My Baby Is A Heart Warrior
At 18 weeks pregnant, a young couple learns their 2nd child would battle Congenital Heart Disease. They’ve learned to find blessings in God’s plan.
Lois Paula Riturban: How are you?
Isla Riturban: *baby babble*
Lois Paula: With any kind of abnormality in pregnancies, the parents automatically––most especially, the moms––they question, “What did I do?”
Emirick Haro: Exactly.
Mariel Gutierrez: Yes. Yes.
Lois Paula: But again, to just know that, “Okay, it’s okay because this is what God gave me and He chose us to carry this, He can carry it for us as well.”
Mariel: Parenting isn’t easy. It’s challenging and frustrating, but it’s also rewarding and inspiring…we just need a few reminders. Hey parents, you’re not alone. Let’s do this parenting thing together. I’m Mariel Gutierrez.
Emirick: And I’m Emirick Haro, we are the Tired BUT inspired moms and you’re listening to the Faith and Family podcast, a Christian family community that aims to promote Christian values for every phase of your family life.
Mariel: Those first few swells of the heartbeat through a stethoscope; you wait 12 weeks for a confirmation after taking that pregnancy test, right? And ta-da! You’re pregnant. That confirmation can fill any parent––any mom––with excitement, fear, and maybe a few concerns.
Emirick: I heard that sound three times in my life and there are no words to describe the emotions.
Mariel: Three times, “You’re pregnant!” Three times?
Emirick: Three times!
Mariel: Right. You go through the motions and you hope––you’re just filled with all of these hopes, all at once, right? You’re imagining everything. And so is everyone else around you. They’re always hoping––or they’re saying things like, “Oh, I hope it’s a girl!”, “I hope it’s a boy!” And you, of course, have these dreams and hopes for the baby right away. At the same time, you’re immediately aware of all the things that can come up and can go wrong, right? Thanks Google, thanks WebMD.
Emirick: Yup, I know what you mean. You totally start planning and dreaming. But ultimately, you just hope and pray that your baby comes out healthy and happy.
Mariel: Right. So, what happens when your fears become warranted during pregnancy? What happens when you learn something isn’t “status quo” with your baby? How do you keep moving forward? Can life still be normal?
Emirick: Joining us in our conversation today is Lois Paula Riturban. When she was 18 weeks pregnant with her 2nd child, Isla, she learned her baby girl would have to battle Congenital Heart Disease. A disease that would put Isla at risk in any stage of her life. The doctors prepared Lois and her husband for all the worst-case scenarios, and while it’s been challenging and heartbreaking they’re thankful for the silver linings, answered prayers, and life lessons.
Mar: And she’s on with us right now, Hi Lois Paula.
Lois Paula: Hi, Mar! Hello, Emirick! Thanks for having me!
Emirick: Thanks for finding the time. I mean, you work full time from home, right?
Lois Paula: Yes, that is correct.
Emirick: And in the meantime, you’re helping your oldest son, Ryder, with school. Is he in distance learning right now?
Lois Paula: He is! He’s in virtual kindergarten. So, we’re learning how to kindergarten from home.
Emirick: And you’re caring for baby Isla while your husband, Glenn, is back to work at the office, right?
Lois Paula: Yes, that’s correct. Glenn, thankfully, is approved to actually work remote––or from home––like many of us are these days, a few days of the week. So, it definitely helps my sanity as our five-year-old learns how to kindergarten, like I mentioned. Isla’s just as high-spirited––she’s almost a toddler, so she’s kind of getting into that zone. My sister actually calls her a sour patch because she can be really super sweet on the inside but definitely a little sour sometimes, a little sassy. Some people call it spicy, whatever you want to call it––she’s a fighter.
Emirick: Why do you think Isla’s such a feisty little girl?
Lois Paula: Well, just as mentioned earlier, when I was 18 weeks pregnant, my husband and I were told that our baby girl has Congenital Heart Disease. Even as a fetus, she fought just to grow. We were told to prepare for a long road ahead. Every heart defect––so, just as a simple background for Congenital Heart Disease, or heart defects––every heart’s different; every defect’s different; every person or child or baby’s different, so she could need one surgery, is what we were told. We also were told she could need three or that she could need a heart transplant later on. So, we were told that surgery and medication could help but there really is no cure; that fixes would be there but they would only just help prolong the function of her heart. So, there were definitely uncertainties, to say the least, but they knew for sure that she would need operations. When? We were just told, “Okay, well we’ll see.”
Mariel & Emirick: Wow.
