Monday, March 28, 2016

Holy Lents, Holy Easters

Has anyone noticed that the more penitential and prayerful the Lent you observe, the more joyful the Easter you will have?

Before I had kids, I had some really spiritually productive Lents.  There was the one year in college where I wrote out a big list of all the things I would give up - things like drinking coffee, checking Facebook before the evening, and "wearing my hair down"  - (my hair was pretty long at that point, and I'd noticed that I'd begun to spend way too much time and thought each morning primping it and making it look nice).  Even when I spent a week in Italy, I continued to experiment with new ways to wear it pinned up.  Including this unfortunate attempt at "Heidi braids" the day we visited Assisi:

Not a suitable look for you, Christine!
There was another Lent where I decided to join Tom (who I was dating at the time) in practicing the Byzantine-style fast for the whole of Lent.  This is where you not only give up meat EVERY day, but also pretty much all animals products - milk, butter, cheese, etc..  You're essentially a vegan.   Plus, you're not supposed to consume wine or olive oil.  So the foods available to you are...simple breads, and vegetables. Or, in our case, you could just eat a steady diet of french fries!  This was during the time when we were young and stupid and wasted lots of money going out to eat way too often.  And what's the one vegan option on most restaurant's menus?  French fries.

For the past 5+ years, I've been pregnant or breastfeeding during Lent.  So since I'm technically dispensed from the need to fast from food - on the two measly fasting days a year that are left on the church calendar -  I've definitely taken advantage of that, and not been very strict at all with any food-related penances during Lent.  And I feel like this laxity has carried over into the rest of my attitude towards Lent and any sacrifices I choose for myself.  I'll think, "well, I"m pregnant/recently post-partum!  That's sacrificial enough for me this year!"  And who knows?  Maybe I'm not entirely wrong in thinking this way....but I will say, in looking back over how I've actually welcomed and celebrated Easter these past few years, as compared to in the past....I  just don't think I've been living our holy or focused enough Lents.


We went to the Easter vigil Mass again this year.  At our church, it doesn't start until 10pm, and ends sometime after 1am.  It's long!

This year, still being so newly post-partum and dealing with a baby who doesn't like to sleep in her own cradle at night, I'm already feeling tired much of the day.  I had told Tom there was a "100% chance" I would fall asleep if we decided to go to the vigil, but he still pressed for us to do it.  Well, I was right - I probably slept through about half of it.

It worked out okay, though.  All the kids slept as well - spread out across an entire pew :-)

For the small amount of the Mass I was actually fully awake for, I wasted way too much time stressing out over something I thought I heard our priest say to us.  As he was going down the aisle, sprinkling holy water on everyone during the Renewal of the Baptismal Vows, he glanced at all of our sleeping kids, and I heard him say something like "they're too young to be here."  I was so shocked that he would reprimand us like that, publicly, in the middle of the Mass.  Didn't Christ say "let the little children come to me"?  What does it matter if young children sleep through most of a vigil Mass?  They're not bothering anyone, and there are still plenty of open seats left!  At least we're all here as a family!

I spent the next twenty minutes thinking back over other little thing this priest had ever said or done that I wasn't entirely happy about, and basically letting myself feel totally victimized.  Not the best way to spend the holiest Mass of the year.....So it's probably for the best that I decided not to go up during Communion, considering I'd spent much of the last hour asleep, anyways.

When Mass had ended, Tom made some comment about how cute the kids all looked, asleep on the pew.  I sarcastically rejoined, "yeah, well, Fr. _______ didn't think so.".  Tom didn't understand what I was talking about.  After sharing what I thought the priest had said to us, Tom explained what had really happened.  The priest had been joking about Flora - being less than three weeks old - as being "young to be here", and then had added that he "couldn't bless her yet" (since she has not been baptized yet, and thus has no baptismal vows to renew).  Oh :-/

So I felt extremely petty for thinking all those thoughts.

A friend of ours snapped this photo of all our sleeping babes after Mass.  I know, I know, I look really sleepy!


