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Brielle’s birth story

November 1, 2014


They say every child is a miracle. That’s certainly true of Brielle, and it’s been shown to us over and over again. Like her conception three months after my second miscarriage. And when I went to the hospital in extreme pain the day I found out I was pregnant, was told I had an ectopic pregnancy and they would be doing a surgery to remove my ovary, but the pain turned out just to be a kidney stone. And the miracles continued through her birth, and what happened afterward. Here is her story:

On my due date, August 23rd, I was excessively exhausted and felt a little funny. I had a feeling that something might happen soon. The next day I started to have a few contractions, spaced throughout the day, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in a meeting for work, at 6:00pm, that the contractions started to come regularly. About every five minutes, actually, but not at all painful yet. As they got a bit more intense, though, I remember thinking, “I hope my water doesn’t break in front of this entire room of people.” Fortunately, it didn’t–but it broke half an hour after I got out of the meeting, at home in the bathtub. At that point, we knew we were going to have a baby in the next 24 hours.

photo (3)

The last pregnancy photo taken of me at 39 weeks.

John and I had taken the Bradley classes to train for a natural childbirth, so for the next eight hours, I labored at home. The contractions were painful, yes, but the worst part was actually just the exhaustion of laboring overnight. Finally, it was time to go to the hospital. When we arrived, however, we discovered that our little one was breech, and I would be having an immediate c-section. I was scared and a little disappointed, but secretly also a bit relieved because I knew it meant the pain of the contractions was over!

At 4:48am, Brielle was born, with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck twice (likely the reason she was breech). I could hear her crying and felt so relieved that she was okay. John took pictures and videos to show me while they cleaned her up, and stitched me up. Finally, they brought her over to me, and I was able to see her, just for 30 seconds. She was making these funny little noises, and I asked the nurse why. She told me that c-section babies just have a bit of fluid in their lungs, so they were going to take her to suction her lungs, and they would bring her to our room when they were finished. So they whisked her away while they finished my surgery, then wheeled me to a recovery room.

Taken right before the nurses took her away. After the fact, we noticed that blueness of her hands in this photo.

Taken right before the nurses took her away. After the fact, we noticed that blueness of her hands in this photo.

Even though they were taking a while with Brielle, I didn’t think much of it, but then a doctor came in. She explained that Brielle was okay, but that they had run into some complications. Even though Brielle’s apgar scores were great, and she was breathing just fine when she was crying, shortly after they took her away she began to show signs of respiratory distress. They attempted to resuscitate her with oxygen, but when that didn’t work, they tried to pass air tubes down her nose to her lungs. The tubes hit a dead end. Turns out that Brielle had a rare condition called choanal atresia, which meant that there was a wall of membrane/bone at the end of her nasal canal, so that it never connected with the passage to the lungs. Since babies are obligate nose breathers (except when crying), that meant Brielle couldn’t breathe on her own. Also, in the scramble to resuscitate her, or in her attempts to get oxygen, part of her lungs collapsed. They were able to stabilize her by putting a breathing tube down her throat to her lungs, and even with the collapsed portions of her lungs, Brielle’s oxygen was able to stay at 100%.

The doctor explained that Brielle’s condition called for surgery, and that she would need a team of experts not available at WakeMed Cary, so they would need to transfer her to UNC hospital 30 miles away. We of course agreed without hesitation, even though this meant I would be separated from Brielle. (Insurance would not cover transferring me to UNC because they deemed it elective.) Hours later, they brought Brielle by my room, all tubed up and contained in the unit she would be airlifted in, and we were able to spend 5 minutes with her. And then they took her away.

Our first family photo. Not quite what we thought it would look like!

Our first family photo. Not quite what we thought it would look like!

For two days I had to stay at WakeMed Cary recovering, while John drove back and forth to visit Brielle. Finally, I was released and able to go see our daughter. I was excited to visit her, but seeing her in the NICU, with the tubes all attached, actually broke my heart all over again. She would gag on the airway tube and try to cry, but couldn’t make any sounds because of the tubes. I developed a very strong hatred for the airway tube and was counting down the days until her surgery.

intubated Brielle

In the NICU at UNC

My first time holding Brielle

My first time holding Brielle

Brielle's world for the first week of her life.

Brielle’s world for the first week of her life.

