We LOVE reaching milestones and today is a BIG one! My beautiful daughter, Madeline Grace Brewer, is ten years old!
I was seven months pregnant with her when her brother was first diagnosed with cancer. I spent the last six weeks of my pregnancy fearing for Ben’s life and wondering how on earth I was going to bring an infant into this very scary world that was unfolding around us. My toddler was extremely sick. We were basically living in the hospital while he endured toxic concoctions that were, hopefully, saving his life.
Those first few weeks of Ben’s fight were terrifying. Everything we researched about Neuroblastoma pointed to our need to accept the fact that we would lose our son. I would wake up in the middle of the night hyperventilating with fear, the plastic coated hospital couch slick with my sweat. Without waking my son, I’d shove my swollen feet into the only shoes that would fit: slippers. I’d slip out into the bright hallway and walk around the halls of the oncology unit, listening to nurses chat, machines beep, and children trying to rest through courses of chemo. The nights were the worst. All the sadness lying behind each door. But the halls were a safe zone. Nothing bad happened in the halls. So the halls held my solace. And as I forced my fat feet to take me around the loop one more time, I tried to think how I was going to bring a new baby into this environment. How could I divide my attention between the two? How would I make this child feel loved when every ounce of energy I had was going to my son?
And was this baby going to get to know their brother? My heart broke over something new each and every day.
At the end of March, our nurse practitioner handed me the therapy schedule for April. I looked at it to find it was packed full of chemo, procedures, appointments, meetings, and miscellaneous other necessities for Ben’s treatment. I pointed to the paper and said, “I’m supposed to have a baby sometime this month.” My original due date fell on April 10th, but that day was already filled with appointments. She said, “Pick a day and go have your baby.” I quickly questioned, “You can do that?” She shook her head yes. So, I did. I called my OB/GYN and chose Sunday, the fourth, because that would give my baby the birthday of 04/04/04. I thought that would be pretty cool. However, my doctor said that he didn’t work on Sundays unless he had to, so I picked 04/03/04.
Ben had been discharged for the weekend, so I stayed up nearly all night Friday, writing instructions for my parents on what to do if anything went wrong. I laid out all the meds. All the IV nutrition stuff. All the emergency contacts. What to do in case of every single issue I could think of. I hadn’t been away from Ben since his diagnosis, so my stress level was off the charts. Then, after just a couple of hours of sleep, I ran through all the information with my parents, then headed to Riverside to have my baby.
The nurse was waiting for us. The hospital knew all about Ben’s situation so they found the sweetest nurse ever to take care of me. She was so gentle and loving. She made sure I was comfortable. She sat by my bedside and held my hand. At one point, we shared some tears. She said she was sorry about my son but wanted to do everything she could to make this delivery as easy as possible. Reflecting on Ben’s birth, easy-peasy was NOT the description I would give it. Ben refused to come out for over 24 hours. There were scares with my blood pressure. Fears that I would have a seizure. Concerns that the baby was in distress. And when my baby Ben finally arrived, he had the pointiest head in the world because he’d spent over a day stuck in the birth canal. It was anything but smooth. So, I was highly concerned that history would repeat itself.
For this birth, I arrived at the hospital at 8 am. Got hooked up to pitocin at 9 am. They broke my water sometime around 11 am. Then, at 1:19 pm on Saturday, April 3, 2004, I watched in the mirror as my beautiful little girl was born. We didn’t know we were having a girl. In fact, I thought I was having a boy since I carried this baby exactly the same as Ben. I wept as they handed her to me. My little Madeline Grace. She was perfect. Absolutely, wonderfully perfect.
Then, I slept. Matt went home to relieve my parents. My sister spent the night with me. We watched Donald Trump on SNL. Madeline was quiet. Perfectly quiet. We left the hospital less that 24 hours later. Ben met his sister and instantly loved her. He sat on the couch as I put her on his lap. He looked at her for a while with the sweetest smile on his face. Then he said, “I think she’s kinda too heavy.”
The next day, we were back at Children’s for Ben. Madeline learned to sleep right next to me on the plastic hospital couch. She was so well behaved. Other than having some jaundice issues that regulated on their own, Madeline had absolutely no medical needs until just after her first birthday, when she was hospitalized for rotovirus. She was on the sixth floor in the infectious disease unit while Ben was on the fifth floor in the oncology unit. I kid you not. Both of my children were inpatient at the same time. I was not laughing when the ER staff asked, “Didn’t we just admit a Brewer?” to which I stated, “You did. That’s my kid, too.”
This journey has been anything but easy. But I am so thankful to my Madeline Grace for being a beautiful, patient, loving, caring and compassionate young lady. She has a quick wit. She loves Monster High Dolls. She enjoys scary stories. She wants to sing on Broadway some day. And she often lives in the shadow of her brother’s relentless illness. She has taken on a tremendous role from the very beginning of her life: to bring a bit of levity to all the madness. And that’s exactly what she’s done. And she’s done it with Grace.
I had nothing to fear. She knew her presence would HELP, not add more stress. She was a wonderful distraction from the grief. Honestly, I believe this little angel saved my life by giving me something so beautifully positive to focus on. She did that for all of us.
Thank you, Maddy, for showing me that there is calm in the storm. I appreciate you. I adore you. I am proud of you. I love you. With all my heart.
Happy Birthday, beautiful, precious Princess.