My man.

anniversaryGrowing up I was always crushing, but I’ve never really been a sap.  You know the kind who gushes when talking about their significant other, or stares longingly into their eyes for hours.  That’s just never been me.  But I’ve got to be honest, the past few months I have fallen asleep staring at my husband and thanking God for him.  Our lives are crazy and we are probably in the least romantic phase of life.  But, amidst all the hustle and bustle I find myself checking him out and thinking how did I get so lucky?  I know!  Sounds sappy, right?  It is- and I’m totally cool with it.

My husband and I have been together for 15 years.  Tomorrow we will have been married for 11 of those years.  In two years, we will have been together for as long as we have been apart (17 and 17).  Matt Hayes has had my heart for a long time.

The first time he was my boyfriend I was 13 years old.  Even then, I was attracted to his sense of humor.  He was new to our school and instantly everyone thought he was hilarious.  He introduced us to using the “bleep” sound in place of a cuss word (like on TV).  In middle school, that was comedy gold. I have a calendar in my memory box (I recorded a memory from each day) that has the words Matt Hayes written using the M from March.  There is also a date that says, “Matt actually talked to me today!”.  I went on a mission trip to Russia with my dad that spring and I remember that Matt wrote me a note to read on the plane (I probably read those 3 sentences fifty times).  I don’t remember how or when we broke up, but he stayed in my circle of friends.  (By that I mean, he dated my best friend, Emily, for most of the next year…)

It's hard to see, but I am on the far right and Matt is in the white t-shirt next to me.    This was the summer before our freshman year of high school.

It’s hard to see, but I am on the far right and Matt is in the white t-shirt next to me. This was the summer before our freshman year of high school.

We dated again freshman year of high school.  We went to homecoming together and it was magical.  He treated me so well and asked me to be his girlfriend on the dance floor.  It was fun for a few weeks, but I was too interested in being social to have a serious boyfriend.  I dumped him over the phone after the choir Barn Bash.  Not my finest hour 🙂

We spent the next few years running in different circles.  I was a music geek and he was an athlete, into cars and had a job.  We had Chemistry together (the class, people) our junior year and I remember thinking he was cute in his vintage t-shirts, but we never really talked.  That year, he took my best friend to prom and I went stag.  I was their 3rd wheel.  Sounds terrible, but it was the best.  He treated me just like he did Emily.  Opened my doors and made sure I wasn’t left in the dust.  After that, we started hanging in the same circles again.

The summer before our senior year, our group of friends had a Senior Campout to start out our last year of high school.  It was so much fun.  Seriously.  It was like the movies.  We just had good, clean fun and we all laughed the whole time.  AND…Matt and I flirted like crazy.  There was a big wrestling match in the tent and I may have burnt his arm with a lantern- oops!  I left that weekend thinking, “hmm, maybe I like Matt, AGAIN…”

Senior year homecoming. 2000

Senior year homecoming. 2000

Sure enough.  Senior year was one big roller coaster of me figuring out how serious I wanted to be about our relationship.  Matt was always a gentleman, always hilarious, always super hot and always so serious about our future.  He denies this, but he told me our senior year that God told him we were going to get married.  Freaked me out!!  But, he was right 🙂  I broke up with him too many times that year, but by the early Spring I decided that, even though we were leaving for college soon, I wanted to be serious about our future too.  His big guns, sense of humor, and mature faith were too much for me to resist any longer!

We would sit on my back porch and sing Caedmon's Call songs together...

We would sit on my back porch and sing Caedmon’s Call songs together…  Terrible quality photo, but see!  Matt was smokin’ hot!

One night that spring, I went to his workplace and told him I still had feelings for him and the rest is history.  Well, kinda.  We did break up one more time after our freshman year in college.  He needed to learn to find his identity without me and I needed to realize how much I loved him.  I told you, I’m not a sap and I didn’t want to admit I was in love- for realz.  I moped around that whole summer we were apart and watched him come into his own as a man.  Right before we left on mission trip with our college group he called me and asked to meet up for lunch.  I was over the moon.  It was a little ridiculous.  I remember feeling like I was floating around the house when I got off the phone.  I knew I was done for.  I wore a vintage t-shirt with a butterfly on it (the one in the picture below and I still have it).  He told me that he still had feelings for me and I told him I still had feelings for him too.

Two college love birds

Two college love birds

I knew when we got back together that time, that I would follow him to the ends of the Earth.  There was no one else for me.  Our friends and parents didn’t take us seriously at first.  We understood where they were coming from, but we both knew THIS was it.  I finally let my guard down, and let myself really be IN LOVE.  It was electric.  We just had so much excitement about our future together.

One year later(ish), we were engaged.  Nine months after that we got married amid a field of cicadas in my parents backyard.  We were 21.

Our wedding invitations... First came love, Now comes marriage.

Our wedding invitations… First came love, Now comes marriage.

Now we are 32.  Our wedding seems like yesterday to me.  But, we’ve lived so much life together in the meantime.  When we got married, would I have guessed Matt would end up a student pastor?  Maybe.  Would I have guess we would have 5 kids?  Maybe.  Quadruplets?  Uh, no.  🙂

Our family- Everett, Matt, Jane, Kate, Norah, Me, and Ellie.

