Last Week of Advent: Encountering Obstacles to Joy

Raise your hand if you or any of your family members have been sick this week!  It seems as though everyone I know has been hit by this vicious stomach bug, so if you are there nodding your head in exhaustion just thinking about it, I raise my hot toddy to you my friend.

Okay, to be fair, I haven’t personally been hit that hard by the bug (so far), but my sonny, my baby girl, my older sister’s whole family, and my littlest sister (who even at one point looked at me blankly and said, “Oh I won’t get it, I never get sick”) have all been hit by it.  It’s been kind of a wild ride with many sleepless nights, accompanied with lots and lots of laundry loads.

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Along with the pain of seeing my little girl so miserable.

With that said, I think it is safe to assume that all the peace that I’ve been saying I’ve had this Advent has been terribly challenged.  It’s like I’ve been given one last week to be tested in order to really prep my heart for Christmas.  My prayer time has been compromised and I’ve been fighting against my inner grumpiness that wants to act out in impatience, rudeness, and exhaustion.

In all this, I had a thought about Martha and Mary once again.  I hear all the time from women (and have even said it myself) that they feel like they are more of a Martha than a Mary.  The more I reflected on this though, I’ve realized that–wait–aren’t we all Martha by condition?   I mean, as moms, we don’t exactly have all the free time in the world.  There is laundry to be done, kids to tend to, dinners to be made, floors to be vacuumed, groceries to be bought, and I can’t even imagine what you working moms have to go through having to accomplish all that while having an extra job to do (how do you do it!?).  Our vocation as moms is just naturally busy, chaotic, messy, and (mostly) exhausting.

I think maybe that is why most of us feel that we are more of a Martha and not a Mary.  We feel busy, overloaded, and just plain tired, and we long for those moments that we can just sit and relax at the Lord’s feet, listening to his every word in peace and quiet.   I thought the reason Jesus chastised Martha was merely for her work, but in further reading I’ve realized it is much deeper than that.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, and in an effort to be perfect for him, she forgot to really open her heart to him.  The work that Martha was overloaded with wasn’t necessarily Martha’s problem; it was her inability to recognize that Jesus was in her midst, her quickness to cast blame on others for their “lack of help”, to see her calling in that moment to serve as an encumbrance, and to be moved to accomplish her vocational task more out of anxiety than out of love.

I have always related to Martha because of her tendency to work more than to rest, but I am seeing now how God is calling me to look deeper at my relation to Martha.  I am learning that I relate more to Martha because I have been there.  All of us have to work, and most of us are living lives that are chaotic and cumbersome, but I’m beginning to see that I relate more to Martha because I know what work without charity is, and I know what impatience, edginess, and jealousy feels like.  I walk around all the time wishing that my life was more like Mary’s and that I had the time to sit in adoration of the Lord and pour out my love for him in peace, instead of picking cheerios off the floor four hundred times a day and having to do parental calisthenics all day in response to the request upon request that come from my children.   Life does not to afford me to sit in idle peace all the time.

I have to work…but the way I go about it could definitely be improved.

After Martha grumbles to the Lord about her burdens, he admonishes her, saying: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I don’t think that the Lord was calling Martha to merely sit at his feet, so much as listen to his Word and have an intimate relationship with him.  This kind of relationship may manifest itself in different ways—and we see this with Mary and Martha: Mary, having the ability to sit and listen; and Martha having the calling to serve the Lord.  In both situations, both women are able to choose the better part, because the better part is simply recognizing that the Lord is with them, and allowing worry and anxiety to wash away.  The manifestation of being in the Lord’s company looked different for both women, but both were given the divine opportunity of being in the presence of the Lord.

I wonder what this would look like if it played out differently on Martha’s end; if instead of overloading her plate with unnecessary burdens, she accomplished those tasks that needed to be done with full charity, serving the Lord and her sister as need be, and resting when she had the chance (instead of overloading her plate in an effort to be perfect).  Maybe this way the Lord may have said to her, Thank you for having me in your home Martha—you too, have chosen the good portion.

I’m realizing that if we merely wait for these opportunities for peace and quiet in order to open our hearts to him, we may end up missing the good portion altogether.  If we merely long to be in the situation of Mary rather than working to take her heart on for own, then we will never find the peace and joy that Jesus calls us to.

I think this time of disruption in my Advent peace has been actually a good thing for me, because it’s called me to put to mind and heart everything that I have been actively working on this season.  Father Mike Schmitz says that joy is an inner state of well-being—it is a choice.  It is the sense that comes from the fruit of a life lived in God, which manifests itself in the simple and honest prayer of “Father, Thy will be done”.  So, in my work (especially when it gets messy and difficult) and the crazy haze of living out my vocation as mom and wife, I hope that I can continue to work to have a heart like Mary, recognizing that Jesus is with me.  Then, instead of grumbling in complaint, I might serve with charity, love without reserve, and find joy in my heart that thrives both in peace and under pressure.

