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Starting My Own Village

2015 was a year of humbling for me.

 

Being pregnant with Peach sent me into the worst physical pain, limitations, and frustrations I have ever had to experience.  So many doctors, specialists, physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic care! You name it, I tried it.  I have suffered from SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction) with each of my pregnancies, but this last pregnancy raked me through the coals. I began dealing with pain earlier.  I was using a cane earlier, and by 5 months I needed a walker.  At 7 months, Milkman got me a wheelchair so I could leave the house if we were going somewhere that didn’t allow sitting the whole time.

 

There were times in the day when Milkman was at work where I was so incapacitated I would crawl across the house to get to the bathroom from the couch.  There were many evenings where in order to get to our bedroom to get ready for bed, Milkman would essentially have to hold me up and kind of drag me to get there.  Simple tasks like putting on underwear required my husband’s assistance.

 

On top of all that, I had nausea throughout my entire pregnancy.  Many days I consisted on protein shakes and huge cups of ice, paired with Zofran and Zantac. It doesn’t get much more humbling for a woman with an “anything you can do, I can do better” attitude.

 

Every now and then, someone would offer to do something to help me out, and assuming they were asking out of guilt for my hobble, and not out of an actual desire to help, I would smile and assure them I had a handle on things. In reality, I spent many nights crying in pain, feeling inadequate.  My family lived on really crappy meals, my house was in absolute shambles.  Not just like things out of place– living in actual squalor.  Dirty dishes for days, bathrooms going embarrassingly long without a good scrubbing (my favorite household chore normally!) Milkman tried his hardest to pick up my slack.  After a long day at work, he was making dinner, cleaning the house as much as he had time for, tending to our toddlers, doing the bed time routine on his own.  After the kids were in bed, he was folding laundry, helping me get my pajamas on, working more.  He let me stay in bed in the mornings since I was in too much pain to get much sleep, making breakfast while on conference calls and wiping bottoms til I would text him that I was awake and needed help to get out of bed.

 

In all this, the man never complained. He has since told me that towards the end of my pregnancy, he was exhausted and frustrated and wanted to be done with it (me too, babe!) I feel like I could have saved him even some of that exhaustion by accepting the few offers for help that were offered to me.

 

Since becoming a mother in 2012, I have lamented about wanting “a village”.  I have wanted the support of other mothers, someone to help me with my kids, someone I can help with their kids.  Older women, teaching me helpful things.  Meals exchanged, dishes washed for each other… Basically, women to help bear the beautiful burden of motherhood with.  I have wished for it, prayed for it, and talked about it!  Where is my unicorn commune, filled with other people like me??

 

I had Peach in October, and expected to heal up, just like I did after my first 3 pregnancies, and I didn’t.  I am much better, but I still need a cane many days at parts of my day.  I limp and I am sore and I am unable to do many of the things I would like to do.  And last month, I decided I was done looking for a “village” to take me in and pamper me and make me their pet.  I was going to start being the woman I wanted other women to be for me.

 

In one week, I had two friends and their households come down with illnesses.  I remembered how hard it was to cook when I felt like crap and thought I would offer to bring them a meal.  Right before I went to ask, I thought, “But I don’t have anything fancy to offer!  I don’t have many fresh groceries!” And then I realized, those are exactly the thoughts that keep people from helping each other.  I looked in my freezer and realized I had just the stuff I needed to make a vat of chicken soup.  It bubbled away all day and when Milkman came home, I ventured out and dropped off portions at each house.  Nothing fancy to go with it, no pretty pinterest labels to go with it.  Just ugly chicken soup.  A couple weeks ago my big sister and her clan all caught the flu.  I was dealing with too much pain to make and deliver a meal, so Milkman grabbed them some pho and dropped it off.  Nothing fancy.  Not home made. But it helped her out.

 

The next week my friend from church texted to ask if she could randomly bring dinner over.  I was just about to refuse.  Then I realized just how nice it would be to not make dinner that night and I accepted, and was blessed with dinner from Cheesecake Factory (and cheesecake! OMGOODNESSYES).  A meal when I didn’t need someone to bring me one because of illness?  That’s a whole new level of awesome.  I was humbled and blown away.

 

I can wait for my house to be spotless for you to come over, and then I’ll never invite you, because that’ll never happen.  I can wait til I have the perfect 5 course meal to bring you some food, but then I won’t ever bring you a meal.  I can wait til I have makeup on and hair done to say it’s alright for a play date, but then you’ll think you have to do that beforehand too.   If the shoe is on the other foot, frankly, I don’t care what you are wearing, what your house looks like, and how many hours and dollars you spent on a meal for me.  I just want to live life with other women.  I want love and help and I want to do the same for you

 

I am not Supermom. I can’t do anything you can do better–I can’t even walk further than a few hundred feet without limping and clutching my cane.  This year, I’m done refusing your help.  I’m done waiting til the help I can offer is perfectly polished and pretty.  I’m ready to start my own village.  I’ll bring the ugly chicken soup, cooked on my dirty stove.  Join me?

 

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I Have 4 Children

It’s been 16 months since we lost Ezra. I never realized how profoundly losing a baby could affect every part of your life. I have laid awake in bed at night fearing people will forget my 3rd baby because he’s not here anymore, especially since his rainbow sister, Peach, was born. I don’t want people to forget him, I want people to always know that he was real and he was loved and he is and always will be my baby. 

The week we were planning on getting family photos taken, I had a meltdown after the children went to bed. I stood barefoot in my dirty kitchen, crying in Milkman’s arms, feeling like our family will never be complete without Ezra here. 

