Sunday, March 19, 2017

Welcoming Emma!

This is long overdue, but here is Emma's birth story...

Friday, March 18, 2016, I went into work, as usual. My last doctor's appointment showed no significant progress but I was slightly starting to slip into possible labor. Still, because of our unique situation, I really wanted my doctor there to be the one to deliver Emma. With that in mind, I was scheduled to be induced that evening.

Before heading to the hospital my parents came by and picked up Ava and Jetta (our dog). The next time we would see them, Ava's little sister would be with us.

I checked in at hospital at about 8:00 p.m. After changing into an oh-so-glamorous hospital gown, the nurses started my I.V. and asked me a great number of personal questions -- as expected. Dan snapped a few photos and made an attempt to get comfy on the nearby couch. At 10:00 p.m. we got the party started and I took my first dose of Misoprostol (Cytotec) (cut in half) to begin the process. I didn't know it at the time, but at some point I was also given Pitocin. So long as I was comfortable, my job was to rest.

Naturally, I couldn't sleep, so Dan and I watched Full House on Nick at Nite. Then, just as my contractions began to amplify, Dan fell asleep. HA! Of course. I focused on Full House as my contractions quickly transitioned from uncomfortable to extremely painful. Suddenly, it was like I was on a rollercoaster of terrible pain. Once Fresh Prince was on my contractions were excruciating and I focused on the sounds of the show as I took deep breaths and resisted the strong urge to tense up. I griped the side of the bed as I inhaled and exhaled with great force. Despite my attempt to be as quiet as possible, my moaning and groaning became so aggressive that I disrupted Dan's sleep and even prompted my nurse to check on me.

My nurse checked my status and I was only about 2-3 centimeters along. Not far enough along to get an epidural. She also said that my contractions were about three minutes apart -- peak to peak. So, in reality, I was only getting about 30 seconds (if that!) of relief at a time. I was in so much pain, I didn't want anyone to touch me. So the most anyone could do was encourage me verbally.

"Do you want something to help with the pain?" my nurse asked as she tried to comfort me. At this point my only option was I.V. meds, until I was far enough along for an epidural, so I opted to give it a try. I never had these meds with Ava, so this was about to be a new experience for me. I was in labor with Ava for almost 14 hours and my contractions never got this bad -- not even close. Naturally, I blame the Pitocin.

When the nurse came back and got ready to give me some pain meds, she told me what I could expect. She said that the meds would give me a strong urge to close my eyes and possibly sleep. If that happens, I should just go with it and close my eyes. I was also told it would happen fast. We waited for the peak of my next contraction and she administered my pain medication. Then, just like she said, I instantly felt the meds go into effect.

"Whoa..." I moaned as I suddenly felt drunk-tired. "You weren't kidding when you said it would happen fast."

My eyelids became heavy and I certainly felt a strong urge to sleep. For a brief moment, I felt some form of relief. That is, until my next contraction came. It was like a freight train charging through my body. Once my contractions started to amplify I was wide awake and gripping the bed in pain, just as I was before. It was awful! I wanted to sleep so badly because my body felt weak and my thoughts were hazy from the meds. Even my speech became awkward and sluggish. I was terribly uncomfortable, to say the least. One moment I was nearly asleep and the next I was groaning in excruciating pain.

I had to put up with this for well over an hour (getting about 30 seconds, or less, of relief between contractions), all while they closely monitored Emma and how she was reacting to my contractions (there were obvious concerns). I wanted my baby girl to come as quickly as possible, so I continued to resist the urge to tense up with each contraction. In other words, I tried to keep my whole body tension-free so the contractions could do their job. My adrenaline and hormones were raging so intensely that my whole body began to shake violently, which made keeping my body limp all the more challenging. My teeth chattered like I was freezing and I was struggling to stay mentally focused, but I was determined to stay strong and sharp. Then, finally, I heard the magic words... "Are you ready for an epidural?" At last, relief was on the way.

When the anesthesiologist arrived Dan had to step out. I sat on the edge of my bed as they raised me up. Dang... I just wanted to sleep. I held on to my nurse as my whole body continued to shake violently. I arched my back and fought to be as still as possibly as the anesthesiologist placed a needle directly into my spine. The cool, familiar sensation ran down my spine and I exhaled.

"Do you feel relief?" the anesthesiologist asked.

"A little," I quietly replied with my eyes closed.

My left side was quickly starting to feel a little numb, so when they laid me down they elevated my left side so that my right side would get some relief as well. Sadly, relief never found it's way to my right side. Each and every contraction felt like someone was taking a sword and stabbing me in the stomach on my right side -- going all the way through my back. The nurses tried multiple times to get the epidural to work throughout my body, but it never did.

At this point I was half numb, shaking violently (virtually non-stop), my teeth wouldn't stop chattering, and my stomach/back felt like I was getting stabbed repeatedly. On top of all this, I still had the urge to sleep -- thanks to my I.V. meds. Obviously, sleep was not going to happen.

After many failed attempts to get proper pain relief, my nurse decided to ask the anesthesiologist to redo my epidural. UGH. I fought hard to stay still as she worked on my epidural. Even something so simple as scooting a tad to one side of my bed felt painfully difficult. Then, at last, it happened. RELIEF! The pain eased and I could finally (FINALLY!) relax... or so I thought.

Just as I was beginning to think I could actually catch a few z's, I noticed that my room was suddenly flooded with busy medical staff. I believe my thought at this point was something along the lines of, "Ohhhh crap."

Sure enough, after I was examined, I was told it was time to start pushing.

Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me!!

I'm tired, I'm numb, I'm shaking... and now that I'm finally (somewhat) pain-free you expect me to push out a baby?! Good grief.

Big inhale. Long exhale. Okay, I'm ready. I've got this.