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He Lights the Ways We Do Not Know

It’s been a while since I have written.  A big event occurred recently in our lives, and in these last few months I felt God calling me to stop talking and just listen and be with him.

I’ve hesitated sharing this, because it is so deeply personal, but as time goes on I’ve learned that it’s harder to move on and talk about other things when this is really on the forefront of my heart and mind.

A couple of months ago we unexpectedly found out that we were expecting another baby.  Overtime the news was met with excitement, but to be honest, it wasn’t our first reaction.  Before finding out, we had prayerfully discerned to wait a bit longer in between babies.  Though we knew we were both open to life and also wanting more children, the second line on the HPT nonetheless caused me to burst into a puddle of self-pity and fear.  I was afraid of many things, but looking back most of the fear came in feeling the loss of certain silly and selfish goods.

Lord, I’m finally sleeping through the night!

 My body is looking like it used to again! 

I was about to buy a new well-fitting bra! 

I’m beginning to exercise, 

am almost done nursing, 

and my hair just stopped falling out! 

I was immediately confronted with all of these emotions that conflicted with our very pro-life and God-knows-best way of living.  I was frustrated when I found out I was pregnant.  Frustrated and scared.

The question I kept asking God was, God, don’t you know my heart?  Don’t you know that I am just not ready yet?? And our Lord answered me in a way I hadn’t expected.

He sent me an image of his mother.

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When this image came to my mind all I could defiantly think at first was, “Lord.  I am not Mary.”

Mary’s yes was so immediate—she was so ready to accomplish the Lord’s will.  Even if it meant possible personal persecution, the loss of her marriage, and that her image might be compromised in the eyes of everyone around her.  She said yes without reservation: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to your word.”  And I felt so very far from being like her.

However, as I began to think of this image of Mary I slowly realized what God was really trying to tell me.  God doesn’t ask us to rid ourselves of the feelings and frustrations we have when something hard occurs in our lives.  He doesn’t want us to just get over it.  He wants us to bring those fears and frustrations to his feet and seek out what he is trying to teach and give to us in and through these events.  I think in giving me the image of his mother, Jesus wasn’t telling me to just get over my feelings.  He was calling me to dialogue.  This is precisely what it means to “ponder” things, and the very response Mary had whenever something good, challenging, and especially painful happened in her life.  The Lord was telling me, “I am here.  I see you, and I know your heart.  Trust in me.

So I began to trust.  I began to look around at my life, and through him, began to shed my fears and realize all the beauty around me.  Sure, things can be hard in raising children; there are lots of tears, fits, and obstacles to overcome. But through all of that, there is so much more beauty—the kind that comes from pouring yourself out completely in love for another.  All the kisses, growth, smiles, laughs, warm embraces, milestones, celebrations, all of it—even the craziness—is worth so much more than all the things I initially feared losing.  My kids fill my heart with joy that is overflowing, and more than that the love I have for them has transformed me into a much better version of myself.  It is all so very good.

When I told my husband the news, his response was an enormous support for me.  Part of me expected him to fall into that puddle I found myself in, but he was so quick to remind me how awesome our kids are and how a new baby means more to love.  His fears were similar to mine, but we worked through them together and his overall support washed away so many of the fears I had.

What I also began to remember is that the biggest part of being open to life is realizing that the creation of our children is not in our hands alone.  We are merely co-creators acting in participation with the God who is the very author of life.  Joe and I signed up for this when we got married: we vowed to allow God into our marriage, and to be open to his will for our lives and the lives of our children.

From that point on whenever those fears began to creep in again, I tried to remind myself of this. God is with me, he knows my heart, he has a plan for me and for the life of this baby.

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­­­I didn’t know it at the time, but God was calling me to fall on this reminder of his love in a deeper way than I could even imagine, and to take a journey with Mary that I never prepared myself for.

As time went on in the pregnancy and as me and my husband began to both settle into the idea and excitement of it all, I tried to go about things as normal as possible.  What was strange this time, though, was unlike with my previous pregnancies I wasn’t tired, sick, and I wasn’t a horrible grouchy monster.  This is a good thing, right?  No, I knew something was off because the one side-effect I did have was a whole lot of cramping.  As the days went on I found myself in the awful habit of continually checking for blood or any sign of complications.  Weeks went by and I began to think I was being crazy.

