Sunday, December 24, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 24 - Give

Write about something you have given

Like yesterday’s post, the automatic thought this time of year when you think of something you have given might be the brightly wrapped presents under your tree this year or years gone by with the name of a loved one on it.  It might be thoughts and memories of shopping for that perfect gift and of the reaction to it.  

But for me there is no more perfect gift that I’ve given then what I’ve given to others in memory of Cole.  That encompasses a lot of things, a lot of areas.  Yesterday I wrote about the gifts God has given to me that I’ve been able to share with others. Having spiritual gifts to be able to offer support, encouragement, hope and comfort to those in need is a gift worth giving in my opinion.  It’s one I feel blessed to be able to give.  There’s a feeling I get when I know my words have been a comfort, a blessing and a help to someone.  It’s a feeling of something being right in the world if that makes sense.  A feeling like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and that this journey is so worthwhile.

The gift of my time and of my spiritual gifts offered to words through words and help online is a pretty big part of my life.  I don’t know, nor do I actually want to, how many hours I spend doing it.  Years ago I talked about this time as a family balance of my mommy time.  Each member of my family gets a piece of my time and the time I spend helping others, the time I spend reaching out and offering support or going to the resources I have available to me to get them help is what I consider my mommy-ing Cole time.  I don’t get to have hours on earth with him making his meals, washing his clothes or making his meals and most especially I don’t get time with him playing, reading, going places and creating memories.  So for me it feels like this is his time.  And that feels just right.

Another area of gift giving that I do in memory of Cole is our annual fundraiser.  For those who don’t know, in 2010 we began our plan to give back to Mt. Sinai and Dr. Ryan.  That year we held a dance with a large silent auction and a few other side activities, including Zack, then 7, cutting his long curls off and raising over $900.  The following year we held our first more public event...a mom to com sale and movie night.  From there it became, for a number of years, a halloween themed event with an evening family fun night...costumes, party games etc.  That event grew, moved locations and then grew again.  We added in a 5k run that I actually trained for and ran in for a few years.  Now it’s a Christmas Gift and Craft show with a 5k run and a photo scavenger hunt.  It’s a ton of work and admittedly I do most of it on my own ahead of time along with the assistance of a great friend who understands baby loss all too well.   Together we organize a huge silent auciton (I find almost all of the 80+ items and she posts them online, organizes the bidding) as well as organizing and setting up for our 40+ vendors who come to sell the wares and help support us too.  There’s always a few tense moments but in the end we, her, myself and my whole family, walk away knowing we’ve done a great job and held a successful event.  It feels good, it feels right and it’s a gift I don’t mind giving… and I don’t mind handing over these big cheques either….

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 23 - Received

In this season of giving we often think of those brightly wrapped packages under the tree when someone asks us about something we have received. For many when asked about something they have received the first thought that pops into their mind is some sort of a gift. Well, the first thing the popped into my head was some sort of a gift too. The first gift I thought of was my salvation. But I've already wrote about that and I might touch on it again later. So the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I wanted to write about was some of the gifts that are some of  the greatest treasures I've ever received. Those gifts are the spiritual gifts that God bestowed on me.
I'm sure you've heard someone say that a person has a natural gift for something, a natural talent. Sometimes those gifts are talents like dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, working with tools, writing, get my point. But sometimes people are talking about gifts that might incorporate one those things but are used in a way to help, support, encourage, grow, and teach.
I believe that God has given me the gift of exhortation

EXHORTATION: Rom. 12:8 - to come along side of someone with words of encouragement, comfort, consolation, and counsel to help them be all God wants them to be.

And mercy

MERCY: Rom. 12:8 - to be sensitive toward those who are suffering, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, so as to feel genuine sympathy with their misery, speaking words of compassion but more so caring for them with deeds of love to help alleviate their distress

I may have always had a gift for these talents in some way but it wasn't until I really grew in my relationship with Jesus that I really began to see them flourish. And my relationship with Jesus didn't flourish until after I had experienced the crushing, heartbreak of losing my child.

I believe that God gave me these gifts in the form of writing. I've been writing since the very early days of our loss. In those days I don't think my writing was as effective I guess. But as time went on, as I grew to understand my relationship with Jesus and as I came to see our journey in a whole different light, this gift just seem to flourish. When I read over some of the things I've written over the years I'm rather shocked. I didn't struggle in English per se in high school but I certainly was never complimented on my writing style, never told I had a way with words.
Now I like to take the words I can write and use them to offer encouragement, support and hope to those who are struggling. I often start to write to someone with a thought of what I want to say and marvel at how it all comes to together.  It’s like the holy spirit gives me the words to say.  I see this even more in my blog posts.  I often find myself drawn to a song, a picture or a comment that someone else has made and feel the pull to get my pen (ok computer) and write.  I won’t always even know why I want to write or what I want to write about but just feel drawn to do it.  And as I put my feelings and thoughts on paper it’s like I don’t even have control over my hands.  The words just flow naturally out and rarely require editing for anything other than spelling mistakes.  And thankfully, most times my words are well received and offer encouragement, hope and sometimes clarity in regards to faith questions to those who read them.  

I, unfortunately don’t use my gifts often enough in the form of blogging but  I think, I hope, that I am using them in the world of social media in a way that offers people something to think about, something to find hope and encouragement in.  I think I do this because I seem to hear compliments from others and even get tagged in words of thanks from members of the groups I’m in….which can feel weird at times.  It’s again like being told I am strong or a blessing.  It’s hard to accept thanks or compliments about something you do naturally, that you do because it’s what feels right.  

