The Cost, Conflict & Consideration of Joy

Photo by Wrenn Bird Photography.

Last week, we finally shared our big news “socially” – we are expecting baby girl #3. We are truly overjoyed. Overjoyed that He has answered the resounding prayer of our hearts. Overjoyed that Lexi will know that having a sister doesn’t always mean loving someone we can’t wrap our arms around. But it took us (me) quite a while to share this joy with the world. Not because I didn’t feel it – but because sharing it felt so, so heavy. I am no longer oblivious to the impact of this blessing beyond myself. I am [un]fortunately aware of how my own experiences might affect others. And that changes everything. It’s hard to explain, but let me try…

This joy hasn’t come without cost. Infertility after having children is a difficult space to live in. Pregnancy after loss is no walk in the park, either. We are so grateful for those who have walked with us through all of these things. The faithful friends and family who have allowed us to share difficult thoughts and express difficult feelings – our sounding boards and our prayer warriors. We would not be in this place without you.

This joy hasn’t come without conflict. Conflict in our marriage, conflict within ourselves, and conflict with God. It is hard not to question. Everything. It is easy to talk the talk, but walking the walk is a different story. We stumbled – several times. We doubted – each other, ourselves and Him. We yelled, we cried and once or twice we probably asked ourselves it was all worth it. But now…now we know.

And above all, this joy does not come without consideration. Consideration for my sisters who have and are walking this journey of infertility and loss with me, but have not yet received the answer they are so desperately praying for. Consideration for the mamas who have carried little souls they will not know this side of Heaven. I can no longer be joyful without consideration. To those women – I pray that you know you are not unseen and you are never alone. I see you, but more importantly GOD sees you. Hold on to the hope that He is not saying “never” He is just saying “not yet.” I will continue to pray for you in the waiting.

It took me many, many weeks to be ready to share this joy – with the cost, the conflict and the consideration that came with it. My husband and my family gave me the grace to wait. Because you don’t always have to understand to empathize.

Jesus, thank you for giving us more than we deserve. Thank you for allowing us to walk in the depths of sorrow so we may fully appreciate the joy of our blessings. Please help us to understand that your timing is perfect. Your plan is flawless. And your love is limitless. Let us always walk in your will, trust in your timing and submit to your sovereignty. Amen. 

With Grace,

Jen

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When A Date Becomes Defining

We all have them. Dates that define us – a wedding day, a birthday, the death of a loved one, a landmark life achievement. Maybe there’s a little circle on your calendar…although you probably don’t need it. You’d remember the day with no signifying marker. To others, it may come and go as just another number on the grid. But to you (or me) it signifies a crossroads – a defining moment – a life-changing event.

We had several of those throughout the 36 weeks of our pregnancy. In a “normal” pregnancy, those dates of significance might look more like happy highlights – 12 weeks (“safe zone”), 20 weeks (half way!), third trimester (almost there!), IT’S A GIRL!! Maybe there are cute little “bump” photos with a chalkboard sign stating the current “produce size” of the baby and what mom’s been craving lately. All sweet things…just not my particular experience.

In a complicated pregnancy, defining moments often occur in a doctor’s office, on an exam table, more often than not with an ultrasound monitor in view. And after your happy pregnancy bubble has been burst once…you can read every doctor’s face like a picture book the moment they walk in.

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April 10th is circled on my calendar. It started as a day that fit perfectly into the mold of our new “normal” with a bi-weekly trip to the doctor for a Non-Stress Test (see ultra-flattering pic to the left). Everything was fine. Until we got home – and then it wasn’t.

Kade rushed me back to the Carle Hospital ER in Champaign where I was admitted and kept until I was stable enough to be transferred via ambulance to Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago. I was just over 30 weeks. Early enough that the situation would likely be critical for both girls. I was told that in my particular situation, delivery usually became imminent within 48 hours. But those doctors didn’t know my girls. We held on for six more weeks – our little family of four, living in a hospital room each day a new unknown.

During this time, God was working in us, preparing our hearts for His plan. He tried our patience – with ourselves and with one another. He tested our faith – with tough news and difficult decisions. Our “case” was complicated – each doctor knew us (and our girls) by name. They studied our situation, talked through the possible outcomes – most of them bitter-sweet at best. After 40 long days and even longer nights, we had become the local residents of the 9th floor.

At 36 weeks and 1 day, God decided we were ready. He aligned the stars perfectly for what He was about to walk us through. It was painfully perfect – the 31 hours our Emalynn spent on earth were exactly has He had written.

On April 10th, we did not understand what was happening. It was one of many defining days in our pregnancy. And, perhaps, one of the scariest. But it was all in His plan.

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” – John 13:7

I may never understand fully, but each day I will try.

With Grace,

Jen

Our Sweet Angels

As many of you who have been following our story already know, today was supposed to be our 37 Week celebration. It was also supposed to be our scheduled delivery date…but our girls had different plans…

Thursday, May 21, 2015 is a day that will live in our hearts forever. We woke up just like the countless days before – in the hospital letting our baby girls grow just a little bit longer. We had our weekly Doppler scans and NST scheduled for just after breakfast, but again, nothing out of the ordinary for us. Then, as we were just getting back into our room after the Dopplers, our nurse stuck her head in and said, “Don’t eat or drink anything else this morning. The doctor will be in shortly…today could be the day!”

