Marguerite, to dress Christopher in his outfit. She even got him a little gold cross. I was terrified of seeing him and meeting him, after all he was dead. Jo put my fears aside telling me he was my son and that as soon as I held him, I wouldn't want to put him down. How true that was! I got to spend 4 hours with him in my arms. The only time I let him out of my arms was to be baptized. My arms were aching so badly, but I couldn't let him go! Finally I had to. Marguerite had snipped a lock of his hair for me and given it to me. I also had a lot of pictures taken. Marguerite asked me if I wanted to see his scar. That is the only thing that I couldn't look at! The US Army medics arrived finally took him away to Frankfurt for his long journey back to the United States so he could be buried here. I on the other hand spent 8 days in the hospital recovering from the delivery and surgery for the placenta acreta. I'll never forget one of my friends from church, Mary. She came by and we prayed together and she told me "I know how you feel." I yelled at her, "No you don't! How could you possibly know how I feel?" That's when she calmly replied, "Because I've been in your place. I too Lost a child." I felt so terrible for her and yet a little comforted because someone DID know and understand what I was going through. She helped me quite a bit. Finally, it was time to leave the hospital. That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. They had placed me at the end of the hall away from other new mothers. I had to go down that entire length of hall with no baby in my arms. Another part of my heart was being ripped out once again! I made it back to the States and to my family on the 12th. The funeral would be on the 14th - Valentine's Day. John, Christopher's daddy, met me at home (he was in CT throughout the pregnancy) and we made the funeral arrangements together. The evening before the funeral, I was laying down and had a cramp in my leg. Mom massaged it out and I went back to sleep. An hour or so later another cramp. She massaged it again. I went to the bathroom and passed a huge chunk of placenta. I put it in a plastic bag and after calling a friend who is a doctor in Maryland, I went to the emergency room. By this point I couldn't move my legs. They wheeled me into the ER and my mom got her OB/GYN doctor to come in. He examined me and told me I was so infected that if he tried to do a D&C on me it would be like taking a price tag off a piece of wet tissue paper with a blade. I would have to be on antibiotics by IV and admitted. I could only think of Christopher's funeral the next day. He agreed to release me long enough for the funeral. I still couldn't move my legs. To make matters worse for me, the only place they had room for me was in pediatrics! My room had a crib in it! Not for long though! The next morning, after seeing an internist for my right leg at this point, I was allowed to go to the funeral. We had an open casket, much to John's disapproval. But I felt it was important for my family and friends to meet Christopher. I didn't want them looking at a closed casket. I'm so glad I made that decision. So was my family. The funeral went along beautifully and I went back to the hospital. That was the beginning of all my medical problems. Three D&C's and 6 months later I would still have placenta in me let alone all the infections. The cramping in my leg was due to a blood clot that had lodged in my popliteal artery in my leg, behind the knee. I walked around with the clot for 6 weeks before that too was surgically removed. (Which also started the stream of other surgeries.) To this day I still don't know if I can ever have children. I was told to try for 6 months and then they would test my tubes. But John and I broke up by then. I was told that if I had delivered in an American hospital, they would have performed an immediate hysterectomy on me. Dr. Zandford however wanted to ensure that I at least had the chance to try to have another child. God willing, one day I may. If not, I can live with that also. I have been blessed with many children in my life. To include not one, but six, yes six, Godchildren! In the meantime, I was and am always looking to find out more information about CDH. It wasn't until about 6 months ago, while getting into researching angels, did I go looking on the web for cherubs. Lo and behold, the first site that was listed was Cherubs! My heart leapt into my throat! I immediately went onto the site and after reading every page, I contacted Dawn. This was the first mom that I had "met" if you will, that had a child with the same thing that Christopher had. People that I spoke with never heard of CDH (but that didn't mean I didn't tell them what I knew!). I worked at a clinic where newborns would come in every day. It took me a few years, but I was able to finally hold one in my arms. Actually, when my best friend Donna had her son David, is when I held a baby in my arms for the first time since Christopher. I told her it was okay. It wasn't Christopher, it was David that I was holding. That was my breakthrough. Until then, I couldn't even face a toy department to send presents home. I would send money to Mom and she would buy the presents for me. Christmas was extremely hard for me and my family, exchanging presents. But that too got a little easier each year. Each Christmas I go back to Connecticut where Christopher is buried and Put presents under the 2 trees I planted by his headstone (which by the way has a cherub and a tulip on it!). Each fall, new white tulips are planted behind his headstone and in front, crocuses, miniature tulips and daffodils are also planted. I also plant the bulbs in my front yard. Each spring as the flowers come up, I always think of Christopher. A little bit of Holland brought to America to brighten people's day for only a little while thanks to my Dutch baby!

Written by Christopher's mom, Judi Toth (Maryland)

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