One. That's how old you would be today, had you come on your due date. You'd be messy and confused, wondering what in the world that weird mushy hunk of sweet food is that we plopped in
front of you. You'd wonder why a room full of people were staring at you, phones in hand, obsessively snapping pictures. You'd be having your first experience with that wretched off-key birthday song.

Do they smash cakes and sing "Happy Birthday" in Heaven? I have to imagine a choir of angels is a much prettier sound than our earthly attempts.

You'd be a boy and a girl on the move, making the transition from snuggly babies to tiny toddlers exploring the world around you. You'd probably both have a tooth or two by now, but you never know. Some kids get them later than others.

The two of you, well, you'd be the guinea pigs of our parenting adventure. Your poor little sister is stuck with that duty now, but she doesn't seem to mind too much. She's a pretty happy little camper most of the time.

Speaking of your sister, isn't it strange to think that if you were here, she would still be a frozen little embryo waiting for Mommy and Daddy to decide we were ready to grow our family by one more? Life is weird like that.

I sat in church yesterday listening to the pastor talk about grief and the fact that it doesn't ever really go away. He's right. There's healing and there's happiness, but there's also the missing pieces. I think that's the part that many struggle to understand. You made me a mom. You're irreplaceable.

You were wanted, prayed for, longed for, loved. I'll always wonder who you would have been.

I don't obsess. I'm not angry. I'm not crippled by the sadness anymore. I've found healing. But I still miss you.

The story of your lives has impacted some people, you know. It's helped other families to know they're not alone. It's opened the doors to new friendships, given me a heart for other loss mamas, and given me a chance to educate those who (thankfully) have never had to experience this. I once heard it said that God never wastes a hurt. It's true. He's used the hole in my heart in so many ways.

So this November 19, I choose think of you with thanksgiving. I choose to remember the joy I felt when I knew you were growing. I choose to look forward to the day when I will know you.

Thank you, my sweet babies, for making me a mommy for the first time.

The Old Volleyball Net

Mom was a volleyball player. So was I.

At some point during my childhood, a couple of permanent wooden poles and a net made their way into the side yard between the farm house and the grain bins. I don't remember exactly when or why Mom and Dad put them there, but there they stood. I don't even know if they were regulation width. It didn't matter.

Each spring, when the weather was finally warm in Indiana, Mom and I would bust out the net that had been collecting dust in the garage all winter long and we'd play ball. Over the course of three warm seasons, we'd spend hours at the eastern end of that net (the western end was a little too close to a walnut tree for ankle comfort).

Bump. Set. Spike. It's hard to tell how many hits that multi-colored volleyball took over the years.

And oh if that net could talk, I'm sure she'd have some things to share. She heard some stuff. You see, Mom and I? We were never just playing ball--even if I didn't realize it at the time. High school is rough, y'all, and those hours of volleyball practice were the times when Mom and I could just talk. It was conversation, subtle and gentle life lessons, laughter, precious moments.

There was the one slightly less precious moment when I decided it would be funny to de-pants my mother after a shanked volleyball went skidding across the yard. She was none too pleased to be standing in her underpants in plain view of God, the neighbors and any passing motorists. In my nearly 35 years, I don't think I've ever seen someone move that fast again.

Sorry, Mom.

Pants or no pants, when I look back, I now realize the time at that net was priceless and safe. Common ground between mother and daughter.

I don't remember exactly when that net came down for the last time. Did we know it was our last foray onto the grass court at Stewart Farms? Eventually, those old wooden poles came out of the ground too (but the walnut tree still stands threatening ankles and delighting the hungry neighborhood squirrels).

Hours at the net gave way to calling cards and cordless telephone calls from my dorm at Hanover College. Free night and weekend calls on our cell phones from my apartment at Purdue. Sporadic weekend visits as I stepped out into the the professional world.

And while the volleyball court is gone, what never went away is the memories made or the lessons learned.

Neither Mom or I play any volleyball these days. Years of wear and tear on both of our bodies brought that to an end. Now we lunch and shop, our common ground womanhood and motherhood. She's still gently guiding me and teaching me life lessons.

Some things never change.

Welcome, Baby: A birth story

It's been 11 weeks and three days since the moment when everything changed and I caught the closest glimpse of Heaven I think I'll ever experience earthside. As my daughter sleeps peacefully with Lenny pup keeping close watch, I wanted to take a few minutes to share our birth story. Reading
others' experiences helped me as I prepared to bring our little into the world.

