Dear Lakyn Lee…

I don’t know how, but today marked three months since you came into our lives.

Three. Months.

I remember certain moments and particular details of the last few months so distinctly, it’s like I’m still living in them. But when I think about the past 13 weeks as a whole, it feels like a blur. Like one night I laid you down, both of us in a sleepy haze, and when I opened my eyes you were a smiling, cooing, full-of-life tiny human.

Thank the good Lord I had the foresight to get newborn photos booked before you made your (fashionably late) appearance into the world. And although we didn’t actually get these taken until a month after you were born (because what a month that was) I am eternally grateful for the incredibly talented Bethany Meysenburg who captured the true essence of this new phase of our lives.

AND, because two more months have passed by and I have yet to share these images, I am going to do so now – in celebration of your 1/4-of-a-year birthday.

 

Even in the blur that is early motherhood, I pray that I never forget the details of YOU. Your soulful eyes that make my heart skip a beat. Your bright smile that lights up your whole face. Your long little toes that are just waiting to go places. The way you unlatch and nuzzle against me when your belly is full. The way your free hand reaches up to grasp the collar of my shirt, just to make sure I’m not going anywhere. Our early mornings together before the rest of the world washes over us, and late nights alone when the rest of the house is quite.

No matter how many days or months or years pass by…no matter how many babies fill the walls of this home…there will only be one you. And even though life often demands that my attention be divided, I assure you that my heart is not.

Love you big, sweet babe – Your Mama.

Why We *Heart* Chicago

This time last week, we were en route to the city that will always hold a piece of our hearts. For me – if Emmy “is” anywhere this side of heaven – it’s Chicago. And of all the things that little girl brought into our family, the tradition of this trip has to be one of my favorites.

For me, Chicago feels strangely like home. It’s where we spent weeks planning for and protecting the two little lives God had entrusted us with. It’s where we watched those two little lives come into this world, one of them only for a day . It’s the only place on earth we were ever physically a family of four.  For us, it’s a place that holds the very best and the very worst life has to offer – but each year that we make this trip, we’re adding to the “very best” category. And that feels so good.

I’m not sure why I’ve never written about these trips before – if for nothing else at least as a way to look back. So now, I’m packaging three years into one.

On each trip we try to do something new, with our adventures based loosely off the book Max Explores Chicago that we bought (and started) while we were “living” there. But, we also have our traditions within the tradition…our mainstay stops…the ones that are gut wrenching and soul shaking, but also peace providing. The people and the places and the things that take us back to the way we were before we were broken in this way – before we knew life as bereaved parents.

We always visit the hospital where the girls were born and Lurie Children’s Hospital where Emmy lived the duration of her short life under the most incredible medical care we could have hoped for. There is something about just being in that place that makes me feel so close to her. It could just be the memories. It could be my imagination. Or it could be a God thing. Whatever it is…she’s there.

Lurie Children's Hospital 2016

Lurie Children’s Hospital 2016

Lurie Children's Hospital 2017

Lurie Children’s Hospital 2017

Lurie Children's Hospital 2018

Lurie Children’s Hospital 2018

Lurie Children's Hospital - Aquarium 2017

Lurie Children’s Hospital – Aquarium 2017

Lurie Children's Hospital - Aquarium 2018

Lurie Children’s Hospital – Aquarium 2018

And of course, right around the corner from the hospital is our favorite donut shop, Stan’s (Chicago was really into the donut thing when we were there)

Stan's Donuts 2016

Stan’s Donuts 2016

Stan's Donuts 2017

Stan’s Donuts 2017

Stan's Donuts 2018

Stan’s Donuts 2018

Nom, Nom, Nom

Nom, Nom, Nom

We typically try to hit a Cubs game, because that’s something we did with the girls (and it may be the only thing that keeps daddy tagging along)

Cubs Game 2016

Cubs Game 2016

Cubs Game 2018 (BOB)

Cubs Game 2018 (Oh hey there, BOB!)

And there is always, always time set aside for a visit with our favorite neonatologist on earth, Dr. Meghan. My attachment to her my seem unusual, as she was the first doctor too look me in the eyes and tell me the likelihood of “Baby A” surviving was slim to none. Up to that point, it was like no one had been brave enough to say it out loud. It broke me. But in some ways, I needed to be broken. She encouraged us to start thinking about the best thing for “Baby B” as not to jeopardize her wellbeing. But then she learned their names. And she heard our story. And as the days turned into weeks and we made it further into the pregnancy than anyone thought we would, she and her team began fighting for both of our girls. They provided options and information and most of all – hope. And in the end, she carried the devastation of loosing Emmy right along with us. To this day, she shows love and compassion to both of our girls and has become so much more than just a doctor.

