Happy Anniversary, Happy “Trip”

Today is Words Become One’s ninth anniversary, so let’s celebrate by getting out of town, shall we?

In January, Mike and I had our ten year anniversary, and his parents generously invited us to join them at their two condos in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for a week of fun.  We were bringing the kids, so it was a week of fun with the major parenthesis of a boatload of work, but we were determined to make the most of it.

Before I go any further, every mother reading this knows the sweat, angst and gnashing of teeth that goes into packing for one’s children and oneself.  I wrote a separate post about the ins and outs of preparing to travel and traveling with children.  Head there for the details.

Away we go!

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And just like that, hours later we were like this!

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Only if by “just like that” I mean one plane ride, an overstuffed carseatless shuttle, an interminable wait for our rental SUV, a 35 minute drive to the resort, a (wise) rejection of the fourth-floor kids-could-fall condo, and a settling into a wonderful first-floor kids-can’t-fall-from-the-balcony three bedroom condo.  Just like that!

The units themselves were ideal for our bigger family.  A master bedroom with en-suite, two kids bedrooms with their own bathrooms, and a kitchen and living room.  Glenn and Colleen had the same setup right above us, which we loved because it gave them their own space to have peace and quiet and a break from the kiddos.  That and Henry would race up there every morning after getting dressed, usually followed by Hunter and Arden.  Wouldn’t want them having too much peace and quiet, after all!

Nana and Papa brilliantly asked for units next to the children’s pool area — a place with a huge pool, water slide, and in-ground shaded trampoline.  It even had a kids indoor area for artwork and creative play.  We thought it would be unbelievably crowded, and instead no other kids were around.  This must be the result of traveling outside of holidays and spring break.

It was really peaceful, which was the last adjective we expected to employ on our first day.

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So peaceful in fact, that we promptly shattered the serenity by Hunter slipping and busting open his lip, blood dripping out of his mouth.  Nana and I rushed to attend to him, not realizing Mike had stepped aside to order beverages by the side of the pool.  At the same second Hunter tripped, Mike walked back along the pool edge and saw Henry tiptoe closer to the deep end, his little chin in the air.  He threw the drinks to the side and ran in, scooping him up in one of the scariest moments of his life.  He ran over to us only to realize we never saw a thing — we were still holding paper napkins to the lips of a sobbing Hunter.

We were all devastated that so much could happen in seconds, and it shook the casual relief of our resort arrival into soldier-like attention at every moment.  We’d had several conversations about man-to-man water coverage, but we learned when an accident happens it can pull us away just long enough for disaster.  We were deeply shaken and prayed thanks for protection of both our sweet boys, while vowing to do much better.

After many long breaths in and out…

It took the kids no time at all to adjust to a life of wake, eat breakfast at a restaurant, swim, beach, eat lunch at a restaurant, nap, swim, jump, eat dinner at a restaurant, sleep.

Not surprisingly, it took the two women on the trip who cook all the food at home no time to adjust either.

I know this picture looks entirely staged, but Henry really was acting 40, unbeknownst to him, and we laughed out loud.

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All parents know that “vacationing” with kids is taking a trip — you’re not vacationing from the work involved with caring for kids.  That certainly applied here.  However, we thought one way to make it feel like a vacation would be not going to Costco, meal planning and cooking.  So we opted for the all-inclusive, a first for us.  Considering kids are free, I’m certain we won out on eating and drinking more than the daily price we paid.  That resort didn’t bet on four kids.

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Major-eater infant not pictured.

Also this is Hunter’s signature move; he puts both hands into “I love yous” and sticks his tongue out.  Only Hunter could make it look like gang signs.

One of the days the gentlemen watched the kids while we ladies had a lovely few hours getting massages and hanging at the spa. The next day, we watched the kids while the men did their version of the spa.

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We made the most of the outnumbered childcare situation by taking ourselves to lunch.

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Note my non-non-alcoholic raspberry mojito.  It was necessary because of this:

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Do your sons wait for their food this way?  No?  Just us, then?

In the middle of the week we had a day of hard rain.  This is very rare in Cabo. We know because the staff told us twenty-five times.

We asked for ponchos to get through breakfast, which the kids found HI-larious.

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Then we headed inside for some art and movies.  Even though kids love non-stop activity, they thrive when the pace changes and they can just chill.  They’re surprisingly like adults that way.

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Unquestionably, the best part about the downpour was the golf cart rides from condo to restaurant and back.  The kids were squealing with delight, particularly when it rained so hard they zipped the plastic drapes so we were cocooned inside.

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The couple of cloudy days were also vastly improved by hot tubs.

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I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a moron, but a few days into the trip I had the following thought: this trip is one hundred percent about the children.  We are doing nothing but entertaining them from sunup to sundown.  It’s just one kid-bliss activity to the next.  I knew this before coming here, but how did I not truly KNOW this?

Mere hours later, Mike came up to me and said, “I know how dumb this sounds, but this trip is entirely for the kids.  Like we are just service vehicles on their parade of fun.  It’s insane.  Is this what our parents felt on every vacation!?”  I smacked him on the arm and yelled “I KNOW!” totally elated that our parental wavelength was still so completely synced.  I wasn’t the only idiot who has been a parent for four and a half years and is still surprised by the parenting commitment being TOTAL.

 

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OG Hunter strikes again.

The intense guarding of four kids by the water was nerve-wracking, but we tried to breathe into it by taking turns, ordering beverages, and shuffling them over to the trampoline when our inner lifeguards were wiped.

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On our last full day, Mike gave me a break during the kids’ naps to go lay by the pool.  I thought I would burst from the happiness and disbelief of actually being alone poolside, and walking the beach just thanking God for His grace and this stunning beauty.

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I am not a selfie taker, but exceptions must be made.  I wanted to remember being this giddy.