Regardless though I am very grateful for the gifts of exhortation and mercy for what they can offer others.  If I can do anything to help someone else find comfort, hope, peace or just even feel listened to and loved, then I know that these are definitely gifts from God and are being used just how He intended.  

Friday, December 22, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 22 - Memory

Write about a favourite memory

I have no idea why this has seemed like a struggle for me to write about.  I mean those that know me, especially my family, are always blown away by my memory, by what I remember from my childhood.  Perhaps what is difficult is selecting just one memory or just one area of life to find a memory from.  

I’ve already shared the moments I wish to never forget from my journey with the twins and I’m not even sure that’s what I would share when it came to a favourite memory.  

Would it be the day I got married?
Definitely not the day I got engaged….but that’s a story for another time.

The day I became a mom?  It could be as it was pretty amazing...but it was also marred with some pretty unexpected events when it came to Zack’s health so I’m not sure that would be it.

Or maybe it should be childhood memories…. A special birthday or holiday?  A special trip?  Festive traditions?

Honestly this is so much harder than I thought it would be and so I’ve decided that in the spirit of Christmas I will recall memories of childhood Christmas celebrations.  Not specifics perhaps but those ‘things we did’ that I’ll never forget.  

Our holiday season usually began with my family travelling to ‘the big city’ to stay at my Aunt Sandra and Uncle Jerry’s house for a weekend of sleepovers, some shopping and, of course, the Santa Claus parade.  Staying with cousins Julie and Janiss was definitely a highlight of my childhood.  I’m sure the parade back then wasn’t held nearly as early as it is now as it didn’t seem long after that fun weekend that Dad was sent into town to buy a Christmas tree.  It would stand outside the house for a few days.  My childhood brain couldn’t wrap my head around why we didn’t just bring it home and put it up immediately.  I remember walking by it as I came home from school with the knowledge that it was a promise of fun times decorating coming up soon.  
And soon that day came and we’d gather around as a family and decorate the tree.  There was a box of ornaments that we were never allowed to touch.  They were gorgeous in the eyes of a child….fuschia and teal with snow like glitter and as shiny as could be.  They had been a wedding gift or something like that and they were so very special to my mom.  I remember we’d decorate the tree while listening to Christmas records on the record player.  When we were all done my dad would life one of us up to place the angel on the top of the tree.  What an honour that was!
Just before Christmas the junior choir from my church would go caroling.  And not just any old caroling where you’d walk from house to house.  No, we’d go in a horse drawn sleigh and would go to sing at the retirement homes in our town as well as to all the ‘shut ins’....those folks who often didn’t get out much during the slippery winter season.  After that we’d go back to the choir directors house for fondue!  I’m sure there were tons of other treats too but the fondue will always stick out in my mind.  Somewhere in there we also had our church Christmas pageant.  Every year, without fail, there was a nativity play of some sort with lots of singing and adorable children in sheep and angel costumes.   
Soon Christmas Eve would arrive and we’d leave out cookies and milk (or sometimes it was a beer or rye and coke…. apparently Santa needed a drink by the time he got to our house) and we’d head off to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads.  
The next morning, bright and early, we’d be knocking at my parents door and asking mom if we could go down to see what Santa brought.  Some years we beat my dairy farmer dad, who rose well before 6 a.m. to go milk the cows, out of bed and were sent back to bed with ‘the look’ from mom. But soon enough down the stairs we’d go to see what was left under the tree by ‘the big guy’.  It was never wrapped and that and our stockings were the only thing we were allowed to look at/open until Dad came in from the barn.  I remember there being present after present to open and it being kind of a chaotic mess in our living room.  And then just as soon as it started, we were done and it was time for a big breakfast complete with fruit salad (which apparently was quite a treat for us LOL).  
After dad had a nap and we’d played sufficiently with our toys, it was time for us to travel to one grandparent or the other’s house for family Christmas.  In later years it was always my mom’s parent’s house as we had my dad’s side a week or two before Christmas (after a year we did it on Christmas Eve and all the city relatives got storm stayed in Teeswater!!!).  

Christmas with cousins, especially my Ireland ones (there were around 10 of us within a 6 year age span...and another 6 or so a few years younger) was always a fun time filled with huge meals and dessert feasts! Soon after dinner the kids would gather around and open presents.  Another chaotic mess in the living room, the tradtional Christmas photo pose with our grandparents (I could only find a photo from Dad’s side to post) we’d be sent outside to toboggan down the hill while the parents opened their gifts.   

All too soon it was over and we headed for home with full belly’s and smiles on our faces knowing we were loved and blessed by an amazing family!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 21 - Magic

Write about something magical

I’ve struggled with this one. I wanted to write about the magic of Christmas….I mean what is more magical than the excitement of children at Christmas. Some of best memories from my own childhood involve the seeing Christmas lights and decorations put up in our town, travelling to ‘The City’ to watch the Santa Claus parade, going to see Santa in our own small town and, of course, getting up early Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought us. And I have similar memories from my own children’s magical experiences at Christmas.
And although that magic is awesome to take in, and as much as I do enjoy watching it, it’s not the kind the warms my heart this holiday season because, well because it’s not from the heart. I mean it’s wonderful and I totally embrace ‘Santa’s Magic’ at Christmas. We definitely ‘buy’ into the myth of Santa despite what some believe about it ‘teaching your kids that a lie is ok’. But as much as giving is from the heart and giving our kids this ‘magic’ feels great, it’s not the same as a magic I see in my kids, most especially Cam, around this time of year and even throughout the year regarding the connection they have with their brother in heaven.

