Archive for Pregnancy

Blissful Breastfeeding? When Nursing Isn’t as Easy as It Seems

“Still, the truth remains that for some of us, nursing doesn’t come so naturally. It can be work – for our children and for us. But, it’s work that yields great rewards if we can stick it out, if we’re willing to discard the not-so-realistic standards we’ve been holding ourselves to and if we adopt, instead, the techniques that work best for us as individuals, that will allow the type of feeding relationship we want with our child rather than the type of relationship other moms have.”

The first time I had a baby, I was fooled.

After days of induced labor, half a week riding the roller coaster of contractions, and three hours of pushing my boy into the world, I believed the struggle was over. The bliss of motherhood could begin.

I cuddled my baby close to my breast and waited for the magic of nursing to start, for my son to latch on and for the two of us to begin to bond in the way I’d always heard breastfeeding would bring.

But this little person who for nine months had been nourished by my body seemed to want nothing to do with being nourished by me now. After all, in the womb, it was easy. This nursing business, though, was hard work – for both of us.

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

Two weeks after giving birth to my son, I sat in our living room recliner, crying. While it could have been the little sleep I was working on, my tears also stemmed from the fact that there I sat, pumping milk, while on the sofa, there my husband sat, feeding our baby a bottle of my milk.

“I’m supposed to be the one bonding with him while he eats,” I lamented as my husband gave a weak, sympathetic smile. He offered that I could give the bottle, but I wanted to keep my body on our son’s feeding schedule, to keep up with his demand. So, my husband fed while I pumped.

To say nursing didn’t come easily for me would be an understatement. And I’ve found since then that we don’t often hear the stories of struggle that come with breastfeeding. We see blissful moms wearing sweet smiles and taking selfies as they nurse their newborns, a trend especially popular in the celebrity world lately. Since giving birth to my second child seven months ago, I’ve taken more notice of these peaceful pics because, though encouraging, they also run the risk of being terribly discouraging.

It comes so easy for them, we might think. Nursing just isn’t for me. And really, it’s okay if it’s not. But, what if it is? What if we really, really want to breastfeed our child but it’s surprisingly difficult, and our disappointment at our shattered dream breaks our hearts?

That’s where I was at five years ago. In the end, it took the first full month of my son’s life to get him to nurse at all, and the second full month to get him to nurse well. For the majority of that first month, my son subsisted on bottles of pumped milk, and I kept trying, day in and day out, to wean him from them and onto me.

After four weeks of persisting, it worked. Not because my son suddenly and miraculously figured out how to work for his food, but because I finally abandoned the myriad words of advice I was given, particularly the advice to avoid giving into the use of a nursing shield (“He’ll never get off it,” I was warned). For me, the shield restored my dreams of a happy breastfeeding relationship with my child. I let go of the chidings of others and embraced what would allow me the bonding I’d been hoping for.

Medela breast shield

Medela breast shield

After a week or two of nursing with the shield (which my son took to immediately), I began to pull it away halfway through feedings. In time, he latched back onto me without it as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do. And, eventually, it was. We enjoyed a full year after that of the type of peaceful, easy breastfeeding I’d envied other moms.

Still, the truth remains that for some of us, nursing doesn’t come so naturally. It can be work – for our children and for us. But, it’s work that yields great rewards if we can stick it out, if we’re willing to discard the not-so-realistic standards we’ve been holding ourselves to and if we adopt, instead, the techniques that work best for us as individuals, that will allow the type of feeding relationship we want with our child rather than the type of relationship other moms have.

Because parenting isn’t about comparing. It’s about every mother doing what’s best for her unique child and accepting that what comes easily to one parent/child relationship doesn’t always come easily to another.

If we trust in that, then no blissful picture of perfection will ever discourage us again.

Connecting Spirit to Spirit with Infants

Contemplation is learned at the mother’s breast.” 

St. Bonaventure

 

five-babies-rose-header

I was delighted to discover that it is possible to connect with an infant, not simply with their heart but with their spirit as well. It is a gift to connect with a newborn, knowing that they know, that I know, that they are not idiots but vibrant souls who are in communion with God.

My husband, Michael, and I were blessed because we somehow understood, right from the start, that we were relating to another human being when we communicated with our babies. I stopped and listened when they cooed and then I answered them when they finished cooing. It might sound foolish but I believe that this attitude instilled respect for themselves and others. I tried to treat them as people, albeit little people.

I learned that we can bless our unborn child, pray over them, that we can relate to our babies while they are in the womb just like the women in the Old Testament who prayed psalms and were often in seclusion while they were pregnant. This is interesting because we now understand that an unborn child hears and reacts emotionally not only to his mother but also to the people and activity around him.

Prenatal babies have personalities before they are born. As any mother can tell you some babies move around energetically both in and out of the womb, while other infants are physically passive. Some infants are night owls both in and out of the womb and others actually sleep well at night.

Nurses will point out to new parents that their newborn quickly turns towards the voices of their mother, father, siblings, and even grandparents. So that means that an unborn child hears what is happening and remembers what he has heard while he was still in the womb. These memories are conscious for the first couple of years of a young child’s life but later they lay deep within their subconscious. For example, some musicians, when first introduced to a piece of music, already know how to play it without even rehearsing. Later they discover that their mother had practised that very same piece of music while she was pregnant with him.

Understanding the implications of these tidbits of trivia, I convinced my son to try this experiment with his pregnant wife a couple of months before the birth of their first child. Actually, this is something I did during all my pregnancies. Often my kids laugh and dismiss some of my beliefs but this time David took my suggestion and put it into action.

