Monday, February 1, 2016

About Bran

I remember that I was lying right here in my spot on the bed looking out my huge picture window into the branches of the fir tree right outside, but instead of Winter sun, low and filtered by slowly rolling, thick clouds, the golden light of a Summer sun, shining into my window since about 5am, was starting to warm the room. Wearing an unbuttoned nightgown for easy nursing and skin-to-skin contact, I did my best to soak in the moments. I felt incredible, almost euphoric. The co-sleeper was to my left, extending my nest and forming a hedge to hold in my pillows. I used 5, I think: 2 behind me, one on either side of me, and one beneath my knees. It was the time for luxury. My favorite sheets were on my bed (like they are now.) Out the window, the peace and beauty of the trees provided calm while the excitement of siblings buzzed outside and through my bedroom door on the opposite side of the room.

Except for the co-sleeper, the biggest clue that something had changed was the baby himself. We didn't need a ton of baby stuff. Except for some diapers and wipes; I was all he needed. I don't think I even clothed him for a week or so. It is amazing how so small a thing can become a new gravitational center in the home and for my heart. My heart and thoughts revolved around him. Our schedule and meals were different because of him. My other children were in awe and overwhelmed with love for him in their own ways. The feeling of him being in our house and lives felt so exactly right. It still does. For me, the beauty of this fourth child lies in his wanted-ness, and like a little mirror, even from his earliest days, he reflected back all the peace and joy I felt at his being here. Anxiety appeared here and there. “Is that considered a retraction? Does his umbilicus look OK? Is that a little bit of tongue-tie?” But every question was quickly resolved. He certainly showed no signs of worry or insecurity. I only 3 times in the last 6 months have heard even a hint of stress in his cry, and those came only in the last few weeks, never in the first few. Never.

My little Bran; my buttery, new, ruddy pink baby, all wrinkles and tiny bones, fuzzy head, kissable cheeks. There is simply nothing else like feeling that velvety body against your chest or in the crook of your arm. The floppiness is a bit unsettling on the first child you cradle; the fragility reminds you of the weight of responsibility now resting upon you. But with Bran, the ginger movements I used with him simply felt like reminders to pay attention to every soakable moment, to go slowly on purpose because his life was already moving rocket-fast enough. Nursing is best done while seated, comfortable, and adoring, not on-the-go. I understood for the first time the use of the term “mother-baby.” We were like one thing. It would have felt so disruptive and even painful to me if I had had to share him and show him off very much. No, we stayed in our nest, and that felt exactly right. It was difficult to protect our time, but, having successfully done it, I will be a mother-baby protection evangelist forever.

My other children were permitted to join us regularly and get to know their new brother, and I had a few moments of feeling like one thing with all of them and with my husband. Bran's arrival made our invisible bonds palpable again. I have often heard people say, “I cannot imagine having any more children because I don't know that I have the capacity for giving that many kids what they need.” I cannot imagine it either if I didn't know from experience that growing throughout pregnancy, like the placenta and baby, is a new store of love. My mother heart has stretched along with my uterus every time I have born a child to this family. I picture the Grinch heart bursting the bounds of the x-ray frame.

I wish that these scenes were a part of every baby's experience, of every mother's. But I know they are not because of injustice, illness, death, and even pure selfishness and evil. Watching Bran being loved by our family, loving him myself every moment, I have often cried for babies and families not having this experience. There are so, so many. I do think that more families could have this experience if they felt the permission to slow down and if they were not pressured by families to “hand over that baby.” I really hate that phrase. While there are many aspects of my life with Bran so far that have been lovely simply because 1) he is our fourth child, and 2) I advocated for us as mother-baby (things that can be enjoyed and utilized by many other pairs), there are some very precious, Jessica-Bran specific rays of goodness and beauty that I have to record.

I was sick when we decided to try to get pregnant, and there is much evidence that now I am well. We anticipated, with fear and trembling but also with faith and hope, that life with a fourth baby may be the hardest thing we ever had done. We knew we might be asking for a bedridden mother, but we did it anyway. I took a lot of convincing even though I was also the one arguing vigorously for us to do it! The beginning stages of weaning from some medications and wading into the pregnancy were terrible. I was afraid, and one of the worst nights of my life was New Year's Eve 2014 when I was suddenly terrified that we had made an awful mistake. I never, ever want to feel again that a child, a real, human, heart-beating baby, could be a mistake. I woke up on New Year's Day feeling like I had purged a virus. That fear needed to be expressed so that it could begin to dissipate, but like any flu, fighting it was painful and left me weak and humbled. One thing I felt very strongly, like I had when I took my pregnancy test, was that THIS baby was intended to be on the planet. THIS person already had his or her days appointed by God.

By the time we learned that this person was a boy and soon decided was Bran, I was already feeling much better emotionally and physically. Selecting his name was a great joy. He is a man named for women as well as his father. I gave him a “B” name to remind me of some dear women filled with qualities I hope all my children will display, mainly bravery, godly boldness, compassion, kindness, and belief in Jesus. His middle name is Raphael which means “God has healed me.” I liked it because it is Italian like my husband and me and goes well with the first name which is Irish (also like my husband and me.) I hesitated a bit, though, to give him this name that declares God HAS healed me. It's so emphatic. The word “heal” was important to me, meaningful. Brendan and I now knew what it meant to long for healing in THIS life. I did not want to demand something from God by naming my child such a thing. As I mulled it over, though, I kept thinking of my greatest comfort in all my days dealing with POTS, “I am already safe and healed in Christ. My life is already hidden in Heaven with him.” The fact was: I was already healed; already, but not yet. So, we named him Bran Raphael. And all my little Ninja Turtles were thrilled.

