Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is There an Echo in Here??

January 19, 2010 - My very first fetal echo
April 29, 2010 - My last fetal echo before Charlotte was born
March 23, 2011 - Charlotte's very last echo
February 23, 2012 - My very first fetal echo with Charlotte's little brother


After our ultrasound last week both Matt and I were able to let out a big sigh of relief, however we knew that there was still one major hurdle to cross in terms of this little dude's heart....  


...the fetal echocardiogram.  


An ultrasound can show you the big structural components of the heart...the chambers, outflow tracts, etc.  An echo on the other hand shows you everything.  Arteries, veins, valves, septums...you name it, they can see it.  The detail is crazy, especially when you consider that the heart is smaller than a walnut and that they are looking at everything through by belly!


I woke up around 5:30 this morning and just stared at the ceiling, unable to fall back asleep.  I tossed and turned a bit and finally got out of bed to get myself ready.  Matt worked an overnight so he was just going to meet me at Dr. Sami's office for our 8:45 appointment.  


It was an all too familiar routine.  


I headed to the clinic and checked in at the front desk with the same familiar faces that I first met 2 years ago.  We were the first appointment of the day and fortunately didn't have to sit and wait.  Before I knew it I was heading through the clinic to the echo room.  Oh that room....filled with so many memories. I was immediately hit with a flood of emotions.  This was really happening.  I could feel my heart threatening to pound right out of my chest and I'm sure that if they would have taken my blood pressure it would have been through the roof.  I kid you not when I say that the instant that echo probe made contact with my belly, silent tears started to pour down my cheeks.  


I had laid on that bed too many times before...
I had seen images of our baby's broken heart flash on the echo monitor...
I had seen the blank and concerned looks on the sonographer's faces as they interpreted the images before them...
I had tried my best to comfort and distract my terrified child as she laid on the same bed having her own echo...


It was all too much to hold inside.
So I didn't.

The echo itself went quite quickly and before I knew it Dr. Sami was in to review the images taken by the sonographer.  I  love Dr. Sami.  Honestly.  He is the kindest, gentlest, most caring man.  He re-checked a few things and reassured us with a smile saying, "I won't miss a detail." Some more time passed and as he wiped the ultrasound gel off of my ever growing belly he looked at Matt and me and said "Everything looks perfect."

Gasp.  Sigh.  Gulp.  Sniffles. Tears.  
Have I ever mentioned that I love that man?

That was it.  We were done.  We gathered our things to head out, both of us acknowledging that we had never left that office feeling at ease.  As familiar as the whole process had been, it was also so very very different than our previous visits.  We were smiling.  Our hearts felt lighter in our chests.  

On our way out the door I stopped with one last (and somewhat unusual request).  

I wanted one of these....


To heart families this graphic is likely very familiar and heartbreaking.  It is what they use to show parents what a normal heart looks like....then the cardiologist/surgeon scribbles all over it making edits to show the things that are vastly different and "wrong" in your child's heart.  I have no idea where our "edited" version of Charlotte's heart ended up...most likely in the trash.  It was so hard to look at when we first learned about her diagnosis.  I'm almost positive I threw it out hoping that denial would somehow fix everything.  Today I wanted to walk out of that office with a clean sheet of paper.  

A NORMAL HEART.  NORMAL BLOOD FLOW.  NO EDITS OR SCRIBBLES.

{Relieved sigh...}
I'm so excited to meet you Mister.
I'm so excited to snuggle.
I'm so excited to be your Mommy and to introduce you to your Daddy.
But most of all, I'm excited to tell you all about your special guardian angel.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Awkward Moments

"Is this your first baby?"

Its a simple question, really.  A common question.  So common that I got asked it twice today.  

Yet each and every time someone asks me, I have a split second where I feel paralyzed....unable to breathe.  I already know my answer, but I have to give myself a little mental pep talk before any words will leave my mouth.

Stranger:  Is this your first baby?
Me:  {default answer} Actually, I had a one year old daughter that passed away this summer.
Crickets:  Chirp, chirp, chirp

Pleasant exchange, right?  People don't know how to handle this type of loss and I know that my response puts them on the spot.  I stand there and watch as their faces go blank and their shoulders slump ever so slightly.   Out of a lack for words, they always say "I'm so sorry." Sometimes I wonder what they are sorry for most...the fact that we lost a child or sorry that they brought it up in the first place?  From there a variety of things happen...