My Mom, Kade and I all froze. It couldn’t be the day. We weren’t ready – we had a plan! We should have known by then…nothing about this pregnancy had gone according to “our plans.”

The doctor came in, told us she saw some changes for the worse in Baby A’s Dopplers and waiting the six days until our scheduled C-section was not worth the risk to mom or babies. Sure enough – we would be meeting our little girls sometime that afternoon! (Insert the soon-to-be-daddy’s panic mode here.)

In no time at all, I was wheeled down to the Labor & Delivery floor. The nurses and doctors were in and out of our room prepping us for what to expect over the course of the next few hours, and Papa was getting on a plane to be in Chicago by early evening. It was go time.

The Cesarean went flawlessly. Kade was by my side the whole time, helping me through my nerves, anxiety and excitement. He talked to me about how incredible our path had been to get to where we were, and how much better it was about to get.

At 3:01 p.m., Alexis Rae Hummel (Twin B) joined the world kicking and screaming all the way to be assessed by her team of neonatologists. Her sister, Emalynn Kelly Hummel (Twin A), followed at 3:02 p.m. She was also whisked away to be attended to by her neonatal team.

After being cleared by her doctors, Alexis was brought to be with me for the remainder of the surgery, which was honestly the best thing that could have happened. Anyone who has had a C-section knows…there are some very strange sensations going on just beyond that big blue curtain, and it’s easy to let your mind wander. But how could I think about anything but that precious little girl laying on my chest?!

As we expected, our sweet Emalynn needed a little more care from her neonatal team. We were fortunate enough to see her briefly (and snap our first family photo) before she was transferred up to the NICU.

Our first family photo! Such a special moment we will never forget.

Our first family photo! Such a special moment we will never forget.

Following the procedure, we were moved into our recovery room where Alexis and I went through the gamut of pokes and prods endured by all new mamas and their babies. Our family filtered into the room one at a time to meet half of our dynamic duo, while we all anxiously waited for an update on little sister.

A couple of hours went by and we got a visit from one of the neonatologists at Lurie Children’s Hospital. He told us that Emmy needed pretty extensive care, and would be transferred from Prentice to Lurie as soon as she was stabilized. We would be able to visit her later that evening when (and if) I was released by my doctors to make the trip over the sky bridge.

We had a team of nurses who worked their tails off to make that happen. They got Alexis and I cleared, and one of the nurses that had been with us from the start of our time at Prentice offered to take us over after her shift ended so we could see Emmy as soon as possible. Around 8 p.m., we were taken to the 14th Floor of Lurie where I got to touch my sweet daughter’s hand for the first time.

Touching my sweet Emmy's hand for the first time. She was a fighter.

Touching my sweet Emmy’s hand for the first time.

We could only stay a few minutes, because her doctors still had a lot of work to do. We met the attending who would be with her over night, and he reminded us that we had a very rough road ahead. Our first goal was for her to make it through the night.

We went back to settle into our room at Prentice with Alexis, where we spent our first night of parenthood split between gazing in awe at our beautiful daughter and staring at each other with wide-eyed panic wondering what in the heck we were doing and praying we wouldn’t screw it up.

At 5:30 a.m. Kade got a call on his cell phone. Emalynn’s stats were declining pretty quickly, and we needed to think about going over to be with her incase they couldn’t get things stabilized. My parents were staying just a couple blocks away, so they came over to be with Alexis while we were with her sister.

The entire day, we were back and forth over the sky bridge that separated our daughters. A lot of the time I was with Alexis trying to get into the routine of feeding, skin-to-skin contact and just hoping she passed each blood sugar test so she could stay out of the NICU. Kade stayed with Emalynn to keep her company and to learn as much as possible from her medical team.

At 4 p.m. I got a text from Kade. He told me I needed to get ready – Emmy’s doctors wanted to meet with us as a family. As my husband pushed my wheelchair across the sky bridge, we both knew…this news was not going to be good.

We sat in a room with my parents and the medical team that had been caring for our daughter for just over 24 hours. We listed as they explained her current condition, walked us through the steps that had been taken to stabilize her to that point, and told us they were running out of options to help improve her odds of survival. We had reached a critical point where any further intervention would likely be detrimental to Emmy’s wellbeing. I held my husbands hand as we listened to the words our doctor was saying, “We need to start thinking about end of life care.”

We had known for some time that this could be coming. But there is no number of days in the hospital or conversations with social workers or discussions of various diagnoses with specialists that can prepare a parent to hear those words. Your mind understands the reality of the situation, but your heart wants to cling to the hope of a miracle…no matter how small that chance may be.

Thanks to the incredible guidance we received early on at Prentice, we had already made preparations for this day. At that point, it was just a matter of putting the wheels in motion. We called our family, got our photographer en route to Chicago and had a little bit of time to get ourselves together.