Visiting Dr. Meghan 2016

Starbucks with Dr. Meghan 2016

Playing with Dr. Meghan 2018

Playing in the park with Dr. Meghan 2018

A daddy/daughter snapshot always makes the “best of” list. On these trips I do tend to make some space for myself to just be alone and breathe. It’s what I need, but it also gives these two some unique opportunities to bond in ways they might not otherwise. It’s truly a win-win for us.

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Post-Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Post-Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Do-Rite Donuts 2017

Lexi & Daddy Do-Rite Donuts 2017

Lexi & Daddy Navy Pier 2017

Lexi & Daddy Navy Pier 2017

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2018

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2018

And of course, there is lots of family bonding time and some prime opportunities for family selfies, too…

Family at Cubs Game 2016

Cubs Game 2016

Family at the Navy Pier Centennial Wheel 2017

Navy Pier Centennial Wheel 2017 (clearly Lexi is impressed…)

Family at Gino's East (favorite Pizza in Chicago) 2018

Gino’s East 2018 (Favorite Pizza in Chicago!)

And our trip always ends in the same same way (in the best way) with everyone exhausted, but our family cup overflowing until we can do it all again in the next year…

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2016

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2016

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2017

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2017

(You will just have to trust me that this was her exact position on the way to the airport this year as well…I am literally kicking myself for not snapping that shot!)

So, as they say…This Is Us. It’s us allowing ourselves to experience and re-experience the best and worst parts of our story. It’s us allowing ourselves the grace and the space away from everyday life to remember. It’s just…us.

Thanks for continuing to give me grace in sharing our story, as I continue learning how to give that grace back…

Jen

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FFFU Day 4 – Be Our Guest

Ironically, this room is probably one of my favorite spaces in the house. A little odd because it’s really not a room I spend much time in. Not that I couldn’t…I just don’t have much of a reason to.

Originally the master bedroom, this space got a major overhaul. I only have a couple of “before” shots, but they are more than enough to get the point across.

This is looking through the doorway into the bedroom from the hall.

Here you can see the very edge of the door into the room where we were standing in the first picture (far left edge of the frame) as well as a door to the bathroom and a door to the closet. Looking back through these “before” photos, I think if I was Chipper Gaines I would call this place “The house of doors!”

Again with the orange-flecked carpet, red curtains and brass fixtures. 1979 certainly had some interesting design character, but hey, no judgement here! (Although brass is coming back in and I am not totally mad about it.)

In the second picture, you can see two doors on the sidewall and there’s one more just outside the frame of the photo. The far left door (not in the picture) went to the hallway, the middle door went to the bathroom and the door on the right lead to a reaaaaly deep, narrow closet. As with the other bedroom, we moved the closet and closed up two of those doors to open up the wall space. The original master closet actually became part of the bathroom to make it a little bigger.

Now if you came to visit and I took you to the guest quarters you would walk through the door and see this:

Grab a seat and a good book. Take a sun-basked, mid-day snooze. The possibilities here are endless!

Instead of doors on doors on doors we now have plants on plants on plants. The air quality in this room is legit!

For reference, the wall that the bed is now on was the wall that had all of the doors:

So much open wall space with all of the doors gone!

And here’s a pano shot that let’s you see the room as a whole:

Such a fun space! And can we talk about those wall planters in the back corner for a second?! L-O-V-E.

This has been such a fun space to put together and I love having a place for our out-of-town friends to say when they visit. (Hint, hint to all of our friends who haven’t make the trip yet!)

And again, here’s a little video and commentary for your viewing pleasure!

 

We are now accepting bookings for fall 2017, so give us a call!! 🙂

On being #blessed…

Yesterday morning, you might have seen this post on my Facebook page:

Written in response to this article [click here to read it]:

And after 24 hours of letting what I read really settle into my heart, here is what I have to say.