It usually begins with putting up the tree. As we go through our box of ‘Cole’ ornaments (and I cry, of course) they each offer hugs and love to me and also to Cole. They talk about some of the ornaments and where they came from or what they mean. Each year they eagerly help to (or instruct us to) pick a name from an ‘angel tree’ type of toy drive project. The name must be a boy in the same age range as Cole. Together we go to the toy department and select a gift that we think Cole would love to get this Christmas and then we donate it in his memory. In this process there are usually lots of comments about what Cole would do if he was here, what they think he’s doing (or has done) up in heaven. There are always comments about how much they miss him and wish he was here but they also talk about him like he is. He is their brother and they each have their own way of connecting with him. Sometimes it’s questions or comments, sometimes it’s actions towards others and sometimes it’s just in their facial expressions as we talk about him.

This doesn’t just exist this time of year although it is definitely more prevalent. It’s also part of their daily prayers, which for our family occurs at meal time as part of grace. Each one of my kids, when closing a prayer, says ‘Please give Cole a hug and a kiss up there. Amen’. It’s rarely forgotten and if someone does forget then someone else adds it in. Some may think it’s a ‘sad’ ritual but to me it’s a magical connection. It’s their way of connecting the God we pray to, thank and share praise with, to the brother they firmly believe lives in heaven and that they will someday give their own hugs and kisses to in heaven.

It’s a magical connection that I’m sure goes both ways. If it didn’t then I don’t think my kids would be as comfortable talking about him and definitely not as eager to help with projects we do in his memory. Magical love that extends from earth to heaven…. Yup, definitely the kind of magic I believe in!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 20 - Bless

Have you ever been told that you're such a blessing? It's one of those awkward moments for me. Almost as awkward for me as being told someone admires my strength. It's different than when you give someone a gift and they say thank you. When you do that, even if you're not looking for thanks, you didn't do it for the thanks that you would hear, there is sort of a sense of expectation that you'll hear it. Now when you bless someone, when you do something that's completely unexpected for someone, you don't do it with any intention of being thanked. Not if it's a true blessing in my opinion anyway.

But that's not actually what I'm talking about though. I'm talking about being told you are a blessing. That you, yourself ,are a blessing to someone in need. So often a blessing is more than just an action, more about your personality, your talents, your gifts then it is about what you've done for someone.

And while it is awkward for me to be told I am a blessing, I also know that it is such a heartfelt compliment. I've been told this after I've done something like take food to someone in need; someone who's had surgery, had a death in the family, had a new baby or is just having a tough time. And while that is one of those times that is a little easier to accept, it's a little less awkward because I did do an action that I could be thanked for, it still feels weird.

What is more uncomfortable for me is being told I am a blessing by someone who I've opened my arms and heart to at a time of emotional need. My heart leads me to do these kind of things and so a compliment about it just doesn't necessarily make sense to me. It's kind of like I talked about in my post about strength. There really isn't any other choice to me. It's just something you do, something that comes natural. And for me, it's something that feels like it has Heavenly guidance. It's definitely gift, a spiritual gift, that God has bestowed on me. And when it comes to being a blessing to someone who is going through TTTS and even more so, someone who has suffered a loss from it, another pregnancy-related complication, stillbirth or infant loss, it feels like it's something that Cole is sending me to do from heaven. It's like it's his way of still being involved in life on Earth.

And so when I look at it that way, then I guess it is perfectly okay to be a blessing to someone else. It's not awkward at all. It's just how my son can live on through my actions.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 19 - Ask

Write about Asking for something

I looked at this word, Ask, and I thought ‘I don’t want to write about asking for something, about those superficial wants we all have...I don’t want to share my ‘Christmas list’ with anyone’. Right away I had a vision pop into my head of someone kneeling in prayer and realized that holy spirit was leading me in the place that this blog theme was most likely intended. Asking God for what we need, not asking others for what we want.

I admit, prayer in the way that most would think of it is not my strength. I always say I would like to be more prayerful, envision myself as having a prayer room with sheets of prayer requests on the walls etc but I just don't seem comfortable doing that. Maybe that's lame, but it's not for lack of faith. I have my own way of praying to God and thanking him and requesting things of him. It tends to be more conversational, more thought processes as opposed to getting down on my knees or even just sitting quietly and talking to God. I decided to share one of the times that I did clearly receive a message from God, when I asked for a sign and I got it. This next little bit of my blog post is actually taken directly from a post from last December. It's sort of a recollection of where I was at in the time after Cole was gone, after many weeks have passed, and I was still in the hospital and still very unsure of what was going to be Cameron's future. I was exhausted, I was tired of being away from home, and I was ready for a change.

My faith didn’t seem very strong at times in those months in the hospital but it did give me a sense of hope. Unfortunately I didn’t have the strength in my faith to trust God and not feel anxious. Often, on times where the stress of being away from home and feeling deeply lonely, the wish to move forward definitely won out. It's not that I wanted Cameron to be very premature but I felt more ready for that to happen since he was at a safer gestational age and I was not so scared. I was caught between wanting to keep him in for so much longer and wanting to move on the next stage of joy and grief.

And so for the first time in a long time I actually prayed. I asked God to help me, to give me a sign to show me that my boredom, homesickness and anxiety about the birth (and the desire to speed this process up) were selfish and not where my head should be. I didn't ask God for much in those days...I prayed in my own way but tried to only ask him to guide and help me. The night before the surgery in December, the night we learned about TTTS, I had asked God to be with both my boys and to save them both. The outcome wasn't what I asked for, for reasons I knew I wasn’t meant to understand this side of Heaven. So I stopped praying for concrete things like that because I didn't want to be disappointed and have my faith questioned in my head. I trusted in God to give me what He felt was best. But that day I asked for a sign and later on felt myself drawn to a place on a support message board that I hadn't looked at yet. It was the NICU support board and I read a post from a mom about her boys.