Dan was on my right and my nurse was on my left. My doctor was at the foot of my bed and a room full of female medical staff were ready to care for me and my baby girl. Then, I started pushing.

It was incredible to have a whole room literally cheer and encourage me by name. I struggled to find the right way to push (since I was numb from the waist down), but I fought long and hard and I eventually figured it out -- just like I did with Ava. I was ready to see my baby girl.

I pushed for about 15 minutes and towards the end my doctor said our baby girl was being "difficult" and she would need forceps to help her out. Ugh!

"If it's okay with you, I think we should take her straight to nursery instead of putting her on your skin," my doctor suggested with a serious tone. She was calm, but obviously concerned all at once. In other words, she wanted the medical staff to take an extra detailed look at Emma before I got to hold her. It would all be in my room, so I was obviously fine with it. Emma and I were both struggling, and I just wanted to get her out so she'd be safe.

"Whatever is best for her, just do it," I instantly replied.

A nurse gave me oxygen, for Emma's sake, and as I took deep breaths I focused on rebuilding my strength for my next attempt at pushing.

Suddenly, Dan went pale.

"I feel dizzy," he quietly spoke. I looked up at him and he was white, on the verge of passing out. Immediately, he was instructed to take a seat. Thankfully he was still very much present and able to witness his daughter's birth. In his place, another nurse came and held my right leg as I pushed... pushed... puuuuuuushed.

The next two contractions I felt my doctor use the forceps and I thought to myself two things... (1) "Thank God I'm numb." and (2) "Well, there goes my quick recovery." Despite everything being numb, I could feel dramatic pressure and force as they tried to urgently assist Emma and get her into a safe situation. Yep, once again I would need stitches.

Then, as the room echoed a boisterous sound of encouragement, Emma made her glorious appearance at 4:46 am! Her cry brought a tremendous wave of relief over my entire body. Everything I had just experienced, all the pain and all the discomfort, it all melted away.

Dan stood up and went to be with his daughter while my doctor covered my lower body with blue sanitary paper. Then, my heart sank. I looked over at Dan as he happen to turn and look at me.

"Stay with Emma!" I begged him loudly as I fought back tears. "Look at her! Just look at her! Don't look at me."

I knew what was coming. The time had come for our son to physically depart.

My doctor and I had discussed this moment multiple times and I thought I was "ready" but I wasn't. I just wasn't. I had seen our son at an ultrasound on November 6, 2015, and I saw him again during an ultrasound months later. I knew he would not look the same. Still, my doctor and I discussed several possible outcomes. Should he be "preserved" we would have the option to hold him and if things were not, well, then she would just take care of his remains.

I had nothing covering me up after Ava was born, so I knew this blue paper was there to protect my view. So, while Emma was being taken care of medically, and cleaned up, my doctor took care of my son.

With sad eyes, my doctor looked up at me. "The placenta is taken care of," she spoke softly. Her indirect message told me what I feared most -- that there was nothing properly preserved for us to see. I was not going to get to hold my son.

"Thank you," I quietly choked on my words as we made gentle eye contact. She looked back down and continued to take care of my body. While her choice of words were limited, I appreciated her message and her gentle tone.

"It's okay," my nurse quietly chimed in as she hovered over me on my left side. I looked up at her. "It's okay to cry."

So that's exactly what I did. I cried. I mean, I cried! It was an ugly cry, I'm sure. I cried out of joy and relief that my daughter was finally here. I cried because my son was no longer physically with me. I cried because I was about to hold one baby instead of two. I cried because I wanted to sleep so badly.

After what felt like an eternity, Emma was finally brought over to me and I got to hold her for the first time. I was exhausted -- physically and mentally. Still, nothing compares to holding your baby in your arms for the very first time. I was in awe of how perfect she was in that moment. Nothing else mattered. Right then I was just focused on how quickly I was falling head over heals, madly in love with my second daughter.

By 6:00 a.m. I had been awake for 24 hours. I had almost six hours of painful active labor and virtually no time to rest. Still, once all the medication faded away, I got my second wind. I cleaned myself up and got comfy in my recovery room as we prepared for visitors.

There is more to this story and how life continues after losing a baby, but I will save that for another day. For now, this is a joyful story about how our precious Emma joined our family. It's amazing how much your heart swells when another child enters your life and there are no words to describe how remarkable it was to see how Ava instantly fell in love with her baby sister. These are the moments that make even the most unbearable labor pain totally and absolutely worth it.

God is good.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Nelson Twins: The Unexpected Journey

If you know Dan and I, then you already know that having children is no easy task for us. I'm sure that most of you already know the infertility journey we had with our daughter, but not everyone knows our most recent journey and how we came to expecting twins.

After having our daughter, I felt confident that my body would reset and learn how to go through the motions of getting pregnant. Yep, that didn't happen. I got my period, but once again is was extremely rare. I began exercising more and eating healthy -- I even became a huge fan of Jimmy John's unwich (a bread-less sandwich). Nothing seem to help. Then, eventually, I went back to my fertility doctor and made plans for some assistance.

"What would you like to do?" Dr. S asked as he casually leaned back in his chair behind his desk.

"Whatever worked last time," I calmly replied.

"Should we wait for you to start your period or would you like me to give you something?"

I laughed. "Please, just give me something to get things moving. Who knows when I'll start on my own."

A plan was in motion. I was going to attempt the same game plan that successfully got me pregnant with my daughter.

Generally speaking, what happened during this attempt was similar to my experiences when I got pregnant the first time -- nothing went according to plan. My body was still random and unpredictable, confusing everyone at the fertility clinic who worked with me. Every visit was filled with questions for everyone. Was it working? What was my body doing? What should we do next? As for me, I gave it all to God. He knew what was going on.

