First day, and we’re okay

My firstborn headed off to Pre-K this morning. It’s a low-key Tuesday/Thursday program at a nearby Mother’s Day Out, but it felt like a pretty big deal around here. Corin was so excited, and definitely a little nervous. He was more emotional than usual over the little things. For example, there was a meltdown over using too much water to clean the yogurt from breakfast off his shorts, presumably for fear of a wet spot when he got to school. But true to form, he headed right through the door at drop-off with hardly a glance back. Those buckets of dinosaurs beckoned. I managed to avoid tears myself and am left to hope for more than one-word answers to questions about how his day went.



“Here’s a good-luck whack for you, brother.” (Actually, she was being sweet, and the really good news is she wasn’t trying to pull his hair. This is progress, people.)


“Put down the camera, mommy, and let’s get this show on the road.”

Lina misses him. She climbed into the little indoor wagon when we got home and waited for someone to push her around the house. (It didn’t happen – handle’s a tad low for mommy.) She has her first day of Mother’s Day Out on Tuesday. She’ll be going one day a week. This MDO program is just a few minutes away, and to our amazement, they have a teacher on staff with a Ph.D. in special education, focusing on Down syndrome. Several local kids with Down syndrome have gone through the program. We are looking forward to giving Lina an opportunity to spend a little time with some typical peers. Her therapists are pretty convinced she will be very peer-motivated in her development. I’m a big believer in kids doing most of their early learning in the home environment when possible, but I think one day a week will offer her a chance to explore a new environment and learn from kids her age. We are very lucky to have this option.

A busy holiday weekend approaches. Our family will celebrate Lina’s second birthday and my nephew’s fourth. We’ve planned a fun little picnic at the park, but thunderstorms are predicted. It may be a rather damp party. Stay tuned for pictures.

When you’re miles from normal

I remember just a few years ago being in the throes of fertility treatment hell and grieving the loss of the stereotypical family planning experience: have a lot of sex, wait a couple weeks, pee on a home test and watch the bright lines pop up. Hooray, we’re pregnant!

Instead, we waded through countless injections, complicated medical procedures, the agonizing wait for the blood tests and the phone calls from the nurse with the results. So many others have been there and know exactly what I mean, and many go through much worse. It was stressful, expensive, emotionally draining and – for me – physically taxing. Much of the emotional difficulty was coming to terms with how hard we had to work to get something that came so easily for many. I had a very bad relationship with home pregnancy tests.

Time has brought a new perspective. It was hard, and there have been a lot of hard times since then. And to be clear, feelings of loss are, well, normal. It’s just that now, with the luxury of time, I can look back and value what makes our story unique. I can recognize the incredible gifts that have come to us as a result of an off-the-beaten-path experience.

My dad is blind due to a biking accident in 1980. He wrote an article once called “Unusual Gifts.” In it, he explained why he believes his blindness is really a gift in disguise, allowing him experiences and purpose he would not have found otherwise. I realized recently that I feel very much the same about the unusual pieces of our experience. I wouldn’t have chosen them for myself, but that’s why I’m glad I’m not in control.

My daughter is the sunshine of my life. Truly, I can’t even explain how much joy she brings me. I sit and watch her, in awe of the beautiful little person she is. But someone prominent – I refuse to name him and provide further undeserved publicity – recently suggested that it would be immoral to knowingly bring someone like her into the world. She isn’t “normal,” and to a lot of people, that makes her unwanted. To me, she is priceless, perfect, a major part of the meaning in my every day. And thanks to the unusual path we took to her, we have a whole new branch of this crazy family tree to enjoy. Our lives would be poorer without those incredible people to love.

My son is four and growing up SO fast. He cracks me up with his wild flights of fancy, his funny observations of the world, his caution and bossiness, his need for his idea of order. (He recently organized the hangers in his closet by color.) He dazzles me with his adult vocabulary, his sweet affection, his curiosity and growing intellect. If it wasn’t for the hordes of doctors and nurses, the labs and procedures, he wouldn’t be here. Our firstborn would be someone else – equally loved, no doubt, but not this strawberry-blond boy walking around with my heart in his hands.

We have met so many amazing people through our experiences, and been able to share so many highs and lows with an incredible support system. We’ve had to learn faith of a truer kind, with nothing left to do but lean on the only One who knows the future. We’ve had to build a marriage that can withstand a pounding and another pounding, shuddering and rattling but holding firm. We are, without question, better people, because we’ve had to be; because that’s what God can do in the midst of the far-from-normal.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I do not mean to suggest God sends hardship. He is not the author of pain and heartache. We live in a messed-up world where things do not go according to God’s plan. There are some griefs that are far, far beyond explanation or reason, the senseless result of a broken, hurting planet. But God does have the ability to pick up the pieces and build them into something beautiful and good, something better than we could have chosen for ourselves, a monument to who He is and what He wants for His people.

I suppose none of this is really new; it’s more along the theme of this blog’s title. I guess I just want to say this: normal is overrated. In all the ways it has manifested in our family, the abnormal has become beautiful. If you find yourself miles from normal and wishing for something simpler, let me offer you hope that the path less traveled really can be breathtaking in all the right ways. Acknowledge pain, grieve loss, but then, look up. There really is joy ahead.