At counseling one day in Summer of 2014, I shared with my therapist that I was harboring hope that perhaps a pregnancy would somehow reset me, that the POTS would go as mysteriously as it had come. “That sounds like magical thinking,” she responded. We had no real reason to think the POTS would disappear. I had been told by my neurologist that I'd probably have it forever. “But,” she said after a moment. “Maybe it isn't so magical because we don't know why it came, so maybe we don't know what might make it go.” I carried these two thoughts around. I didn't get too excited or hold hope that pregnancy would definitely cure me, but I allowed myself to be excited to see what might happen.

As of late in my third trimester, around June of 2015, I was no longer having POTS symptoms. Doctors attribute this to the increased blood volume, and that makes sense. Bran is now 6 months old, and with the exception of occasions during illness or related to gallbladder attacks when anyone might have heart rate problems, I have still not experienced symptoms. Some women with POTS report that breastfeeding seemed to keep their POTS at bay, but this is by no means universally true. I will soon be speaking with my doctors to discuss a trial of medication weaning. I never imagined feeling this good. The other day I had to run up the stairs two extra times because I kept forgetting things I wanted to bring down. I realized during my second trip that every step was a huge blessing, and I took two stairs at a time- gulping the opportunity like a kid offered a sip of soda.

The threat of my POTS returning does hang over me like Wile E. Coyote's anvil. I have cried pretty hard about it a few times, and I ask regularly for prayer regarding that worry. I try, though, to not get sucked into that hole. Why go down it when I can be enjoying the days that it is not here? God HAS healed me.

I never pictured my postpartum year with Bran being the healthy, busy year that it has turned out to be. Bran's joyful, generous smiles reflect the great gifts our family has been given, a sweet, sweet baby and a healthy mommy. I am humbled to my core. He will smile at you and then somehow smile deeper; he crinkles up his little nose and shakes his little head as if to say, “I know! I can't believe it either!” He loves to hear music and listens intently when I sing to him of God who gives generously. I made up a little song that I used to sing to Hazel for naptime when I was newly pregnant with Bran based on Psalm 103:
He forgives all your sins and then
heals your diseases too.
He satisfies you with good things
so that your strength is renewed.

He redeems your life straight from the pit
and puts upon your head
a crown of love and compassion.
Oh, my soul! Don't ever forget.

My sweet Bran and all my dear children, I pray that you will learn these truths and then, please, don't ever forget. God does great, kind things. Life is full of difficulties and shocking, terrible troubles, but our God even has use for those. Not a one of you would mean all that you do mean to me, and I would not be able to love you as deeply as I do without having lived through days of darkness and sorrow. Seek his kingdom! Look for him always, and you will see amazing things everywhere.

My littlest Bran Raphael, sweet, smiling declaration of God's healing love, I am so glad for all you represent to me, but you will live your own life. Moving forward your story will be your own, and I will only be a fraction of what you have to tell about. But, this needed to be set down for you and for me. We cannot be mother-baby forever, but I have enjoyed this time immensely. Please don't grow too quickly. I cannot bear it.

Love, Mommy

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Belonging Art Show (Including Yours Truly!)

I got to talk out loud! It was pretty fun. I learned a lot by preparing for it all, and I hope to find some more mic opportunities in the future. I had some positive feedback including some that began with my favorite words, "I feel that way too..." 

I will say that my poop joke didn't go over nearly as well as I thought it would!

IF you go to Green Lake, I gotta say: you really missed out if you didn't come. And, no. I don't mean you missed out because you didn't hear me speak. Union Gospel Mission's Art Therapy program showed up with tons of great art and fascinating stories and did the hard work of hanging the show. The Bruised Hearts Revue played some swinging, toe tapping, western music filled with beautiful lyrical content. I had a great time as did my family. There were even art supplies provided for the kids to fill their own wall in the gallery. 

And now... the script I wrote myself. I memorized the whole thing and was able to speak without notes (a la the Moth!). Brendan took video that I will try to post. The video taught me that I should stand up straighter! And, please, laugh at my jokes, wouldja? 

I am so happy to participate in this art night. These events have been very special to me over my 15 years attending this church. I helped plan them for many years and ran point for a few. I also have shared my own artistic efforts. When I was 18 and dancing for Pacific Northwest Ballet, I danced right there on the subject of Love and made eyes at my boyfriend whom I married 4 years later. A couple years after that I showed a painting which was the product of my self-led art therapy (before I knew art therapy was a thing) to process and mourn the loss of my first baby to miscarriage. And, now, I'm here behind a microphone.

I was invited to participate in the planning of this event and decided that I had too many other things requiring my attention. 4 of those things have names, Ezra, Ivo, Hazel Belle, and Bran, my children. As the event flyers were posted and requests for submissions were going around, I felt a tug. Art, my desire to produce it and roll in it, has a place of permanent residence in my heart. But, motherhood, busyness, illness, etc. have really put a damper on it for the last few years in particular. And, you should know about me, that by 20, a stage accident led to a pretty serious injury that suddenly ended my ballet career. That left me in a very weird, complicated relationship with Art. Imagine: my whole life I loved Art, believed in it's importance for all people and in me, and I was surrounded by the ballet world. I had this perfect way to engage it all. I had intensely trained. Then, I was dropped down into this other world, the normal world with the muggles, and I can't do it anymore. So I was forced to struggle with these questions: Is Art still that important to me? Should I find a new way to do it? And for 14 years now, I've wrestled with whether that part of me should be allowed out. And when my mommy years set in I was able to get busy and distracted enough and love my children enough to just not think about it or even try to do it as much. This past year in particular I have been feeling how much that has hurt. Because I love the storytelling aspect of art. I enjoy looking at the world through an artistic lens, but what I love the most is saying, “Hey, look at this.” I love an audience.

