Welcome To Holland, It's Beautiful Here

I've made at least twelve attempts at the introduction of today's guest blogger and I keep falling short. I have no words. She has them all- and they speak volumes. So here are the two things you need to know before reading on...

1. Her name is Sarah Wilder

2. If you can't relate to this message about God "redirecting your plane" in some way or another- then you better hold on to your seats... cause your time is a comin'.

Without further adieu, here's Sara...

"Defining moments are a funny thing. Sometimes they sneak up on you when you least expect them. And other times, you know full well that something big is on the horizon. The trick is, neither option prepares your heart any better for how to react. 

In early 2015, my husband J.B. and I were over the moon with the news that we were expecting our second child. We found out we were having a girl this time, and our three year old son Jake was so excited to be a big brother! Jake had quite a few medical complications his first year of life, and we were happily anticipating the opportunity to finally have a nice, "boring" baby experience with this second kiddo (Boring in the very best, healthy baby, sort of way). We couldn't wait to meet our sweet Eliza in August. 

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But only a week after our gender reveal, at 17 weeks pregnant, I received a startling call from my obstetrician's office. Some blood work had come back with a concerning marker. They wanted me to see a high risk obstetrician the next day to find out exactly what was going on with the baby. I remember the nurse practitioner telling me not to worry. That based on my results the odds of everything being fine were over 98%. False positives were very common. 98%. Pretty good odds, huh? 

But I didn't sleep that night, and in my gut, I knew the next day would be big. 

The following morning, March 17th, 2015, J.B. and I arrived at the specialist's office and were immediately ushered back for an ultrasound. You could hear a pin drop in that exam room as the technician made sense of everything she could see on her screen. It wasn't until she brought the doctor into the room that we received the news:

The blood work results the day before had revealed that our baby had an elevated risk for a neural tube defect. The ultrasound just then confirmed that she did, in fact, have a condition known as spina bifida, along with secondary conditions called hydrocephalus and Chiari malformation. 

I remember doing a lot of nodding, but honestly, I had no idea what this kind man was talking about. I didn't know what questions to ask or how to even wrap my brain around this news. All I could think of was, "What do we do next?" 

The answer was simple, "You go to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital." 

Over the coming weeks and months, we became associated with the neurosurgery and fetal medicine teams at Vanderbilt. We learned what spina bifida was, and what this news meant for our daughter. We understood that as her little body was formed, her spinal column didn't fully close in one spot. At that point, the nerves of her spine became damaged, much like someone who suffers a severe spinal cord injury. There are no cures for severe spinal cord damage, only the management of it. We should expect her to have full paralysis from the waist down, along with a slew of other complications. She would need an intensive surgery just after birth to close the opening on her spine, along with several brain surgeries for the secondary conditions. Spina bifida is complicated, and no two cases are the same. 

The medical demands were scary. The jargon was foreign to us. And the anticipation was nerve wracking at best. But this was our Eliza. She was our precious, dearly loved baby girl that was fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Amidst so many appointments and so much planning, we met our girl on August 12, 2015. And boy, was she ever beautiful! 

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During our stay in the Vanderbilt NICU, another mother shared this incredible poem with me called "Welcome to Holland". It so perfectly outlined my own story and how the early preparations for my "boring" new baby girl had quickly spiraled into a whole other reality. That reality that is only understood by few.

'When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. 

It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy. And they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned." The pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.'    - Emily Kingsley

This poem is often depicted as the anthem for special needs parents, who's lives have been dramatically diverted from where they thought it would be going. Processing the loss of an old dream is unbelievably difficult. It hangs with you forever. There are so many things that my baby girl just won't be able to do, so many ways she is different. That concept will crush a parent's heart. But in the same place, there is redefined beauty and the overwhelming appreciation for the goodness of life. Special needs parents acknowledge without hesitation that this life can be hard, but just as quickly, they assure you that it is oh so worth it.   

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A few weeks ago, our Eliza turned two. Two! She is a spunky, sassy toddler with a hot pink wheelchair and a scrunchy nose grin! She is smart as a whip and has her poor daddy tied around her little finger. Eliza is learning to walk with the help of a walker and leg braces - an amazing feat!! But that hot pink chair is how she explores the world. 

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We live in our own version of "Holland" now, where we search for accessible playgrounds, shoes that fit over braces, and have more physical therapists than you can shake a stick at. Life can be tough. But oh my, life is lovely, too. Long roads build up courage. We can appreciate God's goodness and choose joy every day. Eliza is an incredible gift to us and "Holland" is much more than we ever dreamed."

-Sarah

What's your Holland?

A diagnosis?  Surprise baby?  Sudden career change? Maybe you have lost someone near to you and you've found your plane has landed among the tulips. There are so many ways in which God can redirect our paths and even though it seems scary in the beginning, we find that it's actually quite beautiful. 

So we've created a shirt to represent this notion. That we all have or will stamp that passport to Holland once, twice or many times in our lives.

Think of a date, whether it's a month and year or a specific day in your past. A date in which you realized God was taking you on a different route through life. 

When you purchase this shirt, you will have the opportunity to tell us that date and it will be lovingly hand stamped on the "DATE OF ARRIVAL" portion of your tee.  As we do so we will pray for you. Pray that you can find beauty right where you are and know that God will never ever ever ever leave you.

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This tee benefits The Spina Bifida Association of Alabama in honor of mighty little Eliza. This organization helps to provide children like her with the necessary equipment to live, explore and thrive.

Purchase a tee to support these precious little warriors. Click here to shop.

Wear your tee proudly and own your own Holland journey.

Share this message- when you receive your personalized tee, we'd love for you to take a pic and share it with your own story via social media. You never know how many have stood where you have and can be encouraged by your sharing. 

Love and Blessings, 

Anna