Answering the hard questions…

“Mama, why did Emmy die?”

The question came completely unprompted and entirely unexpected. We were on our way school last week, having the kind of conversation you have while driving with a toddler. I think just before that, we were talking about her “babies” at home, when she matter-of-factly mentioned that I had three babies. Then…that.

I caught my breath as the first tear fell down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away and told her… “Emmy’s body was really sick baby.”

And that was the end of it. It was over as quickly as it had begun. As if she totally understood my answer, and there was no need for further explanation.

This wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation.

In fact, quite often our little girl is inquisitive about death or has incredible insight about heaven or shares the sweetest sentiment about her sister that completely blows us away.

Here’s another exchange that happened while we were talking about baby sister a week or so before she was born…

L: Is my other sister in heaven?

M: You mean Emmy, baby?

L: Yeah…

M: Yes sweetie, Emmy is in heaven.

L: Can I give her lots of hugs when I get there, because I miss her?

M: Silence…dying inside.

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. In light of that, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about these conversations and why they happen so freely in our family. Our daughter is not quite three-and-a-half years old. And while I do truly believe that she has a implicit and eternal connection to her twin sister, I am also certain that she would not recognize or express those feelings if we had not made the conscious decision to make Emmy a very real and normal part of our lives. We don’t limit our conversations about infant loss to one month of the year. It is engrained in who we are as a family.

We openly acknowledge that death is painful. We honestly believe that heaven is real. And we truly think it is ok to talk about it. Even when…especially when…it hurts. With tears rolling down our cheeks, we answer the hard questions.

I know “our way” is not the only way. I know not every family who has experienced this type of loss wants to talk about it the way we do. But the number one thing I hear from my brothers and sisters in bereavement – whether their loss was suffered during the pregnancy or after birth – is that they want to feel seen. They want their loss to be acknowledged. They want their baby to be recognized – called by name. They want to hear from you. Not just during the first year. Not just on special occasions. And not just during a month that is set aside for this purpose. But always.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable. Yes, there might be some tears. But those tears, the ones you see when you ask a bereaved parent about their baby…those aren’t tears of sadness. At least in part, they are tears of respite. Tears of joy. Tears of appreciation for your courage in speaking about what many treat as unspeakable.

If you know a family who has suffered the loss of a child, don’t look away…see them. Ask the hard question. I promise, through the tears they will appreciatively answer.

 

 

One month.

One month. 30 days. 720 hours. 43,200 minutes.

One trip to the ER. Two trips to the doctor’s office. Three visits with a lactation consultant.

20+ hours of doula services that have saved mama’s sanity.

Over 5,000 minutes of nursing (but really, who’s counting…) Seven days (that felt like a decade) using a supplemental nursing system. 120 ounces of milk pumped and frozen.

One church service wrapped in a blanket because of an en route blowout. Mama didn’t pack extra clothes. #rookiemistake

Number of diapers…don’t really want to know.

One case of HF&M for big sister. Followed by a respiratory virus, which led to a three-day / two-night hospital stay. Five total days and nights completely segregated as a family in the first two weeks.

One K-State football game (plus one tailgate) every weekend since birth. Because #futurewildcat.

Approximately 832 daily meltdowns. Because THREE girls under ONE roof.

An embarrassing number of decaf lattes for mama. Because they’re cheaper than therapy.

Long days. Short nights. Countless sweet newborn snuggles.

Sweet baby snuggles.

 

However you count it, we are 1/12 of the way through the first year. Just like that. 

Lakyn Lee Hummel, you are loved. Beyond measure.

This is Thirty-Two

Yesterday was a good day. Yesterday was a HARD day. Yesterday, I turned 32.

Yesterday — My sweet husband had to work, so I kissed him goodbye in a sleep-deprived stupor long before the sun came up. He got home just in time to jump in on the nightly bedtime routine and fall back into bed completely spent. I missed him. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an ordinary day. And ordinary days are better with him by my side.

Yesterday — I spent the majority of the day at home alone caring for my 5-day-old baby (formal introduction coming soon). Which means all of the good things (like sleepy snuggles and afternoon snoozes) and all of the hard things (like an explosive baby blow-out all over the bed, which then meant the sheets needed washed).

Sweet baby snuggles.

