Yes, My Kids Still Like the Baby

Now that Esther is a month old, I have people asking me if our older kids are still doing well with her, or if they still like the baby. I understand the question, but it makes my heart sad. Not only are Elle and Johnny still head-over-heels in love with their baby sister, but their love for her is growing with each day. It’s been a beautiful thing to experience, and all of our hearts are overwhelmed with joy.

When we decided we were done having kids, one of my main reasonings was that I wanted Elle and Johnny to be able to be kids. I feared having more kids significantly later would push Elle into the mother role and I didn’t want that. I wanted her to be a kid with kid responsibilities. Another reasoning was that because we’d lost our first child, Nathan, in a miscarriage in 2007 (nine years ago today, in fact), Brett had the fear of possibly having to go through another loss. Also, he loved the dynamic of our family of four and was afraid of how another baby would upheave that simplicity.

When God started speaking to our hearts about having more children two years ago, one of the biggest points He made to us was that we made the decision to not have more kids partnered with fear, not partnered with Him. I didn’t feel like God was saying I had to have more kids, but rather that He was inviting me to make decision with Him instead of fear of what could happen. In the end, we repented for giving fear space in our decisions and invited God to speak truth and life into our hearts. Jesus reminded me that He is the author of LIFE and He can teach me how to have a family filled with goodness and life for each family member. With that, Brett and I were both filled with an incredible excitement to have more children!

When we told Elle and Johnny that we felt we wanted to have more children and asked what they thought, they were super excited. Elle was six and Johnny was five, but they had some great questions about how it would affect them and our family. We processed each question as they came honestly and sometimes with “I don’t know that yet.” The more we processed it together, the more excited they became and were thrilled to make the announcement once we had conceived our fourth child!

The day we went in for our little Timothy’s routine doctor appointment, Elle and Johnny were with us. They were looking forward to hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, as mom and dad already had, and we were all devastated when there wasn’t one. The kids were confused, we were heartbroken, the whole thing was simply awful. After we left the office, the four of us went to the parking garage and bawled in our minivan, holding each other, and listening to worship music. The kids had questions this time that I couldn’t answer. All I knew to do was to process honestly with them and surrender them to Jesus for the healing their little hearts would need.

Six months later, we had conceived our fifth child, our sweet Evelyn. When it was time for our same appointment, I journaled and asked Jesus whether or not to take the kids. He reminded me He loves them far more than I do, He has them in His hands, and I have nothing to fear for He is still on the throne. So, we asked if they wanted to come, they said yes, and we all headed in declaring life. Sadly, Evelyn had already graduated to Heaven and we went through the exact same horror of the baby having no heartbeat with Elle and Johnny in the room. They had just turned seven and six. It wasn’t fair for their little hearts to endure another heartbreak of this magnitude! I trusted Jesus and now they were hurting and confused all over again. I was angry, hurting, and heartbroken- not only for me but especially for them. I realized quickly that I didn’t know what to do to walk them through it all well and held Jesus to His promises. In an honest prayer, I told Him, “You said you love them more than I do and you have them in Your hand so now it’s Your job to walk them through this. It’s Your job to show me what to do so they don’t end up bitter and distrusting.” Jesus wept with me for weeks and then kindly showed me over time, that declaring the truth that He is Lord over them was actually one of the best parenting moves I’ve made.

As their questions rolled in, I waited on Holy Spirit to give me the answers Elle and Johnny needed. I leaned more on Him in this season than ever before for parenting. I knew I wasn’t equipped to handle this, not to mention I was hurting so deeply myself. All the fears we’d had seemed to be coming true and we didn’t know what to do with that. As a family, we turned to the Prince of Peace for our processing and He was faithful. Elle and Johnny both had encounters with Jesus in their dreams that answered their little heart’s questions and healed their hurts. Holy Spirit showed them their siblings in Heaven and spoke incredible truths to give their minds peace. Elle would get up and paint with Jesus every morning for months and repeatedly see and paint Heaven and our entire family. Johnny would have “knowings” of Heaven that we’d never spoken about. Over time, I watch Jehovah Sneaky working in our family, healing our hearts with gentleness and faithfulness. He never rushed any of us but also never left any of us alone.

