What I Have Seen & Heard

“As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:20

Things I have seen & heard, that I will not forget; brief moments that I caught a glimpse of while in the NICU, that will not leave me or let me alone…

The young mother, still dressed in the green hospital gown, silently and slowly wiping away tears as she stands beside her micro-preemie’s isolette, her baby still too unstable to be touched or held.

The passionately sweet, heartfelt words from mother to son, spoken in Spanish, as she cradles him by his bedside. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard, and while I understand none of it, I understand all of it: love, and devotion, and wonder, and maternal pride.

“I’m just trying to be strong for her,” says the young, first-time father, speaking about his wife, in answer to the question how is he doing. Their baby is missing part of his brain.

The beautiful mother who some nights stays half the night in the NICU — she can’t sleep anyway, she says — rocking her baby, coming as often as she can because she has no car and must rely on rides in order to see her precious son. 

The mother who bravely and calmly receives difficult news about a new issue, or concern, or complication with her preemie, then cries silently to herself when the team of doctors, nurse practitioners, and residents walk away.

The absent, blank stare of the mom who has been faithfully spending her days at the NICU going on two months, way past the point of exhaustion, struggling to keep from dozing off at baby’s bedside while she waits to talk to the nurse.

The foster family, beaming, laying eyes upon the preemie suddenly entrusted into their care, awash with excitement, and the little girl with them, giggling about how excited she is to finally  be a big sister. They are the first visitors to that baby I have seen in two weeks. 

“I just want to sneak over to their beds and tell them ‘I love you’ just so they know what it sounds like,” says my new friend, a fellow NICU mom, about the precious preemies who never, ever, seem to have someone come visit them.

The way a whole roomful of parents tense when alarm bells go off, signaling some baby whose heart rate or oxygen saturation has dropped too low. Sometimes we sadly joke we hear the alarms at night, as we go to sleep. 

The new admit, a 26-week preemie, is so tiny, so covered by cords & lines, so sweetly and tenderly wrapped by nurses in little soft preemie positioners, that when I walk by on my way to the twins’ beds, all I can see is the smallest kneecap, no larger than my thumb, sticking out. I always get a lump in my throat. 

———–

I do not know how I can be the same after spending almost all day, everyday, in the NICU the past 26 days. I pray I am never the same. I pray I do not forget what life was like for us during this time, how we truly felt pressed on every side, with all the range of emotions. I have seen things in the NICU that are so beautiful my heart physically hurts. I have seen things in the NICU that are so sad that I feel like I can barely keep from sobbing.

I am so amazed and thankful we live in such a time where babies as young as 24-weeks gestation and as small as one pound five ounces actually live. I am so amazed by the nurses, nurse practitioners, and doctors who genuinely care for these souls in fragile bodies and who work hard to give these babies the best chance and best care possible. When the day comes where we leave the NICU with both our boys, and launch into a new ‘normal’ life outside the NICU, I hope I do not forget the other families still there, still waiting for their preemie to grow & mature, until it is safe to bring them home. I hope I do not forget the NICU nurses, who work long shifts, who are a wealth of knowledge, and who love and care for your children when you are not there. I hope I do not forget the sweet preemies, who are so fragile and small, who have a long road ahead to maturity, but who are still valuable and miraculous nonetheless. 

Where is God, you ask? He is in the NICU, sustaining life in little bodies; giving wisdom to the medical professionals; upholding parents and caregivers who have no strength of their own left; and never sleeping nor slumbering as he watches over all their comings and goings. 

{I am so tired, emotional, hopeful, and sensitive all the time. My heart breaks everyday, and yet my heart feels a surge of hopefulness everyday, too. I am slowly finding my voice and allowing myself to write about the road we have walked. I want to share, for my own sake, and for your sake, that you & I would be blessed and grieved to glimpse a little-known world that is both beautiful and awful… the NICU.}

 

Beautiful Motherhood

She’s not wearing a statement necklace or wedge heels, classy clothes or a pile of accessories on her arm, with hair curled just-so, cute & trendy nail polish (turquoise!), and that great shade of eye shadow. She’s not training for a Color Run, not planning a girl’s weekend getaway, not taking  silly but gorgeous selfies of her and her kiddos braving a splash park, or trying out a fun new restaurant, or at a wild & crazy playdate.

