Wednesday, June 30
Monday, June 28
40 Days With Natalie...
Sunday morning I woke to a fresh covering of snow. I tucked my 8-week-old baby, Natalie Joy, into a sling, wrapped a coat around us and headed into the January morning. The snow clung to the bare tree branches, blanketed the roof and blurred the lines between the grass and sidewalk. As I stood there with Natalie curled against my chest, it felt like the world’s first morning.
Despite my bloodshot eyes and weary body, life is suddenly fresh. Just as Natalie is new to the world, our life must be rearranged to accommodate her. My days are now defined by simple, repetitive tasks: change her, nurse her, try to get a smile out of her, show her something — the row of books beside my glider is her most recent fixation — and then walk with her in the sling until she falls asleep on my chest.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church women have a 40-day period following childbirth when they do not attend church. Instead, they are expected to spend those days bonding with their newborn, healing and adjusting to the awesome responsibility of caring for the child. At the end of 40 days, the woman and child are welcomed back into the community through a short set of prayers — called “a churching” — and the baby is baptized.
Time to Pause
Last year in “Solace from Silence: Comforting the Bereaved,” I described a similar 40-day period following a death of a loved one. These 40-day periods of intense adjustment mark the major thresholds of life, the earthly beginnings and the ends of our days with those we love most.
Just as it takes a long time to say goodbye, so too, it can take many days to greet a new life. During my 40 days with Natalie, life felt surreal — indescribably sweet yet fearfully weighty. Our family adjusted to Natalie — and she to us — through the haze of sleep deprivation and jumbled emotions. I struggled to meet her constant physical needs against the limitations of my own taxed body.
Five years ago, when my first child, Anna, was born, I rushed through the 40 days. Home from the hospital, I couldn’t resist the urge to clean, to entertain a steady stream of visitors and to go for long walks with Anna in the sling. Those walks attracted the contempt of the neighbors: Little old ladies shook their heads at me and said, “You and that baby should be at home resting.” I just smiled and said, “But I feel great!”
I continued to feel great, until my body crashed and I ended up at the doctor’s office with several ailments and a 102 degree fever. Looking back, I realize that my frantic activity was a denial of the significance of what had happened and was happening — the birth of my first child that would change my life in ways that I could not yet imagine or anticipate.
I realize now that I also rejected a unique gift — for once, I was expected to just lounge around in my bathrobe and slippers and snuggle my newborn while issuing requests from my glider. Especially in the early days, the work of caring for a completely dependent newborn while healing from the rigors of childbirth makes a dependent person of the mother as well.
The wisdom of this tradition extends beyond Christianity. Many countries around the world retain a 40-day period of nesting-in for the new mothers and their infants. During this time, women are relieved of their household and public duties. In many cases, a woman’s mother will move in to care for her and the older siblings. I’ve heard that in cultures where such a 40-day period following childbirth is respected, postpartum depression is rare.
A Time To Heal
From a Biblical perspective the number 40 points to a period of fullness. Moses communed with God on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights (Deuteronomy 9:9). The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years (Nehemiah 9:21), and in the days of Noah, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:12). Likewise, Jesus’ fast in the wilderness lasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-2).
As much as this number signifies a set apart time that eventually comes to a close, I wonder if this number is also related to the hidden processes that occurred in every story — a progression from wet to dry, from lost to found, a season of spiritual growth through prayer and fasting.
Every woman who has given birth knows that the pain and struggle does not end when the child was born. A woman’s body endures huge changes during those first 40 days and needs time to heal. Interestingly, the standard period of time that most doctors recommend for women to wait before resuming a more active life is six weeks — just about 40 days.
Learning to Walk Again
Forty days seems just about right. Many people told me that the second child tends to be easier than the first. While I am relishing every moment with Natalie, her presence in our life means that nothing is as simple as it once was. There are now two car seats to juggle, two sets of needs to consider and an astonishing amount of gear to keep straight.
The first few times as I prepared to leave the house with my two children I felt almost paralyzed by the challenge before me. My friend Amber loves to quip, “It will all end in tears.” Which is a pretty apt description of those first doomed outings, marked by lost keys, cars that wouldn’t start, and an older child who tripped and fell in an icy puddle — the worst part was when I couldn’t pick her up because of the baby in my arms.
I felt as if I were suddenly handicapped and that friends with at least two children would have to show me how to walk again. I’m slowly learning how to balance two, but it takes time, and I’m grateful for a sanctioned time of adjustment.
