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I’ve written this story a thousand times in my head, but it’s felt impossible to actually sit down to type it.  I have a new appreciation for the words spoken of Mary about the time following Jesus’ birth, “And Mary treasured these things in her heart.”  Oh yes, I know now.  You must treasure these things in your heart because the story you are telling is holy and how can you express the sacredness of it adequately?  Here is my best shot.

*****

I chose November 1st to be induced for Abbott’s birth because I wanted to take the girls trick or treating on October 31st.  I got to do that, and it was delightful.  There is just about nothing more precious to me than the wonder my kids experience over total strangers giving them candy.  You would think they won the lottery.  

After hoping in vain for weeks that I would go into labor on my own, I went in for my induction, two days before our due date.  Some people ask why I would induce before my due date.  I give them two reasons 1) giant babies and 2) no signs of labor.  I can’t imagine how big my babies would get if I let them just stay in there indefinitely.  In the words of my doctor “I was made to carry babies.”  

Everything seemed so normal throughout the whole delivery.  I got an epidural.  It worked (praise Jesus/see Maribelle’s birth story).  I couldn’t feel a thing once it was time to push.  Not a thing.  This made me nervous because I could totally feel pushing with my girls because my epidural had been turned off.  And it took a really, really long time with both of them.  Not this time though!  Sweet little Abbott came after three contractions…I pushed 7 times.  It was so surreal.

There are certain things that are seared into my brain about each of my deliveries…things that I will never forget.  I will never forget the doctor handing Annelise to me and my first thought being “I am holding my husband” because she looked exactly like her father.  I will never forget watching Royce carry her around the delivery room, tears in his eyes, suddenly transformed into a dad.  I will never forget how BIG Maribelle’s cheeks were or that they let me hold her for what felt like a really long time before taking her to be weighed.

This time, I will never forget a lot of things.

I will never forget my first glimpse of Abbott.  Well, not really Abbott, but his pee arcing through the air and landing on my stomach.  Yes, the first thing my son did out of the womb BEFORE I’D EVEN SEEN HIM was pee on me.

But then, I’ll never forget the collective gasp of my doctor and nurse when they saw his umbilical cord.

I’ll never forget the doctor holding it up for me to see–two knots tied tight as shoelaces 6 inches apart from one another.

I’ll never forget the doctor declaring Abbott a “miracle baby”.

I’ll never forget the nurse’s response as I later naively asked her what normally happens when there are two knots in the umbilical cord. “Normally it’s a stillborn,” she reluctantly told me, her eyes downcast.

I’ll never forget the post-partum nurse coming in the next morning and gushing over him. “All the nurses are talking about him,” she said. “Everyone wants to meet the baby that had two knots in his cord.”

I still haven’t googled it.  My friend asked if I had.  When I told her that i hadn’t yet, she said that her husband did and I probably shouldn’t.

I do know this: Abbott is a miracle.  They all are.  Every day with our children is a gift.  And I intellectually knew that to be true with our other kids, but now I can whisper it over them with humility. Every day we get to be with our son is a gift.  “Normally it’s a stillborn.”  I don’t presume to know why our son survived what other babies haven’t.  I don’t know why we got to bring home a healthy 9 lb, 12 oz baby boy (did I mention I have big babies?).  My only response is that of Moses: take off your sandals for the place you are standing is holy ground.

Abbott means “father”, derived from Abba, “daddy”.  Which, I mean, how perfect for our little man.  God has used him and many other stories from the early days of his life to reveal Himself to us as our good Father.  We are so thankful for our little guy.  He smiles and talks to us constantly.  He knows and loves his momma.  He’s our little snuggler.  We treasure the gift that he is.  

We love you Abbott!

Image

Dear Baby Brother,

Well, little buddy, your day is coming soon although you seem perfectly happy in your warm home in momma’s belly.  There doesn’t seem to be a rush on your part to get out of there in spite of my pleas in that direction.  

My pregnancy with you has been pretty standard for me.  The first trimester was no fun.  I was so nauseous and so tired.  And your daddy went to India for ten days.  And your oldest sister decided to give up her nap.  It was not exactly prime timing.  Our little family went into survival mode for a couple months.  Which is fine because I know now that those seasons of survival are only temporary and that YOU will be totally worth the sacrifice.

