Soften

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One thing a miscarriage can do, I believe, is to soften you, open you. Maybe the heart mimics what the body is doing as it releases — whether you like it or not — the baby-that-would-have-been into the hands of God.

I had a[nother] miscarriage this weekend. It feels so surreal to name it, particularly in public like I am now. I didn’t know I was pregnant, had not sought to be, had in fact tried not to become so. My only clue was an uncharacteristic acne break-out, which I dismissed by way of other explanations.

Gus is so small still and I so overwhelmed by the task of caring for two, that I have not felt at all ready for babe #3. But it turns out that he would have become a big brother this coming august, had things turned out differently.

There was sudden and severe bleeding and consequent light-headedness. A trip to the ER where my blood pressure bottomed out and for several terrifying moments I feared I would leave my children motherless. There was the rather tactless delivery of the pregnancy test results, described in present tense and yet already in past tense. There was an ambulance ride to the main hospital downtown Madison, during which I sang worship to my Jesus, who was so near. There was lots of monitoring and an ultrasound to “rule out fetal activity” or ectopic pregnancy. There was so much blood, and so also a blood transfusion. There was waiting. Finally there was prayer-evoked miracle as we rounded a corner and came out of the woods, elated with relief that at least I was no longer in serious danger.

The same night I was back at my in-laws house, tucked in with my living babies, depleted, weak and exhausted but alive and grateful.

This was an unusual miscarriage. Such extreme blood loss isn’t typical. And it is certainly a complicated grief to be told about your baby in the same moment you are losing them.

But the softening… It has left me tender. It has put things into perspective, shrinking small dramas to their appropriate sizes, and making room on my heart to love another which, I believe, every pregnancy must do. We grow new spaces in our heart for each little person we carry. And if that space isn’t to ultimately be filled by a born and hold-able baby, we will share it with someone else who needs it. We will not be able to turn back or close off that new addition. So perhaps we move toward a future pregnancy with surprising new resolve and urgency, or we realize how much we do in fact want to become a mother (as was the case after my first miscarriage in 2010), or we cling tighter to the loved ones we already have…

… Or in some unusual case perhaps we are given an opportunity to open our arms and our home to a stranger, drawing on that deep reservoir of newly uncovered maternal tenderness to love them openly.

Which is the case for us. Because two days later we received a call about a pregnant teenage refugee who is giving birth today and needs a soft placed to land until a more permanent situation can be arranged when she turns 18. And against all worldly wisdom, only because Holy Spirit gave both of us a unity of peaceful Yes, we said yes to her, to them.

Today she us in a hospital in Michigan, laboring to give birth to her baby while I am packing up in Wisconsin for a return to our home where we will make room for these two (I have already arranged the furniture in mind ), so that when they are released from the hospital we can help to catch them with our love… A love I’m not actually sure I would have been able to access in this already crazy life season if I had not just suffered this loss and the scare that surrounded it.

I don’t know if that will make sense to many of you… But somehow I sense that these two events are a pair, by design.

Today I am thanking Papa and this little unknown child of ours for the gift of softening, opening.

on the occasion of your 9th month

towel-baby-1dear sweet boy of mine (buster, gus-gus, buddy, son),

yesterday you turned 9 months old, which means you have been outside of my body now just as long as you were inside of it. this also means that you are three-quarters of the way through your first year of life.

you are crawling around at lightning speed, usually goal-directed, with the kitty cat, a tempting toy, or your mama as the target destination. you pull yourself up to standing like it’s no big thing, and you can balance already quite well. if we hold your hands while standing behind you, you will take steps across a room. i am guessing you’ll walk before your first birthday.

you eat. bananas, avocados, potatoes (sweet and white ones), apples, gluten-free pasta with sauce, chicken curry with rice, broccoli (a favorite), beans, goat cheese, veggie-quinoa soup, strawberries, and almost anything that i am eating that i’ll share with you. you always eat more than i think you will. i think it’s possible that between you and your sister, daddy and i will be eaten out of house and home. such good appetites you have.

you sleep on your belly, even though i put you down on your back every time. you’re still in our room with us, in a pack ‘n play at the foot of the bed, disrupting me multiple times a night with your waking, sometimes because you want to nurse (you were too busy during the day to do it, so you make up for it at night), or because you want to practice your new developmental skills, or sometimes because you just need to sleep in my arms, beside me in the big bed.

but that’s just the physicality of you. your spirit is the more incredible thing to witness.

you move through your world with courageous curiosity and good humor. you are not easily startled by unfamiliarity or loud noises. you just move right into a space with an assumption that things will go well for you there. you rarely hang back. you take all things in stride, quietly and with a bemused smile on your face. some moments, you are squirming out of my arms in a way that seems to say, “let me at it!”