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That evening, Glenn and Colleen stayed in and we took the kids down to the beach for a special moment we wanted them to participate in.  We brought our vows to recite them to each other again, just as we have nearly every year, but this time with our own children as our witnesses.  It was pretty surreal and, to the two of us, quite profound.

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There wasn’t one other person on the beach, so we asked Arden to take our picture while we spoke.  Then we tried to gather the kids together and squeeze for an impossible selfie, but it just wasn’t working.

Right then, a kind-looking, well-dressed man approached, walking around the boulders near the entrance to the beach, and smiled at us.  We were sort of embarrassed he saw us wrangling the kids for a picture.

“I had to come down here,” he said.  “I’ve been watching you from the restaurant and I felt I had to come take your picture for you.”

The restaurant wasn’t adjacent to where we were; it’s a good walk back to the resort and up a flight of stairs.  He had to have left his seat before we even began taking a picture.  I just stared at him, stunned.  Then I told him how incredible it was that he came down because we were just renewing our vows and wanted a photo.

“Wow, really, wow.  You have just the most beautiful family, and it’s just the best thing.  Really, you’re blessed!  I’ll take your picture!”

I beamed at him, totally grateful, absolutely aware that this man was responding to a prompting in his heart, one the Lord nudged him to.  It still brings tears to my eyes.

We handed him our phone and the chicks gathered around and he took our photo.  We thanked him profusely, telling him we couldn’t believe he would leave his dinner at the fanciest restaurant on the property just to take our picture.

“I’m so glad I did,” he replied, smiling at each of the kids.  “I’m thanking you for this.  It’s just so beautiful, your family, thank you so much.”

He smiled sincerely and then turned to walk back up the beach toward his dinner companions.  Mike and I looked at each other, amazed, so sure of the Lord’s presence with us on that beach.

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This picture means more to me than I can say.

God wasn’t done showing off, because that night at dinner there was this sunset.

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It was heart-stopping.  We just stood there and stared and stared.

Hunter, of course, flashed his signs.

By this point of the vacation, Henry and Arden were over everything.  Nothing was amazing anymore.  They even told me by the fourth day they didn’t want to eat in one more restaurant.  “Not ANOTHER restaurant, Mom!  Not AGAIN!” This from the two people who ask to go to restaurants five times a week.  See those faces above?  Same.  Sunset?  Sigh.  Eyeroll.  Another sunset.

I do the same thing to Jesus all the time.  Another day where my kids are healthy and there’s food on the table and heat in my vents?  Same-sauce, man.  Whatevs!  Observing things like this in my kids is the quickest heart-change.

One of the nights, my in-loves had a lovely date night dinner alone, which they more than earned for putting up with our chaos.  They shared the favor by giving us one to celebrate our anniversary.

This trip could not have happened without them, not nearly — we’d never have attempted it. We’re so grateful they were willing to spend a week on a trip with us, rather than a vacation in peace and leisure like they deserved to.

We had a couple of hiccups and close calls, but really it was such a happy time, full of memories being made by the minute.

Thank you, Mama and Papa-in-love, for such an awesome first vacation/trip adventure.  Twice a day I’m fielding the demand, “I want to go back to Mexico!”  Looks like two people got over their restaurant satiation.

So…January 2019?  What?  Too soon?

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Fear Not, Trip Taker!

We recently took our first big family “vacation” (cough trip cough) to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and it was no small undertaking.

I’m a recovered over-packer and panicked-packer, which is a relief because if Abby at 18 or 25 were packing for five people, she’d be manically pacing in her room for days while consuming processed sugar.

Instead, I try to be minimalistic and regimented about packing the kids, because the only thing worse than packing before the trip is packing to return home.  To make my future self happy, I try to reign it in before departure.

These are the keys: two bag max for the kids (two kids to a bag) and carry-on only for me and Mike.

The kids bags look like this from Land’s End:

Medium Natural Open Top Canvas Tote Bag

They are enormous, they zip closed, they have interior pockets, they smoosh into an overhead bin, and you can choose colors and initials.  (Also they’re on sale right now which is rare [I’m not paid to post this; I’m not that cool].)

A fellow mom gave me two bags when the twins were born and said they were the perfect bag for everything, and she was right.  Each of our kids has one, but we only bring two on trips.

How do we fit all their things?

Enter these brilliant AmazonBasics packing cubes (not sponsored):

These have changed my travel life.  No exaggeration.  I bought a different colored set for each child (yes, the same color as their tote bag…I can’t stop myself), and then I fill each cube by category — one with shirts/dresses, one with shorts/pants, one with underwear/socks/pajamas, one with shoes/hats/swimsuits/sunglasses/anything random.

Imagine: your kid asks you for his blue striped shirt — locate his color cubes, peer through the mesh to see what that cube holds, and you’re handing your kid their shirt within seconds.  This saves you from the standard chaos of the two of you pawing through an enormous bag of not just their clothes, but their siblings’ as well, digging for long minutes while you ask why they even NEED that shirt.

On weekend trips I keep their clothes in their cubes, tossing dirty laundry into the big tote bag. On longer trips I unpack their clothes into dressers, but when it’s time to repack, it’s infinitely easier and organized.

There are still the random items (I’m looking at you, stuffed animals) that won’t fit in the bags nicely, and on this trip my dear in-loves brought an extra bag for us to fill because they have free checking.  What blissful words those are.

Each kid brings their own tiny backpack which has their snacks and books, and a spare pair of pants and shirt, in case of airborne barfing.  Turns out Hunter needed his on his descent into Cabo…what a champ.

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We got them each a pair of AmazonBasics kids’ headphones (not sponsored) so they can watch things at the same time (using a splitter) or on their own screens in front of them.  Mama doesn’t need fighting for audio mid-flight.

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No fear on those faces!  Actually, we can’t see Jameson, so maybe he’s full of airplane dread, we’ll never know.

