Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What I Would Say to You

Dear Mama Friends,

This is what I would like to say to you, and perhaps you need to hear it. It's what I would like someone to say to me, although it's easier to say than to believe.

You are not a terrible person. I know sometimes it seems like children bring out the absolute worst in you – all the frustration and anger and selfishness. But you are actually the same person you used to be; it's just harder now to kid yourself about how awesomely kind and loving you are. Think about how much patience practice you have gotten over the years. Even if your patience is still not enough to last the 24 hours a day that you need it, you are more patient now than ever before.

You are not doing it wrong. There is that baby who sleeps all night from 2 weeks old. There is that toddler who potty trains in 2 hours. There is that child who teaches herself to read at 2 years. That is not your child. That is not most people's child. It's completely normal for babies to wake up during the night, and to start waking up again once they've stopped. Yours is not the only toddler to poop anywhere but the potty. And it's supper frustrating. But it's not because you have missed the Perfect Window or the Vital Step or the One True Way. It's because every child is different and life is just messy (literally) and much more complex than we'd like it to be. It's not you.

You remember the moments when you snapped and acted like a sleep deprived two year old. And your kids might too. (Let's be honest, they'll grow up and blame you for everything no matter what. That's what therapy is for.) Those are such big moments right now, moments that seem to define everything. But in ten or twenty years your kids will mostly remember sandwich triangles and silly songs at bedtime and all the little moments colored by security, trust, and someone there who cared.

You are not failing. It sure looks like it sometimes. You cannot possibly stay on top the mess. You don't cook enough vegetables. You did not create magical memories for the first or hundredth or last day of school. Some days (years?) your children will invariably act horrible and you will be certain you are raising them to be terrors. They don't sleep. They won't focus on school. They won't calm down for two blessed seconds. They are far from perfect, and you are far from perfect, but you are far from a failure. You battle frustration and lack of accomplishment and invisible progress every single day and what do you do? You get back up again the next day (or every few hours all night long) and start it all over again! Day after day after day after year. If that's not success, I don't know what is.

Those dark circles are beautiful. They tell of so many nights of self denial and caring for others. That saggy stomach sheltered a tiny human being or three or four. Those stretch marks show how you literally stretched yourself to the limit for the sake of new life. Your hair is turning gray before your eyes – because even your hair has worked so hard at this business of life. Your whole body is showing how you have lived and how you have given. All those imperfections whisper of the tears and losses and anger and disappointment that you don't like to let show; they give away how hard this has been. They show how strong you are. The mirror might show something that seems worse than before, but you are a wonder.

What you are doing matters. All those menial, meaningless loads of laundry and trips to the potty and time outs and cleaning up markers off the floor and washing snotty noses and helping focus on another math problem and quieting the screaming and making another dinner. You are providing your children with food and clothes and keeping them safe and helping them to learn some kindness and responsibility and math, and where would they be without that? Human children are pretty helpless. They need you. They follow you around everywhere you go talking incessantly because they want to be with you.

What you are doing matters. In itself, by itself, this is incredible spiritual work. You are literally feeding and clothing the least of these. You are washing feet and showing the extent of your love. You put others' needs before your own day and night. You hear your baby cry, and you answer him. You lift him out of darkness and draw him into your arms, giving comfort. You offer your physical body as a sacrifice.

You are weary and discouraged and wonder if you will ever again do something that feels meaningful, something that you can finish. But this right here, this is IT. This is life. You were made for this life, for this every day, and you are doing it so well. Let us raise our coffee mugs together in solidarity. We are doing this. Carry on.


Friday, April 15, 2016

It's All the Hardest

I'm not gonna lie. Three kids is more work than two. Two kids is more work than one. And one kid is definitely more work than none. The laundry and the crying seem to multiply with each one added. The times when you only have one or two kids to deal with feel like a break. There are just so many people constantly demanding your time and energy and attention.

Nevertheless, after Nadia was born I just kept thinking, “I'm so glad she's not the first. This is so much easier.” Different people vary in their opinions of which transition is the hardest, probably depending on their particular children and circumstances at the time. For me, the first was definitely the hardest.

Nobody can really prepare you for what that transition will be like. Suddenly your moments are not your own. Your sleeping and waking and eating are dictated by another person. Such a small person who causes such big upheaval.

It's hard because the demands are so constant. Day and night, you never really get to clock out. It took a long time before I felt like there even was day and night as I had understood it before. You never before realized how much babies just want to be held. Like all the hours after 5pm. There are a lot of times when your options are hold (or wear) baby, or listen to baby cry inconsolably, which isn't so good for baby or the neighbors or mama's sanity. Any moments away from baby are planned around how long she will last until needing to nurse again.