Yesterday — I was essentially isolated from my older daughter (for the third day in a row) because she was diagnosed with hand, foot and mouth earlier in the week. Explaining to a 3-year-old why she can’t stay at home with her mommy and daddy or give her newborn sister hugs & kisses is nothing short of brutal. My heart hurt for her this week in ways I didn’t know it could.

Yesterday — I was separated from my family who is in town because…well…a 5-day-old baby and a toddler with HF&M. And, my poor parents who took the brunt of caring for said toddler came down with their own case of the ick. So…no birthday hugs for this girl.

Yesterday — I ached. Physically, mentally and emotionally ached. Everywhere. Partly childbirth recovery. Partly sleep deprivation. But mostly a hectic, stressful week that looked absolutely noting like I had imagined our first week home with baby would look.

But yesterday — it  was so good. Because all of these really hard things….they are rooted in good things. Really good things.

Coffee and diamonds.

Like my husband — who kissed me goodbye before the sun kissed the morning sky (after the kind of sleepless night you have with a newborn). Yes, he was gone on my birthday. On what would have been our very first Saturday at home together as a family. But…he is providing for our family with a career in an industry he loves. His passion provides his paycheck, and that’s pretty rare. Also…he made sure that I felt not only loved  on my birthday, but also known. I woke up to a fresh pot of coffee, the sweetest card and a beautiful ring — baby band #3. Did I mention the coffee? Because he knew this mama would need a whole lot of #coffeeandjesus to get through the day. That’s love.

And this newborn baby — whoa. I started my day, also before the sun came up, feeding her from my own body (which was then demanded of me again and again throughout the day). I answered every cry and met every need. I cleaned up poop and spit-up and spilled milk. Because I am her mother. And that is a miracle that’s not lost on me. And through tired eyes, I got to watch the night turn into day and then the day turn back into night with her snuggled soundly on my chest. Holymoly I am #blessed.

And my Lexi girl — she had a long, hard week. Probably the hardest of all of us. Monday she woke up and her baby sister came into this world and everything changed just like that. Add on the awful discomfort of hand, foot and mouth and several days that she couldn’t be around her mama and sister…it was enough to make any person break, let alone a 3-year-old. But she is tough. So, so tough. I saw her resilient spirit more clearly this week than I ever have before. And it made me exponentially proud to be her mama.

And then there’s my family — Y’all. There are not enough good words in the world to describe them. Last weekend they loved, supported and comforted me through three days of agonizing pre-labor. They were there to welcome our sweet girl into this world and handle all-of-the-things I couldn’t. And my parents pretty much earned their Sainthood taking care of Lexi full-time so we could keep everyone at home as healthy as possible. Their love is supernatural and sacrificial. And even though our first week at home was not what I’d hoped…I am beyond words grateful for the incredible support and love that surrounded me each day. How lucky am I to bring my daughters into a family like that?

Every discomfort, every ache, every tear this week was so worth it. Because sometimes, the most beautiful things grow and flourish in the most difficult places.

So this is thirty-two. It’s not a birthday I will remember because there were extravagant gifts or a spectacular party. It wasn’t glamorous and there are no Instagram-worthy photos to commemorate the day. But it’s a day I will never forget, because it so perfectly embodied the hard stuff and the good stuff of this every-day life I get to live. And the humans I get to love through it all. And those things are far better than gifts and cake and parties any day of the week.

With Grace,

Jen

Dear Emmy…

For the past couple of weeks, I have been in full nesting mode. At least, to the extent my “almost due” body has allowed (someone actually used that phrase to describe my ever-impressive physique recently…I just thought to myself…you should have seen 36 weeks with twins!)

In the midst of cleaning out bathroom cabinets, sorting through no-longer-worn clothes and organizing e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g I could get my hands on, I allowed myself to slow down for a couple of hours to sort through one tub in particular. Yours.

It’s hard to wrap my brain around, even now. How can your beautiful, precious, meaningful life be summed up by the contents of one large plastic tub?

It hadn’t been opened it since we moved to Kansas…almost three years ago. Everything kind of got stuffed in there to “deal with later” because the loss was still too fresh. Now, with some time and distance between my heart and that day, I was able look at things from a new perspective.

There were some things I actually took out – realizing their irrelevance. Things from who exactly I couldn’t remember and that you never actually used. Inanimate objects that once held great value had lost their power over my heart. And that felt good.

