the good list

Quick takes on what’s working well around here lately and the little moments I’m holding onto each day that are just good.

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1. Tidy time. I borrowed this idea from my friend while Chris was in London. After dinner, Evange (and Zelie, somewhat) tidies up all the toys around the house and then she gets to watch a 20 minute show. She is SO MOTIVATED. She will ask me, before we’ve even had dinner, “Is it tidy time??” If Zelie helps, or it’s early enough, she gets to watch, and if I’m doing bedtime solo I will put her to bed while Evange finishes the episode. And I love coming downstairs to a clean playroom in the morning. Win win. (I know I just wrote a post about living more Montessori at home and yet I do daily screen time. I contain multitudes.) 

2. Ice cream cones. This feels like a life hack that I know will not last forever but am savoring now. I have a hard time with endless afternoons if we don’t have something scheduled to go and do, but this has been great to help us transition from naps to playing outside. We make a smoothie together, put it in a waffle cone (left over from Evange’s 3rd birthday party) and they have to eat it outside. And then we’re out there for an hour or more, usually.

3. Warm afternoons. Once we’re outside, Evange and Zelie have started playing “Mama” together. Zelie runs around yelling, “Mama!” and I yell, “What?” and she says, “Not you! I’m talking to Evange!” Perfect. I sit with Chiara and drink tea and read while they play and even if nap times didn’t align, I’m still so grateful that it’s warm and sunny and we are all outside. Even when they end up naked and covered in smoothie. (Because winter is coming…)

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4. Mornings with the littles. We’ve found a weekly rhythm with a balance of playdates and time at home. Zelie plays fairly independently and it’s been fun to show her the Montessori activities on the shelves, and then just watch her get absorbed in lining up all her little Play Mobil peeps in different configurations. She also gets to go to her “preschool time,” which is an hour of coloring, songs, snacks, and playtime with three other 2 year old girls on our street. So cute. I’m so grateful for that.

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our Thursday mornings. this time was playing in the lobby of Evange’s school while Bernadette’s mom helped in the Atrium

5. Tomatoes, basil, and zinnias. The only parts of our jungle garden that are still going strong, but it’s perfect. I ask Evange to pick more tomatoes whenever we’re outside, and to pick me a new bouquet every few days. Soaking up all the color because, again, I’m already dreading winter.

6. Our Bosch. Our dishwasher stopped working in January after the Polar Vortex and even though multiple dishwasher repairmen have told me that was just a coincidence, I’m not wholly convinced. My dad gave me money for a new one after his recent visit, there was a Labor Day sale still going strong, and I did the thing. I had forgotten how amazing it is to have a dishwasher. All the praise hands. Thanks, Dad!

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7. Elementary. Another gift from my dad’s visit – Chris and I once again have access to our favorite TV show from when we were dating that we never finished. Nostalgia. 

how montessori is helping me be a better parent

When I was asked if I’d like to help with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program for the primary students at Evangeline’s school this year, I jumped at the chance. Childcare is always tricky but the other mom who is helping also has a two year old daughter, so each week we switch off entertaining the little ones, and the other gets to be in the Atrium (the room where CGS happens). I had my first turn in the Atrium yesterday and it was the highlight of my day. These are some of my observations from the time and how it’s interacting with the thoughts I’ve been having about parenting.

I re-read this book on the temperaments this week, looking for help dealing with Evangeline’s tantrums and some behavior issues (like, she locked the back door the other day to try to lock me out of the house, and I found a container of oats behind/under the couch that she had been secretly snacking on back there – what?) and was relieved and amused, because yes, she is definitely my conquering choleric child. And as easy going phlegmatics, Chris and I are often bewildered by her outbursts of passionate screaming. The girl is just so loud sometimes. She reacts quickly and intensely, and yes, we will have to continue to help her learn to control her emotions, but she’s also confident and loves to be helpful and independent, and fingers crossed, those qualities will serve her well through adolescence and beyond. Having the temperaments as a loose framework helps me to see when I am being worn down (or bullied lol) by her insistence (lately it’s been letting her watch an episode of a show, or two, after quiet time, because I need a longer break) – and putting my foot down to break habits I don’t want us in. It also helps me have more empathy and patience when she reacts so loudly. (She doesn’t do this at school, btw. She saves it all for us at home #blessed).

