A Long December

There were times in the past year where I found myself jotting down emotions and thoughts through those darker, harder moments. I've smushed them all together to make a post for anyone going through a difficult journey. We all walk different paths and our darkness can look different, but the one constant is that the Light and our faith are able to take precedence in the hardest of times. 


And it's been a long December
And there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last

December 2014.

That month seemed to carry on long after all the calendars were thrown away and forgotten. A couple weeks following their birth it was a new year, but nothing felt new. Nothing changed. There were no resolutions and no excitement. It was just another day. 
The weeks following December 15, 2014 felt like a bad dream - the kind where you know what's going on. You can see it all, but everything around you is blurred and dark. Except the fear in front of you. There's a spotlight shining down on that so you don't forget about it. All of your pain and fear is illuminated. And even worse than that, there is no escape. 
During that time, I feared this feeling would linger far longer than I wanted or could even handle. That the darkness that continuously hovered and hung over my shoulders would never lift away. It was difficult to see ahead because the fear and pain were blinding. Hope seemed out of my grasp. 

Shamefully, I was scared to love my daughter. Of course I loved her, but readily giving her any large part of myself seemed careless because the fear of losing her was greater than anything else in my small world. I wasn't capable of losing another child. I couldn’t do it. Fear took over my faith and life was miserable. 

Looking back and attempting to captivate the emotions I felt during this time is a bit overwhelming. My life had become the perfect storm for pain. The present was devastating and the future was unpredictable, but worse than being unpredictable, it was mostly grim. Those emotions and memories will forever be so vivid in my mind. When I think back, it becomes a feeling that I will always remember. The memories hit me in the gut and I remember what it felt like to have my life shattered into pieces just lying around me – out of reach and unrepairable. 

Those feelings, the sounds, the smells, the view of my fragile baby, and the wondering of my own thoughts, when revived in my mind, hurt just as badly as they did at the time, but coming out on the other side makes them bearable when I do go back to that time.

I've mentioned before I try to never question God. That's not my role. But I do specifically remember the drive to the funeral home. It was two days after the girls' birth and Mary Elliott's death. Chris and I were in the car alone. Hand in hand. It was dark and cloudy with a slight mist in the air. The weather seemed to mirror our emotions. As we turned off our street, I verbalized the cold truth. We were 30 years old and driving to the funeral home to discuss the plans for our late daughter. At that moment I confessed to God that I just didn't understand. Why are we driving to see and kiss our baby girl for the last time? With the gift of time, I’ve come to realize that trying to comprehend the whys in life isn’t always necessarily my role. It’s easy to worry yourself to the point of sickness when you dwell on trying to figure out everything. Thankfully, my faith has allowed me to have peace and trust in God’s reasons – it’s not always easy, but it is enough. 

The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowed room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl

Being in the hospital in winter - through the holiday and through the new year - it's a very eerie feeling. Something you don't want to experience. It's sad. Not just for the reasons you are there, but also for the unknown reasons everyone you pass is in there. It's uncomfortable. Like being homesick. There was nowhere else we would have been, but it also felt like being a prisoner. 

Despite the chilling sounds of monitors, the spotlight shining down on my fragile, weak daughter, and grim updates from doctors in those first few weeks, as time passed and I was able to pull myself together, deep in my heart, I had peace. I had this undeniable feeling that our daughter would leave that NICU perfectly healthy. All statistics were against her, but I was beginning to see a beautiful outcome - a healthy one we wanted for our daughter before she was even conceived. 

I've never talked about this feeling of peace I had, but it was very present. It wasn't immediate, but it wasn't long after the start of her journey. We hadn't received much good news and she wasn't close to passing any milestones, but I knew. 

I specifically remember hearing from nurses or other professionals different possible scenarios - “preemies usually have… this or that... to deal with throughout the rest of their lives.” I received the information as something to possibly prepare us for if/when that time came, but I also remember, a lot of the time, thinking not our Sadie Ann, she’s strong and is an overcomer. Her story is different. I felt like her being a micropreemie was more so a means to an end. And that’s what my mindset became. This was the peace that passed all understanding (Philippians 4:7). It never made the journey easy, but it restored all my hope and did help me make it through those hard days. 