7 weeks into the pregnancy my fears were confirmed when the bleeding began.   I was forced yet again into a wave of fear and worry.  Since the bleeding was minimal and there wasn’t much a doctor could do, I decided to wait a couple of days to see if it would subside.  I resolved to pray, hope, and try to cease worrying, but when the bleeding hadn’t stopped I went to the doctor’s, sure that they would tell me I had lost the baby.  I lay on a cold recliner, halfheartedly making small chat with the nurse, waiting to hear the awful news.  Then I saw it for myself: the baby’s heart beating strong!  The nurse told me that the baby was almost 8 weeks old, and explained to me that bleeding can be very normal and not to worry too much because the baby’s vitals looked great.  It was great news, but as the bleeding increased a little day by day, so did the worry.  I wanted the bleeding to end…and when it did, it was in a way I wasn’t hoping for.

Every Thursday I lead a women’s bible study and the topic of the class this year is God’s divine Mercy.  That Thursday morning, I had no idea what was coming my way or how much I would have to rely on his merciful love, but God primed by heart through the witness of the women in my group. They spoke so beautifully about how God has worked in their lives, and how they were called at times to say yes to him (even during hardships), and embrace him (even when life presented challenges and pain).  As soon as class was over I knew I had to head to the ER, because as they talked of God, I began passing clots.  I sobbed the whole way to the hospital, knowing this visit to the doctor would be different.  On my way, though—as scared as I was—I felt both God and Mary present with me.  I think from the very beginning of this pregnancy, God was calling me to trust in him.  He was showing me what it means to whisper in my own heart the prayer Jesus prayed during his agony, “Lord, let your will be done,” and the similar inner prayer of Mary as she clutched her breast watching her son die before her eyes.  He doesn’t cause suffering and pain—they are a part of our fallen human condition—but we have the freedom to extend these sufferings to his hands, so he can transform us through them and help us rise again.  I felt in that moment, through all the pain, my call to trust him and fall at his feet.  As I tried my hardest to summon Jesus’ words for my own, I felt him whisper back to me: “I am here.  I see you and know your heart.  Trust in me.”

We lost our third baby on October 6th.  We named the baby Francis.

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This is so very hard to talk about and let alone write about. I sit here with tears streaming down my face as my beautiful kids play in front of me, so unaware that they have a sibling now with the Lord.  Some day when they are old enough we will share this news, and take them to where we buried the baby, and we can explain to them that despite our fears and anxiety, we chose life.  And what’s more, we can explain to them that when we were confronted with death, we were met with God’s merciful love, and faith in what is to come.

It is so very hard to talk about my reservations with being pregnant, especially after losing the baby.  How can I admit such an awful thing, and also explain how my soul aches at the thought of never being able to hold and kiss this baby?  All of the things I was afraid of pale in comparison to the life I wish was physically here now.

I wrestled for weeks over whether or not I should share such personal details, but I decided to go ahead because, besides miscarriage being taboo itself to talk about, I think it’s necessary to share what trust in God sometimes looks like: it’s not always easy, especially when things don’t go according to plan. I am talking about this now because I want to share how God’s love was present throughout all of this, despite my hesitations with his plans for my life.  I want to share how he was so very patient with me and showered me with compassion when I wanted to shout, yell, and pound my fists when things didn’t go according to my plan.  Through learning to trust in him, I can find the joy in this loss despite the pain—which I don’t think I could do without his merciful love. I am very thankful for this particular journey he asked me to go on, because through it I think he called me to a deeper level of trust, and also because I believe with all my heart that this baby is with him—we now have a little saint and piece of our family in heaven watching over us and praying for our family.

I will leave you with a passage from Isaiah 42, which spoke to me not long after our loss occurred.  I pray that this scripture remains carved on my heart in the future, and I hope that it brings you solace in your life when you need it, too:

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A Bout of the Baby Blues: Dealing with Colic

I was talking a few days ago with a couple of friends of ours who just had a baby.  I have always loved babies, so I couldn’t’ wait to hold their beautiful little lush haired girl.  As I was holding her in my arms I casually mentioned how sweet it was that they were able to cuddle and hold that baby all through dinner without any crying, and how it was just a couple of months ago that I finally got over my jealousy of parents who had calm newborns.    She asked me to explain, and I mentioned to her how hard it was with Lucia when she was born, so much so that I didn’t have many opportunities to just hold her and enjoy her when she was little.

There was a lot of crying. 

A LOT. 

My pregnancy with Lucia wasn’t the easiest, but it wasn’t too hard to bear because I had similar experiences and pains when Elijah was in my belly.  I was prepared for the horrible acid reflux, the terrible last few weeks of pregnancy, the lack of sleep, the discomfort, and of course, the labor pains.  What I wasn’t prepared for, though, were the hardest months of my life, which were to come after she was born.    

Our first two weeks with our beautiful baby girl were really pretty normal.  Joe and I were in that half-awake, half-asleep state there for a while, but it was all very similar to when Eli was a newborn.  Eli was what we like to call an “angel baby”.  He slept a lot, and was all chub and happiness when he was awake.  We thought maybe all would be the same with Lucia, since the first few weeks with her home included all of what we knew to be the normal things: the late night feedings, recovery, and blissful new parent hormones.  Everything was really great.

