The J.P. Story: Joyous birth

J.P. is born

Dad’s note: In honor of J.P.’s 12th birthday, I’m writing “The J.P. Story,” which looks back at our journey through birth and now approaching teen-hood. I hope you enjoy. The third chapter looks at the birth of what many called our miracle baby. To start at the beginning of the story, click here.

Birth announcement

The birth of J.P. Cousins makes the DeLand newspaper.

Paige and I had spent three days at Florida Hospital-Orlando. She had endured 38 hours of labor before the call was made for a C-section.

Everything had gone smoothly until minutes before the move to the delivery room when J.P.’s heartbeat began to falter. Alarms went off, and the nurses and other hospital staff switched into high gear and got us to the procedure quickly.

I was situated at Paige’s side while the doctors, assistants and other hospital staff were at Paige’s lower body on the other side of a small curtain to keep things sterile. I could see over the curtain and hear the doctors asking for all those things you hear on TV, “Scalpel, sponge, etc.”

It’s not so much what I was hearing at that point as it was the tone of voice, and I was happy that everything seemed calm. The neonatal intensive care unit nurses were also there waiting for J.P. to be born.

I felt like Paige’s cheerleader and coach. I whispered positive thoughts to her and we prayed. It was an emotional time, and we had no idea what to expect in the coming minutes. We were both looking for some sign — someone or something that would tell us everything would be OK. We decided that we just wanted to hear J.P.’s voice and asked God for that.

It had been such a trying time: From the failed pregnancies, ultrasounds and diagnosis, to the push to terminate our baby’s life and the long labor — we were ready for a break.

That’s when it happened: The doctor announced our boy had been born, and the sound of J.P.’s cries emanated through the delivery room.

Tears instantly filled our eyes, and we knew it was an answered prayer. The doctor quickly passed J.P. off to a waiting nurse, and an APGAR score of nine was given. It was a joyous moment and something neither of us expected.

APGAR stand for Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity and Respiration. It’s the first thing done at any hospital birth, and the top score is 10, so nine is pretty incredible for a baby like J.P.

The NICU nurses took J.P. for a complete assessment, and the tears continued to flow.

Wealth of support

Family and friends gather for a photo just after hearing of J.P.’s birth.

Meanwhile, the waiting room in the hospital’s labor and delivery unit was packed with all the people who had been waiting for two days for J.P.’s birth. Members of MYAM who weren’t even in our home group were there with our family. I believe it was one of the hospital staff members who told me I needed to go update them on the news.

It was the happiest and proudest moment of my life to share what had just happened. I remember walking into the waiting room, and the room was silenced. They had no idea whether J.P. was even alive at that point. Every eye was trained on me waiting to learn his fate.

I don’t recall the exact words I used, but I believe it was something to the effect of it being a miracle, his APGAR score of nine and that a full assessment was underway in the NICU.

It's official

J.P. with a nurse in the newborn nursery at Florida Hospital-Orlando.

While smartphones weren’t around at the time, cellphones were, and everyone started making calls. Matt West quickly updated the J.P. Hotline, and JP.com was established on the website of another couple, Jason and Karin Dewey. Karin became the photographer of the night.

There were hugs, more tears, prayers and praise, and even more people began arriving at the hospital.

I returned to the delivery room to check on Paige and found our wonderful nurse there doing paperwork and saw that even she had been shedding tears of joy. She apologized, and I told her there was no need for that.

Paige was still there, and we smiled at each other. I asked where J.P. was and learned he had been moved to the newborn nursery with the healthy babies. I was simply amazed.

J.P. after birth

One of the first photos of J.P. Cousins after his birth at Florida Hospital-Orlando.

All the people in the waiting room who at first just wanted to know how Paige and J.P. were now wanted to see my wife and baby. The grandparents got the first chance followed by other family and our MYAM home group.

I think it hit me about this time that we really had not prepared for anything beyond that moment. I would need to learn how to care for this miracle baby, how to change diapers and how to feed him. Was I ready for that? We had nothing at home for him. I put it out of my mind and knew God would take care of it after getting us that far.