And oh my goodness, the sleep! Never before had my life and thoughts so revolved around sleep, and I was getting so little of it. I spent frustrating hours every day trying to get Juliana to sleep. I would go to sleep at night stressed, thinking, “If I go to sleep quickly, maybe I can get in 2 hours before she wakes up!” I never knew if she would sleep for 3 hours or be awake in 10 minutes. Now Juliana was certainly a special child when it came to sleep. I don't know hardly any babies who slept quite as badly as she did. But even with a “normal” baby, sleep is highly disrupted, likely for many months. Just when you think you've really hit a groove, there's a growth spurt or sleep regression or dropping a nap or teething or sickness or just your typical Tuesday and suddenly everything is up in the air again.

It's hard because it's so unpredictable. Eventually babies do settle into a routine, and that helps. Except that the routine changes a lot. The whole first year is constant change, with each month different than the last. But even the days are unpredictable. One day baby will take an awesome nap and play contentedly for a really long time while you accomplish everything (or at least something) on your list. You have finally figured it out! The next day baby is fussy and wants to nurse or be held and sleeps fitfully and you wonder what in the world went wrong. (Nothing. It's just that it's Tuesday.)

Actually, I'm certain babies have legitimate reasons for the contentment and the fussiness, just like some days we feel so much better than other days. But you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out the reason. (When in doubt, blame teething. It lasts foooorever.) I spent a lot of energy and frustration trying to figure out why Juliana wouldn't sleep. I read so much about baby sleep and tried so many things and felt more and more frustrated. I was certain that if I found just the right combination she would sleep like all the other babies. It did eventually happen, although technically by that point she wasn't a baby anymore.

I wish I had stopped trying to figure it out. I still would have tried different things because we really needed more sleep, but I wouldn't have agonized over it. I wouldn't have blamed myself for her bad sleeping. I would have realized there is no One True Way. I still would have been exhausted, but I wouldn't have been so frustrated and so hard on myself. You know what, I did things pretty much the same way the second time with vastly different results. Some kids sleep better than others.

It's hard because of all the comparison. Why does someone else's baby sleep so much better than yours? Why do they sit so contentedly in their little seat for longer than 3 minutes? Why do they cry less? Because they are a different baby. Maybe they have an “easy” baby and yours is more “high needs.” Maybe they are doing things differently from you, and maybe some of those things help, but babies are just different. And some of those high needs babies turn into really driven, talented people who are going to change the world.

The bottom line is parenting is hard just because it's hard. It's not that you're doing it wrong – that's just the way it is. It's hard with the first and the second and the third.  In some ways, it only gets harder.  But it also gets easier because you expect it to be hard. You know every baby is different. You learn to laugh at those ridiculous Expert ideas that will never work in real life. You become your own kind of expert while also admitting you really have no idea what you are doing. You realize it goes by so quickly. So you take a deep breath and maybe count to ten, and then you jump back in.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Three GIRLS!

When I told our ayi I was pregnant, her first question was, "Do you want it?" I said I did, then I told her it was a girl.
"Do you want it?" She asked again. When I assured her we did, she looked happy.

At one time I would have been offended by such a line of questioning, but now I realize it was just the culturally logical inquiry. Wanting three children and wanting three GIRLS was pretty far outside the norm. Besides, she seemed relieved to find out I did indeed want this one.

I love having three girls in China. I like being able to tell neighbors and strangers that no, this one is also a girl (since it is polite to assume the baby is a boy), and finding out what their response will be.

Most of them are reassuring. "Girls are good." it's kind of them to be reassuring and sad that they feel like they must be.  The other day when a granny heard about all my girls she looked happy. "That's how it is in my family. There are two girls." I could tell her I thought that was very good, and I think she believed me.

Some are disbelieving, wanting to know the American attitude toward girls. I tell them we really do think that girls and boys are the same and both are good.

Of course, in America we still believe that everyone is looking for the perfect boy-girl family. I don't know a single family with all girls who hasn't gotten comments to the effect that surely they must want a boy, and the same is true for all boy families. For some reason we have the idea that we couldn't possibly be content with just one gender.

Personally I'm very happy to have all girls. I was hoping for a girl at some point, but after that I really didn't have a strong desire one way or the other, and neither did Kevin. By this pregnancy, I was rather hoping for another girl. We already have all the clothes, sharing a room won't be an issue, and we'll already be dealing with all the preteen mean girl drama anyway.