Brielle’s surgery was scheduled for 5 days after her birth because there was no room in the surgeon’s schedule before then. The day of her surgery finally came, and almost my entire family came to the hospital to support us. Watching Brielle be wheeled down to surgery was, and is, one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I was afraid of her going under anesthesia, I was afraid of the surgery itself, I was afraid of losing her. The surgery went smoothly and quickly, though, and the nurses were able to remove Brielle’s breathing tube the very next day. She started breathing immediately, and was able to take a bottle and begin to breastfeed.

Brielle's first day breathing on her own!

Brielle’s first day breathing on her own!

Brielle had to stay at the hospital for five more days in order to be monitored, especially to make sure that she was able to manage breathing and eating at the same time without dropping her oxygen levels. John had to go back to work, but I would drive to UNC and spend all day there, feeding Brielle, holding her, reading to her, and then John would join us in the evening. For the last two nights at the hospital, we were able to stay in a family room with Brielle, which allowed us to essentially “practice” being at home but with the safety of Brielle being monitored. At last, the big day came and we were able to take our little girl home. That’s when we finally felt like we were able to begin normal life as new parents!


Brielle had to have two additional procedures in the weeks after to clear out scar tissue and stretch the new openings in her nasal canal, but otherwise, she is a perfectly healthy little baby! Her surgeon told me just a few days ago that she had never personally treated a patient with bilateral choanal atresia that didn’t have the CHARGE syndrome (a condition that comes with a host of other congenital abnormalities, affecting the ears, eyes, kidneys, heart, development, etc.) Another example of the little miracle Brielle is.

We chose Brielle’s name before she was born, and it means “strength of God.” Over and over, the doctors and nurses commented on Brielle’s strength and told us what a little fighter she was. We are so, so grateful to the medical professionals who acted quickly, professionally, and skillfully to save Brielle’s life and allow her to come home with us! And we are so grateful to finally have the chance to become parents.






Brielle on a quilt made from my dad's shirts.

Brielle on a quilt made from my dad’s shirts.


Photos by Lindsey Laughlin at

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Diane Romkema permalink
    November 1, 2014 2:15 am

    You have a very special little girl.. Thank you for sharing, we are looking forward to meeting her..

  2. Carol permalink
    November 3, 2014 12:31 am

    What an incredible story…captured so beautifully in words and photos! Thank you for sharing it! We are so very excited to see all of you at Christmas… At least Grandma said you are coming! 🙂 You will have to let us know what size Brielle is now so we can go gift shopping for her before you come! 🙂

  3. C.B. Anderson permalink
    November 11, 2014 8:14 pm

    This is such a beautiful story, Elena! Brings me to tears. The Lord has been gracious and faithful indeed!

  4. Jessica Bullock permalink
    November 15, 2014 9:16 pm

    Brielle’s story is inspiring. What a miracle baby!! As the parent of a baby who has spent significant hospital time, I know how difficult it is and how many emotions there are. Well done, you guys, in caring for her and being exactly the parents she needs.

  5. Shannon Martin permalink
    January 9, 2018 2:13 pm

    Hi there,

    Just came across this blog now. We have a daughter born with sand condition , no CHARGE. I just wanted to see how things are going for your daughter now. Our daughter had two surgeries as a baby, but the scar tissue closed most of it up again. So now she is 9 and we are considering doing another surgery.

    Anyway, ill spare details/questions for now.


    • January 14, 2018 1:30 am

      Hi Shannon, Thanks for your comment. How amazing to hear that your daughter had the same condition! As I’m sure you know, it sounds like it’s extremely rare to have bilateral choanal atresia without the CHARGE syndrome–Brielle’s ENT said to me “I tell all of my students about your daughter, and I always will, just to show that it CAN happen.” Brielle is 3.5 now and doing great. She doesn’t seem to have any breathing problems at all, but she hasn’t actually been checked since she was 18 months old. Her doctor didn’t seem to think there would be any future problems, but said if we wanted we could have her checked when she gets older. It’s actually helpful, though discouraging, to know that your daughter’s scar tissue closed most of her nasal openings, and makes me feel like we should definitely get Brielle checked in the future. Feel free to send me an email if you have more questions/comments– I actually don’t write on this blog anymore (as I’m sure you can see!) but I’m glad you found my story. I couldn’t find any other parents or stories in our situation when we were going through it.

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