Thursday, December 4, 2014

Winter

Today as I drove home from town, I watched fog roll down the mountain behind our house.  The trees were barren and lifeless, the fields empty and brown.  I shivered as I hurried my two little ones into the house and plunked the three of us in front of the fire to warm our chilled bodies.

Winter in Arkansas is often grey and cold.  The damp air makes the cold seemingly settle right into your bones, and many times into your soul as well.  For the girl who spent most of her life in sunny Arizona, it can be incredibly depressing.  I was used to cold winters, but not to the wet cold or the endless days of grey.  Each winter here, I find myself struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Extra Vitamin D helps, but never completely.

Today, though, I actually saw beauty in those barren trees and in that cold fog.  Today, as I warmed myself by the fire, I was reminded of another fire that once warmed my bones, but this one an ocean away.  It's been almost seven years since my friend Caris and I went on our grand adventure to England in the dead of winter.  Seven years since we sloshed through sheep fields in the rain and climbed up hills to abandoned castles together.

It was grey there, too.  It was cold, dark, and oh-so-wet.  Yet, I don't remember anything but joy from it.  Looking back, I see a girl on the cusp of adulthood, full of fear and hope, still trying to find myself.  I realize now how crucial those two weeks were to my journey and my path.

I remember fondly the time spent by warm fires.  I remember wearing cozy sweaters and drinking gobs of tea and hot chocolate.  No thought was given to walking through soggy fields or traipsing down wet streets in the rain.  We adventured anyway.  I remember laughing and singing and dancing, and snuggling in under cozy blankets, reading books quietly.  I remember making new friends and eating pasties and flapjacks; watching movies and letting the rain soak my hair; taking a hot bath and sleeping in late; reveling in the smell of old books in a bookshop; feeling God speaking to me so very strongly, altering my course from there on out...and all in the middle of grey, dreary winter.

That shy little not-quite-woman could never have imagined where she'd be seven years later.  It's ironic, really, that the grey winter days that changed my life and brought so much joy now eat at my happiness.  Yet, I know that they don't have to.

Winter, whether actual or a season of our life, can be hard and isolating.  Like the leafless trees behind my house, it can leave us barren, raw, and exposed.  Some days you may feel like you just can't get warm.  Yet, it shouldn't stop us from pressing on.  It shouldn't stop us from doing God's will, adventuring, and finding joy.  Sometimes it is those quiet, dark winter moments that are exactly what we need to hear Him speaking.  The question is, will we stop to listen?      



This winter I've determined to choose joy and embrace each cold, grey day.  I've even started a Pinterest board dedicated to it.  Will you commit with me to not let Satan steal the beauty of this season from us?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Being Miles' Mama: Why I'm Thankful for My High Need Child

*Note: When I refer to my son as "high need", I'm referring to Dr. Sears' description of a high need baby.  

My first child was a really hard baby.  I feel qualified to say that now because my second baby is significantly easier.  In many ways, my laid-back second born has made me feel vindicated.  I can now say, "See!  I did know what I was talking about!  I wasn't just a hormone-crazed new mama grossly underprepared for motherhood (although I was)!  It wasn't my parenting, eating habits, or personality that made him that way!  He was just plain hard."

One of the mysteries of motherhood, however, is how fiercely in love I was with that colicky, high need baby.  Even more mysterious is how that love still grows each day...how I think it always will.  Beyond all the incredible love, however, I look back and truly am thankful that my first baby was high needs.  Here are some reasons why:

He humbled me and revealed my heart.  I came into motherhood with the idea that I had everything figured out.  I knew what kind of mother I would be and why.  I was prideful and, sadly, judgmental.  Then my beautiful, screaming Miles entered this world and threw me for a loop.  He wasn't what a baby was supposed to be, and I quickly had to let go of all that I thought I knew about babies and about motherhood.  He showed me how wrong I was.

I had to depend on God for my strength and wisdom. I always felt myself to be an intelligent, capable young woman.  However, being Miles' mom has often made me feel utterly incapable and weak.  The beauty of it all is that when I couldn't go on, God sustained me.  When I didn't know what to do, He led me.  I simply couldn't rely on myself, and instead learned to rely on Him.  