Second trimester was a breeze for the most part.  I definitely had more aches and pains this time around.  My doctor was right when she gave me the “third baby talk”.  She basically said that everything will start to hurt and fall apart quicker this time around.  And it did.  I had to stop running really early in the pregnancy.  I could barely walk without pain actually.  That has been one of the hardest things for me to handle long-term this time around.  I didn’t realize what a stress reliever running was for me until I couldn’t do it anymore.  There were days this summer when your sisters had me at the end of my rope, and all I could think was “I just want to go running!” but I couldn’t.  

Third trimester has been rough, buddy.  There is nothing in particular, just a vast array of unpleasantness…heartburn, restless leg, inability to sleep, just being really, really big.  I start every day thinking, “Yes, I feel great today.  I can do this!”  By 5:00 though, I’m ready to throw in the towel.  I plead with the Lord to let you come immediately.  Partly to end the hardness of pregnancy, but partly because we just really want to meet you.  Now that I’ve done this thing a few times, I know that having you on the outside is way better than having you on the inside.  I’m so excited to see what you look like, how much you’ll weigh, and to snuggle you every chance I get.

Finding out you were a boy was quite a shock to Mommy.  I’ve loved having daughters.  I sort of felt like I was made to parent girls.  So the thought of having a boy was just really intimidating to me.  Before the ultrasound, I envisioned the tech telling us “It’s a boy!” so that I could be prepared if that was the reality.  And it was…you made it very obvious :) Even Mommy with her lack of medical knowledge could have undoubtedly pointed out that you were all boy.

Our first ultrasound with you wasn’t totally easy though.  We found out that you had some cysts in the ventricles of your brain.  Which can be totally normal!  But also, it could be a sign that you have a terrible genetic disease that is incompatible with life.  It was awful buddy.  We were calling our family to tell them the happy news that we were getting a son but also having to tell them the possibility of something being wrong.  We know that we are not guaranteed a healthy baby, but it was so painful to have to face that reality so closely.

We had a second ultrasound two days later, and our fears were relieved.  You were fine.  The doctor didn’t even feel the need to do a follow-up appointment to make sure your cysts went away.  Praise the Lord.

And while I would never want to go through those days of waiting again, I will say I think it attached my momma’s heart to yours.  From the moment I heard the possibility of something being wrong, my momma bear rose up and declared “I will do anything for this child.  This is my son, who I love.”  And in those days, most of my fears about mothering a son instead of a daughter dissipated.

The months since then have been spent collecting boy things–blue jammies and boy sheets and Ohio State jumpsuits.  Your sisters have started to anticipate your arrival with excitement as well.  They kiss my belly and Annelise sings to you almost every day.  They are SO excited to meet you (although it might have something to do with them knowing that Grammy and Grandpa are going to come stay for a couple days when you arrive).  

So, Baby Brother, we’re all ready for you.  You come when you want, but know that we are anxiously awaiting you joining our family.  We know we’re incomplete without you.  Love you little guy!

Momma

A Trip to a Public Restroom with Two Toddlers: A Narrative

Hashtag: I wish I was exaggerating.

Scene: Any public place (but likely Target–the place stay at home moms frequent the most)

********

Five minutes into your shopping trip, Toddler #1 says she has to go to the bathroom.

You’re an experienced mom so you judge the situation. Does she really need to use the restroom? What is the likelihood she will actually pee her pants?

Upon reflection, you decide she really does need to go.

You head to the restroom and unbuckle two children from the cart. Toddler #2 immediately makes a beeline for the “Dollar Spot” to take everything off the shelves.  Toddler #1 must really need to go potty because she heads straight for the restroom.

You take both children (and your giant pregnant belly) into the handicapped stall because it is clearly the only place big enough for your brood.

In the time it takes for Toddler #1 to do her business, two things happen.  1) Both children manage to touch the “feminine product” trashcan multiple times, even though you have told them each 1,000 times that it’s “ucky, please don’t touch”.  2) Another woman in the restroom finishes using the potty, washes her hands, and turns on the hand dryer. The hand dryer naturally terrifies Toddler #1 because it’s “TOO LOUD” and you spend the rest of the time in the bathroom covering her ears with your hands to prevent any further trauma.