She spends her day tucked away in a windowless NICU by the side of a little one she holds dear.

The last eighteen days, I have witnessed a breathtaking type of beauty here in the NICU, a whole new level of beautiful motherhood I did not expect to see.

Here are some beautiful — stunning — mothers I have seen.

She’s dressed in sweats and tee’s — because that is what is most comfortable when you’re sitting beside a baby bassinet all day, every day, for the past two months. If she makes a quick wardrobe change, it’s to slide on an un-trendy, nondescript blue hospital gown so she can hold, cuddle, and breathe in her baby for her one time that day.

She has her hair in a ponytail — again — because that’s the quickest way to do her hair so she can get to the NICU faster to say good morning to her baby.

She wears dark circles or puffiness under her eyes, either because she’s been up pumping through the night to keep her supply up, though her baby was born so premature she won’t be ready for breastmilk for another month yet; or because she’s had a good, heart-wrenching cry over how hard it all is.

She is not bustling about, but sitting quietly in an uncomfortable rocker at baby’s bedside; she’s exhausted and weak, because that ten minute walk from her postpartum hospital room down the long, long hall to the NICU has taken the last of her strength right after delivering or recovering from a C-section. Yet she did it, because nothing was going to stop her from seeing her baby.

Though her baby is eight weeks old, she still looks like she just had him. There has been no time to lose baby weight, no time to make green smoothies, no time but to scarf down hospital food, or vending machine snacks, or whatever’s available to eat in between your baby’s feeding and hands-on schedule.

Her one accessory is a hospital bracelet, her baby’s precious name wrapped round her wrist, a signal to the hospital world she’s a fragile new mother.

All these things — that, in a world obsessed with outer image and coolness — may seem to point to a frumpy mom, a mom who has “let herself go,” a mom who stopped caring, but belie a heart that thinks of another first; doesn’t care about what the world may think of her; and beats to a pulse that says: think of your baby, be with your baby, go to your baby. 

I feel honored to have seen and met many of these breathtaking, beautiful mothers.

 

 

 

 

 

32 Weeks!

32 weeks! We are almost at the end of a long, long road. Our boys have made it so far, and as taxing as it has been, we are celebrating: 32 weeks! We are out of the dangerous premie zone, and now we are eagerly awaiting to meet our sons in 2-4 weeks.

With each week that passes, the doctor’s words at that very first specialist appointment (when I was only 20 weeks) echo through my mind: “Let’s get you to 24 weeks — viability.”

Twelve weeks ago we jumped on an exhausting emotional rollercoaster into the unknown that comes with a twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome diagnosis. It suspends you in a helpless, week-to-week waiting game. Fluid level checks. Heart rates & dopplars. Fetal-ECHO’s to detect heart damage. Growth scans to track the size discrepancy between the twins. Our life has revolved around hospital visits and appointments.

I had no control over how my placenta chose to nourish the boys. I could not will it or wish it to do what I wanted. I did not cause it, and I could not fix it. And without any intervention, the statistics for outcomes for sweet babies with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome are depressing and grim. With trembling hearts, we appealed to the One who can command my placenta, the One who can sustain, protect, and nourish life. We did our part by pursuing the best medical care we had access to for our boys, while asking God to work in my womb on our sons’ behalf.

We began in mid-March with Stage 1 twin-to-twin transfusion: at our first Cincinnati hospital visit, Grayson had barely enough fluid to continue to grow (2 cm), while Noah had the maximum amount of fluid before it was considered dangerous for him (8.5-9 cm). Noah was beginning to show signs of some minor heart damage, and there was a 24% size discrepancy between them (20% & under is considered “normal”). That first visit was so disheartening. While we had one of the more encouraging cases of TTTS, we were told to expect it to worsen and were prepared for a range of outcomes — super-early delivery, losing one or losing both, and on and on. We were given the option of surgery on the placenta, but since my condition wasn’t severe, we opted out. Instead, I began a blood pressure medicine that sometimes works or helps a little.

