hello my friends!
this is a blog post that is LONG overdue. there are two other blog posts that should have gone before this one… but sometimes it’s just tough to blog about the hard stuff.
meet kate the great.
kate is a surviving twin.
i won’t tell the story, as her mama has written a beautiful story about her journey with kate and jack.
this is a very long blog post, and there are images at the end. however the images won’t make sense if the post isn’t read.
olive and jody <3
Have you ever been in a season of crazy contrast? This last year and a half has been such a season for me. Life and loss, hope and despair, joy and sorrow all tangled together and mashed up, muddied and messy. People equate hard seasons to walking through a storm, and I get that. For me it was more like fighting to stay afloat when the storm was so rough, and the flood waters had risen so high that I couldn’t reach solid ground and I was struggling just to breathe. At the same time, it wasn’t like a storm so much as a rollercoaster. Those pits of deep despair were rough, they still are. But there was also so much joy! The valleys are ever higher, the sun shines brighter, and love permeates into the deepest recesses of my heart. I feel that love and experience it more fully because of the road I’ve walked.
I met Brienne when I was at my most vulnerable. How did I get here? Just yesterday I was planning a reveal party for my twins. Twins!!! Two sweet little babies were growing inside of me. This pregnancy had already been one of extremes. I remember driving to the first ultrasound with my six-year-old Annie proclaiming, “Momma, I just know there are two babies!” I smiled and reminded her how rare twins were. Then the wand was on my belly and two tiny babies were dancing on the screen. She jumped with joy and exclaimed, “ONE, TWO BABIES!” We delighted in handing my husband the ultrasound picture when we arrived home and hearing him say, “Oh look, at that. Oh look at that. OH! LOOK AT THAT!” We rejoiced, happily shared our news and joyously planned and prepared for these two little ones who we held in our hearts as the ultimate blessing. Our plans came to a screeching halt one Saturday morning when I found what a pregnant momma should never find while in the restroom, blood. The doctor’s words stung, “I can only check for fetal demise.” Fetuses? These were our babies! Our little twins! Our dream! Thankfully, strong heart beats rang out from the speakers and with relief I watched as those little babies squirmed and cuddled on the screen. They sent me home with the advice to take it easy. “There was nothing I could do to change the outcome.” So I took it easy; we still planned, still prepared, and I prayed and prayed that those babies would keep growing. And now here we were, planning a reveal party for our twins as I laid on this hospital bed. I had been in the hospital for 5 days. Still, the cake was ordered, the kids were excited and Sunday couldn’t come fast enough. Of course, it would have been better had I not been in the hospital yet there was so much to be thankful for and we were determined to make the best of it! Despite the 9cm abruption on baby b’s placenta and the ever present trickle of bright red blood, overall the babies looked great. Two strong heart beats every time! These babies were okay, I was okay. My 8 year old son and my two little girls 6 and 4 were okay. I had unwavering faith that we’d get through this tough patch and make it through to the other side. That was my husband Tim’s refrain, “It’s going to be okay baby. On Sunday we get to find out if we are having boys or girls.”
But we never made it to Sunday.
“Jody, you are dilated to 4, we are going to take the babies now Okay?”
My husband held my hand as they cut into my belly. My best friend prayed for me over the speaker on my phone. She bought her plane ticket to come while I was still in surgery. “It’s December 11th today Jody. Today is going to be your babies’ birthday,” she shared. I asked her to play some worship music for me and a nurse overheard my request. “We have Pandora in the operating room Jody. Do you want me to play some worship music for you?” Soon those sweet songs filled the air and calmed my heart.
I don’t remember feeling scared. I remember wanting to see the babies. I remember asking them to tell me the gender. I was about to find out if these little ones were boys or girls or one of each. I made it to 25 weeks! They were going to be okay!
At 0552 I heard the doctor say, “It’s a girl!” But I heard no cry. At 0554 I heard the doctor say, “It’s a boy!” But I heard no cry. “Go with them honey. Go with our babies!”
I laid on the table getting stitched up. Waiting for an update and listening to worship music. I remember feeling at peace. Tim came in and smiled down on me. He showed me a blurry 10 second video on his phone of our tiny son crying!
My husband shared, “The little girl is intubated and stable. They are still working on the little boy.” I cried. They are alive!
“What are we going to name them honey?” I asked.
“I like Katherine for the little girl. Do you like it?” he questioned.
“Yes. Can we call her Kate?”
“What about the little boy?” I asked.
“I know you and the kids love Jack. We can name him Jack.” And there it was. Our little Jack and Kate. Born at 25 weeks, a full 15 weeks early. But alive and okay.
And then a new doctor walked in. “We are still working on your son but we’ve done everything we can at this point. We don’t quite know what’s happening but his oxygen levels don’t look good. I’m so sorry.”
“Can I go see him?” I questioned.
“Is he going to make it,” I asked.
One word. One response. One syllable. And our whole world changed.
“Can I hold him?”
They placed Jack on my chest. He was still on the ventilator. His tiny body moved up and down. The machine was breathing for him. Tim was sobbing. My cheeks were dry. My head was filled with one refrain, “His days were already numbered. His days were already numbered.” I whispered those words to Tim and he cried and cried. I asked him where the kids were and he called my Aunt. Almost here. Would they make it in time? I cradled Jack’s tiny body in my arms. I held him close.
The kids bounded into the room and excitedly peeked in at Kate. Oliver rushed over to me with hope in his eyes, “Are they going to be okay?”