To the author. I am not here to wage a mommy war. And I am not here to compare your hard thing to my hard thing. We are not walking the same path, so why wast time comparing. And mama, I’m sure raising those babies has pushed you to limits you didn’t know you had… and then some. I can empathize as a mom, but not a twin mom. That opportunity was taken from me. And because of that – because of my particular experience and perspective – there’s one thing I do know. Even on the hardest days… you are #blessed.

To every #twinmom I know. You are superhuman. Seriously. Whether your twins were your first born or fourth (and fifth). Whether they came “naturally” or after months (even years) of calculated and painful intervention. Whether they are boys, girls, babies, toddlers or Tweens. There is no one in the world stronger than the mom of multiples. I watch you from afar with admiration (and, if we’re gut-wrenchingly honest, the slightest bit of jealousy). You are on a beautiful, complicated, messy, incredible journey. And you are #blessed.

Fun fact: I am directly connected with 15 women who had twins within a year or two before or after me. Yeah. FIFTEEN.

To the mama with an aching heart. Those words I wrote just moments after reading that article were for you. The mama who has lost – through infertility, miscarriage or child loss. They spilled out of my heart and onto my screen in hopes they would reach you – to let you know you’re not alone. To let you know, I know. I know that reading those words (even if said in sarcasm) felt like someone reaching into your chest and ripping your heart right out of it. Because you can’t imagine a mama complaining about the burden of a child…or two. Carrying on that, somehow, she is NOT blessed by her motherhood because it is “Hard AF”. Yeah, motherhood is hard – in all of it’s forms. In the waiting. In the wishing. In the wondering. Sometimes the words people say hurt. Let them hurt, but don’t let them linger. In our own ways, we are each #blessed.

To myself. It’s ok, mama. It’s ok that it still hurts. It’s ok that a strangers words can pierce your soul and put a fire in your heart. It’s ok that every picture, every post, every mention of twins makes you catch your breath just a little. All these things… they are a reminder that you are human. That you can’t carry it on your own. That you need Jesus to continue living and loving. The kind of loss you suffered can rob you of everything if you let it. Don’t. Call on Jesus. You are #blessed.

Always, always with grace.

Jen

“How To Help Me In My Grief”

One of the things our family will forever be grateful for is the incredible care we received at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. They were wonderful to us while we were under their care, but even as we have transitioned into life at home, they have continued to be accessible and provide much needed support.

Lurie has a program called Heartlight specifically developed for parents who have lost a child. The Heartlight staff sends support resources, letters, poems and other materials to help grieving parents and families in the healing process. When the letters first started coming, I didn’t think anything of it. I honestly let them just pile up on the counter. Of course, I was “doing fine” if anyone asked.

Then one day, I decided to open one of the envelopes. I started reading the pages inside, and it was as if I had written the words myself – they expresses exactly what I had been feeling, the things I had been struggling with and the questions I had. Even through I was surrounded by the most loving and supportive family and friends I could ask for, it was the first time I felt like someone understood me.

This was my last moment "alone" with my baby girl before we unhooked her from the ventilator. Of all the pictures we had taken, this is the hardest one for me to look at. Because I still remember how helpless I felt in that moment. Our family had just left the room so Kade and I could say our final goodbyes to Emmy. Up to this point, I don't think I fully realized what was happening. I laid my head against hers and let myself fully feel the pain of losing my baby girl. These are hard feelings to relive, but I am eternally grateful to have them captured. Because I never want to forget.

This was my last moment “alone” with my baby girl before we unhooked her from the ventilator. Of all the pictures we had taken, this is the hardest one for me to look at. Because I still remember how helpless I felt in that moment. Our family had just left the room so Kade and I could say our final goodbyes to Emmy. Up to this point, I don’t think I fully realized what was happening. I laid my head against hers and let myself fully feel the pain of losing my baby girl. These are hard feelings to relive, but I am eternally grateful to have them captured. Because I never want to forget.

I want to share this piece in particular. During the past 10 weeks, it has become evident how difficult it is for our friends, extended family and coworkers to interact with us. The first conversations we had with people after Emmy’s death were often awkward and uncomfortable. At one point, one of our very close friends asked me… “Jen, how would you deal with it if the roles were reversed?” Three months ago I couldn’t have answered that question. So, even though I’ve never been in your shoes specifically – I can empathize. I know it must be difficult to look at me or my husband and know exactly what to say. And that’s ok. I hope this will help, not only for us – because there is a much bigger picture here. I hope this helps you interact with anyone in your life who has suffered a significant loss and is grieving in ways you dont’t understand. Because it is not about you “getting it” or explicitly understanding the pain – it’s about knowing how to be there for the person you love.

