Joyful Motherhood--

Influenced by our Catholic faith,
Charlotte Mason, Lifelong Learning
and the
Everyday Realities of Homeschooling and Family Life


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

10 Ways to Enjoy the First Weeks with a Newborn


This is one of those posts that I am writing for myself. Usually, if I write anything that gives advice, it is because it is advice that I myself need to hear.

These weeks with a newborn napping on my chest again. Days filled with nursing, resting, diapers, nursing, too much TV, reading, nursing. They are such precious moments that slip by too quickly. I know this in my heart.

Yet, it is still a challenge for me to be truly present in these moments, to savor them and not wish them away.

I like control. I like planning. I like organization. I like knowing what is coming next. Infants turn that all over on it's head. There's part of me that can so easily go to, "I can't wait until the baby is older . . . I can't wait until we get regular sleep again . . . I can't wait until I have some more freedom."

Furthermore, a newborn brings on many challenges that make it more difficult for me to relax, to be laid back, go with the flow of things, enjoy those precious moments and trust in God's plan, things that I'm usually pretty good at despite my appreciation of planning and organization.

Tiredness, hormones and anxiety are huge roadblocks for me when it comes to enjoying the first weeks with a newborn.


So, what to do?

Here are some ideas that have helped me . . .

1. Prayer
Above all, begin with prayer. Prayer puts everything in perspective. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart, to guide you and bestow you with the grace to appreciate these precious moments and find joy in them. No other action will set your heart right like prayer.

During my pregnancy, I prayed a novena to St. Gerard, the patron saint of expectant mothers, asking him to pray for me. I prayed for an easier and faster labor. Apparently, it was not in God's plan for Maria's birth to be faster or easier, but rather the opposite really.

However, I would also end each prayer asking above all, for the Holy Spirit to fill my heart and to grant me the grace I need to mother these five children with love, kindness, patience, strength, gentleness, understanding and humor. This was the real prayer of my heart, my utmost desire during that novena. I struggle with these things each day, but I also can feel the Holy Spirit stirring in my heart, an answer I think to that novena.

Motherhood is above all, a spiritual journey, something that I hope to write more about in the future, possibly in a book :)

2. Paper Plates
From the spiritual to the very practical, use paper plates. At least for the first few weeks. Just take a whole lot of dishes off of your plate (ba-dum-bum), and make your life a little easier. If you're worried about the environment, buy compostable plates and you now have one less thing to feel guilty about.

3. Pictures - LOTS of them
There's something about taking photos that forces you to find beauty in the everyday moments. The baby you've been studying so intently is a piece of God's craftsmanship and creativity, created in His image. Photos help us to realize this, even during the most mundane, tired days, and make it possible for us to remember those precious moments for the rest of our lives.

4. Find a Good Book about Infanthood
Something what calms my nerves is to read the chapters out of What to Expect the First Year. I know very well that all babies are different and that they develop at different rates and reach milestones at different times.

However, when it seems like life will never be normal again, it is comforting to me to read that around four months is when you might be able to put a baby down to sleep when they are awake but drowsy. It comforts me to read about all of the milestones they will eventually reach, ones that will make life easier and ones that are so much fun and exciting, like their first laugh.

This helps me to keep in mind that it's all a phase and nothing is permanent. So appreciate the now.

5. But Also, Realize that Babies Don't Work like a Math Textbook
Sometimes it's so tempting to think that once a baby does something, they have that skill down. Oh look! They soothed themselves to sleep on their own. Check that skill off the list. Now they slept for five hours straight in the middle of the night! Check that off. They will never now need to be fed in the middle of the night more often than every five hours.

Nope. Sorry. Babies don't work like that, especially in the early weeks. They aren't like a math textbook, in which one picks up skill after skill, in the correct order and continues to add onto the previously acquired skills, becoming more and more advanced babies.

One day they nap for three hours straight. The next day they nap for a total of 30 minutes. One night, they are up every hour. The next night, they sleep for five and go right back to sleep after nursing. One day they seem pretty content. The next day, they are so extremely fussy, you are sure something is very, very wrong.

Every night and every day is different. You just have to be prepared for whatever they are going to deal out on any given day, and you can't hold them accountable for any previously learned skills.