Invisible strings

My heart is full.

We spent this past weekend with family of a new kind. Four people already very dear to us flew all the way from San Antonio so we could meet in person for the first time. Dan and Laurie and their two children, Andrew (who is five) and Claire (who is almost four), are Lina’s donor family.


Yes, that’s my son resisting photos with all his might.

The weekend surpassed our hopes. The time we spent together was amazing. It’s staggering to realize that a profile containing a few pages of personal data was the basis for a connection like this. We had fun together, taking the kids on adventures, hanging out at home and staying up until 1 a.m. talking every night. Lina took beautifully to Laurie and the family, and the kids had a blast together at the splash pad, playing in mud, roasting hot dogs over a Saturday night bonfire, and catching fireflies with plastic bottles in the back yard. It was a lot of quality time with some truly lovely people.

That’s not to say it was all exactly easy. It was emotional for all of us, but particularly for Laurie, I think. I put myself in her shoes and imagine what it would be like to hold Lina, to see my older children in her, to love her deeply, and then to head home without her, knowing she belongs to another family. I certainly had fleeting moments of wondering, “What if Lina decides she prefers her biological mom?” Perhaps in some ways, it would be easier to keep a greater distance. But we have collectively decided that for us, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Our time together proved that we are all richer for the relationships that have grown out of this crazy-weird situation.

Laurie and Dan made the decision several years ago to donate their two remaining embryos because they knew they didn’t want to go through fertility treatments again but recognized the value of those tiny clusters of cells. They gave Lina the opportunity for life, and now our families are connected in a way that defies explanation or definition. We are grateful to them, and I know they are grateful to us for being the right family for Lina.

After our guests departed yesterday morning, we found they had left us a book. It’s called The Invisible String. It’s the story of a mother who explains to her frightened children that they are never really separated from her because they are connected by an invisible string made of love. The children realize how many invisible strings connect them to all the people they love. There was a note for us in the front, and I barely avoided tears as I read it to the kids.

I am truly grateful for this particular set of invisible strings.











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Our guests shared a fun Mexican tradition with us: cascarones.












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For anyone reading this blog who might be exploring the option of embryo donation, I want to be clear that our arrangement with Lina’s donor family is neither required nor typical. This relationship has grown over the course of long correspondence. This kind of arrangement will not be right for everyone, and donors and recipients are able to determine how much – if any – contact they wish to have with each other. We can personally recommend the National Embryo Donation Center for anyone interested in learning more.

Farewell, bottles

Lina has hit a major new milestone. We just marked one week of absolutely no bottles. She is drinking all her fluids from straw and sippy cups.

Infant feedings were painful with both my babies. Corin has his own story of excruciatingly difficult feedings and nearly a full year of exclusive pumping so he could enjoy the benefits of breast milk. Lina started out pretty well with breastfeeding but didn’t have the oral muscle tone to get what she needed. Even the bottle was a long, hard struggle. You may remember the anguish of trying to find a bottle she would take, and then the many, many months of difficult feedings where she leaked out as much milk as she took in (again, poor oral muscle tone). I once more found myself tethered to that loathsome but necessary pump. We jury-rigged latex nipples to make them faster-flow as she got older, and then those got old and stretched out and we jury-rigged some more, until all of a sudden she would take the silicone Avent bottles we’d used with Corin, and life got easier. Then began the LONG process of introducing about two dozen different types of sippy cups. We saw a feeding therapist a couple times, but Lina really just needed time and practice.

Ultimately, she has been successful with the exact same cups Corin preferred – the Munchkin straw cups and the Avent soft spout cups with the no-spill valve removed. At first, she made a huge mess drinking from them. We would have to hold a towel under her chin to avoid soaking her entire body. But in the last few weeks, those oral muscles have strengthened, the coordination came together, and she is drinking milk and water with very little spillage. She holds the cup herself and handles the whole thing like a pro (except for that whole throwing the cup thing).

The last step was figuring out how to deliver her thyroid medication. It had always gone in her morning bottle, and my finicky girl won’t eat applesauce or yogurt. Thanks to a great suggestion from grandma, we tried mixing it into a little pudding, and wa-lah – farewell, bottles.

As she cruises around the house behind her push toy, I’m realizing that my baby is very quickly disappearing. There has been something nice about her babyhood taking a little slower pace, but it may have lulled me into forgetting that she really is growing up so fast. She will be turning two in exactly a month. TWO!! She is fiercely independent, on the go and into everything. A few days ago, she discovered she can remove the HVAC vent covers and stuff things down the vents. I pulled several shoes out of the duct yesterday. This is unlikely to end well. But then she crawls to me, pulls up on my legs, puts her arms up, and wraps her arms tight around my neck as I hold her close, and I almost stop breathing to better savor the feeling.

And so goes the parental dance, celebrating the milestones with pride while mourning the loss of a little one who is every day a little bigger and a little more independent.

Although, I’m not going to lie: I don’t miss those bottles.