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. ❤️

our four year anniversary retreat

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Chris has been wanting to do a marriage retreat since we were engaged, and we finally did one this year. In the break between summer classes and the semester starting, we have two weeks to spend with Chris’s parents at their beach house in Rhode Island. Our anniversary falls in this break, so last year we spent the day buying a car in NJ (lol) and went out to sushi. This year we booked ourselves a private retreat on Ender’s Island in Mystic, CT and took two nights away from the girls. We wanted some structured time to reflect on our marriage and pray together, and initially looked into seeing if any Marriage Encounter retreats would work location and date-wise. But the closest one was in Baltimore, so Chris’s dad suggested this little island, and we decided it’d be fun to plan our own time. I’m so glad it worked out this way.

Ender’s Island is a tiny island off the coast of Connecticut that was owned by Thomas and Alys Enders, and sold to the Society of St. Edmund in 1954. It now functions as a retreat space, with a sacred art institute and a small recovery program. We didn’t really know anything about the island before we arrived, but quickly discovered it was a little piece of heaven. I felt God’s love for us in so many details of the place. We had unknowingly booked “the Bishop’s suite,” which was two tiled rooms with views of the ocean and the island gardens from every window.

I was so glad we came in August, when the dahlias and roses were in full bloom. 🙂

Something I hadn’t thought about beforehand was how luxurious it would feel to be served all our meals, and not have to feed babies while we ate. And the food was so good. We ate with men in the recovery program and the priests who were there on retreat. It felt like a special gift to eat with those men, and reminded me of our summer at CityTeam in Oakland … where it all began. There was a group of Korean Catholics on retreat on the island, too, though they ate in the larger dining hall. I loved seeing two Korean grandmas holding hands to support each other as they walked down to the water’s edge.

To honor Chris’s love for structure, we spent time creating a schedule, which was much more enjoyable than I expected. We took a date night in South Bend to get started, and finished it up on the car drive from NJ to RI. During our engagement, we had done an Engaged Encounter retreat, and really liked the format of writing letters to each other about different topics and then talking. So we incorporated letter writing, and used our Engaged Encounter journals for some ideas of topics to discuss. I wanted to do morning runs, Chris wanted to do morning prayer and go to Mass, and we gave ourselves a big chunk of free time. There were some things that changed once we got there – we decided to attend a meditation in the chapel on Wednesday evening and learned that they do morning prayer right before Mass, and forgot the old letters we’d written while dating and engaged that we were going to read back through. Oh well.

The chapel had a huge relic – the arm of St. Edmund. A bit weird, but cool.

And, we got to go sailing! We saw little boats sail past the island and thought, let’s see if we can find a place to go this afternoon. So I happily abandoned my nap plans and we went to the Mystic Seaport Museum. It was an anniversary splurge, because we had to buy tickets to the museum to get to the sailboats, but we ended up seeing some of the ships because they made us wait an hour for the gusts to die down a bit.

Chris was grumpy about that. I thought going on the whaling boat from 1841 was neat. But sailing was definitely a highlight! It was a time of working as a team and enjoying being friends and really embracing our whiteness. Lol.

I wanted to include our schedule in case it might help anyone get started on planning their own private retreat! Individual or for a couple, it’s so worth the time and money. I usually love silent retreats by myself – this was special in that it was prayerful and also fun quality time with Chris.

Happy four years, Chris!

Wednesday

2:00-3:30 Check in, Settle into retreat space

3:30-4:00 Silent Prayer in Chapel

4:00-5:00 Session 1 – Reading Letters

5:00-5:30 Rosary

5:30-6:15 Dinner

6:15-7:15 Session 2 – Marriage Timeline

7:15-8:15 Session 3 – Sex/ NFP/ Intimacy

8:15-9:30 Free Time

9:30-9:45 Night Prayer

9:45 Bedtime

Thursday

6:45-7:00 Wake up, get ready

7:00-7:45 Run

7:45-8:15 Breakfast

8:15-8:30 Shower

8:30-9:00 Morning Prayer

9:00 – 9:45 Mass

9:45-10:00 Silent Prayer

10:00-11:00 Session 4– Conflict/ Communication

11:00-12:00 Session 5 – Relationships with Others

12:00-1:00 Lunch

1:00-3:00 Free Time

3:00-4:00 Session 6 – Finances

4:00-5:00 Session 7 – Budget

5:00-5:30 Rosary

5:30-6:15 Dinner

6:15-7:15 Session 8 – Designing Our Marriage

7:15-8:15 Session 9 – Vision Statement

8:15-9:30 Free Time

9:30-9:45 Night Prayer

9:45 Bedtime

Friday

6:45-7:00 Wake up, get ready

7:00-7:45 Run

7:45-8:15 Breakfast

8:15-8:30 Shower

8:30-9:00 Morning Prayer

9:00 – 9:45 Mass

9:45-10:00 Silent Prayer

10:00-11:00 Pack, Checkout

11:00-12:00 Session 10 – Goal Setting

12:00-1:00 Lunch

1:00 Depart

savoring summer (still)

I’ve already given myself a pep talk once this summer about savoring the weeks of looooong hot, humid days, hanging out with the girls with nothing on our schedule. But it would seem I need another reminder. I have so many ideas of how I could use some child-free time! But when I’m longing for a couple hours spent writing at a coffee shop, I’m missing the good that’s right in front of me. So, I’m trying to be present. I’m trying to be grateful.

