Perfectly Peyton - Navigating life with our surviving triplet
News Anchor, mom to 22 weeker surviving triplet, and a blogger. We look forward to sharing the ups and downs of our micro-preemie. We are so happy you’re along for the ride, as we cherish each day with our miracle child.
It’s a normal sound I hear several times a day. My phone pinged with a text from a friend, but what came next took my breath away.
“I know you miss Parker and will always wonder. Sometimes my son makes me think of Parker, too. I think our boys would be best of buds. Love to you friend.”
My eyes became blurry, filled with tears, as I barely made it through the text. I grabbed a tissue and tried to blot my eyes, yet the tears wouldn’t stop.
My friend’s child was born just weeks after my triplets arrived. We were pregnant together, embracing the special time in our lives while we compared cravings and joked about which of my girls her son would eventually marry. But instead of celebrating our first post-pregnancy get together, my friend grieved with me over the loss of two of my children. Our sons never met each other; my boy passed away just a couple of weeks after her child was born. Our endless daydreams of what life would be like raising children the same age disappeared that summer.
I often wonder what my son would be like. I see other children in my daughter’s school and quietly watch their personalities. Would my son be shy and reserved or would he be outgoing like his sister? Would he hold my hand as we walk through a store or would he be embarrassed by my hugs and coddling?
It’s been nearly five years since my triplets entered this world and I think about my son and daughter in heaven every single day. While there are days that feel like life is at a standstill, the world around me keeps on moving. The strangers I meet assume my daughter is an “only child”. And sometimes it’s easier to leave it that way, rather than face the awkward moments following the mention of children and death.
All night I thought of that text. And each time I looked at it, the tears emerged. As I lay in bed, I imagined my son playing with his friends. I pictured Parker building giant towers and giggling as his friend knocked it down. I smiled as I thought of my little blondie roughhousing like boys tend to do. And I thought of my friend and her comment. Yes, I think our boys would be best of buds.
As I glanced at the text this morning, I smiled through the tears. I may not hear their names as often these days, but my children will never be forgotten, and my friend reminded me of that at a time when I needed it the most.
Some days you can expect it, other days it hits you like a tons of bricks. That’s the reality of losing a child, or any loved one for that matter. Grief knows no limits, and just when you think life is smooth sailing, the heartache returns with a vengeance. I like to call it the seasons of grief. And right now, I’m in thick of it.
2018 just plain sucks. There’s no better way to put it. At the beginning of the year, it hit me—my surviving triplet will turn five-years-old this year. That’s huge. Not only will she graduate preschool, she will also start Kindergarten in the fall. As the New Year approached, I thought a lot about what life would be like this year. And as reality sank in, a new season of grief arrived.
Five years ago, I was basking in the pregnancy glow. After years of infertility, my husband and I were finally expecting a family of our own. Much to our shock, I was pregnant with triplets, two identical girls and a boy. The spring months were beautiful; my growing belly was everything I dreamed of and more. I absolutely loved being pregnant, even though I faced complications and exhaustion from carrying triplets.
Unfortunately, life can shatter in an instant and my world came crashing down on June 23rd, 2013. I went into labor more than 17 weeks premature and none of my babies were expected to survive. My firstborn, Abby, and my son, Parker, died within two months of their birthday. Our lone survivor, Peyton, had statistics stacked against her. But she not only survived, she thrived, and this year she’ll be celebrating a big milestone birthday.
Anyone who has lost a loved one will agree—the first year post-loss can be unbearable. You’re faced with the first holidays and birthdays without your loved one, and eventually the anniversary of their death. That first year was surreal for me. As watched my lone survivor grow, I was in a haze of grief, knowing that there should be three babies at home with me.
Grief never goes away, but it changes over time. Each year as the summer months approach, I brace myself for what could be a heartbreaking season of grief. Some years have been excruciating, others surprisingly peaceful. And each year as the anniversary of my children’s deaths pass by me, I exhale a sigh of relief. I survived another year.