you are quick to laugh, especially at Hazel and any form of peek-a-boo, or mama’s face pushed into your belly on the changing table. you are slow to cry. usually it is only teething or hunger that will bring out your grunting, humming vocalization of displeasure or discomfort that most closely resembles crying but really isn’t crying by any traditional definition.

you are significant. you bring something to the table that matters, something no one else can bring. you are courageous and gentle. you make a difference.

i am so proud and so terribly grateful to be your mama. there is nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you. you are my favorite son.

love,

mama

he leans in

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he grabs either side of my face with his chubby hands and, grinning, lunges into my neck for a hug. if he’s sitting on the floor playing, he reaches his arms up to me, or leans into me to indicate that he would like to be picked up. if another person is holding him, he grins widely when he sees me, and leans toward me, with grasping hands, for a transfer into his mama’s arms.

be still my heart. my boy who leans, sometimes falls, into me.  what beauty.

yet, in other ways, he is happy to be left alone. after being held awhile he fusses and squirms and twists as he tries to move from my arms. then when i set him down on the floor with a few objects nearby for grabbing, he returns instantly to a perfectly contented state, even if i go to the next room, out of his sight. and at bedtime, he no longer wants to be held as he falls asleep, but indicates in no uncertain terms that he’s ready to be laid down in his crib where he can fall asleep on his own.

i suspect he’ll have a bit of an introverted tendency. i get that.

yes, he’ll be my leaning-in introvert. a healthy, and perhaps rare combination.

 

“do self, mama”

hazel-and-the-popcorn-2more and more often this is what she insists upon. sometimes her insistence comes through a fit of tears as she pushes me away, insisting that i absolutely DO NOT help her.

this makes life easier in certain ways, but it also makes me a bit sad. not because i want her to depend on me for everything for the rest of her life, but because in those moments of dependence, we necessarily connect. we are close — usually in physical contact — as we cooperate to reach the up-high object, to pull on her pants, to put another serving of food in her bowl, or to move her into or out of her bed.

now, in this independent streak, instead of the necessitated physical connection, i must choose a new way to connect. as she does the action, i stand nearby and watch. i marvel at her capability. i giggle at her tiny body with the too-big toddler head as it navigates new challenges. i praise her successes.

sometimes, after she’s had a go at it, she changes her mind and admits, “help, please, mommy.” and a little part of my heart rejoices. i  move in to hold her hand, lift her small body, slip on the shoe, or reach the unreachable.

and — as in so many aspects of this mothering job — i see another parallel here, a picture of how it is with my Papa and me. i imagine that He, too, though he is pleased with my maturity and growth, has a certain pleasure in helping me. in those moments when i surrender my independence and solicit His help it means that we necessarily connect at that point. He gets to have me closer in that moment than in many other moments. so i resolve to more often say, “help, please, Papa” so that we can touch one another.

ps: she praises, me, now, too. when i sweep the floor or pick up the toys, i hear a small voice say, “good job, mommy!” or, “great, mom!”

his

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his babyhood is slipping by me, more quickly than i care for.

he’s 6 months old today, but it feels like it was just a matter of weeks ago that he came slipping out of my body on a sunny sunday morning, all puffy-faced and red with his newness.

with H, because she was my first and the shock of life-alteration was so acute, the newborn stage felt eternal. it seemed that each day, each hour, dragged by with the nursing sessions, the spit-up, the poops, and the attempts to make her sleep.

but with him, i see that it is not even close to eternal; it’s only a dime-sized pebble on the long road that is a life.

so these days i’m holding him close, burying my nose in his neck to inhale his sweet baby smell, cuddling him next to me in bed for long stretches of the night, holding his tiny hand and gazing into his wide blue eyes as he nurses, and squeezing those chunky thighs at every opportunity.

this week he’ll start eating solid food in earnest. i’m not sure i am ready for this, but it appears that HE is, and so…

here we go.

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loud

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from first contact with H this morning, i could tell it was going to be one of those days. those days when we’re fighting each other almost every step of the way: she pushing the limits, me losing my cool, back and forth and over and over again until i long to put her to bed or lock her away in a closet.

she is my strong-willed spirited child. she is LOUD, this child. there is nothing quiet about her, except for the first 5 minutes of meeting a new person. she sings loudly (and off key), laughs maniacally, shouts her requests, screeches in the car just to make noise, and demonstrates affection with something bordering on smothering. when she is mad or upset, she cries dramatically and with sometimes shocking endurance. her very loudness wearies me, an introvert prone to sensory overload. sometimes i just want so badly for her to tone. it. down. fortheloveofGod!