Daniel gently placed his hand on one side of his wife’s stomach and then talked loud to his unborn child, welcoming her into their family. He told unborn Mary that both of her parents loved her already and that they would protect her and supply all her needs, physically, emotionally and spiritually. He concentrated on pouring love into his unborn baby’s spirit. As Daniel loved his baby by talking and placing his hand on Erin’s right side, unborn Mary kicked and pushed on that side of the womb! When Daniel placed his hand on the other side of Erin’s stomach and repeated the ‘prayers’, their unborn daughter placed a few good kicks on that side instead! Obviously, pre-natal Mary heard everything and she was happy and excited by what she heard.

As a result of Mary’s parents consciously soaking her with nurturing love while she was still in the womb, she is a peaceful, content baby who is a joy and a delight to everyone she meets. None of their friends can quite understand how Mary can be such a good baby. Basically the answer to their question is that my son and his wife connected with Mary’s heart, mind, and spirit before she was born. After birth they knew how to respond to Mary’s non- verbal communication. Daniel and Erin were in fact Baby Whisperers.

In the hospital, while holding his newborn daughter, Daniel turned to his dad and said, “I think this is the best thing that I have ever done!”

My Body Given Up for You

madonna nursingI recently overheard a fellow pregnant woman comment to her husband words that saddened me. I chalked up my sadness to my hormones (the ones that have me constantly crying at television commercials). I told myself I had taken her too seriously; quite likely, I had. After all, she was very pregnant, too. And achy. And tired. And round. I know. She said so.

As we shopped nearby one another, I couldn’t help but hear her say, “It’s not fair. I’m the one who has to have my body change. I’m the one who has to work it all off. And if I’m punished like this now, it’ll be your turn later.” She didn’t say it with laughter; she said it with bite.

I assume “later” meant after the baby is born. A time when she can force equal “punishments” on her husband in the way of middle-of-the-night feedings and messy diaper changes. And before it seems I’m picking on this poor, soon-to-deliver mother, I realize it’s not just her.

I hear similar words often from friends, acquaintances and strangers. This need to “even the score” when it comes to childbearing or childrearing. I’ve been guilty of it, too. A couple of weeks after my son was born, my husband decided to go for a run. While he was gone, I sat in our house, fuming as I breastfed our infant.

“Sure, he gets to go for a run,” I thought angrily. “I would love to go for a run, but this body won’t let me! I have swollen, aching breasts that are glued to my child, and I’m still recovering from an extremely difficult delivery!” When he returned, I let him have it, telling him at one point that if I couldn’t run, then it wasn’t fair that he could. Yes, I was that childish.

And here I am, five years later, very happily pregnant again. But, I noticed that I, too, have slipped into slight self-pity mode at times during this pregnancy: about my weight gain, about my inability to exercise like I used to, about the completely blocked nose I had for two months, and about the gestational diabetes I’ve been diagnosed with for yet another pregnancy.

But, as often happens when I’m starting down a path to wrong thinking, God sets me right. He did so a few weeks ago as I sat in morning Mass. I knelt down in my pew as usual and listened to the words of Consecration.

This is my body given up for you.

These words, the words I hear at every Mass, struck me differently this time. Because this time, I was pregnant. And this time, instead of staring at the priest or gazing at the bread-turned-body or bowing my head during those words, I was staring at Mary, who was to my left and to whom I suddenly felt an urge to turn to.

As I heard those words, I found new meaning in them. I saw our Blessed Mother as a teenage girl, giving her fiat to God. “Let it be done to me according to your will.” In other words, This is my body given up for You.

I saw Mary as a mother, her son leaving home to dedicate himself to the world. A mother, unlike others who try to keep their children close to home, or who have difficulty giving their sons over to another woman in marriage. Mary, giving her son freely to the world. Talk about letting go!

I saw our Blessed Mother years later, walking her son’s path, watching him be tortured, and then keeping vigil at his cross. I saw a mother giving her needs up for her son’s. Freely and without complaint.

And I saw myself in a new light. As I looked at my bulging belly and felt the tightness of my pants, as I imagined stretch marks and the stack of sweets I can’t eat, I whispered to my unborn child, “This is my body given up for you.”

As I thought ahead to delivery, one that I have been terrified about thanks to the arduous delivery of my son, I changed a prayer I’d been reciting for much of my pregnancy. Instead of pleading with God for a quick, easy birth this time, I began to ask for strength to endure whatever type of delivery I will have. And then, I ended that prayer with, “This is my body given up for you.”

I’ve even begun to find greater peace in the daily grind of raising my son. I recently sat with him in the middle of the night as he whimpered about his belly hurting. Bleary-eyed, exhausted, and desperately wanting sleep, I thought, “This is my body, my sleep, one of my body’s greatest needs right now, given up for you.” I thought it not in a way that patted myself on the back for such little sacrifice, but simply, with gratitude that God would grant me the gift of motherhood so that I could offer such tiny, humble sacrifices.

So that I could, as St. Therese of Lisieux pointed out, follow a small but no less important path to God.

 

3 Points to Consider When Talking to Your Kids About Abortion

Today marks the anniversary of Roe versus Wade–41 years since the legalization of abortion in America.

Abortion.

It’s an ugly word, full of secrets, despair, and misinformation.  It’s a term that most of us really don’t like to talk about.

But it’s out there, and our children hear it too.

