This year, we're most thankful for our Baby Blessing. Thanksgiving dinner will be served at Mike's sister's house. A few short weeks ago, that was home base for us while Sarah was in the NICU. We're going to stop at the hospital on our way to our Thanksgiving festivities, so that we can deliver a little Christmas cheer. The NICU nurses drape fleece blankets over the incubators because the babies like the dark. Mary Beth made these blankets, following these directions, so that the NICU will be all dressed up for Christmas. I remember one night when the a baby had become a bit sicker. He required more equipment than he had when his mother had seen him earlier in the day. I listened as the nurses did their best to make that equipment look less frightening, so that his mother would not be too shocked. The last thing they did was go hunt up the cheeriest blanket they could find for the top of the incubator. We hope these blankets will bring Christmas cheer to a place of tiny people and big miracles.
Rachel has posted on the message board and I wanted to be sure the word was out here as well. She wrote:
It's hard to say, but...
The Real Learning conference has had to give way to Real Life. Each of the 6 committee members has been dealt quite a year right now: high risk pregnancy, newborns, complications related to just having moved or being about to move, traveling and deployed husbands, and of course Mr. Vander Woude's tragic and heroic death.
We all believe that God is telling us "not this year" for ministering to other homeschoolers, and instead "yes this year" to focus on nurturing our families. We hope that you will continue to find the support you need here at the forum and/or at one of the other local conferences.
So there you have it. Real Life--the good, the sad, and the holy.
There are a few DVDs and CDs left from last year's conference if that's any consolation.
For Jessica and her family.
Why, my Lord—dare I ask why? It will not hear the whisper of the wind or see the beauty of its parents’ face—it will not see the beauty of Your creation or the flame of a sunrise. Why, my Lord?
“Why, My child—do you ask ‘why’? Well, I will tell you why. You see, the child lives. Instead of the wind he hears the sound of angels singing before My throne. Instead of the beauty that passes he sees everlasting Beauty—he sees My face. He was created and lived a short time so the image of his parents imprinted on his face may stand before Me as their personal intercessor. He knows secrets of heaven unknown to men on earth. He laughs with a special joy that only the innocent possess. My ways are not the ways of man. I create for My Kingdom and each creature fills a place in that Kingdom that could not be filled by ; another. He was created for My joy and his parents’ merits. He has never seen pain or sin. He has never felt hunger or pain. I breathed a soul into a seed, made it grow and called it forth.” I am humbled before you, my Lord, for questioning Your wisdom, goodness, and love. I speak as a fool—forgive me. I acknowledge Your sovereign rights over life and death. I thank You for the life that began for so short a time to enjoy so long an Eternity. Mother M. Angelica
Posted at 04:59 PM | Permalink
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In other soccer news, Michael's team takes on University of Maryland tomorrow in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The next stop along the American History trail is Lewis and Clark. We have posted 4 weeks of reading and lessons for now, or after Christmas. It just so happens that Margot at Hillside Education has a National Geographic DVD of Lewis and Clark available this week. But what's even better is that it's a part of Margot's Helping Those in Need effort:
More and more we are hearing about good people struggling with the simple things of life that many of us take for granted. We'd like to make a small dent in the needs of people that we hear about. All the items for sale on this page are donated and all income goes directly to families who are in special need of help. Prices include shipping.
This month, (from now until Christmas) the proceeds go to help the Quigley family in Lancaster, PA who have 2 children recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (see picture above). Because of a mistake in processing their claim and bureaucratic red tape to correct the problem, the insurance company will not be covering the insulin needed by the children for at least a month. The family is unable to cover the cost of the insulin, yet it is essential to keeping the children alive.
Please consider purchasing an item from this page, perhaps as a Christmas gift, and help this family in need. Items will be added daily, so keep checking back. You may also simply make a donation. If you'd like to donate something to the sale, we'd welcome your contributions. Please contact us at email@example.com.
The GMU Soccer team won the conference championship last weekend in Wilmington, NC. Mike took the boys down for a "bonding weekend." It reminded me that the first time Michael ever "road-tripped" with his Daddy, he went to NC after Christian was born. Michael's much bigger now;-).