Lois Paula: So, of course, all this waiting and anticipation––when you’re pregnant, it’s just a bunch of waiting, because you go through this nesting period being pregnant, you go through, “Okay, I’m going to pick a name. We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that, prepare our house.” And then, you could just kind of wait. The first thing that we did after learning––after sitting down with the doctor––right after leaving the hospital, we went straight to the chapel and we prayed. That was the only thing that we knew––we didn’t know anything else––but we knew that we needed to go to the chapel to talk to God and to seek guidance from the ministers. So, that in itself, was like, “Okay, day 1: let’s get through this.” And then, from there, of course we were told all this guidance from the physicians, we were introduced to all of these communities of heart moms and heart parents and Congenital Heart Disease this and that. There’s a rabbit hole of research that anyone can go through but there were also inspiring stories of conquering and overcoming it. And above all, there was guidance from our spiritual leaders, telling us to trust. And that, in itself––that was, of course, the biggest thing that we could lean on.
Mariel: What were your prayers like leading up to the birth?
Lois Paula: Oh, man…our prayers were simple. Whatever the outcome was, we just prayed that we’d have peace in our hearts to understand whatever it is that we needed to do for the situation. And peace in our hearts, clarity of our mind, and just the strength to move forward. And really, to just love God even harder, no matter what our everyday life would become because we had no clue but we knew, at the end of the day, we needed to love God above all, regardless of what we were given or what was taken from us.
Mariel: You know, that’s like a really brave prayer, to be okay with the outcome; to have peace with whatever God decides. It’s a beautiful prayer. It sounds simple but I bet it took a lot of courage to get there.
Emirick: So, I’m going to ask you now about the day she was born. Okay? I’m curious because as we’re following this story––so, you’re told at 18 months that––18 months? Sorry. 18 weeks!
Mariel: What is she? An elephant?
Lois Paula: Can you imagine being pregnant for 18 months?
Emirick: No. No, no, no, no. So, at 18 weeks, you’re told that there’s going to be an issue and that it’s going to be a life-long battle. There might not be a cure––or there is no cure, they’re telling you that and all that. So, I’m just curious, what happened the day she was born?
Lois Paula: Different from normal pregnancies, instead of just one or two physicians being in there, there was a team of about 20 in there.
Mariel & Emirick: Oh, wow.
Lois Paula: It was awkward but they were ready. The hospital staff were ready with the NICU team, the specialty team, the cardiac team––they were all there, supporting this birth and this moment, which was very humbling. And so, she was born––thank God––on June 11th. And within minutes of her being born, of course, they had to just really quickly take her to the side table, do some self checks. But they wrapped her up and after that moment, what is it that you remember, guys? After they kind of clean the baby up, they give them back to you, right?
Mariel & Emirick: Yeah. Skin to skin.
Lois Paula: The moment––yeah––that every mom dreams of; every parent dreams of. They had her bundled up and they leaned over to say, “I just wanted to show you your daughter but we have to take her away now.” She was blue, so her face––all we saw, of course, was her face––but her face was blue because she wasn’t receiving enough oxygen. That’s what happens when the heart isn’t functioning properly. It cannot pump––it’s not strong enough to pump blood throughout your entire body, to go to the lungs and kind of be received by the entire body. So, she was turning blue so I was like, “Thank you so much. Hi, baby! Okay, go ahead! Take her, take her, take her! Go ahead, do what you need to do! Save her!”
Mariel: “Save her life!”
Lois Paula: Then, of course, we just said our silent prayers really quick. And then, that was that and then, we kind of just waited. She was with the NICU staff and days after that, her breathing function, her oxygen saturation, started slowly going down. And then, on her 15th day of life, she received her first open-heart surgery. If you think about how large a heart is, if you guys take out your thumb and you look at your fingernail, a baby’s heart is smaller than that.
Mariel & Emirick: Wow!
Lois Paula: It’s the size of a walnut, supposedly. So they operate on that tiny little thing, so we were like, “Okay…” Then, the time came, they said, “Okay. Would you like to walk with us?” Like, “Okay…where are we going?” And so, they wheeled her down the hall and we followed right behind the physicians. We wheeled around a few corners and of course, our bodies are trembling. We were holding each other’s hands tightly and we were praying. And then, we stood there as they wheeled her off and the door swung closed and I can’t…that moment of surrender…just…I just…I collapsed in the hallway, just not knowing what the next hour or so would look like. We were told the surgery would be seven hours. That’s just one case. In other cases, it could be longer or shorter.