1)  They ask more questions.  What happened?  Had she been sick?  Is this baby ok?   
2)  They change the conversation as quickly as humanly possible.
3)  They pretend to be distracted by something, forcing them to leave the conversation all together.

I can't blame them.  It's like I've taken our happy conversation about my pregnancy and then, out of the blue, sucker punched them in the gut.  

Wouldn't it just be easier to answer a simple "yes" and avoid all of the weirdness? 

Stranger:  Is this your first baby?
Me: {absent-mindedly} Yup.

All is well in the strangers world and they walk away with a smile.  Meanwhile, I'm left with a heavy heart knowing that I had just lied about the best thing that ever happened to me...

I cannot deny Charlotte's existence.  She was my first child.
I cannot pretend like she never happened.  She made me a mommy.
I'm sure that in 20 years when people ask about my children, she will be included in all of the answers I give. 

No child will ever replace her...



Monday, February 20, 2012

Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie

Three years ago today I married the love of my life.  At the time I thought that there was no way that I could possibly love him any more...boy was I ever wrong.  We've had an interesting three years full of laughter, tears, and challenges, but here we stand...together...stronger.   

I love you, Matty...even more today than I did yesterday.   

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Counting to FOUR

Read 'em and weep...


And weep I did!

That, my friends, is our baby's perfectly perfect heart.

A heart with 4 beautiful chambers.

All that I can say is...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 was a very good day at the Ritchie house.  
After 20 long weeks of wondering, Matt and I finally got a peek at our little one's little ticker!  Talk about a whirlwind of emotions.  It was at this very same appointment a little over 2 years ago that we learned about Charlotte's heart, and as positive as I have tried to be, I couldn't help but prepare myself for the big "what if..."  We still have an appointment scheduled for an echo next week to take a closer look, but today we breathing sighs of relief. 

The minute I saw that heart I knew.
It was beautiful.
And just when I thought our day couldn't get any better
we got to see his face.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Baby Bumpin' {20 weeks}

Holy cow!  20 weeks already?!

I must admit that I haven't been very good about documenting my second trimester, but I'm going to try to mention a few highlights!

-Day 1 of the 2nd trimester = first day that I needed to unbutton my pants in public due to my expanding waste line!

-I haven't eaten Doritos in YEARS but there was one night that I would have done almost anything for a bag.  The next week I went to the store and low and behold, Doritos were 2 for $3.  SCORE!  I ate them, had terrible heartburn and my mouth tasted like crap for 2 days.  At least I remembered why I don't eat Doritos!  Once was enough to hold me over for another 5 years or so.  (There may have been a slight beef jerky phase as well...so weird).

-Welcome back heartburn (who would have guessed with my above mentioned diet!?).  I had lots of it with Charlotte, but not until I was further along.  I'm guessing its not a good sign for things to come when it starts around 16 weeks!  

-I had been feeling little flutters in my belly since I was about 16 weeks, but once I hit the 19 week mark those flutters turned into hiccups and bladder tap dancing.  The Grammys last week even triggered an impromptu dance party! had forgotten what a crazy sensation that is! 

-Weird dreams continue.  Last night alone I watched a friend perform at something that appeared to be a mix between the Grammys and Star Search (which was taking place in my old high school auditorium), then before I knew it I was getting a haircut from someone at Charlotte's old daycare!  Don't quit your day job, Richard....I wasn't thrilled with how things looked in the end!

-Had an appointment at 17 weeks and all was looking good.  The numbers on the scale finally started moving in a positive direction and I heard a racing little heartbeat at 164 beats per minute.  

So there you have it!  Things continue to move right along.  I'm still amazed at the fact that we're at the half way point already.  I'm feeling great and loving every minute of it!

20 weeks with Charlotte (again, headless for some reason!)

20 weeks with Baby Ritchie #2.  We figured out that by turning off the flash we could get little Miss in the picture as well.  Me and my Baby-Loves....


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Big 14th

February 14th is a lot of things...

Valentine's Day

The last day of CHD Awareness Week

The 21 month anniversary of the best day of my life

So how do I tie those things together into the perfect post?  Good question!

The 14th is always a hard day for me.  It should be a day where we are celebrating another month with Charlotte, yet here we find ourselves, 21 months after her grand entrance into this world...with empty arms.  I'm sad.  Its a day full of LOVE yet I have this giant empty space in my heart that is hard to ignore.  I've been thinking about this post for awhile and none of my ideas really felt like they were "good enough" to convey the range of emotions that I'm feeling...

