Zelie’s birth story

IMG_2659

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about labor as the third time around approaches – wondering if it’s going to follow the pattern of the first two (slowwww) and getting stressed out about sort of wanting/wanting to want to do it naturally and then finally getting back to where I was at originally (there’s no trophy for that and epidurals have been great for me and we’ll see what happens). And I figured it would help me to remember an actual labor I went through and better late than never on writing out Zelie’s birth story!

Zelie was due on April 14, which was Good Friday. It made for an interesting Lent for me, because it was a time of preparation in lots of ways. With her birth, I would stop working indefinitely and a couple months later, we would be moving to Indiana. A lot of transition on the horizon.

On Palm Sunday, I went to an event at my parents’ church in the afternoon and I felt kind of “off,” so I wasn’t terribly surprised when contractions started around 9pm that night. I tried to be chill about it and waited like half an hour before telling Chris, and then told him we should try to go to sleep, because who knows how long this would go on. After probably an hour of not sleeping, I gave up, because standing and moving felt better. I called the birth center at some point – maybe to see if they had a bed available? – and they suggested I try taking a shower. That felt great, and contractions sped up, so I called my mom so she could drive over the hill from San Jose. She arrived and I think I told Chris to nap and my mom helped put pressure on my back, and then they switched off and by 5am or so it seemed like we should go in. I think my mom stayed with Evange and then dropped her off at a dear friend’s house at a more reasonable hour (like 6am – thank the Lord for moms being up early!) and joined us at the birth center. (Wow, so much I don’t remember about that night – I really should write my birth stories before two years have passed…)

I was only at 3cm when I arrived at the birth center and I was worried they would send me home, but they did not. PRAISE. Once I was in my own room, it was close to 7am and I hadn’t really slept all night, so Chris and I both tried to sleep. I remember being tired enough that I really did doze off and would just squeeze his hand through the contraction and then fall back asleep until the next one. That went on for maybe an hour or so, and then the midwife came in and checked me – and I was maybe at 6cm – and we talked about laboring for a while longer and then getting an epidural. I was surprised that it was offered so soon – everything felt like it was going so much more quickly compared to Evangeline’s labor. I’d only had one sleepless night so far! The pain wasn’t even that bad yet! I felt like I was wimping out with getting the epidural this early on, but I also knew how I had dilated so quickly after getting it with E, and I didn’t want another 50 hour labor. So, at this point it was morning, I was up and walking around, eating some food, laboring away, and feeling just this pleasant surprise at how quickly and yet peacefully everything was proceeding. As I got the epidural, my mom was chatting up the nurses and the anesthesiologist and I just kept thinking, “Wow, I don’t feel like I’m dying right now. Is this okay?”

The epidural wasn’t as strong, or didn’t work, or something – I wasn’t completely numb like with Evange. But I was happy about that because I still had these nagging worries that I was “cheating” somehow since I hadn’t hit that same low/discouraged/exhausted point like I had before. So I felt half the strength of the contractions, and when it was time to push (not much later), I could feel the pushing this time. And when she came out, I felt the “ring of fire,” and yelled in this way that seemed totally involuntary, like a primordial scream from my gut, totally out of my control, and she was born and it. was. awesome.

IMG_2629

It was only 11:30am. The sun was shining, it was about 14 hours from when the first contractions had started, and I had a baby in my arms. She was 6 pounds, 7 ounces and seemed so much smaller than E had been. And she was hairy! Little hairy back and butt. 🙂 So cute. I kept feeling surprised that it had been so chill and peaceful, and was over already.

IMG_2635

It was Monday of Holy Week, and I felt well enough, and we had family in town, that I was able to do Triduum stuff with her and Chris – and it felt like no big deal taking a newborn out! Crazy how much I’d learned and how expectations had shifted in those 19 months since E.

 

Now I’m anticipating meeting this next baby girl in less than two weeks! Gonna try to type out her story (maybe one-handed) this summer while it’s still fresh in my mind.