I headed to the nursery to see J.P. while Paige visited with her parents. I showed J.P. to my mother through the glass of the nursery and she smiled. Others from the waiting room came to see our boy through the glass and take pictures.

J.P. was then taken back to Paige and I in our hospital room. He was doing very well, and the epic labor process was catching up with us.

There was a bit of resentment I felt to those doctors on the other side of town who told us to terminate the pregnancy. I wanted to call them up at that point and tell them they got it wrong, and he had scored an APGAR of nine.

I thought about J.P.’s future, going to school, riding a bike, taking him on vacations, a cruise, showing him the world and teaching him to navigate his way through life. I looked forward to long conversations with him as he grew up and decided what kind of career he would want. Would he follow in my footsteps into broadcast journalism? Who knew.

Proud father

Smiles abound after J.P.’s birth.

It was definitely a night to remember, with so many tears of joy and elation at the incredible delivery.

It all reminded me of a card and gift I got shortly before J.P. was born.

“Little boy, to welcome you, the world is washed in shades of blue. Bluebirds, blue moon, blue stones and shells, blue wishing stars, blue fish, blue bells, the deep blue seas, the blue, blue sky. Little one, sweet son! Oh boy, Oh my!”

Paige and I were on top of the world, but a new day was about to dawn that would bring us back to the cruel thing we call reality.

The J.P. Story: Waiting game begins

The J.P. Story

Dad’s note: In honor of J.P.’s 12th birthday, I’m writing “The J.P. Story,” which looks back at our journey through birth and now approaching teen-hood. I hope you enjoy. The second chapter looks at life before the trip to the delivery room. To read the first chapter, click here.

I admit the trip to the hospital on Aug. 28 was met with more trepidation than excitement.

Paige and I both had seen over the course of our pregnancy that J.P. was doing just fine in the womb, but what would happen when he had to live on his own?

We packed our bags and loaded up the car knowing J.P. might not ever come home. There was no nursery, no infant car seat, no baby shower and no baby clothes — except one outfit in case there was a need for burial.

Everything was in God’s hands, and we were simply following instructions.

So far, the doctors had told us J.P. had holoprosencephaly, but even that has degrees of severity. Some kids can have the brain malformation and still walk and talk. Others are mentally and physically handicapped. Some require oxygen to survive and others die at or before birth.

We had decided this was in God’s hands, and we were waiting to see what God had in store for our son.

But we weren’t the only ones who were anxious to see what was going to happen. Our parents and siblings were also there for us, as well as our home group through Married Young Adult Ministry at Northland Church in Longwood.

They were doing everything they could and more to be there to provide whatever support was needed during and after the birth.

Remember: The Internet was still in its infancy in 2002, and the leaders of our home group, Matt and Kelly West, had decided to begin the J.P. Hotline to provide updates while we were hospitalized.

Word of our challenging pregnancy had spread through the megachurch and many were calling to find out how J.P., Paige and I were doing. God was providing ample support for us through the birthing process.

When we arrived at the hospital Wednesday night, we were quickly shown to our room in the second-floor labor-and-delivery unit and told our nurse the story of the pregnancy. She was moved and surprised by the number of people who had accompanied us that night.

In my mind, I was thinking that we would have a little boy sometime in the early-morning hours and know what God’s plans were soon. That was a foolish assumption.

I wasn’t the only one thinking that. The J.P. Hotline was getting lots of calls, but Matt had little to tell people — just that we were waiting.

Paige had her IV established, J.P.’s heart rate was fine, but the labor process was going nowhere fast.

The nurse who checked us in had to leave, and we had a new nurse. I remember her saying something like she couldn’t wait to see the baby when she came back the next night, so when she came back the next night and we were still in the same place, she was a bit shocked.

The calls kept coming to the J.P. Hotline, and Matt faithfully kept answering them, and we began asking for prayers to move the process along.

A group of members from our home group even began meeting in the chapel for fervent prayer. However, there was still that bit of Paige and I that felt we were in no hurry to come to the crossroads and have to deal with the implications when J.P. entered the real world.

Things began to change on Friday, and not in a good way.

Our neonatologist, Dr. Franklin Christensen, was growing concerned about Paige and her stamina to deliver J.P. by conventional means. She was pretty wiped out after more than 30 hours of labor.