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

With all of the conflicting views about abortion that are discussed in the media, our children are likely to experience some confusion, raise questions, or, worse yet, grow accustomed to the topic and regard it as just another part of normal life.

As parents, it is of utmost importance that we serve our children well by forming their consciences according to the laws of God.  This means we don’t ignore tough topics they are starting to learn about, even if they have only heard the issue addressed in the petitions at Sunday Mass.  Parents have to decide for themselves when their child has truly reached an age of reason–an age when he or she is ready to take on some of the more difficult topics of life.  But we must be aware of our job to guard their souls against evil by educating their minds in what lurks about, hoping to ensnare them with the pretty disguises of the devil.

So when the time feels right to you, or your child starts to ask questions, here are three points that I try to take into consideration when discussing difficult topics like abortion with my children.

1.  Be honest.

In clear language that is age appropriate, be honest with your children about what abortion is.  If they are asking the questions, they are ready to handle the answers.  There is no need to be graphic, of course, but they deserve to know the truth, that it is a grave sin, and that it greatly offends God.  We are never called to make light of something so serious.

2.  Emphasize compassion.

While we want our children to understand that abortion is sinful, we also want to encourage them to think the best of those who have engaged in it.  These are early lessons in loving the sinner while hating the sin.  Explain to your children that some people are misinformed, feel they have no other choice, or simply don’t have a very strong presence of God in their lives.  Find your local pregnancy crisis center and take your children with you to drop off a donation.  Drive the point home that we don’t condemn those who see no other way–we show them the way with love.

3.  Explain God’s love and mercy in light of your own unconditional love for your children.

God is all forgiving and ever merciful.  He waits with open arms, full of hope that the lost sheep of His flock will find their way back to their

Shepherd.  Tell your children that God loves them, and you love them, no matter what they do.  Emphasize that even though you don’t like it when they do something bad, you always love them for who they are.  Encourage them to come to you with any problem and convey that you will always be there for them, not to condemn, but to forgive, embrace, and heal.

Let us pray today that God will enlighten those who feel they have no choice, who feel they have been backed into a corner from which they cannot escape.  Let us pray that God will show us and our children how to lead others into the light of God’s merciful love.

Pregnancy and Depression: You Are NOT Alone

Our guest, Jana Thomas Coffman, writes with raw honesty about her pregnancy and post-partum depression, and how she found strength in her friendship with the saints.

This is a hard article to write. Talking about post-partum depression and its effects on my life and the lives of the people close to me sounds easy, but it is very difficult, even over two years later. When we write about our weakness and sin we open ourselves to judgment and censure, and we admit frightening truths about ourselves. Yet I will start my story at the beginning, and hope some other woman will read this and know she is not alone.

The story starts when two happily married youngsters, both Catholics and practicing NFP, decided God was telling us we were ready to have a baby. As someone who had long struggled with depression and anxiety, and had more or less been on some sort of medication since I was 19, I went to the doctor to safely and slowly get off my anti-depressant medications and make sure I was 100% healthy and ready to have a baby when the time came to try. Shortly afterward, we were excited to see two little blue lines on an early detection test.

Thus began the most terrible nine months of my life.

Sinking Down

Pregnancy was horrible for me, both physically and emotionally.  Depression set back in, made even more potent by hormonal changes. Completely forgetting how we had wanted and prayed for this baby in the first place, I railed angrily against God for changing my life forever and vacillated between anger at the baby and paralyzing fear the baby would die. I worried constantly, obsessed with the million ways I might miscarry, terrified to do something wrong, yet contrarily feeling anger and hatred toward my innocent baby.

As I was struggling through this period, the church calendar that year changed to Lent. I had always given up something for Lent, but for the first time, I truly experienced the spiritual wilderness we Catholics observe during Lent. Although my senses told me God had abandoned me, I clung to my faith, which tells us God will never abandon us. Praying became harder for me, so I turned instead to snatches of a hymn, singing “We walk by faith, and not by sight…” under my breath as I moved about the house. This song spoke to me in those dark times.

After I had finally struggled through all of my pregnancy, I arrived at the hospital to give birth thoroughly mentally, spiritually, and physically exhausted, feeling a sense of doom.  Labor was hard and terrible; I had a panic attack when the nurse gave me my IV and then again with the anesthesiologist. After 30 hours with no sleep or food, I finally gave birth to a perfectly healthy redhead, but when I looked at her I felt none of the joy and love new parents usually describe. I felt… scared. I did not want to hold her. She looked 164383406strange and wrinkly, not pretty at all. I was in so much pain, requiring over two hours of stitches, and so, so tired. When I was finally wheeled into a bedroom at 2:00 am, all I longed for was sleep. When the nurse curtly told me to set my alarm for two hours so I could feed the baby, I almost wept.

My hospital stay was equally difficult.  I cried almost constantly. I was afraid to hold the baby and afraid to be separated from her. I had never imagined being in such pain; after five rows of sutures, I could barely move, could not walk alone, and could certainly not use the restroom or shower alone. Still, I refused pain medication, paranoid if I took anything it would hurt the baby. I was overwhelmed by all the visitors, and just sad, sad, sad. My husband helped me limp around the hospital wing and I burst into tears when I saw the room where we’d given birth. The nurse told me it would take three weeks for my stitches to heal and I started to cry. At one point a nurse found me, bleary-eyed with sleeplessness, wandering the halls forlornly in my gown, petrified the nurses would give formula to the baby or think I was a horrible mother for letting her go to the nursery so I could try to sleep.

