Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kaylee and Helo

It's good to be home. 

Between traveling for Thanksgiving and a long hospital stay, my husband and I were away from home for almost two weeks. Fortunately, my parents were more than willing to take care of our two cats. 
Helo, our big boy
Kaylee, our sweet girl

Kaylee and Helo are three years old now, so they're pretty self-sufficient. But even they felt our long absence. It was nice to get home and see how they followed us from room to room, not leaving us alone for fear that we'd be quickly gone again. They love their humans. And they're a comfort to me. 

We got them when they were just kittens, early in our marriage when I began to get the maternal-feeling bug, but we weren't ready to start a family yet. Now, after all that's happened, there is a void in our family where our daughter was supposed to be. There's no way our pets will even begin to fill her space, but it's nice to have somewhere to put those maternal feelings. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Penelope Rose Stanley

This has been the hardest week in my life.

Early Monday morning, the 26th of November, I went to the emergency room with severe upper stomach pain. I'd had the same pain the previous Friday night, but this time it wasn't getting better. When I got there, the doctors said I had developed preeclampsia, and Penny had to be delivered as soon as possible. Not only that, but I had gotten HELLP disease, where my platelet count was falling and my liver enzymes were elevating at alarming rates.

At 10am on Monday November 26, 2012, Penelope Rose Stanley was born by C-section. She was 2 lb 10 oz, 15 inches long, and 34 weeks 6 days along.

She was beautiful.

They let me see her and kiss her before they took her and my husband to the NICU.

I don't remember much of that day. I hadn't slept since Sunday night and it was quickly becoming Tuesday. I remember seeing her briefly in her incubator as I was brought to my room from recovery. She had a breathing tube in her mouth and a feeding tube in her belly. But she was there.

On Tuesday, I was transferred to the Women's ICU, because my HELLP disease wasn't getting better. All I wanted to do was see my daughter. I was finally able to around 3:30pm, and again at 10pm. I got to hold her tiny hand, and she gripped my fingers. Those were precious moments.

Early Wednesday morning, we recieved a call from the NICU saying Penny'd had a rough night. She wasn't doing well and was on full oxygen. There wasn't much else they could do for her.

This was about to be a very long day.

Our families were in town, doing all they could, being there for us, supporting us, loving us. They were present when we had little Penny baptized by our pastors and a good friend. It was such a special moment. We know that baptism doesn't save anyone, but we wanted to claim that covenant promise for our little two-day-old daughter.

That evening, with heavy hearts, we gathered around little Penelope. My parents, my in-laws, and my sister in law surrounded my little family of three with love and tears. The nurses took Penny out of the incubator for the first time and I got to hold her. Oh! She was so small, so sweet, my little girl. We each got to hold her, hug her, touch her, love on her.

Then she was placed back in my arms. The nurses tenderly removed her monitors and tubes. Finally they took the respirator from her mouth.

Penny passed on at 9:15pm, Wednesday November 28, 2012, as her daddy sang "Come Thou Fount" to her.

I was the first and last person to kiss her.

We wept. I kept holding her, watching her. I knew she was gone, that her suffering was over. Ours is just beginning. How does someone know how much time is enough time to say goodbye? Is there ever enough?
I held her for a long time, trying to let go, trying to have that courage to know I'd never hold her again.

We cried. We prayed. We thanked God for the two and a half days He'd given us with our little girl. We wouldn't had exchanged them or changed them for anything.

Eventually I did let her go. I'm still not sure how. But I'm glad I took the time with her I did.

We're home from the hospital now. One week later. My HELLP disease is gone, but our mourning and grieving is only beginning.

All I ask is that you continue praying for us. We don't need new friends or pity. We need time and Jesus. Reality comes in waves, and we are still living this tragedy and will be for a long long time.

Penelope Rose Stanley
November 26 - November 28, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Selfless Like Hannah

If it hasn't been obvious by now, this pregnancy has not been what I hoped for or expected. My hope for a healthy child has been trashed. I have a fifty-fifty chance of not taking my daughter home, ever. The last hope I was clinging to was being able to have a normal, vaginal delivery, and now that has been taken away from me for this and future pregnancies.

Definitely not what I hoped for.

I still think about the post I made months ago, about Penny going right to God, not seeing the pain of this life, and having God raise her in a perfect way. I still feel that way sometimes. It would be best for her. But my husband and I still pray for some time with her. A hello and a goodbye, at least.

My mind goes back to 1 Samuel chapter 1 in the Bible. Hannah could not have children for the longest time. Although her husband loved her, she was tortured by the missing addition to her family. Then, when God sent her a miracle in the form of baby Samuel, she gave him over to the church only after weaning him.

