If you are looking for an adventure this weekend, do yourself a favor and rent a kayak. Not a jet ski, not a canoe, a kayak. Kayaks have long been my boat of choice. (It has to be a SINGLE kayak, though. None of this double business. I am a control freak and I need TOTAL STEERING CONTROL of my little vehicle.) They give such a calm and peaceful experience (unless you’re the white water type), all the while giving you a killer arm workout. I also love how close they allow you to be to the water to trail a hand, dip a toe, and look for water creatures.
My sister babysat a few weekends ago so that John and I could celebrate our anniversary and remember that we do, in fact, still have hobbies, even after having a baby. We packed a yummy picnic stocked with Trader Joe’s goodies and drove to Jordan Lake, a quick 20 minutes from our home. Jordan Lake is a huge lake–almost 14,000 acres lined with a number of beaches amidst the evergreen trees. It’s a long narrow lake with all sorts of twists and turns and inlets–a kayaker’s dream, really. We rented kayaks from Crosswinds Boating. They also rent pontoons, houseboats, and more for those with non-kayaking interests.
I like to kayak lazily to really take in my surroundings and absorb the beauty, the sunshine, and the water. John spends just about the whole time looking for fish and says things like, “Oh man, I wish I had my fishing pole right now!” But we both love being on the water.
We paddled for a while, then found a quiet little patch of sand to stop for our picnic before our cupcakes melted. Trader Joes, you know how to deliver. We had their pre-prepared salads, curried chicken salad and crackers, raspberries, and peanut butter chocolate cupcakes. So good, and for once we were able to eat in peace without little hands grabbing for our food.
And because it was quiet and there were not many speedboats out, we decided to take a dip in the middle of the lake. The warm sun on our heads, the cool water from the deep-it was a summer moment at its finest. I didn’t want it to end, but the clock was ticking on our kayak rental, and after a few hours away, we were missing our little B. There’s nothing like coming home after some time away and watching her face light up as we walk in the door.
Jordan Lake, we’ll be back again, maybe this time with a baby in tow.
Vacation is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Such a nice step away from “real life” into the type of life you wish you lived everyday! In May (yes, this post is a bit delayed!) we had the pleasure of vacationing in Hilton Head with John’s side of the family (minus Andrew and Krysta, who were missed!). May is an ideal time to visit because the temperatures are beautiful and the ocean is warm enough to swim, but it is still before the summer crowds have hit. We rented a big house a few rows in from the ocean, just a short walk from Coligny Circle (I highly recommend that part of the island!).
Vacation is different with a baby. There were things we missed, like the hours of boogie boarding and swimming we would have done previous to having a baby. And we didn’t plan any big adventures like the zip line tour or a dolphin cruise, like we might have done before. Brielle’s schedule forced us to slow down, relax, limit our activities, and get home early in the day. And it turns out, sometimes slowing down is nice and needed. Dips in the pool. Coffee on the balcony. Bike rides. Walks on the beach. Reading books. Checking out the shops. And of course a mandatory lunch stop at the Salty Dog Cafe.
It was fun to spend time as a family and watch Brielle take in the new environment. Brielle, as it turns out, is a little fish. With the genes she has, we are not surprised, but it was still fun to witness. Her favorite of all activities was being held so that the incoming waves would rush over her feet, at which point she would erupt in a fit of shrieks and giggles.
She also could not get enough of her cousins Jack and Laura. She loved watching them, grinning at them, and stealing their toys. We even managed to get a picture of the three of them (not an easy feat for three squirming children!).
And though we didn’t book the dolphin cruise, the dolphins came to us. One morning at the beach we stood in the water and watched many, many dolphins swim within close range, one of which got within 15 feet of us. Breathtaking and awe-inspiring. One of those moments I’ll remember for life–a brush with wildlife I felt honored to witness.
So now we are back to the grind again, but we’re plotting our next adventures, with friends and then family. Outer Banks, North Carolina–we are coming at you TWICE in September!
Mother’s Day 2013, two years ago. My dad had died suddenly and unexpectedly less than a month earlier, and I was staying at my mom’s house in Iowa to help with everything: sorting through my dad’s stuff, helping to close down his cattle business, writing thank you notes and making dinners, spending time with my brother, Craig, and just being there. When Mother’s Day rolled around, none of us wanted to go to church or out to eat to celebrate. My mom was reminded of how my dad had made the day special for her, and it felt strange to celebrate it without him. I was grieving my dad, and remembering the baby I had miscarried. So we stayed in, and Mother’s Day passed by.