Then I checked the mail yesterday and found this...


Those perfect little hands in the center of the heart belong to Charlotte's heart friend, Claire.  I mean, really...how SWEET is that?  There was a note included, and I don't think Claire's mommy would mind me sharing a little bit from it.

"Claire and my mom were doing some arts and crafts the other day.  When I went to pick Claire up, my mom showed me what they had made.  I immediately thought of Charlotte because it looked like Claire's hands were angel wings on the heart!  Here is an early Valentine's Day present from Claire to you in memory of her heart friend."

Tear.  Thank you Rebecca and Claire.

Remember my first post for CHD Awareness Week?  You know, the one where I spilled my guts about my confusion over how I "fit in"?  Well, that little Valentine says it all.  Once a heart mom, always a heart mom...and there is no way that my heart family will let me forget that!

I hope that you all have a very happy Valentine's Day filled with crazy amounts of love.  

And as for you Miss Charlotte...

While a part of my heart wants to be sad today, my mind keeps going back to how much LOVE and HAPPINESS you brought into our lives.  And that love just continues to grow.  I didn't know it was possible, but I continue to love you more and more each day even though it has been months since I have felt your weight in my arms.  After all, it was YOU who really taught me how to love with every ounce of my heart.  Happy "Valentine-Birth-aversary" baby girl.  Mommy and Daddy LOVE YOU like crazy!!

Valentine's Day 2011 (9 months old)

Her Daddy was her FAVORITE Valentine!
 All smiles!
 She thought she would try out a more exciting chair pose!  Such a silly girl.
 


**Check out Claire's blog right HERE!  She is truly a little hero and has overcome prematurity and some significant liver cysts on top of her CHD.  We think she's pretty awesome!**

Monday, February 13, 2012

HOPE

My CHD Awareness Week posts were definitely lacking this weekend (SORRY!).  The good news is that there are still TWO more days for me to share some information with you!


Let me just say that I love today's post. 


I want to share a video with you that I saw a few weeks back.  My intention right from the start was to share it with all of you here in honor of CHD Awareness, but as the weeks passed my memory let me down (dang baby brain!) and I totally forgot about it until I saw the video pop up on another heart mom's blog last week (Thanks Jenny!)  


Sit back and be entertained by little Anna.  Smiles are guaranteed!




Anna is a perfect example of why there is so much HOPE in the CHD community.  Never would you look at her and guess that she has such a crazy little "robot heart."  =)  She looks healthy.  She acts healthy.  She is an inspiration and a model of what all heart parents pray for for their children--a "normal" life (or maybe its best to say a "well-adjusted" CHD life!)


My hopes for Charlotte were simple. 

1)  I wanted her to be happy.  Check!
2)  I wanted her to feel loved.  Check!
 
3)  I wanted her to be PROUD of who she was...battle scars and all.  Check!

4)  I wanted her to grow old and to be able to shout "TAKE THAT, CHD!"


I suppose I'll have to settle three out of four.


In the past week I heard of 2 more little angels that earned their wings after courageous fights with CHD.  While we have so much HOPE for the future of heart kiddos, we are constantly reminded that there is a lot of work to be done to help support this hope. 


I know that you are all busy people so I won't direct you to a million different CHD-related websites, but I will share one to get you started if you're interested!  Click HERE to be directed to The Children's Heart Foundation.  The website is full of great information, not to mention a video (~17 min) that covers lots of the basics.  And a special BONUS...the video also features our little heart buddy Logan!  His mom Stefani is the genius behind the blog event "Every Heart has a Story" and is also a part of the Pinterest project I mentioned last week.  I cry every single time I see her talk about Logan in this video.


We NEED increased awareness.

We NEED everyone on board with newborn screening.
We NEED more funding for research.
We NEED CHDs to be recognized for what they are...the leading cause of infant death in the United States.


We NEED HOPE.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ultrasounds...More than a Boy/Girl Thing

Just a little over a year ago Matt and I saw our little Charlotte for the very first time at my 20 week ultrasound.  What were my expectations from that appointment?


1.  Get a good view of Baby Ritchie #1
2.  Catch a glimpse at what was going on between Baby Ritchie #1's legs.
3.  Have them tell me that everything looked "perfect" and send me on my way.


