“There I was, a couple days away from Mother’s Day 2018, when I decided it might be time to take a pregnancy test…and lo and behold, it was positive! My husband and I couldn’t believe our eyes, we’ve been married for 2 years and this was our second pregnancy. I was already the mother of a 10 year old young man (who I had when I was 17), and a 7-month-old baby boy. The joy in that moment was overwhelming, but we of course were a little nervous. How would we handle 3 kids now?! Yet at the same time, we wanted to shout the news from the rooftops! Instead we decided to wait until Mother’s Day and surprised our family with the news. The moment was amazing and we already had so many hopes and dreams for our growing family. We instantly agreed on one thing this time; we didn’t want to know the gender. Our first delivery together was such an incredible moment that the thought of adding such a big surprise element to the experience seemed like the way to go.
The first few months were what you’d expect from pregnancy. I was a nauseous mess and could barely leave the bed, let alone take care of my 7-month-old, but like all moms, I made it happen.
The only thing that was extremely different in this pregnancy compared to my others was that I was having extreme food aversions. It started off small. I remember I was cooking my family a beautiful chicken dinner, sitting down to eat it, taking a bite and spitting it out instantly. It felt like I was chewing cardboard and it disgusted me to no end. Slowly more and more things were added to the list until I’d end up going grocery shopping and coming home with close to nothing. My husband was becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation and kept trying to find foods I’d consider eating. I ended up losing about 5-pounds by the end of the three months, but somehow I got through it.
By the second trimester the nausea had settled and I was slowly adding foods back into my diet. During my last pregnancy I ended up on bed rest after around 22 weeks due to pelvic pain and went into early labor when my water broke at 34 weeks. During this pregnancy, the pelvic pain started so much sooner and became much more intense compared to the last time. By 15 weeks it had already become painful to walk for too long but all the ultrasounds showed that ‘Baby K’ (as we had started calling her) was doing perfect! A couple of weeks later I was put on bed rest for risk of preterm labor and also due to the pelvic pain. To say life was difficult at the time was an understatement because although I did have my mother helping me when she could, as well as my husband when he was home, it was impossible to not pick up my little guy during the day and stay in bed like I was supposed to.
Life moved on and at another ultrasound sound Baby K was absolutely perfect. We never even received the slightest hint on the baby’s gender, although it became increasingly difficult not to ask. I was convinced we were having another boy because that’s what I was, a boy mom, and there was no way anyone would convince me otherwise. I secretly was hoping for a girl, but I’d NEVER utter the words out loud because I would have been so happy with a boy and I didn’t want to get my heart set on something to then have gender disappointment. My husband on the other hand wasn’t shy about hoping, wishing and praying for a little girl! He’d tell everyone who would listen and I’d always remind him that it was going to be a boy and he wasn’t allowed to be disappointed when it was!
Suddenly we had made it into the third trimester. By this point the pelvic pain was unbearable but it was worth it to feel all those flips, turns and kicks happening inside me. Then one day in November I received a phone call from my husband, it was unlike any I’ve ever received in my life and I’ll remember it for as long as I live. He was absolutely hysterical. He’s a very funny guy who’s always joking and I remember hearing him at first and my heart dropping and thinking, ‘if this is a joke, I’m going to be really mad.’ It took a while for him to calm down enough to get the words out, but he finally said it. His father had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at 61. He was in the peak of his health, having lost close to 100 pounds in the last 2 years and one night he went to sleep next to his loving wife of 40 years and didn’t wake up. Our whole world was shaken, it didn’t seem real. Everything from that day is a blur, but even being on bed rest I knew we had to go be with his family who lived 9 hours away across the border from Canada. We packed up our kids, picked up our oldest from school and we were on the road headed to Connecticut within about 3 hours.
