Before reading this blog, I would like to issue two warnings:
1) If you are pregnant, you may not want to read this... this story will more than likely freak you out. It freaked me out and I am waaay done having babies. Trust me, just ignore the words and look at the pictures of the adorable baby.
2) Grab a tissue. Maybe an entire box. You may need it.
I would like to introduce you to three of the most wonderful, courageous and just plain amazing women that I have met in a while. Their names are Melissa, Stevie and Payten and they are a beautiful family full of love and laughs, happiness and joy. To say these women are strong would be an understatement beyond words. And I am about to tell you why.
On January 30, 2011 at 8:48pm, Payten Kay Murphy was born. As with most first deliveries, the labor was long. But Melissa had a healthy pregnancy and everything progressed uneventfully. Melissa and Stevie were thrilled to welcome their beautiful new daughter into the world. And for four hours, everything was perfect.
While Payten was receiving her first bath, the respiratory therapist noticed that her lips were blue. Payten was given oxygen and her color did not improve. And just like that, she was on an ambulance to UC Davis Children's Hospital. Stevie, who is a firefighter, was on the bus with her new daughter while Melissa remained in the hospital. They texted each other back and forth while the doctors worked to figure out what was wrong with Payten. It was discovered that Payten's right ventricle (the chamber of the heart that pumps unoxygenated blood to the lungs to receive oxygen) was virtually non-existent. In order to survive, Payten would need a total of three open heart surgeries, all before she reached her fifth birthday. The cardiologist was optimistic that Payten would have a good life... probably not as a marathoner, but a good life nonetheless.
Payten's first surgery was performed on February 4th when she was just 6 days old. Coincidentally, it occurred on national Wear Red day - a day set aside to bring national awareness to heart disease. On that day, Melissa and Stevie received thousands of emails and texts, many from people whom they had never met. They included photos of family, friends, co-workers and complete strangers wearing red to show their love and support. Those photos and wishes helped Melissa and Stevie get through a most difficult day. In fact, they have made a book with these photos so that Payten can see just how much she is loved. As I watched Stevie thumb through the pages, tears ran down my face. Melissa said "I know, it's sad, huh?". Um, yeah. Only sad isn't the word I was thinking of. As a mother, words like "devastating" and "unfair" ran through my head. When I asked how they have been able to cope through all of this, Stevie answered "you don't have a choice, you just do". And that is exactly what Melissa and Stevie have done. Only they have done it with grace and fortitude.
Payten spent the first month of her life in the NICU where she recovered from her heart surgery and began to grow and thrive. Melissa pumped so that Payten could have her mother's milk. Her moms held her every chance they got. And for the first month, Payten lived in the NICU with wires attached, labs drawn, tests run day in and day out. The one benefit of having a newborn spend her life in the NICU - Payten can sleep through any kind of noise.
After a month, Payten was doing so well that she was able to go home. Her nursery had been ready for months, and mom and mom couldn't wait to begin their lives together as a family. One thing that Melissa and Stevie wanted was photographs of their baby. They were understandably afraid to take her anywhere. When a friend let them know that I had taken photos of her nephew and her niece, they gave me a call. And of course I said yes. In fact, I worry that Melissa thinks I am a stalker. Because I left and excited, rambling message on her voicemail, followed by an excited, rambling email practically begging to come over and photograph Payten. Fortunately for me, they said yes. And I am so thankful to the Orlando family for the referral, because I have fallen head over heels in love with this family.
Would like to meet them? I thought you might. I posted a sneak peek of Payten a week or two ago on my FB page. In case you missed it, here is beautiful Miss Payten at 9 weeks of age:
The hat and blanket were made by Stevie's mom, Yaya.
I know, gorgeous right?
When we started the session, Stevie told me that she and Melissa were looking for a photo that they could send out as Easter cards, since they didn't send out birth announcements. Yaya had made some awesome bunny ears for Payten to wear. Unfortunately, she really didn't like wearing them:
Another request was that we get a photo of Payten and her favorite toy - a mobile that hangs above her changing table. It is a hot air balloon complete with a bunny, a donkey and a frog going for a ride. The name of this toy? Hairy Ass Frog. And Payten loves it!
The rest of the session just involved me following the family around, photographing their seemingly normal life. In looking at these photos, you would never guess anything was ever wrong. And that is exactly the way Melissa and Stevie like it.
I'll stop writing now and post lots more photos. And you can see for yourself why I am so smitten by this family.
Payten getting some snuggles from Stevie
as Melissa looks on.
More gorgeous Yaya confections.
A kiss from Melissa.
Stevie says she wants to hang this photo on the back of the bathroom door.
This is your last and only warning.
Little Miss Payten must have eaten pretty much the entire time I was at her house. Which is great for any newborn, but especially so for this heart baby. While she was having a bottle, Melissa pointed out that Payten was grabbing her finger. *sigh*
While Melissa was breast feeding, I asked if she wanted me to take some photos. Initially she said no. I totally understood; had anyone asked me that when I was breast feeding, I think I would have asked if they wanted a broken camera. But Melissa changed her mind. She made the comment that she is lucky to have the chance to breast feed her baby. While Payten was in the NICU, Melissa pumped and pumped to keep her milk supply up. All that hard work paid off and now she is able to feed her baby girl.
Then it was off to sleep for a 30 minute power nap.
Stevie said "doesn't she look peaceful?" which made me laugh so loud I nearly woke the baby.
She also pointed out Payten's stylin' hair which has earned her the nickname "Grandpa".
Again, I nearly woke the baby.
Did I mention the adorable dimple?
As I was putting the slideshow together for Melissa and Stevie, I struggled with finding the perfect song to play along with the pictures. I wanted a song I hadn't used before, one that wasn't too overplayed or melodramatic. I looked through my iPod and my old CDs when I came across a CD that I loved in college: Swamp Ophelia by the Indigo Girls. As I ran though the song titles, I saw one titled "The Power of Two". When I listened to the chorus, I knew it was perfect. I will leave you with these lyrics, and a promise to let you know how Payten is doing. Because as I told her mothers, they will not be able to get rid of me...
"So we're okay, we're fine
Baby I'm here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
Look at them together then we'll take them apart
Adding up the total of a love that is true
Multiple life by the power of two"
- the Indigo Girls