Mother’s Day 2014, one year ago. We gave my mom a necklace engraved with my dad’s handwriting of the words “Love always.” I had miscarried again, but was 6 months pregnant and full of tentative hope. Once you have lost a child, or two, in my case, you never stop worrying that you will lose another. Every single day of my pregnancy, I wondered whether our child would live or die. I felt reassured when I felt her kicks, and nervous when she was still. John and I went to church, and the pastor had all the mothers stand to give a blessing over them, and to pass out flower bouquets. I wasn’t sure whether I should stand, since I didn’t have a child in my arms, so I stayed seated. But one of the women passing out bouquets came up to me, gave me the flowers, and said, “You count too.”
And today, Mother’s Day 2015. We woke up exhausted after a rough night with a teething 8 month old. But in the daytime, she forgot her teeth, and she made us laugh with her scoots and giggles and babbles. When she lay down for her first nap, we did too–and she rewarded us by taking a 2 hour nap. Since she (and we!) slept through church, we decided to go out for brunch. We set her up in the high chair and fed her bits of quiche, hash browns, and strawberries from our plates. John surprised me with a card and beautiful earrings from a local boutique. We came home to a house filled with boxes as we prepare for our upcoming move to the first home we will own. Just a week after we move, my mom and brother will be moving to North Carolina.
Life has changed. Life can be and has been hard, but life can also bring healing. Two years ago we felt crushed, heartbroken, and defeated. Today we still carry those scars, and they have changed who we are, but we have also found joy in today’s blessings. We know the future will have more trials–of course it will, that’s just life. But now we know from experience that you can go through the worst life can throw at you, survive it, and go on to find beauty and joy again.
It has truly been a happy Mother’s Day for me. I hope it has for you too, whether you are a mother or not, whether you are desperately needing a break from your three little ones, still waiting for one to call your own, or simply celebrating your own mother today.
The way your entire face lights up when you smile, and how it makes me feel like the most special person in the world.
Your crazy noises, from the giggles you make us work so hard to get, your delighted shrieks of joy, the fake coughs you do when you are hungry or tired, your silly babbling, and your “billygoat” crying that makes us laugh (sorry!).
Your kicks and squiggles when you are excited.
How intently you watch us eat and drink. And that time you almost pulled my entire salad onto my lap.
The dimples on your knuckles. The dimples on your cheeks. The dimples on your…other cheeks.
Your poor little bald spot. Too much playtime on your back, too much rubbing your head side to side in your crib. Actually scratch that, I’m okay with forgetting the bald spot.
The way you melt into my chest when I sing to you before naptime. Your favorites are “Edelweiss,” “Say, say, my playmate,” and “My [Brielle] lies over the ocean.”
Your fascination with my hair. Sometimes you play with it nicely, sometimes you yank it, sometimes you try to eat it. You also love your daddy’s goatee.
Your bleary-eyed face when you are late for a nap, and you can hardly keep your eyes open.
How mad you get when you roll over and get stuck on your tummy, and how proud you look when you figure out how to roll back to your back again.
Your sweet smell. Part milk, part lavender (your lotion), part coconut (the coconut oil we use on your hair), part just you.
How when you are having a rough night, or maybe you just wake up too early, you instantly relax and fall asleep when we lay you between us in bed. Sleepy baby snuggles are the best.
Your happy little grunts when you are eating.
The joy you have brought to me, and my entire family, at the time we needed it the most.
They say every child is a miracle. That’s certainly true of Brielle, and it’s been shown to us over and over again. Like her conception three months after my second miscarriage. And when I went to the hospital in extreme pain the day I found out I was pregnant, was told I had an ectopic pregnancy and they would be doing a surgery to remove my ovary, but the pain turned out just to be a kidney stone. And the miracles continued through her birth, and what happened afterward. Here is her story:
On my due date, August 23rd, I was excessively exhausted and felt a little funny. I had a feeling that something might happen soon. The next day I started to have a few contractions, spaced throughout the day, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in a meeting for work, at 6:00pm, that the contractions started to come regularly. About every five minutes, actually, but not at all painful yet. As they got a bit more intense, though, I remember thinking, “I hope my water doesn’t break in front of this entire room of people.” Fortunately, it didn’t–but it broke half an hour after I got out of the meeting, at home in the bathtub. At that point, we knew we were going to have a baby in the next 24 hours.