When Anna was born, I was so eager to get back to “normal life” that I missed my 40 days. I now realize that I wasn’t acknowledging the reality that life would never be normal again. I needed to grope my way toward a new kind of normal and I needed time and space for that process.
A New Kind of Normal
I’m now on the other side of 40 days. My life now has some semblance of a routine, although the work of adjusting continues. Checking e-mail while standing and rocking Natalie in the sling is a whole new experience. Showering continues to be a struggle, and the small daily tasks — like folding the laundry and flossing — remain on the backburner.
For now, the central work of my life is the baby curled in the sling, squeaking and squirming and challenging me to slow down and to enter into the newborn now. Because she is my second, I feel the clock ticking constantly. This sweet, fleeting time is slipping away from us.
For 40 days, I was disorientated, elated, confused, and sleepy-eyed. I wasn’t quite myself — and I think it is always that way during the major transitions — the self that we thought we were must be remade. And this is the gift of the 40 days — a chance to be still in the care of the changeless One as life shifts around and within us.
Please check out Matushka Jenny Schroedel's website. She has written many beautiful articles and books that I know that you will enjoy!
I love having my rocker on the front porch. It is so nice to sit and rock while I watch the little ones ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk.
The children love to play with this little bubble machine, but Little Man is more fascinated with the mechanics of the fan than the bubbles that it blows! What a boy! :)
Sunday, June 27
Sayings of Mother Gavrilla (+1992)...
- Human relationships become difficult when the “I” stands above the “You”.
- God loves your enemies as much as He loves you.
- By God’s permission some people become instruments of the Power of Darkness for our own testing and progress.
- You must not get upset, because a restless heart drives away all Help.
- If one can live in the world and yet not mix with it – just as oil and water do not mix in the oil lamp – then he can live in God. He is in this world but not of this world.
- We are all vessels, sometimes of Light and sometimes of Darkness.
- Keep your mouth shut in the hour of crisis, when a problem is acute. Do not say anything, because you may regret it a thousand times. In-stead, tell it to the angels so that they may place it at the Lord’s feet, and pray the Lord for an angel of peace to calm your soul.
- We should ask God everyday to break our will and make it His, so that we may become as He wants us to be.
- We must not “surrender” to His Will. This is what soldiers do. We, who are His children, must offer Him our own will along with all our being – in whatever pitiful state we may be – and tell Him: “Lord, take all my faults and imperfections and set them right.”
- You must not talk about people who are absent.
- Some of the sailors on a ship may quarrel and fight each other, but the ship sails on and reaches its destination. The same is true of the Church because Christ Himself is at the helm.
- We are useful only when we do not exist for ourselves. And vice versa.
- Like Simon of Cyrene, we must be always ready to rush to the help of our fellow-man.
- Do what you must do, and God will do what He must do.
- Poor human beings! We consider the perishable as Immortal and the Immortal as non-existant!
- The Lord said, “Whoever wants something, believing, he will receive” – as long as the request is in accordance with God’s Commandments, that is to say, with Love.
- Do not deny others the crumbs falling off your table from the Bread of Life which is given to you whole by the Lord. So many hunger and thirst for Love, like Lazarus who fed on the crumbs falling off the table of the rich man.
Saturday, June 26
Friday, June 25
We finally went to the library after months of not going (bad Mama!) and got lots of great books and signed up for the summer reading club. I kind of doubt that we will be able to attend many of the programs that they are offering, but it is a tradition:) I am reading a great book called A Homemade Life and though I am only a couple of pages into it, I can tell it is going to be a keeper! Victoria Magazine also came in the mail today... We'll need lots to read these next few months! The baby is a big nurser and I see lots of bed and couch time snuggling in our future.
Tuesday, June 22
Day 18 in the NICU...
"What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance."
The first day of summer was hot, hot, hot! We brought the hose into the screened-in porch and washed the children's picnic table (Little Man drew all over it with window crayons) and played in the water. I finally put out some new seasonal books and we enjoyed cherries for a snack! What did you do to kick off the new season?
Early Morning Puddle Jumping...
Sunday, June 20
Saturday, June 19
Our Birth Story...
