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.

 

 

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

Broken Body, Brave Soul

At the very moment I am writing this, three years ago, my baby’s heart stopped beating. I had the great privilege of holding her in my arms as she was set free from her broken body – leaving me with a piece of her brave soul.

This day is hard. It will never pass without a recognition of her absence in our lives. The ache in my heart for that girl will be a part of me until the day I hold her in heaven. Like my brown eyes and my stubborn spirit, it is now just a part of who I am.

But Emmy’s story is made up of so much more than sadness and pain. Woven into even the most difficult moments are feelings of hope and joy and peace. The death of a child will change you forever. But it is up to you how.

There have absolutely been moments of emotional turmoil and relational tensions and heartache that seemed to heavy to carry. But we have learned how to cope. How to dig deeper into our faith than I ever thought possible. How to lean in to the discomfort and look in to realize what we do have right in front of us.

It has lead to the sweetest family traditions. And an astonishing understanding of life and loss and heaven in a little girl who truly knows and deeply loves a sister she cannot see. The things about her sister and about heaven that come out of that girl’s mouth are inconceivable for a three-year-old. Some day, when I’m brave enough, I will share.

For now, I’ll just share these. Our day celebrating Emmy…

Helping dad dig the hole for Emmy’s new tree!

“Stamping” the bottom of the hole with dad before the tree went in.

Emmy’s original tree, a Spring Snow Crabapple, is on the right. It was planted with our extended family at her 1 year memorial ceremony. The tree on the left is the one we planted today. Lexi wanted a tree for her sister that would get purple blooms in the spring, so we went with the Oklahoma Redbud. Can’t wait to see them both blooming next year!

Talks about sissy. They happen on a regular basis, but especially on the day we celebrate her going to heaven.

Sending sissy messages to heaven on balloons. This year Lexi also decided to send her a sucker (it took three balloons to make sure it would actually float!)

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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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