Our family- Everett, Matt, Jane, Kate, Norah, Me, and Ellie.

You never really know what you are going to get when you marry young.  Matt and I still had a lot of growing up to do after we got married.  I just knew that I couldn’t live without Matt Hayes and we would figure the rest out.  And we have.

I lucked out.  Matt is one heck of a man.  And, he just keeps getting better with age.  He has always been a charismatic, funny, hard working, man of integrity.  But now he is so much more.

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I knew he would be a good daddy.  But he is a FANTASTIC father.  He doesn’t come home from work and expect to relax- he jumps right in to the rhythm of our family (playing, feeding, baths, bedtime).  I never feel alone in parenthood. He is always playing with our kids.  My heart explodes out my tear ducts watching all our kids pile on top of him and giggle.  He gently guides and teaches our kids- right/wrong, how much Jesus loves them, how to have fun.  Between Matt’s example and having 4 sisters- Everett is gonna be a kick butt husband and dad someday too!

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Matt is the instigator of unconventional fun.  Riding crib mattresses down the stairs, using and industrial fan and an umbrella to roll Kate across the living room, setting up a 7 person tent in the living room to watch a movie, pulling the kids’ choo choo wagon behind his riding mower- none of those fun memories would have happened without him at the helm.

When we got married, I knew Matt would always take good care of our cars.  And he has.  What I didn’t know was that he would develop into an all around handyman.  Handyman isn’t even the right word.  In the past 3 years he has finished our attic (with help) and basement (all on his own).  He put up a new fence around our whole backyard, built a custom dining room table for our quadruplets, shelves, and coat racks.  When it comes to taking care of our family- he makes it happen!  And he is so helpful around the house too.  Does laundry and helps pick up and recently started doing dishes after dinner and cleaning the kitchen.  You should be jealous, ladies!

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But, even more than all of that- Matt is such a great partner.  We make a good team.  He knows how to communicate with me and show me love.  He cares about my well being even with all the responsibilities he has at work and at home.  Twice in the 15 months or so that the babies have been home, he has sent me away to a hotel to recharge.  He sees me- even when I am having trouble seeing myself.  He draws me out when I am feeling lonely or inadequate and encourages my soul.  He makes me laugh.  One night, we laughed uncontrollably doing our own whisper challenge like The Late Night Show with Jimmy Fallon.  Like tears running down our cheeks, stomach muscles hurting, I’m not even sure what we are laughing about anymore- that kind of fun.

11 years ago our future was before us and our love was electric.  The excitement has lessened but in its place is a depth I wouldn’t trade for anything.  I always heard people say that but now I understand for myself.  Watching Matt invest in students added another depth to my admiration of him.  Walking with him through our battle with infertility forced us to understand one another on a different level.  Fatherhood looks so good on him- seriously, watching him with Kate elevated his sexiness to new heights.  And now our latest season, raising quadruplets together.  It has required selflessness and service in ways we never could have imagined.  But, oh, the joy!  I feel like I could burst some evenings when we are all together as a family.  All is as it should be.

It would be easy for us to drift through this season of raising small kiddos without really connecting.  We aren’t satisfied with that.  Thankfully, when I’m too exhausted to focus on out marriage he isn’t- and vice versa.  God has given us what we need to get through each season of our lives together.

We still have so much future ahead.  I have no idea where our family will end up, but I’m thankful I get to walk that road with Matthew Hayes.  We will be together all of our days- always.  Love you, handsome.

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Let’s hear it for the boy! Let’s give the boy a ha-aa-aaa-and!

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Let's hear it for the boy2

One year ago today, our family was complete!  Our boy came home!!

Everett had such a long road home. He was 4 months and 1 day old when he was released from the NICU at Dayton Children’s.  He had spent time in 3 different NICU’s and had given me more gray hair than the other 3 combined.  He was only 1 lb. 15 oz when he was born.  I was buying a 2 lb. bag of rice yesterday and I could not believe that my son weighed less than that at birth- crazy! Especially considering his size now.  He was the smallest coming in, but he has his sisters bested by 3 lbs now!  He’s just made differently- full of muscle.

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In the beginning we weren’t sure if our little man’s lungs were going to sustain him.  He was so little and always looked so tired and bluish (that’s him closest to the bottom- at almost 2 months old).  I knew he wasn’t doing well, but God protected me from the harsh realities while I was in the thick of it.  I just had a peace about his future.

Everett had a wonderful nurse in the Kettering NICU named Linda.  She loved him and watched out for him.  I remember the day I came to stay the night with Rett when he wasn’t feeling well and she showed me how he liked to be held right under your chin when he was upset.  I was hard for me to see that in many ways she knew him better than I did.  But, more than anything, I was thankful that she loved my boy. She fought for him to get the best care.  It was her opinion on the gravity of his situation that helped me push for Everett’s transfer to Cincinnati Children’s.  The doctors and nurses at Kettering were wonderful, but he needed more specialized care.

There were times when we didn’t know exactly what the future was going to look like for our son.  But, I firmly believe it was the prayers of our friends, family, and people we will never meet that helped him make a miraculous turn around.

