Expecting a snowflake
By Richard Gregor

Katie Kisselbaugh (from left) shows her mother, Charlene Ball, and mother-in-law, Jane Kisselbaugh, clothes she picked out for Atticus, the son she and her husband, Cameron, are expecting. Their baby has been diagnosed with Spina Bifida.

Katie and Cameron Kisselbaugh were overjoyed when they realized Katie was pregnant earlier this year. But at the 20-week ultrasound, they learned their firstborn, Atticus, will be a “snowflake baby.”
Through the ultrasound, doctors discovered a lesion, known as a myelomeningocele, on Atticus’ L4 and L5 vertebrae, indicating he will be born with Spina Bifida or “split spine.” Spina Bifida is the most common permanently disabling birth defect. 

“In the span of a week we went from having a normal pregnancy to visiting high-risk doctors in Clarksville and getting transferred to Vanderbilt,” Katie, 30, says.

Despite Atticus’ condition, his parents are faithful, hopeful and excited about bringing their child into the world.
“If you reject that blessing,” Cameron, 34, says, “you’re rejecting what God wants for you.” 

On Oct.  5, 2021, doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center made an incision in Katie’s abdomen and uterus to perform in utero surgery on Atticus to drain the lesion and return his spinal cord to its proper place in the neural tube. Despite the success of the operation, it is still uncertain what his life will look like.

“Babies with Spina Bifida are called “snowflake babies” because their diagnosis is never the same as anybody else's,” Katie says.

“I don’t know how to explain to people the fear that goes through our minds when we don’t know what the next day is going to look like for Atticus,” Cameron says. 

While she is recovering from the surgery, Katie is staying with her mother, Charlene Ball, in a small apartment in Nashville. Katie is spending her time blogging, napping and purposefully abstaining from any physical activity in hopes of carrying Atticus close to full-term. His original due date was Jan. 22, 2022. At the latest, he will be born on Dec. 31, 2021 due to safety precautions for Katie. 

Cameron is at their family home in Russellville teaching 5th grade, taking care of their numerous pets and worrying about Katie and Atticus.

“We work together, we drive together, we coach together at our gym,” Katie says, “so this is the first time we’ve really been apart in seven years.” 

Despite the uncertainty of the pregnancy and the challenge they face being apart, Cameron and Katie believe everything that has happened and will happen is a part of God’s plan for them.

“Atticus’ story so far has impacted so many people,” Katie says, “and he’s not even here yet.”

Cameron and Katie talk over FaceTime to shorten the distance between them. For a couple used to spending nearly every waking moment together, their current separation is a challenging adjustment.

Cameron tapes pumpkin faces his students crafted to the door of his classroom. The Kisselbaughs both teach at R.E. Stevenson Elementary School in Russellville. Katie has a substitute teaching her second-grade class, but Cameron is still teaching his fifth graders and is unable to take time off.

Cameron cares for two dogs, three cats, two parakeets and 10 chickens at their home in Russellville. Between teaching, taking care of their pets and leading workouts at the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Cameron has a busy week in Russellville before he can drive to Nashville to see Katie on the weekend.

Ultrasound images hang over potential baby names on the refrigerator in the Kisselbaugh home. Cameron and Katie decided on the name Atticus after the courageous and honorable attorney Atticus Finch in Harper Leeís novel ìTo Kill a Mockingbird.î

While recovering from surgery, Katie spends nearly all her time in a small apartment near the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Any undue stress could induce labor prematurely. Her mother, Charlene Ball, takes care of her and works remotely from the apartment.

Cameron stands alone in what will be Atticusí bedroom. His parents are eager to provide for his needs depending on his conditions related to Spina Bifida.

Katie's close friend Amanda Smith-Gaspar visits her in Nashville. Cameron comes to visit every weekend while friends visit once every other week. Katie has few face-to-face interactions with others outside of hospital appointments and occasional coffee runs with Charlene.

Cameron consoles a stressed Katie over the phone. He encourages her to let go and to let him handle things in situations out of her control but within his grasp. “You have to take care of what you can take care of and trust that God is going to take care of it,” he says.

Katie lies down for an afternoon nap in her apartment. “Even sitting on a couch all day gets tiring,” she says.