Lastly, we bring the Ergo to keep the baby on my chest, and one umbrella stroller for cruising Hunter through the long airport lines and walking distances.  Of course on this trip we left it in baggage claim, but the kind people of Los Cabos International Airport had it waiting for us when we returned.

The main thing that keeps me from lighting my hair on fire while we check in/check bags/go through security is having our IDs and tickets in one zipped bag. No digging or panicking = mama feels like she’s already in margaritaville.

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I’m certainly not trying to paint a still life for you when traveling with kids is, in fact, more like a Jackson Pollock.  No amount of organization can guarantee an easy time, but for me it goes a long way in assuaging my anxiety.

It’s my inner Girl Scout blooming in adulthood.  I can’t control what happens, but I can prepare.  Kids will upchuck, kids will cry, kids will not sleep when you want them to and then pass out precisely when you don’t (landing).  But when my side of the fence is in order, I’m less likely to melt down right alongside them.

Go for it; the more you do it, the more “normal” and easier it becomes.  Fear not, travelers with tots!  Travel on.

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Jameson’s Birth Story

To commemorate Jameson’s birthday, I’m finally sharing his birth story.  Fear not!  It does not involve wince-inducing bladder ruptures nor hours of fruitless pushing.  All goes well!

I just saved you ten minutes, if birth stories aren’t your cup of tea.  If they are, then please accept this steaming cup of Earl Grey, one sugar.

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Because of my complicated twin birth and borderline outrageous second birth experience, my OBGYN explained that should we have a fourth baby, it would unquestionably be a scheduled cesarean section.  In fact, he drilled this point home while I was still in the hospital after having Hunter, before my bladder ruptured.  Apparently birth isn’t like baseball — two four-hour pushing strikes is all you get before you’re out of the “natural” attempt forever.

Of course, after all I’d been through, I was in full agreement.

So in the early morning of March 23, we left our home and arrived at the hospital.  We knew our nurse was going to be an earthly angel because my amazing nurse from Henry and Arden’s delivery reached out to me and said, “What’s your section date?  I’m choosing the greatest nurse available for you — I got this.”  It was a significant blessing on a day full of them, thanks to the chorus of prayers we had rallying around us that week.

On our way to the antepartum wing (that’s where you go when you have a scheduled surgical delivery, rather than the labor and delivery wing), we had to pass through the NICU.  We hadn’t anticipated this, and we caught our breath as we passed the doors we’d been buzzed into countless times during Henry’s 17 day stay.  There was the basin where we’d scrubbed our hands dozens of times; there was the check-in desk where we’d received 17 stickers signifying our security clearance.   And now, here we were, with our NICU baby age three and a half, healthy and home asleep, about to receive a new baby sibling.  We felt down-to-the-bones grateful.

After we met the sweetest nurse imaginable, she took us to our room and I got into my gown and hooked up to the monitors and IV.

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This is a smile of joyful peace; of a woman who knows she’s not going into labor.

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That belly!  I know pregnancy is misery for many, but I love it so much.

We met with each doctor involved, and then, like we were going to brunch, they all said, “Okay, let’s go have a baby!” I hopped out of that bed ready to rock because I felt a supernatural peace.  So many people sent us messages of prayers and so many had committed to praying for us that morning that there wasn’t room for nerves or fear.

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We all walked to the surgical room together, laughing, joking, chatting like one of us wasn’t about to drug another of us, and one of us wasn’t about to cut another of us open.  It helped me relax, but heightened how surreal it felt.  Where was the drama?  The urgency?  The pain?

Absent.  Answered prayers, all.

They administered the anesthesia, and as I laid back against the table, I repeated aloud the verse I’d used to prepare for this day: “She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1)  Mike said a prayer and after the surgical pause, they began.

In our other experiences, this portion of the show was incredibly fast.  In this case, they were much slower because it wasn’t urgent, and also they had to work through all the scar tissue they discovered on their way to my uterus.  They explained this, but I found it a little woo-woo to hear graphic details of my insides while I was still awake on the outside.

Before we knew it, they told us they were reaching inside to bring out our baby.  I felt an enormous pressure, and then heard a healthy, perfect cry as Mike looked over the curtain and laughed, “It’s a boy!!!”

“A boy!!!” I replied, because I truly had no instinct this time, and hearing that our “who” was a “he” was overwhelming, heart-happy news.  He came cruising over the curtain to the nurses station and then right back to me seconds later — and that’s when I saw his handsome face as they placed him on my chest.

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“Hi Jameson, hi baby,” I said over and over.  “He looks exactly like Hunter!” Because he did — it was remarkable how alike their big puckered lips, noes and cheeks were.  It was a spellbinding feeling to see such similar features between babies we’d created.

The funny thing is now I look at these pictures of that same little face and all I can see is Jameson.  It’s distinctly him and that demonstrates what a year of getting to know a little person can do to your heart and your eyes.

After skin-to-skin time, the nurses cleaned him up, measured him, and made sure all was well.  Then they swaddled him tight and covered me with heated blankets and returned him to us.

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The proud Dada, father of four.

Then it was just us; mama, dada, baby, cooing to comfort our new little life.

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This was the first moment of pure bliss.  My baby’s cheeks next to mine, his cries stopping completely when he heard my voice.

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My mom, Jameson’s Nonni, was his first visitor, and also first photographer.  She joined us in surgery to capture his birth, and we’re so grateful to her that we have these priceless photos.

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After they stitched me back up, we were wheeled back to our room where the rest of Jameson’s grandparents were waiting to meet him.  They were so excited, they had left the room to meet us down at the end of the hall to find out who this little baby was.

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Nana and Papa!  At this point Jameson had no idea how amazing his paternal grandparents are, but good things come to those who wait.

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Grandpa!  My dad has three daughters, (who are top-notch, natch), so finding out he had a third grandson was like an embarrassment of riches.  Amiright, Dad?