6. Accept Help (or even ask for it!)
If someone offers to bring you a meal, let them. If someone offers to care for your other children, let them. If someone offers to fold laundry, let them. If someone offers to clean your house, let them. Let them, let them, let them. You will have future opportunities to be generous to others and to pay it forward.

This is something that we are so very bad at. In so many other time periods in history and other cultures, a whole village, family or community would gather around the new mother and baby, and take care of their everyday needs. We live such reclusive lives for the most part, that this wise and ancient custom has practically evaporated.

Have someone create a meal sign-up list for you so that people can bring you dinner at a web site like TakeThemAMeal.com. Friends have done this for us when we have welcomed a baby into our home, and it is such a blessing.

And the next time you know a woman in your community who is expecting, ask her if anyone is doing this for her! Most likely, no one is, and you will have the opportunity to serve and bless that family.


7. Watch Too Much TV
What else are you going to do? In those early weeks, the baby sleeps A LOT. And very often they are asleep on your shoulder or while nursing. You are exhausted. Your body is recovering. You can read, and I do plenty of that as well, but your attention span and focus abilities will most likely be lacking. So watch movies!

With a little planning before the baby arrives, you can have all of your favorite movies on hand and not be browsing desperately for something to watch on Netflix and Amazon, or even more desperately, on daytime television.

I put many of my favorite movies on hold at the library before the baby arrived, and now, they just keep coming in! There are two categories - movies that I can watch with children around and those I cannot.

Here's what is on my list:

Able to Watch with Children
Swiss Family Robinson, Old Yeller, Anne of Green Gables, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Robin Hood, Monsters Inc, The Parent Trap, Out of Africa (most of it's fine for kids), Gone with the Wind, Enchanted, Sinbad, Anastasia, Mr. Holland's Opus, Dennis the Menace, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Oklahoma

To Watch Without Children
Million Dollar Baby, The Great Outdoors, Julie and Julia, Mamma Mia, The Fighter, Love Actually, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, P.S. I Love You, Little Women, Mr. Holland's Opus

The important thing is no guilt. At our house, the TV is not on very much. The children basically don't watch TV during a normal week unless we have Family Movie Night or they get to watch a couple of episodes of something together on Saturday mornings. Jason and I really only watch TV after they are in bed.

So it's hard for me to have the TV on so much without feeling guilty, especially on gorgeous June days.

But here's the thing. I can't really enjoy the outside a whole lot right now. The breeze, the bright sunlight and the fact she can't wear sunscreen all make it difficult for Maria Grace to be outside. If she can't be outside very much yet, then neither can I. Right now, I spend the majority of my time on the couch nursing. So I might as well watch a good movie while I'm at it :)

Furthermore, it's just a phase.

8. Go For a Walk
That all being said, if I stay inside on gorgeous, sunny days all the time, I will in fact go insane. I bought a Baby K'tan, a carrier that works well even for newborns. I bought the Active version, which is made with breathable mesh and SPF, perfect for warm summer days. I don't get a walk in every day, but I try to several times a week. And I'm not talking anything long. Just 10-15 minutes as a slow pace. This is more for mental health reasons than real exercise.


9. Or Just Go Outside Your Door
Fresh air helps. Yesterday, I just nursed Maria outside once in the afternoon, and it felt so good to just get out of the house, even if it was just to my back yard.

10. Your Mantra - It's Just a Phase
It's just a phase. The bad and the good. All of it.

Middle of the night feedings. Spit-up. Blowout Diapers. Incomprehensible, hysterical crying (from you and your baby). Extreme tiredness. Lack of sex. Feeling like a hermit. Too much TV. Too much comfort food. Nursing all day long. The complete unpredictability of life. Oh wait - that one pretty much sticks.

Long periods of time gazing into your baby's eyes. Napping on the couch with them asleep on your chest. Incomprehensibly small fingernails and toenails. That newborn smell on the top of their head and on their neck. Losing weight without trying even though you are eating whatever you like. The softness of their skin. Getting so extremely excited and even teary when they smile.

All of it.

The overwhelming, humbling knowledge that this babe, this creation of God, is one of your grandest blessings, an undeserved gift from God for you to care for and love.

And who loves and adores you back, even though you don't deserve it.

It's all just a phase. Everything frustrating will eventually be in the past. Everything amazing about this precious time will pass as well.