While I was pregnant, our ayi asked how my parents and in laws felt about all girls.
"They are happy," I said. "It doesn't matter to them. They are also happy with girls."
"Oh, that's very good," She said. "In China, your in laws probably wouldn't speak to you any more if you only had girls."

Attitudes are changing in China, especially in the cities. Even so, it was only a few years ago that our (mostly rural) female students were telling stories of being unwanted, or even of their families trying to get rid of them.  And even so, everyone wishes you will have a boy.  But hopefully we will continue to see more value placed on daughters, one (or three!) girl at a time.

Friday, February 26, 2016

One Word 2016: Moment

It's not even the end of February and I've already had a baby and written about my word for the year. So yeah, I'm pretty on top of things.

Life with a newborn is all about the present moment. Nothing can really be planned - as soon as you sit down to eat or lie down to sleep, baby is suddenly ravenously hungry. For her there is no future. Either she is nursing or starving. She is cuddled with mama or she is unfathomably alone.

The needs of a two year old are less constant but nearly as changeable. One moment she is giving sweet kisses and the next she is screaming bloody bedtime murder because she wants her blanket on but doesn't want her blanket on and it's the wrong person doing it in the wrong way. There will be moments of silliness and toddler slyness and far too many moments of potty training and running away screaming and then suddenly one day Baby Addie isn't even a toddler anymore, she's a threenager (cue ominous music).

It's so easy to get tied up in the minutes of the day. Minutes of sleep and sleeplessness. Minutes til everyone needs shoes on walking out the door. Minutes until the next nursing, until dinner is supposed to be ready, and how many minutes will this tantrum last? Minutes til bedtime and not nearly enough minutes until morning.  This year will be filled with a lot of loud, in your face, strain your patience, labor intense minutes. I won't treasure every minute. Some minutes are just not that good.

The minutes can go by slowly, in the middle of the night, or in the third hour of nursing, but the moments speed fast. Baby squeaks and curled frog legs turn to searching eyes and first flashing smiles. When I look back I want to remember the floppiness of a satisfied sleeping baby.  I want to notice the  toddler's mischievous grin as she wraps arms around my neck, I want to appreciate the dancing five year old yet to discover self-consciousness. 

As this our presumably last baby already moves through new stages, I realize how brief this season of life really is.  I don't want to rush through or begrudge this season.  But in the midst of it all, it can be hard to see beyond. My life looks to be an endless procession of one handed tasks and days divided by a series of catnaps. Any non-mothering dreams will stay on the back shelf. I will be quietly buried under a pile of laundry.

I want to remember that these moments are important. When I am accomplishing nothing and haven't made it outside the apartment because it would take five hours to get everyone ready, when I have been doing and saying the same things over and over with no measurable progress, I want to remember that these days still matter.

These are the moments of nourishing my baby and teaching her to trust. These are the moments of sternness, of gentleness, of silliness - of letting my middle child know she is seen and not forgotten. These are the moments of teaching my oldest how to read and to love reading, of helping her adjust to changes at school and loneliness over losing her classmate-best friend. These moments shape lives.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Nadia - One Month Old

In most of life one month is nothing special. Several months slide by without notice. But in the life of a baby, each month is a huge leap.

One month ago little Nadia was still peacefully cocooned inside the only warm, unchanging (but increasingly cramped) environment she had ever known. Since then she has experienced quite a shocking lot of change. Fortunately there is still the reassuring smell of mama and the comfort of nursing and the familiarity of yelling sisters. It was pretty obvious from birth that she recognized those loud voices.
They said I ought to start tracking faces.  I did NOT know you looked like that.
Nadia already looks a lot older. She is measuring in just over 8 lbs, at 16th percentile (but up from 8% a month ago!) While still small, her newborn clothes and newborn cloth diapers are now fitting well. Her skin has smoothed and lost the red, wrinkly just born look. She still sleeps a lot in short, newborn segments, but she has more alert spells. She has started staring more purposely at things and following faces.

Here's the lowdown on Nadia at one month:
If you don't feed me I will eat your face
Nursing: It's hard to say how often Nadia nurses.  I really just nurse her when she wants to nurse, which is generally somewhere between 20 minutes to 3 hours. She is a pretty leisurely nurser and will often nurse for an hour at a time, sometimes pausing for a little nap in the middle.  But again, sometimes she's done in 30 minutes and sometimes, in the evening, she nurses semi-continuously for several hours. She definitely feels most comfortable when mama is close by and ready to be summoned. It's pretty easy to see she has not forgotten those months of attachment.
Sleeping with her great grandmother
Sleeping: Nadia has been staying up late with daddy so mama can get a little sleep before the night shift.  Sometimes she sleeps for 2hrs at a time and sometimes she doesn't. She has had a few instances of sleeping for 3 hours. While it doesn't seem to make any difference to her, I can tell you that mama finds 3 hours much more restful that the shorter varieties. Usually Nadia sleeps best in the first part of the night and gets more restless toward morning.