Then, in early July, I discovered that my body was ovulating and I was going to release two eggs -- no additional assistance needed.

"So, does this mean I am going to have twins?" I asked, slightly nervous.

"Not at all," my nurse, Jennifer, replied. "This just increases you odds that one will get fertilized."

I wasn't convinced.

"Very often women release multiple eggs, but only one gets fertilized," she continued. "If you were about to release four or five eggs then, yes, we would cancel this cycle because you would have high odds of conceiving multiples."

I still wasn't convinced.

"Your treatment gives you an 8-10% chance of conceiving multiples."

Almost there, keep going. I'm still not convinced.

"Okay, I've been here for six years and I have only seen one other woman conceive twins doing what you're doing."

Alright, my mind is finally at ease. Don't get me wrong, the idea of having twins was something Dan and I dreamed about, but the reality of twins had me a little nervous.

Time passed and on Friday, July 10th I took a home pregnancy test and it said that I was pregnant! Then, on Sunday, July 12th I took two more (different) home pregnancy tests. Every test was positive!

We were on vacation when we found out that we were expecting, so I didn't make it back into the fertility clinic until Monday, July 20th for a blood test to confirm my pregnancy. They usually take two blood tests about 48 hours apart to ensure that my hCG numbers are significantly increasing. However, since my numbers were so high on Monday they felt that there was no need for a second blood test.

I noted my numbers and did a Google search. Considering how far along I was, my numbers were presenting evidence that I was expecting twins. I called Jennifer to ask. According to her, my numbers were not exactly shouting twins, but another possibility was just that I was further along than expected.

On July 22nd, I went in for my first ultrasound at 5+ weeks. Right away I thought I saw two babies, but the ultrasound technician was focused on one obvious little baby -- who already had a lovely heartbeat.

Several minutes later, while carefully looking around, the ultrasound technician noticed another little something quickly pop up and then vanish on the screen.

"Did you see that?" she smiled.

"Yes," I replied as I smiled and nervously covered my mouth with my hands.

She moved around carefully and then it popped up again. Sure enough, there were two little babies inside me! I was happy/excited/nervous all at once. This sure put a significant game change to mine and Dan's plans, but what a blessing it was! Unfortunately, my joy didn't last long. It was quickly discovered that Baby B had no heartbeat.

Once my ultrasound was over, I went into Dr. S's office with Jennifer and we discussed the results of my ultrasound.

"Well, it looks like you were right," she smiled as she handed me my babies' first photos. "There are two babies."

I smiled as I took the photos.

"Unfortunately," Jennifer continued, "Baby B does not have a heartbeat and we should have one by now."

Tears flowed from my eyes as Jennifer kindly explained that I was, very likely, about to experience a vanishing twin syndrome. She advised that I bring Dan (or another loved one) to my next ultrasound because it was very likely that Baby B would be much smaller at my next appointment.

"I know you were nervous about having twins," she quietly spoke as she handed my some tissue.

"If I'm expecting two, I want to have two," I sobbed. "I don't want to lose one. That's my baby!"

Jennifer was very compassionate and helpful during this difficult and confusing time. Still, I left feeling uncertain what to expect.

I called Dan and gave him the news. Normally I would have planned a fun way to surprise him with my news, but Baby B's unlikely survival didn't exactly call for a celebration. So, instead, Dan got the news in a more direct fashion -- not fun at all.

Sure enough, Dan made plans to join me at my next ultrasound appointment. We were caught off guard when Baby B was slightly bigger and had a heartbeat. Still, my team at the fertility clinic didn't leave much hope for Baby B. This went on for several weeks. Each ultrasound Dan joined me and each week Baby B showed some progress, but clearly wasn't keeping up with Baby A -- who was growing and developing right on schedule.

We held off on telling immediate family about our twin news, but the grief from week to week became overwhelming. It breaks my heart to say that some of our family members got the news the same way Dan did, direct and matter-of-fact. It sucked and there was almost always tears.

I was exhausted and feeling sick 24/7, but never throwing up. I was an emotional wreck between ultrasounds, wondering when Baby B would no longer be with me. I prayed... and I cried... then I prayed some more... which eventually led to even more ugly sobs.

Normally I stop seeing my fertility team when I'm about eight weeks along. Still, Baby B's uncertain development brought me back to the fertility clinic for one more ultrasound -- my team was hoping they could give me some clear answers.

It was Wednesday, August 19th and I was 9+ weeks along. My sickness had faded dramatically over the last couple of days, so I assumed it was because Baby B had let go. I went to my appointment, "ready" to hear that Baby B had officially passed. Instead, Dan and I were beyond shocked when Baby B had a dramatic growth spurt and only appeared to be a couple of days behind Baby A. For the first time, we all felt that there was actual hope for Baby B. Dan and I were relieved! In a matter of a seconds, we went from expecting to lose a baby to suddenly planning for twins! Yes, this was most definitely a positive turn of events.

From that moment on, sharing our pregnancy news became much easier. We even taught Ava to help us. Once we shared our news that we were expecting, we'd then follow up by explaining how Ava likes to help share our news.

"What's in Mommy's belly?" we'd ask her.

"Twins!" she'd proudly exclaim.

Oh the trill of sharing our good news was such a relief. We almost always included the story of how things were touch and go with Baby B, which seem to make our little miracle shine a bright light of hope to all who heard.

I had a visit with my regular doctor on Tuesday, September 29th -- just before Dan and I left for a vacation in Arizona with friends. Once again, I was blessed to hear two separate heartbeats pounding within my belly. It's a beautiful sound!

Then, on Friday, October 2nd we made our news Facebook official when we took a photo at the Grand Canyon...