Other things, however, still made my soul ache. Like the pair of boots that matched your sisters that we used in our pregnancy announcement photos. And the little outfit your daddy and I picked out in Chicago that you didn’t get to come home in. And the book we read to you and Lexi after all the tubes and monitors had been unhooked, and we we free to just be a family of four for a brief moment.

The hardest thing to look through, though, was a box. I didn’t even remember what was in it at first, and when I took the top off, I didn’t realize the floodgates I was opening. Cards and letters from friends and family and some people I didn’t even know. Words of sorrow and grief and hope and love. Prayers that poured in over us. I read each and every one, sobbing at such raw reminders of our loss.

I needed that time, though. Time alone with you. Time before our next baby girl comes into this world to remember my baby girl in heaven. Time to re-grieve the immense hole your death has left in my heart that will never be filled, no matter how many babies fill our home.

What I realized through this time – through my lack of connection to much of the physical “stuff” but deep emotional ties to the words written by those who love us – is that your memory isn’t defined by a tub full of things at all. It lives on in how you changed our lives. In how you changed the lives of so many who never even met you. You changed lives, Emmy girl, and your memory lives on through that. 

Each night before I lay down, I go into the room you should be sharing with Lexi. The room she will soon share with her baby sister. And I tell each of you goodnight and that I love you. Because just like the little girl who is sleeping in the bed and the baby who is growing inside of me – you, my angel, very much still live here. In us, you live.

Miss you most baby girl,

Mama

Dear Lexi Rae…

Oh, sweet girl. There is so much I want to say to you…

I’m not quite sure where the last 39 weeks have gone. It’s hard to believe that in the next week(ish) we will be bringing home your baby sister. Although she is already a part of our family, her physical presence will bring a whole new meaning to our lives.

When we found out right before Christmas that we’d be adding to our family, I thought we had all the time in the world…for just…everything. I should have known better.

Photo by the incredibly talented Autumn Shoemaker of we chase the light.

Time has a way of doing that – slipping right through our hands. I can honestly say, of all the emotions I WAS prepared for this pregnancy, the way I’m feeling about the impending changes to my relationship with you have totally caught me off guard. In so many ways, I’m just not ready.

A few weeks ago, I posted this:

Honestly, I have continued to fight these feelings of anxiety, guilt and fear with each passing day.  One night this week, it completely overwhelmed me. I laid on the couch, absolutely exhausted, needing just a few minutes to myself. But as I listened to you and your daddy playing outside, my heart was breaking – torn between my physical and mental need for a break and my primal desire to not waste one second of time with you.

These emotions are uncharted territory for your mama’s heart. I have trudged slowly but steadily through the grief of seeing you separated from Emmy, and somewhat learned how to handle those complex feelings. But this – I am still learning. So as we move into this new space as a family, I want you to know a few things…

I want you to know that I love you. Like, to the depths of my soul and deepest corners of my heart kind of love. It’s a love you will not understand until you become a mother. And then, it will suddenly all make sense.

I want you to know that things are going to change. A lot. And parts of that change will be so, so hard – for both of us. But it will also be beautiful and exciting, and while we will remember parts of our lives before this baby, we will never want to go back.

I want you to know that I will mess up. In so many ways as a mama, I will fall short – for both you and your sister. I will give in when I shouldn’t because it’s easier than the alternative. I will lose my temper with you because the exhaustion will have ahold of my brain. And I will fail to show up in ways I know I should because at times, there will just not be enough of me to go around. But I promise you this, sweet girl – I will do my very best. Every day I will wake up and love you and your sisters and your daddy with everything I have. Just know that some days, it might feel like it wasn’t enough.

Finally, I want you to know that your sisters will be among your greatest blessings. I am deeply sorry you have to navigate your life without Emmy by your side – that your heart will forever know the ache of that missing piece. But just because she is not here physically does not mean she is not with you – now and always. As for the baby sister you’re about to meet, you can bet she will drive you absolutely crazy. She will take your toys and someday your clothes and on many days your sanity. But, when it really counts – in life’s best and worst moments – the two of you all three of you will have each other. 

I am so proud and grateful and humbled that God chose me to be you mama. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would have the three most incredible daughters. But HIS plans for me were are so much better than my own.

Love you most sweet girl,

Your Mama