Monday, October 31, 2011

Wacky Weather

Living in the northeast, we certainly see a variety of weather. The saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes," is only a slight exaggeration. Traditionally, winter is cold and snowy, spring is warmer and rainy, summer is hot and sunny, and fall is crisp and cool. Around here, however, exceptions to this rule abound, and often the weather changes so drastically from one day to the next that one never really knows how to dress without first stepping outside. I remember how it rained almost every day of the June when Lydia was born - not exactly your typical hot and sunny summer weather. Snow usually starts in December, but there was a winter when it didn't snow until mid- January, and then a couple years ago, we had some unusual snow flurries in October. But as far as I can remember, this month wins the prize for strangest and most extreme weather conditions.

It started the weekend before Abby was born. I was preparing for my upcoming C-section when my mom called and asked me to pack the kids' bathing suits. Since she lives on a lake, this would be a normal request in summer, but it was already too chilly for swimming on Labor Day. Yet that Sunday, after a hot Saturday, the temperature reached a near-record 85 degrees. The thermometer stayed in 80's on Abigail's birthday, but by the time we returned home later that week, things had cooled off - and it was raining. Usually October is my favorite month for weather in New England: blue skies, crisp cool air, sunshine, and beautiful colored leaves. This year, Indian summer turned to spring as we had two weeks of clouds, wind, and rain. Instead of crunchy leaves to step on, the ground has been soggy. I'm not sure where my favorite season went, but we seem to have skipped it altogether, because this weekend, it was winter.

On Thursday night, just as we were putting the boys and Lydia to bed, I looked out the window and exclaimed, "Is that snow?!" Sure enough, huge chunky flakes of white were falling from the October sky. We called the children to peer out into the dark at the first snowfall of the season, and it was piling up quickly - in fact, Don stepped outside and easily scooped up enough to make a few snowballs and hurl them at the giggling children behind the glass slider door. By morning, it had started to melt, but the sight left behind was certainly strange: snow on the ground with green leaves on the trees.

As if that wasn't strange enough, Saturday's forecast called for 6 to 10 inches of snow. Don didn't believe it (and truly, the meteorologists are seldom correct in our experience), but as soon as we arrived at our friends' house (an hour away) for a birthday party, the flakes started to fall. By the time we left late that evening, there were at least six inches accumulated on their porch. Others had called to warn us that there was almost no visibility on the highway. The roads were barely plowed. The brakes in our van need to be replaced. And Abby was crying. The adventure had begun.

Thankfully, my husband is a great driver, even in the worst of conditions. We knew that there would be many cars off the road - there always are during the first snowstorm, for some reason - but we were chugging along safely with my confident chauffeur at the wheel. Abby fell asleep in a few minutes, and not long after, the older children did too. The sky was bright with snowclouds, yet it was strangely dark. Stores, gas stations, and even hotels sat in eerie darkness while snow piled up around them. They had no power - which meant neither did the street lights. Or the traffic lights. We cruised through several blackened lights and hoped we wouldn't miss the sign for the highway, since many of the roadsigns were covered with snowdrifts. Eventually we were on the highway, following in the tire tracks while the lines were buried.

An hour long car ride in good weather becomes quite a bit longer in snow, and just a bit too long for a newborn's patience. As we slowly neared our exit, passing a pile-up of cars in the breakdown lane surrounded by blue flashing lights, Abby woke up crying. Talking, singing, and letting her suck my finger had no effect, and her cries eventually escalated into full-fledged screams of distress, which certainly weren't helping my skilled driver pay attention to the road. Since we live in the day and age of seatbelt laws, I won't go into details of how it was accomplished, but eventually Abby was comforted, and we all arrived home safely to our very dark and quiet house. Our power was out, too.