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Earlier this week, I went to a volunteer training at the school, and it was an unexpected, lovely reinforcement of how I want to be as a parent. A scientist, a saint. What are my buttons? Ask others for help. So good to think about. The principal of the school commented, “We don’t ask the child, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ We ask, ‘How will the universe be different because you are in it?'”  #CosmicEducation

I’m coming into all this Montessori stuff a total newbie. I didn’t know anything about it  when Evangeline started at a Catholic Montessori school that runs from preschool to junior high. I have slowly been picking up the philosophy, the lingo, and the planes of child development here and there, from different books and articles, in a haphazard way. And mostly from my homeschooling mom friends, who are incorporating aspects of it into their homes.

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So I’ve been on a kick with it this week, reading The Montessori Toddler and having fun arranging activities for the girls to discover and play with in our play room. Hiding toys to bring them out in rotation has left bare, minimal shelves which are easier to tidy at the end of the day. My MIL sent me this article a while ago and I’m finally putting some of these ideas into practice, and something about it is really fun for me. Thinking about what toys actually get used, or are part of a complete set, and eliminating whatever is random and excessive and not age-appropriate, is freeing. And thinking about what activities the girls would enjoy, and what items we have around the house or yard that would work, is using some creativity that is life-giving to me.

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in her fancy dress to move her frogs around the room all day 🙂

Anyway, bringing all that into the Atrium with me this week, I noticed some things.

  • The order, detail, and thoughtfulness of the materials in the room creates a peace and a beauty that feeds something in my soul.
  • Seeing other adults interact with 3-6 year children in a calm, respectful way helps my own struggle with patience when it’s just me at home, outnumbered by my three.
  • Children are still children in this beautiful space. They get silly and distracted by each other, they sometimes need redirection. But mostly, they are reverent, focused, and eager. And it is delightful to just stand back and watch.

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Chiara’s birth story

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Baby girl is here! I’m typing this – in way too much detail because it’s still fresh in my mind (sorry not sorry!) – with her sleeping on my chest. The best.

Chiara’s birth was … so cool. Looking back at it – and telling the story to friends – I’ve realized it had this intuitive vibe from the start. And so much grace! And I think it starts on Saturday morning.

Saturday May 25
I had plans to go to confession, so just before 10am I got to campus and it was a gorgeous, sunny morning. As I’m walking up to the Basilica, a lady looks at me and says, “Wow, you look like you’re due any day now.” I think I said, “Yeah, just about,” and then thought, “That’s a bold thing to say to a stranger,” and also, “It’d be funny if I went into labor tonight, after she said that.” After confession, I had the idea to text friends to ask for prayer requests that I could offer up when labor did start, thinking I might as well do that now when I had some time. It was nice to get their responses and feel close to them throughout the day.

At home, I got a good nap, and then we all went to the baptism of our friends’ three week old baby. At the party afterward, as we were saying goodbye, my friend said, “See you at mass tomorrow!” And I had this split-second thought flit through my mind – “No, you won’t,” – before saying, “Oh, yes! See you tomorrow!”

We got home and immediately, before we changed out of our nice clothes or even went inside, I told Chris, “Let’s switch the car seats around right now.” It was so hot, but I couldn’t rest until the crumbs were shaken out, Evange’s new car seat was put in, her old one turned around for Zelie, and baby’s put in Chris’s car. Chris did it all, but he asked, “Why do you want this done right now?” And I said, “Well, you know, just in case I go into labor tonight.” He said, “You think you’ll go into labor tonight??” and I said, “I don’t know, maybe!!” Because it was starting to feel that the more last minute preparations we did, the closer she was to being born. And I wanted to be prepared!