After 3 weeks in the NICU at Cincinnati Children’s (and at nearly 3 months of age), Everett still needed a lot of support to breathe.  Doctors scheduled him for an endoscopy to check out the structure of his airway.  We were so nervous.  We had everyone praying.  But, everything came back clear.  He had some swelling from acid reflux and having an ng tube, but nothing serious.  Doctors told us that if he didn’t improve in 2 weeks he would need a trach to allow him the level of support he would need to go home.

After the test, he drastically reduced his level of breathing support.  We couldn’t believe how quickly his lungs improved.  It didn’t make any sense, really.  God healed my little man.  Two weeks later, instead of getting a trach, he was transferred to Dayton Children’s so he could work on learning to bottle feed closer to home.  He had minimal breathing support and he was “out of the woods” at last!

He was the king of the NICU at Dayton Children’s.  He was so big and cute (and by that point, pretty healthy)- the nurses and volunteers loved holding him.  Almost every time I visited him somebody was rocking him or talking to him.

I think the neonatologists at Dayton Children’s were probably sick of me pestering them.  I begged them to let me take him home on a feeding tube (that’s how Ellie came home), but they refused.  So I went up to the hospital for as many feedings as I could.  I wanted my son home!  It was an ache in me.  Everett took his good ol’ time mastering the bottle.  But, that’s just him.  He does things in his own time, but he does them well.

Last year, I felt like this day would never come.  Visiting the NICU had become such a regular part of our lives- scheduling one of us to snuggle Everett while the other stayed back to man the fort.  Don’t get me wrong, we were thrilled to leave it all behind and have all of our babies home at last!  It was the start of a new normal for us.

Matt and I were giddy driving to the hospital to pick him up (below- top right is us right before we left the house to get him).  I had visited earlier in the day to feed Everett and take care of most of the paperwork.  So, we were just going for the fun part.  The whole process was old hat to us by that point 🙂  We dressed him in his cute outfit and learned how to transport him on oxygen and we were off!

It was so emotional bringing him into our house.  We had waited 4 months to have our family all under one roof.  It was surreal and fantastic.

Let's hear it for the boy3

I just can’t begin to explain how much I love this little boy.  He is the EASIEST baby ever!  So chill, so sweet, great eater, great sleeper- seriously he’s a dream baby.  He loves to talk, read books, and watch TV.  He is made of pure muscle (his pediatrician could not get over how solid he is).  He loves to rough house and be chased around.  He says the most words: “dada, mama, baba, kk, nana, auntie, no, uh-oh”.  I’m sure there are more.  Everett is great at repeating sounds and he jabbers all the time.  Even when he wakes up in the middle of the night!  He doesn’t cry- he just talks for about 20 minutes and then falls back asleep.

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He is definitely a boy, but he’s oh so sweet.  He knows how to melt Mommy’s heart with his pouty lip and pathetic sounding cry.  He is a slow reactor- the lip protrudes and then slowly he starts his fussing.  It’s so stinking cute.  Norah has started to imitate him because she has seen the effectiveness of his technique.

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I held him when he was teeny tiny, so looking at him now (and especially, holding him now) I can’t believe he is the big chunk of a boy that he is.  He is cruising around everything and likes to take steps when you hold his arms.  He is starting to stand on his own now, too, so I think in the next month he’ll be taking his first steps.  He’s interested in locomotion now.  For a while I was worried he would be content to lay around forever 🙂  We always joked that he had to work so hard those first few months in the NICU so he wasn’t going to do anything that required extra effort for quite some time.  But the truth is, Everett is just so laid back.  He is progressing just fine, but he doesn’t rush anything (except devouring his food).  When he decides it is time, walking will happen.  Until then, I’m not worried one bit.

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Rett is great in social situations.  New people and places don’t phase him.  He gets into plenty of mischief with his sisters, but also likes to have time by himself.  He’s learned to stick up for himself and fight for toys or snacks that he wants.  I think he has finally figured out that he is bigger than his sisters and he uses that to his advantage- for sure.  He is the first to bolt for an open door to an off limits room- that’s about the only time you will see him move quickly 🙂

Everett loves his Dada.  Anytime Matt has a tool out, Everett is there with him checking everything out.  He watches videos of cars on Matt’s lap and loves it when Daddy wrestles him and play punches him.  He gives Matt kisses on command and has yet to do that for me.  Rett will stand at the storm door and watch Matt work outside- pounding the glass and saying “Dada”!  It warms my heart to see the bond they share.

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Sad news: Everett’s signature mohawk is no more 😦  His locks are too long now and he was starting to look like he was wearing a toupee with a mullet.  So in honor of his homecoming, Rett had his first haircut today.  I was nervous to cut it myself, but I think it turned out pretty well.  It makes him look so old though…

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Everett Matthew Hayes, you are the little boy I dreamed of and hoped for.  God has proven Himself a Healer with your story.  I see a quiet strength and a sweetness in you that I hope the world never steals from you.  You keep watching your Dada and you’re going to be a fine man someday.  I love you a bushel and a peck!

Well, I don’t have cable…

Everyone else is cheering The Buckeyes, but we don’t have cable.  So I’m sitting in bed snacking and thinking.  I have a lot to process today, so I thought, why not blog?