They were born at 31 weeks 2 days and her donor baby was 3 lbs 6 oz. He suffered heart issues and kidney issues at birth, was ventilated and then on the CPAP for a few weeks. Things seemed to be going well for him and then when he was 3 weeks old they discovered he had 2 brain bleeds and they were told his disabilities would be severe. This really hit home for me because at 31weeks 4 days Cameron was 3lbs 10 oz and he too was a donor baby who, like this little one, was 'stuck' with no amniotic fluid. It made me realize that although everyone says 32 weeks, or close to it, is the big 'safe' place to get to in preterm births, it isn't always safe. That 32 week marker is based on babes who are 'just' preterm.....not ones compromised by other situations like TTTS or pPROM. There are no guarantees that if Cameron was born at this gestational age that his fate would be any different from this other baby's.

Those last two paragraphs are taken from things I wrote while in the hospital and I am once again struck by how the Holy Spirit was working. He lead me to that website and to that story. He answered my prayer with a sign and, to this day, it’s one of the most concrete signs I’ve ever felt I got from God.

So while I don't ask for much in really any areas of my life including my faith life, I do see clear times when asking God for signs, confirmation or the help and support we needed, He would deliver. I've learned through the years that what we ask for in prayer is often answered but just not always in the way we anticipated.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 18 - Rest

Write about whether you are restful or restless and why

Though I hope to have a photo of the place I may occasionally rest in, I am definitely not a restful person. I don’t think of myself as restless but rather not capable of taking a restful period much more than the time before bed and then while I sleep….which definitely isn’t for the recommended length of time each night!

Physically I have a hard time sitting when I know there is work to be done. I can definitely get a lazy on, not doubt there, but I typically can’t really settle in to ‘rest’ until the ‘jobs’ that are mine are done.

Once I am sitting and ‘resting’ though I am not truly in a restful state. Like many people, I find myself drawn to my electronic devices, usually my phone. And while I can just simply ‘waste time’ on it, for the most part I spend my time on facebook surfing through the support groups I manage, often because someone has tagged me to help out with a situation or offer words of encouragement, support or experience. It gives me great satisfaction to do this and fills a need I have...but it’s not a restful past time usually. Often I can get quite worked up, sometimes even obsessive.

Thankfully though I know when to put my phone down, turn off the lights, had to a place that looks pretty similar to here (though with crazy green walls that I left Geoff pick the paint for and not nearly so tidy LOL)…..
for a restful time of reading and relaxing before I drop into my 6ish hours of, usually fairly restful, sleep.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Advent Challenge 2017 Day 17 - Friendship

Today's theme, is to write about a friendship. I thought about this a lot as I drove to work the other day. I wondered who could be the friend I featured in this post. I have a lot of amazing friends. I feel pretty blessed at times. And so I decided I wasn't going to just focus on one friendship but rather on three different ones.

The first is one that's pretty old. This dear friend of mine and I go all the way back to early elementary school or rather the school bus. But back then we weren’t friends, as a matter of fact we might have actually hated each other. We road the same bus to school for many years but we didn't actually go to the same school because she went to the Catholic school and I went to the public school. Fast forward many years till near the end of high-school when we ended up partying together a few times one summer and our friendship took off. We became quite inseperable during the last 2 years of highschool and in that time and the next several years we experienced many heartbreaking times together. We lost a number of people that we were very close to in our late teens and early twenties. Our friendship has never waivered but it's definitely had it's challenges, the greatest being distance. For most of the last 20 years we have lived thousands of kilometers away from each other. That doesn't seem to affect how tied our hearts are to each other. She became a Christian a few years before me and shared many wonderful words with us in some of the trials of our lives that began nine years ago. As a matter of fact if it wasn't for something she had sent us I don't think that Geoff and I would still be together. I love her like a sister and I'm so blessed by her friendship, by her prayers and by her love.

In chronological order, the next friendship I want to talk about is actually friendships, plural. These friendships were born out of a life that began 9 years ago. They are parents that I met online because of TTTS. Some of them know the heartache of loss, losing one or both of their twins to this disease. Some of them had both twins survive and know how TTTS changes you forever. They know the heartache only because they have such a heart and a love for those of us who do experience loss. They are my go-to team, my go-to friends. They understand how seeing pictures of a set of healthy, happy twins can rip my heart into pieces or bring me great joy. They understand that some days suck and some days are awesome. They cheer me on as I help other people and they hold me up when my tears threaten to drag me to the ground. I feel so blessed to have this group of friends in my life and I know I wouldn't have made it through this journey without them.

The last friendship I want to write about is also a plural friendship. I have a group of friends that I've been hanging out with for the last five or so years. They are people I met in church and they hold such a special place in my heart. They are who I can go to for anything. I can tell them anything, I can ask for anything and I can always find comfort in their presence. This group knows when I need prayer without me even asking for it and they know how to love on me like no one else does. They don't judge me. They don't form opinions about how I should or shouldn't live my life. They just offered love, support and grace upon grace. None of them knew me before any of this journey began for us, they didn’t experience how TTTS changed us or watch the anguish that the loss had on our hearts. And yet they love Cole and talk about their desire to meet him in heaven. They are the greatest blessing I could have. There’s a David Crowder song that reminds me of this group.