But this year is different. I could feel it within the first days of 2018. The tears fall more frequently and I find myself dreading the summer months. My daughter turns another year older next month and I can’t help but wonder how I will survive the grief. I’ve watched my little miracle blossom into a beautiful and strong young girl. I’ve watched her overcome developmental delays and medical issues. And I’ve watched her surprise everyone, especially her doctors, as she proves that even the most premature babies can lead a normal life. But as I watch her achieve the impossible, the sadness for my other two triplets bleeds out.
This year I will watch her walk into Kindergarten for the first time. While parents are shedding tears at this big milestone, my tears will be bittersweet; joy for my survivor, yet heartache as I imagine all three triplets walking to school together. This year I will watch my daughter try out different sports, joining teams and other activities along with other kids her age. But as I cheer on the sideline, there will be a painful tug in my heart.
Each big moment this year will be met with an unusual mix of emotions, the painstaking reality of being a parent to children here on earth and in Heaven. And while I may put on a brave face, masked with a smile, I’ve already cried most days. Some days it’s only a few tears with friends, other times I find myself sobbing in the comfort of my home. But as the milestones come and go this year, I’m prepared, as much as I can be. This year is going to suck, plain and simple, but there is no need to push away the grief. As the years go by, you learn how to live life after loss, and part of that living is allowing yourself to grieve. It may be a difficult few months ahead, but by weathering the seasons of grief, I realize my children have made me who I am today…and have made me stronger than I ever imagined.
It’s the perfect picture, the one moment every new parent looks forward to. It’s the moment you see your baby for the first time. You’re exhausted, yet glowing as your heart is bursting with love. I couldn’t wait for that hospital picture. But not every parent gets that’s perfect newborn photo.
This is my photo.
Five years ago today, my husband and I shared this picture of our dog with three little pairs of booties. It was our shocking, yet exciting, announcement that we were expecting triplets. We were 15 weeks pregnant and couldn’t contain our excitement as we shared with friends, family and the world that we were finally going to have the family we always dreamed of.
It’s a day I’ll never forget, a day I look back on with pure joy and happiness.
You see, we never got that picture-perfect hospital photo. We never even got a picture of all three of our babies together. I went into labor more than 17 weeks premature. Instead of me glowing in a photo holding my children, I have photos of me in tears of sadness and shock as my babies were born far too early. I have photos of me holding two of my children as they passed away in my arms within two months of their birth.
I never got that picture that should be framed in our home. So, instead, this is my photo. Five years ago today, my husband and I were giddy with excitement as hundreds of friends sent well wishes and shared in our happiness. And while the tears flow on this day as I think back at what could have been, I choose to smile and remember this moment from five years ago.
This is our photo. We never got that perfect hospital photo, but that’s OK. We have this sweet photo, our pregnancy announcement…and on this day, it was perfection.
It started with the mixer. As the speed increased, the ingredients went flying. My daughter, who loves to help bake with me, started giggling. Our cookie batter exploded in the air and we both burst into a round of belly laughs, unable to contain our howling. It’s moments like this one that I’m thankful for. After losing two of my children, I didn’t know if I would ever smile again. And as the years pass by, it’s taken time for me to realize that I shouldn’t feel guilty for being happy.
I’ve always been a positive person, the type who looks at life with the glass “half-full” approach. But all that changed in 2013, the year my husband and I learned we were expecting triplets. The sheer joy of pregnancy took a drastic turn when I went into labor more than 17 weeks premature. It’s a day I’ll never forget; a day filled with love for my three babies, but riddled with pain and grief. On the same day my triplets were born, my first-born child died in my arms. What should be the happiest day of our lives will always be tainted with heartache.
As we began to comprehend the unimaginable loss of a child, we were faced with the difficult task of remaining strong for our two children in the NICU. Less than two months after their births, we were once again faced with the unfathomable. 55 days after our daughter took her final breath, our son passed away. We were suddenly left with one survivor, fighting for her life while we were making funeral arrangements.
In a six-month span, I went from the highest of highs, to rock bottom. My emotions were tossed in a blender, spinning out of control. I put on a brave face for our lone surviving triplet, but my heart was shattered into a million little pieces. The picture-perfect life I imagined was now full of uncertainty, fear and sadness.