As expected, we never really stopped praying (or worrying) about our twins -- especially Baby B. Still, each passing week we felt encouraged to start preparing for our twins to arrive. We bought matching cribs, a double stroller, tested car seats (to see what we could fit three-across in the CR-V), and planned different room options if our twins were girls/boys/both. We even started discussing possible names and continued to get Ava used to the idea of there being two new babies in our family.

The twins don't move too much; they just seem to tickle me from time to time. I did some research online and, according to lots of other moms who have carried twins, this is very common because twins don't have nearly as much room as single babies.

On Wednesday, October 28th I had my usual monthly check-up. Once again, both heartbeats were present. In fact, because of where they were each located I even had a sense that they were both head down. Woohoo! I also had normal/healthy blood pressure, no swelling, no cramping, and no bleeding.

Finally, our big moment had arrived. It was time to get an ultrasound that would (hopefully) tell us what Baby A and Baby B are. Since my pregnancy is considered "high risk" because of the twins, I had to make an appointment with a Level 2 Specialist from Rush. Thankfully, they set up a remote location at our hospital twice a month, so we didn't have to go all the way downtown for our detailed ultrasound.

On Friday, November 6th we went in for our ultrasound. We were the first couple scheduled, so we got in quick -- so nice. An female ultrasound technician started our ultrasound as we waited for the Rush doctor to arrive. I laid down on the narrow bed and pulled up my shirt and adjusted my maternity pants so my belly was completely exposed. She placed the warm ultrasound gel on my belly and started scanning my belly.

"Do you know the sex of the babies?" she asked as she continued roaming around my belly.

"No, but we'd like to know," I smiled as I watched mine and Dan's personal viewing screen.

First thing she noted was that both babies were head down.

I looked over at Dan, who was sitting in a chair next to me. "I told you I thought they were head down." He smiled.

"Well, this baby (on the right) looks like a girl." She moved over to my left. "And this baby looks like a boy."

I quickly turned to Dan and flashed him a big smile -- a girl and a boy, this was what we were hoping for! Dan smiled back and we both continued to watch the monitor as we lovingly gazed upon our precious babies.

The ultrasound tech noted that our daughter would be called Baby A, since she was lowest and most likely to deliver first. She quickly got to work at taking specific images of Baby A. She only took a couple of images when she quickly reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone.

"I think this is the doctor," she announced as she looked at her phone. "I'm going to go get him and bring him back so he can take over." After a simple "Okay" from me, she took off.

After about 10-15 minutes, the doctor arrived and politely introduced himself. He sat down next to me and basically started over, telling us what the lady before had said -- head down, Baby A is a girl and Baby B is a boy... we'll start with Baby A.

He swirled the wand around the top of my belly, getting lots of images of our active baby girl. He took several photos for official business and even printed some for us to keep. About half-way through his examination I politely asked him if Baby A still looks like a girl. "Oh yes," he replied with confidence.

"Now let's go take a look at Baby B," he announced as he moved the wand over to my left side. Upon looking at our son, the doctor quickly noted that he was on the smaller side,

"He's always been smaller," I explained in a calm, matter-of-fact tone. "Isn't is common for one baby to be smaller than the other?"

"Well..." his voice was quiet and his eyes were looking closely at the screen, "it can happen... but not really..."

Moments later, the doctor tried to pick up our son's heartbeat. When I heard nothing I wasn't immediately concerned. Babies move so much and when they're not in the right spot it can be tricky to get a quality sound, but then the doctor moved over to Baby A and got her heartbeat good and strong almost instantly. It made me smile. The doctor quickly turned off the sound and turned to face me.

"This is not good," he quietly spoke. I felt my eyes widen and my stomach twist. "B has no heartbeat. B has passed."

My heart sank and my eyes instantly filled with tears as I immediately replied, "No! There were two heartbeats just last week!" I turned and looked at Dan. "There were two heartbeats!" I looked back at the doctor. "There were two heartbeats last week. Check again! Please, check again!" I begged.

The doctor didn't say a word, his eyes spoke directly to me. Baby B, our son, was no longer living inside of me.

I covered my face as I burst into tears. I couldn't form any words, all I could do was cry. Dan and the doctor held my hands and helped me sit up. I continued to sob uncontrollably as denial continued to race throughout my mind. Is this really happening?

Once my tears slowed down and I managed to get in a couple good breaths, the doctor said he would go and contact my personal doctor. When he stepped away, Dan and I just held each other and cried.

Minutes later, my doctor arrived and opened her arms to give me a long, drawn out hug of support. She expressed sincere condolences and asked the other doctor if we knew the sex of the baby.

"It looks like a boy," he replied.

From that moment on, our doctor referred to Baby B as our son and I really appreciated that.

As I continued to slowly calm down, Dan and I began asking a lot of painfully difficult questions.

What do we do now? Nothing. Your daughter is developing beautifully and we don't want to disturb her, so we're just going to let him be and keep an eye on your daughter.

Will I have to get a c-section? No, you can certainly deliver naturally if you'd like.

Will I deliver him? Yes, when it comes time to deliver your daughter you will deliver her first and then you will deliver your son.

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I didn't want to ask my next question.

What... what will be left... when I do deliver him? He will likely dissolve away and by the time you give birth; there probably won't be much left, besides the placenta. Of course, if by chance he does remain much like he is now, you will certainly have an opportunity to hold him and do what you'd like with his body.

Such questions I never thought I'd ask. Questions that I didn't want to ask, but I'm glad that I did. Without knowing for sure, based of Baby B's history and current state, it is believed that he had a chromosomal abnormality and that is why he did not make it.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. This may be the last time, the only time, we will see our son in this condition -- on earth anyway. Immediately I asked if someone could scan my belly and get some photos of our son. So after my doctor left, the other doctor proceeded to fulfill my request.

The room was silent as we got our first good look at our son. He was so still and quiet. His only movement came from my body and his sister. I just wanted to hold him!