That night before I fell asleep, I determined that I would do something to make our family photos that weekend represent each of my four children. What better way, than with a green balloon– which we released on the day he was cremated and on his 1st birthday. 

Ezra, I’ll never forget you. And I hope people will always remember that even though I have 3 children in my arms, I have been a mother to 4 babies. You are so special to us, and I pray your memory lives on long and strong for many years to come.

  

For Sooster

To My Big Sister,

I know I’m parenting differently from how you did. I know that the resources and support groups I have are more than what you had. I know you have some regrets in your parenting journey (um, actually I think we all do!) but I just want you to know, you made an impact on how I parent.

I’m proud of you. For feeding your girls. You nursed, and it wasn’t as long as I have nursed mine, but that’s okay, because you nourished them and fed them and kept them safe. Formula worked for you after a while, and I’m glad my nieces have been well loved and had full tummies. That’s what matters.

I’m thankful for you. While I was going to concerts, smoking too many menthols, and living the single life, you told me about the 4th trimester. And I remembered. When I had my own babies, you reminded me that I should soothe my children when they were tiny, no matter what anyone said, they were little and needed mama.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry you felt pressured to put your girls in the nursery when you weren’t quite okay with it. I’m sorry that you didn’t have access to the loads of parenting resources I have today and that it was hard to find the support you needed. I’m sorry well-meaning mothers tried to push their parenting styles on you.

I look up to you. Like I said, we do stuff differently. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t influenced me. It doesn’t mean I’m not incredibly proud of you. It doesn’t mean I think my way is better. You’ve protected, loved, nurtured, and cared for your girls. You homeschool them, make special activities for them, and bake the most elaborate cakes for their birthdays. 

I love you. And I’m proud to be your little sister. 

Love,

 “Tordy”

  

Fathers Mourn Losses, Too.

My beloved husband Milkman wrote this and asked me to share it today for Infant and Pregnancy Loss Day. 

I’m so thankful he put his thoughts in writing– dad’s need to be remembered when it comes to pregnancy and child loss as well.

Here’s what he has to say:
  
Death is a natural occurrence and it’s something that everyone will experience one day and yet, it’s often only talked about in hushed tones. Miscarriages and child loss are much more common occurrence than most people realize and yet they rarely, if ever, are discussed. The issue is even less discussed by or in reference to fathers. That’s why I’m writing today.

 A long time ago I heard that one of the worst things that could ever happen to a parent is to bury their child, and now that I’ve experienced it, I have to agree. Before I was married, I had friends that lost their baby to miscarriage early on in the pregnancy. While I was sad for them, I didn’t truly understand what it meant, until last year, when we lost our sweet little Ezra Eugene at 17 weeks. 

 The searing pain and loss cannot be fully expressed in words. The emotions a mother experiences are often more visibly expressed and realized, because women tend to express their emotions more outwardly. The emotions of the father however, are not as realized or discussed, because men often don’t have the same outward emotional expression as women. This may be because the father wants to be strong for his wife or it could be that he doesn’t know how to express what he’s feeling (I tried crying at various times and couldn’t). Whatever the reason, chances are the father’s hurting just as much as the mother and needs support too.  

To my fellow fathers who have lost a child, by miscarriage or other loss, no matter how you express your grief, know that you’re not alone. Support your wife, love your wife, be a shoulder to cry on, but also share with her because this is just as much your loss as it is your wife’s and chances are she wants to know that you’re dealing with it too.
In honor of infant and pregnancy loss day, I wanted to write to ask you friends and relatives of those who have experienced this loss, please remember the fathers. Don’t stop supporting the mothers who went through the physical pain of carrying their child for whatever period of time, but please remember that for many fathers like myself, a simple recognition, prayer or word of encouragement is needed and can go along way. 

 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

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It’s Your Due Date, Ezra.

Dear Ezra,

Today is your due date. Of course being the crazy birth junkie your mama is, I call it a guess date. Had you not been born at 17 weeks and you made it to full term you would most likely have chosen your own birthday anyway.

But time is important to your mama, and milestones are important to we silly humans. I’ve always thought it a nice gesture God gives us time when it is meaningless to Him… But I digress.

Today is for warm. 77 degrees, bright blue skies, and windy. The sun is out and your big brother Captain and your big sister Mamitas have played in the backyard all day. Your little sibling, our sweet little rainbow blessing, tucked safely in my womb, is making his or her presence known by making me moan away with nausea, headaches, and an aversion to any food that isn’t a cheeto. I’ve parented from a horizontal position all day. Papa just came home. He’s worked hard all day and just came home early to help me with your energetic siblings…

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He came over to kiss and hold me and we cried a few seconds before your big brother and sister jumped on papa’s back and started talking about the cat and how many deals did papa make today and did papa bring home food. And then we watched a hummingbird drink nectar from our lemon blossoms while Captain hid behind us and asked if it was a bee, and I was reminded that grieving when children are around is done in spurts, in between kissing owies, making meals, answering questions, wiping bottoms, and nursing thirsty toddlers.

Today would have been so different if it was your birthday. There still would have been pain, tears, emotional upheaval… But there would have been much joy. We would laugh and I would be experiencing your first latch and smelling your sweet little head. I would have been gushing over tiny size 0 diapers and holding your long newborn fingers and sharing your name with the world for the first time.

Of course we know God works all things for good and for His glory. 10,000 people have read your story. People don’t refer to you as my miscarriage, they call you Ezra. Because you were a person and so very real. Your memory is loved and cherished not just by papa and me, but by our friends and family, and even strangers I’ve never met have emailed me and shared their love for you. I wouldn’t have had the same compassion I do now on families who have lost their babies. I wouldn’t have been diagnosed and treated for early stages of endometriosis, which ultimately led to becoming pregnant again… And though this child never could and never will take your place, and though this child will never fill the empty place you’ve left in my heart, I am thankful to not be at your due date with an empty womb, though my arms and heart still feel very empty without you.

