PART ONE – Torn in Two

(To get the whole scoop on what’s up with MWOB this week, read here.  If you already know, I proudly present Part One of our guest blogger mini-series.  By Karen.)

As we approach the traditional American family holiday of Thanksgiving, I must reveal that this is an especially poignant time for my little family. This time three years ago, we were in the midst of the most trying time of our lives. Our youngest daughter was born November 14, 2005 with what was considered to be a fatal birth defect. It is at this time of the year where we often find ourselves reflecting on what was, what is and what still could be. 

Last week we watched our videos from those touch and go days in the NICU – my grandma and aunt were visiting and all of us ended up in tears. On the video is a long scene of everyone having Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital. We had my hubby and I, our two girls (then 5 yrs. & 10 yrs.), five of six grandparents (and all staying with us) as well as my stepdaughter and her husband. Looking around the table you see lots of smiles and love, but a definite tension as you realize everyone at the table is torn in half knowing that four floors above, the newest member of the family’s life was hanging in the balance.

Very few people have any idea how close we were to losing her and how excruciating every minute of every day was for us. Let me try to give you a very condensed version of what brought us to that table on Thanksgiving 2005. 

When I was five months pregnant, we took the girls to LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City to see the first pictures of their new baby sister. We didn’t know it then, but that ultrasound would reveal not only her heart beating soundly, but her stomach right next to her heart! She had what is called a diaphragmatic hernia – a hole in her diaphragm. They couldn’t tell in ultrasounds how big the hole was, but could estimate based on where the stomach was just how much of her abdominal organs had drifted up into her chest. Basically, these organs (stomach, liver, intestines, etc.) impeded on her lungs and pushed her heart to the side. We were told that her odds of living until birth were slim, her odds of living after birth were slim, and if she did live her odds of living past the first few hours were non-existent without extraordinary means and if she lived through all of this, we were taking the risk that her quality of life could be seriously compromised.   But the doctors also gave us a fraction of hope that her life could be very close to normal. 

Before I continue, let me say that without writing a novel on the issue, that coming to the final decision to continue on with this pregnancy was torture. It was filled with hours and hours and days and days of heartache, a range of emotions, discussions, prayers, hope, questioning, and fear.  One night it became clear to me that I simply couldn’t live with the “what if’s?” We decided to move forward hoping the pregnancy would go full-term to give her the best chance at life.  

We also knew even tougher choices were ahead  – every single step of the way in utero and after.  All I can say is I still cannot look back on those moments without my chest hurting and my breath becoming labored.

As the pregnancy progressed, I had numerous labor pains, but luckily she waited until they could induce me a week before her due date in a room that was next to the University of Utah’s NICU. While I was in labor, we noticed her name, “Penelope” on the nurses white board. We knew that while inside me, she was safe and that these were to be her last healthy moments.

When she slipped into the world, U2’s “The Sweetest Thing” was playing on our CD player. Her first cry was loud and then was immediately cut off as her lungs tried to breathe.   She instantly turned purple and she was whisked through a special window into the NICU. My husband and I just started to ball – it was the most painful moment of my life…up to that point.
(Karen’s story in pics)

10/31/05 – My family insisted on the painted belly.  A little levity before her birth.

11/10/05 – A few days before induction.  The calm before the storm.


11/14/05 – Penni was brought into the birthing room to see us before transported to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake.


11/14/05 – Big sister Abby (5 yrs) didn’t want to let go of Dad after they took Penni away.

(Tomorrow Karen’s story will continue….)
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One Response to “PART ONE – Torn in Two”

  1. […] you want to read Penni’s story, you can start here. Karen wrote an amazing 3-part series two years ago.  The first part will most likely suck you in […]

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