Once the doctor was finished and we said our goodbyes, the female ultrasound technician came back in the room and shared her sympathy.

"I knew," she started to speak as comforted me, "that's why I had to excuse myself."

Surely delivering such news is the worst part for any medical professional -- and is probably a main reason why I would hate such a job.

Once I was cleaned up and ready to leave, Dan and I slowly walked down the long hallway towards the exit. Our faces were still red from crying and I clung tightly to our baby photos. As we stepped into the waiting room, a room filled with couples also expecting babies, I turned my face and used my hair to cover my puffy, red, tear-stained face. I got out of there as quick as I could -- I didn't want to discourage any of the other parents with my obviously sad expression.

The experience left Dan and I numb. The only thing we could think of was not going to work and picking up Ava. Oh how we both just wanted to hug and hold Ava. So that's what we did. We each contacted work and made arrangements to take the rest of the day off. We also contacted Mary Jane (our pastor's wife, who was watching Ava).

We didn't do anything exciting. The day was a blur. We went out for lunch at The Cheesecake Factory and picked paint colors for our basement in an attempt to distract ourselves and stop crying.

Since we were scheduled to have family and friends come over the next day for a gender reveal party, we decided not to cancel the party, but instead we called everyone ahead of time to give them a heads up on what we had just found out. Obviously, those were not easy phone calls. While our hearts were heavy as we grieved our son, we also wanted to celebrate our daughter -- so we kept our gender secrets for the party. I especially encouraged our guests to come happy, because we still have a lot to celebrate.

Later that night, I was in my room, getting ready for bed. I thought about my babies and I burst into tears as I lovingly rubbed my belly.

"I'm so sorry, sweetie!" I quietly sobbed out loud, talking to my son. "Mommy is so sorry! I should have read to you more... I should have sang to you... I should have savored our time together... I'm sorry... I didn't know you were gone."

I know that there was nothing I could have done differently, but in that moment I just prayed that our son knows how much his mom and dad love and miss him.

The next day, the day of the party, it felt good to be surrounded by so much love and support. Over all, it was still a happy occasion. Then came time to reveal the gender of Baby A and Baby B...

Inside two large gift bags were balloons representing each baby. Dan tied a string to each bag and let Ava do the honor of revealing each baby. Baby A was first. Ava pulled the string and Dan helped the PINK balloons pour out on our family room floor. Our family and friends cheered for Baby A, Ava's little sister. Next, Ava was instructed to pull the string and reveal Baby B. Ava gave a playful tug and Dan helped BLUE balloons pour out onto the floor. I don't think every balloon made it out of the bag before Dan dropped the bag and began to cry. He sat next his sister (Stefanie) and his mother quickly went to his side for support. Soft claps and a wave of "awes" quietly echoed throughout the house.

While Dan was unable to speak, I addressed our broken hearts as we honored our son's life. Honestly, I don't remember what I said, but as I spoke I had my mom holding my right hand and my Aunt Tamie holding my left. I could see a room filled with red, tear-filled eyes and quiet sniffs as I spoke.

As I wrapped up our little memorial, I had one request. I asked that we have some time of prayer and reflection. I volunteered to open and close and, should no one else fill the gaps, a moment of silent prayer would also be appreciated. I was greatly encouraged when select loved ones prayed aloud for our son, daughter, and our broken hearts. It was a beautiful, bittersweet moment. I really felt so much peace and comfort in honoring our son.

That evening, I filled out the prayer request form on our church's website in hopes that the news would get out before the service Sunday morning. Thankfully, it did. As much as I was not looking forward to sharing such upsetting news, our church family was expecting an update and I didn't want anyone feeling bad for cheerfully asking for an update only to get some good and bad news.

Next came updating our news via Facebook. That took me a while. Then, on November 16th I posted two images...

Sharing such news twisted my gut and broke my heart every single time -- no matter how it was done. It was all so weird. Grieving a loss while celebrating a life. There really are no words to describe such a feeling. I've had such a hard time wrapping my head around this whole experience. I guess there is no way I ever will.

It has taken some time, but Ava seems to have successfully replaced "twins" with "baby sister" when we discuss why mommy's belly continues to grow. She is so excited about being a big sister and she can't wait to hold, hug, and kiss her little sister -- and sometimes she even claims she'll help with dirty diapers and share her toys. It's adorable!

Baby A (left) and Baby B (right)
Photo Credit: Robb Davidson

Baby A (left) and Baby B (right)
Photo Credit: Robb Davidson

Naturally, I have saved all the ultrasound photos we have of our twins. I plan to keep many of them in a specially made box, along with cards from loved ones, a few gifts we have gotten, and, of course, one of the Mickey Mouse onesies that we used to reveal our grand announcement at the Grand Canyon, in memory of our son.

As our second daughter's due date quickly approaches (YAY!), I just want to take a moment to say THANK YOU for the love and support we have gotten throughout this pregnancy. This pregnancy journey has been a roller coaster, to say the least, and while we still have the bittersweet task of delivering both babies ahead of us, I feel stronger knowing we are being lifted up in prayer -- and your continued prayers are greatly appreciated. I have a very active little girl growing inside of me and we can't wait to meet her!

Photo Credit: Robb Davidson

While our son did not get to officially meet his earthly parents, we know that he is happy, healthy, and safe with his Heavenly Father -- a father who also knows what it's like to grieve the death of a son.

Now, since I usually close these blog posts with a meaningful song, I will share "Through All Of It" by Colton Dixon. This song has gotten me through the ups and downs of this pregnancy, so I hope it will encourage you as well -- no matter what life's ups and downs bring your way. It is a beautiful reminder of how God, our Heavenly Father, is always there, in the good and bad times. He is there, through all of it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Celebrate Everything!!