We asked for prayer — we were so greedy for prayer! — and were amazed by how many friends & family  and even wonderful people we did not know who came alongside us, encouraging us, lifting us up, checking in on us, helping us financially, providing meals, sending notes. It was one of the most beautiful things to have ever happened in my life. Our boys were loved. Our boys were remembered. Our boys were fought for in the spiritual arena.

This was my facebook post after our final Cincinnati visit at the end of April:

Rusty Tatum & I returned earlier this week from our latest and final Cincinnati trip! God has been at work sustaining & protecting our sweet boys! The markers of twin-to-twin transfusion are GONE! The fluid levels between the boys are almost completely even, with the latest appointment showing Noah having 5.1 cm & Grayson having 3.9 cm – the fluid discrepancy is gone! The growth discrepancy, which was 24% a month ago (anything over 20% size discrepancy is considered abnormal), was 15% earlier this week – both boys are growing at a healthy rate & Grayson is no longer being “deprived” by the placenta! The elevated levels from the fetal ECHO that we have seen the past 2 times (which could indicate heart damage) are GONE! They are back in the normal range. When we met with the Surgical Director of the Fetal Center on Monday, he said, “I can’t explain why it has gotten better and reversed.” We just smiled! We KNOW why! Our God is greater than statistical outcomes (which for twin-to-twin transfusion can be very, very bleak). He is not bound by odds & percentages! We are so thankful He heard the multitude of prayers for our sons & changed the scary “predicted” outcome! While the doctors have said that twin-to-twin transfusion can still “rear its ugly head” once again in this pregnancy, for the first time multiple doctors are telling us that they see they boys making it to 35-37 weeks! We are praying for that!

Since that post, while it has at times still been an up-and-down rollercoaster, Noah & Grayson are still doing well! At the beginning of May, I spent 4-5 days at Erlanger to treat low fluid levels. This was not twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome making a comeback, but something my doctor said could happen in any twin pregnancy at around 26-27 weeks. Thankfully, we did not have to deliver, the fluid levels rose again, and I have been enjoying a sweet five weeks home home home! with my girls & Rust. At the boys’ last growth scan, there was only a 3-ounce difference between the two — that is a 5.9% discordance! Our boys are THRIVING and we are so, so ready to welcome them to our family!

We do not know what may await us in the next few weeks or months, but we are so thankful for all the ways God has provided for us, taken care of us, and loved us through friends and family on this journey to meeting our sons.

I know I don’t know how to write a short post. : ) I wanted to collect all my thoughts on where we have been the past three months — probably more for me than anyone else! To quote from one of our favorite series, the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, But what Podo had said was true– telling the story hurt and helped all at once.  Already he could see ways the story had changed him and would go on changing him.”

I see how this “story” — this time in our lives — has changed me, changed Rust, changed our marriage (for the better!), and I know that God will continue to use this particular season to change us even more. I hope to share some time before Noah & Grayson arrive the thousand things we have seen God doing in our lives through this!

The Twins

boys at 10 weeks

Our sweet boys! I have wanted for a long while now to sit down and just let all my thoughts spill over into a blog post… about our boys and our life the last ten weeks.  I have been just so exhausted — physically & emotionally — that writing it all out seemed too overwhelming.

In November of last year, we found out we were expecting again — my sixth pregnancy (in between Anna & Noelle, I had an ectopic pregnancy with an emergency surgery and then an early miscarriage five months later).  What a surprise! We had just moved into an out-dated, 1980’s tri-level house roughly three months before and had busied ourselves with painting, updating, and dreaming of future projects for our house. The pregnancy was a happy surprise & a sweet “interruption” to what we had thought our life may look like the next year.