And that peace I had proved to be her story. 


So it finally feels like that year is over. 

I'm thankful to put this past year behind me. I didn't know if it would ever end and then it was over before I could catch my breath. This year has been so significant in my life - it's has strengthened my faith, strengthened my relationship with my husband, it has taught me that even in the depths of great sorrow, great pain, great fear, and unpredictable futures there can be light. There can be significant lessons learned. It is possible to walk out of a storm better off and stronger than you ever imagined. 

Although the pain of loss carries on for a lifetime, the joy of children and motherhood (whether they are in your arms or not) also carries on. And it's a gift I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. 

Despite an undesirable year, we are thankful. 
We move forward. 
And we can laugh again.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.
Proverbs 31:25


To My Daughter on Her First Birthday

My darling Sadie Ann,

It has taken me quite a bit longer to write this letter than what I initially thought. I guess really sitting down and wrapping my mind around the reality that you are one year old is a lot more difficult than I even imagined. It seems surreal because time, in this past year, has lost it's meaning and become the biggest blur of my life.

In the days and weeks following your birth, there was no certainty of a celebratory birthday in your future - that was our reality a year ago. And yet, here we are. Celebrating and thanking the Ultimate Physician for everything you've overcome. Your strength. Your willingness to fight and preserver. In your short, one year life, you've faced more than some face in a lifetime. You've proven that 23 weekers should be given the chance to be called "viable" (mommy, hates that word!). And through this past year, you've already been an inspiration to so many. You've introduced faith to some, restored faith for others, brought people to their knees for the first time, and provided motivation for others.

A year ago I couldn't touch you. Your chance at surviving was small. If you did survive, it was likely that you would have significant health issues beyond the NICU. We were told that you'd face pulmonary difficulty throughout your life. We were told the extra steroids you required for your lungs could possibly cause brain damage and developmental deficits. We were told you could likely never walk due to a growing brain hemorrhage. We were told your prematurity and need for oxygen would most likely result in some degree of blindness. But, we were also told every baby is different.

You crushed the NICU. The first two months were challenging and terrifying, but once you were finally off of your breathing machine (it was a long 59 days) you took off! Two months after that we carried you out of those doors and welcomed you home. You left that NICU without any need for medication or supplemental oxygen, your brain bleeds resolved, and a few months later you were cleared by the retina specialist and pediatric ophthalmologist with perfect vision. Seeing who you are a year later, it's hard to believe where you started out.

So many people you've never met - that mommy and daddy never met - have prayed for you. Have been on their knees crying out for your health. You are easily the most prayed for human that I know. And even greater than that, the God of this Universe, took the time to listen to all of our cries and answer them. You are a beautiful example of the power of prayer. Your story will always include a world-wide group of prayer warriors.

Despite all the trails and hardships you've faced, you are happy. The constant smile on your face reminds me daily of how far you've come. Your laugh brings me to tears because of all it represents - strong lungs, typical brain function, social skills, and, of course, a baby that is happy. Your personality shines bright every day. Your idiosyncrasies melt my heart. I adore the sounds you make, how serious you become when you're "talking", I love how you aimlessly rub my hand or chest when you are drinking your bottle as you fall asleep, my heart explodes hearing the sweet sounds you make right before you fall asleep, I love starting every single day receiving a smile from you as I walk into your room to get you out of your bed, I love how you root into my chest when you're tired, I love the excitement on your face when I give you two play cups to bang together, I love how you absolutely lose control in complete happiness when I start singing You Are My Sunshine - but the truth is you are.

I've never experienced this type of joy and happiness simply by loving another human being. My love for you is indescribable. It's only a feeling that I have the complete pleasure of feeling every day and for the rest of my life.

You are my sunshine, my joy, and my love.

Mommy loves you more than you will ever know. Happy first birthday, baby girl!



A Letter to My Daughter on Her First Heavenly Birthday

Our sweet, precious Mary Elliott,

First and foremost, what an undeserved pleasure it was to be hand picked by our Lord to be your earthly mommy. Your time here was fleeting and painfully short, but oh, so significant - and I have the privilege to call you mine. We get to call you ours.