What faith! What trust! What selfless love! I always wondered how a mother could give away her child, barely a toddler, after waiting so long for him. Now I can see it. She wasn't giving him away. She was giving him back.

Any time we get with Penny is a gift and a blessing from God. I pray that I can remember that as my heart hurts for her and longs for her. God is good all the time. Even in the tragedies. I don't know his plan, but I hope I can have Hannah's trust.

Monday, November 12, 2012

One Month

At our last OB appointment, we were told that it would be in Penny's best interest to deliver by C-section on December 11, if not earlier. I'll be going in weekly to the maternal-fetal care doctor to check the blood flow levels in the umbilical cord, which were low at the last visit. If the blood flow levels get low enough, Penny will be delivered earlier.

One month or less.

So much is still uncertain, unprepared for. I love to plan, and God has taken away nearly everything I can plan for in this situation. Some of that is good: I don't have to worry about getting diapers, clothes, and all of the furniture for her room ready right away. If she makes it through birth, she'll be in the NICU for an indefinite period of time, and all she needs will be provided for by the nurses and specialists.

The bad seems obvious to me: We don't know for sure what the next weeks, months, or even years may look like for us. Will Penny be in them? How healthy can we expect her to be? Should we plan a homecoming shower or a funeral? How much can I really be there with her in the first few days if I'm recovering from surgery? What if?  When? How? Why?

One thing we can do is paint her room. It'll be "Natural Straw Yellow"and "Sea Glass Green" when it's done. I've had the colors picked out for a long time, but now the looming date of December 11 has put us to action. Whether Penny will come home to this room or not I don't know, but one day we will bring an infant to live in there. Maybe there's some metaphor for hope in painting that room. I don't know.
My mom helping us paint. She's already in love with her first grandchild.

One way or the other, within a month our lives will change.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Real Girl

If you haven't seen the movie Lars and the Real Girl, you should. We just watched it tonight for the first time, after it was recommended by a good friend. It's a story about a loner who gets a sex doll and treats it like a real woman. It's a story about a town loving this man where he is, how he needs to be loved. It's about growth.

I don't think we were expecting this movie to talk to us where we are in the way that it did.

One scene keeps playing in my head. Lars is sitting in his living room with a group of older women that are keeping him company in his pain.

"We came over to sit," says one woman.

"That's what people do when tragedy strikes."

"They come over and sit."

People may not always have the right words, but that doesn't mean they can't love you well.

Also, I think there's another poignant reason that this movie struck a cord with me. There's a big part of me that doesn't see Penny as a real girl yet. Part of that is normal first pregnancy feelings, I'm sure (Is there really a baby growing in there?). Part of it is that I'm purposefully distancing myself from it all.

A lot of moms talk to their stomachs. I can't, because it's like acknowledging that she's real. I've avoided finishing some projects, put off decorating her room, or registering for baby things because if she doesn't come home the reminders will be real, physical, painful. Even though I feel myself loving her more and more, I can't say the words out loud because it makes the thought of losing our real, precious daughter so much more unbearable.

We don't know what to expect. But when tragedy does strike, I know we'll need people to come over and sit with us.

Monday, October 29, 2012

I Asked the Lord

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of his salvation know
And seek more earnestly his face. 

Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way 
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He'd answer my request
And by His love's constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea, more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low.

Lord why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?
"Tis in this way" The Lord replied
"I answer prayer for grace and faith."

"These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me."

I Asked the Lord is an old hymn redone by Indelible Grace. It can be found here.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Homemade Salsa

We started a garden a few months ago. We're so excited about it! This is a project we had wanted to start for about two years now, since we moved into our house. We've been composting and waiting for the right planting season, and now we're getting some fruits from the labor.

Well, veggies from the labor.

I'm not a fan of spicy food. At all. But my husband loves a good salsa so we got two jalapeno plants.  We were both impressed that they have been the most prolific thing in our garden by far. We've seen several dozen jalapenos, each as big or bigger than the ones we get in the store!

For our salsa, we've been using this Pioneer Woman recipe, slightly modified. We use fresh tomatoes and tomatillos instead of canned, and we exclude the lime. With a few other additions to taste, we have a side that is a crowd pleaser!
Boiling jalapenos
Chop chop chop...

Add everything to the food processor

It's easy to make, too. Boil, chop, and throw in the food processor. Anyone can do it!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Longing for Normal

I remember last year thinking about trials. I was reflecting on the place I was at with God and how He tends to grow people through trials. "Where are my trials?" I thought. "I have a husband I love and who loves me well. My job may not be the ideal teaching job, but at least I'm employed and my husband has a great job he loves. My parents just moved into town, which is nice because I was missing them. And we're planning on starting a family soon. Where are my trials?"