We lit candles and tucked the children in with extra blankets. I am very thankful to have town water, because we at least had running water while we lacked heat and electricity. Abby wouldn't fall asleep, so I sat in the office and rocked her, looking out the snow covered trees. The next morning, the house was a frosty 56 degrees and the yard was littered with fallen branches.
I realized why the trees had looked so strange the night before: normally, snow falls on bare branches. Never before have I seen trees covered in green leaves and snow at the same time! And the weight of snow-covered leaves had caused massive damage throughout the region, taking down power lines and obstructing roads. We were very fortunate to have our power back by lunch time on Sunday. While many even in our town waited another 24 hours or more for electricity, we were without it for just long enough to truly appreciate the luxuries of electric heat, hot showers, and warm drinks.

All bundled up

Sweet Abigail is just three weeks old and blissfully unaware of what happens outside her window, but if she could remember it, she would have quite a story to tell her grandchildren. In less than a month, she has lived through all four seasons of weather (except, perhaps, the one we're supposed to be experiencing) and survived a potentially dangerous trip through an unusual snowstorm. For those of us old enough to understand, this October's wacky weather has been a chance to remember the One who reigns over the skies and the seasons. Tonight I am thanking the Lord for His protection, His providence, and His power to control the forces of nature - in any way He chooses!

See, the Lord, the LORD Almighty,
will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
the tall ones will be brought low.

Isaiah 10:33

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Sleep Smiles

When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

Proverbs 3:24

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blog Bash 2011

Tonight I am joining in The Ultimate Blog Bash 2011 hosted by Women Living Well Ministries, so if you are visiting for the first time, welcome! And to my regular reader(s), please bear with me as I introduce myself, my family, and my reason for blogging.

My name is Manda, or at least that's what I prefer to be called, though relatives and doctors continue to put a capital A at the beginning. I have been married to my dear Donald (generally referred to as Don, though I actually never, ever call him that) for seven and a half years, and we are looking forward to celebrating our second anniversary in February. (Yes, you read that correctly. Did you figure out when we got married?) He and I are opposites in many ways, which has made our relationship challenging at times, but I am ever thankful that the God of grace has helped us stay together through our mutual faith in Him. I am blessed to have a partner in life who loves the Lord and desires to lead our family in His ways. I am always learning from my husband, too, since he is an expert on computers, gymnastics, guns, hunting, fitness, politics, a myriad of science topics, and, games. It is his visionary and adventurous personality that leads us to dream up what I used to refer to as "our latest life plan of the week." We are always considering moving or changing careers, and of course we keep things interesting by adding new members to the family every few years.

My handsome husband and me

All of our children have been given to us in God's perfect timing, and by allowing Him to plan and space them, He has so far blessed with a pretty perfect blend. Donny (technically Donald the Third) will be 7 in December, Hayden will be 5 in November, Lydia turned 2 in June, and Abigail Joy was just born this month. I am privileged to homeschool our boys, and since I have been teaching them together, both of them are just about to finish the My Father's World First Grade curriculum. Lydia doesn't realize that she is only two; she wants to do whatever her brothers are doing, whether it's writing with a pencil or reading a book. Now that she is a big sister, she showers "Baby Abby" with hugs, kisses, and general lovey smothering. Little Abigail is a typical newborn, existing to nurse, sleep, cry, and melt our hearts with her tiny sweetness. I am so thankful to be a mother. God's Word says that children are blessings, and though they may be loud and messy and annoying at (most) times, I know it is a great honor and a wonderful responsibility to train these little ones up to know and love the Lord!

Our four gifts from God

Being a wife, mother, and homemaker is my dream job, but it is also full of challenges that would be overwhelming were it not for the grace of God. He is my strength, my hope, and the reason that my routine domestic life has any value in eternity. When I started blogging back in 2008, I was inspired by one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 40:11:

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

I love this picture as the Lord as my Shepherd, tenderly caring for me, and gently leading me as I strive to raise my little lambs for Him. We are so blessed to be carried close to the heart of a loving Father! With this in mind, I strive to keep my blog centered on Christ and the inspiration of His Word. You will find lots of tidbits about our family's experiences and my personal struggles, but woven throughout, I pray you will see a testimony of what God is doing in my life, to mold me into the person He created me to be, as I daily walk through the fields of life with my Shepherd.