Yup.  That was pretty much it.  I mean, what else was there to be concerned about?  I was healthy and my pregnancy had been pretty "by the book" up to that point.


When her little figure popped up on the ultrasound screen I was covered in goosebumps and had a smile plastered to my face.  I remember looking at Matt like "are you seeing this!?"


She was beautiful...even in grainy black and white.

Being my first baby, I didn't know how long an ultrasound was supposed to take.  It never dawned on me that something could possibly be "wrong."  I didn't come prepared with any questions to ask.  I just assumed that everything was as it should be.

Then they told us that there was something wrong.
Something with her heart.
Our world was forever changed.

Next week Matt and I will walk back into that same ultrasound room and have the opportunity to "meet" Baby Ritchie #2.  We're excited.  We're nervous.  We're (or at least I am) slightly terrified.  We know more this time around.    What are my expectations now?

1.  To find out if our baby and its little heart are healthy.
2.  To see if there are any concerns about growth or development.

Yup.  That is pretty much it.

Funny how priorities change.

To continue my CHD Awareness Week posts, I want share a document with you that EVERY expecting mama should read before a 20 week ultrasound.  Share it with your pregnant friends.  Have them print it out and take it with them.   IT'S ALL ABOUT EDUCATING YOURSELF!

Click HERE for a list of questions to ask during a 20 week ultrasound.

On a separate note - I decided to make a quick trip to Charlotte's cardiologist's office this morning with some treats for CHD Awareness week.  Vanilla Oreo cupcakes with Oreo cream cheese frosting.  YUM.  And yes, I was up until midnight making those little heart toppers.  Sleepy, but worth it!



As hard as it is to walk through those doors without Charlotte, I'm always happy to see everyone who has been such a HUGE part of our life for 2 years.  As much as I hate that we had to meet under the circumstances that we did...I consider us blessed to have each and every one of them as a part of our family.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Do You Pinterest?

Pinterest (Actual definition): A virtual pin board that lets you organize and share all of the beautiful things that you find on the web.


Pinterest (My definition):  Internet crack.


I will freely admit that I have a bit of an obsession with this site.  When I first came acrossed it I submitted probably 30 requests for an invite before I finally got frustrated, joined the Pinterest Facebook page and pestered people until they would share the love.  Now, almost a year later the Pinterest rage has totally caught on and I am still just as crazy about it.  I used the site to help me plan Charlotte's "Cute as a Button" birthday party, have taught myself how to sew a few things, made lots of yummy treats, and now am putting together ideas for Baby Ritchie #2's nursery.  What other websites have that much utility!?


Just when I thought that Pinterest couldn't get any better, along came an amazing idea of a fellow heart/angel mama.  She, along with a few other heart mom's from across the county are helping families like ours promote awareness for what else...


CONGENITAL HEART DEFECTS!

If you are already a Pinterest member, go check out the "Faces of CHD - Congenital Heart Awareness Week" board!  It is FILLED with inspirational stories of kiddos and adults who have been affected by congenital heart disease.  If you aren't a member, send me a message with your email and I'll try to help out with invitations (as much as I can anyway!)  The board is filled with smiling kiddos proudly showing off their battle wounds, children that you would never guess had such sick little hearts inside their chests, and also quite a few angels who had their hearts made whole early.  At last update there were almost 200 stories pinned!  YES 200!  I've been sucked into this board and have literally spent hours reading others stories...such amazing kids, adults and families.  I also have a personal "Faces of CHD" board that links up to lots of our personal heart friends as well as other angel families that I hope to learn more about. 

I was all over this idea from the start and got Charlotte's story submitted right away.  If you click on the link below you will have to scroll down toward the bottom to find her.  Just look for girl with a goofy grin and her favorite red Nebraska hoodie (like father like daughter!).




Check out Pinterest HERE or click HERE to go straight to the CHD Awareness board!  And feel free to re-pin our stories to help raise awareness!  I had never heard of CHDs before our 20 week ultrasound with Charlotte and when we learned of her broken heart we felt so scared and alone.  Each and every one of these pins shows that we were anything but alone...




****OOPS!  Almost forgot...If you have a heart story and would like to be included in the Faces of CHD Pinterest board, click HERE for the how-to!***



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Once a Heart Mom...

After Charlotte earned her wings, I struggled (and still struggle) with lots of things...