It’s been 23 weeks to the day since I held you last. You were beautiful but your skin was so cold I could hardly stand it, I wanted you to be warm and breathing and living and thriving, but it was not meant to be. I wear a chain of green yarn from the blanket I made you around my wrist and it hasn’t come off since you were born. I have two necklaces from my dear friends Ashley and Jessica with your name on them and I wear them and Captain calls them “Wezza necklace” and touches the pendants gently and asks if I’m sad and I miss Wezza. I have a quilt made just to your size from my friend Melody. It sits with my pictures of you and your foot prints. And then of course I have your ashes. It’s all I have left of you physically, and every time I look at that little royal blue bag that holds the box your remains are held in, I can’t believe that you didn’t make it.

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Ezra, my sweet boy, you’ve touched my life in such big ways, and while I don’t know why you couldn’t live I know that I miss you. And more than that, I know that I love you. You will always be numbered among my living children because I grew you in my body and I loved you so intensely I can’t go an hour without thinking about you. My beautiful, sleeping baby… Mama loves you.

Love,
Mama

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The Short Life of Ezra Eugene

End of June, I was feeling sick. I couldn’t seem to keep food down for very long and not many foods sounded that good. So, 5 days before my period was supposed to start, in the afternoon,’I took a pregnancy test. I left the test on the ledge of the bathtub while it processed and went to go check on the kiddos. I came back to a positive. I was shocked! And so excited!

Because of how I had broken the news to Milkman the last two times, I decided to make it a happy reveal this time. So when Milkman came home from work I didn’t say anything and acted normal. The next morning I couldn’t hold it in any longer so I had Captain repeat after me: “mama is gonna have another baby!” I got it on film. Milkman was so excited and surprised. He hugged me and kissed me and shared in my excitement. We were both convinced that I was carrying another baby boy.

I got healthy right away, working out often and cutting out sugar, determined to have a healthier pregnancy than the last two times. Even through the awful all-day nausea that accompanied my pregnancy, I ate as healthy as I could. On days where I wasn’t throwing up or doubled over in pain in the evenings, I would force myself over to the gym.

We had our appointments with the OBGYN and then with my midwife. Saw our little one bouncing around on the ultrasound machine a couple times. Heard the baby’s little rushing heartbeat. All was normal and well. (Well as one could be with lots of nausea, food aversions and extreme
Fatigue while chasing two toddlers. ;))

We decided not to share the news of our pregnancy at all, and then once I hit my second trimester, we chose to tell our immediate families. When I got pregnant with Captain just 3 months after our wedding, some people were shocked but mostly polite. When I got pregnant with Mamitas 7 months after Captain was born, people were less than discreet about their opinions on having children so close together. So when we found out we were expecting another blessing, I felt like I wanted to protect this baby from judgement, and just enjoy the secret with my husband for as long as possible.

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A few weeks ago, right after moving. the kids and I went on a work trip with milkman to a nice hotel and while there I began contracting… It got up to 5 times an hour. I put the kids to bed and got in the bathtub and was chugging water. I called the OB office the next day and was told not to come in since I wasn’t bleeding. I said that I was concerned because 5 times an hour seemed a bit much this early in the pregnancy. The nurse suggested that I was dehydrated. I informed her I was taking in my usual 100+ ozs a day and she said if it got worse to call again.

Within two days all my nausea disappeared, and though I was excited for a little more normalcy, I felt something was wrong. I began sleeping extreme amounts. I was going to bed at 8:30pm, napping with the kids during the day and falling asleep on my feet. I couldn’t get enough sleep. I began counting down the days to my next appointment, so I could hear that heartbeat. People were beginning to notice my belly growing and my friends were slowly finding out and giving me their love and congratulations. I pulled out all my maternity clothing to start washing it as I knew I would soon be unable to hide my condition in regular clothing.

Finally the day of my appointment was nigh. I dropped the kids off with my mom and on the drive I prayed, “Lord, something hasn’t felt right… I pray this baby has a heartbeat and if this baby doesn’t, give me strength.”

I got to my appointment and the midwife talked and talked and all I could think about was her turning on that Doppler. And then she did… And there was nothing. No rushing of the placenta, no train like heartbeat from the baby, no static from the baby moving. Just… White noise. Empty.

She said she was going to bring in the ultrasound machine. I already knew. I texted Milkman and told him there was no heartbeat.

When she got the ultrasound machine hooked up and started to scan me, I saw a completely, perfectly still baby on the screen. I didn’t even need to see the absence of a heartbeat to know the baby was no longer alive. I knew by the stillness. We’ve never gotten any good ultrasound pictures of our babies, because they move too much in the womb. All three have. A few tears slid down my cheeks. She began taking measurements and broke the silence. “I assume you understand what’s going on right now?” I nodded through my tears. “Are you okay, sweetie?” She asked.

I couldn’t talk right away. I just silently let my tears flow for my little lifeless baby. She sat me up and I cleaned the cold sono gel off of my full belly. “God is good… All the time. He is good, and I’ll trust Him. He is good, but oh my sweet baby!” I sobbed a bit more. “He is good even when I don’t understand Him. But I know he’s good and He’ll continue to be good.”

The midwife was very kind. She kissed each of my cheeks and held me. I called Milkman after she left the room to make arrangements for me at the main hospital to confirm our loss, and he wept. And I wept. I called my mama, who was with my babies and she cried. And later when I told my papa, he cried and held me and I felt like a little girl. Lost and yet safe in my papa’s arms.