So I haven't done much art, but what I did do during these mommy years was to start blogging. People began talking to me about “my writing” and saying things like, “well, you're a writer...” “WHAT? no. I'm just doing more of that self-led art therapy stuff. I'm just processing and pontificating from a place of safety behind my keyboard.” After a while, though, I really started to enjoy writing more and more and I started to hear a knock. I feel like that after ballet, that Art relationship became so painful to think about that I just stuffed that part of me way, way down. I put my artistic self under a trap door in the floor, locked with a little hook, and rolled out a big, thick, dusty Persian rug over the whole thing. But, she knocks. And as my writing started to develop that self was like, “Hey! I'm still down here! You should let me out! We could totally use this writing thing! And, maybe, oh, I don't know, just maybe, we could love on an audience again!”

So, I let her out, and she immediately repossessed the controls, and I became a writing fiend. Because ballet training doesn't make you very good at moderation. You know, ballerinas aren't really known for loving ambiguity. “Oh, let's just create, and just see what happens!” No. We're like this is how we do ballet and we will be the best someday. So I immediately came up with this training program filled with goals, and practices, and on and on. And, mostly, I've loved it. Because Art fills me up. It inflates me, makes me feel like I'm fully occupying myself. I feel animated as in alive. And, you know, I'm a Believer in Jesus, and I know that I'm filled with the Holy Spirit and that there is no God but God. Back when the ballet stuff fell apart and even still though less frequently, people would ask me or imply that maybe I liked ballet too much. Maybe it was becoming an idol, and maybe that's why God let the ballet thing crash. And, I gotta tell you, that question buried a deep fear in me that the artistic desires that I have are selfish, and wrong, idolatrous. Naturally, that has made trying to engage it all the more complicated. But, as I get older through years, but also through life experiences and spiritual gowth, seeing how amazingly loving and huge God is, I am coming to the conclusion or at least the next landing pad) that God is honored and praised by my using the love and creative skills that He gave me, and so I am trying to be less afraid of being a whole person, of engaging Art. But it is hard.

So, back to, I felt a tug. I emailed Katie, who in addition to being all the wonderful things she is, is my sister-in-law. And that's good because I probably would have been to scared to ask anyone else, and I honestly thought the answer would be “not this time.” The question was could I maybe have some mic time to do a little storytelling... or something... And, to my joy and terror, she said “Sounds great!” Well, then I went like this [BLANK STARE] because I had no stinkin' clue what I should tell! I sat down at the laptop more than once to get started. I had stories of backstage excitement and audition embarrassments from my dancing days. I was really obsessed for some reason with trying to describe and expound upon my first existential crisis at age 6... not sure what THAT was all about. And those are all pretty good stories, but none of it was feeling right. I really wanted to have a tie-in to this theme of BeLonging, and everything I wrote just felt a little forced. This whole time I kept saying to God, if you want me to get up there, if I'm going to try to do this Art stuff again, I need you to tell me what to say, and I really believed that he would... or wouldn't and that I could always just squirrel out!

Fast-forward to this past weekend. By Saturday night, I was terribly sick. My kids go to three different schools, so we have a diverse influence in our home: three sets of teachers, three sets of traditions, and three sets... of viruses and bacteria. Our poor family is like this massive petri dish accepting donations from ALL over. So I had this bad upper respiratory thing going on from preschool, then a stomach thing appeared, I think from 2nd grade, and the piece de resistance: friggin strep throat from Kindergarten. And let me tell you, strep throat is my kryptonite. One of the symptoms for me is frequent bouts of weeping, and I would rather (and I know what I'm saying because I did it 4 times) go through unmedicated childbirth or break an ankle than have friggin strep throat! All through my three days of bedridden illness I had THIS, the mic moment, in mind, and I thought, “well, there goes that. I'm not going to have any time to come up with anything, and it's not like that was going well. So, at least now I have a better excuse to give Katie.” And with that I think I was mentally attempting to get that girl back down under the rug.

Then, I woke up on Wednesday morning, and I thought of all the ways my period of sickness kind of answered my prayers for God to give me something to share. And, no, I am not here to breathe strep throat upon you all; my antibiotics took care of that. I thought about how I could tell some stories about coping with a sick mom in a family of 6, or about the horrible fight that handsome boyfriend now husband and I had in our sickness and health moment, or the comic tragedy of taking two children and myself to the doctor's office while suffering from sudden, uncontrollable... ailments. While I settled back into a somewhat healthier body, my artsy self quietly settled back in behind the controls, and I sat back down at the laptop as soon as I could.

So, what you have just sat through is what came out. Nothing about it has felt forced. And here is the BeLonging tie-in:

No matter what, I belong to God. Me with a lost ballet career. Me with a lost baby. Me with friggin strep throat and a family of 6. It all belongs to God. And the skills, love, desires that he has given to me belong to me, and no matter how many times I try to hide under a trap door, I'll always be longing to be let out.

Thank you so much.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Stairs Are Not Your Friend

A little author's note: This little essay is really just one more version of what I seem to write over and over. So, yes, I know I have said these things. I just can't help it that they keep coming up. And, in case you wonder, everyone written about here had the chance to see it all and approve of it being online.

Recently, I got the worst text I have ever received:

I need your prayers right now. Coming home from work because Barbara had to call 911 because David fell. I have no idea any of the details but I did hear him screaming in the background.

My dear, dear friend (like, getting-my-children-if-I-die, basically-named-my-son-after-her “dear”), Brenna, had to write this. David slipped on the stairs while she was at work, and he was at home alone with their two girls. A couple of hours later we learned that he had fractured some ribs and punctured a lung. He received a chest-tube while awake, and then spent 5 days in the highest trauma-level hospital in our area feeling constantly nauseous. Brenna was several weeks pregnant at the time.