I was forced to relinquish my need for control.  I have control issues.  I really do.  While that's something I'm still working on, I've gotten immeasurably better since Miles was born.  I had to let go of scheduling anything or the idea that I could somehow control my baby's behavior (because I really couldn't).  Most of all, I had to get over the idea that I could somehow manipulate my life to create the"perfect" family and "perfect" marriage.   

I learned not to care what other people thought.  I use to dread people asking me if Miles was a "good" baby or if he slept good.  If I told them the truth, I was quickly given advice about how I could "fix" the problem.  If I mentioned that Miles was "high needs", I was often met with raised eyebrows and skepticism.  I could tell that certain people thought that my parenting style was to blame.  I held him too much.  I didn't schedule him.  I didn't let him cry it out.  I was too clingy.  I wasn't persistent or resilient enough.  I had to learn to brush off comments like these and be confident in my parenting.

I became less critical and more sympathetic towards other moms.  Criticism from other people made me much more careful about the comments I made to other moms.  Just as I had learned that my baby and I were both unique individuals, so I came to see that every baby and mom is, in fact, different.  I could never know every circumstance of a person's life and, therefore, I had no right to judge another mom.  I began to look at the mom in the grocery store with a toddler way past due for a nap with sympathy, rather than judging her for shopping instead of getting her child a nap.

I learned to pay attention to him as a little person instead of treating him as a generic baby.  Miles never went "by the book" as a baby.  That used to drive me crazy.  I am now thankful for it because it caused me to really learn about him and mother him accordingly.  It taught me to be responsive to my children, instead of expecting them to fit into my parenting style.

He taught me how important it was to be proactive in my marriage. For awhile after Miles was born, Andy and I had a pretty strained relationship.  Not that there was really anything wrong.  It was just that, up until Miles' birth, pretty much every night was a date night for us.  Miles demanded so much of our attention that we spent most of our time tag teaming instead of doing things together.  Our own relationship was put on the back burner, and we felt like two ships adrift at sea.  Thankfully, we began to learn what was necessary in our marriage in order to keep the flame, and even the friendship, alive.  This is something we're still working on, and I'm sure always will be, but we're much more on our guard now.

I got a glimpse into how God loves us.  Miles wrecked my life.  He left my nerves frazzled, my brain foggy, and my self-confidence lacking.  Yet, somehow my fierce love for him only grew.  Through it, I got a taste of God's love for us.  I began to see how unfathomable it was for Him to love us so indescribably, when we can never begin to reciprocate...when we forget Him and fail Him and betray Him.

I now get to watch him blossom into an intelligent, intuitive toddler.  Miles was a hard baby and he's definitely a challenging toddler.  Yet he's also so very sweet and fun.  He loves to talk and is very communicative.  He's also very observant and intuitive.  He quickly picks up on people's emotions, whether they be his mama's or a strangers.  His hawk-like eyes miss nothing, and he'll often bring up things later that I had already forgotten had happened.  I love it, and I love him.

I'm enjoying having a more laid-back baby this time around...and getting more sleep.  Yet, I wouldn't trade Miles and his personality for anything.  I firmly believe that I am a much better mother to Nora because of what I learned from Miles.  God doesn't make mistakes.  He knew the children that I needed.    




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Mommy Wars, or Why Stay-At-Home Moms are Silent

I grew up with a brilliant, strong woman for a mother who had left off scaling the career ladder to be a stay-at-home mom to my sisters and I.  We were encouraged to do the same someday, and I came into adulthood and motherhood (by no fault of my mother’s…just my own convictions) staunchly believing that being a full-time stay-at-home mom was the best way for a mom who actually wanted to mother her kids and be a godly mother.

Actually being a mom changes things.

Since entering the world of motherhood, I’ve met moms from near and far and from all walks of life.  If I’ve learned anything, it’s we can’t put godly motherhood in a box.  It doesn’t look the same for every mom.  I have friends who are working moms who are doing exactly what God has called them to do. 

I’ve also come to realize that most moms are self-conscious about their own chosen path.  Working moms, in particular, complain that they don’t feel comfortable around stay-at-home moms…that they feel judged for working and still pursuing careers.