A few days before our littlest was born (Thursday, June 3rd), I began feeling contractions and we headed for Labor and Delivery. As you already know, I had been on bed rest for awhile and had been receiving progesterone shots and ffn tests . In addition, I had gotten a series of two steroid shots to help the baby's lungs develop. The first night we went to L&D, they were able to stop the contractions that I was having with a shot of terbutaline. When I was discharged from the hospital the next morning, I was given a prescription for terbutaline in pill form.
The next time I felt contractions was on Saturday in the late afternoon. I took a terbutaline pill before Fr John left for church and the children and I stayed home to rest. Once Fr John came home, we fed the children and put them to bed and I began to think that we should probably go to the hospital to be checked out due to the fact that the contractions weren't stopping despite the medication. Once I noticed that I was bleeding, I got very nervous, so we called my doctor and took off for the hospital. I called our parents on the way to let them know what was going on (our families live three and half hours away) and we were met at the hospital by some parishioners who watched the children in the lobby for us. After some monitoring, I was given another shot of terbutaline which stopped things and we headed home. Sometime between the time that I called our parents and we left the hospital, I found out that my mother and sister were driving down to be with us... at the time, I thought that it would be great to see them, but a wasted trip since we weren't going to have the baby and I was going home.
My mom and sister arrived, and we all fell into bed at about 1:30 am. I had a great night sleep, but once I woke up, I felt like something wasn't right. I realized that I was bleeding again and having painful contractions. Once again, we headed for the hospital. This time, my sister stayed home with the children, Fr John went to serve the Liturgy, and my mom came with me. On the 35 minute ride to the hospital, we began timing contractions and they were three to four minutes apart. At the hospital, we found that the contractions were (fortunately)not dilating me and so the doctor switched me to a different drug that was meant to relax my uterus. In addition, I was given an IV of fluid to try to stop the contractions.
We spent the day at the hospital and the contractions began to spread out to 12 minutes apart. I was given the okay to eat and we spent the day hanging out and talking. Fr John came to the hospital once he was finished with things at church and my mom went back to our house to help with the children. I was feeling pretty comfortable despite the contractions. Everyone reassured me that I was not going to have the baby anytime soon and that I might be someone who just contracted from this point on in the pregnancy. I privately told my mother (and maybe Fr John, I forget), that I thought that I would have the baby within a few days because of the fact that the way that I was feeling was very similar to how I felt the day that Little Man was born.
At 4:30 pm, I was given a second dose of the muscle relaxer. Fr John spent the next hour catching up on phone calls, while I hopped onto my laptop and picked at the dinner that that hospital prepared for me. At about 5pm, I began to realize that I was contracting rather frequently and that the contractions were not being recorded on the monitor. Fr John wrapped up his phone conversation and I sent him to find our nurse. She came in and checked things out, finding that I was dilated 3-5 centimeters. Yikes! We were having the baby! Thank God my mom and sister were there to be with the big kids!
My wonderful doctor came back to the hospital and checked things out. She asked me if I wanted an epidural (I declined) and she told me that the baby would be here within the next few hours. Everything got set up for the delivery and doctor and nurses pretty much left us alone to labor privately. We had a visit from the neonatologist who cared for Little Man and he gave us some information on what to expect from a preemie born at 31 weeks gestation. The next few hours passed by in a blur to me. Fr John and I switched how we react under stress for awhile... he was the excited and happy Papa and I was the worried and apprehensive Mama. I remember thinking, "Where is my husband and what have you done with him?"
Things got really tough when I began to transition (I had been in pain with the contractions but was able to stay pretty calm). Unfortunately, I began to feel sick to my stomach and started to panic a bit at about 9pm. Fr John got our doctor for me a few seconds before I threw up and it is a good thing that he did! The force of me throwing up pushed the baby down very quickly and my doctor began screaming for the nurses to come quickly since he was crowning. There were about 15 people in the delivery room when our son entered the world (my doctor and nurses and the NICU staff to work on him).
Looking back on all of our deliveries, this one was the worst. With Sugar Plum, I had an epidural so things were very comfortable for me. Little Man's was a lot scarier since I was giving birth to him 8 weeks early in the hospital lobby all alone (Fr John was trying to round up help in L&D while I was pushing his head out!), but I was able to labor in whatever position I wanted and then delivery him crouched on the floor which was more comfortable for me. Our new baby's delivery was in a hospital bed with monitors strapped everywhere and an IV (which was similar to Sugar Plum's, but I didn't care since I was pain free). I was constantly reminded to lay back so that the baby and contractions could be monitored and I had to deliver the baby lying down. Not fun (for me at least). I think that there was also a huge difference in the pain of delivering a baby who was "sunny side up..." not to mention the fact that the poor baby is still bruised from being born that way!