The next few days were a blur of tears and heartache and once the funeral was over it became so difficult to leave, that we didn’t. We stayed for a whole 2 week period. The whole time the fear of me going into labor loomed over us. When we finally did leave it became a running joke that I would go into labor on the road before we crossed the border back home. Thankfully that didn’t happen, we were back on Canadian soil and we dodged that whole scenario. About 5 minutes after we crossed the border, I REALLY needed to take a pee break. We were in the middle of nowhere, so we pulled off the road and I ran into the bushes. As I’m doing my business, I suddenly feel a small gush and the realization hit me that it might have been my water breaking.
We scrambled and called my doctor, dropped off the kids somewhere and headed to the hospital. I started having weak contractions. When I got to the hospital I was immediately put on a monitor because I was only about 28 or 29 weeks. After being checked out it seemed that my water had only leaked a little and I was given shots to stop labor altogether. It was a roller coaster of emotions and by the time we left we had been awake for well over 24 hours. The next morning I had to return for the second shot and it seemed like I was safe for a little longer.
Each appointment in the following weeks my doctor would say, ‘okay seems like we’ll be meeting this little one in the next week or two’ and then a week or two would pass and still nothing! We grieved a whole lot but Baby K was still in perfect condition thankfully. I was becoming increasingly impatient! I was already past 36 weeks (when my son was born) and I selfishly wanted this baby out so that I could hold my son again and the pelvic pain would be over, it was excruciating by this point. We had our bags packed and waiting. In the baby’s hospital bag was one blue onesie and one pink one, as well as a whole lot of gender-neutral clothes.
Incredibly, I was now 40 weeks to the day! I was in complete shock and never in a million years expected to make it this far! On my very same due date I woke up feeling a little different. The whole 9 months I’d had really strong Braxton Hicks contractions. Around lunch time I had gone to use the washroom and I had noticed I was leaking a tiny bit, nothing major, but I definitely took note. By dinnertime it hadn’t stopped so I called my doctor and let him know, making sure to stress that it was nothing and I felt fine. Day and night passed and besides a tiny leak everything was the same. On the third day, which happened to be a major snowstorm in the middle of January, my doctor called me back to check on me and insisted that I meet him at the hospital to have an inspection done, ignoring my pleas that I felt great. So once again, we found sitters for the kids and headed towards the hospital driving at 20 km/hour, passing by several car accidents and cars buried in snow on the way. We finally made it about an hour later, registered, settled in and had a nurse come in to see me. At first glimpse she said it didn’t look like my water had broken but to be safe they’d do the test…it was positive! We were finally going to meet our baby! After we were put into a room, my husband headed out to pick up my mom since she doesn’t do well driving in snow and the plan was for her to be with us in the delivery room. He also needed to make sure the baby’s new sitter got in okay.
Here I am in this beautiful hospital room with an enormous tub having mild contractions and waiting for them to get back. By the time they got there it was about 5 p.m. and 2 hours later. I enjoyed an amazing soak and happily waited to meet the newest member of our family. By 6 p.m. my doctor had stopped in and decided we should fully break my water and see if that pushes me into full blown labor…spoiler, it did!
Time was just flying by, it was about 9 pm and the contractions were a 6 out of 10, pain wise, but I felt great! My nurse, bless her heart, suggested I get the epidural soon if I still intended on getting it. I turned it down because I felt fine. Now she went from sweetly suggesting it to being a little more insistent, saying that it’s my third baby and I should do it before I don’t have time. I finally caved and within 15 more minutes the anesthetic doctor was in the room. In those 15 minutes my contractions jumped from a 6 in pain to easily a 9. As I was sitting in position the pain was so strong that I was physically shaking and my teeth we clattering together. I made it through the epidural with my amazing husband helping to keep me still and almost instantly the pain disappeared. It was magical.