Thanks for stopping by, and please feel free to leave me a comment and say hello!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

An Honest Look at the Postpartum Period

Postpartum: of or noting the period of time following childbirth. It is a time of change and adjustment, a time of ups and downs, a time of all things new, yet full of predictable sameness. It can be ugly, and it can be beautiful and special and wonderful at the same time.

It is a difficult time to get dressed. Nothing fits quite right: maternity clothes hang limp, while regular clothes are too tight, and the little bulge that was cute to show off at four months pregnant is not so cute when it's no longer a baby. Thanks to nursing, shirts are too tight and too short, and nursing pads become a required part of getting dressed if one wants to avoid embarrassing leaks. At times my body feels like a leaky, dripping mess all over. Other times, I find a cute nursing tank top or an early pregnancy shirt that actually fits, and I feel comfortable for a little while.

Without the structured demands of homeschooling and regular chores and outings, the days at home are long. Accomplishments for the day are generally limited to showering, making the bed, and feeding everyone something with a shred of nutrition every few hours. (Who says leftover mashed potatoes and peanut butter spoons aren't a meal?) Left to their own devices, the older children are - at best - zoned out in front of PBS, and at worst, dumping out every puzzle piece and train track while they rearrange the living room and argue over who had it and who did it. The baby routine consists of constant nursing, burping, changing, and consoling between unpredictable naps. When the older ones are finally tucked in bed, baby time continues, with moments of sweet snuggles intermixed with wide-awake 4am cries and occasionally pacing a cold tile floor while the rest of house sleeps. Sleep is often broken, and filled with vivid and bizarre dreams. Yet some precious afternoons include naps with newborn and perhaps toddler cuddled close beside.

Emotions are messy. Delight over the gift of a new life mixes with fatigue and frustration. I get choked up reading The Giving Tree to my children. I fall in love with my baby's coos and contented sighs. I take my husband's off-hand comments personally, but treasure our (often-interrupted) times of closeness. Some moments seem insurmountably painful, while in others, I realize that I am abundantly blessed

The camera is always close at hand for capturing the sweet sibling moments and first hints of smiles. After all, with the exception of her three older siblings, this is surely the cutest baby in the universe, and these early days must be documented before they quickly fade away. And quickly they do. I may wish the days away to speed the recovery of my body, but I am in no hurry to give up the sweetness of a warm, sleepy newborn snuggled up on my chest. All too soon, I will be looking back at her baby pictures and vaguely remembering when she was so tiny and new.

And during this time of contradictions, I realize more than ever how much I don't have it all together: as a mother, a wife, a teacher, a housekeeper. How I desperately need God's grace in my life. How without his Spirit working in me, I am an emotional basket case subject to the whims of hormone surges and sugar cravings. How without a daily dose of His Word and continual turning to Him in prayer, it is easy to be overwhelmed or just plain caught in the day-to-day routine without producing any spiritual fruit. Yet God is so gracious, to give me strength for each day when I remember to turn to Him and ask for it. In the midst of changing schedules and new additions, I must call on Him and seek His face. And whether rocking or reading or resting, I must choose to speak words of praise. He is with me through every trial and joy of motherhood, and when I choose to praise Him instead of dwelling on my troubles, the trials of this world seem to pass as quickly as these fleeting postpartum days.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made.
The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
The LORD watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.

Psalm 145:17-21

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Father's Joy: Not a VBAC Story

A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.
John 16:21

(Disclaimer: This is a birth story. Some details may not be appropriate for men, children, or the squeamish. :)

On the afternoon of Sunday the 9th, my husband and I dropped the children off at my parents' house and drove to the hospital for my pre-op appointment. I was having some contractions, enough to make me somewhat uncomfortable and even require the occasional deep breath, but then again, I had been having sporadic contractions for a few weeks. As expected, the pre-op included signing paperwork, having blood drawn, and going over every detail of the morning's scheduled surgery with the nurse. When our questions had been answered, Don and I went to dinner at our favorite steakhouse to enjoy one more date before baby came (and so that I wouldn't have any dishes to wash). We came home to a strangely quiet house. I folded the last scraps of laundry, emptied the trash, and double-checked our bags to ensure that everything was packed. We were as ready as we could possibly be to bring home a new baby.