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Auntie Rae Rae!

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Auntie Erin!

See the smiles all around?  That is how the whole day felt.  It was just happiness.  As each family member came into the room, they didn’t know who the baby was going to be, and it never got old sharing, “It’s a boy!  His name is Jameson Wendell!” and celebrating all over again.

I was so grateful to FaceTime with Siri and Amy so they could meet him.  I marveled that my best friends were states away, but so close I could feel them in the room with us.

And then the moment my heart had waited for — introducing Jameson to his sister and brothers.

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Hunter was only 22 months old, but he still dove right for us.

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Henry, 3.5, was next, and was unsettled by the cords attached to me, so in addition to baby, we talked about that.

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Mike and my dad reassured him, and told him when he visited the next day I’d be far less plugged in.

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When it was Arden’s turn, she was enamored from the first, not at all dismayed that she was meeting a brother and not a sister like she’d hoped.

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And one touch was not enough.  Homegirl was over in that hospital chair ready to hold him in two seconds.

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She’s like auntie, support the head.  I’ll show you.

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Apparently he follows sister’s lead.

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Auntie Sam!  Under Arden’s watchful eye, of course.

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The. Boy. Is. Mine.  She’s 19 years late for Brandy and Monica, but she gets it.

Uncle Aaron managed to get a moment with her little bundle, however!

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And later that evening, Cousin Lillian!

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Later that evening my girlfriends arrived, complete with Meredith FaceTiming in.  I was full to the brim with joy after such a spectacular day, and having them there was my cup running over.

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The next morning, Auntie Lindsay came to visit, having traveled all the way from San Diego!  It was amazing to have her there to greet our little blondie.

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I don’t believe for a minute that Jameson’s birth was about me — this is his birth story, not mine. His safe arrival was the essential priority of the day; that it helped heal and redeem our harder birth days is just the way our God works. He takes what is already profoundly good, and uses it as a tool to bring new life elsewhere; in this case, my worried heart. He makes the broken beautiful again.

Before the kids had left, we huddled for a first family photo, and Mike and I could hardly believe this was our life — four kids!  It is outrageous and funny and wonderful and intimidating to us that we had four kids in three and a half years, but we are so, so happy we did.

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Jameson took his place in our circus with aplomb, and we can’t imagine our lives without him.

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It’s Fall, Ya’ll

(As I write this there is half an inch of snow on the ground, so that title might be misleading, but snow on the ground on November 3 in Seattle is unprecedented, at least in my 21 years of living here, so it must be noted.)

It’s been six months since I’ve touched this blog, and that’s due largely to the little seven month old who lights up our days.  He couldn’t be easier, as babies go, but because he’s twenty-five percent of a quad, I’ve struggled to want to do anything productive in my free time (free time being defined as time not spent on cleaning or chores or anything household- or child-related).

So here we are!

Long-time readers, (and I do mean long time), might remember this number on other offspring:

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Any excuse to bring these cherubs back to the page:

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I love that Henry and Arden are pumpkins at just three months, swimming in the six-month-size onesies, and Jameson at seven months is bursting through the buttons.

We’ve had several big firsts around here, the first one leading to the others: Henry and Arden have started preschool for the first time, at age four.  They love those three mornings a week enormously, and it makes us all feel like we’re on an adventure with them.  Like their first field trip, which we embarked on together.

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Side note: Mike having a job that allows him this kind of freedom is priceless, and I do not take it for granted…until I do, as we shall see.

This field trip was by-the-book, as field trips go, largely peaceful and full of farmland, pumpkins, tractor rides, and lessons on nitrogen.

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We cruised through it all, happy-go-lucky, until 10:45AM approached and Mike decided, along with another dad friend of ours, that he should head to the office.  I totally understood and we all kissed him goodbye as the teacher said something about a slide in a barn being our next activity.

I herded the kids into the barn and looked up at an enormous, incredibly steep slide cascading down a mountain of hay.  Fun! was my first thought.  Arden and Henry took off toward the ladder that led to the top, toting sack cloths to slide on.  I had Jameson in the stroller and Hunter by my side as we watched them climb.

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And then I noticed that they, along with all the other preschoolers, were struggling to mount each step of the ladder, for two reasons.  First, because it was constructed of hay, and second, because each step was nearly as tall as they were.

I looked at Hunter and the baby, weighing my options.  A handful of other parents were already resigned to making the climb to hoist their progeny to the top.  A young farm-hand was holding a bale of hay over his head, readying it to make the steps shorter and easier to climb…until the bale combusted in his arms and sprayed in all directions, and he stood there, not knowing how to proceed.

Meanwhile, a dad had taken pity on Arden and helped her up a step, while Henry turned to holler down at me to help him up.

I bent to Hunter, telling him to stay with the baby, then realized that was a fool’s request and grabbed him to hustle up the hay mountain. I lifted Henry and Hunter up each enormous step, glancing down at Jameson to see him starting to fuss.  I suppressed a mild feeling of panic and reminded myself I was surrounded only by preschoolers and their parents, all of whom would surely be understanding.

I lifted them both up another step, laughing as I realized I was barely tall enough to scale them myself — how were four year olds expected to climb?

At the top, Arden wasted no time flying down the slide, but the boys wanted me to ride with them.  I hurried them onto my lap as I saw Jameson crying with a mom leaning over his stroller to comfort him; I dug deep into my four years of mothering to chant “not a big deal, not a big deal” when every part of me wanted to yell “WHY AM I HERE ALONE?”

It was surprisingly steep and we flew to the bottom, only to see them jump up and expect to do it countless more times.  I ran over to Jameson to console him and caught the eye of my friend Anne, also-deserted wife, who said, “Where are they NOW, when it’s INSANE?” which made me feel a hundred times better.