 

I love you so much I could eat you up: what I’m learning from thirteenth century nuns

new-camaldoli-hermitage-monestary-1248x702
Overlook at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA. Photo by The Manual.

Jesus knows how bodies work

Your hunger for truth, beauty, and goodness is real. Really take, really eat, really be fed. It is here for you. I am here for you. I had been going to mass for months and the real presence was my last obstacle. At a New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA, we gathered around the altar with a few other people at a daily mass, and as the priest spoke the words, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you,” he held up the bread that the monks made there, and I felt in my body that this was Jesus, that he was speaking to me. It was less a command and more permission granted, affirmation given. You are hungry, and I am here to feed you. I was overwhelmed to be seen and known in this way, and I sobbed through the rest of this very intimate mass.  

That kind of mystical experience of the eucharist has only happened that one time for me. I became Catholic shortly after becoming a mother, and my typical experience of receiving the eucharist is much more mundane. I’m usually herding a preschooler in front of me or holding a squirmy toddler. I don’t often feel that I have much of a devotion at all to Jesus in the eucharist. And yet, the grace is still there. He still feeds me. And he feeds the baby inside me, which is growing without conscious thought or effort on my part. Jesus knows how bodies work.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

“If I had you, I would eat you up, I love you so much!”

In Caroline Walker Bynum’s essay, “Women Mystics and Eucharistic Devotion in the Thirteenth Century,” she explores how, for many women in this time, “The eucharist was … a moment of encounter with that humanitas Christi … For thirteenth-century women this humanity was, above all, Christ’s physicality, his corporality, his being-in-the-body-ness; Christ’s humanity was Christ’s body and blood” (p.129). These women had a profound understanding of Jesus’s experience of living in a body that impacted everything about how they understood him and their own bodies. “The humanity of Christ with which women joined in the eucharist was the physical Jesus of the manger and of Calvary. Women from all walks of life saw in the host and the chalice Christ the baby, Christ the bridegroom, Christ the tortured body on the cross” (p.130). And, in a way that seems crazy to us now, these women knew that that they could unite with Christ’s sufferings in their bodies and express their love for him in a physical way.

It is this “being-in-the-body-ness” that I experience when I am tired and distracted at mass. It is not removed from Jesus’s experience. He knows what it is like to be in a tired, distracted body. It is this “being-in-the-body-ness” I live when I look at my baby and am overwhelmed with love for this truly good, undeserved gift. In and through the body, this mystery of new life came to me. When I smother my baby in kisses and nibble at her chubby cheeks, that feeling of I love you so much, I can’t get enough of you, I just want to eat you, is not removed from Jesus’s experience either. God created us, in our bodies, with an appetite for what is truly good. Bynum writes, “Both in a eucharistic context and outside it, the humanity of Christ was often described as ‘being eaten’ … Anna Vorchtlin of Engelthal exclaimed, upon receiving a vision of the baby Jesus: ‘If I had you, I would eat you up, I love you so much!’” (p. 129-130) These thirteenth-century women knew, in a way I am just beginning to discover, that this appetite is real. We live in bodies that literally hunger for the good and beautiful, and it is Jesus we desire. This is my body, take and eat. He is here, to feed us.

New Camaldoli Hermitage
Visitors join the monks around the altar at mass. Photo by New Camaldoli Hermitage

using my gifts

In the first trimester of this pregnancy, when I was feeling super tired and introverted, I found myself using the pregnancy as an excuse to get out of social commitments. I know we planned to hang out tonight, but actually, I’m pregnant and I just want to go to bed at 8pm (real text by moi). Right after that, I was invited to give a talk to some undergrad women for an Advent day of reflection. And I jumped at the chance – it did not even cross my mind to say no.

Before I left my work with campus ministry in California, one of my colleagues, Wes, spoke a word of encouragement that I’ve been thinking about lately. He said something like, I hope this next season of life would give you the chance to use gifts that you haven’t been able to in your work now. I was about to have two babies under two and move to a new state. I remember thinking, Interesting… I have no idea what that would look like. 