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We were slowly adjusting to having two babies and we felt like we sort of had it together, but in those first two weeks we could not foresee what was to come.  Something drastically changed with our sleepy little newborn when we hit our second week at home.  

Colic.

If someone told me that his or her baby had colic before I ever experienced it myself, I would have wondered to myself if that were even really a thing.  I had heard of colic, but I just kind of thought it was some mythical diagnosis—that there is always a way to calm a baby, no matter how tough the baby is.

I learned the hard way that I was wrong.

Two weeks after she was born, Lucia became completely and totally inconsolable when she was awake.  If she was awake, she was screaming—her face all red and purple.  Nightly we would rock and pace, and shh and sing; we would rub her tummy, and try in any way that we could to soothe her.  It was both exhausting and incredibly trying.  We would get so frustrated because there was absolutely no soothing her.  She would daily cry for hours at a time and the only way we could get her to sleep was to stand and hold her at just the right angle, bouncing her up and down.  She would wake screaming if we moved her wrong, and she slept for no more than two to three hours a day.  She would get so upset that feeding her became absolutely miserable.  She would become so hungry but because she couldn’t calm down at my breast, feeding her became a fight to keep her latched, peaceful, and fed.

I can find the humor in it now…

This challenge alone was difficult to bear, but because we had a two year old at home as well, things were all the more difficult.  Nightly Joe would come home to me a mess with a screaming Lucia in my arms as I tried to cook diner, while Eli lay crying on the floor because he wasn’t getting proper attention.  I screamed a lot, and the only way we were able to obtain some semblance of peace was to watch TV.  We watched a lot of TV.  Also, forget leaving the house!  We were homebound because as much as Lucia cried in my arms, she cried that much more in her car seat, the grocery store, church…everywhere. Driving anywhere was a challenge to my sanity, and definitely a danger to everyone else on the road.  I was a scatterbrain and had trouble thinking, showering, and performing menial tasks.

Getting creative with my soothing skills..

Around her two-month birthday I knew something had to be wrong.  8 weeks into her life, I thought for sure her baby blues would have gone away.  I began looking for solutions, taking her first to a nursing practitioner.  The nurse practitioner thought that she was tongue tied, which can cause gassiness in a nursing baby.  She thought maybe the gas was causing her all the discomfort.  I took her diagnosis to my doctor hoping to have the problem fixed, but my doctor completely disagreed with her.  She told me that the baby was not tongue tied, but that she had acid reflux and she promptly put her on some medication to relieve her pain.  We tried the medication but nothing worked.  We went back and forth with our doctor trying to find solutions, but ultimately time was the biggest healer.

Right around her four-month birthday things just started to gradually change.  Lucia started sleeping more easily, and the crying became minimal.  Slowly it worked out that she only cried when she needed something, and though I was really her only source of comfort (because she wouldn’t let anyone else hold her), I didn’t mind.  Peace was peace, even if she refused to go with anyone else.  Leaving the house became easier, and life started to look a little bit brighter.

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My first outing by myself…

It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life.  The toll that a colicky baby takes is no joke.  It affects your mental health, your marriage, your ability to properly reason and to parent, and generally leaves you feeling like you are running on 2%.  Praise God, she slept fairly well at night with little crying otherwise I would have completely lost my mind.

I wanted to take the time to tell this story for those of you out there experiencing something similar, mostly because while this was going on I felt so very alone.   Even though Joe and I went through this as a team, there were so many times when we were in this mess that I would just weep.  There were many nights when I found myself distraught because I couldn’t do the one thing that every mom wishes to do: to comfort her own baby.  I’d work for hours trying to get her to calm down, only to find myself frustratingly running upstairs to lock myself in the bathroom to cry and calm down.  Daily I had to battle extremely ugly thoughts out of anger and frustration, and there were many times when I had to physically separate myself from her presence to avoid exploding.  There were times I would literally scream out to God saying, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!!?  But while it was going on there were no answers.  I was hopeless and I often found myself feeling like I lived in a pit despair.  I just wanted to be able to love on my baby, and most especially wished that my motherly kisses and hugs could comfort her, but for the most part they didn’t and it was so very difficult.  It felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  My husband and I both thought that this was going to be life as we knew it from now on, and it was incredibly difficult to go through.

I wanted to write this to let you know that if you are currently experiencing this, it will change.  Things will get better.  The day will come when your baby outgrows all the fussiness and discomfort, and life will return to normal.  Even more, the baby that you hold in your arms right now—the one that you question nightly whether or not he or she truly belongs to you—will suddenly crack a smile when they see your face, then become peaceful in your arms.  They’ll look to you for comfort, and finally find it in your arms.  They will laugh, and crawl, and play, and you will look back on all the hard times and remember how—even though it felt like an eternity—it was just a small piece in the beauty that is your baby’s life.  And you will smile and be so very thankful that your beautiful baby has blessed your life beyond belief.