Fast-forward a few slide rides and they all raced over to what can only be called the corn pit — a foot-deep and twenty-foot-long hole filled with hard kernels of corn for playing, like a sandbox.  They tore off their shoes and were lost in the melee in seconds, just as I realized it was time for the baby to eat.

Yep, I nodded to myself, this is happening.  I am going to breastfeed in a barn.

I snuck over to a bale of hay somewhat tucked behind a piece of farm machinery and metaphorically squashed my modesty like a fresh cow pie.

No one could see anything, because this isn’t my first rodeo, but that was cold comfort when an entire class of first graders marched past me from the other end of the barn.  I could practically see the thought bubbles above their heads comparing me to an actual cow giving milk.

I had a pleasant conversation with a fellow preschool mom friend, temporarily losing track of my three corn pit excavators.  I called jacket and hat colors to her from her privileged standing vantage point and we vaguely located each of them.

I finished nursing, spotted Anne and said, “Where are they, INDEED,” and then made the astute choice to ring the dinner bell on this situation.  I rounded up my sheep and marched out of there, shivering less from the crisp fall air than from the relief of this country carnival coming to an end.

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I love when my children’s expressions mirror my interior emotions.

I also love being an expert blogger, getting all children in the frame and a gorgeous red barn standing proudly in the background.  You’re welcome.

I am told there are more preschool field trips ahead.  Is this true, fellow mama bears?  Where shall I find myself breastfeeding next?  An old-growth forest?  A wind-whipped coast?  Beside glazed-eyed gorillas in the zoo?

Preschool is more intense than I anticipated.

P.S.  Speaking of fall, Hunter was Gaston for Halloween, and it was five-dozen-eggs, large-as-a-barge fantastic.

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A Day in the Life When We Were Still Five

We are now a party of six, and I want to remember those special days when it was Henry and Arden, age 3.5, and Hunter, age 22 months, so I wrote this two months ago.  It will be a total snooze to anyone but me, but a blogger’s gotta do what a blogger’s…you get it.

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7:05AM Thanks to daylight savings time, the kids are now waking at this perfectly reasonable hour.  We’ve spent years rising between 6 and 6:30, but we’ve implemented the toddler alarm clock (only for the twins, Hunter is too young) and it’s done wonders.  Right now it is set for 7:15AM, so they usually chat from 7:00 until it turns green at 7:15 and then they toddle into our room.

Hunter has already called “Dada!  Dada!  MAMA!” so he’s in-between us in our bed, holding his stuffed puppy and sucking his thumb.  This is the most glorious time, as he loves to just lay quietly with us until the twins arrive.

7:15AM  Not one minute late, the twins walk into our room, each holding a blanket and a stuffed animal or doll.  They crawl into our bed and snuggle or cavort around until Mike gets in the shower.

7:45AM  Mike is getting ready for the day and I lumber my big belly out of bed and start getting dressed.  I change Hunter’s diaper and verbally facilitate the twins getting dressed.  For Arden this involves asking her at least half a dozen times to get going, for Henry this requires absolutely nothing; he always gets dressed on his own initiation.

8AM Breakfast time — I make everybody either eggs, toast and fruit, or oatmeal with cinnamon, banana and seeds, or a green smoothie.  Mike rolls in and makes his coffee and we all sit down to eat.

8:20AM Mike kisses the crew and heads to work, and I begin cleanup while the kids all do an independent activity.  Usually they each read, or play in the living room (that is actually a playroom), or put some music on to start our day.

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8:40AM  I check the calendar, pay any bills, check email, get my head organized about what needs to happen that day.

8:45AM  If it’s…
Monday — we head to Toddler Time at the gym to burn some energy.  I pack lunch ahead so we can spend more time there and there’s less to do upon returning.
Tuesday — we go to Bible Study at church, with me getting two glorious hours of worship, teaching, interacting with adults, small group time, and two uninterrupted cups of tea.  The kids get loads of stimulation and interaction with other kids in children’s ministry.  Everybody wins.
Wednesday — Nonni day!  My mom comes over at 9:30AM and spends the day with us and it is fantastic.
Thursday — twice a month we have MOPS (Mothers of PreSchoolers) which is a lot like Bible Study in that I am with other moms for two hours with brunch and lots of chatting, and the kids are in children’s ministry doing crafts, stories, play time, etc.  On non-MOPS days I try to arrange playdates.
Friday — Nana day!  My mama-in-love comes over at 9:30AM and spends the day with us and we love it.

12PM  I make lunch while they play or read.

12:20PM  Lunch time

12:40PM  I clean up lunch and then spend half an hour reading to them, or playing, or doing whatever my body will allow me to do at that point.  I can’t chase them anymore, or spend more than a minute or two sitting on the ground, but we find ways around this.

1:15PM Nap time!  All three down and all the hallelujahs.  I spend the first part of naps eating lunch if I didn’t eat with them, then doing a chore.  Mon: kids laundry plus dusting and vacuuming downstairs (though I usually vacuum earlier or after nap to reduce noise), Tues: our laundry plus dusting and vacuuming upstairs, Wed: clean kitchen, Thurs: bathrooms, Fri: break.  Then I usually have 45 minutes to an hour to rest, which I spend emailing, reading, blogging, or budgeting.

3:15PM  Their alarm clock light tells them it’s okay to get up, but often Henry will wake up around 3PM and whisper “Mom!  Mom!” and I’ll sneak him out of his room and we’ll read books downstairs before the others are up.  Hunter often sleeps until 3:45.

4PM  If it’s not raining, we go outside after nap and a quick snack.  Riding bikes, going on a walk, playing in the yard — whatever we can do to be outside and burn some energy and get some fresh air.  Nowadays it’s hard for me because simply standing without taking a quick sit break makes me contract more frequently, so this part of the day is good but hard.  The kids aren’t old enough to be out front without an adult, so I really have to be physically present at all times.  Thankfully, our dear family friends gave us their super safe trampoline (only a foot off the ground, totally netted), which we put in the backyard.  So now I can release the hounds to the backyard and start dinner and they’re perfectly safe.  This is a saving grace just in time for the baby and for spring.