but this is how He’s fashioned her to be. and her voice — which is loud and confident — will be such an asset to her one day if, God help us, we can shepherd that in her well.

in some ways, i can learn from her. how wonderful that she sees it as her right to demand our attention, our assistance, our provision, our affection. she is confident in her status as our beloved daughter and so she knows that she can ask for what she needs (though we must teach her how to ask with respect and gentleness) and accept a favorable reply. though her sense of entitlement assertiveness irritates the heck out of me sometimes, i’ve been wondering lately how she might be able to teach me something about how i approach my Papa.

so today. today was one of those hard days. the sort that you feel as though you’ve barely survived. you collapse on the closest soft surface after putting her to bed and thank God that you didn’t say or do anything too terribly regrettable in response to her button-pushing. we’ve survived the day.

tomorrow i hope we’ll connect from our hearts, and we’ll dance a little more harmoniously.

on the sanctification of family-building

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building a family, with all the monotonous day in and day out nurturing it requires, the work of keeping up the physical space of a home that is lovely and still so that each can rest and be refreshed, with all the mopping up of bodily fluids, with all the training and redirecting and explaining, with the attempts to model a life worth emulating and to be a person worth following by the tiniest disciples…

this is rich and rewarding work.

these days i finally feel sunk down into the great privilege it is to do this work, which is so boring on the outside but so fundamentally important to the foundations of my children’s souls, my husband’s confidence in his sphere’s of responsibility, and the world that each of them will impact both now and in the future.

it’s also hard. and some days — like today! — i’ll whine about the loss of efficiency and personal space, about the strain of being tugged at and sat on all day long, about the round-the-clockness of the work.

but i’m grateful. i’m really so grateful that i get to be here for it all, not tucked away in an office somewhere, nor letting the tyranny of a religious spirit drive me to performing many heroic acts of daily martyrdom (that may have the appearance of godliness but lacks power to really change me).

with the days of “full time ministry” behind me for now, i get to be sanctified at home! patience gets a chance to be put on and practiced a zillion times a day. i get to choose a gracious tongue instead of a quick tongue. i get to invite my children to step past their emotional reactions and into thoughtful and loving responses. i get to die a million small deaths every single day: sadly turning away from that moment of personal time i had hoped to have so that i can resettle a restless child, listening actively to my husband process his day when i would rather read a book or drop off to sleep, or choosing to share the last of the berries with my daughter when i would have rather eaten them all myself. 😉

my Father is with me in this place of mothering and wifing and home-making. it’s not outside of the realms where He uses and teaches His kids how to live up their high calling. I’m not disqualified from a rich and deep walk with God just because my days are organized around diaper changes, naps, and play dates. does this sound obvious to you? if so, you have been wiser than i, because honestly i feel like i’m only just now beginning to believe these things!

so this is my work, and i’ll do it with my whole heart.

all of this to say that i am full of gratitude for the life He’s given me to live, the role He’s given me to play in this season. it is gift.

so pregnant

i don’t remember 34 weeks feeling so uncomfortable when it was hazel. but perhaps memory mercifully fails us at some key points? my hips, pelvis and lower back are so achey and painful. my stomach is queasy and never satisfied no matter how many calories i attempt to pack away. each night i wake at 4 am and often remain [wide] awake until 6 am. some nights i don’t really sleep at all. each afternoon i nearly fall asleep while putting hazel down for her nap. baby boys movements, particularly in the midst of a good Braxton Hix contraction, feel just plain uncomfortable.

it looks a little smaller when my sweater conveniently hides half of it (left).

it looks a little smaller when my sweater conveniently hides half of it (left).

but the finish line is in sight.

meantime, it’s interesting to see the for my nesting has taken on this time around. its been less about acquiring baby gear (we’re already in pretty good shape) or making a nursery (he’ll sleep with us and we’ll keep his things in hazel’s room until we move) or reading birth stories to mentally prepare. this time it has been getting our house in order in super practical ways. like these massive projects:

  • wrapping up all loose ends for clients of brooke collier photography
  • getting our mortgage application and all other pre-requisites to house-buying in order
  • setting up a new budgeting system in response to some changes in our financial situation that will be more complicated to navigate
  • reapplying for medicaid for little man

these are the things that are taking up the bulk of my mental energy and free time. that, and a little sewing.

as for baby’s NAME. well, it hasn’t been as easy this time around. hazel was named months before she was born. we call this little man by a certain, long-beloved name, too. but when it comes right down to it, i’m still wavering on it. i suspect that we’ll have to see him and live with him a few days before i can either fully settle into his provisional name OR choose a new favorite from amongst the list of contenders.