Emirick: Were the doctors positive? Were they always like, “Everything’s going to be okay,” or––?
Lois Paula: They were positive that she would have some kind of surgery. What they were not positive on was what type of surgery and what the outcome would be. So, we were told to prepare for two scenarios. One scenario being she would have what’s called an arterial switch and it would be this one procedure that she would be fixed and unless something happens down the line––patches are loosened, leaky valves, whatever the case may be––then she should be good to go. Second scenario was if things didn’t––the surgeon told us if things didn’t work out well in the operating room, they would have to go to a plan b, wherein they would find a temporary fix and would be, for sure, scheduling the next open heart surgery and possibly, one or two more after that. So, we’d be looking at a line of surgeries every year after her birth.
Lois Paula: We were waiting in the waiting room. We see other parents there among us. They’re holding their breath every time a surgeon walks in. We were praying and finally, the assistant surgeon pops in. We’re like, “This is it.” Then, he leaves.
Mariel & Emirick: No!
Lois Paula: “Were you just checking that we were there?” …something’s wrong?” Of course, your mind goes crazy. “There’s a complication!” “Something’s happening!” Eventually, he came out. He did explain that it took longer because of X, Y, and Z complications but…she was okay and the surgery was successful. In her recovery room, our first steps to see her, there’s tubes everywhere, there’s monitors beeping––there’s just a bunch of medical devices everywhere that’s it’s just––it’s so much to take in. You just look at her and you just physically see her heart beating out of her chest. It’s an insanely beautiful, humbling moment that we were able to see that; to just know that this is the creation of God. And it is Him who’s allowing this to happen and her heart is beating because of Him. And she looks like this but it’s okay because it’s beating.
Emirick: I was reading your blog and it was very touching and informative. You mentioned how, in the beginning, you did keep silent, hoping that you could hold onto a sense of normal, right, having difficulty facing the situation? And it kind of touched a chord with me because I have a son who’s different and it wasn’t something I could have ever planned for. And in the beginning of my experience with my son, I just wanted it to be normal. And I didn’t know how to face it. I just wanted it to go away. I wanted my vision of what everything should be like to happen. And so, when I was reading that, I identified with your feeling, with that emotion. But then, you talked about how your perspective changed in a way to help you embrace this experience. And actually, you called it a beautiful experience. There are a lot of people in the world who, when they’re faced with this kind of different experience, they get angry and there’s that entitlement. Like, “If life isn’t the way I expected it, then I’m angry with God.” But you took a totally different perspective. What changed that perspective in you? Where did you go, from trying to keep it quiet, trying to hold onto that old normal to now, embracing this?
Lois Paula: That’s such a great question. I think it took many, many prayers. And even now, it’s that constant struggle to be present and to know that there is a purpose in everything; that we can’t just take it at face-value and be kind of left in the slums with what we have. But there’s this greater responsibility, as children of God, to do something and to say something, and to make known how amazing His miracles are in our life, whether it’s big or small, whether it’s the birth of a child, whether it’s the birth of your sixth child, whatever it may be, it’s a blessing because, the way that I saw it, it was like, “Wow. He chose me? He chose us?”
Lois Paula: Who are we to have to undergo this? And although it’s difficult, He sees something in us, to be able to take it and to grow stronger from it. And then, not be selfish and not keep quiet, but to use it. And so, until this day, I’m finding the courage to be positive about it and to look back and know that she is special. That every child and every person with, whether it’s a medical condition or a disability or anything of the sort, that goes against or is different from the normal of what we all know, that it is special and there’s a story to be told, and a responsibility to share, again, of how God has worked through that.
Throughout the first month of her life, we’re so grateful because we were guided to always update the Church Administration and to write to our Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo. And that in itself was just a very, very humbling opportunity, to just let him know how our daughter was and how the ministers that are guiding us are helping us get through it. They would visit regularly to anoint her with oil and to pray for her every step.
Mariel: For all of those who are listening, anointing of oil is important for us members of the Church Of Christ because it’s a command from the Bible that when we are sick, we call on the elders who are the officers of the Church Of Christ to pray for us and anoint us with oil.
Emirick: So, what is life like today with your one-year-old daughter? 16 months later, right?
Lois Paula: Yes, 16 months later.
Emirick: What’s going on?
Lois Paula: Isla is so high-spirited. She’s as normal as a one-year-old can act. But to us, she will always be special. We don’t want to think of it like it’s something that is a disability to her but at the same time, I want to remember it and cherish it like she is this warrior. That’s why in the community of CHD, the moms call their kids “heart warriors” because they fought at the onset of being created and born and they’re still fighting every day. It’s this constant thing that the families of those with these conditions undergo. But it’s a blessing. She’s amazing, she’s feisty. She’s a beautiful one-year-old, living life and being a daily reminder of how blessed we are.