As the months passed by, our miracle baby began to thrive. Our mind transitioned from “if” she would come home to “when” she would home. The nursery that was put on hold months before was now taking shape. And while the excitement of bringing our 22-weeker home was apparent, the guilt started creeping into my head, taking up residence in the back of my mind. I should be thrilled that our child survived, that I would soon be holding her in the comfort of my home. But that’s the struggle some of us parents deal with—raising children as we straddle life between Heaven and earth.
That first year was filled with memorable milestones. There were celebrations for the little things our daughter achieved, things we never knew she would be capable of. But with those special moments, came milestones we dreaded; the first Christmas without two of our babies, the anniversary of our children’s deaths. And through it all, there was that pesky guilt in the back of my mind. As I laughed and smiled at my daughter’s first giggle, I felt guilt that I was happy even though two of my children were no longer alive. I was confused and unsure of how I should act as I navigated the stormy waters of child loss.
For many years, I wrestled with guilt. I felt it wasn’t fair to my daughter’s siblings that our family was truly happy. Her brother and sister never got that chance to see life outside the hospital, so how could our days be full of joy? I felt guilt each time I told people, “life is good”, knowing that I was speaking the truth. How could I be happy when two of my children died? It’s something I battled with for a long time.
But I realized that I couldn’t sit still as the world continued to move around me. I vowed that I wouldn’t dwell on the “what ifs” or “why me” feelings. You never get over the loss of a child, but you learn how to move forward. My husband and I have settled into our new normal. Our surviving triplet is now a thriving 4-year-old with a personality as tall as she is. Her strength and infectious smile bring so much joy to everyone who crosses her path. And that little girl is the light of my life. She’s what helps me get through those difficult days. The grief still creeps up when I least expect it, but I no longer feel guilt. I know it’s OK to be sad, to be angry, to be heartbroken over my losses. But at the same time, it’s OK to find peace and happiness. While it’s not the life I ever imagined, I feel blessed being the mother of three beautiful children. I like to think my son and daughter in heaven are watching over us, joining in on life’s laughter and joy from above.
For the past 5+ years, I’ve been an open book. I’ve shared my struggles with infertility and the sheer joy of becoming pregnant with triplets. I’ve shared the heartache that comes with losing two children and the happiness as I watch our miracle survivor achieve the impossible. So, I didn’t hesitate when the Today Show Parenting Team invited me to share our story through a video. What I didn’t realize, though, was the range of emotions that would come to the surface nearly five years after delivering our triplets.
Last week, a film crew arrived in Springfield, ready to take over our house as we went about our typical day. Lexi and Zach Read are freelancers for Today, who travel the country filming unique and inspirational stories that are made into beautiful videos. The night before they arrived, it hit me–this was going to be an emotional couple of days.
For two days, they filmed our lives. They captured me picking up Peyton at school and filmed me on the news. They filmed Ryan getting Peyton ready for ballet. And they filmed us as a family, doing things we love to do like playing games and reading books. On the outside, our family of three looks picture-perfect, but there’s so much more to our story than most people see.
For two days, we allowed cameras to film our family and showed off Parker and Abby, our two triplets who passed away. They filmed me as I went through memory boxes, choking back tears as I looked at ultra sound pictures and other momentos for the first time in years. They captured us on camera as we delivered books and gifts to our local NICU, a place that will always hold a special place in our hearts. And while we have faced plenty of heartache, it was so therapeutic getting to talk about our child who are no long here.
Words cannot express how proud I am watching my husband and daughter be interviewed. Peyton was so sweet, telling her new friends all about her brother and sister in Heaven. And Ryan, who is much more reserved than me, poured his heart out during our interview. It’s difficult to relive every minute of the worst days of our lives; to share what it’s like to hold your child as they die in your arms. But, Ryan was genuine and raw as he spoke with grace, his love for our family on display for the world to see.