Nadia has slept in her little basket bed a few times but pretty much stays with mama. She likes the the security of mama and milk within touching distance, and I feel more comfortable with her snuggled right up against me where I can check on her without fully waking up.

Temperament: Pretty content as long as she gets what she wants :) She is generally only very fussy when gassy. Otherwise nursing and/or cuddling pretty much solves the problem.
Adalyn, Juliana, and Nadia at 1 month
Characteristics and comparisons: While her coloring is a little more similar to Adalyn's, overall Nadia's features are definitely more like Juliana's. Her personality is yet to be determined. So far she is the least spit-uppy baby - sometimes you can even carry her around without a burp rag. Crazy.

Likes: Sleeping curled up on someone's shoulder, nursing and more nursing, bathtime, listening to sisters, looking at lights, lying on the floor or Juliana's bed looking around
It's all fun and games as long as nobody gets smushed
Dislikes: Being abandoned by mama (aka. having to wait more than 10 seconds before I appear), diaper changes, items brandished within 2 inches of face
Um, guys...a little help here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Birth of Nadia Charlotte

[This is a birth story, so words like dilation and placenta will be bandied about. Since apparently not everyone has dinner conversations about eating your own placenta, if this sort of thing makes you all queasy or shifty eyed, you have been forewarned.]

Nadia Charlotte

Born January 18, 2016 at 10:35am
6lb 5oz, 20 inches
37.5 weeks and no idea I was about to have a baby
was sure this baby wouldn't come early. All my wishful "early baby" thinking with Adalyn came to nothing, so this time I was determined to have realistic expectations. At 37.5 weeks I had made very few preparations, but Sunday night as I watched Downton Abbey, I started crocheting a hat I had been planning for baby's coming home outfit. I went to bed thinking, “Tomorrow I ought to start packing the hospital bag and think some more about birth.”

My stomach wasn't feeling great when I went to bed, which wasn't too unusual these days, and I woke from contractions several times during the night. This also wasn't unusual, although these contractions did seem a bit more painful than before. I didn't think anything about it until close to 5 am, when I realized I was having some semi-regular contractions.

I still didn't think it was labor, but out of curiosity I started keeping an eye on the clock. They were ranging from 8-12 minutes apart, but they were starting to feel deeper and more in the back, which was the main difference I remembered from real labor contractions vs. the months of braxton hicks. I lay in bed debating whether to wake Kevin. After barely making it to the hospital last time, I knew I shouldn't delay too long, but I wasn't feeling any urgency.

A bit before 6am I woke up Kevin and said, “I'm having some contractions...”
He sprang up. “Should we go to the hospital?”
“Well...I don't know yet...but maybe we should pack some things?”
He hurriedly packed our hospital bag and woke my mom, who was coming with us, while I lay in bed trying to determine if this was really labor. I had a few stronger contractions interspersed with weaker ones. Juliana came in about this time, confused and a little disturbed to see our light on and us packing up.

About 6:20 I decided we'd better go to the hospital, just in case. This time it was a peaceful drive. Kevin asked if I wanted music, but I just wanted to sit in silence and think about the possibility of labor. Contractions were around 6-8 minutes apart and still varying in intensity. I was halfway certain we'd end up getting sent home, mostly because I was so sure the baby wouldn't come this early.

I had to pause for a couple of contractions as we made our way through the parking garage and waited to register. During contractions I thought, “Okay, maybe this is the real thing,” but in between I didn't feel like I was in labor.
Settled in at triage; Kevin trying out his camera
I was settled into a triage bed for monitoring and was 5cm dilated when checked around 7 am. I settled back in the bed to rest as much as possible in case this really was labor. I kept thinking about the things I had still been planning to accomplish. I hadn't really gotten around to thinking about labor or preparing for baby, and I really wanted to get her hat finished!

I decided to give the girls a quick call since we left home just as they were waking up. Adalyn listened to me say hi, but she wouldn't say anything to me. I told Juliana we were at the hospital.
“Is the baby coming?” She asked.
“I'm not sure,” I said, “We're going to see.”
“Oh. Are you having a nice time there?”
I laughed. “Yeah, I guess so. I just wanted to say hi for a minute.”
“Oh. Well I could talk for longer!”