From the moment the text dinged, I was sick with worry. Obviously, my concern for David was great, and I was afraid of what the stress of it all could mean for Brenna and her fragile baby. Thankfully, it didn't take too long for the doctors to conclude that the pneumothorax was David's only big problem, but I was scared I may receive another text about some complication. The whole first night, I barely slept, and when I did I had nightmares involving the word “pneumothorax” and flashes from old memories.

Around 4am, I awoke to feed my baby and realized suddenly why this all was tormenting me so. Beyond all the obvious concerns for my friends and their children, this accident struck a deep, tender nerve. It was the stairs. He fell down the stairs. I shook my husband awake, “Rib, Rib! He fell down the stairs. It happened to him too! This is all freaking me out so bad because of the stair thing.” “Yeah,” he answered. “I know. I figured that was pretty obvious.” “Thanks for filling me in,” I thought.

As a child, I was very brave. Very little scared me (except for E.T., but...). I could run and leap and try just about anything. Now, as an adult, I'm afraid of stairs and risk-taking in general. The accident that ended my ballet life happened on a set of stairs. A mistake was made by someone else, and I fell down scenery stairs. “Off” is more accurate than “down.” My invincible youth came to a quick close. Vulnerability arrived, or, rather, was revealed. And then came the pain. Pain that was life-altering, devastating, and yet uncovered a profound strength that I didn't know I had.

As soon as I knew David would be ok, that his injuries were not going to kill him, I kept thinking over and over, “He's going to be a much more interesting, rich person now. His compassion and empathy will expand so much!” “Jealous” is definitely the wrong word, but a certain wistfulness came over me. A kind of deep longing for him to have great results, the kind of results that I have received from all the physical pain I have survived. At the same time, I was thoroughly sad for him and Brenna. Injury had touched them. It got in to their lives. New vulnerabilities were exposed, and new needs for protection would take up places in their minds, their preoccupations. Yes, Pain can be an insightful instructor. In a heart ruled by God's love, on guard for bitterness, it can teach essential, enlightening things. But, the lessons aren't cheap.

I hope and pray that David's pains and fall will not cost him too much (medical bills aside!). I hope his trip down the stairs proves to have been only a misdemeanor offense. For me, the fall turned out to be a shocking robbery. Grand Theft Auto. A homicidal home invasion. There are things I had before that are gone forever, unless God chooses to restore them to me in Glory. Sometimes, I really question whether what I have gained for now is worth all the losses. But, even the deficiencies teach me.

Even before I fell down the stairs, I had formed some positive associations with physical pain. I know what dancers, athletes, know about pain: it can have it's rewards. Muscle aches lead to strength and flexibility. Blisters lead to callouses. Bruised nails get tough. Stress fractures make thicker bones. Exhaustion develops endurance. Practice makes perfect. And, oh! It feels so, so good to be perfect, to do it how you know it can and should be done! My pains as a dancer had their purpose, and that purpose was beautiful and gave me pleasure like I have not know since. If the pain had made me give up, I would never have lived the joy of the results.

My senior year of high school, I was accepted to study for the Summer at the School of American Ballet in New York City. This was a very big deal for me and for my small ballet company in the middle of (ballet-related) nowhere. I could not wait to see myself in the mirrors that so many of my idols had seen themselves in. I would squeal with delight at the thought of being in “George's School,” as my friends and I referred to it. I was obsessed with New York City Ballet. I saw going there to study as THE best thing that could have happened to me at age 16. I prepared for it like the rite of passage that it was. I thought everything through, including the fact that I would have to wear my pointe shoes for every class, for the whole class. This was new to me. It should not have been, but then my training had some gaps. On my own, I decided that I HAD to keep my pointe shoes on, no matter what. Back then, my options for shoes were limited to what I could afford to try and get my hands on via the internet. If I ordered something that didn't really work, I usually wore them anyway because they were all I had. The shoes I finally settled on, I knew later, did not fit me properly and weren't doing me any favors. This is part of why they hurt so badly. But, I kept those boots strapped to my feet as though my life depended on it, and my dancer life kind of did. I bled through the outside satin more than once, and I felt so badass it was ridiculous. I got blisters on top of blisters and bruises in my bruises. But, I did it. My feet did toughen up, and I learned that I could make it through more than I had thought. When I got to New York, one of the first things I did was figure out how to walk to the Freed store, and I, for the first time had a professional pointe shoe fitter help me find shoes that worked better than any I had ever tried, and they didn't hurt like the ones to which I was accustomed. Amazing. My suffering had been worth it.

My fall, though, had no apparent purpose. Immediately, there was no result but disaster, undoing. This pain was the bad kind, not a measured, wisely monitored means to an end. It was a car wreck. It scared the daylights out of me and kept me scared for a long, long time. I still do not like stairs, and I frequently ask Brendan to please walk in front of me and to not touch me while we are on a big staircase. I know what it is like to have your life changed by a fall down the stairs.

So, how did I get to a place where I could have the thought of being strangely excited for David? Not “happy for him” because that's just screwed up; however, “eager” applies. Surviving pain, emotional and physical, showed me so many new things about myself. They are not all good, by any means, but they definitely aren't all bad either. As for the bad ones, I'm working on them. “You can't change what you don't know,” and all that. The knowledge of what I can take, of what can be survived and endured, does encourage me daily.

“What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.”

What?! Maybe. Sometimes it leaves you bed-ridden. I did not survive unscathed, and those wounds, though painful still, turn my attention outside of myself. They show me the need for others. When I am weak and bewildered, my family and friends are shown to be strong and sure. When I am without hope, they hope for me. And when they all inevitably fail me, God is there. And he is not the failsafe, not the back-up plan. He is the LORD, and all things are held together in him. He is the only thing that makes it OK to be in pain and hope for a lesson. With God, even bed-ridden can be a place of growth and value.