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The babies are at such fun stage right now.  They are playful and ornery, but not too willful.  I love spending time with them.  Their curiosity is fascinating.  Each of them take interest in different sorts of things and I love seeing what they gravitate toward.  Norah loves the slide they got for Christmas.  She climbs up and slides down all by herself.  Everett likes balls, light up toys and books.  Ellie loves dolls and things with buttons.  Jane snuggles stuffed animals and also loves to climb anything she can.  They all fight over space on my lap and for my affection.  Tiny fingers are pointing all over trying to figure out the world around them.  There’s a lot of “uh-oh!” and “what’s that?” echoing through our house.  As well as, “mama”, “dada”, “baba”, “nana”, “no” and “kk”.  I love this age.

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IMG_2561Norah is climbing in and out of everything (out of her crib, out of the quad feeding table, up shelves-you name it!) and has started to run.  Jane is also climbing everything and this week she started walking.  She still prefers to crawl, but she will take 7-8 steps several times a day now.  Ellie has been very interested in walking lately too.  She’s cruising around everything and likes to walk around with me holding her hands.  Everett is cruising as well and has started to stand with very minimal support.  He’s not interested in walking while holding our hands yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long.

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Kate is just as rambunctious and imaginative as ever.  She loves playing with the babies.  Each night before they go to sleep she jumps in each of their beds, plays with them, and kisses them goodnight.  Most nights she also sings them an original lullaby.  Kate loves doing art projects and she is actually drawing things now (like stick people, letters and numbers) instead of just scribbling.  She is coloring in the lines better too.  Everyday during her “rest time” she acts out her wedding.  She gets all dolled up in some dress up clothes and dances around with her teddy bear husband, Ladd.  She has cake too.  Some things are too important to leave out, ya know 🙂  She talks ALL the time, loves to sing and dance, embodies joy and wonder, is smart as a whip, has a bit of OCD, and is also a total goofball.  We butt heads because we are so similar, but I love her to pieces.

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Today, I took Ellie to see some of the specialists at the Spina Bifida clinic at Cincinnati Children’s.  It wasn’t my favorite visit.  The staff was fantastic, as always.  We’ve known for a while that Ellie may need braces to learn to walk.  She lacks sensitivity in the soles of her feet and doesn’t push down like she should to keep herself balanced.  She’s so determined, though.  She wants to walk and she is trying so hard.  I had noticed when she would walk with me that her right foot turns out and she was placing weight on the inner portion of that foot (rolling it inward).  That concerned me so I wanted to meet with the rehab team in clinic to see what they thought.  Up until this visit, we were on the “wait and see” policy.  She was doing just fine without braces and we were hoping to skate by without them.  But, after observing some of things I described we decided today that Ellie would benefit from braces.  There is a good chance that Ellie would learn to compensate for the lack of sensation in her feet on her own.  She would still learn to walk.  But, we run the risk of her damaging her feet.  If she continued to roll her right foot, those muscles would eventually stretch out and cause even worse rolling.  The braces will help prevent that damage and help her learn to balance herself more effectively.  She will have the braces for several years at least, and then we will re-evaluate how to best help her proceed from there.  The doctor thinks we will see her taking independent steps not long after we get the braces.  That’s exciting.

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But, I have to be honest, it’s also heartbreaking for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I know she was spared from the worst.  She will walk.  But up until now there was no outward evidence of Ellie’s disability (unless she is undressed and you see her scar).  No one would look at her out in public and think she was any different than her siblings.  Now she will be set apart.  That’s hard.  My sweet, girly girl will have braces on her lovely, little legs.  She’ll rock them and we’ll make them part of Ellie’s coolness.  But, tonight, I’m mourning for dresses and skirts and shorts that just won’t look the same.

That wasn’t the only bummer of the day either.  Ellie’s urologist also recommended that we start cathing her at home.  There have been changes to her bladder form and function.  Her bladder is refluxing on the left side up into her kidney and it’s not emptying all the way.  The lining of her bladder is also starting to tense up.  All of these things we knew.  We started her on a daily dose of antibiotic about a month ago to ward off further infections.  The antibiotic she is on has kept UTI’s at bay for a month now, but the urologist still believes, based on the changes since June, that she needs to be cathed to make her bladder a “more happy place”.  Using a catheter will ensure that her bladder is fully emptied several times a day.  This will help in two ways: 1. Stale urine in the bladder can be a breading ground for bacteria that can cause UTI’s and if that bacteria is refluxed into the kidneys it would be even worse.  2. Fully emptying the things will keep the pressures in her bladder more stable and maybe prevent reflux from even happening.

In the next few weeks, Matt and I will go down to Cincinnati to be trained to place a catheter and we’ll start a new leg of the journey for Ellie.  Poor thing.  Those first few weeks will be rough for her as things toughen up down yonder.  I am not looking forward to it- at all.  A few weeks after we start cathing her, she will return to run some more tests.  If catheterizing doesn’t help with the reflux into her kidney then she may have to go on another medication to reduce the pressure in her bladder.  I hope we don’t have to go that route.  The meds she would have to go on can cause constipation and she is already on 2 meds to help keep things moving.