So lay down your burdens

Lay down your shame

All who are broken

Lift up your face

Oh wanderer come home

You’re not too far

So lay down your hurt

Lay down your heart

Come as you are

The song is about how Jesus wants us to just come as we are to him and this group, this group accepts me like Jesus. I can lay down my burdens, my shame, my brokenness , my hurt with them and just be real. I can come to them just as I am and know that I am accepted, welcomed and loved.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 16 - Strength

Write about a time you were told you were strong

I tried to go back and find times where I blogged about this before...because I know I have. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a specific blog post on this...which I guess means I was supposed to write a new one.

The funny thing about this topic is that I can’t pick just one time that this has been said to me. It gets said over and over again and that’s been happening since before the boys were born and continues to today. ‘Your strength is inspiring/amazing.’ ‘You are so courageous.’ ‘I admire your strength and know I’d never be as strong as you’. It happens all the time and all the time I want to say they are wrong, that I’m not any stronger than anyone else would be.

One of my blog posts from a long time ago where I mentioned strength was written from a bit of a different perspective than I'm at now but it's interesting. I mentioned that people were telling me how strong I was, how they didn't know how I was doing it or how they couldn't have done it themselves. At the time I wrote something along the lines of what other choice did I have? What was I going to do different, it was completely out of my hands. I wrote that then was that I would rather have not been strong and had Cole here then to be strong and live life without him. And while I don't feel the same way or perhaps rather I look at it in a different way, there is a part of me that does still wish I didn't have to have been so strong. It was a strength that was forced on me I guess. I didn't choose it, and I didn't want it, but it's mine to own. There are days I don't feel strong at all. This week I definitely didn't feel like I had much strength. There were many moments where it was all I could do to keep tears back. But maybe some people would think that that is showing strength. Being able to go on despite the emotions that are racking your heart could be considered showing strength. And once again I say, what other choice do I have? I can't stop living. I can't stop being a mom, a wife, an employee or a friend. I might need breaks from that to help me get through, I took one on Wednesday. I knew I didn't have the strength to be an employee that day, that mentally I would be checked out, and so I took the day off. I got up early so I could take a break from being ‘strong mommy’ and cried my heart out in the wee hours of the morning while my family slept. I offered no supportive words to any friends or within any of the groups I belong to on Facebook. But even with those breaks in mind many would say I showed strength is just doing what we did that day. Returning to Mt. Sinai and seeing Dr. Ryan isn’t easy and yet it’s a way to bring joy to that day.
In recent years I have had many within the TTTS community tell me they admire my strength, that they admire what I do to help others. Some friends in the loss community tell me I am so strong for continuing to be present in the twin groups as that's not a place they can go, it's not a place they feel comfortable. I've never really thought a lot about it, a lot about it being a sign of strength. It's again, just what I do. I feel drawn to being there and helping; offering information about proper pregnancy care to those pregnant, offering support to the newly diagnosed, providing ears to listen and a shoulder to cry on to those who have suffered a loss.

And I could say I don't know where that strength comes from but that's not entirely true. That strength comes from a desire to make this journey have a purpose. Within a very short time of losing Cole both Geoff and I knew that we wanted help other people through this difficult journey. We wanted others to not experience what we were going through whether that be the loss itself, the feelings of being alone and unsupported or just the general uncertainty of it all. I've always felt very strongly that Cole's life had to mean more than his time alive inside of me. I wanted him to make an impact on the world just like his brothers would. And so I guess my strength comes from him and I love that he's giving that to me.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Advent Challenge 2017 Day 15 - Nourish

Write about what it means to nourish your own soul or the soul of someone else

I wasn’t sure what to write for this topic. I mean this time of year we certainly nourish our bellies more than we need to but what does it mean to nourish one’s soul? What does “Nourish” really mean? Synonyms for nourish include: feed, provide for, sustain, maintain, enhance, cherish, nurture, foster, harbor, etc. So ignoring the ‘feed’ part, what can I do to provide for, sustain, maintain, cherish, nurture, etc myself or another person.

I pondered this for a bit, pondered what do I do that provides for my soul, for my heart? Likewise what do I do that helps to sustain and maintain it, to cherish and nurture it? And do I do this for anyone else?
In this season of memories, of emotions, of times of struggle with both of those, what do I do to nurture my soul? Well obviously I write. And what do I write about, what is the general reason I write or the focus of my writing? Well that’s simple...the reason is to keep myself focused on the positives while exploring some of those emotions. The focus...often it’s what I’ve learned from this journey and where the journey has taken me.

I open my heart all the time...and often hear from friends how much they appreciate my honesty. I also share from the heart about many different things but most especially about the journey that we took with our twins. Sometimes that sharing can get kind of messy and emotional but I can honestly say that I have never regretted opening my heart how about my boys to other people. Being able to share how my life has changed, being able to share all that we've done because we knew and loved Cole definitely nourishes my soul. But it's not just sharing that nourishes is it but the actual actions themselves. Doing what we do for our fundraiser is a definite part of that. Another large part is being involved in the support groups that I am on Facebook, messaging or texting the moms I’ve connected with from far and wide and allowing them to have a place to talk, to vent, to grief. Being there for others is definitely nourishing to my soul. And that makes me think about how I nourish others. Perhaps that is what I can do to nourish other people’s souls... just keep sharing. Pretty great that you can nourish yourself and others all at the same time and all by just opening your heart, being honest, being supportive, and just loving on others.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 14 - Joy

Write about a joyful moment in your life

As I sit here pondering joyful moments I am unsure I can write about just one. I mean no one has only one joyful moment in their lives I hope. I am not sure I can come up with ‘the most joyful’ moment either.