Posted at 09:51 AM | Permalink
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When I was eighteen weeks pregnant, we learned we were expecting a little girl. She was absolutely beautiful there on that grainy screen. The sonographer in the midwives' office was as tickled as I was that we saw a playmate for Karoline. And then she furrowed her brow a bit. "The placenta is low. It's not quite on the cervix but right up against it. Don't worry about this. Ninety percent of the time, placentas move up and out of the way." And honestly, that day, I didn't worry.
A week later, we had a level 2 sonogram. Same diagnosis. This time, they still said not to worry, but they threw in some cautions. They called for pelvic rest and some other precautions--no heavy lifting, no vacuuming, no long stretches of time on my feet. I returned to the midwife a week later and she added some more food for thought. She was optimistic that it could move but she also cautioned that I had several risk factors for placenta accreta and that I'd likely need to be on bedrest at 28 weeks. I knew what placenta accreta was. My neighbor had it nine years ago. She nearly bled to death and she lost her uterus delivering her baby. I didn't need an education in accreta--I had had a front row seat. Still, I went home and "googled" it and about scared myself to death. Then, I emailed some friends to ask for prayers and I promised myself I'd never do an internet search on it again.Essentially, there was a chance that my placenta would embed itself in my uterus and not let go at delivery. If that happened, I would certainly hemorrhage and I'd probably need a hysterectomy.
We named the baby then. She would be named for St. Sarah, the old woman of the Old Testament who laughed when God told her she'd bear a child. I wanted to hold onto the laughter--the sheer joy--of being with child. I wanted St. Sarah to remind me daily that I was not too old to carry a baby and to do it with great joy.
I went to the 28 week sonogram fully expecting that the placenta had moved. It hadn't. Not a bit.Things became a little more urgent at the midwives' office. And the restrictions became more serious. Still, we were encouraged to have gotten to 28 weeks without bleeding. Then, at 29 weeks exactly the bleeding began. And preterm labor. For the first time. I returned home to total bedrest after two days in the hospital . And there I stayed for 6 weeks. I continued to have sonograms and they continued to tell the same story. Plans were tentatively made for a delivery in the main OR, as opposed to the OB suite. Mike wouldn't be there. They'd go through the placenta to reach the baby and I'd be under general anesthesia. I might awaken to to find I'd lost my uterus. (In all honesty, I was just worried that I'd be one of the 7% who die due to accreta complications.) My doctors were insistent that I bank six units of blood. At every appointment, there was the hope that the placenta would move and the reality that we had to prepare for accreta. And in my rational moments, I knew that delivery could actually fall anywhere on that continuum. There were people I turned to for advice and they were encouraging and supportive. There were people who offered unsolicited advice. They meant well but fed my overactive imagination. And there was the voice of faith and reason who told me that this was Sarah's story and God alone was writing it. That voice reminded me often not to worry about anyone else's story.
And it was at this point that I got very organized about my prayer effort. I chose St. Anne as the patroness of this pregnancy and the protectress of me and my little girl. Since the first bleeding episode was on September 23rd, I took that as a good sign to include St. Pio as well. And of course, no pregnancy prayer book would be complete without St. Gerard. I prayed to Our Lady and my dear St. Therese. And I had a continuous conversation with St. Joseph. Some of you have written to ask about my prayer collection. It is here. Download pregnancy_prayer_book.pdf
At 33 weeks, I had an MRI. This was supposed to be the gold standard. The results regarding accreta were inconclusive. They couldn't rule it out but they couldn't pinpoint it either. They did, however, decide that the placenta was 2 centimeters from my cervix. This was great news! It meant that I didn't have previa any more. My midwife discussed the results with Mike and me and agreed I could add a little more activity to my routine but that we should wait on lifting the bedrest until a sonogram with the perinatologist at 35 weeks confirmed the MRI findings. She did say that things looked good to try for a VBAC, but she cautioned that there was still a chance of accreta and again, she insisted on banking 6 units of O- blood. All in all, the seesaw was definitely up that week.