Around 2:30 a.m. the nurse came back to check on me and I woke up thinking I may need to use the washroom. She said she had to check me first. I was 10 cm dilated and the baby was super low! This was it, the moment we had waited 9 long months for had finally arrived! My husband and mom shot up and stood at my left side waiting to see what was happening next. The nurse and student doctor set everything up as I suddenly struggled to hold back the urge to push. They called my doctor who was sleeping somewhere in the hospital and he rushed to our room. He made it just as I couldn’t hold back anymore. I pushed once, and the head was out. I pushed again and nothing…she was sideways and was having trouble making her grand entrance. After the doctors moving her around and into proper position, I pushed a final time and the baby was out! They tried to lay the baby on my chest but the cord was too short so they laid her across my stomach with her legs towards my husband and mom, and her head and face just out of sight. I waited to hear those words, but they weren’t coming, until my husband finally said, ‘It’s a boy!’ We all cried and celebrated and the joy was enormous! Then the doctor from the end of the bed kind of paused and said, ‘Uhhh….a boy that looks a lot like a girl!’ In that moment I didn’t get what the doctor meant by that but apparently my husband did because he took a closer look and said, ‘OH MY GOD…IT’S A GIRL!!!!’ We cried loud and hard and basked in that moment of complete shock and joy. On January 20th at 3:06 a.m., our baby Anna was born at 8lbs 7oz. The room seemed so loud, when suddenly somewhere in the room I hear the words, ‘What about the cleft…’ and then deafening silence.
During my pregnancy I saw a picture of a baby on Instagram, but the baby was different and curiosity got the best of me so I clicked and read the caption. That was my first encounter with cleft. Beforehand, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know what it was or that it even existed. I recall showing my husband and us chatting about how unfortunate it was for that sweet baby. Had I not seen that I would have had no clue what a cleft was at all. At this point, my baby’s face was still hidden by her position, upon hearing those words I shot straight up and picked her up, flipped her over and that’s when I saw my baby girl for the first time. The world stopped, I held her and looked at her and said, ‘Babe look….’ I didn’t realize it at the time but because all I heard was silence, I was just stuck in a loop and kept saying ‘babe look,’ ‘babe look.’ I have no idea how long that went on for, but I only snapped out of it when I heard my mom screaming at my husband in the distance. I finally looked up and my husband is standing a few feet away from the bed, but his eyes are glazed over and he’s staring straight ahead not responding. My mom is yelling at him to sit down and I realized what was happening. I started telling him to sit down and asking him what he was doing, but nothing. He was completely blank.
Now the doctor joins in and we’re all trying to get him to just sit down on the couch. He suddenly snaps out of it and looks at us like he’s seeing us for the first time. He finally sits down, looking pale as ever. I didn’t know it at the time but he later told me that his vision went black and his hearing was completely muffled. I don’t know how he managed to stay on his feet as long as he did. My mom my saving grace because in all that chaos, she remained calm. She kept saying, ‘Everything’s okay, she’s perfect and she’ll be okay.’ In my mind and my husband’s mind we saw her face and didn’t know what that meant. We didn’t know if it was a sign of more serious things happening inside of her; maybe she had some other anatomical abnormalities. Our minds and hearts raced not knowing what this meant. My mom didn’t know either, but I will never be able to repay what her calmness brought into that moment, I will cherish it as long as I live.
Once she was finally checked over and was deemed healthy, we finally settled down. My eldest sister came to meet Anna and we briefly spoke about her cleft and her little ‘piggy’ noises before her and my mom headed out to get some sleep. We were then placed in a recovery room. It was the first time we were able to be alone as a family and really see our daughter. What we saw in that moment was the face of a beautiful little angel looking back at us, and we both instantly fell deeply in love with her. The shock that had taken over me no less than an hour ago seemed unreal because now I was looking at her and she was just my beautiful baby girl. We talked about what had happened in that room and realized we had been going through the exact same emotions earlier but had simply expressed them differently.