When we got home, I was paralyzed with fear. I could not sleep because I was convinced the baby would die. I sat awake, exhausted, while my husband and the baby slept. I was so anxious I could not eat a bite, but tried futilely to gag down one bite of bread and butter to help my body support my daughter. When I tried to sleep, the nightmares came, and I saw my baby killed a dozen different, horrible ways. Desperately in need of sleep though I was, I became afraid of night time and the nightmares, having horrible panic attacks when it got dark and fighting sleep with every ounce of power I had. My parents, divorced, put aside their differences and both stayed several nights with us, taking shifts at night to sit up with me and hold my hand through my panic attacks or sleeping in the chair next to me while I stared zombie-like at the clock and could not sleep.

To say my faith was all I had left at that time is no exaggeration. In the throes of despair, I lost sense of time and reality. Family members who tried to help me could only look on as I struggled. I became suicidal and so sleep-deprived I feared my husband would have me committed.

I was in the worst spiritual crisis I had ever encountered. I realized what I needed now were friends—faithful people of Christ who would pray for me, lift me up, and plead before God for my case.

Calling Out

I had never been a Catholic who prayed to saints, and I wasn’t even really sure how, but I knew I needed an army of prayer warriors on my side. Yes, I had people here on Earth praying for me—but what about people in heaven, people who had already successfully overcome Earth’s obstacles and were right now in the throne room of God, ready to pray and interceded for me? People whose example I could follow and whose faith I could emulate. I knew I needed all the prayer I could get.

One night, a few nights after the baby was born, I was limping out of the car and preparing to head into the house while my husband unbuckled the baby from her car seat. Suddenly, I felt another attack coming on. Terror flooded through my body and my eyesight went black. I was still conscious; I could hear the sounds of night and feel the concrete of the driveway under my feet, but I could see nothing. Waves of panic began to envelope me.

Still blind, I groped out and felt the car. Leaning against it for support, I called out into the darkness, “Mary, mother of us all, pray for me!” She is a Mother; she will know what I’m going through. She has been here before. “Saint Joseph, father of us all, pray for me!” He was the earthly father of Jesus and our spiritual father; surely he must care for me. “Saint Michael, leader of God’s armies, fight for me!”  He fights for God’s people; he will defend me with his sword.

A woman lost and alone on a chilly night, I reached out my hand into the darkness and called out blindly to friends when I needed them, friends I had never called on before but whom my faith told me I could rely upon. And I trusted my faith.

With the intercession of Mary, Joseph, and Michael, I was able to make it into the house and calm down. I can’t say that night was the end of all my depression, but it was a turning point. Slowly, the anxiety subsided and gradually became manageable. I was able to sleep, first just in snatches, and eventually more and more.

Through God’s blessings, I had a wonderful OB who, thankfully, realized what was happening was not just a normal case of hormones. When he visited and found me sitting in bed next to a perfectly healthy baby, crying my eyes out while my husband and parents looked helplessly on, he diagnosed me with post-partum depression and referred me to a psychiatrist. She listened to my story, diagnosed me with not only post-partum depression but also post-partum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and prescribed me some nursing-friendly antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

157651447Life wasn’t easy for the first several weeks of my daughter’s life, and I did not return to normal for several months. But I was, at least, able to cope with my worries and fears. As the Bible says, “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18), and as my anxieties slowly melted away, I began to have room in my heart for love: love for this tiny baby girl, healthy and beautiful and glowing, things I had not been able to appreciate before when I was so unhappy and worried.

Moreover, my newfound prayer warriors have never left me. Grateful to the first three saints who’d so generously helped me, I began to turn to saints more when the need arose. When my daughter had her first bout of illness, I looked up the patron saints of children, illnesses, and throat maladies and prayed before her crib. I looked to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for help with family members, St. Giles for increasing my nursing supply, and St. Francis for my ailing cat. Now, St. Anthony helps me find lost phones or keys and I call upon St. Christopher during my travels.  I’ve gotten to know St. Joseph as the giver of a happy death and St. Mary as the wife and mother I ask for advice when I’m ready to scream.

If you are a mother-to-be or new mom and you think you might be struggling with depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. Do not let Satan lie to you: you are not alone. Others have been there. I have been there. I have been lost and blind and weak and alone. Yet in my weakness and sin, Jesus conquered. As He says to us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

Jana and KaylieJana Thomas Coffman lives near Kansas city with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Kaylie. Jana and Chris serve in their parish as marriage prep counselors and Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist, and they are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League. She holds a B.S. in Spanish with a minor in religious studies from Missouri State University, as well as a M.S. in Spanish Education and a graduate certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  Jana teaches high school Spanish and college ESL.

Cradled in the Rosary

“What I needed was prayer.  As to which prayer, I had no idea; I only knew that I yearned for a prayer that would quiet my mind, engage my heart, and speak for me words that could capture the love and hope I had for this baby.” 

It all began with a little girl – a little girl whose thumb-sucking habit and gorgeous eyelashes were visible during her twenty-week ultrasound.  My journey with the rosary began with her, because I thought I might need a miracle.

It’s a long story, but when I met my husband, I had just begun exploring Catholicism. In the early years of our marriage I was new to the faith and had a lot to take in – scripture, tradition, liturgy, and in general, a deeper understanding of Catholic teaching.  Reading, studying and pondering came quite naturally to me, but establishing my prayer life was a work in progress, and while I had heard of the rosary, I knew relatively little about it.