At six weeks, early December, I had an early ultrasound to rule out another ectopic pregnancy. (With every pregnancy since my ectopic in 2009, I have had to have an early ultrasound to make sure the pregnancy isn’t another ectopic. If you’ve had one ectopic pregnancy, your chance of having a second increases.) It was at that ultrasound we discovered — identical twins! I couldn’t stop laughing. Just a few days before I had been Googling “early signs of twin pregnancy” because I just had a vague feeling something was different about this pregnancy.

We were THRILLED by the news. And shocked, of course! : ) I tell everyone who has asked how I feel about having twins, “It is the sweet surprise you think you will never get.” I know not everyone feels that way, but I have always loved the idea of twins. I can remember as far back as 2010, in my “crazy moments,” praying for twin boys. Yes, praying. I just never thought God would take me seriously!

Nausea was horrible the first four months. Daily dates with my toilet to throw-up. Laying on the bathroom floor because if I moved, I would throw up. Waking up at night to throw up. I could barely finish my sentences sometimes. About 15-17 weeks, I felt so much better. I thought that we could sail through the second & third trimesters and then welcome these two precious babies!

boys at 19 weeks

At our 19-week anatomical ultrasound (where we officially confirmed — boys!!), everything looked great. However, right after my appointment, my doctors’ office called and said they wanted me to see a specialist to determine if each boy had their own placenta, or if they shared the placenta. In early appointments, they had told me about the risk of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome in identical twins who share a placenta but have different sacs (which was looking like our duo had) — also called mono/di twins.

I went to the appointment a week later — at 20 weeks — expecting it to be a simple ultrasound. It turned into a three-hour appointment.

Here is the email I sent to our family & friends following that appointment:

Hey precious friends and family!
First, I’d love to officially introduce our beloved boys to you all… Noah Ryan & Grayson Eli. They are both so large now it is hard to get an ultrasound photo of them both, or I would have loved to have included one in this email. They are precious, and active, and so fun to watch on ultrasound.
Yesterday I went for an ultrasound with a specialist team based out of Chattanooga, who comes to town twice a week with their services. I thought this was going to be a simple ultrasound to determine — for my OB’s records — whether there was, in fact, one or two placentas. What I thought was going to be a simple ultrasound turned into a 3-hour appointment. Their office did a full anatomical ultrasound on both boys.
Basically, the specialist OB there believes that I am in Stage 1 (out of five Stages) of a syndrome called Twin-to-Twin Transfusion — a very serious complication of identical twin pregnancies where the twins share one placenta (which they believe is what I have). It seems that my placenta is beginning to better nourish one baby — Noah — more than Grayson. This condition affects amniotic fluid & blood flow, so Grayson had significantly less amniotic fluid than Noah; this can put stress on both babies, so both babies are considered in danger.
There are many possible outcomes for this… we are still trying to wrap our heads around it all. We could lose both babies. We could lose one. I may be a good candidate for a special kind of surgery that may help them. The babies could come significantly early (….as in, 28 weeks) and spend much of their first year in a NICU. Right now the specialist OB said we are to focus on getting both babies to viability — 24 weeks. I am 20 weeks & 3 days today.
Rust and I are waiting for a call to set up a special consultation at the Cincinnati Fetal Center. We will be traveling up there next week. They said to plan on staying at least 1-2 days, and if I am a candidate for surgery & we choose to do the surgery, we would need to stay in Cincinnati for a week.
There are so many unknowns! We are still processing everything. Rust is currently out-of-town traveling with work, and when he returns Wednesday we are going to have a phone conference with the specialist OB I saw yesterday so she can explain it clearly to Rust.
If you would like to read about twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, the Fetal Center has good information the doctor recommended.
- Yesterday, the OB said that she has seen twin-to-twins where there is low fluid with one baby and then a week later, it has corrected itself. We are praying that that could happen — that the fluid will even out and both babies will have enough for proper lung development. She said resting off my feet may help encourage more blood flow to Grayson. I am trying to do that as much as possible!
- That I would stay at Stage 1 instead of progressing further. Yesterday, the OB said she “saw a lot of positives” — both boys are extremely active; they are healthy anatomically; both boys are good sizes with little weight discrepancies (you would typically see one baby normal size and one baby significantly smaller); and Grayson had more fluid around him than she originally thought. She said she was hopeful for a good outcome.
- That they would live! We want to have BOTH our sons in our arms someday. We are SO thankful we live in a time where we have options — surgery, if I meet qualifications; she mentioned a medicine that may help bring more blood flow to the placenta; and diligent doctors who are committed to monitoring me and the boys weekly from here on out.
- That I may not take for granted every day I have with my sons. I want to treasure every kick, every movement, every weird hunger craving and not waste the days I have with them, but celebrate and rejoice that God gave them to us! They exist! They have a soul that will long outlast their frail little bodies! They are valuable because God has place a soul within them and crafted them in His image! They will always be our sons, even if they do not live long outside the womb. Pray that we can communicate with our girls what a GIFT these little boys are, how special life is — even when there are complications, and to invite them to daily rejoice in their brothers!
- Our girls! My heart breaks at the thought of being separated from them for up to a week! Please pray we can arrange the right kind of childcare, and that I would not fear to leave them so long!
- That we would entrust our boys, ourselves, our whole family to God daily, hourly… I KNOW He loves us. I KNOW He loves our boys. I KNOW He is good, and tender-hearted, and steadfast in His faithfulness to us. We don’t know the outcome, we don’t know what will happen with the lives of our sons, but I KNOW He will remain the loving, good God He has always been to us. May we praise Him in the dark as we have in the light! May our hearts SING with confidence that hearts & flesh may fail, loss may come, our family story may not be what we want, but God is our portion FOREVER.