Two days of video and interviews will be cut down into a few minutes. We are so honored that we get to share our story and speak about topics that are often considered “taboo”. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and we’re proud to show off how we have found life after loss. A big thank you to my friends at the Today Show Parenting Team. We can’t wait to see the finished product. And special thanks to filmmakers, Lexi and Zach–it was an honor to open up our home and lives for the cameras to capture. Look for piece online later this year–we’ll make sure to post a link.
I’m exhausted. I’m trapped. I’m a mom. Nobody warned me how difficult parenting would be.
In the wee hours of the morning, my daughter crept into my room, her quiet nudge startling me awake. I moved over and let her crawl in, not wanting to wake up before the sun rises. But now, here I am, wide-awake and trapped, with a snoozing child draped over me. I knew there would be sleepless nights when I had a baby, but nearly five years later, I’m still exhausted. It’s something I never expected.
Nobody told me parenting would be a lifelong struggle at times.
As I try to adjust without waking my child, I feel my body sinking further into the pillow beneath me. I close my eyes and think of the busy schedule that awaits me. Take daughter to preschool. Pick up daughter at preschool. Take daughter to daycare. Prep dinner. Clean house. Go to work. Stop home for dinner. Go back to work. It’s enough to make my heart race with anxiety. Deep breath, exhale. Deep breath, exhale. Everything always gets done…somehow.
Nobody told me parenting would include days where I’m just praying I can stay afloat.
As I listen to my daughter’s gentle breathing, I wonder how such a tiny, sweet girl can drive me so crazy at times. It’s the times when we’re running late and she insists on tying her own shoes. Or the zero-to-meltdown in a matter of seconds when I say “no” to chocolate for breakfast. This sleeping child drives me nuts, enough that I want to scream…or hide in the bathroom and cry.
Nobody told me there would be days I wonder whether I am truly qualified to be a parent.
After what feels like an eternity, I feel my child’s arms slowly move. Her eyes open to a squint, her mind foggy and confused as to where she is. She wraps her arms around me with a squeeze and quietly whispers, “Mommy, I love you.”
Parenting is hard, it’s frustrating and it tests our patience. There are days when I want to pull my hair out, where I feel like I am failing my child. But here’s the thing—there is no textbook on being a perfect parent. It’s all trial and error, mixed with tears, laughter, sadness and smiles.
As I lay here holding my daughter in the wee hours of the morning, she doesn’t see the stress or the frustration or the guilt that comes with being a parent. She sees a mother who would do anything for her and who loves her unconditionally. I don’t always do everything right as a parent, but in my daughter’s eyes, I’m the best mother of all. And that means I’m doing alright.
It’s a question I hear all the time. Are you planning on having more children? Curious minds want to know, and I’ve learned to expect that question when strangers see just one child in tow. But, it’s the comment that sometimes follows that hurts my heart. It’s a simple reaction that people don’t realize can be offensive.
“You should have more children. Your daughter can’t be an only child!”
Is there anything wrong with having just one child? At first glance, we look like your typical family of three. The laughter and smiles that fill our faces give off the impression of a picture-perfect family. And on the outside, we are. But, if you scratch beneath the surface, there is so much more to our story. It’s filled with years of frustration from infertility, heartbreak from child loss, and fear following a premature birth. And that’s why I wish people would stop asking me if my husband and I plan on having more children.
I always knew I was meant to be a mother. I often pictured life with two children, a loving husband, a dog and a house with a white picket fence. But as I’ve learned, life doesn’t always go as planned. For years, my husband and I faced the heartbreak of infertility. Each month was filled with hope and dreams of becoming pregnant, only to see the “not pregnant” sign on the test. It felt like God was playing a cruel joke on us. Why was it that two people who longed to have children of their own, couldn’t get pregnant?
The tears from infertility gave way to shock and joy as we learned we were expecting triplets. Finally, our family would be complete. But as we began to stock up on boxes of diapers, car seats and baby items, our perfect life took an unexpected turn. Five months into my pregnancy, I went into labor. Our three babies were born more than 17 weeks premature.