Our birth story started about three weeks before baby girl made her arrival. My doctor was leaving the country for three weeks right before my due date and baby was measuring large, so my doctor suggested that it might be best to consider an induction once I hit 39 weeks. I labored over this decision because I had heard horror stories about induction and I know that inducing for baby's size is debated in the medical and mom community. After doing my homework and talking extensively with my doctor, I decided that induction at 39+2 was the right decision for us.

At my 39-week check-up, my body still wasn't progressing much toward labor, so we decided it would be best for me to enter the hospital on Saturday night for a Foley catheter. This device, used in conjunction with a low dose of Pitocin, manually prepares the body for labor. My doctor told me to have a meal and then check in to the hospital at 7 p.m.

Saturday morning, I did one last-chance BodyPump class, finished odds and ends around the house, and loaded the car. Mom arrived so she could stay at our house with the pup and off to McAllister's she, my husband and I went. I was so nervous that I couldn't eat. My emotions were all over the place and I was sick to my stomach. I choked down as much of a bowl of potato soup as I could and that was it.

Last-chance meal at McAllister's.

Next stop: Hospital. 

It wasn't long before I was sporting a fashionable gown and signing consent forms. A short time later, the on-call obstetrician came in to place the catheter. It was rough. My anatomy is apparently not catheter friendly, so it was painful. The good news is that the process was fairly short and once it was in, it was only very minor discomfort. I was able to get up and move around the room freely.

As the evening wore on, I started to get contractions from the Pitocin. They got pretty painful fairly quickly, so I went ahead and requested pain medication in hopes that I could get some rest. Unfortunately, even with the medicine, my anxiety (and my bladder) didn't allow me to get any sleep that night.

The next morning, my new nurse came in and talked through the day with me. My doctor came in and checked to make sure the catheter had done it's job and, thankfully, it had. We had hit 5 centimeters, so it was time to take out the catheter and crank the Pitocin. At this point, it was 10 a.m. and I was given the option for the epidural. I accepted.

I had a lot of fear about getting the epidural. Something about needles and catheters in the space around my spine really freaked me out (but not as much as the pain of labor scared me). The anesthesiologist reminded me of Leslie Nielsen in looks and personality, so I actually found some strange humorous comfort in that. I mean, come on, y'all have seen Airplane, right?

At any rate, I'd heard the pain of the pre-epidural numbing shot compared to that of a bee sting. I'd say it was actually worse than that, but it was manageable and it was over quickly. I would 10 out of 10 get another one because it allowed me to get some rest. At some point after the epidural was in and I was numb, my doctor came in and broke my water.

Then we waited.

Sometime between 5 and 6 p.m., I was told we were getting close. Jake went out to the waiting room to get my mom. I had asked her to join us in the delivery room so she could take pictures of our first moments as a family of three.

A little before 6 p.m., my doctor checked my progress and decided it was go time. I burst into tears. I was so scared.

Tears of terror.

I finally somewhat collected myself and the pushing began. Because I'd had nothing to eat since my half of a bowl of potato soup 24 hours earlier and the only sleep I'd had was about 3 hours of cat naps during the day, I had a lot of of sickness. The cocktail of anti-nausea medicines were powerless in this instance, so I made good friends with the airplane bag and powered through.

The next three hours are a blur. I remember bits and pieces. The doctor yelling at me to push in a way that reminded me of volleyball coaches yelling at me to keep going during wind sprints. Watching the contraction monitor and waiting for the nurse to tell me to push. Begging for ice chips. Listening to the sound of my daughter's heartbeat on the monitor. 

Sometime in the third hour of delivery, I remember the epidural completely wearing off and my sadist of an OB rejecting my pleas for a refill. I remember the doctor commenting that baby girl's heartbeat was increasing. I remember the NICU team descending upon the delivery room. I remember spiking a fever. I vividly remember the pain. I remember that at the exact moment when I didn't think I could do this for even one more second, my body took over and finished the job. Our bodies are amazing things.

At 9:13 p.m., we welcomed our precious little 8 lb. 4 oz. baby girl into the world. It turns out, she entered the birth canal face up and somewhat sideways. For those unfamiliar with the birth process, that's bad. It makes delivery extremely difficult. I didn't get to do skin-to-skin because baby girl came out with a fever over 104°F. The doctor handed her over to the NICU team immediately and they began working on her. I was so scared, but within a few seconds, I heard my daughter's first whimpers. I've never felt relief like that.