Just look at her!  She’s perfect! 

I also want to encourage you with a few tips:

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ASK FOR HELP. 

I wanted to do everything alone.  I have always prided myself on being good with babies, and on top of that, have a natural tendency to work and work and work at things that are challenging for me until I figure them out and get through them.  This didn’t work for me with Lucia.  There was no fixing the situation.  There was no solution to stop the crying.  Every attempt I made to make the crying go away only left me feeling defeated, and contributed to my feelings of isolation.  Why can’t I make this better??  What is wrong with me?? What is WRONG WITH HER???

Listen:  You need help.  You need to let your husband step in, and let your friends cook you meals.  You need to ask for help.  I can’t tell you how many of my good friends have told me months after all this went down that they had no idea what we were going through.  I didn’t tell anyone because I just wanted to push through it and not complain.  I felt like if I said anything about how hard things were I would be admitting that I didn’t have it together, or that I was a bad mom, or even that Lucia was a bad baby.  I never wanted to label her as a “bad” baby because she wasn’t—she was just incredibly uncomfortable.

People want to help, but they don’t always know to offer it.

Ask for meals.  Ask others to watch your other kids for a while so they can get out of the house.  Let people hold your baby!  Even if the baby is crying in their arms, let someone else take the crying for a while.   Your baby is not going to hurt because of it, and even though you think your friends want to run from the screaming, remember that they are not always around it so they can take it for a little while.

Don’t surrender to the isolating feeling.  Reach out and share your pain and frustrations with someone.  You never know if someone is going through or has gone through the very same thing.

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KNOW IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.  

Though I’m ashamed to say it, there were times in my sleep deprived, anxiety-ridden state where I wondered which nurse it was that switched out “our baby” for another in the hospital.  When I reminded myself that this wasn’t even possible because I never let Lucia leave my side at the hospital, I switched the blame over to myself.

Perhaps if I had a better diet when I was pregnant, or if I didn’t eat so much cheese or drink so much coffee, or if I had better soothing skills, or more patience, or whatever…these were my thoughts all the time.  I wanted to figure out what I was doing wrong as a mom, so I could be a better mom.  What a mixed up way of thinking!

Give yourself a break!  Try your best to do what you can for your baby (consult your baby’s doctor, change up your diet, etc.), but don’t beat yourself up for what you cannot control.  Remember that the guilt is coming from a deep desire to provide your baby comfort, and you can’t always do that for reasons that are completely out of your control.

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TAKE A BREATHER. 

Non-stop screaming can make you go crazy.  While I don’t think I suffered from full on PPD, I know that there were some really dark moments where I was faced with some pretty ugly thoughts.  It’s difficult to even think about, not to mention talk openly about, but I think it is important because the thoughts can make you crazy.

If you need a moment away from your baby to catch your breath, and clear your mind, TAKE IT.  If you’re alone, put the baby in their crib and walk away.  Leave the room, and pray.  Do whatever it takes to calm yourself, because there is no taking it out on the baby, and sometimes you just need a breather.

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TREAT YOURSELF KINDLY. 

Another thing I hate to admit now, but in full disclosure: there were days when I didn’t shower, or put on clothes that weren’t my pajamas.  Looking back now, I can’t reasonably explain why I didn’t take better care of myself.  The only thing I can think of is that I just didn’t have the energy.  I just didn’t want to go through the whole shebang of getting ready, when I didn’t really have anywhere to go and also because it was never a peaceful process.  You’re probably thinking, but your poor husband!  Rightly so, my friend.  Rightly so.

That’s why I am encouraging you to hand the baby off and take care of yourself.  Go out, get your nails done, take an hour to yourself, or take a shower even if it’s hard with a screaming baby.  Voice to your husband that you need this.  There were so many times when my husband would have willingly stepped in so I could have some “me” time, but I never let him because I felt bad leaving him alone with the baby.

Getting out of your workout clothes/pajamas does wonders for your mind.  I always had a better day when I put myself first, and my family was the better for it too.

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TURN THE FRUSTRATION INTO PRAYER. 

I think it is the hardest to pray when you are frustrated.  It’s hard to open yourself up to God when you feel like you have been abandoned and feel like you are so far away from his presence.

You may have cringed a little when I said earlier that there were times when I would scream out to God asking him what the meaning of all this was, but I think in times like these that is not a bad way of praying.