You were such a strong little girl here on earth. How you managed to stay stay inside of me for seven weeks after losing all your fluid, and never retaining it, I will never know or completely comprehend. But you did it. You stayed still and strong. God was undoubtedly with you.

The days following your short life here on earth, I continuously held on to the loss of you. I contemplated why you were placed inside of me and then taken away so quickly. When I was pregnant, I'd spend days dreaming about holding you in your nursery, watching you play and giggle with your sister, and enjoying each day as you grow. Then, in the blink of an eye, all those precious moments I looked forward to were stolen. They would never happen. And after your untimely exit, in those first few weeks, I couldn't help but focus on all of those daydreams never playing out. They were stripped away from my life.

As time passed, I continued to pray for you and think about you daily; I then considered that you were never meant to stay in this world. Maybe you were never meant to grow up in front of me. Those daydreams of you and your sister together would only ever be memories I created on my own - and while this is a painful reality, it's also beautiful. As I made this realization, I began to wonder why exactly you were placed inside of me? Why would a precious life be given to me and then taken away before I could even grasp the reality that you were gone?

I've thought of a thousand different scenarios and I will never really know until I can ask the Lord. But for right now, while I continue to graze this world with my simple mind, I will clutch onto the most beautiful reason I can imagine. A reason that makes it all bearable.

You were placed inside of me to save your sister's life. 

It all makes a little more sense this way - and hurts a bit less. Since your conception and early days inside of me were so closely monitored, I know that you came along a couple days after Sadie Ann. I imagine God foreseeing a rupture during my pregnancy. He sent you along to be the lower baby and to take the rupture that would not heal. He gave you strength to remain inside of me for seven weeks. Until you and your sister were 23 weeks and 2 days - possibly the exact gestational age your sister needed to be to then survive outside of my womb. This, I imagine, is why you were given to me and why you were placed inside of me. Your purpose in this life.

Whether this is the reason or not, you still saved your sister's life through your strength. She's here with us because you held on each day following your rupture. Each morning that I had an ultrasound and we didn't see any fluid around you my heart broke a bit more, but I was always thankful you were hanging in there despite the undesirable circumstances. So today I not only admire your strength, but thank you for your strength. Because of it, I do get to hold your little sister each and every day. I do get to watch her play, learn, and giggle. I've watched her over the past year smash statistics, beat odds, and show the world what a miracle baby looks like. And I thank you for that. You helped provide her with that chance. 

So here we are, a year later. It still hurts. I still cry. I never know when it will hit me, but when it does, it hits hard. I'm confused all over again; I'm angry, in incredible pain, and I lose myself in the uncontrollable tears. I want to drop to my knees and scream because it hurts so bad. This is something I've come to grips with over the past year and that I will experience for the rest of my life. I will forever grieve the loss of you because there's no getting over the loss of a child - no matter how long or short their lives here were.

On the day you were born, after the chaos of the room cleared out and I was rolled away to a quiet and empty post-pardum room, I had so many of my sweet L&D and antepartum nurses come by to express their sorrow and sympathy for our loss and the new situation that was in front of us. That afternoon was easily a blur, but there was one conversation I remember so vividly. A nurse came in my room, sat on my bed with me, and held my hand. She told me:

You haven't lost anything if you know where it is.

It was so profound and exactly
what I needed to hear. It gave me hope in that dreadful situation and it's something I've reminded myself of countless times in the past year. I haven't lost you because I know exactly where you are. My faith gives me hope and confidence that one day I will hold you again. Your eyes will be open, your lungs will be strong, and the tears that fall from my face onto yours will be tears of complete joy. Oh I look forward to that day.

Until then… Every day I think of you, but especially this week and on December 16th. Your beauty and purpose puts a smile on my face despite the pain of not having you here. I love you, oh, so much! I miss you daily, but I know you will have the most incredible day celebrating your first year in heaven! I can only imagine what it must be like. I love you. Happy First Heavenly Birthday, sweet girl! 


Mary Elliott
December 16, 2014
1lb 3oz, 12.5" long


A SURPRISE Pregnancy

And it was a BIG surprise.