Almost two years later, I’m seeing that this stay-at-home mom, Notre Dame grad-wife life has given me the chance to flex old muscles. Two months after we arrived, I started campaigning with brand-new friends and neighbors for family student housing to continue after the demolition of University Village – that was a wild ride that I got surprisingly fired up over (hello, eight wing of this enneagram nine). And little opportunities have popped up since then, that have tapped into my love for writing and public speaking, and have been doable with young kids and have just felt right. 

Along the way, I’ve been learning more about myself. About what gives me energy and life, and finding the courage to say yes to those things. In the fall, I got connected with a very flexible, part-time editing job, helping students with undergrad and grad school application essays. I started this, my own lil blog, and have really enjoyed having a space to share some of my thoughts and reflections (with my ten followers, lol). And most recently, I wrote a post for the McGrath Institute’s new blog about interruptions. 

There have been other opportunities that I’ve gotten really excited about, but the timing just hasn’t been right (like this new Catholic literary journal I found on Instagram that was accepting fiction and poetry submissions that week). I’m learning to be patient and trust God’s timing with this stuff more, rather than try to force things to happen, or be all angsty about it. And mostly it’s just been a cool journey of becoming more confident that yes, I do have gifts and strengths, and yes, there will be opportunities to use them, even in this season.

 

our baby valentine

I wanted to write about our experience of miscarriage because it was helpful for me to read stories from other women, like this post a friend sent me. So I share some of how I processed it in the hope it could help someone else feel less alone. 

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

At the end of June, I lost a baby at five weeks. I wrote about how that baby is part of our story now, and this post is more about the experience of miscarriage and the ways we have grieved and found closure. He or she would have been born sometime this week, so it’s been on our hearts.

It was my first miscarriage, so at Chris’s urging I went to immediate care, where it was confirmed a miscarriage and I was sent home. There was heavy bleeding for several days, and painful cramps. And now I know that this experience of passing the baby varies widely for different women. But I was grateful, in a way, that the pain lasted for a while, because it felt like a mini mini labor, and a way that only I got to experience a little more of this baby we would never get to know.

Chris’s reaction to the news was to cry a little with me and then figure out how we should do this well. He did some research and found that we could give the remains to a local funeral parlor, who would bury the baby for free in a designated section of the cemetery. They would hold a memorial service for all the babies who died before 20 weeks from March-June in 2018. We named the baby Valentine, since he or she (I usually say she) would have been born around Valentine’s Day, and it was a name I liked but probably would never use for a living child. The memorial service was held on a sweltering day in August. I was glad we went, but I’m more grateful that we have a physical place to visit her whenever we want. (Evangeline has now asked if we’ll all be buried under the same stone as Baby Valen when we die. Chris and I made a mental note to make a will.)

 

 

 

 

When Chris did the funeral parlor research, he also asked if I wanted to invite a priest friend over to pray for us. I felt awkward about this. But I knew that later on I would wish for something – some way to find closure – so I said sure, let’s have him over for dinner.

Chris had just gotten to know this priest on a trip to Israel. He’s a Franciscan, newly ordained, also studying theology at Notre Dame, and a Catholic convert. I always love meeting other converts. As Chris put the girls to bed, I told Fr. Andrew more about the miscarriage, and how I’d been feeling. When Chris returned, we sat in the backyard and Fr. Andrew prayed for us, using a prayer specifically for parents after a miscarriage from The Catholic Book of Blessings (which also has the prayer we used to bless our garden seeds). It was so beautiful, and I just let the liturgy wash over me. I felt deeply at peace, and was grateful to Chris for suggesting we do this. We sat in silence for a few moments and then Fr. Andrew asked, Would you guys want to sing some songs together?  

IMG_5344 (1)
I miss you, summer backyard.