Easter Day itself was pretty nice.  The kids were quite excited to finally eat candy again (I'd convinced them all to give it up for Lent).  The weather was unseasonably warm - in the low 70s during March! During naptime, Tom and I took some time to pull out our rugs and furniture for the front porch, and get things set up for summer.  Then we went to my aunt's house for a nice Easter dinner with the extended family.

Happy Easter to all - Resurrexit Sicut Dixit!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Flora's Birth Story

My labor with Flora was pretty different from those of my previous babies, whose labors had all pretty much followed the same pattern.

The reason for this is that she was in the posterior, or sunny-side-up position.  Linus had been facing this way as well, which had been very concerning to me as my pregnancy with him progressed.  During that last month of pregnancy, I tried all sorts of positions and tricks to help him to turn.  A week before he was born, much to my relief, he did turn, and I was able to have a very straight-forward labor.

This time around.....all I can say is, I got lazy.  I didn't feel like contorting myself into all the awkward positions each night after the kids were in bed, in hopes of turning the baby.  The midwives assured me that as long as a baby was head-down, a natural labor was totally possible....just that a sunny-side-up baby may take "more work." I guess I just decided I was willing to find out what "more work" meant...

On a Thursday morning, six days before my due date, I began having some light contractions.  I sent Tom and my doula texts to put them "on alert," and excitedly waited for them to pick up.  But they never did.  They just fizzled out.  Over the next four days, the same thing frustratingly kept happening.  I'd start having contractions, they'd build for a while, and then gradually peter our.  Night-times were the worst, for some reason, with a lot of extra strong contractions that kept waking me up every half hour.  On Sunday night,they got so bad that I couldn't stay lying down at all.  I attempted to take a bath, but my stomach was so large, it mostly stuck out of the water, and didn't benefit from the soothing warmth of the water at all.  I ended up "sleeping" (but not really) in a rocking chair in our bedroom, cushioned with every pillow I could gather from around the house,

That morning (Monday), Tom opened his eyes a little before his alarm rang, and I said, "I'm done!  This cannot continue another night.  I need to have this baby today!"  He suggested I try [TMI WARNING!] nipple stimulation to get the contractions to pick up.  I figured it was now or never, because I didn't want him to leave for work only to have me call him back home later.  Well, it was immediately effective.  Contractions quickly picked up to every six minutes - the closest and most regular they had been yet - and were getting stronger.  We started making the phone calls - to the midwives, my doula, and someone - anyone - who could come take all our kids at 7 in the morning.

Due to some miscommunication, my mother - who was the one supposed to be "on call" at that time - couldn't end up taking our kids.  We had to call my dad, who was already at work.  The midwife wanted me to come in right away, since I was GBS-positive this pregnancy, so there was no time to wait for my dad get to our house.  We had to take all the kids with us to the hospital where he would meet us to get the kids as soon as possible....even though this meant making him drive into the city during rush hour.

Tom and the kids brought me to the delivery room, then went out to walk the halls and wait for my dad (Tom didn't want to kids around to watch me in labor, since it would have been concerning to them and/or distracting to me).  My doula still hadn't arrived either.

I was getting a little concerned because - once again! - my contractions were starting to peter out.  I worried that the midwife would tell me I had come in too early, and we needed to go back home, and had just wasted everyone's time. But when she checked my dilation,   I was already 8 cm!  I guess the four days-worth of contractions really paid off!  She told me, "your bag of waters is right here.  I could break it now, and you'd have this baby."  I explained to her that I definitely did want her to break it soon (my water has never broken on its own, and I've always asked the midwives to do it when I'm close to the end and things are starting to stall out), but that I absolutely wanted to wait until my husband and my doula were there first!

Well, my doula arrived in pretty short order.  My husband was another story.  It ended up taking my dad an hour and a half to get to the hospital!  During that time, I was pretty much just chilling on a birth ball, having occasional - but not intense - contractions, and chatting with my doula and the friendly but socially-awkward nurse.