I spent October 30th trying to round up blood donors. Since only 7% of the population is O-, it proved frustrating. Michael had rolled up his sleeves and donated a double donation a week earlier and we got a waiver for Christian to donate even though he was young. That gave me three. I went to bed thinking about where we'd get the other three. Then, a couple of minutes after midnight on October 31st, it all became a bit more urgent. Mike and the girls had gone to a gymnastics show and gotten in very late. We had prayed our St. Anne novena (it was the fifth night again) and I had shooed them off to bed. Mike commented that he was totally exhausted and could sleep for a year. Shortly after that, Mary Beth came into my room to tell me that Karoline was calling me and I got up to go lie down in her bed. I felt a gush. I was bleeding. Really, really bleeding. I woke Mike and grabbed my cell phone. Poor Mary Beth, Christian, and Karoline were awake when we left. We were in the car in fewer than five minutes and I called the midwife from the road. I went in my pajamas. I didn't have my glasses. I hadn't packed a bag. The only thing I stopped for was a bottle of St. Anne's oil sent to me from Australia. I rubbed everything left in the vial all over my belly.
34 weeks. I knew I wasn't going beyond 34 weeks.
All the way there, I prayed. As still as possible, I clung to every single tiny movement Sarah made. Just tell me you're alive and doing fine, baby. Just move a little...Please, God.
When we arrived at the hospital, they called for a sonogram immediately. While we waited, they hooked me up to the monitors. I heard her! And I cried. That sound would be the melody of the next eighteen hours, the sweetest song I've ever heard.
The sonogram proved the MRI wrong. I had a complete previa. My midwife came to talk with us, as did Dr. K. They were all pretty certain we'd try to wait for surgery until the shift change at 7 and then both OBs would operate. Since the bleeding had slowed, they felt they could wait--and watch closely.It looked like I'd deliver before 9 that morning.
Mike tried to sleep. I couldn't. I was terrified. All the peace I'd worked so hard to find was gone. I was just nothing but scared and I couldn't seem to calm myself. Around 5:00, I called my friend Mel and asked her to go be with the children. I hated the thought of them home alone and scared by our departure. Little did I know we'd left a trail of blood and they'd been up together all night long. Little did I know they researched it all themselves and they knew exactly what the risks were. It wasn't until a week later that Mary Beth told me her story of that night as we sat and rocked Sarah in the NICU. All I knew that morning was that I needed Mel to go be with them.
Somewhere in the mix, Lauren went, too. Lauren is the team manager for Paddy's soccer team. She's also a real estate executive who just walked out of her office and into my home and took over. I will never forget her kindness and my children will never forget her love.
Around eight o'clock, Christian sent Michael a text message and told him what he knew. Michael sent a text message to the campus minister at George Mason. Fr. Peter invited Michael to join him and the FOCUS missionaries in the chapel for Holy Hour. He also got the word out that we needed blood. Within the hour, six people were at the donor center donating blood for me.
When the new shift came on, I met an angel. Well, not really but it seemed that way. Dr. J-C came into our room. She sat on the edge of my bed and spoke to us in the most beautiful accent. She was from Africa and she had had her own private practice in a nearby town for 25 years. But this was just her second day in the hospital where I was delivering. God's timing. All of a sudden, I could trust. And I did trust her. The new plan was to continue the anti-contraction drugs for the day and hope things would stabilize. Then, I'd stay in the hospital on total bedrest as long as I could, hopefully until 35 or 36 weeks, long enough to give the baby a chance to develop just a bit more.
Mike went to check in at work and I tried to sleep. I really don't remember much about the day. I made determined attempts to pray and didn't do very well. I remember talking with Danielle just before she left for trick-or-treat time and asking her to post a prayer request. I remember Michael coming with a dozen yellow roses. His coach had told him not to come to practice, to come and sit at the hospital instead. He stayed until Mike was on his way back and then we sent him on the way. I told Mike not come either, to go home to be with the kids, but he insisted on checking in with me one more time before night fell. He'd been in my room just a few minutes when the nurse, Janelle, came in. She told me, all a-flutter, that I'd been contracting every three minutes for the last half hour.Really? I'd hardly noticed.
Things moved pretty quickly from there. The doctor was called and she came in to tell us that it was time. We'd have a peaceful. unhurried c-section in the next hour or so. All the wheels began to move. Mike was allowed to be with me. I had two hep-locks, one that had been dripping IV fluid all day and another for transfusions if they were necessary. Dr. J-C was fine with the Birthing Inn OR and she had no problem with Mike being with me. She also said we'd do it with an epidural and then put me out if it became necessary when the placenta delivered. Or didn't deliver.