Then came the day that Elle and Johnny asked us to try for a baby one more time. I was completely shocked and had no idea how to answer. The two of them pulled us aside, intervention style, and asked me to please try to get pregnant one more time. These poor kids had been through hell and back with us. I couldn’t believe they were suggesting we all go through it again! I tried writing it off that they are just too young, or too naive to understand the ramifications. But I knew that was a lie. The world would tell me they’re just kids and don’t put too much weight on what they ask because it can change in five minutes. But I could sense this was bigger, much bigger. I knew this was a pivotal point in their lives in which they’d either see me shrink back and give up for (completely understandable and valid) fear of more pain OR they’d see me put my trust back in the Lord and allow His love to guide me in my weakness (Heb 10.39).  I knew in my spirit this was something they’d remember forever and I was refilled with a supernatural strength that only a mother can understand.

ratliffweb-51

Brett and I had many conversations, cried many tears, and prayed a LOT. Finally, we gathered our courage and decided to try one more time. We conceived right away, but the battle had just begun. My pregnancies are not easy, but this sixth pregnancy was a whole new level of difficulty. From day one, we endured hardships emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. Without question, this was my hardest pregnancy and many times I wondered if I’d make it through. We had to call on loved ones to hold us up in prayer when we doubted we could go on. But we made it, she made it, and now we have this beautiful little gift straight from Heaven!

Elle and Johnny have been smitten all along. Even while I was pregnant, they would talk to and pray for the baby in my belly. This isn’t to say the hardship didn’t affect them, it did. While I was in bed day after day, they missed their mommy. We had to work through more waves of grief, confusion, and lots of questions. But Jesus was faithful with each day. By the time Esther was born, the delight in our family was off the charts. Elle and Johnny, like us, have waited for this baby with hope, heartbreak, patience, and long-suffering. I knew they might need some time to adjust to the new norm of having three children, but so far it’s only been delight and enjoyment. I feared they would feel overlooked, but they are overjoyed. Brett worried it would change the dynamics of our family, and it has in the best of ways. Esther arriving has NOT been a difficulty to endure but a long awaited blessing and gift to receive for ALL of us. So yes, my children are still liking having their baby sister. In fact, her arrival and their love for her has helped to heal all our hearts even more. Our family isn’t perfect, but we are abundantly blessed and thankful. We aren’t afraid to face or process hard things, and we don’t sweep issues under the rug, but we also don’t hesitate to genuinely celebrate. This season has been fought for and prayed for and nothing is going to stand in the way of our full immersion in the joy and delight.

img_1637

img_1560

img_1602

img_1627

**Maternity Photos by Michael Wessner Photography.

Esther’s Diagnosis VS God’s Promise

Earlier this month, we proudly took our thriving one-week-old newborn in for her well check. Our Pediatrician has walked through our journey with us the past couple years so we knew she’d be excited to celebrate a healthy newborn too. The nurse weighed Esther and immediately congratulated us as she had not only gained back her birth weight, but two additional ounces. Smiles and joy were abundant in the room. It was a day to celebrate!

After examining Esther, our pediatrician smiled reassuringly and told us she needed to talk to us. She told us not to panic, but that she had heard a heart murmur while examining Esther. She told us that while there is a very common explanation for most heart murmurs in newborns that resolves on its own, she did not believe this was Esther’s case. Instead, she explained the murmur sounded more like a rare condition that would need to be taken very seriously. Because of this, she referred us to see a Pediatric Cardiologist at Vanderbilt as soon as possible. Our Pediatrician assured us again, she wasn’t panicking and we shouldn’t either, but that we don’t play around with things like this and having it checked out right away is best.

It’s hard to express the feelings we had as we left the office. We had gone in excited to celebrate our child’s health with a doctor who’s loved and cared for our family for five years and instead we left with another issue to address. It felt like someone had popped our joy bubble we’d been hanging out in. Neither of us felt devastated or super worried. Considering that while I was pregnant we were told five different times that they thought I might miscarry and yet God preserved her life, we felt certain He had a plan here too. However, we were disappointed to need to address another medical scare.

We invited our biological and spiritual parents to cover us in prayer then headed in for our appointment hoping there was nothing to be found. We were there for a full workup that would take hours. During the echocardiogram, Esther began to fuss so I prayed over her and asked Jesus where He was in the room. He showed me He was in the corner and I asked Him to come put His hand on her as He did when she was born. He immediately came over, laid His hand on her chest, and she fell fast asleep, resting peacefully the rest of the long test. During her EKG tests, she was hungry and disliked all the sticky probes they’d placed all over her body and screamed so hard she welled up with crocodile tears. I felt like screaming and crying just as she was. I was so angry we were having to put her through this, put ourselves through it, rack up more medical bills, and deal with the possibility of heart issues in our rainbow baby. I couldn’t do anything but pray. I prayed that God would fill me with His peace, His perspective, and bless Esther with perfect health. They finally finished their tests and ushered us into a room to wait for the Pediatric Cardiologist to give us our results.

