‘I need to speak with you about your ultrasound.’ My placenta had connected to my firstborn’s face.’: Mom shares journey birthing son with cleft lip and palate, blindness

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“My husband, Chris, and I met in 2002 when we were teenagers. We dated through high school and college and married during my last year of college on June 21st, 2008. Our wedding was beautiful and our honeymoon at the beach was a great start for our marriage.

We spent our time during those first few years of marriage working and getting me through my last year of college. I had been chasing a dream of going to law school for almost as long as I could remember, so when college was over and I was finally able to start applying to law schools, I was thrilled. Through LSATs and applications, I had chosen my school and waited on an acceptance letter.

husband and wife at their wedding
Courtesy of Lacey Buchanan

That letter came in June of 2010, but much more than a law school acceptance letter arrived that same week. I found myself standing in the bathroom staring at two pink lines on a positive pregnancy test. In total shock and surprise, because this was unplanned, I immediately knew something was wrong. I called Chris who wasn’t even home from work yet and asked him if he was sitting down. When I told him I was pregnant, his response was the same as mine. Total shock.

We had both agreed that we wanted kids, but we really didn’t know when a good time would be. We figured while I was going into law school was probably not ideal, but we were young and had never had kids, so like all new parents or parents to be, we were winging it.

I made sure to get in to see my doctor as soon as possible because some unexpected bleeding is what had prompted me to take a pregnancy test to begin with. My doctor informed me that I was likely having a miscarriage, but that it was too early to tell. She recommended that we wait until I was six weeks along and come back in for another ultrasound. If there was a heartbeat, we would be able to see it by then, she assured me.

The wait in between those appointments felt like an eternity, of course, but when I went back in for the ultrasound, it didn’t take long for the tech to find a strong, beautiful ‘thump, thump, thump’ on the screen. My doctor, who was standing by my head, began jumping up and down at the good news. I think I nearly came off the table as we celebrated that my baby was alive!

The bleeding had also stopped, so the doctor expected that the rest of my pregnancy would be pretty normal. Chris and I watched my belly grow and made exciting plans for the future as any expectant couple would. We couldn’t wait for the anatomy scan that happens right around midway through the pregnancy because it would be when we found out if we were having a boy or a girl. We had names picked out and couldn’t wait to start calling the baby by name and buying all the things.

husband and wife posing for a picture together
Courtesy of Lacey Buchanan

That day finally came in September and we were ready. We went to the doctor that day walking on air from all the excitement surrounding it. We were enjoying everything about sharing this experience together of bringing a new life into the world, and while the baby was by no means planned, it was so loved.

We got to the appointment that day and watched as the tech took so many pictures. We relished seeing all the tiny parts of the baby. We also found out that we were having a boy! Right there on the ultrasound table, I told my husband that his name was Christian. We left the doctor and called all my family and friends to tell them about our little boy, but our joy would soon be overshadowed by looming uncertainty.

That following weekend, I noticed that I had voicemails on my home phone. Chris and I worked all the time so we were never home to answer it, but also, everyone had our cell phone numbers, so I couldn’t imagine who could have called our house and left not one, but three messages. I started listening to them and surprisingly, it was my doctor. She wanted me to call her back because she needed to speak with me about my ultrasound, but she didn’t say any more than that. It was a Saturday evening, so I couldn’t get through to anyone at her office. I had to wait until Monday to find out that, according to the doctor, they thought they had identified a cleft lip and palate on the ultrasound but needed me to come back in for more scans.

mom holding her new born son
Courtesy of Lacey Buchanan

We were devastated at the news that something might be wrong with our baby, but there really wasn’t anything to do but wait. We went back to the doctor for more scans where they determined that our Christian did have a bilateral cleft lip and palate, meaning both sides of his mouth were affected; however, they also said that ‘something doesn’t look right.’ When we asked what that meant, they couldn’t really say and recommended that we transfer my care and Christian’s to the leading hospital in our state which had an adjoining children’s hospital, because they would be better equipped to handle complicated birth issues.

We started regular visits to that hospital and ultrasounds to watch Christian grow. As he got bigger, we were told that they would be able to see his face better and get a better idea of what was happening, but that didn’t happen. The more ultrasounds we had, the more worried and confused doctors became. We knew we were dealing with some kind of facial birth defect, but that was really all we could be sure of. The doctors didn’t even know if Christian would survive birth. They scheduled me for a c-section to deliver Christian so that they could control the birth. It was the safest route for him, so we readily agreed. They told me that they were prepared to intubate him at birth if he wasn’t breathing on his own and we’d know very quickly. They told me to listen to his cries because crying meant breathing.