Working Moms, let me let you in on a little secret…stay-at-home moms feel judged too.  They’ve heard the whispers about how they’re lazy, or must be bored just sitting home all day, or are just lucky that their husband’s bring in the big bucks.  And each whisper stings deep.   

Many stay-at-home moms struggle with feelings of inadequacy.  They watch their working mom friends juggle a career, kids, and a home with seemingly flawless ease.  The old argument that you’d be paying someone to watch your kids while you work anyway (and, therefore, being a stay-at-home mom is a real job) only serves to fuel their feelings of worthlessness.  They want to be seen as more than a glorified baby sitter.  They want to feel like they are doing something important and worthwhile…but some days they’re honestly lucky to get out of sweatpants or fold a load of laundryTheir hard-working men march off each day to bring home a little to put in their bank account, and they meanwhile only seem to drain it. 

They listen to their working mom friends talk about all the awesome things they’re doing and accomplishing at work.  They listen to talk of grand, important things and a kind of busyness that makes the bottoms they wiped and the PB&J sandwiches they made seem insignificant and mundane.  

And so, they keep silent.  What, really, can they say?  “Oh, you saved a patient’s life today or taught a room full of third grader’s math?  I picked up blocks and cleaned up cracker crumbs.  My main struggle today was getting my son down for his nap, and I cried when my husband called and said he’d have to work late tonight.” 

The truth, however, is that a stay-at-home mom’s job is just as important as a working mom’s…it’s just different.  Take it from someone who’s been both a SAHM and a working mom…you feel just as exhausted, drained, and sucked dry after a day at home with your children as you do after a day at the office dealing with people and papers and money.  Yet, there can also be just as much joy, just as many accomplishments, and just as much self-worth.  What truly matters is that your day was spent right where God wants YOU to be, doing the things that He’s called YOU to do.

We are all moms, but we are also all unique.  The way we mother and live our lives should be unique as well.  We need to stop criticizing one another’s choices and instead encourage each other on the path God has led us each on specifically.  We won’t always understand each other or agree, and that’s okay.  It’s okay to be different from one another.  What’s not okay is to demean someone else for being different from you in order to build yourself up and make yourself feel better about your choices. 

Ladies, being a mother is stinking hard work.  We all have those days that we lock ourselves in the bathroom knowing that we’ll have a nervous breakdown if we hear that nasally, whiny, “MOM!!!” one. more. time.  Being a mom is tough enough without having to deal with the constant critiques and judgments from other moms.  Lets stop arguing about whose path is better, and start encouraging and supporting each other instead.  Lets stop focusing on our differences and start embracing the similar experiences we share as mothers.  Lets stop the mommy wars and start building each other up. 

Working mom, stay-at-home mom…what does it matter really?  What matters is that we are all women trying to navigate the unknown waters of motherhood. Better we do it together than all alone.   

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Seasons of the Mundane

The newborn season of motherhood is full of seemingly mundane busyness.  Whether you're a stay-at-home mom, or just on maternity leave, it often seems like all you do all day is feed the baby, change dirty diapers, and attempt to go to the bathroom (mostly unsuccessfully).  In reality, that's probably all you are doing.

Pretty much my entire day yesterday consisted of nursing a baby who was obviously going through a growth spurt, and taking a potty-training toddler to the bathroom while the baby screamed bloody murder.  Supper came in the form of a crockpot freezer meal hastily eaten in front of the tv while my husband held the baby.  On days like yesterday, it's easy to look in the mirror and wonder what happened to all your dreams and goals.  Wasn't it just a few short weeks ago that you were more than just a sleep-deprived, milk-producing, diaper-changing machine?  

This isn't my first rodeo.  I know from experience that all too soon this newborn phase will pass.  In the blink of an eye that tiny screaming newborn will be the potty-training toddler proudly announcing every time she toots, far too busy to happily snuggle with Mama all day.  Even still, I have to fight off negative thoughts:  I'm not getting anything done all day.  I've abandoned the other passions and ministries God has called me to.  I've lost who I am in this whole business of being a mother.  All lies meant to distract me from the glorious, fleeting things God has called me to in the here and now.