126010463My ignorance, however, was about to change. During my pregnancy with my daughter Claire, the standard second-trimester ultrasound revealed a choroid plexus cyst. I understood the terminology, but had no idea what it meant for the well-being of my baby. And no one seemed to want to tell me anything about these cysts, which was extremely unnerving.  Currently, if you do an online search, you’ll immediately see a myriad of sites offering information about this condition, which in my daughter’s case was a tiny sac of fluid within her brain, somewhat like a blister, pinched off as the choroid plexus formed.  But, this ultrasound happened back in 1997, back when the internet didn’t provide fingertip access to the wealth of information it does today.

At some point after the scan, I do recall some mumbling about an association with trisomies 18 and 21, and conversely, that the cysts resolve, sometimes posing no problem at all.  But, anyone who knows me well will tell you that when it comes to obtaining medical information, I err on the side of saturation.  Perhaps it’s a control thing, but enduring this lack of feedback was painful.  I was completely preoccupied with a desire to understand the worse-case scenario of the diagnosis, perseverating on the one fact I was familiar with – babies with trisomy 18 have very abbreviated lives. I was devastated.

Furthering my dismay, the appointment for a level II scan was scheduled a month out, and in the meantime I clearly needed something more productive to do than purchase tissues. At first, I thought I just needed distraction, but keeping busy did nothing to ease my angst.  What I needed was prayer.  As to which prayer, I had no idea; I only knew that I yearned for a prayer that would quiet my mind, engage my heart, and speak for me words that could capture the love and hope I had for this baby.  I needed to be cradled in prayer, pacifying the fear and sorrow that consumed my thoughts.  It was a pretty tall order, and not knowing exactly where to turn, I suppose I did what any grace-desperate neophyte would do – I grabbed a glossy Catholic prayer pamphlet from my bedside table and began to read.  Fortunately for me, it contained a beautiful guide on how to pray the rosary.  I don’t think I had rosary beads when I started.  I just started.

It has been said before, but is certainly worth repeating, that God uses our struggles to draw us closer to Him.  Recently, a dear friend of mine spoke of a point in her life in which she quite literally had no strength to do anything.  While she was hospitalized, too weak to even speak, her mother regularly visited and prayed the rosary aloud.  She shared with me that as her mother prayed, she felt lovingly rocked by the rhythm of the Hail Marys. She felt herself wrapped in the love of Our Lord, and tenderly cradled in the arms of Our Blessed Mother.

During that month of waiting for the ultrasound, I too, was cradled in the arms of Our Lady.  She knew the pain of worry, and, as mothers do, soothed my heart with her embrace. Whether a miracle occurred, I really can’t say, but my daughter was found to be perfectly healthy.  Perhaps the therapeutic effects of the rosary were a lifelong gift for me, rather than a remedy for my unborn child.  In Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s moving reflection on praying the rosary he aptly wrote, “The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next.  The power of the rosary is beyond description.”

Image Credit: Catherine Yeulet (photos.com)

The Amazing Grace of the Rosary

“Because though Mary couldn’t give me my baby, she could give me her heart. Though she couldn’t give me my child, she could give me her Son. And that day, I’m convinced she did.”

My first adult attempt at praying a full rosary wasn’t a good one.

I was nearly three months pregnant for the first time, and my husband and I were in the car on our way to a friend’s birthday party.  It should have been a beautiful time.  It should have been a rosary of joy and thanksgiving.  Instead, my first rosary was one of desperation.

rosary buttonI hadn’t been feeling well the previous few days.  I had lower back pain and cramps.  And my pregnancy symptoms, the ones that had been apparent from the start, had gradually disappeared over the course of the week.  “You’re reaching the end of your first trimester,” I was told. “That’s normal.”

It didn’t feel normal to me.  Not that I’d been pregnant before.  Not that I had anything to compare it to.  At my eight-week prenatal visit, the midwife had tried in vain to find my baby’s heartbeat. “No worries,” she said. “It’s still quite early to hear a heartbeat. You’re so small, though, I thought we might. We’ll hear it at the 12-week visit.”

But the lack of a heartbeat two weeks earlier, together with my lost pregnancy symptoms but gained premenstrual ones worried me. My husband tried to allay my fears, repeating the encouragement we’d been given by nurses, doctors, family and friends. But, in my heart, I felt something wasn’t right. On the way out the door, as we prepared for the one and a half hour drive to the party, I grabbed my rosary beads.

Though I rarely prayed a decade, and could not remember praying a full rosary in my adult life, I usually had beads around. Sometimes, they just sat on my dresser. Other times, they hung out in a pouch in my purse. But, they rarely made it to my hands.

On that day, though, the day of the birthday party, I held them tightly. In the car, I talked with God. I prayed the random Our Father or Hail Mary, but though I had the beads in my hand, I didn’t pray a single decade. Until we got within a half hour of the party and we passed a Catholic Church.

“Pull in!” I begged my husband.

Within minutes, he parked in the empty lot and I raced into the church. The abdominal pains were coming stronger now, but I still held out hope. I knelt into a pew and began to pray the rosary. I prayed it fervently, if slightly incorrectly, saying only the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be, not even knowing about the Hail, Holy Queen or the Oh, My Jesus prayers. I’m not even sure I said the Apostles’ Creed. But, I did pray five decades, the first time I remember ever doing so.

And, as I neared the final Glory Be, the miscarriage began. I was lost. Confused. I thought this could save my baby. In my immature faith, I clung tight to that hope I’d had.