On February 18th, 2011 at 9:32 a.m., Christian Taylor Buchanan came into the world and he was crying. He was breathing on his own! I was so medicated for the c section that I could barely move and wasn’t fully lucid, but I remember being so happy that I was swinging my arms around because it was the only thing I could move. The doctor held Christian above the blue curtain for a few seconds and I remember seeing the most beautiful baby I had ever laid eyes on.

mom kissing her baby boy
Courtesy of Lacey Buchanan

That immediate joy was quickly overtaken by heartache though when we learned the extent of Christian’s birth defects and how they would affect him immediately and in the future. Christian’s cleft was so large that he couldn’t take any type of bottle, even those made for babies with clefting. He had to have surgery at four days old to insert a feeding tube into his stomach. He was hooked up to every kind of machine available to monitor him, so we couldn’t hold him very much, but the hardest part of all was when we learned that Christian was totally blind.

The clefting had reached so far up into Christian’s face that it also clefted his eyes. We also learned that Christian had what were called amniotic bands on his face when he was born. These bands connected Christian’s face to my placenta and likely also caused at least some of the clefting. We had no idea what we were going to do. We didn’t know how to raise a typical child, let alone a blind one. We felt so lost and hopeless for a while, especially during Christian’s month-long NICU stay.

When he did finally come home, it felt like we were stumbling and fumbling through every day. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we learned bit by bit. We didn’t know how to use a feeding tube, but we figured it out. We didn’t know what therapy was, but we took him anyway and learned all we could. Every day, Christian grew and we worked towards giving him everything he needed. The first time he smiled at me, the first time he sat up, the first time he took a step on his own, those were the moments I lived for. I had kept my head above water in law school as well, but it wasn’t easy. I eventually had to quit my job so that I could get Christian to all his appointments and do all his care and still stay caught up at school.

dad admiring his new born son
Courtesy of Lacey Buchanan

About two years after Christian was born, we welcomed our second child, Chandler Tate Buchanan. We were so excited to welcome a second boy to the family and for Christian to have a best friend. Christian and Chandler are attached at the hip. They fight like brothers, for sure, but they stick by each other like glue. Chandler taught Christian to do so many things that he may not have otherwise been able to learn. He watches out for Christian and helps him when he needs help. We didn’t know it at the time, but Chandler was exactly what our family needed when he came to us. He has always been a bright light.

Carrying Christian to all his therapies and appointments every week while taking Chandler along made for long, exhausting days already, then add driving over an hour away in the evenings for class plus studying every spare minute I had. Some days it felt impossible. Chris and I had many hard, rocky days in our marriage too. I don’t ever want to pretend like it was all rainbows and sunshine because it wasn’t. It was hard and ugly at times, but what I discovered was that there was so much beauty inside that big ole mess!

I could be so stressed out with a big school deadline looming, and the boys would come to wrap their arms around me. I could have the worst night at school and I’d come home and Chris would always be up waiting on me, even though it was late. I was exhausted and some days I wanted to give up, but I was reminded so often why I chose to keep going. As hard as it was, my family was worth all the hardship in the world. So I pressed on with Jesus, coffee, and the love of my family by my side.

mom taking picture with both sons
Courtesy of Lacey Buchanan

I pushed through and eventually did graduate law school in 2016 and I’m so proud to say that both boys were at my graduation to cheer me on. I survived. WE survived. The boys are growing up so fast now. Christian just turned eleven in February and Chandler is anxiously awaiting his ninth birthday in May. Christian plays violin and Chandler plays piano. They love to play together, especially outside. They make up all kinds of games together, and they always stick close by each other’s side. Their adventures are endless. They are so happy, and I know I may be biased, but also incredibly smart. They are just amazing kids and we’re so lucky to call them ours.

I have been exploring career options for the last few years and recently accepted a position with a local law firm where I think I’m going to be really happy. I’m so excited for the opportunities this is opening up for me. Chris works from home full time in the insurance field now because of the pandemic and we are so thankful that we get to have him around so much more than we used to. We moved at the end of 2020 to a farmhouse out in the country, away from the noise, with our children, dogs, and chickens, and we enjoy a lot of porch sitting, coffee sipping, and family time.

Overall, when I look back on the earlier years of law school and the boys, I can honestly say that I never thought I’d be able to be this happy and content. I couldn’t always see the point of what I was working for. There were so many times I almost gave up. I almost couldn’t take it anymore. There were times when I said I was giving up on it all, but I could never bring myself to actually do it, and I am so incredibly thankful that I didn’t and that I had the support of friends and family to remind me that the hard times were temporary and to just hold on.

family at mom's graduation
Courtesy of Lacey Buchanan

Everything still isn’t perfect by any means. I ended up in a job that was bad for my mental health for the last two and half years, the boys are growing and have their own opinions about things and challenge us at times, our new house needed a lot of work we didn’t count on immediately when we moved in and it cost us a lot of money, my dad recently almost lost his life to Covid unexpectedly and is still recovering. Nothing ever goes perfectly or according to plan. Life is beautiful and tragic, hard and amazing, but man, when I step back and look at this life I have, I am so deeply thankful for it, the good and the bad. The bad has shaped me into who I am, built my character, and created endurance within me, and the good times give me something to look forward to, to smile about, and to thank God for every day.”

two brothers hugging each other close
Courtesy of Lacey Buchanan
mom and dad with their children
Courtesy of Lacey Buchanan

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lacey Buchanan from Middle Tennessee. You can follow her journey on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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