Before heading to bed, I quickly looked up some information on "irritable uterus." Apparently, the term refers to frequent, irregular contractions toward the end of pregnancy that - unlike true labor - do not cause the cervix to dilate. With the frequent tightness and contracting I had recently experienced, I suspected that my uterus was, in fact, irritable. Don and I stayed up too late talking, and when he went to sleep around midnight, I found myself lying wide awake. I finally got to sleep after an hour or so, only to wake up sometime after 3am with continuing contractions. These were strong enough that I couldn't sleep through them, and found myself wanting to change positions instead of lying still. After several had come and gone, I started glancing at the clock at the start of each one. They were four minutes apart. For anyone else, that would signal time to head to the hospital, but I knew my body. Since we had to be there at 6am anyway, I figured that I probably could just wait. So for two hours, I quietly drifted through steady contractions every four minutes. Finally, it was 5am and time to get up.

"So, if we get there and I'm at, like, 2 centimeters, we'll go ahead with the C-section as planned," I proposed to Don, "but if I'm in active labor, maybe we can wait a few hours and see if she comes out?" "We'll see," he replied, as we drove through the silent darkness. It was too early for anyone else, or even the sun, to be up, and since I had hardly slept, it felt like it was still night. We arrived at the hospital a little before our 6:00 appointment, and I mentioned that I was having a lot of contractions. The first nurse I saw, ironically, was a friend of a friend whom I had gotten to know at our mutual friend's party several months ago. She seemed excited that I might be in active labor and asked if I wanted to be checked. Since we know each other, she called in another nurse to check me. I wasn't dilated. "I can barely get a fingertip in there," the second nurse said. Yes, several hours of painful contractions every four minutes had done absolutely nothing to push this baby out.

As frustrating as this news could have been, it actually brought me a lot of peace. I couldn't help but laugh at God's timing, to send me this mock labor just hours before my scheduled surgery. If the contractions had started just a few days earlier, I'm sure I would have been back and forth to the doctor's office several times waiting for my cervix to dilate, all while having painful contractions, and it probably would have ended much like Lydia's birth - with a baby that wouldn't come out. Instead, the Lord gave me just enough contractions to feel like I was doing something good for Abby's health. (Statistically, C-section babies who experience labor before birth have fewer breathing problems than those that are taken straight from the womb without experiencing labor contractions.) And He gave me peace in knowing that a natural, uncomplicated delivery was not His plan for this baby - beyond a doubt, submitting to my husband in scheduling the C-section had been the right thing to do. In fact, we had even picked the right day, because with the intensity of my contractions, I would have been heading to the hospital on the 10th either way! I knew that God would work everything out in His perfect timing, but He arranged the details even more perfectly than I could have imagined, so that I was fully, completely ready to have the C-section at 7:30am that morning.

Like when Lydia was born, inserting the IV was a failure due to my wiggly arm veins. When my nurse friend missed (and felt terrible about it), another nurse came in to start my IV and get me completely prepped for surgery. My contractions slowed down significantly as Don and I waited in our hospital room for the process to begin. After meeting with the doctor and anesthesiologist, it was finally time to walk down the hall to the OR. Don wasn't allowed to come in yet, so I had to sit on the edge of the table and lean against a nursing student for what seemed like a very long time as I waited for the spinal needle to be inserted. As soon as the discomfort was over, I felt somewhat sick and lightheaded. They laid me on the operating table as my lower half slowly fell asleep. I realized one advantage to an emergency Cesarean: everything happens so quickly, there is no time to realize how unpleasant it is. Lying sprawled out, drugged, and unable to move as doctors prepped every last detail seemed to last for ages this time. Finally, my sweet husband was allowed to come stand by my head and comfort me. I was concerned that I didn't feel numb yet; it was more like my legs were asleep. In fact, during the procedure, I was sure that someone or something was repeatedly poking me in the same spot. When Don looked, however, I was apparently cut wide open and nothing was touching the area where I was feeling pressure. It was strange and unpleasant, but apparently the discomfort was all in my head!