Contractions calmed down a little for a while, a number of wimpy ones interspersed with a few stronger ones. After a while they settled into about 5 minutes apart. I was still comfortable lying back on the bed, gripping the bed rails and breathing through the stronger contractions. Kevin sat by my side and mom offered me water and juice, but mostly I just wanted to lie there and be quiet and try to mentally prepare for labor.

When I was checked a little after 8 am, I was 6cm dilated. “You are definitely progressing,” the midwife said, “So we'll get you checked into a room.” While I was starting to feel like it was real labor, this was the confirmation I needed that we really would be having our baby today.

The L&D was completely full, so we waited while a room was cleaned for us to move into. I spent a few minutes talking to mom and Kevin about my labor desires and our plans for after the baby was born, since that was one of the things we hadn't gotten around to yet.

The contractions were getting too intense for lying down. I sat on the edge of the bed, leaning into Kevin and breathing through the contractions, the hymn words going through my head: “Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.” I imagined pushing the baby down with my breath which helped me feel I was working with the contractions instead of just waiting them out.

We were able to move into a room at about 9am, and I was eager to get in the water. I started in the shower but quickly decided to try a bath instead. The bathroom had a fabulous, deep birthing tub and as I sunk into the water, I immediately felt soothed by the water. I sat up and gripped the hand-holds during contractions and sank back to relax in between.

The midwife and nurse checked in occasionally but mostly they just let me labor in peace, which was what I needed. Kevin rubbed my back and mom brought me cold washcloths. They reminded me to breathe slowly and stay loose. The contractions were getting more intense and were 2-3 minutes apart, but I could still handle them well. I breathed loudly through each one, occasionally moaning but mostly staying pretty quiet. I was very inward focused. If I focused hard on breathing then the pain was quite manageable. In between contractions, I was still able to think clearly, very different from the exhausted stupor I felt as I got toward the end of my first labor.

Sometime around 10:20, I started having trouble breathing through contractions, and I realized I was feeling a little pushy. The nurse asked if I'd like to be checked but I said I'd wait a little longer. I didn't feel quite ready to push.

I was reminded of my labor with Juliana, when I felt the urge to push long before I was ready. I didn't recognize it at the time; I just knew that everything felt too hard to handle. Its hard not to feel a little panicky when your body starts to take over and feel beyond your control, but this time I reminded myself that I knew what was going on, and when I was ready, I'd be able to push.

After just a couple more contractions I said the nurse had better check me. “Oh yeah, you're complete!” The midwife asked if I wanted to get out of the bath, and I decided I'd better do it now if I was going to. Between contractions I got out of the tub and made my way to the edge of the bed.

“What position would you like for pushing?” the midwife asked. “You can stand by the bed, or you can lie down or kneel on the bed if you'd like...” “I'm not sure,” I said, “Maybe I'll just see how it goes.”

As the next contraction started, my water broke forcefully and I felt baby rushing through the birth canal. I wasn't consciously pushing but my body was bearing down on its own. I felt the impossible pressure of her head as she was crowning – then the head was out. I instinctively reached down and grabbed her head and then her body as it slid out a few seconds later. I felt the deep relief that comes with birthing a baby – plus surprise that she had come out so suddenly. The midwife dove down to grab the baby as well, so fortunately there was no danger of me dropping her. I always thought it would be cool to catch my own baby, though, so that was pretty fun!

“I thought she would come quickly once the water broke, but I didn't think it would be that quickly!” The midwife exclaimed.

I held the baby awkwardly between my legs as the midwife helped me bring her up to my belly. After a brief silence, baby started to wail loudly. I managed to get onto the bed where I could hold baby on my chest.
A few minutes after birth, still covered in a healthy coat of vernix
I kept her on my chest and waited for the placenta, which came shortly after. The midwife examined it, showed me the unusual cord attachment, and considerately asked if I wanted to keep it (I didn't, fyi). She discovered I had a second degree tear, something I was hoping to avoid, but the 30 second delivery meant there wasn't much of a chance to control the speed. That part felt like Adalyn's birth! Apparently I no longer push babies out; when they're ready they just barrel out on their own.

The nurses took the baby to the other side of the room to check her out while the midwife put in a few stitches. This really is my least favorite part of labor. You are so ready to be done and not have someone poking around at you. Also the afterbirth pains were starting up and by baby three, it almost feels like you're still in labor.

I heard them call out the baby's weight – 6lb 5oz. She was the smallest of my girls and almost identical to my size at birth. I was also born 2.5 weeks early.
The stitching was finished about the same time as baby's check up. Baby came back to snuggle on my chest where she nursed off and on while Kevin and I settled on her name: Nadia Charlotte. After a couple of hours I realized Kevin might want a chance to hold her too!