Unlucky for me, the placenta did not detach and deliver like it should have. That sucker had been giving me fits the entire pregnancy with marginal cord insertion and placenta previa (eventually resolved), so I should have known we had a stubborn one on our hands. With my epidural having worn off, the removal process was excruciatingly painful. Mom went over to see baby girl while my husband stood beside me and let me squeeze his hand to death while my doctor worked on me. She was thankfully able to get everything removed while the NICU team tended to baby and within a few minutes (that felt like an eternity), I got to meet my long-awaited daughter for the first time.

The most unbelievable moment of my life.

One proud daddy.
It's hard to describe the joy, relief, and beauty of the moment when I first held her in my arms. I cried as I sat there in awe of the miracle I had just lived. A little more than a year prior, I was in the throes of infertility, mourning the loss of one embryo and the miscarriage of another. Now, here I was, holding the most beautiful baby.

Finally a family of three.

Because of her rough entrance, little miss ended up spending a few days in the neonatal intensive care unit for antibiotics. She had some signs of infection, so the NICU doctor felt strongly that we needed to treat her in order to prevent sepsis. Our NICU stay is another story for another day, though, and I'm thankful for the care she received and that her little body responded to treatment quickly. She entered the world on a Sunday and we headed home on Thursday.

Headed home.

Our little lady has been brightening our lives, filling up our phone storage, and challenging us every day since her arrival. She's growing so fast and learning new things all the time. It's hard to believe how fast the time is going, but we're soaking up every second of it. Our daughter is, by far, our greatest adventure and most precious gift from God.

Minutes old.
Two days old and sporting her IV.
11 weeks

What a difference a year makes

It was a few days before Mother's Day 2017. I walked to the mailbox expecting the usual junk mail that is apparently keeping the USPS afloat these days. But there it was. That white envelope clearly labeled with the return address of the surgery center. My stomach dropped as I begrudgingly tore back the paper.

I knew the medical bills were coming, but something about sending someone a $4,500 bill for a D&C mere days before Mother's Day seemed exceedingly cruel. As if having lost a son and a daughter a month prior wasn't horrific enough.

Mother's Day 2017

The girl in this photo hiding behind her $2 sunglasses and plastered-on smile was broken. Her heart was shattered, her mind anywhere but at peace, her body overweight and exhausted--the toll of months of fertility treatments and the death of a dream. She was scared of what her future held. Would she recover? Would she ever get to be a mom here on Earth? Could she handle transferring that last embryo? Could she keep putting one foot in front of the other if there was another loss?

Fast forward a year. A mere 365 days.

Mother's Day 2018

The girl in this photo looks a hot mess, but looks can be deceiving. She is crazy tired because she stayed up too late last night seeing an off-Broadway musical in Indianapolis and she doesn't quite recover from that like she used to. She has spent her Mother's Day afternoon snoozing on the living room couch and hoping beyond reason that the swelling in her feet would come down a little. Her body is ever-changing and it's still exhausted, but her heart is full and her mind is as whole as mass quantities of hormones will allow it to be. She's in awe of every kick to the ribs, every punch to the bladder and every time she can feel her daughter's head pushing on the side of her abdomen. Her life is a living testament of God's goodness, "yes" answers to prayers, the miracle of modern medicine, and never giving up hope.

Nearly seven years of waiting, praying, hoping, begging. A one-year journey from the pits of despair to being 7 weeks from meeting our daughter.

"Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5b (NIV)

Sarah was 90 when God gave her and Abraham a child. (Genesis 17; Hebrews 6:15)

Joseph waited 13 years to go from slavery to palace life. (Genesis 37)

Job patiently endured unimaginable suffering because he knew the Lord was faithful. (Job)

Ruth was widowed and left her homeland before eventually meeting her Boaz. (Ruth)

Elizabeth was "very old" when the Lord opened her womb and blessed her and Zechariah with a son--John the Baptist. (Luke 1)

Chances are, you're waiting for something. Maybe you too have suffered unimaginable loss or hardship. My friend, you and I are in good company. And we remain in good company when God redeems our pain.

To the woman who longs to be a mom and to the mom whose babies are in Heaven, know that my current pregnancy hasn't made me forget the pain that Mother's Day can bring. I know it well. I see you. I relate to you. I will never ever forget the struggle or the pain or the babies who are now in the arms of Jesus. You are not alone. If I can encourage you of anything, it's to hold onto your faith and never stop hoping, because oh what a difference a year can make.