Lots of changes.  Changes that I am not a fan of.  I worry about kids making fun of her.  I worry about her being embarrassed at school with her bathroom issues.  I wish things were going to be easier for her.

But, God made Ellie perfectly.  She is determined.  She loves to laugh and she is great with people. She’s curious.  Going off and trying things on her own doesn’t seem to intimidate her.  I’ll be praying a supernatural confidence over her.  She has exactly what she needs to thrive.

God sees the whole picture.  I’m having a hard time processing this small piece, but in the end I take comfort knowing that God cares more about Ellie than I do.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4

Raising a spunky 3 year old is sharpening me, raising quadruplets is sharpening me, and loving and guiding Ellie will sharpen me as well.  Our life is full and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

Last year when I would visit Ellie at Cincinnati Children’s I would hold her in my arms and sing “You’ll be home for Christmas” to her.  I knew Everett couldn’t be home for Christmas, but I desperately wanted all my girls home with me.  So that was our theme song.  I made sure to sing it around the doctors and nurses so they knew the plan 🙂  Thankfully, everyone agreed with me and we took Ellie home on December 23rd, 2013.

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Even though she was born with Spina Bifida, we always thought Ellie would be the first one home.  Shortly after birth she was breathing without any support, she was the first to start eating, the first to move to an open crib.  When babies are in an isolette all you can do is open the small arm doors and reach in to touch them.  We weren’t allowed to take them out of the isolettes on our own- there were too many wires to deal with.  I remember the first time I took her out of the crib without any nurse assistance and cradled her in my arms.  It was awesome!  I felt so FREE 🙂

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With Ellie, we knew two days ahead that we would be bringing her home on the 23rd.  I was able to pick out her homecoming outfit and feel prepared to bring home baby #3.  We knew it would be a whole new ballgame with three babies.  We were outnumbered.  My mom already planned to come and live with us for 6 weeks whenever we let her know it was time.  Matt and I decided that Ellie’s homecoming should mark the beginning of Nana’s stay.

Ellie’s slowness coming home had nothing to do with her Spina Bifida.  She just took her good ol’ time mastering bottle feeding.  She came home with a feeding tube.  There was no other reason for her to be in the NICU and they were tired of my singing, so they let us have her 🙂  Within a week the feeding tube was no longer needed.  She just wanted to be fed by family, especially Nana.

We had some education to complete before we could bring Ellie home.  We each had to put in her feeding tube by ourselves one more time and learn how to use her car bed.  Because of the cyst on her back, Ellie was not allowed to use a traditional car seat.  She came home from the hospital in what looked like a small plastic box with a straight jacket attached.  I was so happy when she was finally able to ride in a regular car seat 9 months later after having surgery to remove the cyst on her back.

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It was hard leaving Everett at the hospital.  He and Ellie had been roommates since the beginning and he even followed her down to Cincinnati Childrens where they occupied one of the few private rooms together.  We let them lay together for a bit and you could tell they weren’t sure about being apart.  It broke my heart that he would be in the hospital by himself for Christmas.  And I knew with 3 preemie babies and a 2 year old at home it wouldn’t be as easy to come and visit him.

We said our goodbyes to Everett and bundled Ellie up in a blanket for the trip down to the car.  There was no snowstorm looming 🙂 and we made the hour and 15 minute drive with no hiccups.  She slept the whole way and I sat in the back seat and watched her.

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Adjusting to 3 babies at home was hard.  My mother, Matt, and I were pretty much the walking dead for the first month.  The babies each took about 30-40 minutes to eat a bottle.  So when one person had the night shift, you would finish feeding all three, sleep for 40 minutes, and repeat.  It was brutal.  There was a lot of binge watching Downton Abbey to keep us going!  That theme music will always remind me of that first month.  We had a team of volunteers that would come and help during the day and a few who even braved the night shift as well!  They helped clean, do laundry, feed babies, and play with Kate.  We had people bringing meals too (thank the Lord!).  I could barely take care of the little people in my house let alone cook a decent meal for myself.  We had lots of help, but it was still overwhelming!

We finally got in a groove, though, and life was crazy, but predictable and manageable.  Thankfully bringing Everett home a month and a half later didn’t disrupt things too much.  We had learned to manage the circus and we were just thrilled to have him home!

Nowadays, Ellie is such a joy.  She has the biggest smile.  It’s almost Grinch-y because it takes over her whole face.  She is my conundrum.  Very soft spirited, but load of voice 🙂  She has a squeal that will make your ears bleed.  But she will go off by herself and play quietly when the others are paling around together.  She needs her space.  The girl does not like it when you invade her bubble (which doesn’t work so well when you are a quadruplet).  She’s learning to cope and the others are learning to stay away.  But, when she is with her siblings she loves to interact with them.  So far she’s a sociable introvert 🙂

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She is a picky eater and she doesn’t like to get messy.  When we did the cake smash photoshoot for  their birthday she was hardly messy.  We had to force her hand in the icing 🙂  It cracks me up.  The other 3 will be filthy and she is daintily eating with nothing out of place.