 As we turned around and drove back home, towards the emergency room of our local hospital, questions raced through my head. I thought the rosary could bring miracles. Why do this? Why take my baby while I pray a rosary? What is that supposed to tell me?

Here’s the funny thing, though.  I could have had a crisis of faith.  I very nearly did.  But, I think, in retrospect, that the rosary I prayed as I began to lose my first child gave birth to a love of the rosary within me.

Because though Mary couldn’t give me my baby, she could give me her heart. Though she couldn’t give me my child, she could give me her Son. And that day, I’m convinced she did.

Because as I lay in the emergency room bed, there was a moment when I very clearly felt arms around me, hugging me from behind, even though the only thing behind me was a wall. And I was sure that was Jesus.

Because while I was losing my child, I, who am always emotional, was somehow calm. Even more astounding, I worried not about my comfort but about comforting those around me. When my husband looked white as a sheet and had to sit with his head lowered, I encouraged him to take a walk outside. To take a breather. And I didn’t resent him in the least when he did. When the young medical intern fumbled her words and was obviously nervous and upset, I soothed her, “Don’t worry. It’s okay. Really, it’s okay.” Where did that come from? I wondered. Because that wasn’t me. That calm, more concerned about everyone else than my own current sorrow, wasn’t me. It was Mary.

I have prayed the rosary (almost) daily since then. It is a prayer that finds me no matter where I am in life and teaches me how to be more like our Blessed Mother. How to be more like our Lord. In the Joyful Mysteries, I find the beauty of life. In the Sorrowful Mysteries, I find the beauty of strength in suffering. In the Luminous Mysteries, I find my Jesus, the beautiful God-Man who moves me. And in the Glorious Mysteries, I find the hope of our Father in heaven.

The first time I prayed the rosary, I prayed for an obvious miracle. But the power of the rosary works deeper miracles:  not one-time shows to which we can say a quick thank you to God and be on our merry way, but subtler, slower-forming miracles, the kind that take deep root and have the power to change our lives, to change us, from the inside out.

And that’s what pulls me back – each day – to the rosary.

The Virgin Mary Had Stretch Marks Too

“His mountains are misshapen yet stunning; His canyons broken yet whole; His blotches of clouds resting on a pink sunset sky imperfect yet breathtaking.”

There are some moments of mothering that I wish I could hold in my hand forever.  Moments that are the perfect snapshot of imagery, words, and emotions.  Moments that are impossible to capture on film, yet remain indelibly imprinted in my memory.

I’ll never forget one Saturday morning as I sat nursing our newest baby.  I was dressed in sweats, wearing no makeup, and my hair was in a haphazard bun.  I have to admit I was feeling like the definition of frumpy:  tired, dirty, and a little blue.  Suddenly, my two year old looked at me and said, “Mommy’s pretty!”  I looked at him and smiled, and a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds of my little pity party.

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

“Mommy’s pretty.”  Those two little words sum up a child’s ability to spot true beauty–their ability to look through the messiness of this world and see the work of God shining through.

My son had it right.  It’s in the little acts of love that real beauty resides.  As mothers, our bodies are ever changing, ever working, ever sacrificing.  We don’t fit into any mold of earthly beauty.  We wear battle scars of pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing as our badges of honor.  Our hands are rough from hours in dishwater, diapers, and laundry.  Our feet are neglected as they stay busy playing with our children, walking our babies, and driving the car pool.  And we all know what happens to our waistlines after bearing new life into this world.

We mothers may not be perfect in appearance by the standards of this world, but we only grow in glory in the eyes of God.  He created beauty.  He knows what inspires a sense of awe and a stirring in our depths that confirms to our souls there is, indeed, a great and glorious God.  His mountains are misshapen yet stunning; his canyons broken yet whole; his blotches of clouds resting on a pink sunset sky imperfect yet breathtaking.

True beauty is the physical manifestation of authentic love.  Was this never made so clear as by the body that was bloodied, bruised, and broken for the sake of our sins?  Do we not look into that exhausted, sorrowful, bleeding face underneath the thorn-pierced brow and see something beautiful beyond words?

Mothers, you are magnificent!  That stretch mark?  Beautiful!  Those dry, cracked hands?  Lovely!  Those crow’s feet and gray hairs?  Stunning!  A body given to the service of God is a body worth celebrating.  Let us turn our focus from what we know betrays this truth, and focus on the little moments of beauty we encounter every day:  a mother nursing her baby, a child being carried by loving arms and a strong back,  a womb that is nearly bursting with the next priceless gift to our world.  Cover and protect your bodies, not out of shame, but out of a sense of growing in sanctity as your temple of the Holy Spirit matures gracefully with time.

Did the Virgin Mary have stretch marks too?  I’m guessing no one really knows the answer to that question, but she was God’s masterpiece, the new Eve, the one worthy to carry His Son.  I believe her soul was housed in a body that did, indeed, carry physical reminders of the days she spent bearing and caring for our Lord.  She was, after all, perfect.

Good News for Breastfed Babies

A new study out of Brown University using brain images from “quiet” MRI machines in addition to cognitive testing adds to the growing body of evidence that breastfeeding improves brain development in infants.  “Breastfeeding alone produced better brain development than a combination of breastfeeding and formula, which produced better development than formula alone.”

bf brain imaging

 

“MRI images, taken while children were asleep, showed that infants who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula or a combination of formula and breastmilk. Images show development of myelization by age, left to right.”  Image: Baby Imaging Lab, Brown University

Sibling Rivalry (or “when’s that baby going back to her real house?”)