Don't wish it away. Don't overlook the beauty and joy of this time. Savor it. Enjoy it. Be grateful for it.

It's all just a phase, and quicker than we think, it will be gone.






Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Arrival of Maria Grace!

11 days old. That's how old Maria Grace is today as I begin writing this. Most likely, she will be several days older by the time I actually post this, as writing time is rare for obvious reasons. Heck, it was rare before the baby arrived!

But this has to be written down. I have a birth story written down for each of our babes, and I treasure being able to read them and recall the details of their arrival.

This new blessing from God is already teaching me lessons, helping me to become a better mom, to become closer to God.

First of all, she has reminded me that life is full of surprises and we should never think we know what to expect.
Three day before the delivery, ready to take Veronica out to dinner and to a movie :)
As I posted a couple of weeks ago, I had been having nightly contractions for the three weeks prior to her actual birthday. I thought this meant labor might be shorter. This is our fifth baby. I thought this meant that labor might be easier.

I was wrong.

Maria Grace was born at 3:54 am on the morning of Monday, June 13th, weighing 9 lb 12 oz and was 21 1/2 inches long.

Labor began at home on Saturday night. At about 8 pm, contractions began and were regular and more intense than what I'd been experiencing the weeks prior. They continued throughout the night, each one taunting me, causing me to hope that it was finally time, making sleep elusive. To go to the hospital, they needed to become as often as five minutes apart.

I got out of bed on Sunday thinking we would be going to the hospital within a couple of hours. My sister-in-law Alicia came and picked up our children and took them to her family's house for a birthday party, which I was very grateful for. I ended up laboring at home most of the day.

Throughout Sunday, contractions were 15 minutes apart, 10 minutes apart, 8 minutes, 6.5 minutes, 10 minutes, 8 minutes, and on and on. They would become intense, and then they would be milder. On and on the day went, and I became more and more discouraged. Jason made me a turkey sandwich for lunch and we watched Braveheart through the afternoon, trying to distract me. Later, our taste in movies deteriorated as we watched some of Superbad :)

I could feel that the baby was stuck on the right side of my uterus. She had sort of hung out there for most of the pregnancy. I became suspicious that the baby was in the posterior position and that was why labor was not progressing. I have had a posterior baby in the past and I have a tilted uterus, making this all the more likely. Frustrated and discouraged, I read in a childbirth book about how to correct the position, and at about 5:30 pm, I began different exercises and positions to help adjust the position.

After 45 minutes on my hands and knees, I could feel that the baby's body had shifted so that it was more centered in my uterus.

By about 6:30 pm, contractions were down to about every 6 minutes and Jason decided to call the hospital. The charge nurse asked many questions and was probably not going to have us come in yet.

That is until she asked, "Which number baby is this for her?"

"It's our fifth," he answered.

Surprised, she said we should come in. NOW.

Because births of fifth babies are supposed to be faster.

We went to the hospital and contractions became closer together and more intense. I was so very afraid that labor would slow down and I would be sent home. By that time, there had been so many nights where I thought labor was really beginning, and I felt like the boy who cried wolf. This was our first time actually going to the hospital, but I remembered the disappointment I felt during Veronica's labor when we went to the hospital and were sent home.

We were taken to a hospital room, and an IV was placed. The week prior, I had been measured at 3 cm dilated. I was now at 4 cm. Hmmmm. Not a whole lot of progress despite being at almost 24 hours of ongoing, painful contractions.

Wasn't this supposed to be FASTER???

At first, they said that I was going to need to walk around for an hour before being officially admitted. But over the next hour or so, I dilated about another centimeter or so. Thank goodness! We weren't going home and this was the real deal! I was ready to be admitted and we could ring for the anesthesiologist. Epidural time!

About an hour later, the anesthesiologist administered my epidural and I was given some relief. My parents, Jason, Jenny and my cousin Alicia were all suggested to leave for a while, so that I could rest. I tried to rest, but it was pretty much impossible.

My epidural was only really working on one side of my uterus, something that's occurred in other labors as well. I tried to lie on my right side so that the medication would flow to that side. However, that was the side of my uterus that the baby was stuck in previously, and I could feel her body shifting there again.

A little while later, they broke my water.