If we are blessed with another baby someday, I would like to talk to my doctor about things being a little less rigid. I love her to death, but she is pretty old-school. Because our little ones tend to come early, I bet that she won't be receptive to the idea of letting me do what I want while laboring, but I guess that we will see.
Friday, June 18
Friday's Feminine Tip: The Small Things...
Recently, every few days I try to think of something to do for my husband and each of our children to show them how much I love them. The things that I choose to do for them are simple and inexpensive and don't take a lot of time to execute. I try to think about each of the people that I am doing something for and what they like and try to plan accordingly. This week, I made my husband two of his favorite dinners (Shrimp Scampi and clams over pasta with garlic lemon sauce), I played a few board games with our daughter and also painted her toenails, and cooked with Little Man (which he loves to do!) and let him play and splash in our kitchen sink to his heart's content! All of these things were easy to do (though some of them were hard to think of with my foggy baby brain!) and made my little family so happy.
Doing little things for my family doesn't mean that I skip myself! I try to do things for our home and for myself that will make things easier and better around here. Earlier this week, I began going to the hospital for our baby boy's 8am feeding. Before I go to bed each night, I lay out my clothes and all of the things I will need for the hospital. It's a small thing, but makes things so much easier in the morning! I've just been keeping up with the bare minimum as far as housekeeping goes, but every few days I freshen up or organize a small area of our home. Yesterday, I put out a few of our summer decorations which spruced things up and made me feel more like myself again. It was kind of unnecessary, but it's about the little things, right?
Thursday, June 17
Day 12 in the NICU...
The rest of our family is hanging in there. The children are doing very well... we have pretty much been able to keep them in their routine the past two weeks which really helps things. Fr John has been enormously helpful with everything (and he's even painted the downstairs rooms!)! I am pretty tired (even more than I was with Little Man), though I feel well physically. I think that the tiredness is stemming from no naps (I go to the hospital when the children rest) and from late nights and early mornings (due to pumping and early risers). Unfortunately, the first things to get bumped when I am feeling so worn out is blogging and e-mailing... hopefully I'll have lots of good things to post which will encourage me to turn on the computer! Please continue to keep us in your prayers!
Inspired by Soule Mama!
Monday, June 14
Sunday, June 13
The Baby Cathedral...
Fr John calls our little boy's incubator his baby cathedral. The hospital has volunteers that make the preemies blankets and hats. The nurses stretched the blanket over top of the bed to block some of the sun from the window and it makes such a pretty stained glass effect inside. We put a hand-painted icon of a Guardian Angel written by Paul Drozdowski, a picture of Sugar Plum and Little Man, and a little painting that Little Man did (Sugar Plum is working on a drawing of our family) inside. The nurses and doctors encourage things like that which is so nice:) A lot of the nurses that are caring for our baby are the same ones that took care of Little Man for three weeks. It is neat catching up with them and introducing Little Man to them now that he is a big and strong two-a-half-year-old.
Saturday, June 12
Thursday, June 10
Little Fingers, Little Toes...
The past two days have brought about many positive changes for our baby boy. He was diagnosed with jaundice on Tuesday, but is already off of the bili lights. He no longer has the IV, antibiotics, or oxygen. In addition, he is digesting breast milk through his feeding tube and is also trying the breastfeed! His eyes opened for the first time yesterday and we've had a few moments of looking into one another's eyes. I've been enjoying some kangaroo time with him each afternoon, too. He's a little snuggler!
The next step is for our little guy to start regulating his own temperature. I am bringing some wee outfits for him to wear in his incubator tomorrow. The nurses will start reducing the temperature inside his incubator gradually, and hopefully within two or three days, he will be in an open air crib!
Do Papas Nest?
Wednesday, June 9
I am impatiently waiting for my milk to come in. The NICU is upping the baby's feedings every day, and I haven't been able to keep up (which isn't unusual since it takes a couple of days, normally). It is frustrating because I had a ton of milk when Little Man was in the NICU, due to the fact that I had only weaned Sugar Plum a few months earlier. I'm giving the baby all I can, but the nurses are supplementing with formula (something I was hoping to avoid).