Each time I take that toddler to the bathroom, I'm taking one more baby step in the process of molding and shaping him into the man God is calling him to be.  Each time I feed that baby, I'm providing her with the nourishment she needs to grow and one day fulfill the wonderful things God has in store for her.  Each time my husband holds her as I eat, I watch him fall more in love with her, becoming the daddy that she needs.  Each time I apologize to the toddler for snapping at him for kissing the baby too roughly, I see a little more clearly God's heart towards us...and see Him using this season to shape me into the woman He wants me to be.

No season of life is ever mundane or meaningless...it only seems that way on the surface.  


Monday, November 3, 2014

Shaming the Breastfeeding Challenged

I'm going to be real honest: breastfeeding and I have a love-hate relationship.  As much as I loved nursing my son and am very pro-breastfeeding, I don't believe that breastfeeding is always the best way.  There are way too many moms out there (me included) that are made to feel like less of a mother for either struggling with breastfeeding, not enjoying it, or choosing not to breastfeed altogether.

This was circulating recently, and it was awesome, but I think that some women forget that there are other reasons besides health ones that can prevent moms from being able to nurse their babies.  For some, the stress of nursing is just not worth it.  For others, breastfeeding is a struggle and at some point the benefits of fighting for it don't outweigh the physical and emotional exhaustion.  For still others, their supply, their physical attributes, or their baby's mouth keeps them from being able to breastfeed.  

I've not really shared this here before, but I really struggled nursing Miles in the beginning.  I had dreams of effortlessly nursing my newborn in what would be a completely natural and incredibly bonding experience.  Unfortunately, a combo of issues between me and him made latching impossible.  For several months, the only way I could get him latched was with a shield.  Even then, it was a struggle.  There was a lot of screaming and frustration.  Finally, though, he got the hang of it and became a pro.  Breastfeeding became a beautiful, peaceful thing, and I loved it.  I couldn't understand how anyone who could breastfeed would choose not to.  I was terribly proud of myself for sticking with it and persevering.

When Nora was born, I prepared myself for another struggle.  To my surprise, only minutes after she arrived she latched right on.  She was such a good little nurser that she wanted to nurse constantly.  My poor husband had to go to Walmart at 5 am to get a pacifier and give me a break.  I was in proud Mommy heaven.

Then engorgement struck.  Terrible, painful engorgement that I wasn't able to get to go down for several days.  Suddenly my nursing champ couldn't latch.  After a sleepless night of trying unsuccessfully to get her to nurse, and her not getting more than a few drops of milk, we gave in and gave her a bottle of pumped milk.  One bottle.  That's all it took for my nursing pro to decide that nursing was simply too much work.

My dreams of easily nursing my newborn whenever and wherever crumbled into a heap.  I can't even begin to describe to you how hard it is to have your own child screaming in rejection of you, in favor of a cold, artificial substitute.  Meanwhile, all you can think of are the many, many friends whose baby's latch right on and never have any trouble nursing.  You know it's not true, but you can't help but feel like a failure.

You see, I know from experience that not being able to "Exclusively Breastfeed" (or "EBF", as it's known in the cyber world), whether by choice or necessity, is never easy.  Something deep down whispers that you are less of a woman.  After all, women have been doing it for thousands of years so why can't you? 

Then there's the judgement from other moms, especially those that don't know the pain it is to struggle to nurse your little one.  Whether imagined or not, you feel the stares when you pull out that bottle.  You hesitate before posting that cute anecdote about your child on Facebook because it includes the world "bottle", and you know what certain moms will think.  You cringe inside when that mom who doesn't understand the whole situation gives you advice on what will help with your "problem".  You skip over that article someone shared for the millionth time about how much better breastfeeding is, implying that your kid will be less healthy, smart, and developed than those lucky kids who nursed until they were 2.

Mamas, if you've struggled with breastfeeding or have had to give up on it altogether for whatever reason, take heart.  You are not less of a mama, and your child will not lack because of it.  My grandma likes to remind people that all of her three amazingly smart, high-IQ, beautiful children (which include an orthodontist and a PhD psychologist) were, in fact, formula babies, as were my sister and I.  If you can breastfeed, that's wonderful, but breastfeeding alone will not dictate the future and health of your children.  What's far more important is for our children to have a mentally stable mama who loves them with all of her heart.