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5PM  My brain is officially on countdown mode until Mike walks through the door.  Most days I can start dinner without him there, but if they really want to stay outside I’m stuck until he’s home.

5:30PM  Daddy’s home!  As soon as he arrives, all the kids barrel up the stairs with him to change.  This is exactly as Mr Rogers as it sounds.  He changes out of his suit and into casual clothes, and Henry insists on doing the same.  Even if he was wearing play clothes all day, Henry will change into another set of play clothes so he’s just like Daddy.  It’s adorable.  Then they all wrestle on the bed and play and laugh while I start dinner allllll by myself.  It is a lovely reprieve.

6PM  Dinner time.

6:30PM  Our agreement is that Mike cleans up dinner since I cooked it, but most of the time I just want him to play with the kids because they miss him, and also because I am burned out from playing with them all day, so I actually prefer the cleanup.

7:10PM  Head upstairs for bedtime routine: bath (every other to every third day), pajamas, teeth, story time.

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7:30PM  Lights out.

7:40PM  Parental fiesta!!!!!  At nine months pregnant, this looks like asking Mike to do some sort of nesting chore, and then we have snacks and watch something on Netflix.

10PM  Bed.  Another day on the books.

P.S.  Lest I give the impression this is all a smooth operation, there are moments of stress and chaos so acute I think I’m going to run screaming from the house.  That’s when, at least a couple of times a week, I call in the big guns…TV.

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Those glazed expressions mirror my own.  They need a break from me as much as I do from them.  Glory, glory.

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It’s a BOY! Welcome, Jameson!

It’s a boy!  Our third son and fourth child has arrived!

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On Thursday, March 23 at 7:30AM, we welcomed our precious baby Jameson Wendell Reph into the world and our long-waiting arms.

It was instant love.

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He was 8 lb 12 oz, also my exact birth weight.  He felt and appeared feather-light to us, due to him coming out a full two pounds lighter than his predecessor.  All the nurses would pick him up and exclaim at how big he was, and we’d sort of stare at them like, not to us, ladies…not to us.

He is the sweetest. He sleeps constantly. He only wakes twice a night to feed and then returns to his preferred state of unconsciousness. This is more than we could have hoped for in a fourth child.  God is indeed merciful.

We can’t get over how blonde he is.  It’s white hair.  Mike also had this hair at birth, which is charming.

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Henry always checks on him. “Where’s that baby? Where’s Jameson? Who is staying with him when we go to the gym? You, Mom?”  Henry is like his security detail.

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Arden would like to eat him whole. She runs to the couch and says, “Give me that baby!  I want to hold my precious baby boy. I love him so much I can’t bear it. He is the cutest baby I have ever seen.”  These are actual quotes.

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Kindly disregard this pink blanket.  He peed on the blue one previously wrapped around him.

Hunter looks in his bassinet every morning and exclaims “Baby!” and then tries to give him a toy. If Jameson is already awake, he comes over to kiss him, first on the head, then smack on the lips. It’s like an opiate to see a baby baby a baby. Did you follow that noun-verb-noun usage? I hope so.

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Their embrace of him does frightening things to my mama heart, or maybe my uterus. I see how they love their new sibling and I say to Mike, “We’re having a dozen children.”  This makes for super fun facial expressions of pure fear.

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Second to our love for Jameson is our gratitude that his birth went so well.  The scheduled surgery went as planned without complication, and my recovery is steady.  The Lord’s protection and love were evident and gave us great peace.  If you are one of the many who joined us in praying on that special day, we are so, so grateful.  Thank you, thank you.

I’m eager to tell the story but it will be far less exciting, though no less extraordinary, than those of his siblings; the birth of every baby is miraculous and remarkable.  We’re just glad that this time the outcome was wholly positive.

 

For now, we’re reveling in this little life, this tiny baby we will treasure forever in our newfound family of six.

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Hunter’s Birth Story, Part Three

For Part One, click here.

For Part Two, click here.

Mike and the nurse helped me into the adjoining bathroom and sat me on the toilet.  I was anxious because I could feel that I actually had to go, and peeing for the first time post-catheter made me tense up.  The nurse coached me, telling me to just release and let go, and she and Mike never left the bathroom.

The instant I released the pressure to urinate, I felt a searing pain as if I’d dropped a match on an internal line of gasoline, ripping through my abdomen like nothing I’d ever felt.  It was acid – a sharp stab – it was unmistakable that something had gone wrong inside of me.  I screamed.

Mike and the nurse stared in alarm as I screamed louder, hollering that something was wrong, that something had ripped me apart.  They both froze for what seemed like minutes but I’m sure was only seconds, trying to understand what was happening.  I couldn’t believe I was actually screaming, and that no one was doing anything.  I yelled, “Get a doctor!  Call someone!” And, to show you how truly freaked out of my mind I was, I yelled, “WHAT THE F— IS HAPPENING?!”  Because I honestly couldn’t comprehend how no one had pressed an alarm, or gone shouting down the hall, or rushed me somewhere urgent.

Maybe it’s my years of journalism school, but I don’t trust myself to be completely accurate and objective with my recall of such a traumatizing event.  So I asked my sister Erin, who was the only other person in the room (holding Hunter for us), if she would share what happened.

“What I remember most is the scream that came from your mouth,” she said. “It was guttural and horrifying. A short time after you went into the bathroom with the nurse and Mike, I heard a scream of pain unlike any I have heard before. Simultaneously I had three thoughts: 1) I have to do something to help you; 2) I have to find my mom and; 3) I have to stay calm for Hunter. I started praying immediately because that’s the only thing I could do.”

The nurse told me they were going to move me back to the bed to be examined.  I started to cry from the pain of having to move, not believing that I could.