Toddler #1 finishes and as she pulls her pants up, Toddler #2 flushes the toilet. Toddler #1 is furious because it was her turn to flush. You wait long enough so that Toddler #1 can also flush.

Toddler #1 needs to wash her hands.  Toddler #2 probably does too, but let’s be honest, you gave up on “ideal” a long time ago.

Toddler #1 must be lifted up to the sink. The automatic faucet and soap dispenser will not recognize her little hands so you must get the water and soap for her. While holding her up. And holding her ears in case of unexpected loud noises.

Meanwhile, Toddler #2 is looking under all of the stalls to see if there is anyone to say “Hi” to.

After hands are clean, a decision must be made. Will Toddler #1 use the loud automatic hand dryer or wipe her wet hands on your pants? I generally choose the latter option. 

You get both children back to the cart just in time for Toddler #1 to explore the “Dollar Spot” while you are strapping Toddler #2 back into the cart. You get Toddler #1 into the cart and then put all the “Dollar Spot” junk, err, I mean, stuff back on the shelves. 

You turn back to the cart just as Toddler #1 announces that her “tummy is rumbling”.

You give the children an unpaid for bag of Goldfish so you can browse the clearance rack in peace. Because, let’s face it, you’ve earned it.

We look up at each other wearily and sigh as a three year old cries on the floor about who knows what (really random things can be really sad to a three year old) and a one year old clings to my husband’s legs, crying “Daddy! Daddy!”  We tiredly smile at each other, and I say, “Are you sure we can have another one?”

We sit on the couch, side-by-side, each with a girl on our lap and watch our wedding video.  We look at our children and then at each other with tears in our eyes as our family watches the footage of us, seven years younger, smiling brightly at one another unable to take our eyes off each other.  Annelise asks me, “Mommy, ers (are you) sad?”  “No baby, Mommy is really, really happy.”

I sit on the bed literally wrestling a crying Maribelle into her jammies.  Minutes before, Annelise was sobbing over having to change her underwear.  My husband asks me, “If this moment was all you could see seven years ago, would you still do it?”

Oh yes, I would.  One million times over.  With him.  Only with him.

My husband is the greatest, hardest-working, ceaseless servant I have ever met.  He gives to me and our family in ways that I could never have comprehended when I beamed at him seven years ago on our wedding day.  I love him more now and respect him more today than I ever could have dreamed when we were 24 year old dreamy-eyed lovebirds.  The hard things of raising a family have brought out the best in him. And in us.  

At the end of our longest days, when we collapse beside one another on the couch, I know there is no one I’d rather be walking through this crazy life with.  I want to be here with our two beautifully wild girls and my best friend at day’s end.  There is no one I’d rather look at night after night. 

Toward the end of February, both of my girls came down with a stomach bug over one weekend, back to back.  It was disgusting, and I felt so nauseous all weekend.  Which was totally understandable when I considered all the vomit and diarrhea I was cleaning up.

After the girls were better, I still felt nauseous.  And kind of noticed that I felt better as long as I kept eating.  Finally, I thought, “Maybe I should see where I am in my cycle…”  I was only a day or two late, but I KNEW I was pregnant.  The test was a formality.  It changed immediately, and I walked out and flashed three fingers to my husband sitting on the couch.  He ran over to hug me.  We jumped and hugged and silent screamed (Maribelle was napping).

I walked back into the bathroom, looked at the Lord, and squealed, “I love this one already!

Which was a sweet surprise because just a couple months earlier, I had been terrified by the prospect of a third baby.  I knew that I *wanted* a third baby, but the idea of going through another pregnancy sounded exhausting.  And honestly, I really, really enjoy our family right now.  There was a deep fear that if we had another baby, our family life would be ruined.

And then, something happened.  I can’t put my finger on what, but slowly the Lord started not just opening my heart to the idea of another baby, but actually making me feel excited about it.  It seemed like every time I saw a picture of a baby on Facebook, my heart would think, “Awww, I need a baby to snuggle.”  Or reading about a friend’s pregnancy made me remember the wonder of it all and the blessing of new life.