In her last few hours, Kade and I were able to do so much with our baby girl. We let her spend time with her sister, told her how much we loved her, read her a book and had our family gather around her in prayer. Even though she was  medically sedated, the doctors told us she could hear and feel what was going on around her. At the very end of her life, Kade and I chose to be alone with Emalynn. The nurses removed all of the tubes, wires and monitors so we could hold her close between us with no restrictions. At 10:15 p.m. on Friday, May 22nd, our sweet Emmy went to be an angel in Heaven.

No words will ever be sufficient to describe the precious time Kade and I were able to spend together with our daughter. God gave us the opportunity to meet her, kiss her and tell her that we can’t wait to see her again some day. It is a situation that most will never be able to comprehend, but it truly was more than we could have hoped for. And as heartbreaking as it was, it was equally special and extraordinary and full of love.

Here are a few of the images we captured of our precious time with Emmy. We also had professional photographs taken by our friend Christy Lee of Cee Lee Photography. She recently became an affiliated photographer for the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep program. We will share those images in another post.

Miss Emalynn Kelly Hummel

Miss Emalynn Kelly Hummel

Daddy with his beautiful girls!

Daddy with his beautiful girls!

Sisters, Womb Mates, Best Friends.

Sisters, Womb Mates, Best Friends.

The unbreakable bond between sisters. We will miss Emmy every day, but what a joy it is knowing that Alexis will forever have a guardian angel!

The unbreakable bond between sisters. We will miss Emmy every day, but what a joy it is knowing that Alexis will forever have a guardian angel!

Thank you all for your continued prayers. The support of our friends, love of our family and faith in God have helped us through the past week and will continue to help us heal and grow as a family. We know the struggle is far from over, and we will still face some very difficult days. But with His Grace, we will find our way.

With Grace,

Jen

36 Weeks Y’all

When we were first admitted to the hospital 40 days ago, the doctors gave us small, incremental milestones to shoot for. At that time, we were at 30 Weeks and 2 Days. Our first goal was 32 Weeks…then 34. Week 36 was really a “dream date” that no one, not even our doctors, thought was possible with our circumstances. But…here we are, with our amazing baby girls still defying the odds! It has been tough – mentally, emotionally and in the last couple of weeks, physically. The last trimester is…well…trying. But I know this season is quickly coming to an end, and these two tiny humans are worth every ache in my back, each needle poke to start an IV or draw blood, the countless middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom and each day spent in the walls of this hospital. So, here’s to another week! And knowing we will be meeting our sweet babes very, very soon…

This is truly the definition of "fat and happy" friends. It hurts so good.

This is truly the definition of “fat and happy” friends. It hurts so good.

With Grace,

Jen

High Fives!

We made it through our fifth week in Chicago! It was a fairly uneventful week for us. Non-stress tests, computer work from the hospital room (or the hospital Starbucks when we wanted to change things up) and daily rounds with our doctors. We did have another ultrasound which is always fun for us…I shared this photo on Instagram earlier this week (you can follow me at @jenlhummel)…

One of our ultrasound images from this week…one of the girls winding up for a gut shot -- I love every kick and wiggle!

One of our ultrasound images from this week. If you look at the top there, you can see one of the girls winding up for a gut shot — I love every kick and wiggle!

Here are some other snapshots from the week…

35 Week "bump date" photo…thankful for every day!!

35 Week “bump date” photo…amazed we’ve made it this far and thankful for every day!!

One upside to all of this time in the hospital (at least for some of us…) is we've been able to watch A LOT of baseball and hockey... Today wasn't the best day for Chicagoland sports…but a new week starts tomorrow!

One upside to all of this time in the hospital (at least for some of us…) is that we’ve been able to watch A LOT of baseball and hockey… Today wasn’t the best day for Chicagoland sports…but a new week starts tomorrow!

Tonight we got to carry on one of my family's traditions with my parents here… Growing up, we always had popcorn, cheese and soda for dinner on Sunday nights. We got to sit on the floor and watch a TV show instead of sitting at the diningroom room table. My brother has kept this tradition with his family, and Kade and I are excited to continue it with our girls!

Tonight we got to carry on one of my family’s traditions with my parents… Growing up, we always had popcorn, cheese and soda for dinner on Sunday nights. We got to sit on the floor and watch a TV show instead of sitting at the diningroom room table. My brother has kept this tradition with his family, and Kade and I are excited to continue it with our girls as they grow!

And a few highlights we didn’t get pictures of…

  • Papa flew in on Saturday to spend a few days with us! He gets to stay until Tuesday, and then will be back again when the girls make their big debut!
  • We had our favorite (and infamous) Chicago deep-dish pizza from Gino’s, specially delivered by our good friend Clint who came to visit over the weekend.
  • My parents gave me a beautiful necklace celebrating our sweet girls, but I can’t share a picture of it just yet…

Not too much exciting happening here…but that means the girls are continuing to grow and get stronger, and every day we are closer to holding them! Thanks for your continued love, support and prayers!

With Grace,
Jen