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Ellie has faced her fair share of challenges in her first year home.  She had a major surgery to remove the cyst on her back and repair the tethering of her spinal cord.  Doctors and nurses warned us that there could be regression physically after the surgery and she was back to normal before we left the hospital.  She is pulling to stand on her own and cruising around furniture.  Today she stood on her own (with her butt leaning against our rainbow climbing toy) and clapped both hands.  That takes so much balance and she did great!  There is still a chance that she may need braces to learn to walk correctly, but so far so good.  She’s battled UTI’s and constipation due to her condition as well.  But, so far, Ellie has mastered every goal they have put in front of her.  Even with her Spina Bifida, she is right where she should be developmentally.  Makes me cry just typing that.  In the beginning we didn’t know if she would be able to walk at all and now she is making strides to do just that and at the same rate as other children.  She’s a rock star.

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Ellie is a beauty.  She has striking blue eyes and a full head of lovely hair (that also makes for some kick butt bed head!).  Her cheeks are so very kissable.  “The Bean” is social and loves to giggle and play with faces.  She says Momma, Dada, and Uh-Oh.  Someday she’ll be a singer (we know she can project and hit the high notes already!) and a friend to many.  She makes my heart smile with her silly grin.  Can’t wait to see where God takes this mighty little woman.

Love you Ellie Bean!

The best Friday the 13th EVER!

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One year ago today, we brought Norah Estelle Hayes home from the hospital.  Jane had been home about a week, Everett had moved down to Cincinnati with Ellie, and I was on my way down to the hospital to visit the two of them.  I had visited Norah the day before and the doctors were pleased with her progress- she was doing well with the bottle and they had taken her feeding tube out the previous night.  That meant if she ate well for the next 36 hours we could bring her home.

So, when I answered a call from Kettering’s NICU I expected an update from rounds that morning, not the green light to bring home our 2nd baby THAT DAY!  Once again, I found myself blindsided but elated 🙂

This time there was one extra problem- Matt couldn’t come with me.  Once a year, he hosts an all nighter with the students: The annual Christmas party.  There was no way he could get out of it at the last minute.  So, I snuggled Everett and Ellie and called my mother to see if she could meet me at Kettering Hospital that evening to bring Norah home.  I also stole an outfit from Ellie’s clothes so I didn’t show up empty handed twice in a row.  (Kettering’s NICU supplied clothing for my babies- no laundry = awesome!)

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It was also weird knowing that this was the last time I would be pulling into Kettering Hospital.  For almost 3 months it had been my second home.  We always parked in the same place outside the cafeteria (the cafeteria staff knew my husbands first name because he got a piece of carrot cake almost every day!).  The doctors and nurses were like our 2nd family.  It was so strange not walking down the left hallway to the two rooms our 4 kiddos occupied for 2 months.  Since all the other babies had been discharged from Kettering’s NICU, Norah had moved into her own room on the other side of the NICU.

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I had a heaviness in my heart walking into her room that evening, but it melted away the moment I saw my sweet Norah and knew she was coming home to live with us!!  Once again, I signed the enormous pile of paperwork and they unhooked Norah from the monitors.  I was literally bouncing around the room with joy!  I took my wireless baby around the NICU and said my farewells to everyone.  It was so weird to walk around the NICU with my baby in my arms.  When they are connected to the monitors you can only move a few feet at a time.  It was freeing and totally weird.

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One of our many favorite nurses, Jocelyn, met me in the hall on the way out and rode with us down in the elevator.  We were a little sad and a TON happy.  She (and many of our other nurses) had become my friend while she cared for my babies.  The nurses had walked with us through all the ups and downs and I could never express how much their love and concern for our family meant to me.  I was so excited to have half of our crew home, but it was bittersweet to close the door on the Kettering portion of our journey.  The doctors and nurses that cared for me in L & D while I was on bed rest, Dr. Bombrys and amazing crew that delivered our miracles, the doctors and nurses in mother/baby, and the fabulous crew in the NICU- they were all beyond wonderful.

was however happy to have only have only one hospital to visit.  Matt and I had been spreading ourselves pretty thin to visit three babies in two different hospitals and adjust to life with Jane at home.

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TWO BABIES.  I wasn’t sure what it would be like.  It was awesome.  Life is all about perspective.  I know that taking care of twins is challenging.  I tip my hat to all moms regardless of how their situation seems to stack up to mine- life with a new person (who eats round the clock) is hard.  But, I also knew that, soon, I wouldn’t have enough arms to hold all the babies that my body miraculously grew.  I knew that, sooner than I could imagine, life would get very interesting, so I soaked up the 10 days I had with just Jane and Norah.  They were easy babies for those first few weeks. We had a great time snuggling and adoring them.

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The first few months with Norah were hard.  She had such bad reflux.  She was in pain every evening and she let us know it.  There were many nights we walked around the house, or strolled through the yard, or jumped on the trampoline, or took a car ride to get her to finally fall asleep.  We would discover a trick that worked and then she would discover that we had found her out and change again.  She was just miserable.  But, once we got her on the right cocktail of meds a different little girl started to emerge.