Labor progressed in intensity, but dilation continued to progress slowly. Something didn't feel right, or at least felt a lot different than in previous labors. I began having severe nausea, wishing I would just throw up already. My body was shaking uncontrollably, something I had only experienced after a birth before. I finally ended up vomiting, giving me a little relief, but not for long. I ended up having a fever, making the doctors fearful of infection.

At about midnight, I was measured at 9 1/2 centimeters dilated. 9 1/2. Just 1/2 of a little centimeter left!

There I stayed. And stayed. And stayed. With Veronica, I was stuck for hours at 9 cm. It just seems crazy that one half of a stinkin' centimeter was all that was between me and giving birth to this baby!

Sometime around this point, Alicia decided to stay. How much longer could it be? (Evil laugh inserted here.)

I tried different positions to help me dilate further. I used their peanut shaped medicine ball. And I waited.

At this point, the epidural was beginning to lose some of its effect. I began to feel parts of labor that I had never felt before because of past epidurals. There was the feeling of immense pressure. I continued to vomit, shake and change positions, waiting for that last little bit of my cervix to move out of the frickin' way!

Somewhere in those last couple of hours, the nurse mentioned to me that there was this magic button I could push to receive more medication from the epidural.

WHAT????!!!

Why had no one, I mean no one, not the anesthesiologist, or any nurse or doctor, mentioned this until now? I recalled using that little button several times in past births, but I had forgotten about it. Immediately the button was pushed. It helped a little, but I didn't have the chance to use this piece of magic much more before it was time (something I explained with detail and passion in my anesthesiologist's survey later on).

Finally, at about 2:45 am, I was fully dilated and ready to push. Still, everything felt wrong. I couldn't explain it, but somehow everything about this birth felt more intense and just a whole lot harder. Pushing the baby out had always been the easy part for me. Not this time. I was sure I was going to pop some blood vessels. I pushed with every little bit of strength I could find, and then tried to find some more. Progress was slow. I continued to push harder than I had ever had to before, frustrated and a little frightened of how difficult it was.

I prayed the Hail Mary, aware of how Mary had been present throughout this pregnancy and aware of her presence in that moment.

Finally, the baby's head was seen. Soon after, everything came to make sense. All of the feelings of uncertainty, fear, strangeness and unfamiliarity made sense:

The baby was turned on it's side, had a hand up by it's face and had the cord wrapped around it's arm.

Right around that time, Hugh Jackman began to sing "Suddenly" from the movie Les Miserables on my Birth Playlist. The song is below with the lyrics at the bottom of the post.

It's as if the Lord chose that song to be played at just that moment to encourage me. 

I became overwhelmed with joy, aware of the miracle that was about to take place. The song distracted me from my pain, and helped me to appreciate this special moment in my life.



When I was pregnant with Veronica, something occurred to me that never had before.

Pregnancy is one of the only times in life when you are actually aware that you are about to meet one of the most important people in your life. You aren't aware when you meet your parents, you don't appreciate when you meet your siblings, you don't know when you are going to meet your future spouse or a lifelong friend.

But for nine months, you anticipate meeting your child, someone who will have an incomprehensible effect on your life and who you will become. 

That meeting was about to happen. Tears flooded my eyes, cascading down my cheeks, so overcome was I by the anticipation of that moment.

During the song, I also realized that there were hands laid on me by several different people who loved me. Jason, my mom, Jenny and Alicia were all there, and I could feel their loving presence, support and encouragement as tangibly as I could feel that the epidural seemed to have lost all effect.

How blessed this child is! To enter the world surrounded by people who loved her, so very loved before even taking her first breath!

Completely overwhelmed by joy and love and strength and inspiration, I was ready for what was to come next.

I had never felt the "ring of fire" before, but I sure did now. I pushed until the baby was crowning, and was then told to stop. The doctor then began to turn the baby slowly, so very slowly, so very excruciatingly.

Finally, I could push again, and with the last push, the baby literally elbowed her way into the world, giving me a 2nd degree tear.

This squirming, vigorous, pink new life announced her arrival with her newborn cry.

It was a girl! Maria Grace. She was healthy, thriving, crying and received a 9 on her Apgar.

She was placed on my chest, and I fell in love all over again.