I’m thankful that the Lord prepared my heart because this is the first pregnancy we’ve had that we weren’t expecting or trying for.  Surprise!  Thus, the tagline for this pregnancy has become: It only takes once. :)

Our first ultrasound was at 8 weeks on Tuesday, March 26.  We saw the telltale little blob with a little flickering heartbeat.  And can I tell you that IT NEVER GETS OLD?  The wonder of a little person with a little heart fluttering away inside my uterus just floors me every time.  I am so thankful to God for the gift of another baby as we pray for its health and safety in momma’s womb.

We have since told the girls about the newest little member of our family.  When asked if she wants a baby brother or sister, Annelise consistently says, “A baby girl.”  And then quickly adds, “Maribelle wants a baby brother.”  We’ll see who gets what they want because there was only one little person on the ultrasound screen.

Stay tuned. This bun is expected to be fully baked by November 3, 2013.  We will welcome him/her into the chaos with open arms.

 

On a fairly regular basis I have friends ask (either directly or via a general question on Facebook) what baby items they should register for.  I am REALLY passionate about baby gear and I have the strength of winning others over (via StrengthsFinder test) so I have a really hard time giving them a good answer.  I want to cover all the bases and tell them WHY I liked/disliked certain items.  So this is my attempt to compile all of those thoughts in one place so I can point my friends here for my thoughts on baby gear three years into this parenting thing…

(This is going to be really boring for 90% of the world’s population and super exciting for the other 10%. Sorry if you’re in the majority)

-Carseats–we had the Graco Snugride, and it was great.  I think the Chicco Keyfit is wonderful too.  I wouldn’t worry too much about your baby carrier though…anything will work.  Your convertible carseat on the other hand is the one your child will use for years.  Annelise has been in hers for over 2 years and isn’t even close to outgrowing it.  Both of our girls are in the Britax Boulevard, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it.  It has an awesome headrest and reclines.  With all the traveling we do, it’s amazing.  

-Strollers–this is probably the hardest thing to recommend because it is SO dependent on your life situation. My life on staff with Cru gives me very different stroller needs than a mom who lives in a small town versus a mom who lives in Chicago.  For me, I’d say get a stroller that you love.  This is not an area to skimp.  If I had it all to do over again, I’d probably just get a BOB jogging stroller and nothing else.  I do NOT recommend the travel systems.  They are big and bulky and heavy (with a few exceptions), and when your child is old enough to actually sit up in them, you’d probably just want to get an umbrella stroller.  We did have a Snap n Go frame, and I absolutely loved it.  Highly recommend.  We have the double BOB jogging stroller.  I love it, but after spending a summer with a friend who had the inline Phil and Ted jogging stroller, I’d probably get that.  A little easier to maneuver.

-Monitor–I have mixed thoughts on this.  We don’t have a video monitor, and I was really thankful for that when I had little babies…I would have constantly watched it and worried about my itty bitty babies.  When we switched Annelise to a big girl bed however, I think it would have been wonderful to have one.  

-Baby containment devices–bouncy seats rock! We’ve survived without a swing, but I always said that I wouldn’t hesitate to go buy one if we needed it.  My babies were fine without it so I appreciated having one less item in my house. If you have a two story house (and especially if you have another toddler in the house), I recommend having a bouncy seat for each floor.  (I wouldn’t buy two full price, but find a second one at a yard sale or borrow from a friend).  This is nice because you just need a safe place to keep the baby on both floors.  

-Exersaucers–Buy one! I was so hesitant to get one.  They’re so big and bulky and brightly colored and take up your entire living room.  But I’m telling you, if you want to cook or shower after your child reaches five months or so, get one.  I can’t recommend this more highly.

-Pack n Play–Get one. They rock.

-Boppy/Bumbo seat–I really like having a Boppy, but the lifespan is really short (like 8 weeks or so for us).  However during that short lifespan, we used it all the time.  There are so many people who sing praises of the Bumbo seat, but both of our girls hated it and figured out how to wiggle their leg out and fall out of it in no time.  I do use it for early solid food feedings so I’m not getting rid of it, but I would NEVER pay full price for one.

-Bottles–everyone has different thoughts on this. Avent works for us.  I would recommend starting simple (like Avent or Born Free) and only use some of the more complicated bottles (like Dr. Browns) if you have to…so much more to clean.

