My family looks perfect. Two parents, three kids. They’re all pretty cute, if I may say so myself. We live in an awesome house, in a wonderful area. My husband has a good job, and I stay home with our young kids. On the surface, we look like we have it all. We look like the perfect family, like all of our dreams come true.
But the truth is, that’s about the opposite of how our family has gotten to this point.
Our first son was born in 2011. He was born at 39 weeks, 6 days. He was beautiful and healthy — or so we thought. There were some things that didn’t seem right. He wouldn’t eat and wouldn’t sleep. He just kept grunting. It wasn’t until six hours after he was born, when a different nurse looked at him that she told us she was going to have him checked out a little more. Over an hour and a half later, a neonatologist came into our room — without our baby. She said he was very sick and gave us a stack of papers to sign allowing them to do all kinds of things to him to save his life.
It was shocking and heartbreaking.
We watched him suffer in the NICU — fighting for his life and fighting to breathe. We learned that he had pneumonia in the entirety of both lungs and that he had turned septic. Right off the bat they started hitting him with strong antibiotics and helping him breathe. We didn’t know which way it was going to go, but God healed him. It wasn’t until he was clearly better that the doctors told us how scared they were and how they were preparing to lose him. I’m still so humbled as I remember this — remembering I have no control. But I so quickly forget that and learn the lesson all over again.
We were pregnant with our second child in 2012. I had the same due date with my first and my second — and it also happened to be my birthday! How crazy is that? We were going to have two kids exactly two years apart.
It was perfect.
But at my anatomy scan at 20 weeks, we learned that it wasn’t okay. We went through that awful scan and an awful conversation with an OB I had never seen before. The next day we followed up with the high risk perinatologist, and I had a 2.5 hour ultrasound where they turned me up and down and over and back. It all added up to us learning that the boy we were having, our son, was going to die. Almost four months after that day, Gabriel was born full-term and alive — both of those being miracles! We had almost two hours with him before he passed away. You can read more about our son, Gabriel, and his story here. You can also check out the ministry I run for women who have lost a baby here.
It’s so weird that I can write his story in one small paragraph. There’s so much more to it than that, yet somehow there it sits. That’s when everything fell apart. Everything I ever knew. Everything we had planned for, hoped for, and counted on. That day — January 7th, 2013 — when we learned that Gabriel was sick changed me forever. It changed our family. It’s what took us from a perfect family to one that was broken.
We adjusted to life as a family who had lost a child. We grieved and quit planning and just tried to get through our days. Somehow the world just keeps going when your life has stopped. But as time went on, we continued to heal. Never forgetting and never replacing our precious son, we took a big step forward and decided to become a foster family. It wasn’t something we had ever planned to do, but having Gabriel and losing Gabriel changed us. Most people who would consider foster care often don’t want to step forward out of fear of losing a child, but we had already lost our child so we had nothing to lose.
We took a risk, and it was hard.
Over a year and a half period, we had 11 children in our home. Some only stayed for a night or two, and some stayed much longer. But we were able to love children who needed love. We were able to take care of them and meet their needs, and there was some healing in being able to do that when we hadn’t been able to do anything to save Gabriel. While we did not start foster care to adopt, it is what led us to our girls. We have adopted two daughters of foster care. They come from different biological families, so all three of our living children have different genes. They may not be biologically related, but they really are the perfect siblings for each other.
Our daughters each have such unique stories of their own. Our oldest daughter, now middle child, was 21 months when she came to us. Her story is a very special one of beauty out of ashes. She’s had to work harder than almost anyone in life I know — and she’s three years old. She’s a fighter, and we are thankful for that because it helped her go on for almost her first two years of life. And now she fights daily to overcome and learn how to live with her special needs.
Our youngest is also a fighter. By all accounts of medicine and common knowledge, she wouldn’t be here. But she is a miracle. Her story is one of grace. She was very sick at birth, and no one could have imagined her turning out the way she has. She is a reminder of joy and hope. She’s the first baby I’ve had since I lost Gabriel. She’s my rainbow baby. She’s my gift, and I don’t forget that or take it for granted one single day.
So you can see that my family is anything but traditional.
We aren’t perfect, and not one bit of our family has come easy. We have had to fight for every child of ours. Every child of ours has had to fight for their life. It makes me sad that they’ve all been through so much — each of them going through something most would never experience in their lifetime. But I choose to believe that they will be better for it. That they will love others better. That God will use them in big ways. I have to believe it.
It’s harder for me to share our story like this than I thought it would be. But it is important to me. If you’re someone who doesn’t have a perfect life either — whatever your reason may be — know that you aren’t alone. If you’ve got kids who are sick, who have special needs, who didn’t come according to your original plan, know that there are other mamas right there with you.
And really, remember that nobody’s family is perfect. Even when it looks that way from the outside, everyone has something that makes their life hard and their family far from perfect. My family may be far from perfect, but our family is perfectly us.
This post originally appeared at Knoxville Moms Blog.