John and I had taken the Bradley classes to train for a natural childbirth, so for the next eight hours, I labored at home. The contractions were painful, yes, but the worst part was actually just the exhaustion of laboring overnight. Finally, it was time to go to the hospital. When we arrived, however, we discovered that our little one was breech, and I would be having an immediate c-section. I was scared and a little disappointed, but secretly also a bit relieved because I knew it meant the pain of the contractions was over!
At 4:48am, Brielle was born, with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck twice (likely the reason she was breech). I could hear her crying and felt so relieved that she was okay. John took pictures and videos to show me while they cleaned her up, and stitched me up. Finally, they brought her over to me, and I was able to see her, just for 30 seconds. She was making these funny little noises, and I asked the nurse why. She told me that c-section babies just have a bit of fluid in their lungs, so they were going to take her to suction her lungs, and they would bring her to our room when they were finished. So they whisked her away while they finished my surgery, then wheeled me to a recovery room.
Even though they were taking a while with Brielle, I didn’t think much of it, but then a doctor came in. She explained that Brielle was okay, but that they had run into some complications. Even though Brielle’s apgar scores were great, and she was breathing just fine when she was crying, shortly after they took her away she began to show signs of respiratory distress. They attempted to resuscitate her with oxygen, but when that didn’t work, they tried to pass air tubes down her nose to her lungs. The tubes hit a dead end. Turns out that Brielle had a rare condition called choanal atresia, which meant that there was a wall of membrane/bone at the end of her nasal canal, so that it never connected with the passage to the lungs. Since babies are obligate nose breathers (except when crying), that meant Brielle couldn’t breathe on her own. Also, in the scramble to resuscitate her, or in her attempts to get oxygen, part of her lungs collapsed. They were able to stabilize her by putting a breathing tube down her throat to her lungs, and even with the collapsed portions of her lungs, Brielle’s oxygen was able to stay at 100%.
The doctor explained that Brielle’s condition called for surgery, and that she would need a team of experts not available at WakeMed Cary, so they would need to transfer her to UNC hospital 30 miles away. We of course agreed without hesitation, even though this meant I would be separated from Brielle. (Insurance would not cover transferring me to UNC because they deemed it elective.) Hours later, they brought Brielle by my room, all tubed up and contained in the unit she would be airlifted in, and we were able to spend 5 minutes with her. And then they took her away.
For two days I had to stay at WakeMed Cary recovering, while John drove back and forth to visit Brielle. Finally, I was released and able to go see our daughter. I was excited to visit her, but seeing her in the NICU, with the tubes all attached, actually broke my heart all over again. She would gag on the airway tube and try to cry, but couldn’t make any sounds because of the tubes. I developed a very strong hatred for the airway tube and was counting down the days until her surgery.
Brielle’s surgery was scheduled for 5 days after her birth because there was no room in the surgeon’s schedule before then. The day of her surgery finally came, and almost my entire family came to the hospital to support us. Watching Brielle be wheeled down to surgery was, and is, one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I was afraid of her going under anesthesia, I was afraid of the surgery itself, I was afraid of losing her. The surgery went smoothly and quickly, though, and the nurses were able to remove Brielle’s breathing tube the very next day. She started breathing immediately, and was able to take a bottle and begin to breastfeed.
Brielle had to stay at the hospital for five more days in order to be monitored, especially to make sure that she was able to manage breathing and eating at the same time without dropping her oxygen levels. John had to go back to work, but I would drive to UNC and spend all day there, feeding Brielle, holding her, reading to her, and then John would join us in the evening. For the last two nights at the hospital, we were able to stay in a family room with Brielle, which allowed us to essentially “practice” being at home but with the safety of Brielle being monitored. At last, the big day came and we were able to take our little girl home. That’s when we finally felt like we were able to begin normal life as new parents!
Brielle had to have two additional procedures in the weeks after to clear out scar tissue and stretch the new openings in her nasal canal, but otherwise, she is a perfectly healthy little baby! Her surgeon told me just a few days ago that she had never personally treated a patient with bilateral choanal atresia that didn’t have the CHARGE syndrome (a condition that comes with a host of other congenital abnormalities, affecting the ears, eyes, kidneys, heart, development, etc.) Another example of the little miracle Brielle is.