Whenever I try to sit and write about these things. I inevitably slant toward these neatly-tied ends. I have a few thoughts about that; the first, insecure thought being that I am coming off like some out-of-touch Pollyanna, an idiot in denial. As for how I appear: I suppose I cannot speak to that. While I don't think I am Pollyanna, I do acknowledge that I have an aversion to wallowing in bad memories for too long. I want to get out of the woods, so to speak, so that I won't be lost. I do not see much use in enduring pain, even the memory of pain, for the sake of proving I can. No, I've had way too much evidence in my life as a dancer, former-dancer, mom, and chronic-illness-sufferer that pain, if it ain't headed somewhere good, is best avoided! But, if it is thrust upon you, as a believer in God I can say, better milk it for all it can be worth! I have a longing to write about my short life as a dancer and what has transpired since it was taken from me. There are many reasons for this, but I think these strong beliefs about pain are at the bottom of it all. I just want it to all be worth as much as possible for anyone who cares to know!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Every Phase is Hard

FB, 11/16/2006: Jessica is not looking forward to dealing with her MGMT 403 professor

FB, 9/16/2013: My afternoon has basically been a frat party. 3 wild people in various states of undress are yelling incoherent things and cheering one another toward new heights of foolishness. They are playing some form of Limbo (the youngest chanting loudly: "HELLO- Candy-Go"). And a new cold bottle of beer was taken from the fridge, thrown into the living room, and exploded into a million sticky, little, fizzing pieces. Party on!!!

Facebook's new feature, On This Day, has come along just in time for me to begin writing these things down. In the isolation of modern motherhood, Facebook became a way I could reach out for a quick “I hear ya!” or “me too!” I spent, and still spend, time when I craft the occasional status update. Not only is it a little moment to be creative but also a chance to encourage and be encouraged in the strange land of Stay-at-Home-Parenting. I look forward to my little set of On This Day memories. The temporally striated posts give me a two-minute look back at my life phases from college through the past year. One thing is clear: all the phases are hard.

At my Bible study a few weeks ago, it was prayer request time. A new friend had that look like something big was on her mind but also like she might not want to say it. I hope I did what I did in a kind way, but it is always risky to try to draw someone out of her shell.

How about you? You kinda look like you're sitting on something.”
She answered, “Umm, I'm just really tired and feel like I have no right to be, but I am.”
Collective “mm” sounds and subtle head nods went around. I couldn't leave it alone, though.
I don't want to force you, but...”
Oh, come on, Jessica. Yes, you do,” a friend interjected.
Ha, well, it just seems like... well... what's that 'Don't deserve to' piece about?”

I was sitting there with Bran, and she knows I have the other three. I don't recall exactly, but I think I was soon to have my gallbladder surgery. Our hostess had 4 children. Other women had two or three. She is not a mom yet but works two jobs and had been doing a ton of weekend traveling for family events. Of course, she had every right to be tired! But, looking out at the room full of experiences she hadn't yet had, she felt ashamed of being worn out.
I mean, I don't have anyone to take care of. I don't have a baby,” she said as she vaguely gestured in my direction.
Ya know, I think every phase has felt hard. The exhaustion I feel now doesn't feel different to me than the exhaustion I felt before kids. It may have a different quality, but the effect on me is the same.”
The other ladies chimed in, and we all agreed that tough is tough, no matter what phase of life you are in. She absolutely deserved some grace and love for the difficulties she faces.

This little moment at Bible study really stuck with me. I think parents ARE crazy-tired. And it IS different than being tired from work because sleep-deprivation is just a special kind of torture. I laugh very hard at all the comedians' bits about how rough it is to have small children, and I do long for the days when simple pleasures like grocery shopping and long showers and great indulgences like sleeping for 8 solid hours were available to me. But, I don't long for hours behind a desk, dealing with group projects, being stuck in one building 40 hours a week, etc. Every phase is hard.

As parents we turn back and look at the D.I.N.K.S. and kids with jealousy from our high horses of Special Knowledge regarding the value of peeing with the door shut, staying in bed all night, and pursuing personal interests. We wish they knew how good they have it because we think that would cause the people around us to give us more credit for what we are going through. We feel our struggle is undervalued. But, I do remember the jealousy I had of parents, the jealousy I probably would have if I wasn't one. “They get to have the love of their children. They are doing something meaningful every moment! She doesn't have to put on day-time clothes. They are real grown-ups. I don't know if I'll ever be ready for that.”

The truth is: every phase is hard AND comes with unique perks and rich blessing. We should trade monologues. I should tell myself how fantastic parenting is more often than I let myself wallow in how hard it is. People without kids should feel totally free to enjoy their phase to the hilt! Take long showers! Peruse the grocery aisles until you really do find the very best mustard! Don't waste any time feeling guilty about not having kids to look after or being afraid that you won't be good enough once you do.

I got over being bitter towards the d.i.n.k.s. a couple of children ago, but I started looking ahead with some fear and some jealousy too. “Oh, to have kids who can all do {fill in the blank}. To be able to X and Y!” But, I see the moms of teenagers look at me with my baby's head nuzzled up under my chin. Their eyes tell a story of sweet memories and a new kind of Special Knowledge. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” they tell me. “It will go by too quick. Wait til you have teenagers...” I usually hate it when they say that. It feels so imprecatory! I am starting to get it, though. It DOES go by way too fast.

As I sit here, the list of stresses in my head include a husband being away on business for the next 36 hours (who's counting? ME), doing the dog's walk on my own somehow, dealing with Bran and his umpteenth snotty cold by myself all night, picking up and dropping off all my school kids at their 3 different places, and on and on. My phase is hard! When Ezra was a baby, I would give myself awards for leaving the house when he was 4 months old. This time? I have no choice! We have had days of being in and out of the car 9 times! NINE TIMES! “But,” I hear, “wait til you have teenagers!” Well, wait I will. And gladly.

