Girls’ Night Out Story #25: Sara Denckhoff

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Every year, when we are on the very edge of colder weather, I unpack my bins of winter clothes; and there at the bottom is a loosely woven sweater, light gray, adorned with sequins. I bought it out of necessity, and loved it about as much as I loved the two-week postpartum body that wore it. It’s always there, at the bottom–and it says something about me, and my heart, and the things I can’t always see but will never let go of.

It’s the sweater I wore to the funeral of my son.

If you want to know the part of me that isn’t binge-watching the Gilmore Girls or carpooling kids to swim practice, it’s this: that I had triplets born at 25 weeks, and that our son, Caleb, died when he was eight hours old. I held my tiny and yet perfectly formed baby in a small, hospital office reserved for grief and counseling services, I chose a casket, received a long line of visitors at his funeral, and buried my son in an outfit that matched the ones his brother and sister wore home from the hospital months later, with the same lovie bear that all of my children own. And to this day, one of my greatest regrets is not dressing Caleb for his funeral, or placing that lovie in his casket myself–but that decision was made in the entrance way of a funeral home on New Years Eve, and no one thought I should do it, or that I would be able to handle that memory.

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Maybe they were right, but 11 years later, I feel like it is something a mother should have done. And it will sit there beneath all of my joy and pride, every milk spill, every birthday, every school concert, every lazy Saturday, for the rest of my life.

Almost 11 years ago, on the day the triplets were born, I let go–my babies were cut from me in a panic of activity, and there was not a single thing I could do about it. All of my friends were pregnant with their second children, and all of them conceived naturally, without any kind of trouble. After my husband was diagnosed (and cured of) cancer, we went through invitro, and after only one cycle, it looked like we were keeping up with the way life is SUPPOSED to look, which (at the time) meant children spaced two-years apart. We were spared years of infertility, and there was always this relief, of not having to really struggle, not having to be left out of the baby talk, not being treated with gloves and whispers.

There were a lot of signs and a lot of weeks where this pregnancy teetered on the edge of disaster–and then they were born and it was all gone. No healthy, full-term pregnancy. Quiet labor replaced with an operating room of at least 30 people, and three SEPARATE teams of professionals who were charged with getting my babies to breathe.


I lost my sense of control, the fairy tale that it all works out. I wasn’t going to have a perfect little family; instead I was going to lose a son and split my time between my then two-year old and my sick twins, every day for months. If they survived, my kids were likely going to have severe delays and disabilities, a result of their crappy lungs and the bleeding of their brains, and the amount of oxygen their tiny bodies were deprived of at birth. They wouldn’t be able to be around other kids, or out in public for a while.

I learned that bad things happen, for no reason that I could comprehend–and that you can try to understand it, but it will make you crazy. They got stronger and healthier; and then our daughter had herself two strokes and we were told that she would walk with a severe limp and lose a lot of function on her right side. Still, we managed to bring them home, and her severe reflux meant she threw up constantly and was fed by G-tube for four years; every babysitter had to be trained on how to hook her up to a feeding pump, and how to avoid strangling her with its long plastic tubing. It was so far from what I imagined parenthood to be; and yet it became so normal, so quickly.

Our ideas of safety and normalcy are under attack all the time, but the truth for me is what it has always been in the past 11 years: That the world is full of horrible, messy and scary things, but that there are real miracles happening all the time. Everyday, I am given the choice to live in faith or fear; joy or frustration. I can focus on the toothpaste on my ceilings (true story), the toilets that sit unflushed–or the kids who fought for months to live, to eat, to talk.

Most days, I am so overwhelmed by the details, that I can’t even comprehend the miracle that is still playing itself out in my twins. I’m tempted to believe that I control life in a careful schedule and routine–but every day is an exercise in faith outside of the bubble of safety.

And our story of what happens there–in suffering, and grief, and healing and, ultimately, the joy of watching God redeem us through our own little family–is greater than I could ever have imagined.


Those twins are now rounding their way into middle school; there are no ventilators and we are done with feeding tubes. They struggle with learning disabilities, but ride roller coasters at Six Flags and run cross country and sometimes hoard all kinds of crap in their loft beds. It’s been a while since I’ve shared the story of their birth, mainly because we have written so many new chapters—but this is the story of God’s tender mercy and faithfulness to me; and the ways that love does bear, believe, hope and endure ALL things.

Holding on to my light-grey and loosely-woven hope,

FullSizeRenderI am half-Asian, born and raised on a small island in the pacific (Oahu, Hawaii) and graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.  I played no sports as a kid, I LOVE Bon Jovi, and I once broke my finger while TEACHING an aerobics class.  My life story makes almost no kind of logical sense, yet here I am, a full-time mom to four kids, who still hasn’t learned that it isn’t CHEAPER or EASIER to make my kids Halloween costumes.  I love Jesus, Friday Night Lights and a beagle named Sloane Peterson.

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