The details are fuzzy, but at some point during the procedure, I really didn't feel well. According to the anesthesiologist, my heart rate fell to something like 50 beats per minute and he had to give me medicine to get my heart rate up. Later, I felt tugging and knew this meant baby was coming out! "Guess what was around her neck two times?" Don asked. Like her brothers and sister before her, this baby had likewise strangled herself in the umbilical cord. Thankfully, in a C-section, a cord around the neck is not the problem in can often be during a vaginal delivery. (Both of my boys were fine within a few minutes of birth, but it certainly scared their Daddy to see them come out blue.) And soon after the tugging sensation, there was some very pronounced crying: our baby girl was born!

Of course, the nurses immediately took her to the side of the room to clean her up, examine, and weigh her. They were blocking my view, so Don took a picture and brought it back to show me. "Does she look like an Abigail?" he asked, knowing the name I was leaning towards. I said I needed to see her, not just a picture. Finally, after another long wait, they brought the naked baby over to me and placed her right on my chest. After having two babies whisked away after their vaginal births, I have longingly wished that I could hold my newborn against my chest immediately after birth, instead of seeing them for the first time swaddled in hospital blankets. This time, despite the wait, my first contact with my baby was a precious skin-to-skin bonding opportunity. She was so tiny: 5 pounds, 9 ounces, wonderfully perfect, and definitely an Abigail. When I noticed her tiny mouth rooting around on my chest, I asked for some help (not being able to move much, as I was still being sewn up) and allowed her to nurse. Right on the operating table, my little Abigail was nursing, and I was as happy as someone undergoing surgery could possibly be.

To complete my operation, the doctor stitched me back together on the inside, and then used superglue to seal my incision. I had no idea that superglue was a medical product, but supposedly it will heal with a clean scar, and no stitches to remove. The doctor had also cut around and removed my old scar, so this way I will only have one scar line from the two surgeries. Don and I asked him whether my uterus looked thin; after all, that was the reason an elective Cesarean had been recommended to me by the last doctor. No, he said, it didn't look unusually thin. The next day, in fact, he said he didn't see any reason it shouldn't hold up for another pregnancy, and that labor would even be possibility if I wanted to try it. Praise God for His healing hand on my womb!

The rest of the day was spent resting, recovering, and introducing Abby to her grandparents and siblings. Even after feeling returned to my legs, I couldn't get up because the medication from the spinal left me lightheaded and queasy. Still, I was able to snuggle with Abby and nurse her almost continually - for the first 24 hours, she was either sleeping or sucking. My sister-in-law noted that Don looked better than he ever had after the birth of one of our children. Certainly, this had been the easiest and least traumatic for him. Everything had gone smoothly, and sweet little Abigail was perfectly safe and healthy.

The name Abigail means "father's joy," so it fit her perfectly. Abigail Joy, our double joy, had brought joy to her earthly father with her smooth and predictable birth. And I trust that her Heavenly Father, who knew every heart conflict that led up to the day of her birth, was filled with joy as well. I will always be a supporter of the amazing miracle of natural labor and birth, and I would encourage other C-section moms to consider trying a VBAC with their doctor and husband's approval. But for Abigail and me, the scheduled C-section turned out to be the best plan. I am feeling better emotionally than I ever have in the postpartum weeks, and my physical discomfort is much than I experienced with my first C-section. Truly the Lord has been faithful to answer our prayer that this sweet baby, this gift from His own hand, would be received into the world with an abundance of joy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Perfect 10

The Lord has blessed us with another beautiful baby girll! Abigail Joy arrived by C-section this morning, 10/10/11. She weighs 5 pounds, 9 ounces and is 19 inches long. I am nauseous and sleepy, but otherwise doing well. Abby is healthy and nursing eagerly. I will share her birth story and more pictures when I am feeling up to it. For now, thank you for your prayers, and for rejoicing with us over this precious gift from the Lord!

Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the LORD called me;
from my birth he has made mention of my name.