Mariel: You have a miracle that probably eats Cheerios
Lois Paula: And she eats my arms. I’m just kidding.
Mariel: You have a toddler essentially now, right?
Emirick: She’s walking, talking, all that great stuff, already?
Lois Paula: Ah, she’s dancing, yelling, screaming. I’m just kidding. That’s why she’s a sour patch!
Mariel: Wow, it sounds like she’s really good at being one.
Lois Paula: Almost at two, she’s almost there. I’m just kidding. But no, we’re grateful. All the moms can attest that it’s just a beautiful journey and sometimes, it’s not what we expect but it’s special nonetheless.
Mariel: Right. That’s like the literal, I guess, manifestation of taking things day by day, right?
Emirick: Yeah, totally. And just being optimistic and surrendering to God and the situation that you’ve been blessed with. And to see it as a blessing. Right?
Mariel: Right. That is beautiful.
Mariel: Me too. And I love her name, too––Isla. That’s kind of like half way through “I love you”. I like that!
Lois Paula: The way that I think about it, she’s my mini-me. So, my name, Lois Paula––the last two letters of Lois, I-S; Paula, L-A––is iz-lah or eye-lah.
Lois Paula: She’s my mini-me! Isla!
Mariel: Ohhhh…and that’s why she’s so feisty! See?
Lois Paula: She’s emotional. Just kidding!
Mariel: Yeah, I know. I love it. It’s such a beautiful story. I wanted to thank you again for sharing it with us. But what I do want to ask now––of course, we know there are parents and moms that are probably going through something scary now, through either pregnancy, maybe a little after their pregnancy, maybe they just learned that their baby is going to have to live with a few challenges. What would you tell them? What would your advice to them be?
Lois Paula: One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned, and for any parent who has to undergo anything like this––God forbid––is that God’s our best friend. People might leave, our children may age, we have our spouses to tag team with but at the end of the day, the one who will always understand us and that we can speak to endlessly, and cry to endlessly without any regard or reservation, is God. It’s God. And He’ll be there. So, He’s our best friend.
Mariel: Totally. I feel like that’s liberating too, when you welcome that acceptance into your life, that it’s not on you. Because God can, obviously, carry so much more for you. So, it’s kind of like, “Well, it’s not all on me to fix, to solve or to anything.”
Emirick: You feel lighter.
Mariel: Totally. It’s liberating.
Lois Paula: And the big thing, actually, with any kind of abnormality in pregnancies is the parents automatically––most especially the moms––they question, “What did I do?”
Mariel: Yes. Yes.
Lois Paula: Because it’s something coming from our bodies, it’s just a human instinct to question, “What did I do wrong? Where did I––did I eat the wrong foods? Did I run too fast? Did I not sleep right?” Anything. We will question ourselves because we’re caring. It’s just our nature. But again, to just know that, “Okay, it’s okay because this is what God gave me and He chose us to carry this.” And you mentioned, He can carry it for us as well.
Mariel: It’s so much easier when He does.
Emirick: That is the greatest advice.
Mariel: I agree.
Emirick: And if we can adjust our mind and our perspective to that, it does, it becomes liberating and it becomes purposeful, and you just keep going bravely. So, thank you for sharing that advice with us.
Mariel: I’m excited. I’m really excited to watch Isla grow. I am. For her to grow into her purpose as well and learn about her journey, the more she’ll understand it in the future. I’m super excited about that part. But of course, both Isla and Ryder are very blessed to have you and Glenn. And I want to thank you again, Lois, for sharing your story with us. I know it couldn’t have been easy to have to go back and relive some of that stuff. So, we appreciate you. So, thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that.
Lois Paula: Thank you. Thank you for the platform and for the open hearts to just have this community of tired but inspired moms, to keep going and to move us forward. So, thank you guys.
Emirick: You are proof that we mamas can do it. We may have to cry it out sometimes, maybe even second-guess ourselves, like what you were saying, but with prayer, we’ll all get through it.
Mariel & Lois Paula: Yes.
Mariel: So, thanks for listening to this episode of Faith and Family. If you’re enjoying listening to us talk, laugh, cry, build each other up, you can download more on Google Podcast, iHeart Radio and Apple Podcast under Faith and Family. Please leave us a review, just say “hi”. And everyone, please take care and stay safe.