Now, Norah is such a joy.  She has been the forerunner in every milestone (except teeth and climbing the stairs).  She was the first to roll over, the first to crawl, to stand up, the first to say Momma, the only one yet to walk.  She understands her body so well.  She is more coordinated than her big sister (let’s be honest, that doesn’t take much).  Several people have said she will be a gymnast some day and I wouldn’t doubt it.  She has been walking for over 2 months and I can count on one hand how many times she has taken a spill- even without the no-skid things on the bottom of her socks.  This girls just knows how to move.

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Norah is so playful.  She has the best smile, especially now that she has teeth.  I just can’t get enough of it!  And her little high pitched giggle is fantastic.  Every night I spend a few minutes playing with each of the babies in their crib.  Norah was the first to really understand how to play and she and I have laughed together so much!  There have been many cuteness attacks brought on by her little self running away from me in her crib while flashing me that ornery smile!  I can tell already that she inherited my mom’s love for practical jokes- I’m sure they will get into plenty of mischief in the years to come.

There has been no binky for Norah since she was about 4 months old- she is a blankie girl all the way.  She loves her Aiden + Anais cotton blankets!  She collects them and carries them around the house.  Don’t try to get between Norah and a blankie- her siblings will tell you it is a futile gesture!  I can’t believe I don’t have a picture of her with a blankie to add to this post.  Mom fail 🙂

Norah homecoming 7Norah is unafraid and full of joy (though, try as I might, I could not get her to smile for any of the above pictures).  She was 3 months early, so technically right now she should be at the developmental milestones of a 11 month old.  That means she started walking at the adjusted age of 9 months- that’s 7 months younger than her 3 year old sister was when she took her first steps.  That amazes me.

She amazes me- pretty much on a daily basis.  She’s fascinating because she has such different strengths than I do and I’m excited to see where they take her.

She’s my sweet little momma’s girl.  I hope she never looses that.

I love you, Norah Estelle.  You make my days bright.

Hip, hip, Hooray! Jane’s homecoming day…

Jane came home Time is a funny thing.  In some ways, it feels like forever ago that my little ones were still in the NICU.  In other ways, I can imagine it like it was yesterday.

This time last year, Ellie had just been transferred to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for an MRI on her spine.  I was at the hotel on this morning a year ago with my mother when the NICU called and said we could take Jane home that night.  We knew she was getting close to coming home, but didn’t expect to get her for another few days.  But, because there was a big snow storm coming and we lived about 35 minutes from Kettering Hospital- they let us have her a day early.

I was so excited, but also instantly stressed!  I was in Cincinnati with Ellie.  She was just getting settled into a new NICU and was scheduled to have her MRI that morning.  I wanted to be there with her for the test and stick around for a few hours after to meet with the Neurosurgeon to see the results.  But, I had a baby coming home that day! Our house was ready, at least, stuff wise.  But, bringing a teeny, tiny baby home with no wires attached?!?  Eeekk!  How was I supposed to know if her heart was beating or if she was breathing correctly without those monitors?  I was used to knowing exactly what was going on in her little body all the time.  Then, all of the sudden, nothing.  I was elated and terrified at the same time.

My mom dropped me off at the hospital and I held Everett and Norah for a few minutes while I was waiting on Matt to arrive.  The nurses were gathering mounds of paperwork.  We signed our lives away and they handed us a wireless baby!  It was surreal.  The day had been so hectic I didn’t even remember to ask Matt to bring an outfit or a blanket!  Thankfully, the carseat was already at the hospital or we may have gone home empty handed 🙂   The NICU nurses helped us out, though, and we were on our way. IMG_2179 Jane's homecomingTurns out- Jane was the easiest baby ever!  I don’t know if it was because Kate had such a hard time in the beginning or because we knew things would be so much more challenging when we had all 4 home, but we were in baby heaven.  She ate and slept well.  And was sweet as can be.  I never would have pegged Jane to be the first one home.  But, she was the perfect little one to ease us into mega parenthood 🙂 IMG_2177 These days Jane is a bundle of energy.  She delights everyone with her smile and giggles.  She is a roughhousing, ornery varmint 🙂  She loves to dance and listen to Kate and Mommy sing.  It doesn’t take much to get her cackling with laughter- she’s ticklish as can be and loves to play.  She has eagle eyes and puts EVERY little thing in her mouth.  We call her a little bully- but she’s not really.  She’s very curious and doesn’t pay much attention to her surroundings as she investigates. She doesn’t mind when her siblings return that type of treatment- she thinks it’s normal.  Life with Jane is sure to be an adventure!

Her newest obsession is climbing into things.  I’ve found her several times this week face first into a basket with her feet kicking straight up in the air- bawling.  But, these past few days she has mastered the art of climbing in and out of baskets, toy bins, and laundry baskets.  Climbing the stairs up to the attic playroom is also a favorite activity. Jane homecoming 3 I still can’t believe how far she has come.  She came home at a little over 4 lbs and now she is all muscle and power.  I know she will be the center of a crowd for years to come.  She knows how to have fun and how to love. Happy homecoming my sweet Jane, Jane Marie. Jane homecoming 4 (P.S. Uncle Josh was moved to Dodd Hall on OSU’s campus for rehab today too!  He’s one step closer to his homecoming.)