Nothing prepares you for the tragedy of losing a child. It seems unfathomable; something so terrible that you never expect it could happen to you. Within two months, two of our triplets passed away. In those early days, I found myself buried in grief. Some days, it was even a struggle to get out of bed. As reality set in, I found myself distraught over the future. After our first daughter died, I started wondering what would people say to us. Would strangers assume my children were “twins”? Two months later, after my son died, I found myself once again thinking about my children. Strangers would never know our surviving child was actually a triplet. Would my two children in heaven be forgotten?
After years of therapies and medical appointments, our surviving triplet is now thriving and healthy. Her fragile beginning is now just a distant memory. And as we’ve settled into our life with one child here on earth and two in Heaven, my husband and I are at peace. Our little family is happy and content, and we don’t spend our days wondering, “what if?”
I was recently at a store when a stranger struck up a conversation. After commenting on how adorable my daughter was, she then asked the dreaded question, “Are you going to have any more children?” Even though I knew she was just making small talk, that question made me cringe. I kindly told her that we are perfect with our miracle girl and that’s when I heard the comment I’ve grown to hate.
“She can’t be an only child,” the stranger said.
I smiled at the lady as the tears welled up in my eyes. I took a deep breath and replied, “She’s not. She has a brother and sister in Heaven, who love her very much.” As I walked away, I looked at my daughter. She may be our only visible child to most people, but she will always be a triplet. Our family is not defined by the number of children we have here on earth. We are perfect just the way we are.
Dear Son, I thought of you today. I was walking through the store, looking at clothes for your sister, when this shirt caught my eye. It was size four, the perfect fit if you were alive today.
The preppy shirt is exactly what I imagine you wearing, a classic look to match your sweet disposition. The green and blue colors would look perfect on you, complimenting your messy blonde “Parker hair”. I found myself pulling out my phone and snapping a picture, wanting that reminder of what could have been.
The last time I bought you clothing was the outfit you wore as you passed away in my arms on August 16, 2013…a day I will never forget.
Dear son, I thought of you today.
As I stared at that Polo shirt, I wondered what your life would be like today. Would you be into building things like your dad? Or would you be in the kitchen baking brownies with me? Would you get along with your rambunctious sister or would roll your eyes each time she has a meltdown. So many questions that will never be answered. It’s the unfortunate reality for those of us grieving parents who never get to watch our children grow up.
Dear Son, I thought of you today.
As I left the store I thought of your short life. I thought of your angelic personality, evident even at only a few days old. I thought about the tremendous love your father and I could feel the moment we first met you and the lives you touched in those 55 days here on earth. I thought about how lucky I was to meet you and how so many parents never even get that chance, instead losing their children to miscarriage or stillbirth.
Dear Son, I thought of you today…
As I got into my car, I reached my hand up to my necklace. I rubbed my fingers over the initials P & A, always holding my two children in Heaven close to my heart. I often wonder what you and your triplet sister are doing up there. Are you watching over us as we play with your sister who survived? Are you having your own play date with other sweet children above?
Dear son, I thought of you today.
I thought you yesterday and the day before that. And I will think of you every single day of my life. You and your sister may no longer be here, but you will never be forgotten.
“I wish my brother and sister would come down from Heaven.”
It was a typical weekend morning. In the wee hours before daylight, my daughter nudged me gently. Groggy, I pulled back the sheets and let her crawl into bed with me and my husband. As the quiet morning gave way to chatter, my daughter nuzzled next to me.
“I love you Mommy and Daddy,” her sweet voiced filled the air.
Without skipping a beat, I replied, “I love you too.” As I thought of our sweet family, I squeezed my daughter’s hand. “I love you, Parker and Abby,” I said, thinking of two of my triplets in Heaven.
What came next, I wasn’t quite prepared for.
“I love Parker and Abby, too,” my daughter said. “When can we see them?”
I choked back the tears as I thought of this innocent question. My daughter, our lone surviving triplet, only knows her siblings through pictures and stories. Her identical sister died within two hours of birth, her brother passed away in the hospital about two months later.
On the outside, it looks like our daughter is an only child, but looks can be deceiving.
After a few moments of thinking, I wiped away my tears. “Parker and Abby are in Heaven,” I said quietly. “We might not be able to see them in front of us, but they are with us every single day. They watch over us and make sure that every day is a good day.”