Instead I think I am going to post of photo of what brings me the greatest joy….

It’s an older photo but they don’t pause long enough for group photos much anymore! These three are full of times anyway. But whether they are or aren’t the joy that they bring me can’t be measured. Those older two were what kept joy in my life in the days after we found out Cole was gone. Even in the moments where Brycen said ‘you no cry today mom?’ and Zack asked me for the 100th time if I was ok I found joy in them and the fact that they were there for me. And Cameron….well he spreads joy no matter where he goes.

As a follow up to yesterday I want to share some photos of our day and what we did to honour our sweet boy….because it gives me great joy to do that too!

Each year we hold a fundraiser to raise funds for Dr. Ryan's program at Mt. Sinai.  Our event was a great success this year and we raised $4368!!!! It was a joy to spend Cole's day back where it all began with the man who was so instrumental in our journey.

Cameron wanted to give Dr.  Ryan a gift this year.  His way to say thanks and to spread joy as well!


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Nine years....

I just wanted to add another short post today as the one I posted earlier was actually written earlier and then tweeked and posted today.  So as honest as it was, as raw with heartache, it wasn't actually today's heartbreak. 
Like every year, today I woke early to get as much of the rawness of this day out of the way before I put my mommy hat on, wake the boys and prepare to go to Toronto for our annual visit.  I read through what I had shared last year, the part of my 'story' from December 13, 2008 and...I wept and I wept and I crying again as I type this.  Each year I think why does this have to be so hard.  Why does it have to hurt so much.  And then I shake my head at the ridiculousness of that.  It's never, ever going to be easy to get through this day. A part of heart was torn apart that day 9 years ago and it hurts, like hell!  I hate that it has to hurt and I hate even more that it has a reason to, that I had to lose my child and cause that wound. 
And although what I am about to write isn't necessarily any less emotional and I know I'll sob while typing it, my hope for myself is that sharing words to Cole of all he means to me will help to comfort my heart. 

My dearest Cole you are so loved.  You are so treasured.  And you are so missed.  Sometimes I marvel at how much I can miss what I never had.  I didn't build memories of you hear in my arms, only in my womb.  I didn't get kisses and hugs but I did get crazy kicks and saw you so many times at those ultrasounds.  How can I miss someone I didn't experience life with???  Well first of all I miss what I didn't get.  I miss that we never got to experience life with you, to watch you grow, to hear your laugh.  But I also know that we lost only your body and your physical presence from our lives.  Your spirit is with us and always has been.  You've inspired me to become someone I never imagined I could.  To do things I never thought possible.  You've shaped me and stretched me.  And that makes me miss you more....because I wish I could have experienced all of that with you here and not because you weren't. 

But the reality is that I'll never know if that could have happened if you were here and in my heart of hearts I think I know it wouldn't have. 

You, my sweet son, are my inspiration and you will never stop changing the world...through me, through your dad, through your older brothers and especially through your twin brother.  You shine brighter than any star.  Your love radiates through this family.  You've impacted the lives of people all over the world. 

Cole Edward Ryan Tummers you are so missed.  You are so loved.  You are so treasured.  And you are so much a part of this family and this world.  I will spend the rest of my life wishing I didn't have this day to honour you and I know it will never be an easy day.  I also know that my tears aren't just tears of sadness and heartbreak but are tears of joy for the impact your life has had on the world. 

Yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever you are loved. 

Advent Challenge Day 13 - Reclaim

Write about something you wish to reclaim

I didn’t pick this.  This was the original theme for this day by the person who made this challenge. This is the theme set for the anniversary of the worst of day of life.  I was going to change it.  I mean really, why wouldn’t I want to write about memories, moments, or even love or peace today?  Why not write with a focus on the positives, something that’s deep and profound that I’ve learned from this day? The answer is simple….because God wants me to explore something (some things??) I need to reclaim on this day.  
If I could reclaim anything in the world, most especially from this day 9 years ago, the easy answer would be my son’s life.  Oh wish how I could reclaim that, how I wish we could go back and take this day out of 2008, pretend it didn’t happen.  Most days I don’t say this because even my heart of hearts I know that life is what it is because he died.  I am who I am because I loved and lost and not because I loved and kept.  And as hard as it is to say it, I know that I am a better person because I lost my child.  I lost him being part of my physical life but I know I didn’t lose a piece of my heart and soul...he lives there.  


But today (and in the days leading up to today and the next few days too I’m sure) I do say it.  I do want my son here at my side and not just in my heart.  I want to hold his hand crossing the street, I want him sleeping in the extra bed in Cam’s room, I want to wake him with hugs and kisses every morning.  I don’t want to struggle to imagine what life would be like to have him here, to be raising twins...I want it to be my life.  I don’t want these tears streaming down my cheeks, I want laughter at his antics and craziness twin-ness to escape my lips.  I don’t want to feel sadness as I put my Christmas tree decorated with so many memorial ornaments up each year and as I shop for a gift with my family to donate to another boy his age, I want to be decorating our tree with 4 boys, to have fights over who’s putting which ornament on where with both my twins.  Ultimately I want to reclaim the joy that having twins should be. I didn’t get to experience that and I want it...I want it so bad.  
And so today this post is now entirely about my sadness, my wishes for the things I want to reclaim, about what I wish was different and the brokenness that exists in my heart when I imagine what life would look like if he was here.  Tomorrow can about hope, peace, love or joy (’s actually joy, I just looked) but today will be about wishing for what I can’t have and what I’d like to take back...  And that’s ok…

