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Rochester Hills Teacher Learns to See, Clearly, the Joys of Motherhood

Christy Landefeld lost her vision while giving birth to her daughter, Emy, two years ago. "I don't want to be known as the blind mom," she said. "I want to be just a mom."

 

ROCHESTER HILLS, MI – Christy Landefeld always said she would give her left arm for the chance at motherhood.

The Rochester Hills mom looks back on those declarations with disbelief; they are too full of irony. "I just thought that was supposed to be an expression, right? That's just a thing people say."

Instead, in a random, rare and perilous chain of medical events, Christy lost, during childbirth, her eyesight.

Emy Landefeld is almost 2 years old and her mom is legally blind. Both are described by father and husband Josh Landefeld as fighters.

And inspirations.

"A lot of people can say those kinds of things and mean it—you say what you would give up for your kid," said Josh Landefeld, whose voice struggles to stay steady when he speaks about his wife and her journey. "But especially now, with Mother's Day ... there's always that reflection of what she did have to give up.

"I look at what she's had to go through, facing all of the challenges that every new mother faces, and then in addition to that she has had to adjust to being blind."

But despite this loss, Josh and Christy look at what they gained. And it's so much more.

There's Emy, of course, the joy of their lives. 

But there's also a two-year journey of unforeseen challenges  – a journey that forced the couple to see that the best things in life can be right in front of you, even if you cannot clearly see them.

The last thing she saw

Christy and Josh had been trying to have a baby for years. Their dreams of parenthood came true on their second try at in-vitro fertilization. They had been married for six years; Christy is an elementary school teacher, so the due date of the baby—June 13, 2010—was perfect: Christy would have the summer to bond with her newborn.

It was May 27 when everything Christy and Josh had ever assumed or been told about parenthood would be challenged. Christy had been on partial bedrest with preeclampsia, which is pregnancy-induced high blood pressure. That day, a Thursday, she wasn't feeling right and at first thought maybe she was going into labor. Then she started having sharp pains—pains in her chest; pains that made her struggle to catch her breath. "It felt like I was being stabbed with a knife over and over," she said.

Emergency room doctors determined Christy had pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. Alongside that she was having a placental abruption, meaning her baby's placenta had become detached from the uterus. Christy was going to need an emergency C-section.

In all of the events of that day, Christy remembers mostly the pain and the fear. She remembers her family being there for her and her husband being told he would have to wait outside while doctors tried to save Christy and their baby. 

And she recalls this: looking up from the operating room bed at the anesthesiologist moments before she would be put to sleep. 

"I don't know why but I told him to wait—that I was wearing my contacts. I remember hearing that you shouldn't wear contacts in surgery. It's silly, I know. 

"He asked me, 'Are your contacts disposable?' and I told them they were. He asked if he could just throw them away and I told him, sure—that I could just have someone bring me my glasses when I woke up."

That was the last thing she remembers before she lost her eyesight and found motherhood.

Purtscher's disease

Emeline Joy—"Emy"—was born at 11:27 that night. For 15 minutes she was critical, unresponsive from the trauma of the delivery. Meanwhile, Christy herself was in critical condition, still suffering the effects of the pancreatitis. 

A doctor's assistant told Josh he might lose them both.

"There was a three-hour timespan that night that I thought I might be going home from that hospital alone," Josh said.

By morning, though, Emy began to grow stronger, but still was in neonatal intensive care. Christy stabilized, but still was weak and in pain as she underwent a procedure called plasmapheresis, in which the plasma was removed from her body, cleaned, and returned. That procedure was meant to help remedy her pancreatitis.

And then there was this: She couldn't see.

"I didn't know what was happening," she said. "I could see only shadows and shapes. My dad came into my room and I remember asking him, 'Why are you wearing a shroud?' He looked, to me, like he was draped in black."

A retinal specialist diagnosed Christy's vision loss as Purtscher retinopathy, a sudden loss of vision from a loss of blood flow to the retina. There are three common causes: high blood pressure, trauma (including traumatic childbirth) and pancreatitis. 

Christy had all three. 

Purtscher's is so rare, no studies or statistics exist to measure just how many people are affected by it. There is no treatment. 