When Tom finally walked in, we were all very ready to get started.  "Alright, let's have this baby!" said my midwife.  She had me get back on the bed so she could break my water.  But - and I'm not entirely clear on the details here - the baby had changed position such that there wasn't much she could do.  The midwife could only access a little piece of the amniotic sac, and so hardly any fluid came out, and it didn't release much pressure.

My midwife said we needed to get contractions to pick up again.  She said I could try nipple stimulation again, or we could use Pitocin.  Well, Pitocin is basically my worst fear when it comes to birth (aside from a c-section), so I  agreed to try things the old-fashioned way.  Once again, it was immediately effective, and I began having strong contractions again.

After several contractions hadn't brought any progress, it was clear that the baby just didn't want to move down.  I was almost fully dilated, but the baby's head was still not fully engaged in my pelvis.  Because she was facing the wrong way, it was hard for her to move down - the geometry just didn't work out very well.

My midwife told me I'd have to push the baby down.  "Oh, but I don't feel like I have to push yet," I naively replied.  Yes, she told me, but I would have to push anyways. And while I did that, she would manually push back that last lip of cervix to try to get it over the baby's head.  Sounds fun, right?

I won't say it's the most painful labor I've experienced, but there was something quite unpleasant about those next five or six contractions.  I was asked to bring on each one myself, using nipple stimulation.  It was like I was willingly and knowingly subjecting myself to misery.....a feeling that's distinctly different from having to deal with a contraction that comes upon you on its own, a suffering that you just have to bear with.  My midwife would nod to tell me it was time to make another one happen. I would frown and whine, then just go ahead with it.  A contraction would start immediately, and then I'd have to push, even though my body didn't "want" to push.  It was strange and unpleasant.

As the nurse was setting up the room for the delivery, I asked her to bring over the mirror on a pole for me again.  I love that thing.  I've given birth to all my babies while semi-reclined on my back - which is actually a great position for me.  With the mirror at the foot of the bed, I can watch all the action as the baby is coming out, and I find it incredibly motivating.  After one of my pushes finally brought the baby down, and I finally saw her little head in the mirror, I was ready.  One big push, and she was out!

Tom may be a little embarrassed about me sharing this detail on the internet, but, well, he burst into tears as soon as he saw her...the way he's done at the birth of all our kids.  I think it's very sweet.  Meanwhile, I always just kind of lay there for a few moments in stunned silence, not sure if I can believe that it's finally over.

Flora was the most vernix-y baby I've ever seen.  Vernix is the naturally waxy/lotiony substance that protects the baby's skin in the whom.  But usually, most of it has been absorbed by the time they are full term.  She came out loaded with the stuff.  Several people in the room used, at various points, the very descriptive term "cheesy" to describe how she looked.  haha...eww.

"cheesy" baby
I will admit, I was a bit grossed out by it as I was holding her on my chest right after she was born.  At one point, I wiped my lips with my hand without thinking about it, and accidentally got a mouthful of vernix.  After that, I told the nurses I was good with them taking the baby to weigh her and clean her up!

The consensus of my midwives and my doula is that had Flora been facing the right way, I probably would have gone into labor on Thursday, when my contractions first started.  My body was trying to go into labor that whole time, but the baby just wasn't able to get low enough to help build the contractions.  It's funny, because I was thinking about it, and I'm pretty sure that all my labors have started on Thursdays.  I really think there must be an unconscious psychological reason for, my body waits until the end of the week when things are lowest stress, and when it will be most convenient for Tom to miss a few days of work.

Tom showing off the baby footprints the nurse put on his arm

It amazes me how much humans depend on other humans sometimes to help them in labor.  I mean, this labor was "natural" in every way....I had no drugs or interventions.  And yet I relied so much on the knowledge and assistance of other people to help it happen.  Without my doula helping me stay relaxed and bringing me cold towels for my forehead....or without a midwife being a bit of a drill sergeant and insisting that I bring on contractions or push a baby down into the birth canal when I really didn't want to...or without her physically helping to break my water or open my cervix....what would have happened??