Erin said, “You were stuck in the bathroom for several minutes because you were unable to walk through the pain. The nurse and Mike were finally able to help/carry you back to the bed and you were in agony.”

They hoisted me up and I walked to the bed and got in, trying to answer their questions and describe what I’d felt.  I was hysterical, and I’m never hysterical.

“You kept repeating, ‘Something is wrong, something is not right,’ and the

nurse eventually started to believe that you might be telling the truth,” Erin said.  “You begged for your doctor to be called.”

After asking for the doctor repeatedly, Mike put his hands over me and started praying out loud that the Lord would intervene, help me, help us to understand and know what to do, that He would bring healing.  I calmed down as he prayed and was surprised to see the nurse standing next to the bed praying with us, tears rolling down her face.  She was truly scared and felt helpless, and kept trying to think of what more she could do.

Around this time, my mom came back down the hall with the twins.  Erin told me they wanted to come in, but I said no because I didn’t want them to see me in such distress.  My mom had to stay with them, and Erin wasn’t allowed to leave the room with Hunter, so we were all trapped where we were.

When my doctor arrived, I described what had happened and she stood by my bed and listened.  She hadn’t performed the c-section simply because of scheduling, so I hadn’t seen her since first being admitted.

She was immediately condescending, saying, “You’re fine, your body is still fresh from surgery and in pain, there’s nothing wrong with your vitals and you’re okay.”  I knew she was wrong, and I don’t say that lightly because I had enormous respect and trust built with her, as she was the same doctor who’d delivered our twins.  I knew she wasn’t listening to me, and was being dismissive, and it made me feel small and insane.

Erin said, “You had to fight your doctor for an exam and she finally did, begrudgingly. The doctor barely touched you and after 4.5 seconds, concluded that nothing was wrong and you were overreacting after your C-section.”

I asked her several times, “Please, just examine me, please, I know something is wrong, something happened.”  And she would just repeat again, “Abby, I am examining you, I am assessing you right now, and you’re okay.”  As a person who takes pride in being reasonable and having all of her faculties intact, I backed down and began to accept that I wasn’t going to convince her of anything.  Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe it was just pain at my bladder releasing the first urine after surgery.

After she left the room, I told my family that I knew something was wrong, but what was I going to do?  The nurse said we’d monitor my urination output and pain.  And that was the end of that.

I was still very upset and cautious that something was wrong and would only worsen, and I was gobsmacked when later that afternoon the nurse came and started discussing my departure that evening, which was Tuesday.

“WHAT?” I replied, as she looked over paperwork.

“The doctor says you can discharge on time this evening,” she said evenly.

“There is no way that I am leaving this hospital hours after one of the scariest moments of my life, that I’m not at all convinced was nothing,” I said to her.  “You can tell her that.”

She got a look on her face that acknowledged she would not fight me on this, and backed out of the room to tell the doctor my message.

The rest of the day, in between snuggling sweet Hunter, nursing, eating, and trying to rest, the nurse would help me to the bathroom to pee.  Barely a trickle would come out.  They put a measuring device in the toilet to see that I was peeing an adequate amount, and I wasn’t.

I was still hooked up to an IV, so we knew I was properly hydrated, but we all said maybe the nursing was draining my fluids or my body just needed the hydration and wasn’t creating a lot of urine.

All night and the next morning I’d report my teensy amounts of pee to the nurse and she’d write it in my chart.  I didn’t have any remaining pain in my abdomen like I’d had when it occurred, so the next day I was sent home.

At home, I became unwell.  My abdomen grew larger instead of smaller, my color turned from healthy to pale to gray, and I was in inexplicable pain.

I’d had a c-section with the twins so I knew what healthy recovery felt like.  This wasn’t it.

It’s incredible what we’ll tell ourselves, the mental hoops we’ll jump through to deny that anything is wrong.  I wasn’t peeing, but I told myself and whomever asked that it must be all the nursing and fluids my body needed.  My belly was huge and tight, but I told myself that it was just swollen from such a large baby and would take more time to decompress.  I was in so much pain I couldn’t lay down, sleep, or let the kids touch my stomach in any way, but I told myself it was just a lousy recovery and I’d be fine soon.

The photo below was taken early afternoon on Thursday, one day after arriving home.  The boppy pillow is sitting high on my oversized abdomen, and my skin is beginning to pale.

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Finally on Friday morning, the day of my follow-up appointment, I felt an alarm bell ringing in my head that physically I couldn’t wait for the mid-afternoon appointment.  I had been up all night, sitting in a chair, staring into my dark bedroom, unable to function or sleep from pain, and in the morning I just knew.

I called the hospital and described what I was feeling and the nurse said I needed to be admitted immediately.  I paused.  I didn’t reply.  She sensed my hesitation.

“Abby,” she said.  “Will you go?  Will you do what I’m telling you to do?”

I couldn’t answer.  In my head I thought, “I’m probably overthinking this.  I’m probably fine.  I’ll look like an idiot if I go in.  I have to feed the baby, I can’t be away from him.”

“Abby,” she said again.  “Are you going to come in?  You need to be seen.”

I couldn’t lie.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “But thank you for your help.”

I called my dad.  I’m not sure why; I just needed to hear his voice.  I told him about my conversation with the nurse and he sounded like he would reach through the phone and shake me by the shoulders.  Go IN, he said.  This is NOT negotiable.

To this day my mama-in-love says she’ll never forget the sight of me that morning when she came by for a visit.  My skin was grayer than gray, a blank expression on my face.

So I went.

Amazingly, the doctor who had performed my c-section was present that morning instead of my regular doctor (who had dismissed my concerns), and able to see me right as I arrived.  He took one look at me and I knew instantly that I wasn’t insane.  It was like his stunned expression gave me permission to admit I was deeply unwell.

