Strength Defines You.
In all fairness, I have not known you for a long time. A few years. Yet, you have endured more in the small amount of time I have known you, than people I have known my entire 30 years of life.
2019 was a really tough year for you.
It is hard to journey back to those eight days in March.
The eight days that gave you everything to only rip it away from you again.
When I received the phone call from my cousin Jesse, your husband, informing me you were pregnant with twins I could not believe what I was hearing. Your little girl Rylee was about to be two-years-old. You guys were going to have three kids under two. We joked about getting a bigger house, about sleep schedules being opposite, about feeding and changing two babies at once. “Time to get a mini-van!”, I laughed into the phone. You were on your way to figuring out how to grocery shop with two newborns and a toddler. These are the conversations we were having daily. How scary it was to think about having twins, but how exciting it was at the same time.
Around 20 weeks things started to get a little bumpy. In the midst of record snowstorms, the doctors needed to keep a closer eye on you. You had to drive through a few feet of snow to see the doctors at least once a week. They wanted you to rest more. How are you supposed to rest with a toddler running around while your husband was working across the country? You have to cook and clean and take care of your child. You have to live your life to some degree. I know you were doing the best you could. Staying so positive even with the scary things the doctors were having conversations about. Then, nearing 24 weeks you were hospitalized. Jesse flew home immediately. The doctors told you if you had the babies now they would not even try to save them because they couldn’t. Because that is what a pregnant woman wants to hear as she is lying in a cold-pressed bed staring at monitors that are barely understandable. You got transferred to another hospital 40 minutes out of town. No sooner did you get there than your beautiful baby girls came into the world on March 4th, 2019.
Little Harper Jean and Bentley Rose. 24 weeks premature. Did you know there is only a 39% survival rate for babies born at 24 weeks? I bet you did with all the "Googling" you were doing to try to keep yourself sane in that hospital room. Trying to listen and process every bit of information the doctors were piling on your shoulders. How did you do it? How did you listen to everything the medical staff had to tell you without your head spontaneously combusting? You were trying to keep two little humans alive. You were sleeping on hospital chairs because you did not want to miss a single second of their lives. Because any minute could potentially be their last minute on this earth.
Jesse handled the phone calls to the family. Everyone was worried and everyone wanted to know how you were doing. This was understandable because there are a lot of people that care about you. It was harder for some people to understand you really just needed to focus on your babies. The last thing you needed to worry about was how everyone else was taking all this. Being an empath really has its downfalls sometimes. Thank goodness your sister lived close to the hospital and could hang out with Rylee. While you held your breath over the tiny plastic incubators. Only being able to touch your babies through small ports at first. The feeling of not being able to hold your little girls when their lives were not certain. To just touch them with outstretched fingertips. Barely grasping at their tiny little limbs. Thankfully the day came when you were able to hold them close to your heart where you knew they would stay forever regardless of anything.
I can not even imagine how terrible and wonderful those days were after the twins were born. It is not something I have ever gone through so I will not try and decipher your emotions at that time. I do know that the first week of their life seemed like the longest week in mine.
I started looking forward to Jesse’s calls. To tell me about a successful surgery or a milestone they reached. Until I got a phone call that was not so great. On March 13th. The day Harper passed away. Even now my heart breaks thinking about that moment Jesse spoke into the phone, “They knew she wasn’t going to make it. They let us hold her while she was dying. She died in our arms.” I broke down in the parking lot at the grocery store as I thought of you. My heart was breaking for the little girl I would never meet, but it was breaking more for you, Brei. You, who had given birth to this beautiful human being only to be given eight days of life. To hold your daughter as she dies. To see the life she would not have flashed before your eyes. To love something so completely, and not be able to do anything, as you watch your little girl pass away in your arms. And then pick yourself up to continue forward because you have to.
The days that followed were suffocating. It was like being stuck in a time-warp where you stay still as the rest of the world moves on without you. Like watching the blur of it all moving past, asking yourself how it is possible to just keep going after someone you loved so much was not coming with you. Regardless of the pain, you got up every day and sat with Bentley. Talking to her, telling her how much you loved her. The strength of keeping yourself together to stay positive for her. To not relive that terrible moment of losing Harper in your head as you sat with Bentley in the NICU. To go in every day with hope instead of dispairing. To mourn and rejoice at the same time.
I drove out to your sister’s house to take Rylee for a day. My son was having a birthday and we both agreed it would be good for Rylee to get away from things to have fun for a little while. I remember the house being so quiet as I stepped inside. Jesse told me you did not want to see anyone. Of course, I understood. When we talked about it later you told me how frustrating it was to hear people say, “At least one of them made it.” Stating all you wanted to say to those people was, “You chose which one of your kids you want to live.” The truth is, no matter how miraculous Bentley's survival was it did not overpower the loss of Harper. As I passed the bedroom you were lingering in I could almost feel the pain coming through the door. I imagined you trying to mourn the loss of your daughter, while still staying focused on Bentley's recovery, and giving Rylee the attention she needed from her mom. I imagined your pep talks to yourself as you tried to pull yourself together enough to have a conversation with a doctor or family member. I imagined how hard it was to get motivated to do anything besides lay there in the dark and cry. While I imagined it all you were there doing it.
So time continued as it does. Turning days into weeks-weeks into months. For awhile, Brei, you kept to yourself and did not talk to many people. The constant flow of questions people had for you. The never-ending "I'm Sorry's" and "I'm here for you's" knowing people meant well, but being exhausted with saying it was "okay." When you really did not even know if it was okay. Coming home from the NICU with Bentley was bittersweet. She still had a long way to go and required constant supervision. Bentley could not eat on her own so she had a feeding tube. She could not breathe on her own so she was hooked up to oxygen. At any moment she could stop breathing or her heart could stop beating. You did not let the weight of the responsibility stop you even for a second. Even when Bentley did actually stop breathing and you had to perform CPR on her until the ambulance came. You never gave up or declared things were "too hard".
Brei, you are the strongest woman I know.
You are strong because even when the weight of your broken heart was crushing you-you stood strong for your daughters. Every morning you woke up and showed those two little girls as much love as you could. Instead of letting yourself sink into the darkness of despair, which no one would have blamed you for, you picked yourself up off the floor and persevered. When Bentley had to have a handful of brain surgeries within her first year of life every single time you handled that PTSD as a champion. The countless nights you lost sleep listening to Bentley's heart monitor murmur in the distance. You got out of bed the next morning and put a smile on your face for your girls.
Your strength resonates within me deeply. To fight and keep fighting even when you do not really want to keep going. To hold your breath and fly when the weight of everything is trying to keep you down. To stand tall and scream, "I am woman, hear me roar" even when you feel like disappearing forever. The strength to put on a brave face to face the world's questions as you re-enter life.
The quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us" lines up with your person exactly. In saying, no matter what we have been through or what we will go through if we have the strength within us we will always persevere. You have the strength within you to move mountains. In a situation where, had it been me, I would have dragged myself through the mud just barely holding on. You continued to "wow" me every single day. Every day my heart swelled with your bravery and strength as you flew through hurtles. Still, you amaze me and will continue to do so. Meeting you was a blessing for someone like me. I hope to learn from your heart as the years flow on.
You are beautiful. You are strong. You are an inspiration. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being you.