Life is precious. Life is a gift. We say those words often, but how often do we live like we believe it? Why must a sudden tragedy always remind us to hug our loved ones and express our love? I say, don't wait for those reminders. Do it just because you can.
Sometimes I get teased for putting so much effort into birthdays and other celebrations. The truth is, I love to celebrate! I love an excuse to buy a gift, plan a party, go out for a nice dinner and make my family and friends feel special. Life is worth celebrating now. Right now!

In my eyes, virtually every achievement is worth celebrating. How you decide to celebrate is up to you. While some celebrations can be as simple as a trip to your favorite ice cream shop and others can be as extravagant as a ritzy vacation. Whatever your reason is to celebrate (and whatever your budget may be), just do something special to seize the moment and enjoy life. Because, let's face it, tragedy is all around us. Destruction, divorce, disease, and death... we've all experienced life's disappointments one way or another. So, why not raise the bar and live life's grand moments with a little extra flair and excitement? Let's make happy memories and celebrate life the best way possible.

Take a moment and think about which life achievements you've celebrated with loved ones. Surely you'll think of birthdays, weddings, graduations, babies, new jobs, and promotions. Why stop there? Life isn't easy and everyone has different goals and achievements. I say we celebrate new cars, new homes, new pets, good health, good report cards, no homework, a completed home/school project, the end of a hard school/work week... my point is, simply come up with reasons to just live in the moment more frequently.

I'll say it again. Life is precious. Life is a gift. Maybe those words struck you differently this time. Maybe you thought of a reason to celebrate today. I hope you did.

Here's a song that always makes me smile and reminds me that life is filled with precious memories. I hope it encourages you to celebrate all of life's sentimental moments -- both big and small.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why I Still Vacation with My Family

You see it in sitcoms, cartoons, and comic strips on a regular basis -- moms and dads daydreaming about the day their children turn 18 so they can cut them off and throw them into the real world. In my eyes, 18 is hardly an adult, but I guess you have to draw the line somewhere. Still, that is no excuse to give your children the boot and send them on their way. That is, unless you have children who spend their adult years like Alan from the Hangover trilogy. See the example below...

Anyway, the point I am getting to is this... I see no reason to turn my kids loose just because they turn into adults. No matter what happens, Ava will always be my daughter -- and this goes for any future child/children I am blessed with. I will never stop being my child's mom and it is my life's goal to always be a part my child's life.

This summer, as with tradition, Dan, Ava, and I will venture to Tennessee to spend a week-long vacation in a gorgeous three-bedroom, private cabin in the Smoky Mountains with my parents as well as my sister (Kathleen) and brother-in-law (Brad). During this week-long vacation we'll hit our favorite spots, go on hikes, try new restaurants, relax at the cabin, go swimming, and, most likely, go on new adventures -- last year Dan and Brad went bungee jumping. It'll be a week of quality family time and that in itself is my favorite part.

While Dan and I have plans for taking our little family on vacations of our own, I am grateful that we can travel with our extended families as well. There is just something about being on vacation that makes us different people. Maybe it's because we're not a home... maybe it's because we're away from work... maybe it's because we have no real obligations. All I know is, when I'm on vacation my mind is clear and I don't worry like I do when I'm at home. Personally, I think I'm more fun on vacation. I'm willing to try new foods, see new sights, and experience new things.

While on vacation, people are more likely to splurge on souvenirs and adventures. I'm not saying we become someone that we're not when we go on vacation, I'm saying that we show a different side of ourselves. Take my dad for example. One winter, my parents, Dan, Kathleen, Brad, and I spent a weekend in the Dells. Letting the "kids" take the lead, my dad joined us on a wide variety of water rides -- many of them he had no idea what to expect. After coming down a single tube slide, my dad reached the bottom and, in a slight panic, he started thrashing around, attempting to "swim" to shore. Kathleen and I rushed to his side and, as we helped him up, we called out, "Just stand up!" When he realized where he was, we all laughed when he admit, "Oh gee, I thought I was in a deep pool." To this day, we cannot tell that story without cracking up.

In April 2014, Dan's sister (Stefanie) came with us to California. During this trip, Stefanie and Ava both got to experience Disneyland for the very first time. Sure, Ava won't remember her experience, but for Aunt Stefanie it was a wonderful way to bond and share something extra special with her niece.

While visiting extended family in the U.P. (Michigan), Dan, Ava, and I shared a cabin with Dan's parents and Stefanie. One night, after Ava went to bed, Dan and I enjoyed some wine, cheese, and crackers with his parents and Stefanie. That night we stayed up late and had one of the best conversations we ever shared -- I can't even begin to describe the amount of love that poured out as we spoke. I believe that it's moments like these that keep families close.

As a child, vacations for my sister and I were an opportunity to stay up past our bedtime, watch TV in bed, eat dessert more frequently (or even as a meal), and do things we wouldn't get to do at home. Vacations are an opportunity to say you did something extra special with the ones you're closest with. Vacations are an excuse to take more photos and more home videos. Vacations are an excuse to bond with loved ones in a whole new way.

I want my children to grow up seeing their extended family in ways that Dan and I have seen them -- spontaneous, adventurous, and even extra silly. Ava is blessed to have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who absolutely love and adore her. I want her to have special memories with me and Dan, but I want her to have special memories with the extended family as well. In return, I'm hoping that someday Ava will want me and Dan to be part of her family circle. Just like I don't want to cut off Ava, I'm praying that she won't cut me off as well -- the street goes both ways.

Vacations don't have to be far away, expensive, or long to be enjoyable. I've stayed overnight in a hotel, relatively close to home, just to "get away" for a night with family. Still, no matter how I vacation, I'm always going spend that precious time with the ones I love.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What 15 Years Looks Like

Once the sparkle of a new year hits the ground and we stare into our cold future, that is January, a dark shadow begins to follow me. Once again I have started a new year without my best friend, Jessie.

