In July of 2008, my husband and I were very excited to discover that we were pregnant. We couldn’t wait to complete our family of four with one more little bundle of joy, but, as we soon discovered, that was not exactly the plan. We were shocked to find out that we were expecting not one baby, but twins! I spent the first day laughing hysterically (I literally almost peed on the ultrasound lady), the second and third day crying, and the next few days just taking it all in. As soon as the initial shock wore off, we were thrilled! All of us were over the moon, but none more so than their big sister Brynn. She just had to take the ultrasound picture to show her teacher the next day!
We spent the next couple of months preparing for the babies’ arrival, and were anxiously awaiting our routine 20-week ultrasound to determine the genders of the babies. As we were sitting in the waiting room, our older children, Connor and Brynn, were discussing what they wanted the babies to be. I remember telling them, “Whatever we find out, just remember, God has a perfect plan for our family.” Little did I know how meaningful that would be, and how much I would be telling myself that very same thing over the next several months.
On October 31, 2008, we learned that our son was healthy, but that our daughter had been diagnosed with anencephaly, a neural tube defect. We were devastated to learn that Lilly Kate would not survive long after her birth, but decided to make the most of the time that we had with her. The next several months were an incredibly emotional journey, but a journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
We spent the next few months making preparations of a different kind. Some days were spent registering and decorating a nursery; other days were spent choosing a funeral home and visiting a cemetery. It was then that I truly began to understand what the word bittersweet really meant. We were overjoyed that in a few months Cowen would be coming home, though each time I thought of that, I was also faced with the fact that Lilly Kate would not. I tried my best to be positive, but I also gave myself permission to grieve for my daughter. No matter what my feelings were or what kind of day I had, I felt myself growing, spiritually and emotionally, every day.
On February 10, Cowen was delivered at 1:30PM and was taken directly to the NICU. Lilly Kate was born minutes later, and was baptized and placed in our arms right away. For the next hour, we simply held our daughter. We just stared at her, taking in every second that we could. Lilly Kate was called home at 3:08PM while lying peacefully in my arms. Later that evening, we were able to take her with us to the NICU and spend some time with Cowen and Lilly Kate together. Even though her precious soul was gone, being able to hold both of my babies in my arms gave me a much-needed sense of peace.
The next two weeks were spent preparing Lilly Kate’s memorial service, making visits to the hospital for Cowen’s feedings, and beginning to find our new “normal.” Each day brought new joys and new struggles. Family, friends and strangers lifted us up in prayer and helped us through the difficult days. The best medicine for our broken hearts, however, was our precious Cowen. He helped heal a grief that no one else could. When I was hurting like no mother should hurt, he was there. He was my silver lining on my cloudy days. He taught me that it’s all going to be alright. Even today, nearly five years later, he continues to help us heal.
Lilly Kate continues to be a very significant part of our life. Cowen, whose name actually means twin, takes pride in the fact that he is a twin to a special angel- even teaching his friends in his preschool class our favorite lullaby: “Twinkle, Twinkle, Lilly Star.” Birthdays were extremely difficult at first–how do you celebrate on such a painful day? Eventually, though, I realized that while their birthday was the day that I had had to say goodbye, it was also the one day I got to be with her–what a day to celebrate! Along with Cowen’s traditional birthday celebration, our other traditions usually include visiting Lilly Kate’s memorial site sometime during her birthday week. We also read Heaven Is For Real for Kids as a family and enjoy talking about how Lilly Kate is celebrating her special day in heaven!
Lilly Kate has given me a gift that I will carry with me each day of my life. She gave me joy. I have never felt such pain and sadness, but, because of her, I know true joy. I have a faith that is deeper than ever. I live each day knowing that ultimately, everything is going to be alright. I know that life will work together for our good and His glory. I know that God chose me to be her mother. I know that life, however short, is meaningful and it matters. Our joy is greater, our love is deeper, and our life is fuller… because of her.
As much as I miss her, as much as it still hurts, I never question why. Not ever. Of course, I miss Lilly Kate more than I can put into words, and I wish that things could have been different, but I know–as sure as I know anything–God truly DID have a perfect plan for our family. Lilly Kate is where she’s meant to be. She’s in our laughter, in our tears, and in our joys. Lilly Kate changed me, just like she changed our family. A part of her lives on in each of us. She’s in the way Cowen, that little healer of broken hearts, can brighten a room. the way Connor and Brynn look at their little brother with those adoring eyes, and the way we love each other. It’s because of her. Her time with us, no matter how short, brought some of the most precious moments of my life. I thank God every day for Lilly Kate, and am so thankful for what she brought to our lives.
by: Lauren Eide