The rest of the day is a blur. I just remember everyone being very kind to me. Receptionists, ultrasound techs, nurses, all so sweet.

We waited for the doctor for well over an hour after the ultrasound. When he saw us he was pleasant (not normally a doctor I care for, due to his brash personality). Really he was the kindest he’s ever been to me. He said that the ultrasound confirmed what the midwife had discovered that morning and that I had a few options. He didn’t want me to miscarry the baby at home due to the baby’s size. So he have me a couple options:

1. Have a laminaria inserted and then a D&E 24 hours later
2. Be induced with cytotec and deliver the baby vaginally at the hospital.

He strongly suggested I go with option 1. He said it was easiest and safest and the best option. I asked for details on the D&E and I don’t think I heard much after suction and “extracting the tissue piece by piece”. I told him I would need time to consider both and I would get back to him by Thursday.

Over the next few days I asked Milkman what he felt most comfortable with. He asked me what I wanted but I needed him to answer before he heard what I wanted. He felt that the D&E would be safer and easier and quicker. He didn’t want to see me in pain and possibly have to deal with 24 hours of labor.

I shared my heart with him. I wanted my baby to have the chance to be born whole. I felt like I owed my child that privilege. I told him I would never, ever judge a mom if she chose to do it differently. I can understand both sides really, but I just felt like I needed my baby to be born whole and with dignity. I could see that this made Milkman a little uneasy but he respected my decision.

I began to feel very uneasy with my little one being tossed aside as medical waste after delivery, and began praying for peace, since we couldn’t afford the cremation. Within 24 hours my friends from Mamitas’ online birth group had raised all the funds needed for the cremation. I didn’t then, and I still don’t have words to describe the level of gratitude I have for each person who donated. Some strangers, some online friends, family, church members… I was dumbfounded. My little one would be born with dignity and would be taken from the hospital with dignity.

The waiting was strange. The feeling of still being pregnant, but your baby being lifeless is a very odd sensation of being both full and very empty simultaneously. The worst were the phantom kicks. I’d swear that little body was moving and be excited for a split second, only to remember that the baby was not moving, because the baby was not alive.

I sang many hymns. Read many Psalms. I kissed Mamitas cheeks extra and soaked in every smile from Captain. I ate so much chocolate. I read novels to escape my current situation. I cried often. I took long, hot showers. I felt so encouraged by scripture and by the floods of encouragement pouring in, but I felt a sadness that I can’t describe. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived this without my faith in Jesus Christ. I never felt despair, and it was because of leaning on The Lord.

It felt like a long time, but it wasn’t really…

We were booked for labor and delivery at 7pm on a Thursday night. My mama took the kids and I asked milkman to stop at Michael’s on the way to pick up yarn. We picked out a lovely, soft green yarn for a blanket. I had no clue what state our little one would be born at, if I would even be able to see the baby, or the baby’s gender, but I thought if nothing else, having something to crochet might be therapeutic.

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We arrived at the hospital. Took the elevator to the 3rd floor and walked to labor and delivery, where we had delivered both Captain and Mamitas. I went to the nurses station and began crying when I was being checked in. Our very compassionate nurse took us back to a room far away from all the over rooms and was so sweet to us. I undressed and put on a hospital gown while milkman cried on the other side of the accordion door in our room. Our hospital plays a lullaby over the loud speaker every time a baby is born… And just as I sat down on the bed, it played. I lost it. Milkman lost it. We held each other on the hospital bed and cried and cried, knowing our baby would soon be born, but we would never hear a cry or a heartbeat. We sang hymns and praise songs, read scripture and prayed.

The doc came in shortly after and explained the process again, while I crocheted the little green blanket. she offered me every drug under the sun and though I am a natural birth junkie, I was ready to take anything and everything they could throw at me. We did one last ultrasound and saw our still baby. So very still… A while– and many tears– later, the doc came in and inserted the cytotec. That was it. The beginning of the end. More tears.

They offered me sleeping pills, which as an insomniac I gladly accepted, only to find another drug to add to my list of medications that don’t affect Rachel! But The Lord is good and granted a little sleep. At 3am more cytotec was inserted.

By 4, Milkman was still sleeping away in the fold out chair next to me. I began contracting. I kept telling myself I was going to ask for medication and as each contraction and cramp intensified, I would say to myself, “next one, I’ll hit the call button for morphine… Next one… I got this one…” I breathed. I read Psalms. I sang hymns quietly. One song in particular was a reoccurring theme the whole week since we had found out about the baby’s death and had sung in the hospital several times, was “10,000 Reasons.” I sang it quietly in the dark and then I felt a detaching. My membranes ruptured. And blood began pouring out of me. I cried. Oh, I cried so hard I shook. I woke Milkman who called our sweet nurse. She helped clean me up and asked if I wanted meds and I said “not yet” through the tears. It was the most awful feeling I have ever felt to feel my baby detaching from my body. I have had nightmares about it since. I bled more and contracted more. I felt a burning and knew the baby was on their way, and I pushed. It was still and dark in our room. Just me and Milkman, I saw this tiny little body come out of me at 6:05am, and Milkman and I began crying. He called for the nurse, who came in and panicked and asked for a doctor immediately, only to hear another nurse inform her that both docs were in surgery. I told her I was okay and delivered the placenta in two pieces. She began saying “oh your sweet baby, oh my God so tiny! Oh sweet baby, oh my goodness!” She tenderly wrapped him in a towel and handed him to me.