But amid the chaos and the pain and the doctors and the unfamiliar names of diseases, there was a mom and her baby girl.

The day after Emy was born, Josh pushed all day for his wife to be able to meet their daughter. That first meeting happened when Emy was about 18 hours old.

Christy remembers Josh bringing Emy to her; she remembers feeling her but not being able to see any of her features. "I could barely see the outline of her nose," she said. "But that's when I started to turn the corner—started to fight."

Christy would spend the next three months in and out of the hospital. Josh took Emy to work with him every day; he is executive director of the Macomb Family YMCA. When he came home at night he cared for both of them. 

'I literally could not take care of her'

Being a first-time mom is overwhelming. But what happens when you are a new mom who is sick and learning to live with an unexpected disability?

Christy shakes her head now when asked about postpartum depression: for her it was an understatement.

"A lot of moms struggle with whether they will be able to take care of their babies," she said. "But I literally could not take care of her.

"I remember when she was 3 weeks old I was left alone with her for just a few minutes. She was sleeping and Josh went to the store to get one of my prescriptions filled. She woke up and started crying and I just flipped out. I couldn't help her. I couldn't pick her up."

It was five months, Christy said, before she really felt like she bonded with her daughter.

"That is a horrible feeling as a mother," she said. "I had wanted her forever. But to have a baby you wanted so much and to not be able to take care of her?"

Eventually they got into a routine. Christy learned to make a bottle that Josh had pre-measured for her. She fed Emy early in the morning and they fell asleep together in a rocker for two hours. Christy called those beginning months "survival" mode.

Her vision improved, little by little.

"I knew I had to be strong for her. I had to make sure she knew me. I wouldn't ever have wanted her to grow up and think she had a mom who had given up.

"That's what kept me going."

A teacher returns

In the fall of 2010 Christy was referred to the Michigan Center for the Blind to learn how to regain her life–and her career. She lived at the Kalamazoo school for eight weeks, taking the train home on weekends. She learned Braille, and other tools to help her cope. She started a blog.

Slowly, her vision improved to what it is now: about 20/400 in her left eye and about 20/80 in her right. She describes herself as "blindish" seeing the world through "smudged glasses," but the smudges are more like lines or stripes than spots.  

In the fall of 2011, she returned to her fourth-grade classroom at . Christy uses a special TV to magnify her students' faces or their homework. She works part time, sharing the classroom with another teacher, because after four hours her eyes are exhausted. 

To a visitor in the class, one of her students says, "Our lights are brighter than in other classrooms." Another adds, "We have to type our poetry in 18-point font." They are accepting of their teacher, and she, in turn, has a new appreciation of the struggles some of them have to read and to write.

"I know what it's like to be a beginning reader," Christy said.  "A lot of times I find myself guessing at the ends of words, so now I can relate to them and help them through it."

A mom reflects

"I never thought of myself as the type of mom who would hover," said Christy, 32, a lifelong Rochester Hills girl and 1998 Adams High School graduate. 

And she's really not the hovering type, deep down inside.

But when she and Emy are playing outside or going for a walk or doing most of the things a mom and a toddler do together, Christy is forced to hover. "I have to keep Emy within two arms' length or I can't see her," she said. 

Christy worries that they'll go someplace and Emy's face won't be clean. Or that someday she'll get a splinter and she won't be able to see it well enough to get it out.

But she doesn't want her vision impairment to define her. Rather, she wants it to empower her to help others.

"As a teacher, I never have defined students by their disabilities or by their weaknesses," she said. "I don't want to be known as the blind mom. I want to be just a mom. I know now that that can be possible."