And I was crushed.
Tim called all the kids over to him and held them close as I told them that Jack wasn’t going to be okay. “Your brother is going to heaven today. He’s going to be with Jesus today.” They crumbled in his arms. The tears came. Oliver looked up through red, puffy eyes and said that he didn’t feel well. He wanted to go home. Molly cried that she wanted to leave too. I told them that I would have Auntie take them downstairs to the cafeteria. I looked at Annie and asked, “Do you want to go to?”
“No momma. I want to stay with my brother.”
And she stayed.
My six year old daughter never left my side. She gently touched her brother’s head. She admired his tiny toes. She smiled down at him. She was a gift. God’s love. Joy.
The first time I pumped milk for Kate, Jack was still in my arms. This life giving milk. Drop by drop. While holding my son. My son who had not one ounce of life left in him. How were these two things possible in the same moment?
My Aunt posted in a moms-of-multiples group asking if anyone knew a photographer. I wanted photos with my son before they took him away. Before too long, a woman showed up. This sweet stranger was so gentle as she took photos of my baby boy. My husband gathered Jack into his arms for the first time and wept. He handed Jack to my daughter Annie and she smiled. She kissed his tiny toes. She smelled his little head. She delighted in his little features. Again, she was a gift. Her love flowed so freely and washed over us all. We all held and loved and marveled at this tiny creation. The time with Jack was holy.
This moment in my memory is distinct and at once a blur. Some seconds I remember in vivid detail. Some memories are fleeting. People have asked if I was too busy to grieve. I was so busy. We had to juggle our big kids, my recovery, Tim’s work schedule and his traveling, flying people in and flying the kids out to make sure they were cared for, visiting Kate daily, talking with the doctors, making decisions, waking up, getting dressed, remembering to eat. Life was CRAZY! But grieve I did. My grief seemed to be ever present but worse at times. The slow times. Driving to the hospital. Every time I tried to lie down to sleep. Quietly holding Kate in the NICU as the alarms rang and my baby fought to breathe. The memories would come. The pain would come. The sorrow would prevail.
And the times that were the most joyous were simultaneously the hardest. Each milestone that Kate has reached is also a reminder of where Jack would have been. When they handed me her little black foam glasses because she no longer needed the billy lights, I sobbed. “There should have been two.” When she was a week old and I finally got to hold my sweet girl. “Hi baby. I’m your momma!” I should have been introducing myself to Jack as well. When another mom in our room got to hold her twins together for the first time, I turned away and silently sobbed. The moment we finally got to bring Kate home after 103 long days in the NICU was the most joyous moment and the most sorrowful. We only brought home Jack’s remains.
This extraordinary journey has changed me. Those deep pits. That deep despair. The unimaginable loss. It has changed me. It has changed my marriage. It has changed my children. This loss, this tragic understanding of how fragile life is has made me a better person. I love deeper now. I feel more. I relish the little moments. I hold my babies tighter, closer, longer and I thank God for each little moment I have with them. I am more understanding. I am more compassionate. I’m no longer afraid to pick up the phone and call when someone is in crisis. I know all too well what it feels like to be alone.
That deep, heart-wrenching grief makes it so I love bigger. I have more joy. The pain still comes. I still miss my son with all that I am yet I hold on to the faith that one day I will go to him.
We just celebrated Kate’s first adjusted birthday. March 25th, the day both my babies were due. Brienne set up a cake smash session for Kate and I was so excited. When I walked into the studio and saw all the purple butterflies I was overwhelmed. Each and every one was hand cut and placed with such delicate care and my heart just soared. Those little purple butterflies seemingly floating in the background held a special place in my heart. In NICUs across the globe, the purple butterfly is used to signify a surviving baby that is one of a multiple set where their sibling has died. My little Kate the Great, one of two. I imagined her working all week, praying over all those beautiful butterflies as she painted and prepared. So much time. So much thought. So much love. All for my little one. This woman who had been a stranger but came and met me at my most vulnerable. This woman who captured those moments with my son and made it so those foggy memories are forever crisp and clear. This woman who didn’t know me but came and was present and loved me so well. This same woman who let me cry and listened as I explained my grief during that gifted newborn session where tiny Kate the Great, still so fragile, still hooked up to oxygen, still fighting to breathe yet making so much progress that we were able to capture some photos without all the tubes. This woman who reached out, checked in, and kept loving me had become my friend.
Her photography is SO much more than just art; it is LOVE. And for me it’s been God’s love that I can hold on to and grasp in such a tangible way. I celebrated this huge accomplishment with her as I watched my little one smash that cake.
As we’ve watched our sweet girl grow, delighted as she said “mama, dada, bye-bye”, marveled as she stood for the first time and took her first bite of food, we have seen each of these milestones as a miracle. Our babies were only given a 30% chance of survival and we were told to prepare to care for children who wouldn’t be able to walk, talk or feed themselves. This has taken the ordinary milestones and transformed them to the miraculous! At the same time, each milestone is such a deep source of sorrow. So often my tears of joy as I watch my little fighter struggle to reach the next milestone meld into tears of grief as I imagine her brother doing the same. I cry, I watch, I wipe my tears, I pick her up, I hold her close and I love her more wholly than she knows. I slow down and enjoy every moment I can of this hard and beautiful life.
And I thank God for all the ups and downs, the good and the bad, the storms and the seasons of sweet calm.
And I pray that I can share this love with others.