-High chairs–We have a wooden one from Carter’s. I highly recommend it.  I know a lot of people use the ones that hook onto one of your chairs.  If we had a six seat dining table, I’d want to do that, but since we only have four chairs, I’m glad we have a separate high chair. It’s very convenient for when we have guests over.

-Baby carrier–Ergo, Ergo, Ergo! I absolutely love this thing.  Even now, I can carry Maribelle in it FOR HOURS and not feel a twinge of soreness the next day.  It is incredible. I had the Baby Bjorn before the Ergo, and the same cannot be said.

-Other–some kind of swaddling device (we used the swaddlers from Kiddopotomus, but I’ve heard good things about the Halo sleep sack swaddlers and the blankets by aiden & anise)

That’s all I can think of right now. I’m sure I’ll be back to edit this post in the future.  

Some phone calls change your life forever in the most wonderful way: “I’m pregnant!”, “We’re engaged!”, “It’s a girl!”. But some phone calls just bring you to the end of everything you know and shake your world to its very core: “I’m sorry, but your cousin Jason died this morning.” 

Sometimes life is beautiful and wonderful, and you think, “How could things ever get any better than this?” Moments when your child takes her first step or you laugh til you cry in bed with your spouse or you drive in the car with the windows down singing really loud to country music.

But sometimes, life is tragic and horrible and confusing and leaves you lying on your kitchen floor, tears landing on the wood floor as you cry out to God, “How could this happen? Why, oh God, why?”

And the painful truth is, we’ll probably never know this side of eternity why.  It is the question we are most likely to ask and the question that God seems the least likely to answer.  We won’t know why God, the creator and sustainer of life, did not sustain my cousin’s heart and breath. And honestly, any answer to the why question would not satisfy this side of heaven.  There is no good reason that a parent should have to bury their child. 

I do know that God sees and God knows and God cares.  I know that He sympathizes with us in our pain because He wept at the tomb of His good friend.  And in His greatest moment of agony on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, WHY have you forsaken me?”

No, God doesn’t answer the question why, but God-made-man did ask the very question that haunts our hearts. “Why, God, why?”  

Jesus said that He came to proclaim good news to the poor and to proclaim liberty to the captive and to bind up the broken-hearted.

And we, we are the broken-hearted.  Jesus came for the likes of us.  

Jesus is near to us in life’s victories, but this I know to be true: Jesus is also weeping beside us on the kitchen floor.  He is holding the parents burying their very hearts in the ground with their full-of-life son.  He is there.  He knows.  And He cares.

He knows. He sees. He cares.

It’s in these moments that I cling to His promise that some day, this world will be made new.  That He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and death shall be no more. And I can declare with the apostle John, “Yes, Come quickly Lord Jesus.”

The pain is too much.  The weight is too heavy.  This is not how life was supposed to be.  

******

My cousin Jason was a light.  He was a joy.  I have loved reading the words of his friends and family on his Facebook page the last couple days:

Jason was such a special person and had such a kind heart.

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Schaeper for giving us all the wonderful gift that was the life of your son.

You were a great friend and person to be around. Something about the way you carried yourself and did your own thing made you one of a kind.

You were one of the most genuine and caring persons I know. I looked up to your ability to always see the greatness in others and in life itself.

A loving, kind person who could make anybody laugh.

You always made everyone feel like one of the best friends when you were around them, and were never shy about bringing it in for a brotherly hug.

One of the most genuine and sincere people I know. 

Your smile was so contagious, and you always gave everyone great laughs. So kind and considerate, always trying help others out or just listen. A one of a kind type a guy.

Shhhh, Jason, don’t tell your cousins, but you were always one of my favorites! Funny, witty and easy to be around. I especially loved how sweet and attentive you always were to Grandma Nichols!

Jason, I love you. You were always such a joy to be around.

Jason, you are so loved. You always had a tender heart and light about you.

Jason, I love you. I remember when you sent Joanne a card right before she passed last year. It had a note of encouragement saying something about “When Pigs Fly”. We put in with her when she was buried. That touched my heart.

You’re a part of pretty much every great memory I have from WVU, man.

Such a great and genuine person. Jason had an infectious personality and he cared about every person he came across.

*****

Thank You Jesus for the gift of Jason’s life.  Please be near to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts as we experience the gaping hole left in our family by his absence.

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