My daughter nodded as she thought about what I said, a difficult concept for a 4-year-old to understand. “I wish Abby and Parker could come down from Heaven and play with me,” she pondered.
I looked over at my husband with tears streaming down my face. At this stage in life, I expected questions about Barbie dolls and the alphabet, not questions about life and death. But sometimes life isn’t fair. And this is a reality for those of us with children both here on earth and in Heaven.
I hugged my daughter tightly, unsure of what exactly to say. “I wish they could play with you, too,” I replied.
And with that, my daughter bounced out of bed, ready to watch her Saturday morning cartoons. My young, sweet daughter was completely unaware of the weight of our conversation…and for that I am grateful. Someday, she’ll have more questions. But for now, we simply look to Heaven and say thank you to Abby and Parker for watching over our family. I am sure they are playing along with Peyton up in Heaven.
Grief is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as you think you’ve left the tears and sorrow in the dust, grief creeps back in, hidden around the curve. It could be days or even months where your heart feels happy and full of life, yet it takes just one moment to trigger the sadness. As a parent of two children in Heaven, grief will always be part of my life. And I wish people would understand that.
It was a typical morning, filled with the chaos of getting my daughter ready for preschool. As I opened her closet door, something tumbled to the ground. I reached down and picked up the small storage container, knowing instantly what was inside. I took a deep breath as I gently rubbed my fingers across the sticker that said “hospital things”. In that moment, a flood of memories washed over me. I felt the tears arrive as I swallowed, trying to bury the lump that had formed in my throat. Inside that plastic box held some of my most cherished memories; items that bring be back to what feels like a lifetime ago, but also feels like just yesterday.
Inside that box held mementos of when my children were born more than four years ago. It’s the few tangible items of have that belong to Parker and Abby, my two children who passed away.
In 2013, my husband and I were preparing for the miracle of life. Our family would finally be complete as we anticipated the arrival of our triplets, two identical girls and a baby boy. But rather than the picture-perfect moment in a hospital delivery room, we faced the panic and fear as our babies were born more than 17 weeks prematurely. Within two months, two of our children died.
There is nothing that can prepare you for the loss of a child. It’s not something you ever plan for, or even ponder. Children should outlive their parents, not the other way around. But, unfortunately death was our reality. In those early months after our losses, I felt like I was sinking in the deep waters of despair. I tried to come up for air, but the grief was wrapped tightly, weighing me down. I was heartbroken and confused. How could this have happened to me? My life was turned upside down and I didn’t know if I would ever be OK.
As the weeks passed by, I began to process my losses. I realized that the heartache I felt wouldn’t go away. You never “get over” the loss of a child, you simply learn how to live your life with that emptiness and you find a way to move forward even though there is that missing piece of your heart. I realized that life would never return to what it was pre-pregnancy, yet I found a way to live with my “new normal”. I found that grief appears when you least expect it and that tears are part of my everyday life.
Yet as the months have turned into years, I find that some people don’t understand. In a society where child loss is not often talked about, I think it’s expected that we move on. The more time that passes, the less we should talk about our children no longer here on earth. I’ve heard my share from both strangers and dear friends. I’ve been told to concentrate on my surviving daughter and not dwell on my losses. I’ve been criticized for openly talking about my children who died. And I’ve been told a slew of phrases like, “They are in a better place”, or “Everything happens for a reason”. While people may mean well with their comments, those words and phrases are like a dagger to the heart.
I never imagined the grief would still feel so raw more than four years later. But grief doesn’t fit into a perfect little box. It spills over and becomes part of your existence. It’s hard to even fathom living without a child and it’s an ongoing battle as I learn how to get a grip on grief in the long run.
As I held that box full of hospital items, my surviving triplet looked up at me. “What’s that,” she innocently asked. I sat down and explained to her the contents inside and we talked about Parker and Abby. As I wipe away my tears I quietly said, “I miss your brother and sister.” At that moment, my daughter gave me hug and leaned her head against mine. “I miss them, too”, she whispered. Grief can be messy and complicated, even years later, but sometimes the memories can bring out the sweetest moments.