Around 6:30, I noticed that the pressure I often felt was now feeling more like a cramp, and keeping an eye on the clock, I saw that it was happening about every 15 minutes. I didn’t say anything, but asked Chris to set up the co-sleeper and changing table in our room. Those were my last big nesting things to get done. I pulled out the newborn size diapers and clothes, and quietly started packing my hospital bag. I told Chris, “I think this is happening.” And based on how labor went with Zelie, I thought for sure I’d be having this baby by early the next morning. Only then did I realize – I have no plan in place for the girls if we need to go to the hospital tonight. I had been so sure that Chiara wouldn’t come until my mom arrived on May 29 that I hadn’t found anyone to be back up in case she came early. So I quickly texted two friends and got that sorted out.

After the girls were down, I watched Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals with Chris – which was actually a great game and a perfect distraction – and went to bed (too late) around midnight.

Sunday May 26

I woke up at 5:30am surprised that I was still at home, still having about the same mild contractions. My friend Annie was still on standby to take the girls if we needed to go, but by 8:30am they seemed to be slowing down, and I was really tired. It seemed like labor with Evangeline, except this time we had two kids. Chris asked if I wanted to try to get things moving, by taking a shower and walking around and I agreed, but when I went upstairs I ended up taking a bath and then napping for two hours, lol.

So it was turning out to be a slow Sunday at home. By noon I was feeling somewhat silly for having texted my friends to be on the alert, and a bit discouraged, and just confused – would contractions stop completely? I’d thought I’d already have a baby by now. After Evange’s quiet time, we had some good time together while Chris and Zelie napped, and every 20 minutes or so I’d pause and bend over and breathe through a contraction. (She wasn’t too bothered by this once I explained that it was called a contraction and that it was because the baby was going to come out soon. Zelie was more freaked out.) I started thinking that maybe we’d all go to a 5pm mass together and a friend’s Memorial Day BBQ after that.

By 4:30 though, the contractions picked back up and were coming every 10 minutes. We nixed the plan for mass and opted for frozen pizza, and Chris took the girls out to play in the backyard. Annie brought some groceries over for us around 5pm and offered to take the girls to her house for dinner. They were super excited about this so they all left and Chris and I sat in the backyard and ate together. Now contractions were getting more painful, 1 minute long, and 4-5 minutes apart. I found a ritual that was working well to get me through – I hummed a Taize song, Chris sang it, and he put counter pressure on my belly by pulling on a (mermaid princess) towel wrapped around my waist. The song gave me something to think about and kept me breathing, it was such a nice day, it felt good to be outside, and I felt calm and relaxed. I started to realize, though, that when Annie brought the girls back, I wasn’t going to be able to labor away by myself for an hour while Chris put them to bed. So I texted Annie and asked her if she could stay with me while Chris did bedtime.

My surprise doula 

From 6:30 to 7:30, Annie stepped in to help, and I quickly lost any feelings of self-consciousness and got back into my groove of humming my Taize song and letting her pull on the towel. And I discovered that Annie was exactly the person I needed to help me. She asked if I’d like to be massaged, and started massaging my arms and legs between contractions, and hips and back during them, and it was AMAZING. She was the doula I didn’t know I needed. In my bedroom, with sunshine pouring through the open window, we chatted away until I would groan, signaling the next contraction was starting, and we’d get in position, and then carry on talking when it was over. I was still so relaxed, and I realized, “This is my Ina May moment!” LOL.

By the time Chris came and found us, we were walking around the backyard – me leaning/hanging on Annie’s shoulders during contractions – and he asked if I was ready to go to the hospital. I was starting to think we should go soon-ish, but wasn’t feeling rushed, even though they were coming every 3 minutes or so. I was like, “I don’t know, what do you think?” And Chris was like YUP.

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What I did know was that I wanted Annie to come with us. At that point, I didn’t think I could have this baby without her so I called an audible – sorry, Chris. (He was fine with it). So she called another friend to come stay with the girls, and Kate was here by 8pm. Chris got our bags in the car, and only then did I realize, “Oh shoot, can I even get in the car??” L-O-L.