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I marveled at him. Oh, you just couldn’t believe it unless you saw it. He had the most perfect little feet. His toes looked like tiny little bubbles. I counted each one. His hands! Beautiful fingers, starting to form nail beds. He had the beginnings of nostrils and the tiniest mouth. My favorite part were his earlobes. Paper thin and just beginning to form. The sweetest little things you’ve ever seen. He was bigger than the docs had measured him at. He was fearfully and wonderfully made. I can’t even type this out without crying and smiling simultaneously. Milkman and I cried and pointed out each tiny feature.

Milkman and I had picked out names for the baby. If a girl, we would name her Mary Jo after MM’s grandma and if a boy, Ezra Eugene. Ezra was a name we had both really liked and I wanted Eugene after MM’s grandpa whom I adore and am beyond intrigued by. Milkman held his little body and kept saying, “oh, my little Ezra!” His name fit him so well.

After other medical issues, I finally did accept that morphine and I wrapped Ezra in the blanket I had made him. We met our day nurse, who was an angel, she was so tender with us. And I drifted in and out of sleep for an hour while holding Ezra.

Our nurse came in and took pictures of our sweet, forever sleeping baby. She touched him tenderly, took his footprints in ink and in clay… She was so respectful of his little body. He was so precious.

We filled out paperwork for his body to be released to the funeral home for cremation, and Milkman went to the pharmacy to fill my scrip for Methergine and Norco. I was alone with my little Ezra. I sang to him and talked to him. His mouth had opened a bit, and in a moment of emotion I expressed some of my breast milk onto my fingertip and gently placed a drop in his mouth. I wept.

Milkman came back, we said our goodbyes and placed Ezra’s tiny little wrapped body in a white basket the Nurse brought in to carry his body to the mortuary at the hospital, where Ezra would be kept until the mortuary came to retrieve his body.

When it was time for us to leave, the charge nurse came in and wrapped Ezra up and closed the lid to the basket and took his little body away. I felt so empty. Not spiritually, but physically. So deep was the void that he had left, I felt like my core was gone completely.

We went to lunch, surprisingly hungry. I ate and we left for home. My mama brought Mamitas and Captain home and I napped with Captain for hours. People brought food and flowers. I couldn’t make it out of bed for some time. The bleeding, the cramping, the awful emotional pain and headache from crying…

We went the next day to the mortuary and signed papers for Ezra’s cremation. Signing my name wasn’t hard, but writing “mother” next to all the lines reading “relation to the deceased,” proved to be extremely difficult. One word. Mother. A powerful word that invokes thoughts of comfort, love, and protection, and nothing I could have done could have kept him from his death. I felt helpless writing that word. We were told he would be cremated the following Wednesday evening.

I kept busy the next few days. Chasing the babies, washing dishes, cleaning floors, doing laundry. Nights were the hardest for both Milkman and I. The quiet reminded us of Ezra’s absence.

On Wednesday we went to our favorite beach with Mamitas and Captain. We got three, green balloons– one for each of our children. Captain jumped up and down with glee when we parked at the beach, “mama!!! Beach! Water, mama!” And then we tied his balloon to his belt loop and he was in heaven. Mamitas got into Milkman’s back in the Ergo and we tied her balloon to the Ergo strap. We walked along the beach and read a Psalm. Milkman prayed. We talked to the babies about Ezra, and explained what happened. Then we let go of the third balloon and sent it up to the sky. Judah thought it was an “uh-oh” but watched it go up and I watched til the balloon became a dot in the sky and then ’til it disappeared. And I cried. Mamitas ate sand, as 13 month olds are want to do. Captain cried to go in the water and we explained it was too cold. He cried. Life has to go on when you have toddlers. They wait for no one.

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We went to dinner at the same restaurant where Milkman and I and my family ate after we were engaged 4 years ago. We laughed and talked. We marveled at our kiddos– all 3 of them and thanked The Lord for each of our children.

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The days since Ezra’s passing and birth have been a blur. Recovering from any birth is messy and painful. This was no exception.

I’ve grown closer to The Lord and appreciated my children more. I’ve learned to accept love that people give, whether it’s in the form of donations, meals, notes, flowers, gifts, prayers, scripture, and words of encouragement. That has been a difficult thing for me as I dislike taking anything from anyone, but The Lord is working on me. I’ve had days where I’ve barely cried at all, and days where I’ve done nothing but cry. My milk came in much stronger than it has been for many months, and I like to think it was a gift from Ezra for Mamitas, who still very happily nurses, and nurses even more happily since the extra milk has come in. Her closeness has been comforting, as she is normally not a cuddly baby unless she’s nursing, and that’s all she’s wanted to do with the extra supply in. God is good.

Ezra was so little when he died. It seemed senseless for such a young life to be taken so quickly. I don’t know why The Lord took him from us, but I do know it hasn’t been for naught. I’ve had people tell me that through sharing Ezra’s story it’s drawn their marriages together. People tell me it helped them heal from previous emotional scars from their miscarriages. Some have shared that it’s made them cling closer to God. So in a way, Ezra’s short, little life has been full of purpose. His tiny little hands have touched many a heart. But none have felt that so much as I have.

I pray The Lord blesses Milkman and I with many more children. I pray He does soon as Ezra’s absence is so strongly felt. But I know that whatever His plans are for our family, God is good. All of the time.

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A Mother’s Journey With Autism Begins

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I met Melody via our husbands. Milkman did some time– I mean lived in– Connecticut as a kid as his dad had work there. Milkman’s fondest childhood/pre-teen memories take place with his best friend, Ben. Milkman moved back to California over 13 years ago but apparently their friendship was a lasting one because they have each been in each other’s weddings! When Melody was pregnant with her second child I asked Milkman for her number. Both in similar stations in life, we hit it off. There have probably been only 10 days in the last year and a half where Melody and I haven’t texted or facetimed! Forget MM and Ben, we have something better! Melody has become a very dear friend and Sister! I’m honored to be her friend.