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 12 - Perspective

Today’s challenge, right from the original post, was to write about perspective.  Hmmmmm...pretty vague topic and one that took me a long time to really think about what to write about.  There’s so many facets to this word, this theme.  In relation to where life was 9 years ago I had wondered about writing about life from Cole’s perspective but I wasn’t sure I could emotionally bring myself to do that.  I thought about writing about the topic of what our journey was like from the perspective of others in our lives.  Recently I met with two other TTTS moms for supper.  They are two of my ‘oldest’ local TTTS friends and initially I only had ‘loss’ friends so they have many similar ‘perspectives’.  We talked about our families that day and I wondered out loud something that I’ve always been curious about….what was it like to be our families and our friends during our loss journeys.  I asked them if they had ever wondered or even asked what it was like for our moms and dads to get that awful phone call.  Or our siblings.  Or our friends.  In my case, I often have wondered what the Christmas gathering that happened the day we lost Cole was like.  How hard was it for Josh and Marjan to show up there, with my other two boys but without my parents, who’d been called and chose to come to the hospital instead of going to family Christmas, and tell all my aunts, uncles, cousins etc that one of our twins had died.  It’s  an interesting perspective….but its not mine and I really can’t write about something I’ve never experienced.  
So what do I write about, how do I focus on this theme of perspective when I am in the midst of this heartache of memories and emotions.  And so I decided to break and take these photos and then use them to write about two opposite but so connected perspectives….looking down

or looking up….

In these photos I think looking down gives a prettier picture, a more defined picture.  And perhaps that’s what it’s really about.  That after the fact, that when the time comes that you can look at things from a more complete place, from a better angle, you can see the whole picture better.  Your perspective is completely different when you are out of the situation, out of the chaos.  
But that’s not how life works.  We don’t get to live the forever after before we’ve lived the here and now.  
When you are in the thick of it, you are like my photo.  You are looking up and you can’t see the top.  You can’t see what the end will be and you often can’t see for the chaos that’s in your way.  You may see glimmers of light, of hope but really you have no choice but to live in the moment and pray for the whole picture to become clear.  
In the chaos of 9 years ago I couldn’t imagine that my life would be where it is now.  I also couldn’t have foreseen the outcome, couldn’t have imagined that in 24 hours I would learn that I wasn’t going to bring two little boys home from the hospital together.  But I could see glimmers of light and I had hope.  
The next day those branches covered that hope, the light was gone and I was unable to imagine my life any other way but in darkness and devastation.  But those lights, that was still there.  I just had to push the branches aside to find it.  
And now I can stand back and see the whole picture…

I can see that amazing things happened because I took this journey, that despite the heartache, the devastation, the sadness and the struggles to overcome it, it didn’t just change me for the better, it impacted people all over the world.  I can see that this journey was never just mine to take.  I took my family, most especially those two special little boys, with me but I met and impacted so many other families along the way and shared my perspective on life with them.
If I could have only seen the view from the top, I would have missed the journey of the heart from the bottom.  If I could have only seen the view from the bottom I would have been much too scared to find my way through it.  And if I could have only seen the whole picture I might have thought it was a easy, it was pretty...that it didn’t take blood, sweat and oh so many tears to get to where I am today.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

Advent Challenge Day 11 - Fearless

Write about a time you were fearless

I specifically moved this theme on to today, the anniversary of the day life began to change forever for us, the day we were introduced to TTTS, because I wanted very desperately to remember the times in this journey where I wasn’t afraid, where I wasn’t filled with fear for my babies. I knew those times existed, just as those amazing moments I wrote about yesterday existed. It becomes so easy for memories to be overshadowed by the emotions attached to them. Fear, sadness, heartbreak….all of those emotions have clouded my memory of being pregnant with twins and its a struggle to remember the joy I felt then. And so today I want to explore both the fear and then fearless emotions I felt 9 years ago.

Below is a excerpt from what I wrote for the book Forever Linked about this time in my life. There is definite element of fear expressed here but there is also a strong element of fearlessness, of trust in the team of doctors assigned to my case. That’s what I want to remember….the fearless strength that existed inside of me and the hope I had.

And when Dr. Hancock arrived to talk to me, I knew something was very wrong and asked him what it was. He told me that there was a concern with the growth of the babies and the sharing of nutrients. He explained that it appeared that one baby appeared to be getting too much while the other was getting none. I was to go to see high risk specialists the next day in London and he would be calling me by 4:30 with more info. They had me wait for a disk of ultrasound results to take with me and sent me on my way after taking my cell number.

I left the hospital in shock, trying hard not to cry. It just seemed too unbelievable that these little babes might be in trouble. I called Geoff and bawled but managed to get somewhat calm and agreed to meet him at our son’s school for our meeting with his teacher. I called my mom and cried on her answering machine and then tried my best to keep it together and drive back to home. I was so scared.

I made it 5 minutes outside of the city when my phone rang and it was the doctor. He said I needed to remain calm but that I needed to return to the hospital immediately as I was being sent to Toronto right away. He said to have Geoff come too and to meet him on the delivery floor.

And then I really wept. I could hardly talk when I called Geoff and our babysitter. It all seemed so unreal.

But reality didn’t really hit until I got to the hospital and spoke to Dr. Hancock. He explained that the doctors he’d spoken to in London told him to contact Mt. Sinai in Toronto and that specialist said, after hearing the results of the ultrasound that it was imperative that we come to Toronto right away. Dr. Hancock said that I would likely have surgery and be in Toronto for a week or so. And then he really scared me when he told me they would be giving me a shot of celesdone, a steroid given to strengthen premature babies lungs…they were afraid these babies were going to be born right away.