Christensen decided it was time for a C-section, and as the procedure was being planned, our nurse — the wonderful one from our first night — saw J.P.’s heart rate began to drop and things from there moved in a flash.

The J.P. Hotline was quickly updated by Matt, and the waiting room began filling up with family and MYAM members. I can say with certainty that God was being flooded with prayers for a successful delivery.

I gowned up and headed to the procedure to comfort Paige. I told her I loved her no matter what happened and held her hand as the C-section was performed. Nurses from the neonatal intensive care unit were present to take J.P. as soon as he was born.

The incision was made, and again, something happened that nobody in that room could have imagined.

Continue to Chapter 3: Joyous birth

 

The J.P. Story: Uncertainty before birth

Baby J.P.

Dad’s note: In honor of J.P.’s 12th birthday, I’m beginning “The J.P. Story,” which looks back at our journey through birth and now approaching teen-hood. I hope you enjoy. The first chapter looks at life before the trip to the delivery room.

It came as no surprise that J.P. would be born with significant challenges.

Paige and I learned with his first ultrasound that our boy’s brain did not form correctly in his very first days in the womb.

The doctors told Paige and I that our child had holoprosencephaly, and we looked at them with a blank look on our faces and said holoprosen-what?

Even in 2002, I remember the first thing I did was attempt to use the Internet to find out exactly what holoprosencephaly was and whether he could live with it.

We knew before we were given the diagnosis that something wasn’t right. We went from the ultrasound to a hospital for an immediate second ultrasound and then a third ultrasound at a children’s hospital.

I’ll never forget what happened at that point. We were told that Paige needed to be immediately admitted because carrying J.P. to term could put her at a significant health risk. They said she needed to be admitted now because the law would only allow the pregnancy to be terminated for a few more days.

I immediately thought back to all we had been through to get to that point.

We had tried several times to have a child without success. We had talked to the doctors who said they found no problem with either Paige or me that would prohibit a good pregnancy. We were simply told to keep trying and everything should be OK.

We were planning to travel to see my sister and her family in Louisiana to get everything we would need for our baby’s arrival, including clothes, a crib, books, etc.

My sister has three children, and we were ready for one and maybe more.

But everything instantly changed.

Instead of preparing for the trip to visit family and celebrate the arrival of the first Cousins’ baby, we were being asked to make an instantaneous decision to terminate him.

As we were being asked whether we wanted to be admitted, I remember the doctor looking at the pictures and saying to me, “For a boy with holoprosencephaly, I see no deformities. That’s unusual. He looks great.”

I admit I was scared. I was being told Paige’s life was at risk. I wasn’t sure why her life was at risk, but I worried about the chance of losing the two people closest to me.

It was probably the scariest moment of my life. I felt lost and pressured, and I wasn’t even a father yet. I didn’t know what to say. Paige told me she felt very similar but more insistent on protecting the baby.

How could we be asked to make such a major decision so quickly? These doctors and nurses were giving no consideration to our baby at all, and that raised big concerns in both of us.

We were touched that Paige’s longtime friend, Kimberly Hansen was already on the way from Jacksonville to comfort her.

We managed to fight our way out of the hospital and began dissecting what we were told. We talked to our church and our loved ones, and I finally got my big question answered.

Despite being told that Paige was putting her health at risk by continuing to carry our child, she was actually not at any greater risk than any other mother carrying a baby.

The doctors only said the risk was greater because the baby wasn’t expected to have any quality of life, so even the normal risk wasn’t worth taking in their eyes. Big difference in my eyes.

We began thinking about the journey ahead. We were told the baby wouldn’t make it to term in all likelihood. If he was born, he may live a few minutes or a few hours.

Our Married Young Adult Ministry group at Northland Church rallied around us and vowed to be there every step of the way.

We decided not to put together a nursery. If we were lucky enough to bring our baby home, we would deal with it after he was born.

We also made a decision that the baby we were calling Peanut would be John Paige, my middle name and my wife’s middle name. He would always be part of us — and we would be part of him — no matter how long he lived.

We also decided he would be called J.P.

The biggest decision we had to make was how to handle the birth. With input from everyone, we decided that we would let God decide what he wanted for J.P.