Today, I’m grateful that the friend who will be living with us soon brought some boxes over this morning and stayed to play with Evangeline for a while. And Zelie took a 4 hour nap (!!!) and I had some unexpected time to tackle a project that’s been on my mind for a couple weeks.

Gallery wall, baby.

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After I won the ABC print from Be A Heart’s Instagram giveaway (I can’t believe it, either!) I kept thinking about how I could use it for some inspo for the shared girls room I needed to create. Figuring out how to layout the room, cut down on toys, and find something that could hold clothes (since the closet would become Zelie’s baby cave and I don’t have a small dresser) took some creative energy, which I enjoyed. But when I have an idea, I want it done yesterday. So my temptation is to be v frustrated when I can’t seem to get going or finish a project day after day because, you know, toddlers and babies. This open window of time today – I think I had nearly 3 hours?? – was such a gift. I just went for it. No levelers, no pencils, I eyeballed it and hammered nails into the walls for the first time since we moved in. I’m pretty happy with it!

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The Mary and Jesus etching was a gift from Chris’s brother, Teddy. (Shoutout to Ted’s art skillz!) The plant hanger and the faux taxidermy unicorn are from Target. I know those cacti are doomed, but a girl can dream. And faux taxidermy I just find so adorable and hilarious, it was an impulse buy and NO REGERTS. The photo is me and Chris with Evangeline’s godparents at their wedding reception (Evangeline in my belly), the cross is from a Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA, and the embroidery was a gift for Zelie’s baptism made by my amazingly talented friend, Magdalena. 🙂

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This is over Evangeline’s (new big girl) bed. A shout out to some Etsy shops! The St. Catherine of Siena quote is a Rose Harrington print, a gift for Evangeline’s first baptism anniversary from her godmother, Megan. The adorable St. Teresa of Calcutta doll photobombing down there, also from Aunt Megan! (I love every single saint doll in this shop). And then a Jerusalem cross, also from Aunt Megan – wow! Go, Megan! (And Michael! Sorry, Michael!) – and an icon of the Nativity of Christ, a gift from my good friend Sarah after my confirmation, and a wooden angel that Maya and I had in our room when we were little.

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snapped a pic before I went to work on the walls. the pictures hanging are on the nails that were left by the previous owners.

As far as the shared room is going … it’s not, really. Haha! They were together for a week, and it had its ups and downs. Bedtime was generally great. Zelie went down and didn’t wake up when we brought Evangeline in. But then Zelie started sleeping terribly from 2:30-5am for a few nights and that was not fun for anyone. Shared afternoon nap time, after two bad days of Zelie not being able to nap, got separated, with Zelie in a pack n play in the guest room. And then, when Chris and I went out for a date night and started planning the little retreat we’re taking over our anniversary, I realized it’s not fair to leave an unweaned baby with Grandma and Grandpa for two nights. So that took priority, and that means Zelie’s in the guest room until she can sleep through the night.

ANYWAY. All that to say, I’m hoping fall will bring me a new rhythm with some time to myself each week. And I am feeling how the extremity of the seasons here preps me for the next one, but I jump the gun a bit. So, working on that. I can look ahead and tell that the end of August will feel super busy, and by then I’ll probably wish I was back in this mellow July.

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Goodbye, University Village

We only lived there for 8 months, but University Village was a remarkable place. It closed today after 56 years of housing married students with families at Notre Dame. 56 years containing so much life in such a small place. So many babies born, so many countries represented, so many friendships forged in the common ground of that unique season of life, doing grad school while raising kids.

Truly, finding an international village in South Bend, Indiana was a wonder and a joy. At the final mass in the community center, I found myself tearing up, seeing the children who had been born there, the ones who couldn’t remember any other home, and the parents who had been through so much with the community at their side.

I think we might have been debriefing a meeting with Housing or Affleck-Graves

I’m glad we made noise and asked the University to move forward on building a replacement, and I’m glad it appears to be in the works. But it is sad to lose a physical place that holds memories for so many, and to see the community scatter in the intermediary time.

We have the privilege to be able to buy a house here, and we did. I’m coming to love it. But even if I had known this house was waiting for us, I would choose to live in the Village again first, hands down. Being friends with our neighbors, Evangeline being able to run up the stairs to see if Nora and Jules or Carter wanted to play (Building D!), or take them some of the muffins we had just baked, or ask to borrow some ginger, it made Indiana feel like home. I felt known in an unfamiliar place.

all the play dates

The fire alarms in the middle of the night, the poorly insulated 500 sq foot apartment, it was all part of the deal. We could have neighbors over for game nights because we lived close enough for baby monitors to reach. Chris and I could go out and leave the monitor with the upstairs neighbors. I literally only survived, even thrived, in my first real winter, because every morning I knew I could go up and visit Rose without putting on layers and layers of clothes or having to drive (I didn’t drive at all the whole month of December). We were spoiled.