Little did I know what God had in store for me.

I don't know if I asked for it or not. I don't know if God gave me a long time of peace before the storm. I just know right now I can't get away from trials.

People keep commenting that we're interesting cases, that we're special. We could use less interesting and more boring right now. We'd love to be not special and simply normal. A little more mayonnaise white and a little less rainbow glitter flamboyance.

Trials suck.

Even still, I know God is using our situation. By sharing what we're going through with Penny and my husband's health, our friends and family have been able to share their faith and Christlikeness with others. I thank God that He lets me see those now, in the middle of it all. I hope that He has even more in store, showing His great glory and mercy hopefully in the near future. I need those reminders.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Third Trimester

This week marks the beginning of the third trimester. Ten weeks ago, I don't think any of us would have thought Penny would make it this far.

At my doctor appointment the doctor gave Penny about a 50/50 shot. It's a lot better than zero, but it still doesn't instill a lot of hope. We still don't know what to expect when she's born, or if she'll even make it there.

Some days I feel like I have no more room for worry, like more of the same news won't phase me. However, sitting in a waiting room after an ultrasound, waiting for what could be more bad news is hard to handle.

It's hard to trust that God has a good plan through all of this, especially when thoughts of the future seem bleak no matter what. Still, He's given me this much time with my baby. All I can ask for is that He'll continue to be good.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pet Sitting

My parents have been out of town to visit our relatives up in Illinois, and since I live right down the street from them I get to take care of their pets.

Cadence is a total princess cat. She's a former show cat and thinks her name means that she sets the pace of the world. She's sweet, though.

Buster, however, is the fun one. He's a shih-tzu, little and always excited to meet people. I've called him every nickname in the book: Buddy, Busterbutt, Slobberman, FloorMop, DopeyDog... I swear I really do like this dog! Just call me spoiled by my own sweet (slobber-free) cats.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Trust is Hard

Another young couple in our church just gave birth to a little girl at just 30 weeks pregnant. Their baby's still in the NICU, but thank God she seems to be thriving in the hospital's care. Although their baby's problems are not the same as ours, it hurts my heart that they have to go through this. There is nothing like finding out that your precious child is hurting, or has something wrong with her, and there is nothing you, Mommy, can do about it.

A lot of families in our church are pregnant or just had babies, so I feel surrounded in both good and sad ways. 

At the same time I'm becoming aware of a lot of hurting families in our church as well. Not just pregnancy problems, but health and family complications, divorce, deaths, diseases... the list goes on. 

Why is God giving us all of these things at once? I don't know. I may never know. It's depressing sometimes. It makes me long for the New Heavens and New Earth where no more babies will be born sick, or too early, or stillborn. 

I do know that God has given me a situation in life where there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. 

Only rely on Him. 

Which is so hard. But necessary. He knows how Penny is growing, and how long or short her life will be. He knows exactly what her life is for. I have to let go of the plans I have for her and trust that the Lord has better plans. Already little Penny has made an impact on a lot of people. She's made an impact on me. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Birthday Wishes

My twenty-fifth birthday is coming up at the end of this month. Some family members have begun asking me what I want. I've been having trouble giving an answer, because what I really want they can't get for me.

I want my family to be healthy. I want my husband to feel well and normal. I want my baby to be born without complications, with minimal mental and physical disabilities.

My friends and family can't get me that.

The Bible teaches that God loves to give His children good gifts. (Matthew 7:9-11) Well, my birthday request is one that only He can answer. Consider it my prayer or my challenge, but also consider me to be begging on my knees. That is the gift that I truly want this year.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Isaiah 43

For several weeks after learning about Penny, sitting through the worship at church was hard. I would hide in a bathroom stall and bawl because I couldn't face it. Not that I couldn't face God. I needed God more than ever. But I couldn't face my own pain brought to the surface by the obvious presence of the Spirit.

One of my favorite hymns has always been Isaiah 43. God's reassurances are so clear, but so is the reality of human struggle. It's been a more than a month since this struggle began, and God is still with us. He has called us by name, we are His. 

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in your stead.

Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.

I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the ends of the earth
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.
(Isaiah 43: 1-7)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good News

Or at least not bad news. I was so tired of getting bad news every time I went to the OB.

We found out for sure this week that Penny did not inherit her chromosome trouble from us. We have normal karyotypes. That doesn't say much about her, but it does mean that future pregnancies don't have a higher risk of this happening again.