When it came time to get the epidural, I sat up on the edge of the operating table, taking in details as much as I could without my glasses. I remember offering a faint prayer heavenward, just vaguely asking all those saints who had seen me this far to show me they were there. Then, I put my arms on Janelle's shoulders when the anesthesiologist asked me to lean into a curve. There, hanging from Janelle's neck was a lovely gold Miraculous Medal. Janelle had been with me for hours but I'd not noticed the medal until then. I reached up and touched it and looked at the the nurse. She had tears in her eyes and she nodded just a little bit. "I noticed yours earlier today," she said. "It's going to be fine." My baby, due on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, was to be born on the Vigil of All Saints.
The epidural went just fine and before long, I was all draped and ready. Wendy, my midwife, was at my head on one side and Mike was on the other. Within minutes of being numb, they pulled Sarah safely into the world. Mike brought her to me and held her soft cheek against mine. I kissed her dear little face and then I heard Wendy say, "The placenta is out. No problem. We're good." I don't remember anything else from there until I was in recovery. Mike went with Sarah to the NICU and then he went outside with my cellphone.I do remember telling him to tell Katherine to hack into my blog and make an announcement:-)
I recovered in the quiet with Janelle. She asked again about my necklace and I promised myself then and there to make her one for Christmas. I called my children, newly home from trick-or-treating, to tell them what we'd been up to while they were parading around the neighborhood. And as I talked, I recognized just how well all my prayers had been answered. All those saints, all those intercessions, there in the operating room on the vigil of All Saints Day.
The next day, I chatted with Dr. J-C. She commented that it's the older mamas, the ones who have heard the stories, who know what birth really is, that are the ones who appreciate the art of delivery. And they understand the risk. "Where I come from," she said, "we know that childbirth is a risk. Here in America, we sometimes forget. There, they have a saying, 'When you are pregnant, you have one foot in the grave and one foot on a banana peel.' But there's a God in His heaven and everything happens for a reason. We still keep having babies, don't we?"
We do, indeed. Sarah's story has just begun. It's a beautiful, joy-filled, grace-filled story already. God is so good and we are so, so grateful.
Raise your hand if you're a fan of Barbara Curtis, of mommylife.net, of Teach Me! and several more great "Mommy" books, of wit and wisdom and grace. Raise your hand if Barbara has mentored you, made you think, inspired you. Great. Everyone has her hand up except that one lady in the back there who doesn't know her yet. Let me tell her about Barbara Curtis: Barbara is a megamommy--she has twelve children. Her life story reads like the most uplifting novel no one could ever make up. After giving birth to nine babies, she adopted three more. Her four youngest sons all have Down Syndrome. Barbara is warm and witty and kind and she has given and given of herself to this online community. Barbara recently returned to the Catholic Church and her husband converted last Easter. This will be the first Christmas that they are a Catholic family.
But making merry will be a little tricky for the Curtis family for the next several months. Barbara's husband Tripp is in the hospital with a serious infection following knee replacement surgery. They have already removed the replacement and will need to scour the area and treat with antibiotics for several weeks. Then, they'll try to replace the replacement. It's going to be a long process.Tripp may lose his knee entirely. He may lose his leg. Needless to say, your prayers are precious to this family.
Catholics are very, very good prayer warriors and I know Barbara will learn that in the next few months. She'll also learn something else, something I've been blessed to both witness and receive over the past ten years. If a Catholic woman can at all do a corporal work of mercy, she won't let distance stop her. Personally, in the past two months, I've received entire birthday parties and nature walks in boxes from afar.There's still an All Saints Day celebration wiating in a box with my my name on it. I've had friends chip in for Dinner Done!--thereby making it possible for women in Alabama and Florida to offer meals to my family. I've received countless encouraging emails and phone calls, cheery packages with notepads or beautiful teacups that just seemed to find their way to me on the day I needed them most. I know what this community can do and I am begging you to show Barbara.
Barbara is new to Virginia and new to the Church. She is my neighbor; we live on opposite sides of the county, but as she's noted, I know people ;-). We've got some local notions in motion.