Flora has been a very avid nurser as well as a frequent sleeper.  She's two weeks old now, but still sleeping a ton.  On the other hand, when she's awake, she's been pretty fussy.  She isn't as easy to calm down as my other babies were.  Primarily, because she really doesn't care for the pacifier.  I no longer doubt other parents who say that one of their kids doesn't take them!  I keep trying, but she's just not interested.  We're slowly figuring out what little "tricks" settle her down, but most of our tried-and-true methods from the other kids just don't work with her.  I guess she's just my little wild card.

Now that I have four kids' names to keep track of, I find myself mixing them up all the time.  I'm already acting like the stereotypical mom-with-a-big-family, calling my kids by at least two wrong names before I finally hit on the right one!

Monday, March 14, 2016

One Week In

Today is my first solo day with four kids.

I keep remembering that I have four kids now, and feeling blown away by the fact of it.  How did this happen?  It really sneaked up on me.  It seems like just yesterday that I came home from the hospital with baby Sly.  And my kids have all been born just about two years apart, which doesn't seem like a crazy pace (unlike my grandmother's, who had her eight kids in ten years!), but somehow, we've already hit four.

When we're out of the house, older parents often look at our children wistfully and tell us "it goes by so fast."  For a while, I think I was too caught up in the thick of things to really be aware of the truth of that statement, but suddenly, it's really starting to hit me.  It's all going by so fast!

Tom amazingly managed to pull off a week of paternity leave from work, and my mother-in-law was also visiting until yesterday.  So the transition to becoming a family of six was definitely smoothed out a bit.

But as for today, and having to deal with the daily tedium of caring for so many young children, I'm managing so far,

I was worried the older kids would have an especially rough day today since they're coming off a  full week of exciting visits from friends and family, and a very jumbled schedule.

Stella fell asleep at the dinner table last night.  That's what a new baby in the family + daylight savings time can do to you, I guess

This was Sly at lunch today, upset because he didn't want to eat the tuna noodle casserole that he wouldn't finish at breakfast.....that he wouldn't finish at dinner the night before.  Yes, we're those parents.
But we're making it through.  It helped that we didn't have to go anywhere this morning, and I could just jump back into our former routines.  I've been working really hard to keep my attitude in check today.  Because I know myself well enough to realize that once I let myself lose my patience with the kids once, it becomes that much easier to lose it again and again.

We "did school" today for the second time all month.  I'm not going to waste time feeling guilty about it, because, hey - I was nine months pregnant/newly postpartum for that whole time!  And what's homeschooling all about, if not the ability to be flexible and adjust things to your own family life?
Ever-pleasant Linus, peeling his clementine into the trash

A number of friends and people from church have offered to bring us meals over these next few weeks, which will be so helpful for me.  Obviously, providing meals to a new mother is useful in a material sense (i.e. there is a meal already sitting in my fridge for me, mostly prepared and ready to go), but I'm especially appreciating what it does for me mentally (i.e. the sheer freedom of not having to worry about what I'll make for dinner or whether I'll have to drag four kids out to the supermarket for something relieves so much potential stress).  Seriously - if you know anyone expecting a new baby, try to bring them a meal!

My Flora - what a doll baby!

I think I may consider easing back into more regular blogging.....I have a birth story that I owe it to Flora to write down, at any rate.  And the photos on my header and side bar are in sore need of an update!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A New Baby

I interrupt my otherwise undefined "blogging break" to bring some happy tidings!

On Monday, a new little girl joined our family - Flora Therese.  Everyone is healthy and well.  She was in the posterior position ("sunny side up"), meaning it took me some extra work to get her out.  But as always, it was worth it.

We're all in love with our sweet new baby.

The kids had been well-prepared with lots of books and discussions about how babies grow and what they are like.  They have all been so anxious to meet her.  Sly should be genuinely helpful. Stella is quite willing, but I expect she will prove to be "too" helpful.  Linus is going to have some trouble learning to share his favorite spot - Mommy's lap.

The proud big brother