If God wanted to take him before birth, he would do it. If God wanted J.P. to be born alive, so be it. We vowed to give J.P. every opportunity possible to thrive, and we decided to do it at a hospital that would honor our wishes — Florida Hospital-Orlando.

We found a neonatologist who agreed with our plan and understood our unique situation.

It was just the first step on what we now know is a very special journey with a very special boy.

The doctor appointments, lab tests and ultrasounds became more frequent. We were asked several times to sign do-not-resuscitate orders, and we declined them. That was a decision we struggled with and learned, again, that since we were the parents, the decision could be made at any time.

There were prayers, tears and plenty of soul-searching until the scheduled delivery day came. August 28, 2002, but J.P. had a plan of his own.

Continue to Chapter 2: Waiting game begins

Walkin’ ‘n Rollin’ to support Canine Companions

Karina on duty

To say that the addition of a service dog has changed the lives of J.P., Paige and I would be an understatement.

Earlier this week, Paige said she was at first hesitant about getting one but now wishes she had done it years ago.

As another group of families reaches the halfway point of their team training at Canine Companions for Independence, preparations are underway for this year’s DogFest Walk ‘n Roll to raise funds to get more service dogs to those who need them.

Team J.P. is putting together a group to walk at the Orlando event on Nov. 9 at the University of Central Florida Memory Mall from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Many of you have followed this blog from the beginning when we learned we would be getting a service dog in May.

We were amazed at the dedication of the staff to finding the perfect dog for J.P.’s needs, and equally amazed at how committed the staff was to make sure the recipients and facilitators were prepared to take the dogs home and ready to give them the best chance for success.

Please consider joining Team J.P. in person to walk. Well-behaved pet dogs are also welcome to come. You can read more details by clicking here.

If you can’t make the event, but would like to help change the lives of others with disabilities who need a service dog, click here to make a donation.

I’m sure it will be a tail-waggin’ good time at the event and can’t wait to watch J.P. and Karina give back to an organization that has made such a difference in our lives.

It’s International Assistance Dog Week

Brushing Karina

I feel kind of old tonight. Why, you ask? It’s because there’s a new group of families at Canine Companions for Independence in Orlando this week being matched with assistance dogs.

The timing is impeccable as the group kicked off training as International Assistance Dog Week arrived.

Service dog candidates

These are the dogs being matched at the August 2014 team training at Canine Companions in Orlando.

I remember arriving at Canine Companions for Independence in May with excitement and trepidation about what loomed ahead for J.P., Paige and I. I remember looking at all the dogs the first day and wondering which one would come home with us.

I also remember everything falling apart in the middle of the training and wondering if we would even get a dog.

While it’s only been a short time since Karina came home with us, I am certain we were matched with the perfect dog and remain grateful to the staff at Canine Companions for all the long hours they worked with us and the rest of the families to make sure we went home with the right new members of our families.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but there are some things I would say to those who are embarking on the journey this week:

  • Enjoy the moment: When I arrived at Canine Companions, I thought about it as going to college and having classes and homework. It was instead more like a moment in life I would never forget and treasure for many years to come. I only wish my family had been able to enjoy the full two weeks instead of just one.
  • Trust the trainers: There’s no secret agenda. They’re working to make sure the match is perfect. Even though you may prefer one dog, they’ve spent months getting them ready for these two weeks and reviewing paperwork and the pre-interviews. Give every dog an equal opportunity.
  • Pay attention: I was amazed at how much information was given in the lectures and training exercises. Pay very close attention to the grooming session. You’ll be using what you learn every single day.
  • Avoid test anxiety: The staff wants you to succeed. Don’t get overanxious about the final exam and public assistance test. If you listen in class, ask questions and read the handbook, you’ll do fine.
  • Make friends: Spend time with your fellow classmates. You have a lot in common. Talk to them, learn about what led them to Canine Companions and find out how to stay in touch after team training ends. I wish we could have a reunion with our group.

At the Cousins’ household, we’re still learning new things about Karina each day. Paige is now saying she wishes we had done all of this sooner, but I think it happened at the perfect time and we got the perfect dog.