15 years ago death separated the inseparable and I received one of my deepest emotional scars. It's been so long, that when I think back on precious memories Jessie and I shared, I often find myself in denial that Jessie and I were ever close. Wow. Not close? Good grief. Anyone who knew us, knew that we were practically attached at the hip! Phone calls, sleepovers, trips to the mall, rollerblading, pool parties, youth group, mission trips, road trips, movies, baking, singing, dancing... there's a lot two girls can do in 10+ years of friendship. 15 years is a long time to be separated and time has made our relationship feel distant and faded.

Jessie and I were like DJ and Kimmy from Full House, Corey and Shawn from Boy Meets World, Meredith and Christina from Grey's Anatomy... and to use a Grey's Anatomy quote, Jessie was my person. She was the first person I called when I had something (or nothing) to talk about. We were so comfortable in each other's homes that, given the opportunity, we'd answer each other's home phones -- yes, I'm talking land lines. When she called and I picked up the phone, she'd dive right into conversation because she recognized my voice -- and vice versa. We'd mail each other post cards and buy each other souvenirs when we went on vacation, we'd work every angle to get a last-minute sleepover, we'd attend each other's family parties, and we'd make special arrangements to call each other Collect when on vacation. Yeah, I know... we spent a lot of time on the phone.

Now, before you read any further, take a moment and watch this home video featuring me and Jessie.

We were both 15 years old when we made that video. Yep... that is what 15 years looks like.

15 years and I still miss her. Truth be told, I'm sure I'll never stop missing her. I'm sure there are many people out there who will think I just need to "get over it" and "move on," but I'd challenge each and every one of those people to take their best friend and imagine their future without him/her. Better yet, think about your best friend and imagine what your life would be like if he/she hasn't been a part of it for the last 15 years. Hurts, doesn't it? Life would be different and surely you'd feel like part of you was missing.

Every January I close my eyes and I can feel the cold air brush against my face as I departed from our most recent youth group meeting -- the last time I would see Jessie awake. I listen to songs that we used to sing together and I can still hear her voice singing along. I look at photos of her and when I gaze upon her bright smile I can hear her laugh.

I often wonder how different my life would be if Jessie was still with us. So much has happened and I can't help but feel annoyed that she's not here to share such special moments with me. I share the same Jessie stories over and over because I don't have any new ones. Every time I mention Jessie, I have to mention her in a past tense. Easily said... it sucks.

Every time January rolls around, I start replaying her accident, her time in the hospital, and her death over and over and over in my mind. I can still picture the hospital, the waiting room, and the moment Melanie couldn't look at me when she came to share the news of Jessie's latest brain scans. My mind begins to rapidly spiral out of control and before I know it, I'm drowning is a sea of what ifs.

Once my heart and mind are silent, God speaks. He reminds me of the kids who have gone to Phantom Ranch Bible Camp through our Something from Jessie scholarship. I picture chapel services during urban camp and the campers who fill the room to praise and worship God. They come to camp with bullet wounds and pregnant. They have parents who are drug dealers or are in jail for dealing drugs. They hear guns shots more often than an ice cream truck in their neighborhood. They don't always get three meals a day -- or even a single meal every day. Many are broken... many are scared... and many don't feel loved.

I am a selfish girl.

Every January I get caught up in missing my best friend and often I get sad/angry when I think about all that she has missed. Then, when I gather with Jessie's loved ones, we exchange Jessie stories and talk about the Something from Jessie scholarship. Since August 2001, we have been raising funds in Jessie's memory to send inner-city Chicago youth to Phantom Ranch Bible Camp -- the same camp Jessie and I attended as campers and worked as summer staff. While we can't help but miss Jessie, we also find joy in knowing that God has used her death to help others in need. A week of camp gives these inner-city kids three meals a day, a bed to sleep on (in a safe environment), an opportunity to try new things (skiing, horseback riding, etc.), and above all else, the chance to feel loved and accepted.

I cannot change the past, but I can move forward with peace in my heart knowing two important things (1) through accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I will see Jessie again, in heaven and (2) God can take any situation and use it for good, if you let Him. I may be broken, scarred, and imperfect, but God uses me.

Here is a song by Mandisa -- love her! We all have scars, but listen to this song and discover what your scars are for. It'll change the way you look at your scars, I promise.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I'm a Mommy: One Year Later

12-Month Photo Shoot with Robb Davidson Photography

Dan and I have been proud parents of our sweet daughter, Ava, for just over one year. Wow, let me tell you, what a year it has been! It's been a year filled with both easy and difficult days, but each and every day has been a blessing.

Recently, I've been reflecting on mine and Dan's relationship. We've been together for 10+ years and I've realized that our milestone moments are nicely spaced out. Here's a timeline...

October 17, 2004 - Dating
December 13, 2008 - Engaged
June 26, 2009 - Married
October 13, 2011 - First House
November 1, 2012 - Adopted a Dog
December 17, 2013 - Ava is Born

Life with Ava is unlike anything I've ever experienced and, looking back, I've come to appreciate the time Dan and I took to savor life's milestones. Some milestones happened slower than expected, while others happened faster. No matter what, it is evident that God has had His hand in our relationship, and for that I am ever-so-grateful. Life is short, so we shouldn't waste it, but we also shouldn't rush it either.

Ava is a precious little girl. She has a bright and happy personality, she's (very!) active, and she enjoys making new friends. Ava also isn't afraid to tell you how she feels. While she'll offer you a smile, high five, hug, or even a kiss, she's fully capable of having a total meltdown because she isn't getting her way. Yes, Ava can be a bit of a drama queen. She'll throw her head back and whine or even fall to the ground and bury her face in her hands as she sobs crocodile-size tears. A simple "no" from Mommy or Daddy can appear to be the end of the world in Ava's eyes. Sorry, honey, but Mommy and Daddy don't want you playing with scissors/touching a hot pan/picking at gum you found on the ground.