It was pretty much my ideal labor. Juliana's birth was 15.5 hours - not bad for a first labor I guess, but I found it difficult, overwhelming, and exhausting. Adalyn's birth was less than 2 hours and quite exciting - it happened so quickly I hardly even had time to process it. Nadia's birth was 5.5 hours and very peaceful. We had plenty of time to settle in at the hospital, and the only part that was rushed was her actual emergence. The labor was never unmanageable and I really felt in the zone, able to focus completely and breathe through the difficult contractions all the way to the end.
Later that afternoon, the girls came to visit, excited to see meet their new baby sister. Juliana was especially enamored – Adalyn was a little more interested in exploring the hospital room. They both gave lots of kisses and Adalyn practiced saying “Nadia, Nadia, Nadia” while playing hide and seek behind the curtain.

“So,” Juliana asked once again, “Did you have a good time today?”
“Yes,” I told her. “I guess I did.”
It wasn't the cute owl hat I had planned, but I did finish a hat for Nadia's homecoming!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Then There Were Five

Nadia Charlotte
Born January 18, 2016 at 10:35am
6lb 5oz, 20 inches

I was convinced that the baby would not come early, seeing as all my fervent early-baby wishes last time were futile.  So when I went into labor at 37.5 weeks, it took a while to believe it was actually the real thing.  I kept thinking, "It's too early for baby to come.  I thought I had at least a couple of weeks to prepare.  I was going to make a hat for her!"

My first labor was 15.5 hours and rather...laborous.  My second was 1 hours 45 minutes and rather adventurous.  This one was a nice middle ground: 5.5 hours that I would best describe as peaceful.  Plenty of time to get to the hospital and settle in, and when she decided it was time to come, she shot out in about 30 seconds, and I got to help catch her.  I will write up the full story soon, because I do love a good birth story.

Because Nadia was born earlier than we expected, and because these things seem to be harder to decide once you get to the third baby, Nadia was born before we had a chance to finalize the name.  So we spent our first few hours after birth getting to know baby and trying to settle on a name.  In the end, I'm glad we waited until we met her, because while she looked more like "squishy newborn baby" than any particular name, I think Nadia really fits her.

We both liked the sound and meaning of the name Nadia Charlotte.  We wanted each of the girls to have a meaningful name, not something to grow into and experience in their lives.  Juliana Grace means "youthful grace."  Adalyn Lucia means "noble light."  Nadia Charlotte means "hope free."

The fact that Nadia decided to come early on MLK Day makes her name even more appropriate.  Our prayer is that her life will similarly be a beacon of hope and freedom.  I have been thinking of the words of Isaiah, echoed by Jesus: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Such words of hope, ringing with freedom - we ask that she will experience this reality in her own life and fight for freedom for others.

Baby is nearly a week old and doing well.  She got down to 5lb 11oz but has already started gaining back.  After a very sleepy start, she has been nursing well.  Her nursing schedule is something like this: Wake up and nurse a bit, fall into floppy sleep, wake up 20 minutes later and nurse some more, sink into a deeper sleep until alerted by a six sense that mama is trying to sleep, take a shower, or eat, wake up desperately hungry.  She has occasional alert spells but more often than not can be found sacked out in someone's arms.

Mama is tired and sore but enjoying her internal organs all returning to their usual place.  While Nadia has been sleeping semi constantly, there hasn't been a whole lot of sleep for me (shocker, huh?).  One of the real mysteries of newbornhood is how baby can sleep 20 hours while mama sleeps 4.  I don't get it. Last night Nadia slept for three hours straight - then she nursed for three hours straight.  I didn't know that was possible, but I'm actually not exaggerating.  I am enjoying lots of warm baby snuggles and trying to share some with baby's many admirers.

Speaking of admirers, her sisters are big fans!  Juliana keeps saying, "I really like the baby!"  At first she would say, "Nadia is just wondering where mama is," but after holding the baby for the first time, she changed it to, "Nadia is just wondering where her sister is!"  Adalyn alternates between shy interest, indifference, and rough love.  Nadia has also enjoyed lots of attention from her grandparents and aunts, including her doctor aunt who is the first to describe her as "anatomically intact." 

Miraculously, no one was harmed in the making of this photograph

Enjoying our first days with this squishy little baby!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Grace in Retrospect

When I chose Grace as my “One Word” for 2015, I wasn’t sure how I would really go about growing in grace. I started reading a couple of grace-related books because how else do you go about learning something? I knew I needed more than head knowledge, but I didn’t know I would be learning about grace through forced-acceptance.