Isaiah 49:1

Saturday, October 8, 2011

39 Week Anticipation

It's hard to believe that just two days from now, Lord willing, I will be holding my newborn baby in my arms.

The pregnancy went by quickly, in some ways, yet in other ways it seems like I have been pregnant forever, and it's almost strange that soon I won't be. Soon the awkward baby bump will be exchanged for a recovering body and a precious little distraction to nurture. My hideous veins will shrink back to something resembling a normal lower half of a body, while a new scar forms at the site of the doctor's careful incision. Eventually I won't feel so short of breath when I walk up stairs (assuming I get back into a workout routine!) or lightheaded when I delay breakfast for more than half an hour after rising. The delightful kicks, stretches, and hiccups of a growing fetus will be exchanged for the intimacy of nursing and night wakings. Overall, I love being pregnant in many ways, but I am happy to exchange it for a new addition to our family!

This pregnancy has been fairly uneventful, yet slightly different from others. I have had occasional insomnia; if I wake up in the middle of the night, it takes an hour to fall back asleep. I often feel that God is keeping me away during these times to pray, and I try to take advantage of that precious time with Him. I have not gained much weight - only about 18 pounds. With my first pregnancy, I gained almost 30 pounds, and my little Donny turned out to be only 5 pounds, 5 ounces! It will be interesting to find out how big (or small) this baby is. Certainly she seems to be a calcium-craver, because I have been consuming chocolate milk, yogurt (which I formerly hated), and milk-based smoothies on a daily basis. Earlier in the pregnancy, I suspected that she would be shy and mellow, because ultrasounds showed baby holding an arm over her face, and it seemed that she didn't move much in the second trimester. See the little arm covering the face on this 12 week ultrasound photo?

Now that I have been watching my belly twitch and contort for a few months, however, I have no doubt that this little one will be as active as her sister and brothers. I have had Braxton-Hicks contractions for a few minutes each day since 27 weeks, but the past few weeks have brought frequent, more uncomfortable contractions, especially in the evenings, that imitate early labor and then disappear. With my history of long labors, I don't expect to have to rush off to the hospital at any moment, but the contractions do serve as a reminder that baby is coming soon!

And on that end, I am finally feeling prepared. In the past few weeks, I have checked a satisfying number of items off of my nesting to-do list. Baby clothes, blankets, and diapers are freshly washed and put away. Cupboards and drawers are organized. Shopping, baking, and miscellaneous appointments are done. Babysitters and birth plans are in place. The Pack 'N Play and new Moses basket are waiting for a sweet little bundle of dreams to be nestled in them. If only for a day or two, the house is clean, ready for our family to return home.

The "big kids" are ready too. Their fall clothes are unpacked, new shoes purchased, summer things are washed and put away. Lydia sleeps in the boys' room now (for part of the night, at least) on her own trundle mattress, while Hayden gets the full-size bottom bunk and Donny has his own special top-bunk space. The boys have been plugging away at their first grade work, so we will have only two weeks of curriculum to finish up after we settle in with baby. Lydia is excited to be a big sister, and eagerly tells how the baby will wear pink jammies, and "After the baby comes out of Mumma's belly, Daddy will help me pick up the baby and give her a big hug!" Even now, she gives my belly sweet hugs and kisses, and since one of her favorite lines is, "What can I do to help you?" I trust that she will be a great helper to me. The boys are looking forward to meeting their new sister, too. Donny even made a card to give to the new baby:

It is reassuring to know that even though I technically picked the date of my scheduled c-section, this baby, like any other, will be arriving in God's perfect time. He is the one who allowed the conception to occur in just the right time to bless us with the first October birthday in the family. Don just mentioned, as he decided to procrastinate on his Sunday School lesson, that perhaps the Rapture will happen tonight, and he won't even need a lesson. I replied that it is also possible, and slightly even more likely, that the baby will come tonight! Though we don't know the day or the hour when Jesus will return, it is the sweetest anticipation to know that He is coming again. And while we wait here on earth, there are blessings to look forward to, like the tiny miracle I am anticipating on Monday.

Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.

Isaiah 26:8