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Jan Wallace May 13, 2012 at 06:04 PM
I don't know Christy..not family, not friend, not even acquaintance...but a fellow woman, a fellow mom, and an awesome enabler is what I know from reading her short, poignant story...the beginning, if you will, of a new direction in life, as a mother empowering her daughter to be all she can and everything she may one day think she cannot. I have been blessed with four daughters, seven grands, and a life, quite honestly, of easy strides and years. Even my "golden years" have been blessed. To you, Christy, I applaud the strength of character and physical being you embody that allows you to be the mother you are. A very Happy Mother's Day to you!
Louise Lane May 13, 2012 at 06:29 PM
What a wonderful person she is. To go through this just to be a mother is awesome. I hope that she has a wonderful Mother's Day. God Bless her and her family. Louise
angel May 13, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Shinteria~ How incredibly aweful for you to say such a mean comment about Christy and her choice of how to have children. Evidently YOU are not a mom, and if you were shame on you!!! Some of the world's greatest leaders came from invitro, and I believe that for some people, it's God's will to use this medical technology. She could of had the same result from having a child naturally......WHO are YOU to judge??? Some people have children natural and are horrible parents! Christy, God bless you and your family! Happy Mother's Day!!
CATHERINE May 13, 2012 at 06:49 PM
OMG, What a touching story.........u read this and think differently about the struggles u have, and that some ppl have it worse than u do...........Christy , u are an inspiration to a lot of ppl.......GOD BLESS U AND YOUR FAMILY
Marie May 13, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Wow! God bless this wonderful special Mother and her whole family! This story really defines the meaning of Motherhood and Family!! Thank you for sharing with us.
Cynthia Levy May 13, 2012 at 06:59 PM
I went through a similar trauma with the emergency C-section delivery of my baby girl and a subsequent illness. My first view of my daughter was through the lens of our video camera. I was ill with infections for two months and suffered from severe post-partum depression. Now my daughter is a beautiful 23 year old and all that in the past doesn't matter at all. We made it through.
Jo Ann Landon May 13, 2012 at 07:18 PM
What an inspirational story. It doesn't always work out that having a first baby is all you dream of. Sometimes it isn't so fun. I had a terrible time giving birth to my first. Was then told to never have anymore. But with a strong supportive husband we went on an had three more children! Family is what makes life special. My four children are raised now and I wouldn't have wanted life any differently. For any mother experiencing something other than bliss at the beginning of motherhood, just hang in there and be the best you can be one hour at a time if you have to. Eventualy life does smooth out and the dreams of a happy family can become your reality. Have a great Mother's Day to all you Mom's how struggled to make it happen!!!
eva May 13, 2012 at 07:20 PM
This is very sad. But if you feel heat coming out of your eyes and you have problems with heat it could have been the anesthesia. but if this is so you should be having alot of other symptoms such as headahces, acid reflex, and colon issues. .
linda May 13, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Your dear friend Christy has inspired me. I struggle with my own "disability" but I feel that since I have heard her story, I can rise above and become more of the mom and wife that I know I can be! Happy Mother's Day!
Alissa May 13, 2012 at 07:23 PM
WOW! Christy, you are a very strong and amazing woman/mother. Continue to do what you do best and I hope your eyes get better soon. Happy Mothers' Day!
Rosemary May 13, 2012 at 07:27 PM
My dear college friend Carolyn was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was pregnant and advised to have an abortion;advice she did not heed. She became blind her fifth month of pregnancy and four months later delivered a healthy baby girl. She asked me what her baby looked like.Carolyn had been with me when my only child,Mary, was born 17 years earlier.I told Carolyn her baby looked like Mary.Her blind yes glistened with tears. She said,"I thought so."Carolyn rapidly deteriotated and died three years later. I am so glad this mother recouperated.
Ioana May 13, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Dear Christy, I don't know you but only reading your article I understand where you stand. I have my vision 70% accurate but before I was able to find what is my real problem after a severe accident, I was always concerned if I will be able to have a normal life. The answer is yes depends on us what we want to achieve and at what risk. I appreciate what you do for your daughter and I hope that G-D will always bless you and watch after your and your family.
Lissette E Milton May 13, 2012 at 07:36 PM
I have no words to describe how I felt when i read your story. We daily complaint about little things in life and there you are as a new mom blind struggling of how to take care of a newborn baby. You are an inspiration to any woman or any person in this world for overcoming this unwelcome situation in your life. Just remember, there is always a purpose for everything that happens to all of us in life. God Bless you, your baby and the most wonderful husband in the world Josh.
Nicole Maendel May 13, 2012 at 07:52 PM