90056894When I was eight-months pregnant with my second child (my daughter Claire), my oldest child Aidan announced, “I don’t really want a sister.”

Now, why wouldn’t any child want a sibling?  Why wouldn’t he want somebody to ride bikes with, somebody to dig in the dirt with, somebody to open presents with on Christmas morning?  Well, because he was a normal four-year-old for one thing.  We’re looking at sibling rivalry here.  What is sibling rivalry really and how do we deal with it effectively?  This is the topic I explored today with Greg & Lisa Popcak on their radio show More2Life, produced by Ave Maria Radio.   (If you missed the show you can find the entire program in Ave Maria’s archives!)

Every parent I know who has more than one child has faced sibling rivalry.  Sibling rivalry is the competition and fighting between siblings brought on by a child’s jealousy or insecurity about how his parents feel about him compared to his siblings.  It’s easy to ignore sibling rivalry as just part of a normal childhood, but true sibling rivalry is very different from squabbling.  This kind of jealousy can become poisonous and painful if left to fester.

Preschoolers 

Let’s begin at the beginning, because sibling rivalry most often begins before the second child is even born, just as it did for Aidan nearly ten years ago.  These feelings of ambivalence about a new child coming into the family are very normal.  But if parents ignore those feelings or if they shame the child for having them, it can set up a dangerous dynamic between the two children.  I think it’s imperative that we recognize how authentically threatened little children are by the arrival of a new baby.  Before the baby arrives, they hear Mommy and Daddy talking “the baby” a LOT ( and what’s a baby? who is it? where is it coming from? what’s it gonna say or do?).  They watch Mommy rubbing her baby belly, witness the joy in the faces of strangers when they talk to Mommy about the baby coming, and watch Mommy and Daddy shopping for cool stuff for the baby.  Then the baby comes.  Well, goodness.  Now they see Mom gazing into the baby’s eyes, cooing at her, nursing her.  What’s to like about that when you’re a little kid?

CAPC’s second Building Block to a Joyful Catholic Home™ is empathy.  Empathy requires us to put ourselves in our child’s shoes so we can understand things from his perspective.  Empathy allows us to respond to our child with more awareness of what they need from us.  Quite simply, our kids are not us!  They have their own thoughts, temperament, and ideas.  If I had considered Aidan’s struggle only from my own perspective, I would have told him to knock it off and get with the program – we were having a baby whether he liked it or not.  However, when I looked at Aidan’s problem from his perspective – the perspective of a preschool only-child with health issues and two overwhelmed parents (I was in law school and Philip was a post-doctoral researcher) — no wonder he was freaked out thinking about a new family member coming.  He felt unsettled, threatened, and unsure where he would fit into the picture after the baby arrived.

Aidan is no different from any other small child facing the arrival of a new baby in the family.  All of us can acknowledge our older child’s feelings and do what we can to give them the reassurance and love they need to help through this transition. Here a few tips to help your little ones cope with their anxiety when you are expecting and welcoming a new baby into your family:

  • Include big siblings in preparations:  When we were expecting new babies, Philip and I got in the habit of calling the baby “our baby” or even “your baby” when talking to our older kids about the baby.  (“When your baby is crying, she might be hungry or uncomfortable.”)  This gave our children the feeling that they were included in the giant excitement ahead.
  • Gentle first introductions:  When baby finally arrived, when my older children came to the hospital the first time to meet baby, I asked my husband to phone me when he was on his way up so that I could put the baby in the hospital bassinet.  This way, my arms were free to hug my older children and I could introduce them to the new baby gently.   I also had “big sibling” gifts waiting for my kids when they arrived at the hospital.
  • Involve big siblings in baby care:  Older siblings will bond better with the baby if they are permitted to hold the baby, help with diapering and bathing, etc.  They feel less sidelined and more important.
  • One-on-one time:  It really helps older siblings feel special when we make an effort to spend “just you” time with them after baby arrives.  When I was recovering from my 3rd c-section, I made the mistake of ensuring my older kids had lots of special time with Dad and Grandma, but failed to take that time myself.  Two-year-old Claire was very jealous of Dominic for several months. I had to heal my relationship with her first before she was able to open her heart to Dominic.  (Now they’re great pals!)

Older Children

Beyond the baby years, older children can struggle with sibling rivalry, too.  My discussion with Greg & Lisa was part of their broader presentation of the problem of resentment – specifically the ways in which we can become mired in our anger and sense of powerlessness about certain relationships and circumstances.  When sibling rivalry is a problem in the relationship of two older siblings, this element of anger and powerlessness is very clear.  The siblings can actually feel hatred toward their sibling, exaggerate affronts, and react to small annoyances with emotional hostility and even violence.  I think this irrationality comes partly from a place of fear and powerlessness.

Older children are striving to demonstrate how they are special and unique.  They are trying to define themselves apart from their siblings.  Siblings can become jealous, angry, and competitive with one another when we fail to affirm them for the unique children of God that they are.  Here are a few tips for quieting the rioting between your big ‘uns!