boys at 15 weeks

And that was the beginning of a rollercoaster that included three trips to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital at the Fetal Center,  for a fetal MRI, fetal ECHO’s, and ultrasound scans, as well as constant appointments here in town, and one 4-day stay at Erlanger for low fluid levels.

It has been a challenging, draining, scary, hard time for our family. I live between appointments, never knowing week-to-week how the twins will be. I have spent the most time away from my girls the past 10 weeks than I have their entire lives! We have prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.

While this has been a hard, stressful time for us, in so many ways it has also been a beautiful time for our family. God has sweetly answered so many prayers. When I reread the prayer requests I emailed to friends & family during the past two months, I see so many ways He faithfully answered them! We are forever changed by this pregnancy–rather, we have been changed by God through the events of this pregnancy. And we have found ourselves thankful, so very thankful. Not just because things — so far — have “turned out good” for us, but because of the things God has done in our hearts & through other people. 

This post is already getting incredibly long, so I will save the thousand of ways God has been ever-present & gracious & beautiful to us for another post. : )

 

 

 

Sewn Minibooks in the Shop!

Woohoo! The sewn minibooks are finally listed in the shop! I also added 2 standard 4×6-inch minibooks plus some smaller 3×5-inch vintage grunge minibooks… I sold several a few years ago, and forgot I had made these up!

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Getting back into business + sneak peeks of NEW sewn minibooks!

Whew! I had no intentions of abandoning the blog, but I have not been myself the past three months. When I made my last post, I had only found out four days before that I was pregnant, again! I was still processing and digesting that  very sweet, but very surprising news, and I knew morning sickness was coming (because it has struck with a vengeance every preceding pregnancy)–I just didn’t know how awful it would hit.  : )

Twins! What a fun, fun surprise. I laugh to myself nearly everyday. I am giddy over it. I thank God a thousand times for this unexpected gift. I am so thrilled! But the nausea just knocked me off my feet from December through February–literally. There were days I could not sit up longer than fifteen minutes. All hobbies & projects & shop stuff & blogging just stopped; I had no desire to do anything other than lie down and not talk. I would feel physically sick at the thought of my past enjoyments. Seriously, I honestly thought I would never go back to blogging or shop stuff or minibook stuff because I could not STAND to look at any sort of craft stuff or be on the computer!

