First, we apologize for not posting in the last week. Actually, I apologize, Susan has been encouraging me to post since we got back from Philadelphia.
In the past week and a half, I've been asked quite frequently how we're doing, and then specifically how Susan is doing. No one seems to believe me when I say that we're doing fine. It was disappointing not to be able to participate in the MOMS trial, but it does no good for us to dwell on that.
I never did explain what happened and how we reached the decision to enroll in the trial before we found out that we were not eligible. On Friday, we left CHOP impressed with the doctors and hopeful for the benefits that might accompany the surgery. The obstetrician we met with suggested that there was a possibility, based on CHOP's experience with the prenatal surgeries at CHOP before the study that Whitney could show a two level improvement. In other words, the effects of her spina bifida on her lower limbs would be like someone with a spinal lesion at the fifth lumbar vertebrae instead of the third (which is where Whitney's lesion is). Practically speaking that's the difference between walking until puberty with full leg braces and in a wheelchair thereafter to walking for her entire life with ankle braces. That said, we were very concerned about the possibility that if we had the surgery, Whitney could be born extremely premature. CHOP had carefully explained all the risks associated with prematurity, and they are exceedingly frightening. As an aside, I now have an immense sympathy for parents whose babies are born before the 30th week.
We spent much of the day Saturday intentionally not talking about the surgery because we both needed time to process the information we received. For those of you who don't know us well, Susan and I process information differently. I tend to be more logical and reach a decision faster (although I am more prone to change my mind) while Susan tends to ponder things over a longer peroid and then reach a firm decision. Susan and I agonized over whether we could handle opting into the study and then losing Whitney or causing her even more severe problems. More generally, we wrestled with whether it was God's will for us and Whitney to participate in the study.
To fathom God's will in a situation like this was not easy--we were considering an elective surgical procedure that could kill Whitney to improve her life. It's a little easier to accept the risk of a fatal surgical outcome, I think, when the surgery is life-saving or life-lenthening and the alternative is death. Susan and I prayed and sought the advice from friends who are ministers and doctors. They told us that ultimately, we were doing what the Lord requires of us, that we seek His guidance in prayer, search the Scriptures for normative principles, and use the intellect He has given us to gather all the possible relevant information. We concluded that we were considering the surgery for the right reason, improving Whitney's quality of life; that we were not taking unnecessary or unconsidered risks; and that we were not acting contrary to God's Word or our own consciences. Ultimately, there was no "right" answer--we could have the surgery or not have the surgery without our consciences condemning us.
The hardest issue to consider was "what if Whitney dies?" Spina bifida is not typically lethal during infancy (or childhood for that matter). Would Whitney's death be a sign of God's punishment on us for making the wrong decision? How could we live with ourselves/maintain a belief in a just God if Whitney died? We reasoned that God is a just God--He does not punish us for doing things that He has not warned us are wrong. Nothing in Scripture or our consciences suggested that the surgery was morally wrong. If Whitney died as a result of the surgery, it would not be God's punishment. God also promises us that He will not give us more than we can bear, a blessing we had been experiencing ever since learning of Whitney's diagnosis and earlier when Susan's mom passed away. We decided that we could be confident that no matter what happened, God would provide for us and use whatever happened for the good of our salvation.
So then, we were left with making a decision. Susan and I concluded that we were inclined to opt into the MOMS trial. We decided to sleep on the decision and if we still felt comfortable with it in the morning, we would opt in. We prayed on Sunday night that if the Lord did not want us to proceed with MOMS, that he would not give us peace with the decision. We woke up on Monday with continued concerns but without any uneasiness about the surgery.
Of course, little did we know that 12 hours later, we would find out that the Lord had already determined at least as of Thursday that we would not participate in the trial. We were admittedly a little upset that the Lord had allowed us to go through the angst of reaching a decision about the study. But looking back, Susan and I are still thankful that God clearly revealed His will for us. We don't understand why He allowed us to go to Philadephia and agonize over whether to participate in MOMS, but we are content that He is the sovereign God, we're not.
In the end, going to Philadelphia has been a blessing. The doctors at CHOP explained Whitney's condition in far more specific and helpful ways than anyone else we have met with. They were willing to give prognoses and make predictions that allow us to appropriately set our expectations. For example, the pediatric neurosurgeon at CHOP told us that it is virtually certain that Whitney will need a shunt shortly after birth because her ventricles are already significantly enlarged. We got to experience the hospitality of the Ronald McDonald House. And we got to wrestle with a very difficult decision and learned how to apply a biblical decision-making process.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that Susan and I are happy to be home, and we're at peace with the result of our trip to Philadelphia and with Whitney's spina bifida. Sorry for the stream-of-consciousness post. I'll try to be more succinct next time.