When Melody first shared with me that she was considering getting Michelle evaluated it was a super stressful time for her. Because I wasn’t there (and we’ve never met in person!) I think I felt safe in some ways for Melody to feel like she could open up to me without fear of judgement. MM and I have spent much time praying for our friends on this journey. Seeing the array of emotions and confusion and frustration and victories Melody has gone through, I asked her if she would share some of her story for the blog. She agreed to share and I couldn’t be more grateful. This meant to be an encouragement to moms who may be going through the same thing, to know you aren’t alone! I also hope it will be helpful to those without a child on the Spectrum who have friends and family going through what Melody has, to be supportive– and to know when to shut up. 😉

So, without further ado, here is the first installment on Melody’s journey.

******DISCLAIMER- This post is a record of my personal struggles and acceptance of my daughter’s diagnosis with autism. It is not meant to be a guide of how everyone should feel about any struggle they may have with autism. ********

I don’t remember what day it was or what I was wearing or what she was doing. It’s not important anyway. I just remember looking at my daughter and knowing that she had autism. Its funny to think about it now because just 2 months before I would have called anyone who thought that crazy.

Michelle started using some words around the time she was one and had maybe ten by 15 months. Most of these were Sesame Street characters and of course the word “more”. Michelle went to all of her checkups and hit all of her milestone by the time she was 18 months. Somewhere around there is when I noticed a drop off in her word usuage. I thought it was odd but I was pregnant with my second child and too exhausted to make her talk, so I let her gesture because it was easier for me. When my son was born she was only 21 months. I told the doctor that she wasn’t talking anymore but obviously she could because I had heard her use words before. He said that it was likely she regressed because her newborn brother got lots of attention and since the baby didn’t talk she must have felt like she didn’t have to. He said to wait until she was two and not to worry.

Her second birthday arrived and she still wasn’t talking. She was still putting all of her toys in her mouth. She was still flailing her arms around. Again, the doctor told me not to worry and said that she probably just had a speech delay. I decided to take his word for it. Around this time is when basically everyone I knew started to express concern. “Two years olds should be able to string two words together. You should have her evaluated.” “She’s not talking yet? All of my kids talked long before now. You should have her evaluated.” I must be honest- this was the greatest deterrent to me having her evaluated. If there is one thing I hate, it is people comparing my kids to their kids or telling me how to raise my own children.

I will admit that I was still concerned despite the doctor’s assurances. I always worry…a lot….about everything. It’s something I have been trying to change about myself. I figured the kids were going to give me reason to worry for the rest of my life so I should just calm down and not panic about everything. So I decided to wait on having her evaluated. It wasn’t until my brother, who has never given me his opinion on how to live my life EVER, asked me if I had considered an evaluation, that I decided to make the call. I still didn’t think she had autism. She had hit all of her other milstones. She walked everywhere. She fed herself. She entertained herself. She was happy all of the time. Other than her speech issue, I saw no problems.

I called Birth 2 3, a state agency, because that’s who does these kinds of evaluations where I live. The evaluation was free and they came to my house to do it. When I spoke to the evaluator on the phone she warned me that its hard to qualify for services and that made me feel confident that they were going to evaluate her and call me a crazy worrier. That gave me some comfort but it was short lived. The evaluation wasn’t even fnished when the teacher told me that Michelle was definitely going to qualify for services. I must admit I was surprised. Even more suprising was when they told me that she had failed the MCHAT. The MCHAT is basically a test given to all toddlers to see if they have behaviors consistent with an Autsim Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

I remember being speechless myself. I had a million thoughts floating in my head but was unable to verbalize them. Then the evaluators told me that Michelle qualified for speech services from a state program and due to our familys size and income we only had to pay $16 a month. That was an immediate relief. Help- thank goodness- I don’t have to figure this out alone. They also told me I could do the follow up to the MCHAT, the ADOS, at any time I felt comfortable. A child with autism can only be diagnosed by a doctor or psycologist, and not early intervention teachers who perform the initial evaluation.

We got set up with a program in our area and started services a few weeks after the evaluation. Our coordinator, Laura, was amazing. She explained so much to me in so many different ways. She was great with Michelle and she made herself availble to me at any time to call or text with any questions. I told her from the start that I didn’t want to do the ADOS just yet because I wasn’t covinced Michelle had autism because, again, the only red flag I saw was the speech. I did tell Laura to be honest with me and that once she got to know Michelle better, she should tell me if Michelle needed to be tested. After all, she’s a specialist trained to look for warning signs.

In addition to the state services we were reciveing, we decided to put Michelle in a daycare/preschool three times a week so she could have some peer interaction. At the time no one in our circle fo friends had toddlers for her to play with, only babies. I thought if I sent her to the school then she would see kids her age talking and she would want to copy them.

It was hard to send her to school. I am a stay at home mom. The whole point of that was to avoid child care costs and for me to be with my babies during this special time in their lives. But I knew she needed the help so I begrudgingly send her. Turns out this was one of the best choices I could have made. She LOVED going there. The teachers loved having her and she really enjoyed being around the other kids. I saw so many improvements- most in areas I didn’t even think she was lacking in. She started to do a little pretend play. She would let me read her stories without her furiously turning the pages so I couldn’t get a word in. She wanted to color.