This story is humbling, touching and such an inspiration. Christy and Josh are a picture of true commitment and love and what it means to stick together through thick and thin. I thank them for sharing their story and I wish this couple and their beautiful daughter all the best as they forge on together as a strong family that has touched and will continue to touch the lives and hearts of those around them.
eileen winkler May 13, 2012 at 07:59 PM
happy mothers day christy..what an inspiration you are. i have a 48 yr old daughter blind, rare desease from the chicken pox at a late age in life...but she to is a fighter has a 4.9 in college and is a fighter too bad she never became a mom ..her husband died of lung cancer when she was just 35...but she is a fighter and i know your story will touch her heart
Texas NDN May 13, 2012 at 08:07 PM
God bless you Christy, Josh & Emy !!! What a wonderful story.
Damielynne May 13, 2012 at 08:08 PM
This the Most Touching Story I have heard in a Long Time. As Nicole said Christy and josh are a TRUE COUPLE. They Stuck Togther Through This Thats Show They Can Stick Through ANYTHING! I wish Them, The Little Girl, And All Of Their Family. This story makes you get that Warm And Fuzy feeling inside of you. As this story touched my heart I hope it will also continue to touch others HEART. They Will Be In My Prayers.
Pam J May 13, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Just another story about how your body can turn on you. Someone I knew years ago reached behind him to get something and he went blind. Never, ever take your sight for granted. And I am so glad this lady's sight has returned somewhat.
Bj Howell May 13, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Very touching. Every woman, physically challenged or not should have a man in their life like Josh. Christy, you're one lucky lady and Emy's one lucky young lady. Bless each one of you. In His Love and mine, Jan Howell of South Alabama
Patricia Osborn May 13, 2012 at 09:36 PM
I know of a woman who not only went blind but she lost her hands and her feet during childbirth. I don't know what was wrong with her. I do know that she now has prosthetics for walking but I don't know about her hands. Her mother says she is doing well and she is going to be a keynote speaker at one of our meetings soon. God bless these women and their spirits.
Sandy Altherr May 14, 2012 at 11:10 AM
We are very proud to say that we began to know Christy this year as one of my son's 2 outstanding teachers. While we had heard about Christy's story at school over the past 2 years, we were not aware of many of these details until now. Christy has been extremely open with all of the parents and kids in her class about her situation. She has helped everyone to understand, feel comfortable with her and to learn a very important life lesson about never giving up, how to appreciate everything in life and the importance of family. How better to teach kids this lesson than by actually living it ? My son is excited to "brag" to family & friends about how he has 2 teachers, why and how he loves both of them. Professionally, Christy is a very fun, patient and smart teacher whom the parents & kids all adore. Personally, we have found her to be a very loving mom & wife and a truly amazing inspiration for all those who hear her story. As we wrap up our 4th grade year with her, we genuinely wish her and her sweet family the very best..she definitely deserves it and has earned it. XOXO
Marianna May 14, 2012 at 01:26 PM
So well-written Sandy....we couldn't agree with you more. We have a daughter in the class this year as well. What a beautiful person Christy is. And what a great lesson for the kids....that obstacles we may encounter in life don't have to stop us.
Henry Schultz May 15, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Hello, This is my second comment regarding Mrs. Landefelds. The first was struck, with many others that came out in support of the Landefelds family I imagine, after a ridiculous comment by a religious zealot. I understand Christy's is an inspirational story but I don't believe a free press should edit comments that are not obscene in nature. It is an insult to your readers intelligence. Respectfully, Henry Schultz
Christy Landefeld May 17, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Thank you for your kind words and your support Whitney!
Christy Landefeld May 17, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Jan, I hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day as well! Thank you for your support!
Christy Landefeld May 17, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Thank you Catherine.
Christy Landefeld May 17, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Cynthia, Thank you for sharing. It is so nice to hear about a similar expereience and you give me hope that one day this will be a distant memory.
Christy Landefeld May 17, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Thank you Alissa!
Christy Landefeld May 17, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Thank you Ioana. It's all about redefining expections isn't it?
Amy Callahan July 25, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Mrs. Landefeld was my third grade teacher. She is still one of my favorite teachers I have ever had. I remember her always being so kind, patient, smart and hard working. When I found out she had delivered her baby and gone blind I started praying for her whenever I could. It's so amazing that she was so determined to take care of Emmy. I miss you Mrs. Landefeld! Hope you are doing well :) -Amy Callahan

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