To those of you to whom nursing comes easily, think twice before passing judgement.  If you haven't struggled with breastfeeding, you can't fully understand the struggle of those who have.  Make the choice to support other mothers, whether they breastfeed of bottle feed.  What is best for one family and one child will not be best for another family and another child.  We need to embrace one another and the unique paths that we are all on.  Remember that breastfeeding your children does not make you a better mother than the woman who bottle feeds.  

***   

Nora is almost three weeks old now, and she's had more bottles than I can count.  I'm producing more than enough milk, so it's all been mama's milk, but it's still not my preference or my choice.  Pumping often enough to produce enough milk for your little one is exhausting (especially when that includes pumping in the middle of the night after already having fed your baby a bottle).  There have definitely been days that I've wondered how long we'll make it before switching to formula.  Being a busy wife and mama makes exclusively pumping for the next year impossible.  I had to come to terms with the fact that, should she not return to breastfeeding, my sweet Nora might end up on formula...and I had to be okay with that.

Thankfully, taking it one day at a time has worked.  By the grace of God (because it's certainly nothing I've done), my sweet Nora has suddenly decided that she really does like nursing after all.  It's 3 in the afternoon and she hasn't had one bottle all day.  Yet, I know that that could change in a heartbeat, and that's perfectly fine.  My worth and value as her mother is not tied up in my ability to feed her the "natural way".  Instead, it's found in the love and devotion I have for her, whether she's fed formula in a bottle or right at my chest.  




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nora's Birth Story

Fair warning: Due to the nature of the topic, this post is a little more TMI than I usually write.  

My entire pregnancy with our sweet Nora was anything but ordinary. It shouldn't come as any surprise, then, that her actual birth followed suit. Even two weeks later, I'm still trying to process the chain of events that brought my sweet girl into this world.

As I've shared before, I was hospitalized at 35 weeks with preterm labor and put on strict bed rest. During that time, my contractions never lessened, and I expected Baby Girl to come at any moment. But she didn't.

When I hit the magical number of 37 weeks and was allowed off of bed rest, I thought that getting up and walking around would do the trick. Despite intense, consistent contractions, Baby Girl still stayed put.

At my 38 week checkup (a Wednesday), I had an ultrasound done because I had started measuring even further ahead than I had before (as in, 4+ weeks ahead). The ultrasound showed a high level of amniotic fluid, enough that the nurse practitioner was concerned. Baby Girl was not engaged and was basically swimming around inside of me. She could turn breech or, even worse, my water breaking could cause the cord to prolapse. I was told to come in the next Monday (when I was 39 weeks exactly), and they'd check my fluid levels again.

On Monday, Baby Girl was still very healthy and active, but my fluid levels were still rising.   I really, really wanted to give birth naturally and go into labor on my own. Yet, after almost 4 weeks of prodromal labor, I hadn't progressed (I had been sitting at 3 cm dilated that entire time). My OBGYN and I sat down and had a very frank discussion about my options. Normally, she encouraged women to wait to go into labor naturally. In her professional opinion, however, she didn't think Baby Girl was coming on her own, or at least not for awhile. She felt that my high fluid levels were the reason that the contractions I was having weren't going anywhere. They just weren't effective at bringing Baby down because there was so much fluid. With the risks associated with my rising fluid levels, she encouraged me to schedule an induction. The risk of cord prolapse was still there even in an induction in a hospital, but at least then emergency help would be there. If my water broke at home, I was 45+ minutes from the hospital, and could find myself in a potentially dangerous situation.  Andy and I prayed about it, and decided to go ahead with the induction.  I was told to come in to be induced that Wednesday (October 15th) at 5 am. I would be 39 weeks, 2 days at that point.

The next two days, I still prayed that I would go into labor naturally. Oddly enough, however, the contractions that had been so consistent for the past 4 weeks, all but went away. So, at 5 am that Wednesday morning we marched into the hospital. They checked me and I was still 3 cm dilated. No surprise there.