For those with questions about assistance dogs and International Assistance Dog Week, a friend of ours from team training did a great post in her blog, A New Leash on Life. I highly recommend reading it.

See? Another reason to stay in touch with those who go through this life-changing process with you.

Staycation memories bring smiles

Family photo

The summer staycation ended way too fast, and my sister, Catherine, and my niece, Abbie, are back home in Missouri.

Goodbyes are tough, but the memories made during the visit will have me smiling for weeks to come.

The all-important Great Doughnut Survey was completed, and a quorum determined The Donut King is king in Central Florida, but Go For Donuts’ chocolate pretzel doughnut did get an honorable mention.

Paige's giant salad bowl

Paige’s salad bowl at Cask & Larder.

When it comes to restaurants, Abbie picked Yellow Dog Eats and 4 Rivers Smokehouse as favorite meals during the stay.

I won’t quickly forget the meal I had at the Cask and Larder. It was the best food I’ve had for some time.

But food aside, what was so great about the visit was simply time to enjoy the company of family, and I think family enjoyed the time with J.P. and his new dog.

Catherine got a quick lesson in service dog commands and was able to take Karina out to “hurry” while Paige and I attended to J.P.

Abbie and Catherine quickly learned how to get J.P. loaded in our wheelchair-accessible van for trips all over Central Florida.

Abbie makes breakfast

Abbie makes pancakes.

With family, you don’t need to ask for help doing these kinds of things, Paige and I are lucky to have family that simply sees a need and fills it.

Catherine and Abbie even watched J.P. for a couple hours so Paige and I could enjoy a couple’s massage at Hand and Stone. What a nice treat!

Abbie will be a sophomore in high school this year, but acts much more like a college senior. At one point while trying to figure out how we would spend our week, she said she would be fine with skipping the theme parks so all of us could be together.

J.P. doesn’t do well in the summer heat for long periods, so Paige and J.P. would have stayed home if we had gone.

We spent time together watching “The Last Ship” and saw the movie, “The Heat.” That was really funny.

I guess it didn’t matter what we did because what was important was simply being together, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

Vacations don’t get better than that.

J.P.’s staycation adventure

Dessert with J.P.

It’s been a busy few weeks with schedule changes at work and numerous special appointments — both personal and business.

Through it all, I’ve been looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s when my sister and niece arrived for a one-week stay.

Donut King

A very important taste test is conducted with doughnuts from The Donut King.

J.P. has enjoyed having some additional people around, and Karina also loves spending time with Catherine and Abbie.

We’ve enjoyed several adventures already. As I mentioned in my last diary entry, Abbie and I made an early-morning doughnut run at the new Donut King in Winter Park. They were a major hit.

We also took our yellow dog (Karina) to Yellow Dog Eats in Gotha and thoroughly enjoyed a lunch there.

Celebrity Mascot Games

The Celebrity Mascot Games are held at Amway Center.

The only hiccup in the visit so far was a visit to the Mascot Games at Amway Center. We got there early and had great seats on the mezzanine for J.P., Karina and the family.

But when things got started, it was simply too loud for J.P. He was frightened, and Karina had to go to work to try to calm him down. He recovered, but was startled again a few minutes later, so we decided to head out.

J.P. enjoyed our visit to the Orlando Museum of Art, but I think Karina thought it strange that we kept walking around looking at the walls. Paige and I got to swing at one exhibit that let you see your shadows against a wall filled with clouds.

Swingin' at the museum

Paige and I try out the museum’s swings.

J.P. was giggling while we were swinging. Who knows what he thought was going on.

We also visited the World of Chocolate Museum and Cafe by SeaWorld and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and soda fountain in College Park. I’ll have to run a marathon to get rid of all these calories.

But the visit has been incredible so far. Having family around can be so comforting and relaxing. We understand each other at a deep level and don’t always need to explain ourselves.

My sister seems to have great faith in me as a tour guide and said she loves coming to Florida because she doesn’t have to make decisions about where to go or what to eat. It’s just all done for her.

After working Saturday and Sunday, the vacation resumes. I’m looking forward to completing that very scientific doughnut study with my niece and enjoying the camaraderie with everyone.

As everyone knows, it will be over way too fast.