We have to give ourselves the grace we need for the difficulties of our phase. It really doesn't matter what other people are dealing with; their mastery of their circumstances doesn't need to make us feel shame for the measly mastery (or survival?) of our own. Nor does it matter if anyone really gets how hard you have it. (That one is hard for me to believe. I am preaching to myself here.) I want my focus to be on thanksgiving because I have the security of God's love, authorization to do my job well, and approval through his Son. Yes, I will probably be up half the night cuddling and nursing a little sweetie who doesn't feel well, and I need grace. I will need to be gentle and not expect too much from myself for the next couple of days. I also can choose to be so grateful that I get to love, hold, and raise this baby that I dreamed of and wanted so intensely and that my other babies did indeed grow, sleep through the night, and are able to get dropped off, and picked up, and dropped off, and picked up, and...

So, thanks, Facebook, for allowing me to look back at the Jeskies of the past. Do I chuckle a bit at complaints from my earlier selves? Yeah, a little, but I give them credit too because I hope that I'll be gracious to 2015 Jesky someday. I am happy for me for every rock show I attended, every paycheck I received, and every, oh! every long shower. 

May it never be said of me that I missed my chance to enjoy these children during this brief time that they are young because I was too busy making sure everyone knows that it's hard, but, Lord, give me the grace to admit when it is!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Oh! The Gall of It

Life is just so damn interesting, isn't it? We can get assurances from one another. We can plan. We can imagine and hope, but we just never really know what we're going to get- good and bad.

Back at the beginning of my life with Bran, when he was just a twinkle in MY eye (thank you very much), I knew I would need help. I knew I would need rest. I knew that I only would get by on a little help from my friends (and Riberas). I figured POTS might be a problem after delivery, but I was hoping it would stay away. Thankfully, I have not been symptomatic, and I'm now hoping it will not return. Ever. I planned, somewhat, for my potential neediness through the Summer. Things just never go how we plan, though. Death in the family took all my helpers away during the hardest days of my pregnancy. So much for all the long weekends at Grandma's that I had imagined. Thankfully, just when I thought I had reached the very, very end of my rope, God made a perfectly-timed delivery of Bran. The next two weeks passed mostly in bliss, and I had all the help I needed.

Then, I went to the emergency room with a two-and-a-half week old infant. Shortly after dinner one night, I was lying in my daughter's bed with her having a chat when I began to have intense pain in my upper abdomen and chest. This same thing had happened a few days prior, but it started to go away before I really started to freak out. This time, though, it was much worse and continued to worsen instead of fade. As a woman who has delivered four babies with no meds and a chronic pain syndrome, I am familiar with pain and know that I tolerate it well. This pain terrified me, and I started having POTS symptoms too - tachycardia, shortness of breath, tingling, sweating, and upset stomach. Of course, all these symptoms together could mean heart attack. Brendan got the big kids to bed, called a neighbor over, and got me and our crying, hungry infant into the car. I was afraid I would die.

Saying "chest pain" at the ER is a great way to be quickly given a bed. I don't want to describe the whole visit, all the diagnostic results, and the most embarrassing moment of my life, so I'll just cut to the chase: after tons of blood-work for the next two weeks, a CT scan, and multiple follow-up visits- it all came down to gallstones. Apparently, gallstones are one of the many, many things that baby-having increases your risk for that you don't know about until it happens to you. It took me 3 or 4 weeks to really figure out how to prevent the gallbladder attacks. I still get them, but I haven't had a very bad or long one for a couple of weeks now. I'm having surgery very soon to have my gallbladder removed.

See what I mean? You just can't plan for this stuff. My POTS hasn't been a problem at all, but I've been side-swiped by this gallbladder stuff and planning for a surgery within the first two months of my baby's life. Of course, this all got bad just as my relatives are returning to work for the school year. Other family stuff has kept us occupied as well. On one hand, we are doing really great when you compare the status of things now to the days of full-blown POTS, and Bran continues to be an easy, sweet baby. But, as my therapist pointed out, I'm not really getting to behave like a woman who just had a baby and needs help and time to rest. I feel like a Jekyll-Hyde mommy. Somedays, I'm so overjoyed with the absence of POTS that everything is roses. Then on the other days...

The other thing I never imagined is that it would be September 15th, and my children are still not in school. "I just need to make it to September 9th," I would often think. "Then, I'll be able to have quiet time to rest and recover from all this craziness and get some rest before my surgery." I now have zero confidence that any of that will happen. BUT, I do have confidence that God will keep surprising me. Just as I cannot have predicted that I'd have a life-changing gallbladder problem for the first weeks of my new child's life or that I'd still have 4 children home most of the time, I cannot have predicted that my POTS would be so absent. I cannot have predicted that Bran would be born just when I knew I couldn't take it anymore. So, I wait with open hands. I try not to worry about general anesthesia being around the corner. I try to trust that my laparoscopic, day surgery will not be a big deal and that I'll recover quickly and well. I try to trust that Bran will do great on bottles. I trust that my extra days with my boys home will continue to bless me (and challenge me).

Life is not boring.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First Shopping Trip with 4

Yesterday I grocery shopped with my four children for the first time. I know that we moms post about this a lot, but I'm doing it again because it really is so frustrating. I live in a city that thinks it's really good at caring about people and giving respect to all people. I must not be a real person because I get blatant dirty looks when I'm in public with my kids. And yesterday, the kids were only operating at like a yellow threat alert level. I hope this is my fear projecting itself, but I feel that people's faces basically say, "well, you asked for it; and now we all get to be irritated, and you're responsible."

Children used to be considered an asset not a liability. Are they disruptive? Yes. You were too, I bet. Are they inconvenient? Heck yes! You were too; I'm certain. They are immature - at least they have a chronological excuse. 
But they grow. They will invent new technologies. They will find cures. They will love animals and the planet. They will vote and make decisions. They will love each other. IF I teach them. IF I love them and model for them.