At 6:30 am they started me on a low Pitocin drip. For the next 4 hours they steadily increased it, to almost no avail. I was having contractions, but they were very inconsistent, and I almost couldn't feel them. Andy and I watched TV and I prayed that something would start happening soon. Finally, at 10:45 am, my doctor came in and checked me. I was barely a 4. The news, while unsurprising based on the contractions I was having, was discouraging. My doctor had originally planned to break my water, but Baby Girl's head was still so high up that she didn't feel it was safe to do so. She suggested I get an epidural to see if it would relax anything, and then to try some different positions and things to bring baby down. I didn't have an epidural with my son, and I was hoping to at least hold out as long as possible with this baby, but I reluctantly agreed. The anesthesiologist came in and I found myself regretting the decision during the whole process. I wasn't even feeling these contractions, for goodness sake...why was I getting an epidural???

While the anesthesiologist was wrapping up, Baby Girl's heartbeat dropped during two separate contractions.  The nurse had me move into different positions, but both times her heartbeat didn't go up until the contractions stopped.  The anesthesiologist (who was still in the room), suggested that perhaps I was dilating more.  The nurse checked me, and I was now at a 5.  Progress, at least!  Baby's heartbeat didn't drop again, so I was left alone lying on my back.  The intention was to sit me up in an hour and see if we could do anything to get Baby engaged.

As soon as the nurse and anesthesiologist left (about 11:45), I started actually feeling the contractions more.  I texted my mom and update and my husband and I joked about singing "Let It Go" during labor.  Within minutes, the contractions started getting more intense, and I wasn't able to text anymore.  I had to get on my left side and focus to get through the contractions.  The epidural didn't seem to be helping much.  My feet were numb, but my pelvis was most definitely not.

At 12:09 I had my husband text my mom that the contractions were getting a lot worse.  A few minutes later we decided to call the nurse and see if they could figure out something with the epidural.  Ten minutes later, the nurse still hadn't shown up.  I felt a pop, a gush of fluid, and sudden, excruciating pain.

This time when we called the nurse, me shouting in the background brought her pretty quickly.  My husband told her I thought my water had broken.  She said she'd check me and slowly moved about getting things (obviously doubtful, since she had left me not too long ago).  My husband repeated it two more times and finally started to check.  The poor, young nurse's eyes got as big as an owl's and she quickly called for another nurse (apparently it was a lot of fluid, and my amniotic sac was half hanging out).  The other nurse came in, took one look at me, and said I was a 10, that the baby had dark hair, and that they needed to get the doctor and a table immediately.

I meanwhile was in the most excruciating pain I've ever experienced.  My first epidural-free labor was a cake-walk compared to this.  It felt like my entire pelvis was splitting open, and I had to yell and get onto my hands and knees just to get through each contraction.  I told my husband that he needed to get the doctor and have them cut the baby out, because I couldn't do this.  I as much told the nurses the same.

While the first nurse tried to get ahold of my doctor, the other nurse turned me onto my side.  I listened as they tried to find a doctor.  My doctor was in a c-section and couldn't get out, and her partner didn't answer.  Finally they reached another doctor who had just left and she said she'd be there in 5 minutes.  I told the nurse that I didn't want to wait and that she needed to just get the baby out.  She assured me that she could deliver the baby if she needed to.  I heard her tell my husband that if I opened my legs the baby would be born.

We waited the 5 minutes for the doctor, but my body was pushing on its own.  I wouldn't be able to make it much longer.  Meanwhile, the nurse was helping to stretch the baby's head out.

Finally, the doctor arrived, put on gloves and sat down in front of me.  I opened my legs, gave two little pushes, and there at my feet lay my beautiful, perfect baby girl.  They hadn't even had time to put up a sheet or drop the bed.  I could have caught her, had I had the presence of mind of Kourtney Kardashian.  I watched as she gave her first little scream and they handed her into my arms, healthy as can be.  The time was 12:57 pm...just over an hour after the nurse had said I was dilated to a 5.


We are so thankful for our sweet little Nora Jane.  Her birth was one of the hardest things I've ever gone through, but holding her for the first time was more than worth it.  






       


    

Friday, October 17, 2014

She's Here!!!


I'm pleased to announce that Baby Girl Baker finally made her grand entrance into this world!

Nora Jane Baker was born 10/15/14 at 1:56 PM after a very crazy and intense birth.  8 lb, 1 oz.  20.5" long.  Healthy as can be!  Hopefully I'll have the chance to write out her birth story.  Until then, I'm home with my sweet little family, adjusting to life as a family of four.