I also found out that the doctors are treating my pregnancy as a normal pregnancy. The midwife explained as best she could that since I am not at risk, and I seem to be proceeding normally, this isn't classified as an "at risk" pregnancy. It was good for me to hear this out loud. I can enjoy being pregnant more and worry less about waiting for more bad news.

We're still not sure what will happen to Penny after and during birth, but it's nice to have some good news in my pocket.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Necklace

I just wanted to share a necklace that I had made. It's something I wanted to get done since we decided on our daughter's name.

Penny Rose.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Books & Movies

We recently took a trip up to North Carolina. It was so nice to spend some family time in the mountains, enjoy nature, some wonderful cool weather, and relax!

In the ultimate of God's wonderful nature and all it has to offer... is it awful that I want to talk about the shopping? I am such a girl.

We found a dream of a secondhand book store in town. In addition to finding a few Tolkien novels, and a copy of The Great Gatsby from the 1950s, we were lucky enough to find a World War II era parenting book. Like all first-time parents, we'll take advice from anywhere. I was surprised at how little advice has changed in the last sixty years. Although the book addresses concerns about raising a family in wartime and newfangled formula feeding, parental fears and priorities seems to have remained largely the same. How refreshing!

Check out the date: Copyright 1941!

In addition to our literary finds, we managed to find a video game store that carried secondhand DVDs. Now, as much as I love movies, DVDs can be expensive. As much as I adore Disney movies, I can't justify paying $25 for a single movie (Oh, Disney Vault, how you make my wallet sigh). My frugal self would rather go to Goodwill and pick up the same movie in VHS for $3. Anyway, at this little gem of a store, we were able to find Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Legally Blonde, and The Notebook for the price of one new Disney DVD.

Win? I think so.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Yard Sales

Sometimes it takes some digging, but I've found that yard sales usually have some gems worth investigating.

Now, I'm not the type to get up early on a Saturday and go looking for all the garage sales, researching what is of value and what is simply old junk. No, I'm the type that when I get out to do errands around 10am, I'll stop at the picked over yard sales in my neighborhood to see if there's anything worth having. I've been able to find some good movies, potted plants, and such that way.

Today, as my husband and I were getting ready to do errands, he noticed a yard sale down the road and we decided to investigate. Providence was on our side! In a box of fifty cent children's books, we found some of Dr. Seuss's greatest books. Yertle, Horton, Grinch, and Lorax all in pretty good condition and with original artwork.

We were thrilled to find these books, not only because we're looking to start a family, but also because these books are, well... classics! We both have childhood memories of reading these books over and over, loving Seuss's rhyme and rhythm. My husband still says that the Lorax doesn't sound right unless it's read in his father's voice.

I hope one day our kid's will feel the same way about these brilliant bits of literature.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


We love our pizza in this house. That is one of the things we figured we'd miss the most now that we've moved to gluten-free dining.

We did try Mellow Mushroom's gluten-free crust when we were travelling a few weeks ago. However, compared to Mellow's regular crusts, we were disappointed. Oh, it was edible enough. It was good, but it honestly only made us miss our lovely wheat crusts.

More than the pizza we get in restaurants, we were crestfallen that we would no longer be able to make our own favorite homemade crust. Not only did this recipe call for flour, but also Landshark beer. Neither of those are gluten free!

Today we discovered that Red Mill makes a gluten-free pizza mix. Wary though we still are about gluten-free products, we were pleasantly surprised with the outcome. We even substituted the warm water with warm gluten-free beer.

It might not be up to our usual pizza standards yet, but I think with a few adjustments, we'll get it. In the meantime, it's nice to know we don't have to give up all our favorite foods.

Monday, September 3, 2012


In church yesterday, a high school student shared Romans 5 with us. Romans is probably one of my favorite books in the Bible, and chapter 5 is definitely worth reading during a struggle. What struck me was verse 5.

...Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:5)

Hope has been difficult for me to really accept in these last few weeks. Every time I think about the future and hope to meet my daughter, I feel shame for expecting the impossible. Every time I think about future pregnancies and hope for a healthy child, I feel shame as if I've already given up on this child.

I don't know what God has in store my my future and Penny's, but I have to trust that it is good, because it is from God.

It's okay for me to hope. God loves me. He loves my family. He won't disappoint. He may not give me the results or answers I want, but I can hope for the very best because He has planned the very best for me.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Little Joys

Little Penny has been kicking. It warms my heart every time I feel those little odd stretches. In a pregnancy that has been less than ideal, I'll take these little joys and treasure them. Even the fact that my stomach is beginning to grow makes me happy.