He rapped his fingers against my abdomen and stood back, eyes wide.

“It’s solid,” he said softly, to the nurse or maybe to us.  Then he gave quick instructions to the two nurses present, for a catheter and a bladder ultrasound. After examining me using those and asking me exactly what happened that day after my c-section, that incident, he quickly concluded that my bladder had ruptured.

Mike and I couldn’t believe this — my bladder burst?  THAT was pain I’d felt?!  We stared at him in shock.

He rushed me to surgery, first to the emergency room and then up to the surgical floor.  All I could think about was Hunter, who we’d brought with us to the appointment.  Who would feed him?  Who would care for him?  He’s not even a week old and he’s to be separated from his mother?!  I was devastated.

My family assured me they would take shifts; they would care for him.  My best friend Siri said she would give him her frozen breastmilk so he’d have plenty.  We all prayed he would take a bottle.

After surgery, the doctor met with us and told us several facts that we continue to marvel at to this day:

  •  the urologist repaired a six centimeter tear in my bladder
  • they removed nine liters of urine from my abdomen; nearly two and a half gallons.
  • the surgical room was filled with unnecessary surgeons, OBGYNs and doctors who wanted to observe what not a single one of them had ever seen before in their careers — bladder rupture from a birth
  • my liver was in great distress from being overwhelmed at having to process the toxins
  • I was gray because my body was being poisoned from the inside out.  If I’d continued to ignore my symptoms it could have been life-threatening.

But, by God’s grace, it wasn’t.  Jesus rang the alarm in my head, He prompted me to call and get help.  He provided care and milk for Hunter, and grandparents to care for the twins.  He rescued me when I was too blind to help myself.

What I know for sure: I was never abandoned.  The Lord was very near; through every uncertainty, His faithfulness never wavered.  We serve a God of love and great compassion, and His presence carried me through the darkness.

The change in my health was immediate — my color restored, the light came back to my eyes, my abdomen started to shrink considerably and my liver began functioning properly.  The doctors, nurses, and my family all couldn’t believe the difference in my appearance and behavior.

Saturday morning I was well enough for the children to visit, and I would’ve leapt out of that bed at my baby boy if I’d been able.

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I laugh looking at him here because he’s a day short of being a week old and he covers my body like a three month old.

Being with him, holding him, smelling his newborn smell and feeling his unspeakably soft skin broke my heart afresh.  The excruciating physical ordeal was nothing compared to the agony of being separated from my baby in his first precious days.  I couldn’t even nurse him when he visited because the drugs in my body were too strong.

Luckily he had no complaints about taking a bottle, and I pumped every three hours every day to be sure I wouldn’t lose my supply.

On Sunday morning the whole family came to visit again, and we could see our ordeal was coming to an end.

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The doctor said I could leave that night, and I went home Sunday, May 17, one week after Hunter’s birth.

I walked into my home and my mom and mama-in-love greeted me with baby Hunter, a clean house, sleeping twins, and a little table next to the couch with water, snacks, and a new People magazine for the long recovery ahead.  I felt so loved and reassured.

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Mostly I felt overwhelming peace at being reunited with my baby, able to hold him, feed him and care for him.

The weeks that followed were some of the hardest of our lives thus far.  I was on strict order to spend every day seated or lying, focusing only on healing and feeding Hunter.  This left whomever was with me to care entirely for the twins, as well as carry Hunter to and away from me based on his needs (I couldn’t pick him up yet).

For at least the first week we had to have three adults there (including me) to manage all of this, and help care for me, too.  My mom and mama-in-love were at our house very often, but Erin was the most present of all.  We were all amazed that because she was between jobs, God arranged for her to be such an enormous help to us in this intense season.  She was with us nearly every day for months, and we can never thank her enough.

Part of this help involved the utterly humbling task of emptying my catheter bag, which I couldn’t do for myself because it was strapped to my lower leg and I couldn’t bend down more than a few inches.  Never have I known such limited mobility, or such helplessness. Nor had I ever had to swallow my pride so acutely for this humiliating task, several times a day.

When we took our vows, Mike and I never imagined that not in our eighties, but in our early thirties, he would be escorting me to the bathroom first thing in the morning and emptying my very full catheter bag, cleaning it, and reassembling it.  Never did we imagine that he’d help me down the stairs, while also carrying an infant and making sure two 21-month-olds were following safely behind.  Never did we know that he would have to adjust to a new baby with a wife who literally couldn’t pull her weight, instead needing almost as much care as the infant.

But we did it.  We asked God for grace and strength and hour by hour we walked out of that bomb shelter, not into glorious light, but certainly into the dawn.

And to prove how quickly we bounced back, on June 6, a mere 22 days after the bladder surgery (and once the catheter was removed for good!), we packed the kids in the car and took a day trip to Anacortes.

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Mama-in-love took the lead and we couldn’t have gone without her.

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It was the first day that we felt we’d turned a corner.

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Thanks be to God that the bladder is the most easily healed organ in the human body.  Today I don’t have a trace of a sign that any of this happened.

…apart from the precautions and modifications my doctor is taking as we prepare for baby number four.  A scheduled c-section is non-negotiable, and we’ll be staying at the hospital an extra night to be sure all is well before we depart for home.

With that, I welcome your prayers on March 23 for an uneventful experience — apart from the life-changing event of meeting our fourth baby, of course!   We are excited and thrilled and nervous and hopeful.

We call on Psalm 91, where David writes (changed to she),

“She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge;

His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

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Note: There are huge swaths of the story I chose not to include: several MRIs, internal ink-bladder scans, countless trips to the urologist,  much scarier pre-surgery photos, the details of the second hospital stay, our follow-up meeting with the doctor who ignored me (!) and much more of the recovery process at home.  Instead I wanted to share the essence of the story, and the emotional elements.  Otherwise this could have been a dozen-part tale, and nobody wants that (least of all me). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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