I know that I owe a lot of you e-mails. I am hoping to get to them today. I had Internet access at the hospital, which was wonderful! It was hard to write e-mails and posts though, because the connection was slow and spotty.
Tuesday, June 8
Baby Boy: Update One...
Our little baby is doing so well! He was on 40% oxygen after birth, but by 24 hours old he was completely breathing on his own. He has been eating mama's milk for a few feedings now and seems much more peaceful than he was the night he was born. I'll keep you updated as I can. I am being discharged today, so please pray for us all, since it was very hard to leave our first son, Little Man, in the hospital (he was born at 32 weeks and had to stay in the NICU for 3 Weeks).
Monday, June 7
Baby is Here!
Sunday, June 6
Saturday, June 5
Choosing a Paint Color for the Family Room...
Friday, June 4
Friday's Feminine Tip: She Walks in Beauty...
By Helen Valentine and Alice Thompson
It is very hard to feel good about yourself and your life when you look like you just rolled out of bed and haven't showered in days. One thing that has really helped me recently is a to take an hour out of one night a week to take care of myself. When I do this, all I really need to do is maintenance the rest of the week. It can be so relaxing to light a few candles, add some bubbles to a bath, and soak for a little while with a good book or just your thoughts.
A few years ago, I read in a magazine that if you keep everything you need to get ready in the morning in one place, it makes things easier to get ready. I have found that to be true. I have my toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, face lotion, and a few makeup products in one area of a bathroom drawer so that when I reach for my toothbrush each morning, I see the other things and am encouraged to make the effort to put them on. There is also something to be said for simplifying your beauty routine. When you use a lot of makeup or style your hair in a time consuming way, it can be a huge chore to get ready every day.
Thursday, June 3
Not Where I Expected to be Last Night....
Wednesday, June 2
Pregnancy Update - 31 Weeks...
Well, we are beginning our fourth week of bedrest. In some ways, the time is dragging, but in others it seems like it is going quickly. I am hoping that we will be able to get to 36 weeks in this pregnancy, which means if all goes well, we are looking at five more weeks on bedrest. Then, of course, we'll have our 40 days after the baby is born (I am kind of dreading that to be honest, though we'll see how I feel once I am recuperating from the birth and caring for a newborn, toddler, and preschooler).
We have been so blessed to have at least one or two visitors each week and I am really thankful that I have been able to go to church, cook a little bit, and to take the children outside. I miss going out to do things and popping out to the store when I want to (though I have to say that our budget has never been happier!), but I have found that the children really don't seem to miss story hour, the library, or the other things that I tried to fit into our routine every week. I think that they do wish that they could go to the beach and playground more, but we've been enjoying our own yard a lot. Personally, I have been really looking forward to Tuesdays because I can take a nice long drive to my doctor appointments... who would have thought that I would ever look forward to that?! Ha!
As far as how the appointment went, this week we had our fourth Progesterone shot. I have two more to go (which will bring me to 33 weeks). I also got my strep test. Other than that, everything is the same old, same old:) Here's to another week under our belts!
Tuesday, June 1
Quite honestly, it is a little silly for me to have a nesting list for June since I am on bedrest, but I figure that it will be nice to have this for reference in the event that I go full term (36 or 37 weeks) and want to finish up projects before our baby boy comes. There are about five things on this list that I can do while sitting down and without going to the store, so those are probably the only things that will get crossed off this month!
Pot flowers for screened-in porch Give self a pedicure Set up baby pool and sprinkler in backyard for the children to play in*
- Gather up nursing gear (nursing pillow, clothing, etc.)
Video recorder (empty old recordings onto the computer)
- Sandbox for little ones in the backyard*
Put out summer decorations Buy third candle lantern from Michael's and candles from Target for the mantle Add another potted tree to front porch Order a slimmer carseat for Sugar Plum (an possibly one for Little Man if needed) to extend the life of our little Vibe
- Find chairs for screened-in porch so that we can dine al fresco
Pack beach/pool bag with bathing suits, water shoes, sun glasses, towels, and toys Buy onesies, socks, and washcloths for Baby
- Purchase more hangers for children
- Hang clothesline on back porch*
Hang twinkle lights on back porch*
- Hang lattice under both front and screened-in porches*
- Hang shelves in family closet*
Fix screen door on screened-in porch*
- Cut down tall grass along fence in the backyard*