Think of Mother Mary.  When she went through trial after trial, what did she do?  I imagine her nine months pregnant, making the incredibly long journey her way to who-knows-where in Bethlehem to find shelter, only to find herself welcoming her baby into the world in a dirty manger.  In the temple I envision her, on the day of her sons birth blessing, receiving Simeon’s twofold prophecy, which tells of her and her son’s great suffering to come.  I see her searching about wildly for three days in an effort to find her missing son in Jerusalem, only to be met with his response “Mother, why were you looking for me?”   I picture her walking along side the road to Calvary, watching her son being tortured, scourged, and crucified.  Through all of these events (and still so many more told in Scripture) Mary never lashes out at God and proclaims, woe is me.  She is our great model for prayer because when she is met with trials and hard times, she opens herself to God’s plan through dialogue.   We read in almost every scenario that she “ponders” these things in her heart, and reflects upon them.  She is continuously searching for God’s will.

So if you feel it, cry out to God!  Though Mary didn’t scream like I did, she did open up her heart to God in an effort to understand the meaning of big life-events.  There is a difference between crying out in lamentation (like David did in his Psalms), and murmuring against God (like the impatient Israelites did in the wilderness).  My plea to God to give me the meaning of all that we were suffering through wasn’t given right away, but took time.  I know now that there was a lot that God was teaching me as a mother in that incredibly difficult time with Lucia.  He was teaching me that love isn’t always easy.  He was teaching me that true and authentic love requires sacrifice, and sometimes a lot of sacrifice.  He was giving me a very perfect example of the kind of love a parent should have for a child, the kind of love he has for us; the kind that is patient, unrelenting, and persevering; the kind that doesn’t give up even when things get hard. The kind that sees the needs of the child, and in all the chaos and noise, willingly submits out of love.

I’m actually quite thankful for the period now, because I feel like I grew as a person and as a mother.

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I know this was quite long and wordy, but I know that when I was struggling, I was actively looking for someone who had been in this kind of situation before.  I wanted the comfort of knowing it was all going to turn out ok from someone who had gone through it before, so that I didn’t feel so alone.

If you are struggling right now, know there is hope and you are not alone.

Reach out, kiss your baby, and remember that things won’t always be this hard.

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Lucia Rose Birth Story (9 months later)

A few of my good friends are getting close to their delivery dates, which has me reminiscing about my labor with little miss Lucia.  I know it’s been almost ten months since the date, but I feel like sharing now because, well…who doesn’t like a good birth story?

We found out we were pregnant really early.  Lucia was only two weeks old when I had the feeling that something different was going on with my body. (Thanks Natural Family Planning, for teaching me to read every sign!)

From the beginning, my pregnancy with our second baby was a lot more difficult than it was with Elijah.  My morning sickness the second time around was immensely worse than before, which was probably mostly due to lack of rest and having to change many dirty diapers.  I was nauseous all the time, and almost all smells (whether pleasant or not) would make me double over in disgust.   We also found out we were pregnant right as I was in the middle of writing my thesis.  Chasing around a toddler made me incredibly sleepy, but napping was not an option because any extra minute I had was spent researching, studying, and writing.  The only way that I could get through most days was by sitting down to work for a while, then setting an alarm so I could take a 10-15 minute refresher nap with my head down on my desk.  I was exhausted, and grouchy.   Not to mention the food aversions were killing my appetite and also my ability to cook a proper meal for my family. (Poor Joe—it was frozen foods for months there for a while.) The second trimester was a bit better because I got my energy back, but then the third kicked right back in and I was right back to where I began.  Lucia moved a lot. A lot, a lot.  I swore this little girl was practicing for the Olympic tryouts because it was summersault city all day, and especially all night. I could hardly sleep, and I when I did it was only with five-ten pillows, and on three quarters of the bed.  I was still six weeks out when the contractions began and they stayed regular all the way up until her birth.  They were so regular that they sent me to the hospital twice with false labor pains before the real deal came around.  I was fed up with being pregnant, so much so that the day before she arrived, with a week still to go, I scheduled myself an acupuncture appointment!

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Luckily, that day never came because the night before I made the appointment I felt the pangs of true contractions.  The contractions began around 11pm, right when I went to bed, but because I had so many false labor signs before I decided to ignore them and try my best to sleep.  The contractions woke me up around 12:45am, and I was still unsure what to do, so I did what any rational laboring mom would do: laundry.  I started folding clothes that were left in the dryer, and when the pains became more and more intense I decided I should wake Joe so he could call his dad to come stay with Eli.  Joe sleepily asked me if I was sure, not wanting to wake his dad up in the middle of the night for the third time.  I didn’t need to reply because when I doubled over in pain the next minute, his eyes awakened and I could tell he knew this was no joke.