(Also, Everett finally cut some teeth!  Both bottom teeth came through this week.  And Ellie finally clapped today.  I was taking a video of the kids clapping to send to Josh and Maria and she joined right in!  I was so proud.) IMG_2183

Thankful.

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I love Thanksgiving.  Good food, time with family, and giving thanks- plus it means the official kickoff of Christmas in our house.  All things that I can’t get enough of.

I always have so much to be thankful for.  But, this year I can’t sit and think all those things without sobbing.  I’m not even sure that I’m ready to write about it, to be honest.  My brother in law is alive and all my children are home.  Those two things alone push my thankfulness to its limit.

This day last year I stopped by the NICU to drop off a gift to show my thanks to all the wonderful doctors and nurses who were caring for my babies.  We had hoped to have Ellie home by Thanksgiving, but that didn’t happen.  I was excited to see my extended family, but it just felt weird to gather with the ones I loved when half my family was in the hospital.  I desperately wanted them home with me.

This year the hospital is housing my sister and brother in law for Thanksgiving.  Today had the same emptiness about it, but also an extra measure of hope.  My sister and her husband have already been through a lot in their first year of marriage.  Last August, she was in a terrible car accident the day after they got back from their honeymoon.  She had to be taken care of for weeks at home because she was on brain rest.  While they should have been blissfully adjusting to their new life together, Josh was thrown into caring for his wife and stepson, Eli.  He was awesome.  He stepped up and took care of his family.  I was (and am) so proud to call him my brother.  A year later, Maria still deals with some physical effects of her accident (headaches, back pain, increased risk for blood clots) but she is back to living a full life.  They are expecting their first child together in April.

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Then, this past Friday, Josh was in a terrible accident on the job.  His business partner rushed him to the hospital that was 5 minutes from where they were working.  John’s quick thinking and clear judgement saved my brother in law’s life.  Josh was rushed into emergency brain surgery.  He suffered a severe brain injury and his skull was absolutely shattered in the front.  The surgeon told us that he didn’t see patients with this type of injury survive. I will never forget that moment.  Our family has been through quite a bit in this past year or so, but I have never experienced despair like that.  With our other hardships there were always several steps between the person I love and death.  This time death was staring us right in the face.  My sister melted into my arms and everyone was sobbing.  A few minutes later, we were on our faces on the waiting room floor pleading with God to spare this man we all love.  It was raw.

My sister was broken- I had no idea how to help her.  She was shaking a screaming and just trying to come to grips with what could happen.  I just prayed and prayed and prayed- healing for Josh, protection, peace and strength for my sister and her baby.  Matt and I took her upstairs to see if she could see Josh yet.  And I have to tell you, once my sister saw her husband, a switch flipped.   She stepped right in and became the rock Josh needed to pull though.  She was right beside him- encouraging him and advocating for him.  Watching her, I knew God had created her for such a time as this.  All that she is (nurturing, spunky, unafraid to speak her mind, determined, and full of faith) was/is needed for this journey.

The next 24 hours we were all holding our breath.  We camped in the waiting room with other members of Josh’s family and his close friends.  I can honestly say after that weekend that I love those people.  There is something about walking in the valley of the shadow of death that bonds people together.  We were praying for and believing the best together.  And God gave us the miracle we asked for!

The more time goes by and we learn more about how grave the situation really was- the more I am in awe of the power of prayer and the mercy of God.  The whole hospital was buzzing about Josh making it through the night.  And he didn’t stop there.  He made it out of the danger zone for fatal brain swelling and he has completed every task they have set in front of him.  The man that doctors didn’t expect to live may stand up (for a few seconds) by the end of this week!  He is opening his eyes and putting his hands up to feel the baby growing in my sister’s belly.  He even wrote some words on paper last night.  Josh is one heck of a man!  I still cannot believe how he is defying the odds and exhibiting God’s power.

There have been so many victories.  So many poignant moments between my sister and her husband.  But, the road ahead of Josh is long.  We still don’t know how his brain injury will affect him in the long term. He will have to undergo extensive physical and speech therapy to reteach his brain.  It will be long months, maybe even years of hard work for him.  He is a fighter- no one doubts that!  But their little family will need our prayers and support for a while.

This year, all my kids were home for Thanksgiving.  Walking and crawling everywhere and gobbling up Thanksgiving goodies.  Next year, Josh and Maria will be home for Thanksgiving and we’ll be snuggling their little one (which will probably be good therapy for me with four 2 yr olds!).  We’ll reflect on this time and remember God’s faithfulness through our many trials.  Looking around at how far my babies have come and the miracles that God has worked as a result of your prayers for them is humbling.  My family has been on the receiving end of such miraculous love both then and now.  We hope to spend more time on the giving end here soon 🙂

Thank you to our friends who watched our kiddos so Matt and I could be at the hospital last weekend. Thank you to everyone who has been praying for Josh and Maria.  Thank you to everyone who has donated to their gofundme campaign- we’ve raised $16,700 in 4 days!!!  THAT.IS.AWESOME!  Let’s keep that up.  You have all been instrumental in encouraging Maria, Josh, and their families.

We all have so much to be thankful for- take a minute and hug the ones you love.