My year in review would look something like this.
- 8 months of pregnancy
- 1 violent stomach bug and 1 less violent, longer-lasting mysterious stomach ailment
- 4 months of mostly constant “morning sickness”
- 1 month of severe allergies
- 7 weeks of bad colds
- Lot of general pregnancy ailments like difficulty moving, digesting, sleeping, or thinking clearly

I spent a lot of time inside because I was sick or because it hurt to climb to the fifth floor or because I couldn’t go out without a mask and a large box of tissues.  I spent a lot of time on the couch because I was sick or because I didn’t want to throw up or because I felt like I really might die of tiredness.

If we actually had food to eat and nobody got buried under a pile of laundry or toys, that was probably a successful day. There were five students I saw on a relatively regular basis, and that was about the extent of my campus interactions. I taught Juliana as often as I had voice to do it. It was a year of great limits.

I spent a good deal of time feeling frustrated - not everyone has such a hard time with pregnancy, why me? I felt guilty for not doing more, for neglecting my kids and not spending time with students. I felt discouraged about feeling so bad all the time. I fought against the limits.

And then, eventually, I accepted them. I still got frustrated and discouraged (and did I mention irritable?). But I realized that actually, this was what I needed.

It’s impossible to accept grace when you still think you can keep it all together. Working hard to be strong, pushing through, thinking positive - that’s what you’re supposed to do as long as you possibly can. But sometimes, it doesn’t work. However hard you try to be strong, you still get sick. Pushing through means getting sicker. And pithy motivational sayings make you want to punch someone.

In the end, I learned about grace because I had to. It wasn’t an intellectual pursuit. I didn’t finish those books. I didn’t read through the Bible or even read through one book of the Bible. Instead I read the same passages, the same verses over and over again. I listened to the same songs over and over. I learned the same things over and over, and each time the truth sank in a little deeper.

When I think about what I accomplished - or mainly didn’t accomplish, it looks like a dormant year. I was a tree in winter: silent, stripped, waiting. But I think I will look back on this year as an important one. Not only because I grew a child, but also because I grew. In the deep, quiet places that cannot be reached in the busyness of accomplishment and self-reliance.

It hasn’t been my favorite year. I can’t say I want to continue in this period of sickness and pregnancy and limitation. But looking back, I am grateful. It has been a year of grace.

I haven’t yet settled on my One Word for the new year. It will be a year of newbornhood - of long nights and daily growth and constant neededness. It will be a year of potty training and the start of another three year old, God save us all. It will be a year of learning to read and changes at Chinese school and inexorbable growth. It will be long and full and exhausting and pass so quickly.

So I know my idea for the new year...something about seasons or slowing down and living the moment, about investing in what is right in front of me. But I haven’t yet decided on my One Word. But it’s only January. I’ve still got time.

[Linking up with Velvet Ashes: One Word]

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mother Mary

Perhaps it's not surprising that I’ve found myself thinking about Mary in this Advent season of being “great with child.” Some pretty amazing things happened to her - an angel appearance seems pretty spectacular, and it’s not every day a heavenly being says you’ve found favor in the eyes of the Lord.  Still, she had to put up with an awful lot of unpleasantness as well.  As I reflected last year on that “holy, messy night,” I imagine the whole experience looked less like a Christmas card and more like Imogene Herdman crying and crying over the baby Jesus.

While her cousin Elizabeth was celebrating a long-awaited baby and the removal of her reproach, Mary was facing shame, suspicion, and likely shunning. The turned backs of neighbors and friends may have seemed a lot more real than the memory of being highly favored. While she was busy laboring in a stable, the shepherds got the whole hallelujah chorus.

Mary experienced a whole lot of trouble along with the glimpses of glory, but after all she had no ordinary role.

After the shepherds and wisemen faded from sight, off to share their moments of epiphany, Mary was still there. She was the one to hold baby Jesus, to gaze into his face, to touch his pudgy cheek.  She nursed him and held him through sleepless nights. Imagine seeing the first of Jesus’ smiles, hearing his childish whispers of love.

Mary was there for the quiet years of his growth. The rest of us know so little about his childhood, but she was there through each moment of it. She knew his favorite food and favorite friends. She laughed at his silly jokes. She wrapped skinned knees and dried tears. He was hungry and she fed him, thirsty and she gave him something to drink, naked and she clothed him, sick and she cared for him - every single day.

Jesus’ closest followers got three years with him; Mary had thirty-three. There was much she did not yet understand, but by the time he started his ministry, imagine how much she already knew of him! She had known he was special from before he was even conceived.

