Prayers for Cora

One of my good friends came up with an amazing idea after reading my last blog post that I wanted to share. She posted a picture of her son with a Praying for Cora sign on Facebook, that said “Dear Mrs. Rebecca, I am praying for Cora! Love, Oliver!” and then challenged others to follow. Soon, other friends followed with their creative pictures of their kids, themselves and their dogs to let us know that we are in their prayers. Not only are family and friends doing this for us, but friends of theirs are also joining in. For those new to the blog, catch up to Cora’s story here: Resting in God alone.

It is incredibly encouraging to Josh and I to have faces to the prayers going up all around us. We decided to print the pictures out, put them in a baby photo album and take them with us to the hospital. It will serve as a physical reminder of the prayers of those around us. It will keep our spirits up and will keep our minds focused on God’s will for Cora.

We would like to have pictures from everyone who reads this blog and prays for our Cora. You can put them on Facebook and tag me or someone who knows me, email them to me (rebecca.shrader@duke.edu), Instagram them or put them on Twitter (with the hashtag #prayersforcora). I will find them and print them out. We will continue this until mid August when I go in for a C section. Regardless if we bring Cora home with us or not, it will serve as a reminder of what a miracle she is to us and what a blessing she is to others.

**Check out the pictures we have already received below…**

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20

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Resting in God alone

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

If I had to pick a verse of scripture as a “life verse” this would be it. I was, am and always will be a worrier. God has taught me life lessons on patience and trust to focus on this verse, trust Him and lean on His ways not my own. It doesn’t say “trust in the Lord when it’s convenient or when I get my way”; it says “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart”. This lesson is ever present in life.

Usually I am the person who will think of every possible way something could go wrong and what I can do to solve the problem should it arise. I think and stress about the “what ifs”. Thank goodness I married someone less anxiety ridden than me because when I stress, Josh always pulls out this verse:

Matthew 6:25-27“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

I rest in the fact that God is powerful, consistent and much more intelligent than all of us. He will take care of me and the people I love in life. This may mean that He will bring them to Himself earlier than I would like (in the case of my mom and Cora), but I have to trust that is for His glory alone not my own. We were made in His image and we were adopted into His family. He loves us more than we could ever fathom. This love extends even to those unborn children; they are no less a part of His family and no less valuable.

This ultrasound did not give us drastically different information for our current understanding of Cora’s prognosis. The prognosis remains grim. HOWEVER, she made it to 24 weeks, which is further than most people thought. We have little information about the future, due to the lack of firm diagnosis and research on her findings. In my professional opinion and through research and doctor’s suggestions, I am leaning toward a variant of limb-body-wall complex. There are findings that she has that are not associated with this syndrome  and some findings of limb-body-wall that are not found on her ultrasound. We may never know for sure what she has, but at this point the findings are more indicative of her future prognosis.

The new information include that the heart is almost completely outside of the chest wall due to a disruption in the sternum and there is growth restriction (she is measuring almost 3 weeks behind). Everything from the prior ultrasound appear to be similar. If you are new to the blog, “Be Still and Know” is the anatomy scan blog post link with an ultrasound report; you can also click this link: About Us. There is still adequate amniotic fluid around her, she moves as much as she can even with the shorter umbilical cord and her limbs, brain and face all appear normal (all good news). The growth restriction may compound the already existing difficulties she will face at birth. In addition to most of her abdominal contents outside of the body and the heart partially outside due to massive defects in her chest and abdomen, her spine is severely twisted and she is now small for her age. This will most likely continue throughout the pregnancy and she will only weigh a few pounds at birth. Severely growth restricted babies are already at a disadvantage due to malnutrition inside the womb and pulmonary hypoplasia (underdeveloped lungs).

Recently, I read some articles on limb-body-wall and discovered most babies don’t make it far enough for birth due to IUFD (in-utero fetal demise) or termination of the pregnancy earlier in the first trimester. The only cases I have seen at work were terminations. That being said, the statistics for survival are incredibly low; I’m not sure there has ever been a baby to survive with her findings (at least not from my research). When I say Cora faces low survival rates, she faces almost zero survival rates. That being said, Josh and I have discussed the plan to try what we can to intervene for Cora. There is another ultrasound to check growth in 3 weeks and then a surgical/palliative care consult when I will be around 30 weeks. We are meeting with pediatric surgeons at that time to discuss our plan with them. Our plan is to let them use their judgement when Cora is born for resuscitation and surgery to prolong a sustainable life for her and not to prolong inevitable suffering. Otherwise, the palliative care team will take over and she will be kept comfortable when she passes. We are eternally grateful that decision will not be left up to Josh and I, but to the pediatric surgeons and Cora herself.