As we waited, Brett played the trauma prayer over us all and we prayed as I nursed Esther. It’s such a strange feeling waiting for news like that, full of faith that God has it all in His hand, but not knowing what the journey ahead may entail. Finally, the doctor came in and gave us our baby’s diagnosis: Esther was born with what is called a VSD, or a Ventricular Septal Defect. This is where the muscular wall, or septum, between the two lower chambers of the heart isn’t fully connected yet. This allows blood from the right ventricle chamber (oxygenated) to pass back into the left ventricle chamber (non oxygenated) with each pump of the heart. VSDs come in three different sizes/severities: small, moderate and large. Esther’s is very small. The great news is that it doesn’t seem to be affecting her in any way. She is, and continues to, thrive in all the areas they would watch for problems like gaining weight, sleeping well, breathing, and more. The specialist assured us she was able to measure the VSD from five different angles and is confident it is a small one that should close up over time without any medication or medical intervention. That’s right, no surgery. Obviously, hearing that your daughter is being diagnosed with a rare, and sometimes scary, heart defect is never good. But hearing “no medical intervention is expected” is awesome! It felt like a sweet kiss from Jesus in the midst of a storm.

So now we wait. We pray, we hope, and we wait on the Lord for His incredible plan to play out. We agree with Heaven for Esther’s full and complete healing and we give this diagnosis no more attention than it deserves. Today, Brett and I took Esther to her one month well check. She weighed in at the 75th percentile and has grown to the 97th percentile in height. She is growing, sleeping, and thriving perfectly, just as we hoped (being the confident expectation of good). Today, the doctor said she could still hear the murmur. But that news won’t stop us from hanging on to God’s promises over her life. We know Esther was fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in perfect peace.

esther-hope-0123

When we told Elle and Johnny about Esther’s diagnosis, they asked if Jesus will heal her so she will be okay. I told them yes and they asked how I knew. I waited a moment and Holy Spirit filled me with complete peace and gave me an answer that welled me up with tears and faith for what we have not yet seen for Esther but experienced with our other two: When Elle was born, the enemy came against her and tried to take her life. Her umbilical cord was around her neck three times and she required an emergency cesarean delivery to save her BUT GOD protected her and she breathes life with kindness and compassion for everyone she meets! When Johnny was born, he was premature and his lungs weren’t ready. While in the NICU, we found a bone mass on his spine and were told he had a spinal disorder that would prevent him from ever walking, running, or living like a normal little boy BUT GOD miraculously healed him and the Cleveland Clinic couldn’t ever explain it. Johnny runs with a bounce and stamina that is far beyond normal and brings joy to everyone he meets! Esther has been born with a heart defect that the enemy wants to discourage us with. He wants us to label her as the child with an issue. BUT GOD says the only issue we have is one of Hope, continuing to have a confident expectation of good. As a queen, Esther of the Bible laid down her life for her people. Our Esther Hope is also destined to have a heart for God’s people too. Her heart will be strong, courageous, and full of life. We will expect nothing less!

I recently heard that “where the snake has bitten you is where you’ll have the most authority”. So today, we declare God’s good plans and promises over Esther. She will have an incredible heart for Papa God and for others. She will have an abundant life, filled with health, goodness, and love. Esther’s heart will beat strong, God will heal her in His perfect timing, and we will sing His praises again and again. This will be yet another testimony of His faithfulness that we are celebrating now. We are choosing to remain in our joy bubble and are delighting in the beauty of the journey. So join us in declaring her healing. Please do not focus on or speak anything over her that isn’t in alignment with her perfect health. Esther is not a baby with a heart problem. She is a daughter of the Most High King with a promise for good! Partner with us and with the Lord in declaring His perfect plans for her life. He will heal her, she will thrive, and we will all rejoice in another good report of His promises fulfilled.

“And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14b NASB

esther-hope-0098

esther-hope-0065

esther-hope-0115

esther-hope-0029

Our Joy Bubble

**Photos by the incredible Teale Photography Continue reading