But now that I am seventeen weeks, I am sloooowly coming back to my former self (though I am a thousand times more tired!). I am rediscovering shop products that I worked on so happily in the fall before pregnancy, and I am now feeling motivated to share & list them!

I am prepping for a shop update coming early March! Woohoo! Back to business!! I will be listing those pretty 6×8-inch sewn minibooks I posted about in November. Back before my life halted to a crawl. : )

Here are the first rounds of sneak peeks…

gold2 blue4 pink1 sewnblgrn1 sewngreen1 sewnbrown3 purplesewn4 purplesewn3

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Love these!!

The Grateful Tree

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For the month of November, we did pretty much the same thing as last year, just a different place to hang. It made a pretty good dining room centerpiece; you just had to be careful if you leaned across the table… might poke your eye out. : )

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grateful tree- filled

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The girls LOVED this! Throughout November (not every night), we’d each choose a blank leaf during dinner, and we would share what we were thankful for that day.  I’d write it down for the girls. I love thatwhat the girls were thankful for was really a reflection of their personalities. Extrovert Anna thought of every person in her life to be thankful for (family, friends, friends, friends, friends…oh, and friends), while Noelle — an introvert and collector — shared how thankful she was for her ‘treasures’ (ballet shoes, Halloween bucket, her bed, etc.)… though once she exhausted that, she did say how thankful she was for her family! : )

 

Thanksgiving Rewind: Last Year’s Grateful Leaves + Chalk Verse

 

Last year for the month of November, we focused on one particular ‘thanksgiving’ passage (1 Chronicles 29:10,11,13) & as we learned about the verse, we also thanked God for all His blessings & recorded them on paper leaves…

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PicMonkey Collage

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Looking at these pictures makes me really miss our large chalkboard! We have been in our home three months (today!) and there is NOTHING on the walls! I just don’t want to add anything to the walls before we’ve painted. So our house is pretty bare right now!

Tomorrow I will show what we’ve done with our grateful leaves this year at our new house!

What We Read No. 5 – Thanksgiving & Fall

We have been soaking up a ton of Thanksgiving books this past month! Here are some ones we have enjoyed. Anna has loved reading books about pilgrims & Indians. Just when I think she’ll protest when I pull out yet another retelling of the Mayflower voyage or first Thanksgiving, she instead smiles so  big! I hope this girlie loves history as much as I do!

squantos journey

very first thanksgiving day

this first thanksgiving day

the thanksgiving story

pilgrims' first thanksgiving

pioneer thanksgiving

(I really loved this one!)

samuel eaton's day

sarah-mortons-day

onthemayflower

merrilycomesharvest

memory cupboard

(one of our favorites of the bunch!)

IF-YOU-LIVED-IN-COLONIAL-TI

 

(Anna loved this one!)

child's story thanksgiving

cranberry thanksgiving

food recipes pilgrims

across wide dark sea

Coming early 2014…

sewnminibooks

A fabulous friend of mine, Deborah, helped a tiny dream I had for the shop come true, ha! I have long had visions of making, filling, and even selling sewn minibooks! In the summer, she sewed a few test ones for me on a craft weekend getaway. I loved them! About two weeks ago, she sewed a huuuuge stack of minibooks for me! Some I am hoarding keeping for me to fill, but the others I will be listing early January in the shop! Here are the first group I will be listing…

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Most are 6×8-inches with several pages of different shapes and sizes and textures. They will also come with embellishments, much like the other kits in the shop.

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I love these because they are a larger size than the 4×6-inch mini’s I typically sell, and I have gotten requests before for 6×8-inch mini’s. So glad to add this to the array of minibooks–it really is a very versatile form of memory-keeping!

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Once I photograph the complete kits, I will post some peeks!!