She was there at his birth, and she was there at his death. She stayed nearby and watched him suffer, because how could she turn away now? Though she was helpless and brokenhearted, she gave him all she could: her presence in a time of abandonment. And even in his anguish, Jesus made sure his mother would be cared for.

I think it’s appropriate that Mary was one of the first to know of his resurrection. And how did she come to find out? She was going to fulfill her last motherly duty - anointing her son’s body with burial spices. She wasn’t expecting a miracle - she was doing what she could to care for her son, just as she always had.

How is it that she got to be a part of so many big moments - his announcement, his birth, his first miracle, his death, his resurrection? Certainly she was special, blessed among women. But I think she witnessed these things because she was there.

She didn’t miss the big moments because she was already there for all the little moments. She was already there washing his clothes and making his food, worrying if he was getting enough rest. She swaddled him at birth, and she prepared to anoint his body at death. She had the opportunity to see Jesus from the first to the last. After all, she was his mother.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Third Child

In most American families, the first and second children are more or less a given. Sure, there are some couples who don’t have any children, through their own choice or not. But since most people expect kids, they probably get a lot of inappropriate questions about why they don’t have any. And there are certainly people who only have one child, but in general after you have one, people are wondering when you’re going to produce the sibling and don’t you want one of each sex?
But plenty of families stop at two kids. It’s really the rational thing to do. You have fulfilled your obligation to provide a sibling and reproduce yourselves. You have quite enough insanity to keep your busy and you might as well stop before you are outnumbered. We are well past the age of needing help around the farm, we have access to birth control - there’s really no practical reason for that third kid. (Granted, one could say that having children in the first place is an insane decision, practicality wise.)
By the third child, you know what you are getting yourself into. I didn’t love my first pregnancy, but it was more or less a piece of cake compared to these later two. The second pregnancy was pretty much miserable, so this time I knew what I was in for.
Maybe you got lucky with a super easy first baby and thought, “I can handle this; I must be really good at this parenting thing.” But unless the universe is super tilted in your favor, the second child is bound to come along and prove you wrong. (I was fortunate to have the “high needs” one first, so the second seemed easy in comparison).
At any rate, by this point you have realized that when you finally get through the sleepless nights, you still have the tantrums and potty training and blatant defiance and education worries...and you have discovered that sleepless nights do not end with babyhood. This parenting thing just keeps being hard, so why in the world would you go and start over again with another baby?
Unless it’s a total surprise, the third baby is usually more of a decision. You weigh the pros and cons. The house isn’t going to get any bigger, which means three kids in the same room waking each other up. In America you will have three car seats. I know those things are live saving, but it's going to take 30 minutes just to get everyone strapped in. In China you will have to somehow rangle three children down five flights of stairs. Three kids sure don’t fit on a bike, and can you really get that many on and off a bus by yourself? You may never go out again.
While I understand the principles of addition, they don’t seem to apply to children. Each added child seems to multiply the laundry and mess and chaos and tiredness. You already rarely see the bottom of the laundry hamper as it is, and now you are thinking about adding 5x the laundry (because somehow, that’s how it works)??
So why in the world do you have that third child?
Just because you want to. It’s not for convention or practicality or obligation. It doesn’t make sense. But you look around at your two child chaos and feel like something is still missing. Your family is not complete. You have the third child just because you want them. (Hopefully and presumably you wanted the first to as well, but the third child is just special. Which I’m not just saying because I am a third child...) The third child is like a bonus.
Besides, you know what you are getting into. You don’t have to worry (too much) about all the weird pregnancy symptoms, and it’s going to take a lot more than a few stretch marks to faze you. You know that pregnancy will in fact one day end. You feel like you could probably deliver your own baby on the side of the road, if it came down to it.
You already know about the heart-melting first smiles. You know how incredibly awesome it is to finally sleep through the night, and you will never again take it for granted. The first two have eaten an awful lot of fuzzy stuff off the floor and fallen head first off an awful lot of chairs without dying, so there’s a pretty good chance this next one will survive too. You know that one day this baby will be able to wrap its arms around your neck and say, “I wuv you, mama!”
You already know how much the siblings will enjoy each other, fighting and all. The first child is old enough to understand what is going on, to feel the baby kick and discuss again the mystery of just how it’s going to get out of your stomach. You know the coloring and block building and dancing around the living room will be that much more exciting with someone else to join the party.
You have seen how incredibly different those first two children are in looks and personality, and you cannot imagine either of them not existing in the world. You know this third will be a totally new surprise.
It doesn’t make sense. It’s not practical. You’ll lose a lot of brain cells and gain a lot of gray hairs. But you have that third child anyway, just because you want to.
This is the irrational season
Where love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.
-Madeleine L’Engle