Rose, aka Wonder Woman.

After a couple months of living in our new house, I’ve gotten used to it’s size. But at first I’d find myself standing somewhere thinking, I’m in just one room of this whole house. There’s a whole room for just this bathroom. And now it feels more normal but I still miss the small space we had. I could see or hear the girls wherever they were, messes were quickly picked up because otherwise there was no room to walk, and after tidying the living room and vacuuming from one plug, that was as clean as it got.

I have to be more disciplined now about not acquiring stuff just because it’s free or really cheap and I know we have room for it. It was nice to just not have room. That said, I am grateful for our house and I feel the need to be generous and hospitable with all the space we have now. We’re trying to get in a groove of hosting people for dinner or s’mores after the girls are asleep, and I’m making a point of moving the girls in together once our friend starts living with us so that there will still be a guest room ready for #peachtreeguests. (Wish me luck with that). 🏡❤️

savoring summer (a pep talk)

Since coming up with my ambitiously chill summer to do list, I got hit with a wave of feeling majorly blah about summer. Most of the friends I’ve made in South Bend are connected to Notre Dame, and therefore have reasons/the freedom to travel with their families in the summer. So while I’m glad to be home, it’s a bummer to be one of the few in town. It’s given me a glimpse of what it would feel like to move somewhere new and not know anyone. When we moved last July into University Village, I pretty much instantly made friends. And they were my neighbors. Play dates and babysitting swapping were so logistically easy, it was crazy. It was like freshman year dorm level instant besties with other moms out on the playground. I was amazed and grateful, but, like everything, began to take it for granted.

I’ve been listening to a podcast series called “Grown-Upping the Summer,” and they talked about summer being a time to focus on connection. My first thought was, but everyone’s gone! I have no one to connect with! But then I realized that this maybe was an invitation for me to try to lean in and savor the glories of summer with my girls as they are right now. 14 months and coming up on 3 means days segmented around naps, usually with a morning outing and then hanging out around the house until Chris gets home. Dinner on the back deck at 5:45 and bedtime at 6:45 and 7:30. Routine, routine. Mornings are my favorite and I realized this week I want to try to be more mindful of enjoying the time I get with just Evangeline, when Zelie is taking her first nap. Instead of trying to get a bunch of things done in that time, sitting down with her while she splashes naked in the pool, or reading books, or doing play dough together. She’ll be going to preschool in the fall so I won’t have mornings with her fairly soon, which makes these ones sweeter. (I’m trying to remind myself.)

Zelie is also at just about the cutest stage ever, I think. Her waddle, her babbling, her weird sign language sign that means FOOD NOW, her spitting water all over herself and me when she drinks. And she’s still so small and cuddly. I wanted to wean her this summer but now I’m like, she’s my baby! Plus I really don’t know how to go about doing that. But lately there’s been times when she does something and I think, it’s crazy how much cuteness is in my life. And then other times when I think, it’s crazy how many poopy diapers I change in a day. 

That face.

They both love getting out of the house so I’ve been trying to take them fun places. We did the zoo and the park on Thursday, a strawberry u-pick on Friday, and the farmer’s market this morning. Evange did great at the farm and actually picked a bunch of strawberries! And was very protective of them.

Chris will have a lighter load after this week and I’m hoping to schedule in some regular time for myself. But otherwise, trying to enjoy a hot, humid Indiana summer with two baby babes and really soak it all in.

(Eating the fruits of our labor. With Strawberry Bourbon Shortcakes minus the bourbon and mascarpone.)

summer to do list

This time last year we had a two month old and were gearing up for a cross country move and road trip with two babies under two. This summer is about chilling hard. Chris is taking Latin and we are home until a little road trip vacation to Rhode Island the first two weeks of August, before his fall semester starts. I want to keep things simple and enjoy this season, but also have some things to point back to and say, I did this, I had a good summer. So this is my super easy to do list for summer 2018.

  • read books (including fave summer re-reads – we’re on HP #3 audio and I’m reading Anne of the Island)
  • Frequent trips to the library to beat the heat and summer reading program 😍
  • keep the garden going
  • try not to kill all the houseplants
  • get Zelie sleeping through the night
  • move the girls into one room
  • get to the beach sometimes weekly
  • get to the nearby convent to pray sometimes weekly
  • exercise in the humidity somehow
  • learn to make margaritas and keep trying new recipes from the amazingly huge Cook’s Illustrated cookbook that Maya gave me 🙌🏼
  • go see a few movies by myself (Oceans 8 is the only one on my list. what other movies are coming out this summer? I live under a rock.)

That’s it!

What’s on your list for the summer?