I was surprised but said sure, I like to sing. Fr. Andrew started singing, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord,” Chris joined in, and I started bawling. I leaned back in my chair, letting them sing, feeling waves of sadness, and also, still, peace. It felt so right, to be there in our backyard, singing songs that I had grown up with in church, with a Franciscan priest. I hadn’t realized how much I missed singing casually with other people. As they sang, I asked God, What role will this baby’s life and death play in our family’s story? And as I asked, I was surprised to feel confirmation in my desire to have more kids, to have a large family, like this baby was already praying for courage for me. I also felt God pointing out to me the consolation of that moment and saying, It doesn’t help anyone for you to leave behind all the ways you knew me before you were Catholic. There was something so healing for me in Fr. Andrew singing those songs I had almost forgotten. It brought together two worlds; the old that I had begun to reject as I was learning to navigate the new.

IMG_5379
flowers sent by a friend

This was an unexpected gift I received as I processed the miscarriage. A reminder of how I used to connect with God and with others, and the courage to more vulnerable. I had time in those summer weeks to think about how, after a year in South Bend, I was fairly happy with the community I’d found, but still wanted to know others more and be better known. When I voiced this, I found that my friends were also hungry for deeper friendships and wanted to pray together more openly. Since then, our moms group that meets for play time and prayer has grown more vulnerable in ways I was craving, and I didn’t have to force anything to happen. I just started being a little more honest.

This baby’s life and death has already taught me so much more about trusting God. My hope is that I’ll remember and remain open to what He brings, open to lessons from grief and from joy. Thanks, Baby Valen. We love you.

IMG_5250
this picture was actually taken on the day of miscarriage, I realized later. We were showing The Village to a visiting friend.

january thoughts on art and motherhood

A new mom friend from Evangeline’s preschool shared this essay with me (thanks, Rose!) and I loved this part especially.

“But at my most hopeful I think that writing and art are essential to motherhood and vice versa. Each accesses the most ancient, the most universal, the most complex emotions. Each requires the nurturing of a new consciousness, a new being, a new way of seeing. Each is endlessly different and endlessly dull, endlessly challenging and spiked with constant disappointment and beauty.” 

I need this reminder in the monotony of winter. As the newness of the new year lessens and January presses on with long dark mornings and gray skies. Each day is spiked with beauty, and each moment with my girls is endlessly different and endlessly dull. I marvel over the little sentences Zelie is putting together and how she plays independently with her toys when Evangeline is at school. I find myself surprised at the pictures Evangeline is drawing these days, the shapes she now makes, the colors she puts together. And I die with frustration when Zelie wakes up in the middle of the night and then naps through the morning spin class I have come to count on with near-obsession. Or when Evangeline needs to be dragged to the potty before she pees her pants. And something about the gray and the cold makes it harder for me to recover from these attacks of extreme grumpiness.

56918188956__79993b7e-5c0e-4f69-8960-3bddbea8412b
creativity, but not where I  appreciate it.

All the while, I am looking for ways to create. To write, to share my thoughts. To add beauty to our home. To try a new craft or baking project. Winter lends itself to this, with all the time spent inside and inside my own head. And most of the time I’m not even thinking about my biggest winter project, which is constantly growing, without any conscious effort on my part. Week after week I am surprised to see how big she is and how my belly is growing. It’s just happening. Ordinary, ancient, and amazing.

books of 2018

2018 Reading List

I keep track of the books I’m reading each month. Some take me a few months to finish! The asterisk means started but didn’t finish. I’m a big believer in books having a right time. So, maybe I’ll finish those books someday, or maybe life’s too short to keep reading a book I don’t want to read. YOLO.

Before we get too far into 2019, I wanted to record my books from last year. This is really only for me to look back at. I’m not even writing out thoughts about each book. Just some observations from this year – I found a couple new authors (Sigrid Undset, Alice McDermott, Elizabeth Strout) and read several books by them. Kristin Lavransdatter was my whole July and it was glorious. I also spent six months listening to Harry Potter in the car (a great life choice). I trailed off in December and haven’t been reading at all lately, which is weird, but oh well. I cracked open Middlemarch and have read half of the intro – does that count?

