A Beautiful Heart by Chynna Laird

Life is beautiful but it’s also precious—it’s something we should never take for granted. What’s most inspirational is that I learned this lesson from my forth child, Sophie, while she was still inside of me.

It was October 2007. With Halloween just around the corner, the furthest thing from my mind with all the costumes, candy and decorations was a new baby. After all, my family was complete. My husband, Steve, and I had two gorgeous girls (Jaimie, five and Jordhan three) and a beautiful little boy (Xander, twenty-one months). But I’d been feeling lousy for weeks and took a pregnancy test to rule out the possibility. It’d be the first of many
tests to come: I was pregnant.

Now I won’t lie: I wasn’t happy about the pregnancy initially. I was content with our little family the way it was. Plus Jaimie was born with special needs (Sensory Processing Disorder) which could be intense and overwhelming at times. How was I going to take care of a newborn on top of Jaimie’s needs, Xander still being a baby while giving Jordhan the attention she needed too?

As a woman who fought, and won, a battle with cervical cancer as well as coping with a bicornuate uterus, I was told I’d never be able to conceive a child never mind carry one to term if I did get pregnant. And yet I managed to conceive, carry and give birth to three physically healthy children. For these reasons—and despite my initial reaction—I knew there was a reason I was given this child. But the road to her birth proved to be long, worrisome and stressful.

At 38, I suddenly found myself catapulted into the “high risk” category for pregnancy. Because my mother was adopted, and I had no information about her health history, I agreed to the initial blood tests that check for genetic disorders such as spina bifoda or Down’s Syndrome. But I wasn’t prepared for the results.

When incorporating my age into the test results, I was told that the baby had a 1 in 250 chance of being born with Down’s Syndrome. The news in itself didn’t upset me. After all, Jaimie’s needs—although not as high as a Down’s child would be—didn’t make me love her any less. Still, we worried.

The usual next step is an amniocentesis to either confirm or disprove the blood test results. An amniocentesis can put the mother in a high risk for miscarriage and other complications. And as a woman already at a high risk for miscarriage, I didn’t want to take the chance. Margie, my OB/GYN’s assistant, comforted me over the phone and helped me choose my direction.

“Only you can decide what you’re comfortable with, Chynna,” she said. “You just have to think of what your experiences have been with people with special needs and whether it would make any difference to you.”

I’d already bonded with our baby (who we started to refer to as Baby Sophie). I felt her move and watched my belly grow as she did. And I knew the results of an amnio—whether confirmed or disproved—would have not changed my feelings. I refused the amnio.

Instead, Margie set me up with an ultrasound at 30 weeks to make sure Baby Sophie was developing properly and to see if it had any physical signs of Down’s or other abnormalities. The test was supposed to ease my mind. It only caused more anxiety.

I knew something else was wrong when the technician took over an hour to get her measurements. At the end of the ultrasound, the rest of the family is usually brought in to see the baby. That’s when the technician zooms over baby’s body parts and tells you what you’re looking at. The technician didn’t let her wand rest on anything for very long and she never showed us Baby Sophie’s heart (that’s always the first thing they show you!)

“When are you seeing Dr. McCubbin next, Chynna,” the technician asked after my family left the room.

“Monday,” I said. It was Thursday. I was too afraid to ask if there was something wrong. I just felt it.

At my next appointment, Dr. McCubbin came into the reception area to bring me into an examination room. She motioned for me to sit on the table then said, “Did Margie call you about the ultrasound results?”
I closed my eyes. “No. Please tell me what’s wrong.”

Dr. McCubbin had always been a straight forward but gentle doctor. She’d brought all of my children into this world safely and I trusted her implicitly.

She put her hand on my shoulder. “The good news is that baby has no physical abnormalities to indicate Down’s. Its face, neck, arms, legs, head size and other usual indications were negative. The bad news is they found an abnormality in baby’s heart.”

My pulse rocketed under my skin as Dr. McCubbin’s hand moved down and enveloped my own. “The structures on the right side of baby’s heart measure larger than they should,” she said. “Now, this isn’t the same sort of heart problem found in Down’s children and these tech’s aren’t experts in the heart. They only know when something doesn’t measure up correctly. Margie is going to send you over for a fetal echocardiogram to get a full detailed ultrasound so we can figure out what’s wrong.”