We chose Brielle’s name before she was born, and it means “strength of God.” Over and over, the doctors and nurses commented on Brielle’s strength and told us what a little fighter she was. We are so, so grateful to the medical professionals who acted quickly, professionally, and skillfully to save Brielle’s life and allow her to come home with us! And we are so grateful to finally have the chance to become parents.
Photos by Lindsey Laughlin at www.lindseylaughlinphotography.com
I am 35 weeks pregnant with you, our little girl. So many months I wondered if I’d ever get pregnant, if I’d stay pregnant, if I’d make it this far. And still sometimes I wonder if you will really be there at the end of all this.
But little one, you are here now, living in me, growing with me, kicking and hiccuping and sleeping, just as you should. It’s hard to believe that my body, the same one I believed for so long was broken, has been able to carry you and nourish you this far. What a big, big world you will be born into, with so much to learn and do and accomplish. I wonder what you will look like and who you will be. And I hope for oh so many wonderful things for you.
First, of course, I hope you are healthy and happy.
I hope you experience joy everyday, even in just the little things, like dogs and pizza and thunderstorms and a cup of tea and a long talk with a good friend.
I hope you find your calling in life and that you will be very successful at it, but I also hope you learn that success is determined by so much more than just money and status.
I hope you learn to face adversity with determination, knowing that you are strong enough to get through any difficulty.
I hope you discover how to have grace for yourself and for others, and to learn what is and isn’t worth getting upset about.
I hope you find a hobby that makes you feel alive. I don’t care if it’s music or rock climbing or reading or skiing or volunteering or gardening or scuba diving–I just want you to find your own interests and do what brings you joy.
I hope you find friends who cherish you for who you are. Friends who will stick with you through the highs and lows. And I hope you will be that kind of friend as well.
I hope you learn to respond with kindness when someone is mean to you, but that you also learn that it’s okay to stand up for yourself.
I hope you meet a man who treats you as well as your daddy treats me. But if you don’t, that’s okay too. You are still worthy and you are still beloved.
I hope you like me, genuinely like me, not just because I am your mom, but because we have fun together and respect one another.
I hope you learn that your worth is not based on your looks or your achievements or your popularity, but just in who you are. You are so valuable, exactly how you are.
I hope you grow up knowing and loving God. He is always steadfast and kind and good, even when the world is not.
And baby girl, I hope you know how very loved and wanted you are. You have a great support network of family and friends, and so many prayers have been spoken over your life. You will be blessed.
My brother, Craig Romkema, published a book. Actually, it’s his second book, his first having been published 12 years ago (Embracing the Sky, Jessica Kingsley Publishers). Publishing one book, let alone two, is a huge accomplishment for anyone, but Craig especially has had to overcome many barriers in order to reach this goal. You see, Craig has cerebral palsy and autism. He communicates by typing on a keyboard, which is also the way his books were written. He graduated from college a few years ago after ten long years of taking classes two at a time. His book, just published a few months ago, is called “Resting in the Secret Place.” His poems focus on life, family, and living with disabilities. And they are good, I mean, really good. (This coming from someone who doesn’t even like most poetry.) Here is just one small taste of his work:
Easily the wound closed over my heart
as if never inflicted by gutless words–
“Retard,” they sneered at me on the long bus ride home,
but I held these words in my spirit as a sword against theirs.
“You are my beloved son, my chosen one, my strong heart,”
words whispered to me in the darkness when all were asleep
save myself and the One who stood watch over me,
who still watches over me with such tenderness that
at times it seems more than I can bear.
Half in and half out of this place we call reality,
I stay with that Spirit always whispering near me,
always peace surrounding my belligerence,
nothing on this earth as tempting as His voice,
as his mantle of compassion over me.
Would I want my existence to be otherwise,
immersed in a world where I cannot hear Him clearly?
I cannot breathe without His breath coursing through me.
Sometimes I see others who share that life-breath;
I see Him through their eyes, feel Him in the places they inhabit,
know that He also inhabits them, that we share
this secret abiding, He in us,
we somehow in His unseen arms.
No, I am lacking much others consider essential.
Even basic manners are stumbling blocks for my
but I have Him to release truths in the places of deception,
to grant me respite from my body’s ridiculousness,
to breathe over my never-forgotten heart.
“Resting in the Secret Place” is available here. Buy it. Read it. Be changed by it.