and then there’s the impending birth. yes, that challenging ordeal you have to go through before you can hold the baby. 🙂 i’ve been really aware of lots of lingering anxiety this time around about giving birth. i have been anticipating it being incredibly long and difficult again, with hours of pushing, and a recovery period of weeks. it’s been really hard for me to imagine this birth being anything other than arduous and looooooong. my midwives — and other seasoned mamas — tell me that it is also very possible that this birth will be early (hazel was 10 days late) and quick, and the recovery much less complicated. they say to mentally prepare for that outcome as well. so now i’m trying to prepare for either without clinging to either. there’s been some internal stuff to wade through as i try to get my head in the game to give birth to my son. but i can feel things shifting and sense God’s grace. the fear is waning.

i got him a dresser and a bassinet. i sewed him a little pillow out of up-cycled pajama pants, and a bassinet sheet in burnt orange. and ordered him an art print from and etsy seller. his clothes are all packed into the dresser drawers, awaiting his body to fill them. we got some newborn size prefold diapers. the midwives are already paid in full.

his drawer full of tiny little BOY clothes

his drawer full of tiny little BOY clothes

he is head down and appear also to have dropped this past week, though i understand he may come in and out of this “dropped” position a few times between now and when labor begins.

he moves differently than hazel did. she was punchy and dramatic in her movements. he rolls and squirms more subtly.

hazel daily rests her curly little head on my belly and talks or sings to him, then kisses my belly. she and i have been watching home birth videos together so that, whatever she DOES witness of our homebirth process will not be so shocking or foreign to her. it has been so special, actually, to hold her in my lap and talk through the birth process, watching her responses. she is never as traumatized as i am, and rarely phased by even the most graphic images. but i am realizing that she has no reason to be! she hasn’t had a lifetime to build up judgements and negative associations about birth; to her, this is neutral territory still. i have this really unique opportunity to show her birth in a much different light than many girls have been shown it. i wonder how much of the labor and birth she will be around for, and how much she’ll need to get space from it. or will she sleep through it all? i am pretty confident that when he emerges and she first sees him, she will point and say, “baby” and try to kiss him.

there’s no summary point to this post. just some thoughts toward the end of a pregnancy that i wanted to make note of.

though i've set up the crib for him, he'll actually room in with us for the first several months.

though i’ve set up the crib for him, he’ll actually room in with us for the first several months.

oh boy

we’re 20 1/2 weeks into this pregnancy now. i cannot believe how it has flown.

i also cannot believe how much more relaxed i am about it this time around. so much less time is spent reading pregnancy books and birth stories, or doing internet research about every little symptom i experience (not that i have that many symptoms). i feel freakishly relaxed.

i think baby does, too. though i’ve been feeling movements since VERY early on, they are so subtle and soft compared to what hazel’s were that they are extremely rarely felt from outside my body. but inside of me, there is this squirming, wiggling activity.

we had our first – and probably only – ultrasound yesterday, so that we could find out the gender (it’s a boy!). but what ended up being even more special than that was watching our baby move about. we didn’t know he was a boy, then; just a baby. he made sucking and swallowing movements with his mouth and throat. he appeared at one point to be sucking his thumb. he nestled his face into the placenta as if it were a soft pillow. he perpetually moved his arms around, but never in thrusting or kicking motions… only squirmy ones (just like how it has felt from the inside). and after a while of watching him, he turned over, face-down into the placenta and got very still. we could actually see his little body nestle in for sleep, including those last sudden twitches babies tend to have as they drift off into slumber. it was SO cool to be able to watch him that way. and then it seemed right to turn off the ultrasound equipment and let the little man take his nap.

it was my niece Claire’s birthday, too. so we made a multi-purpose cake. its first purpose was to celebrate her birthday. she decorated the top with sprinkles and chocolate chips. her mama frosted the middle layer with a dyed-blue frosting after opening the sealed envelope from the ultrasound tech which revealed the gender (we weren’t told while in the ultrasound appt). and so after singing happy birthday to Claire, and her blowing out the candles, tim and i cut into the cake to see what color frosting would come out on the knife. blue!

it was what we hoped for and also what we both strongly felt to be true. there have been a million little hints that have built upon my intuition: timing of conception, zits in first trimester, irritability/crankiness, carrying weight not just in my belly, heart rate, urine-on-baking-soda test… many of the old wives’ tales have been true in our case.

so, it’s a boy.

and his name is probably already established. we had a name before he was even conceived, but now that there’s an actual little person in my body whom can be linked to the name, we’ll sit on it a while longer to be sure it still feels right.

i feel that having a son is going to be a very special bond. i can’t wait. and tim is already dreaming of building tree forts.

ps: we’re 90% settled on his name already. but, no, we won’t tell you. 🙂