Questioning my faith.
Jealousy.
Learning how to live again without my little girl.
Trying to laugh or smile without an accompanying feeling of guilt.
Learning how to...well...function!


But there is also a struggle that I've never really talked about here before (and one that has my eyes filled with tears just thinking about)...


I continually struggle to figure out how I fit in.

I'm a mother with no visible child.  A heart mom without a warrior to fight along side.  
A mommy to an angel.


For almost a year and a half I was 110% immersed in the heart world.   I dedicated myself to researching and learning all that I could about CHDs.  I reached out to other families who had been down the road before me, as well as to others who were just starting their journey.  There have been countless hours spent in hospital waiting rooms, the pediatric intensive care unit and doctor's offices.  I have seen my daughter sedated, paralyzed and intubated on more than one occasion.  I have literally seen her beating heart through her open chest.  A heart mom's normal is different than most... 


Then all of a sudden I woke up one day and my little girl was gone.  Her crib sat empty and I was left wondering....


"Now what?"


How could I possibly relate to other moms? 
Would heart families be scared off because our story has the ending that they live in fear of  
EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.?
Would all of the incredible people we met along the way--heart families, doctors, nurses--simply move on like we never existed?
Would the heart world just keep on spinning, leaving us behind?

I think that these thoughts will always be in my mind to some extent, but I'm slowly learning how I fit.  I'm discovering who I am and finding new ways to stay a part of the community that has been so very important to me.  My heart family is still intact and surrounds me with LOVE and SUPPORT like only they could.  I'm doing things to honor Charlotte, keeping her memory alive and trying to give back to those who gave so much to us. 

A part of my responsibility as a heart mom is to make sure that all of YOU are informed--keeping you up to date on issues like CHD screening in newborns and spreading general awareness for America's #1 birth defect.  You knew I would get to my point eventually, right?!

February 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week and I thought that I would take the opportunity to share some CHD facts, as well as some amazing stories with you!


Get educated - have a voice - spread awareness!
(CHD facts provided from The Children's Heart Foundation)

Incidence, Morbidity & Mortality


•Congenital heart defects are America’s and every country’s #1 birth defect. Nearly one of every 100 babies is born with a CHD.
•Congenital heart defects are the #1 cause of birth defect related deaths.
•Congenital heart defects are the leading cause of all infant deaths in the United States.
•Each year approximately 40,000 babies are born in the United States with a congenital heart defect. Thousands of them will not reach their first birthday and thousands more die before they reach adulthood.


Lifelong Disease


•Almost half all children and adults with complex congenital heart disease have neurological and developmental disabilities.
•There are an estimated 2,000,000 CHD survivors in the United States.
•For the first time, more than 50% of the CHD survivors are adults.
•10% of all CHD cases evaluated in an Adult CHD clinic are first diagnosed in adulthood.


Economic Factors


•91,000 life years are lost each year in this country due to congenital heart defects.
•The cost for inpatient surgery to repair congenital heart defects exceeds $2.2 billion a year.


General CHD FACTS


•More than 50% of all children born with congenital heart defect will require at least one invasive surgery in their lifetime.
•There are more than 40 different types of congenital heart defects. Little is known about the cause of most of them. There is no known prevention or cure for any of them.
•In the United States, twice as many children die from congenital heart defects each year than from all forms of childhood cancer combined, yet funding for pediatric cancer research is five times higher than funding for CHD.


Research Allocations & Impact


•Congenital heart defects are common and deadly, yet CHD research is grossly under-funded relative to the prevalence of the disease.
•Only one penny of every dollar donated to the American Heart Association goes towards congenital heart defect research.
•Of every dollar the government spends on medical funding only a fraction of a penny is directed toward congenital heart defect research.
•The NHLBI has stated that Congenital Heart Defects are a serious and underappreciated global health problem.
•In the last decade death rates for congenital heart defects have declined by almost 30% due to advances made through research.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Wear Red!

National Wear Red Day was definitely a success!  Thanks to all of you who wore red in honor of our little girlie, as well as all of the heart warriors who are still fighting and those who earned their wings too soon.  We had lots of "RED" photos sent to us throughout the day, and each one brought a smile to our faces (with a few tears here and there as well.)  And for each picture that we received, I know that there were dozens more wearing red to help raise awareness!  Matt and I are incredibly honored that so many people continue to support us, pray for us and help us celebrate Charlotte each and every day.  

From the bottom of our hearts...Thank You.