  • Don’t compare or label your kids:  Never compare your children! (“Why can’t you be a good ball player like your brother?”)   This is a no-brainer.  Most parents I know have risen above this terrible habit because it was one that their parents haunted them with in their own childhoods, but I must make this declaration anyway in case there are few stragglers out there:  Comparing children – their talents, faults, attractiveness – is toxic!  Similarly, labeling your kids is very limiting.  Were you called “the clumsy one,” “the smart one,” “the pretty one,” or “the black sheep” in your family of origin?  Labels like this can hurt feelings and constrain potential.  I think parents get in the habit of labeling kids because they’re trying to create a family identity and sense of cohesion (however strange).  But these labels can create stagnancy and bitterness in family dynamics.  Yuck.  So avoid labels and be open to whatever your kids have to teach you about who they are and where God is leading them.
  • Help your kids discover their talents:  God has a special plan for each of us.  When we help our children see that they are unique and unrepeatable, with talents and gifts of their very own, they won’t feel like they have to live up to their siblings achievements.
  • Have plenty of family fun time:  Reserving special time for the whole family to play together fosters connection and family identity.  When your children regularly laugh together, they are better able to handle their conflicts later.   
  • Don’t forget one-on-one time:  Just like younger kids, older children benefit from me-and-you time when they can experience your love and recognition apart from their siblings.
  • Require and model kindness in your home:  Cruelty and sibling abuse is a reality and it can lead to life-long psychological harm.  We must never accept or tolerate violence or bullying in our homes.  This means we parents have to model the behavior we expect to see in our children.  We have to treat our children and our spouse with respect and love if we expect our children to internalize those values.

None of us wants to see our kids fighting or bickering, especially when it’s motivated by a lack of confidence in our love for them.  Sibling rivalry is avoidable!  Understand where your kids are coming from, meet their needs tenderly and mercifully, and reassure them that everyone’s needs will be met to the best of your ability.  Love your kids without limits, every day, at every opportunity.

Image credit: Arne Thayson (photos.com)

Thy Will Be Done

Charisse & Baby Faith

Charisse & Baby Faith

I gaze at my newborn daughter’s delicate features and feel my heart ache as it struggles to retain this moment that will go by all too quickly.  The joy of a new birth is soon mixed with the bittersweet awareness of the passage of time, and I am filled with the impulse to hold onto my daughter with possessive and jealous arms with no intention of ever letting go.

As I observe my other children going about their busy lives, the contrast of the peaceful stillness of my newborn snoozing blissfully at my breast creates an acute awareness of how quickly new baby squeaks and tiny baby toes turn into first toddler words and running toddler feet.  My two-year-old reminds me that self declared independence and weaning can happen sooner than I expected, and it doesn’t seem possible that my older children are gaining so much knowledge so quickly, playing at friends’ houses for hours at a time, and going to sleep-overs.  I can easily find myself ensnared by the temptation to long for something that cannot be–to wish that the moments of cuddling my newborn could last forever–to wish that my children could simply stop in time as they journey down the path to greater independence from me and assure me of how much they still need their mother.

Then I realize that this is why I parent the way I do.  Attachment Parenting offers my children the foundation of trust and love that is essential for them to carry out their God-given purpose in this world.  By being in tune to their needs and responding to them through my presence and actions since the day they were born, my children have a strong sense of self worth and moral integrity that will not easily be broken by the pressures of this world.  Attachment Parenting gives me the bonding time that I need with my children so I can be confident that I will guide them in the way God intended.  I love it when my baby needs to nurse or clearly just needs some snuggle time with me.  I never feel more needed than when one of my older children specifically wants me to play that game with him, read that book to her, or put that band aid on.  It is in these moments that our mutual trust and love become evident and our souls are bared so we can truly get to know one another.

I realize my children are a gift, not just to me and my husband, but to the rest of the world as well.  And while, as parents, we are their primary caretakers, we are called not to selfishly claim them and their abilities as our own, but to give them back to God as they learn how He wants them to serve Him.

As St. Peter Damian said, “Let us detach ourselves in spirit from all that we see and cling to that which we believe.  This is the cross which we must imprint on all our daily actions and behavior.”

So while I sometimes wish I could lock myself in a room and keep my newborn’s snuggles all for myself amidst the flurry of new baby visitors, I understand that my beautiful daughter already has a greater mission in life than filling my heart with joy.  She has the ability to thrill grandparents with her precious baby coos, to delight other children with her miniature proportions, and to remind all who see her of how sacred new life is.  Just as my baby daughter carries a unique ability to bring others closer to God simply by being who she is, so are my other children blessed with talents and abilities that will allow them to carry out the specific missions that God has planned for them.  My parenting style gives me the intimate moments with my children that I need to have the strength to detach myself when God is calling me to allow His child to do His work–a strength I call upon more and more as my children grow up.

Perhaps in these moments of child-led detachment we experience many of the same feelings that Joseph and Mary did upon finding Jesus in the Temple.  Mary asks, “Son, why hast thou done so to us?  Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”  And Jesus replies, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”  (Lk 2:49)

Our loved ones are not our own.  They are precious gifts from God who, if we fulfill our vocation well, will never need to be sought with sorrow, but rather released with joy to do the work of our Father in heaven.

During this Holy Week, I pray that I might emulate Mary as Christ’s Way of the Cross became her Way of the Cross.  I’ll soak up these early years of holding my children close and make a choice in every moment to lead them closer to God by my word and example.  And as my children’s moments of independence fall faster and closer together, may I release them whole heartedly back into His care with confidence that my  personal fiat will inspire them to respond always in the words of Christ, “Thy will be done.”

Welcome Baby Tierney!

Congratulations to CAPC’s Charisse Tierney and her whole family on the arrival of their new baby girl!  Faith Cecilia Tierney was born March 10th (on Rejoice Sunday!) at 3:05 PM: 8 lbs 7 oz, 21 inches.  Yay!!

Faith Cecilia 3-10-13