At this point I will have a planned C section around 36 weeks sometime mid-August, unless something changes with my health or Cora’s. So far, Cora is amazing. She is moving her arms and legs, waving, yawning and flipping around. Her story is inspiring many and there are probably thousands of people praying for her. It is truly amazing how God can touch people’s hearts even through the unborn.

Please pray for all three of us. Pray for Josh and I specifically not to play the “what if” game with the future. Pray that we face the future with courage only God can give as we may have to prepare ourselves for our firstborn’s birth and the possibility of her death. God has the future laid out and it will be glorious, with or without our pain. Pray that Cora’s body will be healed, but if that is not the plan, pray God will use her story to bring someone closer to Him or His kingdom.

I will now share the cuteness that is Cora (again I have focused mainly on her cute face and limbs and less on her “abnormalities”):

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Her sweet hand and foot.

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The spine above appears unchanged in its 90 degree curvature, pulling the legs out to the side and mostly in front of her face.

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You can see by the position of her legs, her spine is sharply angled.

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Big yawn!!

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In Him,

The Shraders

“God loves us, so He makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering, we release our hold on the toys of this world, and know our true good lies in another world. We’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering in this world is not the failure of God’s love for us; it is that love in action. For believe me, this world that seems to us so substantial is no more than the shadowlands. Real life has not begun yet.” -CS Lewis

Honoring all Mothers

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you

To those who experienced loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you

To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst

To those who have aborted children, we remember them and you on this day

To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children, we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be

To those who step-parent, we walk with you on these complex paths

To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren, yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

This weekend is Mother’s Day. It is a day honoring some of the most important women in our lives, letting them know our appreciation for their everyday job. It can also be a day filled with grief. Today’s blog is about celebrating mothers of all kinds; mothers who have children to celebrate with them, ones who lost children and some who only dream for children. Before my own mother passed, I loved this holiday because my mom was my best friend. Who doesn’t like honoring and doing something special for their best friend? She was the most important person in my life and has made me who I am today. This weekend is my 7th Mother’s Day without her. It is an extremely hard day for me and my siblings. Just like her birthday and anniversary of her death, it is a constant reminder that she is no longer with us. I’ve met several people who have lost their mother and have expressed the same emotions regarding Mother’s Day. Today is a day of grief for those children who lost mothers.

I try not to focus on the sadness; but to focus on all the wonderful women in my life who have made an impact in my life after my mom’s death. These women include my grandmother, several aunts and my mother-in-law. These women have taken me under their wing and taken care of me. They always reassure me no one will ever replace her. This Mother’s Day is very different for me however, because this is my first Mother’s Day as a mom. I have mixed emotions because I am trying to celebrate every day I have with my daughter, though I know there is a very good possibility I will not spend Mother’s Day with her next year. I want to do what every mom-to-be would be doing; registering for baby things, setting up a nursery, buying cute onesies, etc. I am putting this on hold because the one thing I’m sure of, surgeries or not, Cora will not come home with us from the hospital for a long time, if at all. I am in a unique situation because of the information I have about Cora’s future and the uncertainty that hangs over it. Because of this, I want to shed a light on some other “unique situations” that are usually not recognized on this holiday. I want to learn how to be a light to the women who have encountered heartbreak while trying to conceive/adopt. People treat mothers with such reverent honor, that some women who have had trouble conceiving or lost babies might feel lost or irreverent on Mother’s Day.

This post is not meant to offend any of the mothers I know. I just want to highlight the other side to this weekend and how we can help our sisters heal. Our society, and Christian society in particular, puts a huge emphasis on motherhood.  God’s design and purpose for marriage is the blessing of children. Infertility and childlessness are along the same position as widows and orphans in Biblical times. I think this is more a societal problem than a Godly problem. God doesn’t consider infertility or childlessness as a curse. When couples try to have children and cannot, then the biblical call to trust God means following His leading. It may mean pursuing medical treatment. Or building your family through adoption. Or choosing to live without children to serve the Church. Childlessness can be the doorway to great spiritual fruitfulness of a different kind. For me, I’ve found that this increases my faith in Jesus alone, to bless me in whatever way He deems for His kingdom. As women, we should stop trying to define ourselves by our roles, such as mother, daughter, sister, etc and start defining ourselves in God’s image of us. He envisions us as daughters, precious to His kingdom.

Personally, children have been a huge part of my family planning before I even met Josh. I chose the career I did because of the hours and the flexibility for family life. I think because of societal pressure coupled with the pressure I put upon myself, not being a mother at all would be devastating for me. During a radical series at our church, “All-In”, Pastor JD Greear told us to think about the most important people/goals in your life. Now imagine we lost the person/dream (essentially: how much are we placing happiness on other things/people outside of Christ). During this series, Josh asked me if I would be ok without having any children in my lifetime; was I making having children an idol? I can’t speak for most women, but I have this innate drive and passion to have kids of my own/adopt children. I absolutely love caring for others’ kids but it’s just not the same as having your own. I had to tell myself last year that I may not be able to have or adopt children in this life. If I am making family an idol, God definitely has the right not to bless me with this particular desire. Why would He encourage my idolatry? Making children an idol, I am putting this need for children ahead of my contentment in Jesus. When we started trying to get pregnant, I prepared my heart subconsciously for what I feared most. This was just a couple of months before I got pregnant with Cora.