Joe’s dad showed up and we all laughed because it was obvious that this was not a drill—the baby was coming so we shared a huge sense of excitement.  Joe and I decided around my 19th week of pregnancy that we weren’t going to find out the gender of the baby, which was a big motivator to get through the pain of labor.  The element of fear that comes with having your first baby and bringing them home wasn’t there this time.  We were just focused on getting through the next few hours, and were excited to meet our baby girl or boy.

I labored intensely on the way to the hospital, which I had always dreaded.  I pictured the bumps and stops in the car to be absolutely miserable, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I sat up in the back of the car, facing the rear window while clutching the headrest and all I remember were the lights passing by as I opened my eyes between contractions.

As we made our way to the third floor of the hospital I was still a little fearful that the nurses would send me home.  I figured I was most likely in labor, but because I had been sent home twice before I wasn’t completely convinced they were going to admit me.  It wasn’t until the nurse checked my cervix and told me that I was dilated at a 5 that I started to believe I was staying.  Am I going home? I asked her.  She just laughed at me and told me, “No honey, you’re in labor.”  It didn’t take me long to fall madly in love with my nurse.  When she walked in, all short and confident, she won my heart as she immediately helped me through one of my contractions.  As I struggled in pain, she grabbed me, placed my hands on her shoulders, and swayed with me.  It was such a comfort and right then I almost screamed out “I LOVE YOU!” She was a huge help in easing my nerves about laboring naturally.  When I voiced that I wanted to shoot for an un-medicated birth but was extremely nervous about it, she reassured me that I absolutely could do it.  With my husband and this wonderful nurse by my side, I felt like I could conquer anything.

The pains were unreal, but there was something so different about this labor than my first. I felt so at ease and so in control.  I applied all the tips and tricks I had learned for managing pain through the night, and Joe helped relieve my pain by placing pressure on my lower back, and lovingly coaching me through it.

Before my first labor with Eli I read about the significance of incorporating prayer into the process, but because labor with Eli was such whirlwind, I wasn’t able to do it.  I just didn’t have any room to pray as I screamed and shook my way, eyes closed, through my first labor.

It was so different the second time around though.  I had my husband download my favorite Christian artist, Matt Maher, and I found so much comfort having this song playing in the background:

The words helped me focus on the Lord and remember that even in times of trial, God is right there with us.

I also brought the Anima Christi prayer with me, and I asked Joe to pray it over and over again during my contractions when the labor reached it’s most intense point.  I can’t explain the difference to you, other than to explain that even in the midst of all the pain I was at extreme peace.  I never thought I would say that about labor, but even in all the pain, I was completely at peace.  The words helped me unite my pain with Christ:

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The phrases Blood of Christ, inebriate me…permit me not to be separated from you were especially comforting to me.  I could visualize Jesus there with me as I shared his yoke and he shared mine.  There’s something so incredibly profound about uniting suffering to Jesus.  I don’t think I have ever felt closer to him than in that moment, and that made Lucia’s birth especially sweet for me.

I went strong until it was time to push.  Things started getting tough, and the nurse tried distracting me asking me what I thought the baby was going to be.  I told her I didn’t have a guess, because I didn’t want to be wrong, but a strong intuition told me it was a girl.  I wanted so badly to meet her.  As I continued to push I couldn’t take the pain any longer, and screamed out I can’t do it!!  But my nurse looked me straight in my eyes and said, YES YOU CAN!  Sweet relief came as I took a breath, pushed, and heard the first sounds of my baby.  At 5:35am, our beautiful baby girl came into the world.

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When we got to the hospital we still hadn’t decided what we were going to name her.  We had a couple of names in mind, but it wasn’t until they handed her to me that I knew. I looked at her and said Lucia, then I looked at Joe, and he smiled.

She was our Lucia.

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Nine months later:

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Our beautiful little blue eyed (blue?? Where did those come from?!) baby girl.

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Darling don’t be afraid…

The day you have your baby is a day you will never ever forget.  For me, every detail is a sweet, sweet memory that I will always cherish.  It is such a day mixed with so many emotions.  Everything ranging from excitement, joy, anticipation to downright fear.  Before having the baby I really was met with so much fear.  I had no idea what the pain was going to be like, but I knew that I wanted to try my best to have a natural, unmedicated birthing process.  Things turned out a bit differently than I expected (read our story here), but nonetheless, the 10 hours of pushing and breathing were the craziest of my life.

Why am I talking about the birth of my son nearly 14 months later?  Because of those sweet memories.

One beautiful memory that I have will always be recalled by a song (a song I just heard again a minute ago). I was in the midst of labor pains, getting close to the hardest parts of the day, and nothing was really helping.  The television was driving me nuts (turn it off, please), my husband’s loving touch on my leg no longer was effective (nobody touch me), the rocking chair that I had grown so attached to in the previous hours was no longer soothing (seat of nails).  I asked my husband to put on music that had no words, nothing but strings–thinking maybe that would help. He put on the “Vitamin String Quartet” channel on Pandora, and the first few songs slipped through my ears in a fuzz.  I don’t remember any of them.