Yet for all the good there were disappointments as well. After 2 months at school and with visits from Laura, she still wasn’t really talking. She would not sit down for circle time. She couldn’t eat at the lunch table for more than a few minutes. She still flapped her arms in an excited fury. She still wouldn’t point to objects or show any intrest in playing with any friends. I could see the difference in her behaviors versuses that of her peers. It seemed as though there was an ocean between her and them. These kids said “hello” and “goodbye” and “I love you, Mommy.” Michelle has never said that to me. It broke my heart to realize just how behind she was. It’s not that I needed her to be just like the other kids, but the fact that I was unaware that kids her age were doing so much. It was then that Laura, my husband and I all agreed she should be tested.

Now we reach the point I started this saga with. I knew my daughter had autism. I had finally realized and accepted that reality. Now I just had to wait 6 weeks for a professional to tell me what I already knew. I anxiously awaited the day of the ADOS. I had a mental countdown going on inside me. Some people might have dreaded it, but I couldn’t wait. It was like waiting for something I desperately wanted. I actually wanted them to tell me that she had autsim. The longer I waited the more I could see the autistic behaviors in her come out. She was spinning in circles. She would shake her head back and forth looking for sensory input. The day she started lining her toys up I considered calling the agency up and demanding they come perfrom the evavluation immediately. It was just so painfully obvious and I wanted her to start her thereapies instantly. I’m rather impatient if you haven’t guessed.

Then the day for the ADOS finally arrived. I think the exact words they used were, “She does meet the criteria for an Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Those may have been the most comforting words I have ever heard. Finally, I knew why Michelle wasn’t talking. Finally I knew it wasn’t my fault. I hadn’t failed her or caused her to stop talking. It wasn’t my fault that she had never really wanted to breastfeed as an infant. It wasn’t my fault she didn’t want to interact with others. I didn’t have to feel guilty because these things and so many little others were beyond my culpability. I wasn’t a bad parent with an uncontrollable spoiled child who couldn’t sit still or behave. It sounds strange but hearing that she had autsim was the greatest relief of my life. The relief was also because I knew what would come next. I wasn’t alone. Michelle would be transferred to a new, autsim-specific program. We wouldn’t be crawling around in the dark, throwing ideas around as to how to target her issues. We were going to be working with a team of specialists who were going to know what to do.

Don’t misunderstand me. I wasn’t glad that my daughter had autism. I don’t want her to have autsim. I don’t want anyone to have it. I would give anything to not have to see her struggle with this disability and it’s something that I may spend the rest of my life worrying about and coming to grips with. My relief was in finally knowing what the problem was and knowing that I would have support from a team of specialists who know how to work with children with this problem. I now had the confidence that despite this disadvantage she would still grow up to live a rich and full life. She will learn to communicate more effectively (she already is), she will learn to focus, and she will grow up to be an amazing woman who is happy and fulfilled.

This doesn’t mean that I think this will be easy or over quickly. I know there will be bad days or bad weeks and moments I feel as though I should give up. But I also know that with the proper help she can have more good days, or maybe weeks. I still have no idea how we are going to get there, but for now, just feeling it is a constant comfort and that’s enough for me right now.

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Peanut Butter Oatmeal Lactation Cookie Bars!

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I am a believer in trusting your body and your baby to make sure you have enough milk while nursing. It’s really easy to stress, especially if it’s your first nursling, about not having enough milk. I remember crying to Milk Man that I wished breasts had ounce lines on them! But after doing some research I found that if after a week baby was having 6 wet diapers a day, I had more than enough milk. Captain was having 12 some days! That helped put my mind to ease.

However, when I got pregnant with Mamitas, my milk supply plummeted a lot and fast. Milk Man found a lactation cookie recipe and we made a huge batch. They were good… But time consuming. Also the recipe made a huge batch and half went bad!

I couldn’t keep up with eating them because I hated the taste of brewers yeast when I was pregnant. So they didn’t serve me too well then. I opted for brewers yeast pills.

Then when I had Mamitas I was determined to pump a week’s supply to freeze as soon as I could since I had regretted not pumping enough when it was just Captain. I turned to lactation cookies as a way to help me make a bit more milk to pump. I have never been an efficient pumper. Captain was gaining weight like a champ and yet I would pump for a half hour and only get an ounce from both sides combined! The cookies helped and I got 100 oz in the freezer with a single pumping session a day for 2.5 weeks!

I have a date night coming up this weekend and I need to pump so I was going to make some lactation cookies, but let’s be real. I have a 2 year old and an 8 month old who are into EVERYTHING. I don’t have time to spoon pretty little individual cookies on a tray, bake, cool, and do another tray… And then however many trays it takes til the dough is gone. So, I started thinking about How much easier bar cookies are than drop cookies and I formulated this recipe from some regular bar cookies and added my own twist.

The result was easy and fabulous. Very easy to make, easy to clean up, and easy to eat. Apparently very easy to eat because Milk Man likes them, too! 😉 So, don’t worry, fellas! If you sneak one it won’t make you look like Bob from Fight Club or make you leak. 😉

Without further ado, here is the recipe! Enjoy!

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Rachel’s Peanut Butter Oatmeal Lactation Bars!

2 1/4 cups of flour
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats or coach’s oats
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup of brewer’s yeast
1/3 cup of flaxseed meal

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter (I microwaved mine to get it soft, mostly melted)
2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter (if you have a stand mixer room temp is fine, if mixing by hand, microwave it with your butter)
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or spray with non stick.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brewers yeast, and flaxseed meal.

In a stand mixer (or large bowl with a hand mixer) combine butter, brown sugar and peanut butter and mix until smooth.

Beat in eggs and vanilla.