I cried and shook, my heart was breaking and my mind was racing with thoughts of these babies and the life I wanted for them. How could this be happening to me, to them, to our family???

Geoff arrived a bit later and met me at the door of the hospital. He just held me as I cried and tried his best to alleviate my fears. The next few hours were spent trying to reach those who needed to know while driving to Toronto.

We met with Dr. Wendy Whittle when we arrived at Mt. Sinai. She was amazing, very calming and assuring. She scanned me again and showed us the signs of this disease we now knew as Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. She also was finally able to tell us that we were expecting 2 little boys.

Our babies were the same size, actually our recipient was about 15% smaller. Our donor baby had no amniotic fluid and no urine but other than that he looked very good.

Our recipient baby, however, appeared to be more affected. He had a full bladder, lots of amniotic fluid and his heart appeared to be somewhat affected, perhaps working harder than normal. The TTTS stages were explained to us and our babies were at Stage 3 with 8cm pockets and reverse flow for our recipient and no amniotic fluid or visible bladder but no other affects to our donor. Dr. Whittle seemed very confident that surgery would correct our problems and that our babies would be fine. She discussed our options and the outcomes of each. If we did nothing then there was a 100% chance we would lose one or both babies. We could try an amniotic reduction but this was not really an option at the stage of this disease that we were at. Or we could have the laser surgery preformed at Mt. Sinai, the only place where it was done in Canada. It did come with risks, one being pre-term labour and if that happened we would lose both babies as they were too small to be viable.

I remember Dr. Whittle talking to us at length about how optimistic she was for our babies. She felt that the TTTS had been happening for such a brief time because Cole’s fluid level was only the bare minimum to be considered TTTS and the boys were the same size. She told us there was mild stress on Cole’s heart but nothing too serious and that Cameron was in perfect health with the exception of the lack of fluid in his bladder. I remember her clearly saying “you’re in great shape….you’ll have this surgery to fix the problem and go home to grow some babies for the next 10-12 weeks’. She also assured us we were in great hands and told us a bit about Dr. Ryan and how amazing he was and how much we’d love him.

We left the scan feeling scared but confident that they would save our babies and correct the problem. The hospital brought a cot in for Geoff and gave us a private room. We sat together and cried and prayed…and talked. We were so scared but both of us tried to be strong. We talked about names for our boys and decided on Cameron and Cole. Geoff suggested that atleast one of the boys should be named after this man who was about to perform life saving surgery for them, the head of fetal medicine, Dr. Greg Ryan.

We fell asleep, or tried to, holding hands, both lost in a dream world of worry and stress.

Not that in what I wrote there, over 8 years ago, that I never talked about fear. I don’t think I was fearless, that I wasn’t only full of optimism and without any concern but I also was not so full of despair, worry or dread that I felt consumed by fear for what was happening to my boys.

On the morning of December 12 Dr. Ryan, met with us and scanned me at length again. He was a very reassuring person but seemed to be all business. We felt at ease with him but knew from his demeanor that this was a very serious situation. He explained TTTS to us again and discussed our odds. He said there had already been some changes in our recipient, Cole’s, heart and the fluid pockets had increased 2 cm’s in the 9 hours since I was last scanned. We wanted to do whatever we could to save the boys so the surgery was confirmed and booked. They began discussing the best place to enter the uterus and this seemed to take a long time. I had an anterior placenta and what I now know a velamentous cord insertion on our recipient though none of those terms were given to us. We did hear terms like acute TTTS but had no idea what that meant. I have since learned that having a velamentous cord insertion usually means poor growth in twins, often because they also have a poor share of the placenta. It is very rare to have both the cord problem and unequal share with the recipient baby…Cole…and a share of less than 25% does not often mean that baby will survive. Basically they just outgrow the placenta they have and do not have enough nutrients to survive. An anterior placenta is very difficult to do surgery on and some specialists won’t do the surgery if you have one. But as I said, I knew none of this at the time, only that I HAD to have surgery as soon as possible to save even just one of my babies. And so we sat in my room and waited for hours for the operating room to be ready and prayed and planned for these little boys growing inside of me.

And again, no words of fear but instead words of hope and optimism. I was not thinking that my boys might not survive, was not crying and sobbing. I was planning for having 2 more boys in my house, I was joking about having half a hockey team. I was planning for our future not fearful that we would not have a future that included these two identical little boys named Cameron and Cole.

When I tried to think of some sort of an image for fearless I couldn’t think of a photo I could take so I headed to the internet for some ‘fearless’ images and I found this one….

I thought it seemed fitting that I should end this post with a reflection on that quote and where I’ve see it applied to my life. Fear never does anything positive. We can’t live without it, it’s part of our make up and having it doesn’t mean we don’t have faith. It means that we have a human heart that strives for the best in our lives while knowing that sometimes things are out of our control. Having fear gives a knowledge of what can go wrong if we do nothing and it gives a reason to have courage to overcome what’s holding us back. Fear gives a reason to have faith in God, faith that things will turn out in the end, that we will overcome whatever it is that is threatening our lives, threatening the joy and hope we have. So yes, I definitely had fear but I also had courage, strength and faith….even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Deep inside my heart I knew that whatever happened with Cameron and Cole, I would be ok, that I would make it through this. It was a faith I didn’t understand and didn’t realize how important it would become in the weeks, months and years to come. I didn’t let the fear of losing my sons consume me then and I learned to not let the fear of how I’d ever survive without Cole control my life later. So I guess I was fearless.