In that moment, I had panicked. I just needed my husband to tell me everything would be okay. He panicked at the same thought, but adding my facial expressions of pure shock and panic, it was too much for him to handle. We talked about our hopes and dreams for her and we couldn’t believe we had a daughter! We finally decided to share the news with the entire family and all our friends not knowing what to expect. I was a little nervous that someone would say something that I didn’t like but all we received was so much love and support from everyone.
The next few days we had people stop by to meet our baby girl and received tons of phone calls from those who couldn’t make it. We watched our daughter struggle to feed and I fell even more in love with her watching how determined she was to get it. Eventually the doctor stopped in and informed us there would be a surgery to correct it. Again, the nerves kicked in because I saw my daughter and she was perfect, and the thought of her facing surgery scared and still scares the life out of me.
We took her home and she was finally able to meet her brothers. My oldest loved her right away and just wanted to hold her. I felt the need to explain her condition to him before he saw her, but his reaction touched me deeply. Seeing her face after everything I told him, his only response was, ‘It’s okay, she’s still beautiful.’ Our little guy who’s now about 16 months old, was amazed at her size. He didn’t react much at first but would later on look at her hands and then his own. After the initial encounter we held both babies in our arms and he noticed that something was different about her face. He touched her nose and then his own, he touched his mouth and touched hers, almost like he was inspecting it. Even now at 22 months, he still has moments where he notices her cleft all over again. He’ll look at her closely and say ‘uh oh’ over and over. He loves her dearly, both the boys do. She’s our little Anna and she’s so deeply loved.
In the time that followed she struggled to gain weight and ended up in the hospital where we discovered breastfeeding wasn’t going to work and the bottle she was using wasn’t cutting it. At just a week old we were forced to syringe feed her until she gained a little weight. At 3 weeks old we finally had our first appointment at Sick Kids where we met the surgeon as well as a cleft feeding specialist and were given a haberman nipple bottle that is a mix of a bottle and a syringe. It requires no sucking at all and I squeeze it the entire feeding, all she needs to do is swallow. It’s been working amazingly well for her. She seemed to be doing pretty well after a while, but her breathing was very noisy (it has been since birth). At first I thought it was just because of the cleft and when I’d bring it up to my family doctor he’d be very honest and say he didn’t have much experience with clefts but believed it was the same thing because her lungs sounded clear. I just couldn’t drop it and after bringing it up multiple times he gave us a referral to a pediatrician. On Anna’s very first visit, the doctor told us she suspected Anna had laryngomalacia, an airway disorder. She kept falling on the growth chart and had to be closely monitored for a while. There was a few other suspected diagnosis’ and many hospital tests but they all came back negative. She was eventually put on meds for reflux issues and we finally were able to see an Ear Nose and Throat Specialist where they officially diagnosed her with laryngomalacia. Since the diagnosis, her weight has gone up and she is beginning to thrive in a big way like she never has before. She continues to be monitored and will be facing her first surgery next month. We face a whole lot with her on a daily basis and people aren’t always nice, but the love we have for her is immense!
We are very blessed to have a large platform on social media where we receive so much love and support and it definitely out weights any bad looks or rude people we might run into in public. My girl is a strong fighter and she was given to us because her job was to change us. She flipped our world upside down in the most incredible way. She changed me as a mother and as a person and she introduced me to a world I never knew existed. She changed everything and she gives me inspiration on a daily basis to do more and make a difference. She inspired me to start an organization to help cleft children and families and create movement to bring cleft children together. It’s currently in the works and will hopefully be launching within the next few months and I hope that through her, we can change lives.
I was lucky enough to give birth to my hero and I will continue to be by her side through every doctor’s appointment, hospital visit, test or exam and surgeries. She is my hero and I will continue to proudly show her off wherever I go because she is my incredible little Anna!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Daniela Kiriakidis of Ontario, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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‘He wanted me to get a second opinion. ‘Is it a boy or a girl?,’ I frantically asked. ‘Are you sure you want to know?’ ‘Yes, please tell me.’ ‘A boy, it’s a boy.’ Things like this don’t happen to people my age.’
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