Press dough into prepared pan and sprinkle chocolate chips on top and press down on them lightly. (This may be more or less than the 1 1/2 cups. Depends on your preference ;))

Bake for 18-25 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and center is just set. Do not overbake or they’ll be crunchy and dry. Remove from oven and let cool.

My personal preference is to let them cool but not all the way before slicing. I like the pull the parchment out and slice it on a flat cutting board when it’s still warm but not hot.

However! Brewers yeast has a strong taste. For some reason this taste is more apparent when the bars are hot. So I actually don’t like to eat these while warm. I like them cooled with a giant glass of whole milk!

Bars will stay fresh in an airtight container for up to 5 days. I like to freeze half so they don’t go bad.

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Happy 2nd Birthday, Captain! Happy 2nd Anniversary, Nursing!

Two years ago, after 34 hours of labor, a little boy was placed on my chest. His little mouth rooted around and he latched on for the first time. I couldn’t believe that my body had grown and housed this little human, and now, even though he was no longer housed in my womb, he was being nourished by my body. He smelled heavenly. His little eyes trying to focus on the big, bright world around him, could see nothing but mama, and I soaked in that moment.

Two years later I look at my baby boy, not really a baby anymore, and as I walk down the hall, still groggy from lack of sleep from the night before, Captain smiles at me with his toothy grin, framed by perfect, full red lips. “Mama! Chair? Noosh? Noosh? Mmmammma! Noosh?” He pats the seat of our faded pink second-hand (third, fourth, fifth-hand?) rocker covered in blankets. Captain wants me to sit in our creaky, musty chair, scoop him up into my lap and nurse.

How did this happen? I didn’t plan on nursing a toddler. I thought everyone stopped at 12 months when I first had him. But as I breathe in the scent of his sweet, sweaty blonde head and watch his fat little toes (miniatures of Milkman’s!) dangle off the edge of the arm rest and stare into those brown eyes– oh those sweet, giant eyes that melt my heart– I realize that for most of us first time nursing moms, we don’t plan to nurse past babyhood.

But as time goes on, that newborn becomes and infant and during some nursing session at 2am you look over to see you are nursing a toddler, and somehow you wake up one morning and that little newborn is two years old.

I will not bore you with facts about the average weaning of a child for the last 6,000 years being much older than a baby, or the benefits of full-term nursing, but I will encourage you, new mama, that as you trek through that awful 3 week old fussy latch at 3:30am and you are both crying and you want to give up, that it becomes second nature. And pretty soon those awkward elbows and hands and chins and tiny noses and large breasts seem to fade til there is nothing but you and your nursling, working together in perfect harmony. Soon it is second nature. Sometimes you don’t even realize you’re nursing, because it’s just simply what you do.

Sometimes it wearies me. Sometimes I say “no, mama doesn’t want to now.” And there are tears. And I explain I am “ouchies” or I am tired, or I’m sick of nursing after nursing his little sister a dozen times the night before. It’s a little easier to distract him these days with a water cup or a book (though never with kisses or cuddles… If there is no nursing he is not about to give me lovin’!) Sometimes, I cry and tell Milkman that I hate nursing and I don’t want to do it anymore. Sometimes I am touched out and frustrated that my body seems to belong to every person under this roof but me.

But other times, it is how we bond and how we stay close. It’s how we become friends and it’s how we learn. (Nothing like him raising the roof, dancing and nursing while I sing A, B, C’s to signal him our nursing session is coming to an end!). It is how he deals with unfamiliar situations, it fixes every smashed finger and scraped knee, it provides magical antibodies when he is getting sick. It’s how I get my cuddle fix in with a very busy and distracted little boy. God uses nursing to teach me to sit and rest and be close with my child and shut the rest of the world out. It is how I remember he is still little and needs his mama.

I don’t know when we will wean. Every time I mention it to Milkman he smiles and tells me he supports me regardless but behind the words I know he’s thinking “you say you’re done, but we know you’ll be a giant hormonal wreck when it’s over!” So we will wean someday, just not today.

And so for now, I will nurse my two year old. And I will do so, knowing that these moments will not last forever. Because today, Captain is 2 years old, and it’s gone by so quickly I can scarcely believe it.

Happy Birthday, my sweet boy. Thank you for all you teach me. Thank you for staying little, just a little while longer.

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Facebook Free for Lent

Though I am not catholic and most Protestants do not observe Lent, I find it a good thing to fast from things in order to give special focus on my relationship with God periodically.

In the past I have fasted from soda or meat, but to be honest it was more for dietary than spiritual reasons–which kind of defeats the purpose of Lent! Ha!

This year I have chosen to give up Facebook for lent! It seems silly that giving up Facebook for 40 Days is daunting, but for a SAHM who rarely gets time or occasion to socialize in real life, it has become a crutch for me! I spend too much time on it, and it’s become a constant habit to check in and see what is going on in everyone else’s lives while scraping by on the bare minimum when it comes to my spiritual life.

Fasting isn’t about God thinking you’re so awesome for giving something up. Fasting is about using the time and affection and energy and dedication you gave to the things from which you are fasting, to focus on God. Fasting isn’t to impress God, we can’t do that. How do you impress the One who has seen it all?!

I’m looking forward to this Facebook fast. I hope to spend less time comparing my life to others. I hope to spend less time staring at a screen. I hope to spend less time escaping the present. I hope to spend less time complaining. I hope to spend less time judging.

I hope to spend more time in the scripture. I hope to spend more time listening to solid teaching. I hope to spend more time being thankful. I hope to spend more time in prayer. I hope to spend more time encouraging. I hope to spend more time listening to my children and husband. I hope to become more well rounded as a result of all of the above!

Here’s to 40 days of Facebook Freedom!

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