January

  • The Tech-Wise Family – Andy Crouch (audio)
  • *Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver
  • *A Severe Mercy – Sheldon Vanauken

February

  • *Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver
  • *A Severe Mercy – Sheldon Vanauken
  • The Ninth Hour – Alice McDermott

March

  • Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout
  • A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
  • Zeitoun – Dave Eggers
  • *Jesus of Nazareth – Pope Benedict

April

  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  • Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson
  • *Jesus of Nazareth – Pope Benedict
  • *An Immovable Feast – Tyler Blanksi

May

  • Someone – Alice McDermott
  • One Beautiful Dream – Jennifer Fulwiler
  • An Immovable Feast – Tyler Blanksi
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling (audio)
  • *Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling (audio)

June

  • Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling (audio)
  • Anne of the Island – L.M. Montgomery
  • Anne’s House of Dreams – L.M. Montgomery
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling (audio)

July

  • Kristin Lavransdatter – Sigrid Undset
  • Harry Potter and the Triwizard Tournament – J.K. Rowling (audio)

August

  • Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout
  • The Price to Pay – Joseph Fadelle
  • Gunnar’s Daughter – Sigrid Undset
  • *Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling (audio)

September

  • Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
  • *No Drama Discipline – Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson
  • *Mystery and Manners – Flannery O’Connor
  • *Catherine of Siena – Sigrid Undset
  • *Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling (audio)

October

  • *Catherine of Siena – Sigrid Undset
  • The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture – Haley Stewart
  • Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
  • *The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling (audio)

November

  • The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout
  • *Catherine of Siena – Sigrid Undset
  • *Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling (audio)

December

  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling (audio)
  • *Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling (audio)
  • *Anne of Ingleside – L.M. Montgomery
  • *Interior Freedom – Jacques Philippe

part of our story

As I’ve entered the second trimester of this pregnancy, I’ve been thinking about how this baby’s life has already changed our family’s story. About how this baby comes to us after losing another.

At the end of June, I had a miscarriage. I’d only known I was pregnant for ten days and had only told one friend. It was still so new, and then, it was over.

So this is my fourth pregnancy, my fourth baby. But I won’t explain that to strangers in the grocery store; I probably will hardly ever talk about it. For all outward appearances, this is Baby #3. But we know that there was a little soul who would have come to us in February, and we named him or her Valentine. It’s made me think about how many other families share this experience, how the question, How many kids do you have? becomes a bit more complicated to fully explain.

I may share more about the miscarriage and how we grieved and found closure, because I found it helpful to read about other women’s stories when it happened. But for now, we talk about Baby Valen with the girls, and we go and visit the cemetery where he or she (I’ll call her she), is buried. We’ve been looking for a way to volunteer time as a family, a way to engage in social justice in some way with the girls, but everything we’ve thought of has been too late in the evening for our current early dinner/bedtime schedule. So for now, in this season, we’ve landed on the spiritual work of mercy – pray for the living and the dead. We take the girls and pray a decade of the rosary  and the prayer for the dead for the soul of Baby Valen and all the departed.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

I wish it wouldn’t have happened, of course. I wish I could have felt her move, held her, seen her, been able to get to know her. But I’ve been comforted by the reactions I’ve received from friends, and even the (free!) services offered by the local funeral parlor and cemetery. Overwhelmingly, it’s been – This is a person to bury, this is a person to grieve. Despite how common early miscarriages are, and the various factors that can cause them, I was never made to feel that this was something to just get over and forget about. And that’s been a good lesson and reminder for me, as we’ve talked about her with Evangeline. Baby Valen was still a baby, even though she was so little, and she will always be a part of our family. We can ask her to pray for us because we trust that she is with Jesus. It’s brought up good conversations about the communion of saints, the dignity of life, and death. And it just feels good to talk about her, this little person God sent to us for such a brief time.

IMG_6724

Baby Valen, pray for us.