The result of all the bad feelings I get when I go out to non-child-centric places is that I stop going. This is a problem! Sure, Amazon is convenient. So is InstaCart. I don't have to try taking kids to the library because I can request everything online, drive by, and pick up books we want. I love those services, and they are a great help to me. However, we already suck at actually being friendly and connecting with each other here in Seattle. Most of our major publications have published on the subject. The irritation we feel over each other (including my own at being shamed via the use of frowns and eyebrows) drives wedges deeper. And if I only ever take my kids to playgrounds or bouncy houses, they are deprived of the learning contexts that will help them mature into people who, I pray, by God's grace, are not completely inwardly focused and selfish. (So maybe they'll hold the door for those who need help, reach a jar from a high shelf, or help pick up the ten thousand gift cards that were knocked off the rack...)

So, my apologies, shoppers. I'm going to keep dragging myself out into the daylight with my brood. I am going to remind myself that I don't really know what others are thinking, and that I don't know why they are being so crabby. I will be ready to nicely, humbly apologize with and for my children when they are actually causing trouble. And I will do my best not to cry when you mumble under your breath. You better hope I don't because I've got a motley crew that don't like it much when people make the queen cry...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bran Raphael

The first thing I'll say is that this is one very delightful baby. He has truly not cried for more than about 10 seconds at a time- and if he goes that long, that's his version of a real fit. Of course, he's only 39 weeks and 5 days, so it's a bit early to make any personality-type predictions, but I have my hopes. He weighed 7lbs 9oz, and was 19.5 inches long when he was born at 6:33pm on Wednesday, July 22nd.

It's hard to say when my labor with Bran truly began. I did my first nearly full night of early labor contractions on July 11th, and I did harbor some hope that he'd be born safely early on my birthday, the 12th. But, those contractions fizzled away, and we chalked it up to a change in the barometric pressure. About a week later, following acupuncture and Serafina's signature eggplant dish, I had another night like that. Again, fizzle. Now, I had set myself up from the beginning to expect Bran to be late, but these teaser sessions really started to make me long for him to come early- that and the fact that I really needed a break and knew I couldn't get that until he was born! Being so pregnant, with a baby that is so low, is exhausting already. Add the hottest summer on record for Seattle, swelling, and three big kids to entertain, and I was really getting worn out. In spite of those factors, though, I also had lots of nesting energy and in many, many ways felt more "normal" and better than I had throughout the pregnancy (and most of the last 2.5 years). My fear that I had had earlier in the third trimester that I wouldn't be able to manage labor and delivery with the fatigue and pain from POTS faded away as I kept making it pretty safely through very busy days of kid-wrangling and major cleaning projects.

On Tuesday morning this past week, I took my kids to see a $1 movie at the Regal Cinema. You should totally check that out if it's available in your town. As we chuckled at Peabody and Sherman, with my big girl in my lap, I started noticing a lot of what I figured were just Braxton-Hicks. But, they were a little different that the usual. I didn't pay much attention. After the movie, we headed to PCC to grab a few things we needed and pick a lunch. The kids weren't any more crazy than usual (I don't think), but for some reason they really drove me to the brink! I lectured the whole way home about how they need to try on purpose to be more calm and how stress over their disobedience was not going to help me get their brother out! I got ALL worked up as the afternoon wore on and wound up having a major emotional meltdown. I convinced myself once and for all that the stress of not resting and not being at peace with these wild people around all the time was going to surely delay my labor and leave me pregnant until 42+ weeks. Then that thought just made me cry and cry and cry. I cried out loud to my God, "please, help me!"

Eventually, I calmed down and got busy doing some cleaning and laundry. While I worked, I realized my contractions were seeming consistent again. "Oh, great" I thought. "Another night of teasing to keep me awake is probably coming." Still, I got a little excited and started timing them. 8-10 minutes apart. When Brendan got home and we were having dinner, the got a little closer together. I got very excited and then felt like maybe my big breakdown earlier had been the result of good flood of labor hormones. We went to the playground after dinner, and the kids played with Brendan while I did laps around the park. I enjoyed discovering the paths through the little wood behind our community center and had my first sour-but-almost-there blackberries of the season. My contractions jumped to 4-5 minutes apart, and I let Brenna know that something may be starting. These contractions didn't hurt enough yet. When I got home, we got the kids to bed, and my contractions continued. I took a shower and drank a ton of water, and they just kept coming, but still didn't hurt. At 10, I decided to let my midwives know that they should probably get some sleep. Cindie was out of town, right at the beginning of a 2 day trip, so I would be working with Stephanie. I was sad for Cindie to not get to be with us, but I was also looking forward to having Stephanie as I really like her and have worked with her with my doula clients before. Right after I talked to Stephanie, I had a small gush of amniotic fluid. I let myself get excited. The contractions did feel a bit stronger, but they still didn't hurt. That was bothering me.

Brenna, Elisabeth and Stephanie all arrived shortly after my little fluid gush. We figured that if my water broke I'd probably have a baby in a few hours. Around that time, something weird happened. I got this flood of fear that felt very physical. My mood went from excited to somber and unsure very quickly, and I started to shiver. Labor hormones can definitely cause shivering, but the fear was strange. I laid down to deal with it. Eventually, the sensation faded, and the shakes lightened up. It left me feeling tired, though, and my contractions spaced out a bit. We decided to all try to get some rest. The three ladies went to chat in my living room for a while and eventually, very adorably, all slept slumber party style on the fluffy rug. I was having too many contractions to get much sleep and kept waking up every 10 or 15 minutes with a flood of confused thoughts. Brendan was supportive, but I eventually quit bothering him as it was late, and I knew he would need the sleep he was able to get.

