Charlotte is a heart angel. I met her mom through a private group on facebook for heart angel mommies. She posted a link to her blog, and ever since then I've been following this sweet family. I really wanted Charlotte's story be a part of my angel project, and I'm SO thrilled that her mom said YES!
I know you will fall in love with little miss Charley after reading about her sweet, much too short, little life.
The past two and a half year of my life have been defined by a series of dates—dates that will forever and always stand out in my memory whether I want them to or not. Some of them I cling to while others I wish could be permanently erased from the calendar year. Good or bad, these dates tell our story…
September 2009: The day that I found out that I was pregnant.
My husband Matt and I had just started to talk about trying to have a baby in July, so after only 2 months of trying we were thrilled to learn that we were going to be parents! I remember nervously taking the pregnancy test that morning while Matt unknowingly watched tv on the couch. I couldn’t stop shaking when I saw those two pink lines show up in the little window. I had always imagined myself coming up with some elaborately creative way to let Matt know that we were expecting, but in that moment all creativity left me and I walked dumbfounded into the living room and held up the test. I don’t think I said a word…I just remember hugging and smiling and the feeling of my heart beating 1,000 times per minute. I was going to be a mommy!
January 18, 2010: The ultrasound that changed our lives forever.
Like most expectant parents, Matt and I had been anxiously awaiting our ultrasound and couldn’t wait to get a peak at the little one that was growing inside of me. I went to that appointment with the assumption that they would say everything was wonderful, tell us we were having a little boy/girl and then send us on our way. As we sat there staring in awe at the grainy images of our baby, we didn’t pick up on anything concerning. It was our first baby…our first ultrasound. We didn’t know that the events taking place around us were anything other than normal. Not until we got those sympathetic eyes from the doctor and ultrasound tech did it all start to click. We found out that we were having a baby GIRL that day, but we also learned that there was “potentially” something very wrong with her little heart. They wanted us to see a pediatric cardiologist the next day.
January 19, 2010: Confirmation
Quite honestly, the day of our cardiology appointment is a total blur. We were still holding on to the hope that the inability to see all 4 chambers day before was just due to the baby’s positioning…but I think deep down inside we were both bracing ourselves for bad news. I remember laying in a dimmed room with twinkling fiber optic stars on the ceiling (a room that over the next year would become VERY familiar to us) as the sonographer and Dr. Sami scrutinized over the images of our baby’s heart. When the lights came back up, Matt and I sat there holding hands as we were shown a graphic of a normal heart. Then Dr. Sami started making edits to show us what was “wrong” with our baby’s. I think that heard maybe 10% of what he told us that day… “Pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum…Hypoplastic right ventricle.” “Surgery required within days after birth followed by more, which still won’t make her heart normal.” Like I said…it’s all a blur. The tears were unstoppable. We cried until the point of exhaustion and then cried some more. It hurts my heart just thinking about that day and the ones that followed as we tried to comprehend what this crazy little heart meant for our baby girl.
May 14, 2010: Welcome to the World, Charlotte Delene Ritchie
In true Charlotte form, our little girl decided to take matters into her own hands and came into this world 3 weeks early via emergency c-section. From the first time I saw her beautiful, squishy little face I was in love. All of my worries and fears about the days to come temporarily melted away as I soaked in every detail. Then in the blink of an eye she was whisked away to the NICU so that they could stabilize her and start the medication that would be her lifeline until surgery time. May 21 and 27, 2010: First and second surgeries
In the first 2 weeks of her life, we handed Charlotte over to a team of surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists and nurses on 2 separate occasions. We KNEW in advance that we would have to do this, but I don’t think that any amount of time can really prepare you for what it actually means. We knew that this team was going to cut her chest open and stop her heart from beating in an attempt to save her life. We knew that the next time we would see her that she would have a tube down her throat to help her breathe, drains and wires coming out of her chest and IV lines occupying nearly all of her extremities. We knew that not all kiddos pull through these surgeries. And as painful as that all sounded, we also knew that we had no other choice if we wanted to give little Charlotte a fighting chance at life. The days were long and agonizing, but each time our little girl amazed us all. June 10, 2010: Home Sweet Home Talk about a little ROCKSTAR! Just 4 weeks, 2 heart caths and 2 heart surgeries later, our little girl came home for the very first time. It was something we always feared would ever happen. But Charlotte was a fighter and showed us from the very start that she was strong! We spent the next 7 months at home watching our little girl grow and her personality develop before we had to go back for surgeries #3 and #4 in January 2011…and even then we were home in only 10 days. We celebrated her 1st birthday a few months later and were preparing ourselves for a surgery-free summer at home with our happy little girl. Sigh....I don't even know where to begin. It was a perfectly normal day. I had taken the morning off of work so that I could take Charlotte to an appointment for a lung scan at the hospital. Her hemoglobin had been climbing over the previous month, and since her heart looked good on her echo they wanted to rule out any pulmonary issues. It was supposed to be an in and out thing...place an IV, take some pictures, go on with our day as usual. It turned out to be anything but. My husband met me at the hospital and we made our way up to peds to get stared. Charlotte was a trooper as always! Yes, there were tears along the way, but hospitals and procedures and all of the machines are pretty scary, especially after everything we had put her through! After all of the testing was completed, the 3 of us gathered our things and headed for the elevators. That's when everything changed. Something with Charlotte just wasn’t “right” and she kept trying to squirm out of my arms. I knew something was wrong and we immediately ran her back to the area where her scan had taken place. I heard a rapid response called overhead. Then a code blue. I just remember going numb...sitting off to the side unable to breath as they frantically worked on our little girl. At one point I remember naively thinking that they would bring her over to us, say she had improved, and send us on our way....but as the minutes continued to pass, I knew. I knew, but I couldn't comprehend. She was gone. The last time I held my little girl in my arms she was gone. I remember just sitting in the wheelchair they brought for me and staring at her perfect little features as she lay motionless in my arms. A chaplain came. We prayed. He blessed her. We walked out as 2 instead of 3. Our lives were turned upside down that day. There is no use in trying to explain how it feels...you will never understand until you've walked that path (and I hope you never do). The grief is deeper than anything you've ever imagined; darker than you could ever comprehend. Ten months later there are still days when it takes all of my strength to drag myself out of bed…and I think that’s ok. There is no timeline on grief and I honestly think I’ll have those days for the rest of my life. Charlotte is the first thing that I think about every morning and her face is the last image that occupies my brain before I drift off to sleep at night. In her short 1 year of life she managed to teach us a whole lifetime’s worth of lessons. She taught us STRENGTH, TRUE LOVE, and COMPASSION and inspired us to be better people. I will never be the same person that I was back in September 2009 when I found out that I was going to be a mommy. I will never be the same person that I was before the day of that crazy ultrasound. I will never be the same person that I was before seeing my Charlotte’s face for the first…or last…time. I will never be the same person---I am better. And it’s all because of a little girl named Charlotte. We love you Charley Bear. Beyond words or explanation. More and more each day.