It wasn’t until I heard a song that I had heard many times before.  This song had never meant anything to me in the past.  The words had never really resonated with me until then, where so many different emotions were coming to head in the most painful moment of my life.  There were no words in the string version of the song, but they somehow came to my mind clearly:

Heart beats fast
Colors and promises
How to be brave
How can I love when I’m afraid to fall
But watching you stand alone
All of my doubt, suddenly goes away somehow

One step closer

I have died everyday, waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

Time stands still
Beauty in all [he] is
I will be brave
I will not let anything, take away
What’s standing in front of me
Every breath, every hour has come to this

One step closer

I have died everyday, waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed, I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

One step closer
One step closer

I have died everyday, waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed, I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

This song has been played in many movies and countless times on the radio, but it wasn’t until that moment that the words truly resonated with me and were borne forth in my mind as something so totally meaningful and helpful. There, in the midst of all the pain of labor, in my troubled thoughts that were telling me that I could not go on were the words that I needed to hear.  The words that God continuously whispers in our hearts when we face darkness and pain:

Darling don’t be afraid, I have loved you. I will always love you.  One step closer…

Then I could associate all the pain with what was to come.  It eased my mind and gave me something to focus on.  I could put my mind to the fact that what was happening was going to bring something so incredibly amazing, that I was able to relish that moment.  In that moment I could move past my fear and see my son.  I was able to recall the love I already had for him and use that as my focal point to push on.  Every painful breath I took, every ache in my body, was one step closer to meeting our son.

Every time I hear this song will be a beautiful reminder of that moment—that moment when I was able to see the glory in the pain.

I think God gave me that song to help me.  He was speaking to my heart saying, “Just wait!  Just hang in there and be strong and your world is forever going to change for the better!  Life as you know it will never be the same, because I am about to open up your world to a love that you have never known before!”  I was able to cling to those words, and they helped me through some of the toughest parts of my labor.  I was reminded what I had been anticipating for 9 months, and what I had been longing for as a woman.  It was a reminder to me that I could be brave, because there was something so special at the end of all that pain.  My son was about to come, and if I could brave through the pain and breath, that incredible gift would be mine.  I am so thankful for that song, and will always be transported back to that beautiful time when I hear it.

The Main Event

This is the grandiose message I think that God wants all of us to hear in all moments of suffering in our lives. He wants us to hear those words that Saint John Paul II voiced countless times in his speeches: “Be not afraid!” Be not afraid of the pain that is to come.  Be not afraid of all the darkness that you might be facing right here in this moment.  Every painful and heavy step that you take in life is one step closer.   One step closer to true and lasting union with God.

Saint John Paul even takes it a step further, and reminds us that our pain and suffering can be a great tool in our spiritual lives, and in the lives of others.  He says: “You can do very much by your prayer and your sacrifice…It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good.  All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation, a promise of joy: “ I am now rejoicing in my suffering for your sake,’ writes Saint Paul.”  Just as in that moment I was able to push through mentally through the pain for my son, so too can we all use our suffering for the benefit of others in our lives.  We can be a witness and a beacon that reminds people that even in the darkest of times we will be joyful because we are a people of hope.  “I have died everyday waiting for you.”  This line reminded me in the moment that I could die to that pain, endure it, and move forward to meet my son.  It is a reminder to me now that, as a mother I have to die to myself many, many times in order to serve my son’s needs.  It is a reminder to me daily that clinging to the cross and dying to any of my selfish needs and wants that pull me into darkness, is a gift that draws me nearer to our Lord’s passion.

Even if I were to have completely numbed the pain of labor, I would still experience the reality of suffering as a mother.  I would still face the fears of my son being harmed, the pain when my son falls or experiences his own suffering, and the cry in my heart when my son is scared.  I would have to face sufferings of some kind as a mother, but all of those sufferings are so worth the love that my husband and I share in our little boy.  I love remembering that song, that day, and that moment, because it is such a reminder of the bigger picture in life–the beauty that is to come.  Though this life at times is painful and hard to bear, God is there.  Just as we suffer in labor for the sake of our children, Jesus suffered and died on the cross for the sake of his.  He died for us.  He waits for us.  He loves us.  He wants us to know this reality and remember this in our times of trial, and remember that redemption awaits all of his sons and daughters.  If you are suffering, hang in there.  Think of those words, and remember that God has loved you always, and will continue to love you for all eternity.  Remember that this suffering you are enduring, even if it seems so, will not last forever.  Don’t let anything take you away from that truth.  God is standing in front of you, and every breath, every hour in your life is one step closer to your eternity with him.

God bless you.

Lauren