 

 

“How To Help Me In My Grief”
written by Marilyn Gryte

Speak to me of the obvious.  I know that it’s painful to talk with me about my grief, but I feel less alone when I know others remember.  Please, above all else, don’t avoid me.  I need to know that you care.  When you are silent about my grief, I feel more isolated and I’m tempted to believe you have forgotten.  It’s okay to use the name of the one who has died and to speak of what has happened.

I need your warm caring more than ‘right words’. It’s awkward for me to hear you hunt for profound words.  I’m hungry to hear, “I’ve been thinking of you.” “I’m here.” “You’re in my heart.” “I’ll call you again tomorrow (or in a few days or next week).” A note, a phone call, a hand on my shoulder or a hug helps.  I find it hard to glibly answer the questions over and over, “How are you?” “I’m grieving-and that means I generally feel lousy.  Be with me and tell me you care.  It’s easier for me to hear you than to find a quick answer about me.

I know my sadness will last longer than either you or I want it to.  I’m afraid you will tire of my grief and I’ll need to hide it from you.  I’m afraid you’ll avoid me if I don’t pull it together soon – and then I’ll be even more alone.  Let me know you’re with me for the long haul.  It helps when others remember key dates – the birthdays, holidays, anniversary dates of the heart.  I need a few people to still be there and remember next week, next month, next year – a few people who don’t expect me to be ‘over it’ soon.

Please let go of trying to fix my pain.  I’m likely to be on overload with advice and suggestions.  Be patient with me if I can’t concentrate enough to read the books you bring me.  When others try to tell me why this tragedy happened, what I should do or what I should feel, I wonder if it isn’t their own sense of helplessness they are trying to quiet.  Please ask me what I need.  And if I don’t know, give me a hug and let it be okay.  I know I’m not much fun right now.  Somehow I need to hear both that I have a right to be sad, and that you believe I will gradually find my way through this painful time.

Share your stories and memories.  One of the sweetest gifts I can imagine is stories about how the one I miss so much now also touched your life.   Sweet moments, funny moments, stray memories are like a photograph I can add to my memory album.  It’s never too soon or too late to share them with me.  I welcome them and I thank you for them.

Offer to help with daily practical things. I know others want to be caring and helpful to me – and sometimes I’m frustrated in not knowing what I need or how to ask.  Sometimes ordinary things are a huge help.  Maybe you can offer to come eat with me or to go for a walk with me.  Ask me if I want time to myself or company.  Maybe it’s help with the paperwork or taxes, yard work, or someone to sit with at a public event that might help.  And if I turn you down – whether it’s for help or for an outing – be bold enough to ask me again another time.

Please remember that we all grieve in our own way.  I may be clumsy as I struggle to know how to grieve and heal.  I may be self-absorbed at times, sometimes insensitive, other times overly sensitive.  I may need to talk and talk, and say the story over and over to anyone caring enough to listen.  Or I may have to need to be more private and quiet in my grief.  I may worry you with how sad I look and how often I’m in tears – or I may worry you that my sadness doesn’t show much on the outside.  Some of us are outgoing and share things easily and some of us are more reserved.  The pain is there for all of us who grieve, even though we show it differently.

If you are worried about how I’m doing – it’s okay to talk to me directly.  I know I may not be myself for a while.  I may act in ways that aren’t familiar to you or to me.  If you get worried about if I’m safe, if I’m doing things that make my healing harder, if you hear me making decisions that don’t sound very smart, love me enough to talk to me about it.  I’ll do my best to listen and consider what you are saying, and I ask you to do your best to also consider if what I’m doing may be one of the many variations in healthy grieving – or not.

Mostly, thank you, for your love and support.  I’m told the journey through grief is a long one.  I may get scared or lost at times.  With family and friends solidly there for me, I know I can inch my way through this tunnel.  Keep me company in the dark times.  Stay near until I can see the light again with my own eyes.  Your love and caring means more than I can convey in words.

I truly hope this helps. And I hope that it is to no offense to all the incredible people who have been there for us through our loss. You have all been so good to us, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without you. But grief is hard. And so is loving someone who is grieving. I hope this helps to bridge that gap.

With Grace,

Jen