However this pregnancy progresses, I'll thank God for these little moments.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gluten-Free Noodle Soup

In our journey into a gluten-free diet, I have discovered how much I love pho noodles. Especially in chicken noodle soup. While a lot of gluten-free noodles try and fail to have the texture and taste of wheat noodles, these wide rice noodles are not ashamed of what they are and are more delicious for it.

Our recipe is simple. In a saucepan, heat up a small splash of oil and chopped ginger and garlic. Then in the same saucepan, we boiled chopped carrots, mushrooms, and celery in gluten-free chicken broth. Some shredded boiled chicken would also be a great addition.

We cooked the noodles in water (not the chicken broth) according to the package instructions. When the noodles are drained and done, and the veggies are softening, that is when we add the noodles to the chicken broth along with some chopped fresh green onions.

It smells wonderful, tastes even better, and is healthy. Hello, veggies!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Gluten-Free Adventure

Up until a few weeks ago, phrases like gluten-free seemed like buzzwords used by marketing professionals to sell products to the health food and organic only crowd. I do have a friend with a gluten allergy (as well as several other food allergies). Even still, it wasn't something I had to deal with daily.

Until my husband started having stomach trouble.

It took two months of various doctor visits and diet changes for us to narrow down what what wrong. Being the analytic type that he is, he tracked the timing of his symptoms to the sandwich he ate for lunch daily. He suggested we cut gluten and dairy from his diet for a few weeks and see if that helped. We were desperate for any solution to let him finally feel well for more than a few days!

Would you believe we started to see his health improve almost immediately? We still haven't gotten this confirmed with an allergist, but if eating gluten-free lets him feel normal then God bless it!

If anyone reading this had ever tried to transition into a gluten-free diet, you know it isn't easy. Every label has to be checked and double checked. It's worth it to have a healthy family. We're actually both eating healthier meals because of it.

Here's one of my favorite recipes we've tried so far. I adapted it from this Apron's Simple Meal.

The ginger paste was already gluten-free, and all I had to substitute was a gluten-free flour for the coating. Easy and delicious!

Does anyone out there have any gluten-free recipes that they love?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Penelope Rose

When we found out that our baby was probably not going to survive, we sent an email to a close group of friends in our church. In that group is a couple who vividly remember a miscarriage they had over two years back. They didn't ask questions when they read our email.

They drove right over.

They listened. They cried. They prayed.

It was such a blessing to have them there. They didn't try to have the right words to say. They just knew how we felt. We didn't need people saying "You'll have another baby that's healthy," or "It could be worse." We needed prayer.

My husband spoke his heart that night. The pregnancy hadn't been a reality to him before then, and he was pushed right into grieving her.

It was his idea that we go ahead and name her. "So we know what to call her when we meet her," he said.

There have been few times where I loved my husband as much as I did in that moment.

So that is how we came to give our first daughter her name. Penelope Rose. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Her Eyes Will Open

I started reading through my Jesus Storybook Bible out loud. I reasoned that I might not get the chance to read it to my little girl, so I would start now.

Let me tell you, I sobbed. I sobbed hard as I read about God's creation. It was beautiful and good and made in His image.

But the thought that rang through my head over and over, bringing my aching heart small shards of comfort was:
"The first thing she will see when she opens her eyes will be God."
God who loves her so unconditionally and never questioned her existence. God who is more beautiful than anything she could see in this world.

That one thought was a blessing sent from the One who loves me, too. If I can't have my child, I'm glad she will go to be with God and never see the miseries of this world.

Zero Chance

I was so thrilled when we found out we were pregnant back in April. This is what I had been wishing and waiting on for years, it seemed. We had finally come to a place in our life and our marriage where we were ready to make our couple into a family.

Months went by, and things seemed to be progressing as normal. I wasn't gaining much weight, but it was still early. No big deal, I thought.

The doctors didn't agree.

Some tests had come back as question marks, which required more tests. At the time, the doctors assured me that it was probably just a precaution, tests come back abnormal all the time for babies that are born healthy.

Then, at 19 weeks pregnant, my husband and I excitedly went in for a sonogram to find out the gender of our unborn child. That was the day everything began to crumble for me.

The sonographer was anxious. The doctors were compassionate. The news was horrible. We were told that day that there was zero chance of our baby - a little girl - surviving to be born.

They gave us reasons. The placenta was too thick, the amneotic fluids were low, she wasn't getting enough nutrition, something was wrong with her heart. All the reasons blended together for me as I cried. I cried in the doctor's office, I cried in the car, I cried with my husband, and I cried with my friends.

I was mourning my baby before she had even died... before she was even born.

My heart was breaking and this optimist could not find a bright side.