I know there's more though. I know that someone out there in blogville can box up St. Nicholas day for Barbara's children. Someone else is already thinking about how Catholics decorate for advent and Christmas. And someone else is going to understand the practical needs of a large family when dad is sidelined with a longterm disability. We're talking about mailing Costco cards or Target cards or Walmart cards--those stores are local. And if Barbara needs someone to help her shop with the cards, we've got some local ladies ready to do that, too.
I'm here at my computer with my baby draped over my chest. I figure I'll go out to visit the Curtis family in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I'm sitting here, waiting for you to email. I've got Barbara's address; you let me know what you want to send their way, so we don't overlap. Let's show the Curtis family just how universal the Catholic Church is and just how much we love those who have come home for Christmas!
Posted at 07:44 PM | Permalink
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With characteristic grace and loveliness, Dawn illuminates how bloggers can blog the beautiful and celebrate the good with integrity and joy.
Posted at 11:42 AM | Permalink
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There is something very strange that washes over me when I read the blogs of ladies whose due dates are close to mine.I read about sonograms and blessings of unborn babies and I almost feel the familiar thumps and bumps from within.I still have not taken down my ticker. My children are enjoying reading what Sarah would have been doing had she stayed put six weeks longer.I hold her and nurse her and hold her some more. And still, I miss her--I miss those last few weeks of pregnancy. I miss being full of life and expecting joy. This is for those of you who are growing quite large...
I got an email this morning from the NICU. One of the babies who was there with Sarah has taken a turn for the worse and is in very serious condition. Please pray for this very little guy and his family and the doctors and nurses who will care for him.
Prayer for the Sick
Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest your weary ones.
Bless your dying ones.
Soothe your suffering ones.
Pity your afflicted ones.
Shield your joyous ones.
And for all your love's sake. Amen.
Posted at 11:07 AM | Permalink
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For me, the most difficult aspect of our time in the NICU was my own confusion about what to do. I'm an experienced mom, a breastfeeder for the past twenty years, a vocal proponent of attachment parenting. And there, in that crib, with all those wires and tubes, was the most vulnerable of all my babies. We don't even own a crib. I was at a loss. I had to ask permission to hold her. I even had to call ahead to see if it was a good time to come look at her. The people in the NICU were wonderful, goodhearted, devoted people, but rules were rules, all for good reasons.
We tried to breastfeed but her heartrate and respirations suffered. She just couldn't suck, swallow and breathe all at the same time. The neonatologist and the nurses assured me that all would be well with the tincture of time. But I was hyperventilating as I waited. I needed to hold my baby and I was fairly certain she need me to do exactly that.
Within a couple of days we both learned about Kangaroo Care. Honestly, I think we both knew all about Kangaroo Care before someone taught us the lingo. Basically, Mom unbuttons her shirt and baby is stripped down to a diaper. Baby lies on Mom's chest and enjoys skin to skin contact. THIS I know. This is how I take care of all my newborns. This I could do. Happily. For hours and hours at a time, there amidst the beeping and dinging of the NICU, I held Sarah. There, a curtain pulled around our own little corner, Sarah and I became us. Her oxygenation levels went up. Her breathing was steady. Her temperature seemed well-controlled even though she was outside the incubator. And my milk came in.
I pumped and pumped and pumped. That milk went down the gavage tube. That milk went into those early bottles. The medical staff was absolutely thrilled to learn that I had just weaned my toddler ( due to pre-term contractions six weeks before Sarah's birth). Breastmilk when a baby was mere 24 hours old was regarded as pure gold in that NICU.
Over time, she did indeed learn to nurse and I learned that she needed a good half hour or more of Kangaroo time in order to nurse well. It was amazing really how holding skin-to-skin was so highly correlated with her newfound ability to suck, swallow and breathe.
The day before she was released, the nurse (who was also a lactation consultant) ensured that I was equipped with a Moby Wrap and we wrapped in the NICU. I discovered that this was how I could reclaim those last six weeks in utero for Sarah. There in the Moby she is snuggled securely against me. I wear a nursing camisole with a blouse unbuttoned over the Moby Wrap. (No pictures, I'm afraid--it's perfect for at-home but not quite suitable for public viewing.) Better still, I wear my pjs. The recommendation is that moms (and/or dads) enjoy Kangaroo Care at least three hours a day.
I never put her down:-)
Hmmm...If Sarah had been a boy, I would have named her Joseph. Seems she's a joey after all.