Still, whether Ava is giving me kisses or crying angry tears, I love her. I love her in a way that I have never loved before. This eye-opening perspective has brought me closer to my Heavenly Father. Surely I can never love the way He loves me (and you!), but I have a new understanding of why He continues to be there for me. While there is no doubt in my mind, I disappoint Him on a daily basis, He sees beyond my mistakes and sinful nature to see where my heart is. Ava may be little, but I can see that she has a good heart. I may have to correct her and discipline her when she is naughty, but that doesn't change the fact or the way that I love her. I have high hopes for her, just like my parents and my Heavenly Father have for me.

Now, many of you have asked about mine and Dan's infertility status, so I'll address this in my blog so we're all on the same page.

When Ava was about six months old, Aunt Flo returned (even though I was still nursing). In fact, she was a pretty regular visitor and it got me hopeful. Then, for no apparent reason, she hasn't returned in a couple of months. Grrrrrrrrreat.

Once I became pregnant with Ava, I asked Dr. S what has to happen in order for me to return to his office in need of medical assistance. Apparently once you've achieved infertility status, it is forever part of your life. What does that mean? It's means, whenever we feel like attempts at Baby #2 aren't working out, I can schedule an appointment. As much as I enjoy my appointments with Dr. S, Jennifer, and the rest of the medical staff, I really don't want to walk that journey again.

So here I am, once more, asking my prayer warriors to lift me up to our Heavenly Father. It's never too early to start praying. In fact, this has been my prayer ever since Ava was born. Please pray for me and my infertility struggles. Pray that my body will properly sync up so Baby #2 is a miracle in a whole new way!

To this day, I am still being contacted by friends, friends of friends, and strangers (soon-to-be friends), asking about my infertility journey because they're walking a similar path. I am always ready to hear your story and I'd certainly love the honor of praying for you. You're not alone and there are many who understand what you're going through. If you need someone to reach out to, it can certainly be me.

I am so grateful I get to be Ava's mommy. The first year has been filled with happy memories, exhausting days, exciting moments, and everything in between. I am also grateful for all our family and friends who have been so supportive of our journey. It was a blessing to spend Ava's first birthday party with many of you who have been there for us.

Below is a special video that was made from Ava's birthday party. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Life's Magic

When I was a little girl, maybe about six years old, my parents took me to see David Copperfield. I remember I was disappointed that I had to leave my cousin's birthday party (at McDonald's), but it ended up being one of those defining moments in my life. I remember my parents and I had great seats on the main floor and David walked right past me when he was looking for an audience member to be his assistant. He did playful tricks with his pet duck (Webster) and I thought I was going to watch him die on stage when he did the death saw trick. When I left that auditorium, I was forever intrigued by magic.

For several years David Copperfield had annual television specials. I'd clear my evening just to watch him and I'd capture his performance on VHS -- and if I couldn't, I asked a friend to. Whenever he rolled into town I made an effort to see him preform live. Then, for my 30th birthday, Dan surprised me with a trip to Las Vegas. This fantastic trip was planned around an evening to see David Copperfield (front row) and a chance to meet him afterwards. It was an absolute dream come true! So far I have seen him four times in Chicago and one time in Las Vegas. Watching his television specials, I can say that I've seen a majority of his tricks done live -- and believe me, seeing them in person is way more impressive than seeing them on television.

So what is it about magic that gets me so excited? It's simple, really. When someone does a trick, when they preform "the impossible" and I can't figure out how they did it, I'm in awe. Granted, I've studied some magic and I now understand how many tricks are done (or at least the concept), but I definitely cannot explain them all. Regardless, in that moment, when I'm expecting one thing and something even more exciting happens, I am at a loss for words. Magic makes me smile and my imagination comes alive. I'm like a child, experiencing life's most magical moments for the very first time.

Really, when you think about it, life is very magically to small children. Everything is new and there are countless opportunities for adults to witness a child's face light up in awe. Take a moment and think about the very first time your parents took you to Disney World, the first time you saw the ocean, the first time you held a puppy, or the first time you saw your favorite movie. Do you remember what it felt like Christmas morning, when all those presents magically appeared under the Christmas tree? Go ahead and take some time to remember those special memories. I bet they'll make you smile.

I think for most adults the magic of life has faded. There isn't much that surprises us because, in many ways, we know the truth about many of those "tricks". Disney World is expensive! People have died in the ocean. Puppies are a lot of work. Movies, sadly, aren't always as good as their previews would suggest. Then there is Christmas and Santa Clause... but you get the idea. As adults our minds get cluttered with various truths and it strips away the magic. Magic isn't magic if you know how it is done.

Witnessing someone preform a magic trick, especially close-up magic, brings back that childlike sense of awe and wonder. That is a feeling that I cling to, especially now that I have a beautiful daughter that I get to introduce to many of life's magical moments. It encourages me to create these significant moments for her.

This is my challenge for everyone: experience magic! Let magic revive your inner child and belief in making the impossible, possible. Parents, let magic help you understand what your child is feeling when you surprise them with a special outing, gift or when you take them on vacation to somewhere they have never been -- and possibly never even heard of. It'll encourage you to continue to make life even more magical for them.

I'm even willing to help you fulfill this challenge. Next time we hang out, ask me to do a trick for you -- I know a couple good ones. Also, if you have a trick that you can show me, please do so! I'd seriously love to see it.

If you've got a moment, watch this old, family-friendly magic trick preformed by David Copperfield. It's one of my favorites and it always makes me laugh. Enjoy!