I tried to soak in her words…to understand why this was happening. I broke down.

“Oh, Chynna,” Dr. McCubbin said. “The good thing is that we’ll be prepared ahead of time for baby’s needs. If it needs surgery or any extra help, we’ll be ready and take good care of her. Try not to worry.”

We went to our fetal echocardiogram a few weeks later but the pediatric cardiologist wasn’t able to give us a solid diagnosis either. All we knew was that one side of Baby Sophie’s little heart was “slightly larger than normal” but no one was able to tell us what the problem was or even if she’d be okay. They needed to see how her heart functioned outside of my body—when she started breathing on her own—before a solid diagnosis could be made.

So there I was at 32 weeks being told to relax and not to worry again. I tried. Whenever I became consumed with worry, I tried telling myself how lucky Baby Sophie was to be born in this day and age of advanced technology where she’d get the very best care possible. I tried easing my worry by rubbing my belly as she wriggled, jiggled and kicked inside of me as if to say, “I’m okay, Mama.”

I knew the longer Baby Sophie stayed in my body, the better her chances of survival. So I made it my mission to calm my body, even when I experienced false labor over the next six weeks. Finally, at 37 ½ weeks, Dr. McCubbin decided to break my water. I was already five centimeters dilated and had been in and out of the hospital five times. We wanted to help Baby Sophie come out safely.

Labor came quickly after my water broke. Sophie’s heart beat slower with each labor pain then came back up to
normal…a bit too slowly. A few hours into my labor, Dr. McCubbin discovered another problem: “Chynna, you’re stuck at nine centimeters. We’re going to have to help your cervix with that last little bit so we can get baby out.”

I had to be given Oxytocin to get me past that last centimeter. At that point, I didn’t care; I just want to see my little Sophie. I wanted to hear her cries, feel her in my arms and tell her how much I’ve longed to meet her.

I was left alone in my labor room for a few minutes to wait for the Oxytocin to do its job. I did the one thing left I could do for my baby and me. Something I hadn’t done for quite some time. I prayed: God, I know you’ve heard from me many times throughout this pregnancy. And I know you’ve been watching over us. Please…please don’t let me have to say goodbye to her. Not after everything we’ve gone through together. Please be there for my baby. Be the strength her heart needs to make it. Amen.

I was finally allowed to push—which took four strong ones in total. The cord got wrapped around Sophie’s neck twice and Dr. McCubbin had to turn her around because she was faced anterior instead of posterior but after the last push I felt Sophie slip from my body.

“She’s here, Chynna,” Dr. McCubbin said. “C’mon baby girl…” She patted and rubbed Sophie as she clamped her umbilical cord. “She’s pinking up, Chynna…she’s pinking up.” Then…

…the room filled with glorious gurgly cries. She made it!

The neonatal team scooted Sophie over to an examination table to test her vitals and to listen to her heart. I
knew I’d only have a few precious minutes with her before they whisked her away to the NICU so I had to make those moments count.

One of the nurses brought her over to me and placed her in my arms. Nothing prepared me for that moment. I had three babies already but, for some reason, when I looked down on her tiny face, I knew how precious her new life was.

“Hello, Baby Sophie,” I whispered. “I’m your Mama.”

Sophie stayed in the NICU for three days for observation. She had a postnatal echocardiogram the morning after her birth that showed the right side of her heart was enlarged and that she had a thickening of her aortic valve. But despite these abnormalities, we were told that her heart functioned properly. We’ll have to keep an eye on it to make sure it won’t cause problems for her in the future but for now, thank God, she’ll be okay.

Sophie smiled at me for the first time the other day. My eyes filled with tears as I knew it came from her beautiful heart that was kissed the day she was born. Whenever I look at her, I’m reminded how lucky we are to have her here with us. And her life will always remind us of life’s beauty and wonder.

Thank you for being the strength Sophie’s beautiful heart needed.