To say we were shocked to learn this news is an incredible understatement. We were not trying, this was not our plan; this happened completely unassisted by any medication, nurses, doctors, or procedures. I actually wasn't on any medication at all - I'd ditched it all. But that makes the fact that this happened even more so unbelievable. A complete miracle. Our second miracle.

I've passed 12 weeks. Which is a big milestone - especially since my body has done all the work by itself. Typically 12 weeks is considered a safe zone, but after your water breaks at 16 weeks and you deliver at 23 weeks, you realize there is no safe zone in pregnancy. So every week that rolls over means there's one behind us and for that we are thankful.

I learned of this surprise on September 20th, a Sunday night. I went to the bathroom to take a shower - a complete luxury these days. As my shower water was warming, I decided to take a pregnancy test. I did not think I was pregnant. At all. I only knew it was getting close to two months since my last cycle and although I typically have longer cycles, this was getting to be the longest since giving birth.

I took the test thinking knowing it would be negative. Hoping a negative test would tell my brain to tell my body to go ahead and get this show on the road! I cared so little about that test, I decided to not even wait around, but to go ahead and shower and then I'd just look at it afterwards. For some reason, I needed to go back to my counter to get something and when I glanced down I saw a bright, strong line. I initially thought it was the control line, but after closer examination, I realized it was in fact the test line.

My jaw dropped. My hands covered my mouth. I stared at myself in the mirror. What?

My first reaction was tears. I cried for a lot of reasons. I was shocked and surprised. In denial that this was real life. I was scared. My mind was not prepared for another pregnancy so soon after such a traumatic experience. I'd even recently began to consider the idea of Sadie Ann being an only child. So this hit me in the gut, really hard.

I went on to shower and afterwards ended up in Sadie Ann's nursery. Sitting in her rocking chair. I lost it. I was sobbing. Juggling a hundred different emotions. Chris eventually came in, holding Sadie Ann. He walked in on me crying and I saw the fear in his face. He asked me four, five times, What's wrong, Linley?

Nothing was wrong.

Then I told him. I'm pregnant.

Through my tears I saw his jaw drop and then a smile come across his face. He was comforting, also in shock, but immediately happy. He looked to Sadie Ann and told her she was going to be a big sister. Seeing him completely happy (doing a great job of hiding any fear he might have been feeling) about the news helped me to gather myself and dry the tears.

God definitely likes to remind us that we don't make our own plans. As I mentioned earlier, I had recently began to think we would just be a family of three. At one point in my life I wanted four children. At this point, I was completely content with one. Even if we were to have more children, it would be several years from now. I knew I wanted to give everything I had to Sadie Ann these first three or four years of her life. And after finding out I was pregnant, this is what I struggled with the most. I was immediately worried she wouldn't get every ounce of me that she deserved.

I was wrapped up in this idea for a while.

Then, in a conversation with Chris, he said she will never know the difference. And he was right. God used that simple sentence to completely turn my fear and emotions around. If anything, she's going to love having a baby in the house. Someone so close in age as they are growing up. And that makes me smile.

Today I am 15 weeks and 4 days. Even into the second trimester, sometimes this just doesn't seems real. Then I catch a glimpse of my growing belly and am reminded this is very real. In the past week, I've even began to feel the baby flip and move about - a feeling I didn't realize I missed so badly. Today I took a nap with Sadie Ann. She was snuggled up with me. I had her in my arms and could feel the baby flipping and I felt so blessed. I was laying there surrounded by two blessings and two miracles. And Katie.

Next week is 16 weeks. I'm obviously juggling a bit of fear, but like I discussed with my OBGYN, this baby was not our plan, it was God's. That fact gives me confidence that He will protect me and the baby and carry us to full term without any unexpected events - restoring our hope in pregnancy. That's my prayer. Every single day.

I'm having ultrasounds every other week to check my cervix -  checking the length and to make sure there is no funneling or concerning issues. So far so good! We're doing an extra one next week just because it's week 16 - mainly for my peace of mind.

Right now my mind is at peace. Even though I had no desire to become pregnant any time soon, I'm thankful to have this experience again. An experience I didn't know if I was willing to ever give a second chance.