Finally going to the hospital 

I had two contractions in the car on the 10 minute drive to the hospital that were TERRIBLE because I was sitting down. Then one in the parking lot, two in the ER lobby, and then we were up in triage. I was humming away, and the humming was starting to turn into moaning/yelling but I did not care anymore. And, lo and behold, I was at 8cm!! Chris and I couldn’t believe it. I think we’d been so chill because we thought maybe I was at 5 or 6cm. But this was HAPPENING.

In the delivery room, I leaned on the couch by the window for a while because it was still sunny and there was a pretty view from the fourth floor, but that soon became uncomfortable and I didn’t care about the view anymore. The midwife raised the bed and I stood and leaned on it, with Chris behind me with the towel, and Annie massaging my hips and legs, and neck and head, once she arrived. (The midwife couldn’t believe she wasn’t a doula, btw.) They put an IV in my arm – I think in case I needed fluids? – and said I could keep an epidural open as an option, if I wanted. I said, sure. I had a moment of slight panic thinking, “I’m at 8cm – wow – but how much longer is there? Can I make it to the end without the epidural?” But mostly I felt confident and not afraid and just good. I stopped thinking about the epidural and just focused on doing my ritual and really, not thinking. (I think I ended up ripping the IV out accidentally and not even noticing.)

Then, during a really big contraction, my water broke, which had never happened to me before. It felt to me like a huge gush and splash all over the floor – I thought it had soaked Chris’s jeans and shoes (it had not). After that my midwife suggested I try getting on hands and knees on the bed, which sounded good to me because my legs felt like they were about to give out. She had asked me a couple times if I felt like pushing, and I had said, “I don’t know,” but once I got on the bed a contraction came pretty quickly and I think I yelled, “I want to push!” and I pushed a few times through that one. I thought she would move Chris out of the way immediately, but he stayed behind me until right before the next contraction, and on that one, I pushed baby out. CRAZY TOWN.

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Chiara Julie was born at 9:40pm on Sunday May 26. Chiara is for some inspiring Italian women – Blessed Chiara Badano, Chiara Corbella Petrillo, and Saint Clare of Assisi – and Julie for my mother-in-law. She was 7 pounds 11 ounces (same as me and her aunt Megan) and I never heard how long she was. She looks exactly like Evangeline as a baby, and maybe Chris too. She’s gonna lose all that hair on the top of her head and be a lil monk baby, and I’m wondering if she’ll be our first blue eyed girl.

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She was my unexpected natural birth. Slow and fast. Peaceful and intense. Surprising and amazing. What a gift, so much grace.

 

 

the grace to live grace

I recently read a biography of Chiara Corbella Petrillo’s life, A Witness to Joy, (shout out to Adrianna for telling me about her and Grace for the book!) and a phrase that she and her husband said has stayed with me in these long, slow summer days we’re living right now.

As they faced two terminal pregnancies and then Chiara’s battle with cancer, the Petrillos prayed for the grace to live grace.

For me, that’s meant being present to what is before me and choosing to be grateful. Ignoring the laundry that always needs to be folded, the crumbs all over the kitchen floor, and focusing instead on the little moments that surprise me with their sweetness – if I am paying attention.

Evange picking bouquets of flowers from the backyard.

This baby growing more alert, her big blue eyes. Naps with her.

The couple of dates Chris and I have snuck out to when family has been here or a friend offers to watch the girls.

Berry picking with friends and other summer outings with the girls, where, even if Zelie pees her pants, we’re all happy to be outside in the sunshine.

Time together in our backyard (Evange took this pic 😂) and the garden growing. So many tomatoes! And Chris playing catch with the girls.

Friends visiting us! (the girls are getting a lot of screen time too but I’m trying to not feel guilty about that).

Beach time!

Friends bringing us meals. Just feeling so cared for. there’s really nothing like a fresh baby. ❤️

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

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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.

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“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.

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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. 

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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?  

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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.

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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.

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