At 2:30 in the morning, I got up to pee. While sitting there, I felt what I thought was a big kick from Bran and heard a popping sound. Nothing happened until I stood up to get back in bed, and when I did a lot of fluid came pouring out. I had a lot of bloody show as well. I got excited again! "Ok! Let's do this. Bring on the painful contractions! They'll probably start any minute." Well. They didn't. I finally fell asleep around 5am with the thought that when the sun came up I could eat and start walking and maybe get the labor re-started. I woke up at 6:30, and I was having almost no contractions. I sent everyone home. We had a talk about how most women get into labor within 24 hours of the rupture of membranes and how that would probably happen with me. I felt ok about it all. I was excited that, now, no matter what, I'd be meeting Bran soon. But, I also was tired and discouraged and starting to think through what I would do if my labor didn't start. The thought of winding up at the hospital was depressing.

After everyone left, I cried for a while to Brendan. The thought that really made me cry most was the concern that I'd done something wrong- like maybe I'd jumped the gun or like I shouldn't have gone walking or shouldn't have had acupuncture 5 days before, or, or, or... Brendan shut all that down for me very quickly, firmly, and kindly which was exactly what I wanted and needed. Texting with my mom helped too (and continued to be helpful to me throughout the day). I knew she was praying along with my friends who knew the situation and our family. The kids and dog got picked up by Brendan's parents, and that was a relief. I was sad, though, that Bran hadn't just come in the night to surprise them first thing in the morning. Oh well. I knew that having them all squared-away would help me to focus and allow Brendan to give me the attention and affection I'd be needing. We slept for a while then.

I felt better when I woke up. I was ready to get dressed and attempt to go walking and try (for the fourth time now) to get through some (Stupid, frustrating!!!!) early labor on my way to some real-deal labor that I hoped and prayed would come on its own. We did pray often, and I felt every time like God was answering us with new information (like when my water leaked the first time, and then later popped big), with encouragement (like my mom's prayers and texts), and with new strength. We went walking around Matthews beach and then our little Meadowbrook Pond. Contractions did pick up, and I felt somewhat encouraged. I was leaking lots of fluid, and that was not fun (though I did find it funny every time when I told myself that Bran was peeing my pants...) We went to have our non-stress test with Stephanie then.

I'd never had an NST before, so that was fun and interesting somewhat. I did have one big-ish contraction that made me feel like maybe we were getting closer. Bran's heart rate took some deeper dips during that one, but he bounced back like he should; and everything else looked great. Stephanie did say that she'd like to be with us as soon as the contractions really did get serious so that she could keep good watch on his heart rate.

When we got home, I ate a good snack and we watched some Jim Gaffigan. Humor is your friend at times like these. My contractions got much stronger, and I finally got really excited. Brenna came back over, and by then I think they were about 5 minutes apart, maybe less, and were increasing in intensity. We called Stephanie to let her know, and I called her again in a 1/2 hour to say I wanted her to come over. I had that thought in my head about keeping Bran safe, which was good because otherwise I may not have had her come so soon. Brenna arrived at 4:30, and Stephanie was there by 5:30. By the time Stephanie arrived, I was needing Brendan to help me deal with the contractions. I alternated between sitting on my ball, kneeling at my bedside over a pillow, and sitting on the toilet. Elisabeth came sometime around all this too and started her photo-documenting.

I eventually landed backwards on the toilet and was planning to stay there for a while. Stephanie got started on placing my IV port for the saline we planned to deliver after the birth to help give me a boost in dealing with my POTS. She did a fine job, of course, but it's never fun to have that kind of distraction when you are dealing with such intense contractions. At the same time, I could feel that my blood was pooling in my legs a bit from how I was sitting. Once she finished the IV, I announced that I was dizzy, and they helped me get to the bed to lie down. Brenna massaged my leg to get the blood flowing again, and that felt great. Brendan started using a cold rag on my neck and back. The next contraction was officially one of the most painful of my entire childbearing career, and I had the thought, "oh, man. I hope I don't have to deal with these for long!" At nearly the same moment, I realized that I could push a bit, and it felt better! "I'm pushing!"

I felt Bran move down and out of my uterus. It was a very cool feeling, and I quickly started to feel the stingy, stretchy feeling of a baby's head about to crown. I did not have to push very many times. Everyone was very encouraging. We had planned to try to have me do my own catch, and I felt somewhat able to look down, feel him with my hands, and at least imagine pulling him up on my own. Once his head was visible, I had to actively try to not push him out right away. I panted to try to give myself time to stretch out and think a little bit about how and if I'd be able to get him. Stephanie was wonderful about listening to me and giving encouragement. I kept saying, "help! help!" not in a scared way, but in a "I need you to tell me what to do" way. Once his head was out, I did more panting, and we saw that his cord was around his neck. No big deal usually. It did frustrate my catching plans. Once I pushed his shoulders out she had to get him untangled because the cord was around three times! By the time she got him free (about 2 seconds that felt like forever to me!) I pretty much tore him from her hands! I was ecstatic and screamed, "I did it! I did it! I had another baby!" And I wasn't just referring to the birth, but to our entire journey of deciding to have Bran. I felt so full of confidence in God's love for all of us, and I thanked him. I had very minimal blood loss, and my POTS symptoms have not returned. I'm pretty amazed by it all.

Bran and I instantly bonded, and I have fully enjoyed him ever since. There could be so much more written into this story about my emotions, prayers, wonderful friends and theological ponderings during these days of his birth. I'd also love to write a bit about what the last few days have been like (chronic illness and learning how to care for myself have done me some big favors!), but I'm down to one hand typing now as I nurse my sweet baby. All of us here love him madly, and I look forward to eventually introducing him. For now, I'm guarding every moment and enjoying him as fully as I can. I want my memories of these days to run long and deep.