Miscarriages occur in 20% of all pregnancies. Many women hide their miscarriages from everyone. Miscarriages and stillbirths happen more often than people realize. Honestly, I have not put myself in these women’s shoes until recently. 4 years as a ultrasound tech later, I am more aware of the multitude of women going through miscarriages, difficult pregnancies and infertility. I have scanned several patients facing miscarriage; some who keep trying even though they’ve had 10 miscarriages in their prime “childbearing” age. I have witnessed a few women have “uncomplicated” pregnancies until the last month and then have a fetal demise (loss in the 3rd trimester) or stillbirth for an unknown reason(s). I have seen women, younger than 30, get that chromosome test back unexpectedly confirming Down’s Syndrome, Trisomy 18, or other issues that are usually reserved for women in their later years of fertility. I believe these women can feel left out during the celebration. A result of my knowledge of pregnancy complications, getting pregnant was scary to both Josh and I. I see the worst of the worst at my clinic, abnormalities most people see once in a lifetime. Because of this blog, I have had several women confide in me their own experiences with miscarriages or complications. Some of these women were friends and I had no idea of their pain. It’s so important to remember that you are not alone. God gave us the church and shared experiences to share one each other’s burdens. This is the reason I will never ask a pregnant stranger about their pregnancy unless they bring it up, because you just never know what that person is going through. Some women told me they thought they were alone in their grief when this happened to them, but you’re not alone. Our adversary would have us believe that we’re alone, lost in our grief, but God has given a different message.

Unfortunately, I think this is where the church, too often, fails these women. Churches should recognize there are women who are going through these experiences and have support in place for these women. I think it’d incredibly beneficial for pastors and the church to have special events, speakers, sermons that touch on this issue. Some churches recognize mothers by having them stand in their seats or pass out flowers/corsages. What does it say to those women who have experienced loss? Do they stand? What recognition for your struggle is there, when you’ve told no one. It’s very hard to get away from this commercialism of Mother’s Day, even in church. The church body should recognize this and at least say something briefly on the subject of loss. The women reading this blog, need to stop shying away from awkward conversations and simply be there for these women. Some of the women don’t even know how to grieve their loss. They may not have known the gender of their baby at the time of loss. There might not be a name or any momento from the birth. Then, Mother’s Day rolls around and no one says anything to them, including me. I don’t say “I’m thinking about you today” or give a hug of reassurance. In my experience with this pregnancy with Cora and my mom’s passing, I believe not saying anything at all to acknowledge a loss is worse than saying something that might sound stupid. Not recognizing a loss of a child is can tell that mother that no one cares or remembers. I don’t want Mother’s Day to pass again without acknowledging these special lives. Because of Cora, I want to make a conscious effort on Mother’s day to recognize the women I know who have experienced loss of a child or the loss of the promise of a child due to infertility. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to pick up the pregnancy test, time and time again, and watch it come out negative. Wanting something so much, it is literally painful trying to conceive. Some of my patients get that joy taken from them in pregnancy after pregnancy. They know what the heart beat and fetal pole are supposed to look like on ultrasound, because they have had so many and they can tell me when the heart’s not beating before I can mention it. I usually just respond with a lame “I’m so sorry.” As a friend or family member, a simple card, a facebook message, a phone call, can do so much to help someone get through the unknown. A prayer, selfless and heart felt, can tap into a grace filled God and renew the spirit of one suffering.

For me personally, I want this Mother’s Day to be one of celebration. Cora is alive and moving like crazy. I want to always remember this Mother’s Day. I am a mom for the first time ever. Next year will be a totally different story. For this weekend, I am celebrating the fact I am and always will be Cora’s mom. I may never see her grow up into a woman, but she has taught Josh and I and so many others so much already and I am so honored to carry her.

I want to share some of the inspiration for this blog I got from articles I researched on the subject. This is a blog post from a women who experienced her first Mother’s Day after a loss of a child: http://desiringvirtue.com/2012/05/when-mothers-day-is-painful/. This next article is written on the church’s treatment of Mother’s Day and the wide range of mothers we should celebrate (http://www.messymiddle.com/2012/05/10/an-open-letter-to-pastors-a-non-mom-speaks-about-mothers-day/). The excerpt at the beginning of the post is from this article.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15

In addition to celebrating the amazing little girl and being a mom myself, I celebrate the one to whom I owe my love of children: my mom. No one will ever replace her. Everything I want to be as a mother, I learned from her.

In Him,

Rebecca Shrader

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