She is now at home with all of us, and we are each falling more and more in love with her each day, bit by bit, moment by moment, as we get to know this new member of our family!

God is so good!












Suddenly, from Les Miserables

Suddenly you're here
Suddenly it starts
Can two anxious hearts beat as one?
Yesterday I was alone
Today you are beside me
Something still unclear
Something not yet here
Has begun.
Suddenly the world
Seems a different place
Somehow full of grace,
Full of light
How was I to know that so much hope was held inside me?
What has passed is gone
Now we journey on through the night
How was I to know at last
That happiness can come so fast?
Trusting me the way you do
I’m so afraid of failing you
Just a child who cannot know
That danger follows where I go
There are shadows everywhere
And memories I cannot share
Nevermore alone
Nevermore apart
You have warmed my heart like the sun.
You have brought the gift of life
And love so long denied me.
Suddenly I see
What I could not see
Something suddenly
Has begun.












Saturday, June 11, 2016

Prodromal Labor and Practicing Patience

It is just three days before my due date!

And I have been experiencing labor for three weeks.

That is not a typo.

Three weeks.

I didn't know this was possible. This is my fifth pregnancy, and I know all about Braxton Hicks. But this has been an entirely different experience.

For the last three weeks, I have been waking almost every single night to intense, painful, irregular, inconsistent, no-baby-producing contractions for two to three hours.

Needless to say, I'm a bit tired. This might sound crazy, but in a way, I'm looking forward to this baby arriving so that I can get some sleep!

I've mentioned this to my doctor, but I probably made little of it because she didn't seem to be worried. After my exam this week, she let me know that I am 3 cm dilated and 80% effaced. So these are some real contractions that are productive, but just haven't produced a baby quite yet.

Even knowing that, I have still felt like maybe I was somehow overreacting, misinterpreting, being dramatic, or being an irrational, over-sensitive, pregnant, crazy lady in the middle of each night!

The good news is, I'm not!

Today, hoping to discover that some other woman in history has experienced this, I google'd "contractions for weeks."

I immediately found a post about "prodromal labor." I then searched for prodromal labor and have read article after article about this phenomenon, including this one from Fit Pregnancy:

http://www.fitpregnancy.com/pregnancy/labor-delivery/quick-guide-prodromal-labor-contractions

My favorite piece I've read has been here, as it has given me the most encouragement and compassion:

https://experimentalwifery.com/2015/01/07/how-to-survive-prodromal-labor/

I have learned that these contractions ARE "real" contractions, something that my dilated cervix, effacement and other personal signs confirm. I have learned that I basically am in labor. Many mistakenly call this "false labor," but the contractions are real, only they just stop after a certain matter of time and start again later, often at the same time of day.

I'm so glad that my time is at two o'clock in the frickin' morning!

I have learned to save my strength and to treat myself as if I am in labor. Eventually, these contractions will become regular and I will enter into the active labor phase that will joyfully bring us our new blessing!

I have also learned that prodromal labor can cause the active labor phase to be faster, something I have been praying for. My shortest labor so far (other than my c-section) has been 26 hours long with Teresa.

With all four children's labors (Joshua - 8 hrs; Noah - 30 hours; Veronica - 38 hours; Teresa - 26 hours), I have spent 102 hours of my life in labor!

Now, if we added two hours of labor nightly for the last three weeks, that would mean that this baby already has me at an additional 42 hours of labor!!!

I have also now spent almost four years of my life pregnant! I could have earned a Bachelor's Degree in Pregnancy by now! :)

I have definitely been praying for a shorter labor this time, but with all of these contractions, I'm getting a little worried that labor is going to be very fast and I won't make it to the hospital in time. I suppose I need to be careful what I pray for!

In all seriousness, these three weeks have been a great practice of patience, humility and trusting in God's plan.

I have continually prayed that God may fill me with the Holy Spirit and grant me the grace to mother these five blessings with kindness, love, strength, humor, compassion, gentleness and patience.

I know that God bestows His grace often through trials.

I know that God is preparing my heart and my spirit for everything He asks of me.

If I can attempt to be patient during three weeks of extreme tiredness and painful contractions most nights, I'm pretty sure I will be able to be patient in many other hard times as well!

Hopefully, the next post I put up with have photos of our new baby!

Here are some photos of our four children at the beach last week: