Archive for Pregnancy – Page 2

Are We Done Yet?

The Tierney Family of 6, soon to by 7!!

The Tierney Family of 6, soon to be 7!!

I think it started in earnest when I was expecting our third child.  Questions like, “So is this it?”,  “How many do you plan to have?”, and  “Are you done after this one?” almost always seemed to follow close behind the initial congratulatory remarks once family, friends, and even complete strangers learned of my pregnancy.  When I first heard these questions, I often fumbled for words.  The curiosity of others seemed so far removed from my husband’s and my way of thinking.

When I was once asked how many children we plan to have, I simply and honestly responded, “I don’t know.”  The person who asked me the question appeared shocked and exclaimed, “You mean you haven’t talked about it?!?”  I nearly laughed out loud.  If there’s one thing faithful Natural Family Planning practicing couples do, it’s talk!  We revisit the question of whether or not we are being called to conceive another child at least once a month.  The subject has already come up between my husband and me as we enter the last few days of my pregnancy with our fifth child.  The truth is, we still don’t know for sure how many children we will ultimately have–and it is the very essence of that uncertainty that blesses our marriage and spiritual lives with riches beyond compare.

Our humanity can never fully comprehend the plans God has laid out for us as we make our earthly journey to heaven.  He, along with the Church, is our compass, our map, and our guide.  For this reason, we are called to seek God’s will in all that we do.  We are incapable of choosing the correct road to follow all on our own.  Our judgment is too often clouded with sin, internal spiritual warfare, and self doubt.  But if we surrender our will to that of our heavenly Father, He will protect our souls from being corrupted by the lies and deception of the evil one.

This way of life, of course, carries with it a degree of uncertainty.  But earthly uncertainty has the potential to evolve into divine surrender, and our great gift of fertility cannot be excluded from this.  Choosing to ignore the devil’s attacks on this most sacred and holy part of our marriage is not always easy.  Seeking God’s will does not come without trial and tribulation.  A heart open to God is especially vulnerable to the stealthy ways of the devil.

 “…if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.  Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity.  Cleave to him and do not depart, that you may be honored at the end of your life.  Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient.  For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.  Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him…Consider the ancient generations and see:  who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? …For the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  Sirach 2: 1-6, 10, 11

How quickly our plan to serve the Lord becomes an issue of trust.  Do we trust that if we seek God’s will alone that He will give us the strength and self mastery we need to faithfully practice Natural Family Planning in the midst of a serious medical condition?  Do we trust that God will answer our prayers for a conversion of heart in a spouse resistant to adhering to the precepts of the Church?  Do we trust that God will provide us with the means to faithfully raise another child?  Accepting our fertility as a gift affects so many facets of our lives and of our faith.  We find ourselves continually assessing how God wants us to embrace this gift at any particular point in our lives.  Are we being called to bring another life into the world, or do we have a just reason to postpone pregnancy?  It is only through the discipline of prayer and proper conscience formation that we will be able to discern God’s will.  We can be certain that God will never ask us to do something that is in direct conflict with the teachings of His Church.  We can also be certain that God will never ask us to do something that will not ultimately lead us to a great sense of joy and peace in our lives.  So we must pray, educate ourselves in the faith, and communicate with our spouse what God is saying to us in the depths of our hearts.

 “Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention to one’s partner, helps the spouses to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility.  By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring; little children and youths grow up with a just appraisal of human values, and in the serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sensitive faculties.”  Humanae Vitae  21

This responsible acceptance of our gift of fertility is a key factor in our children’s “just appraisal of human values.”  They observe us viewing the gift of new life through the eyes of God.  They see the love of our marriage emulating the blessed Trinity as the love of two begets physical and spiritual fruits.  They see that accepting the responsibility of conceiving a new life is neither a decision to be taken lightly, nor one to be forever cut off from the grace of God.  A mere five times for them to observe all of these truths through the tangible miracle of a tiny baby suddenly doesn’t seem like enough!  Our children live in a world where they are bombarded by the snares of the devil.  His subliminal messages often appear more glamorous and appealing than God’s truths of what will truly make us happy.  Our children need to see us surrendering our bodies and souls to God with complete trust.  This will nurture their sense of trust and discernment, which will in turn fill us with a sense of peace as we learn to give our children back to God.

Is this not where Catholic Attachment Parenting begins?  With our attachment to God and His will–only then can we discern properly what He desires for us and our children.

So are we done yet?  I don’t know if God will bless us with any more children, but I do know we are not done trusting in Him.  I know we are not done seeking His will.  And I know we are not done reaping the graces that He will continue to shower upon His faithful followers until we are one with Him in heaven.

A Blessing in Disguise

God had a plan for my son Owen on that sunny fall day during his second grade year.  That was the day he came home from school with an invitation to a classmate’s birthday party.  These invitations are a fairly common occurrence when one is in the second grade, but this one was especially enticing as it was being held at the local roller skating rink.

I looked at the invitation and felt my heart sink in the way that only a mother’s heart can when she knows she has to be the one to bring disappointment to her child.  The party was scheduled for September 25, which is my sister Natalie’s birthday.  Tears were shed, and my heart ached for my little boy’s disappointment in something that seems so important in the second grade.  The ache was soon replaced with pride, however, when we came to the conclusion together that it was more important to be with family on Natalie’s birthday and honor her special day.  Owen dried his tears, we put the invitation away, and nothing more was said about his classmate’s party.

You see, my sister Natalie has many special gifts.  She knows how to soften hearts with a single smile and a sparkle in her eye, she knows how to slow down and find joy in the rainbows, flowers, and ever changing sky that God gives us.  She can erase the selfishness from almost anyone she meets and inspire an outburst of generosity and patience, and though she has her stubborn moments, I believe her purity of heart serves as an impenetrable barrier to the threat of temptation or evil.

Some call her state of being “mentally handicapped”, but I call it a fountain of blessings in a very clever disguise.

Natalie and Owen

Natalie and Owen

I’ve witnessed time and again how my sister brings out the best in people.  Complete strangers hold doors for her, wait patiently behind her while she slowly ascends a flight of stairs, and even give her small gifts that make her eyes light up and her fingertips quiver with excitement.  My own children have all held a special affection and respect for her since the time of their birth.  It is by her presence that they find the strength within themselves to exhibit greater self-control, generosity, and love.

So why does society shy away from celebrating people like my sister?  What is it that we fear about possibly having a child like that of our own?  If only we could accept that it is through the vulnerable and the powerless that we receive the greatest power of all:  the power to see our souls stripped of the garments of this world, exposing the virtues and graces that will open the doors to the next.  Some of those virtues will shine brighter than others when put to the test, but it is only by the revelation of our deepest weaknesses that we can ever hope to achieve the level of perfection that heaven requires.  It is only by understanding our own imperfections that we can be filled with the desire to surrender ourselves to God’s mighty hand and allow Him to shape us into who He wants us to be.

There are so many things we can do in our modern age to avoid creating the person that God intended to place in our lives.  As parents, we want to take measures to ensure a healthy child, certainly, but when we veer too far from the way God intended a child to be created (in a loving marriage between a man and a woman through the natural expression of their love in answer to God’s call), perhaps we are setting ourselves up to miss out on one of the greatest blessings of our earthly lives.

If Natalie had not been born when she was, the way that she was, my son would not have had the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.  He was presented with the opportunity to learn that family comes first, and Natalie’s birthday is just as important and special as anyone else’s.  In a world where some might say her life is worthless, sad, or even easily disposable, he learned that her life is one that deserves to be celebrated.

As a mother, I know it is my mission in life to lead my children along a pathway to heaven.  I pray often that I will be aided in this task by the people God puts in my life.  Who better to walk among us than people like my sister?  She is full of joy, pure of heart, brings out the best in others, and is nearly sinless.  In many ways, my sister is a better teacher for my children than I’ll ever be–simply because she is who she is–the person God created her to be.

Does Natalie feel like a “burden” at times?  Of course!  But, then, so does my two year old as I clean up yet another one of his messes, and so do any number of other people and things that God has given to me when they require me to enter that painful process of growth and change.  We wouldn’t be fully human if we didn’t have those negative thoughts about those we love best creep into our minds and hearts, acting as little reminders that even our best and purest intentions are always vulnerable to temptation.  The truth is, anything or anyone can feel like a burden when we put our own perceived wants and needs before God’s deepest desires for us; and His deepest desire is to shape us into the person we need to become to be received into full communion with Him at the end of our time here on earth.

Natalie with Owen on his first birthday

Natalie with Owen on his first birthday

Embrace your “burdens”, and they will become light with the knowledge of the joy they will bring you.  You might even discover they weren’t such a burden, after all.

We traveled as a family to celebrate Natalie’s birthday, and a fun time was had by all.  The memory of Owen’s party invitation faded away, but the bond of family remains strong.  At the time of Natalie’s birth, and for a long time after, there were many “why’s”.  Maybe she was given to us in part to teach a little boy a valuable lesson, and carry him one step closer to heaven with her.

Attachment Parenting from the NICU

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Charisse and Henry

Henry is my New Year’s Baby.  He wasn’t supposed to be my New Year’s Baby.  He wasn’t supposed to be born until five weeks later.  I wasn’t supposed to find myself standing helplessly at his bedside in the NICU, feeling as if a tangle of tubes and machines could care for him better than I could.  I wasn’t supposed to be watching my milk being fed to him through a tube in his nose instead of skin to skin and heart to heart while we soaked up the feeling of oneness that pervaded while he was still in the womb.

But life doesn’t always go the way we think it is supposed to, and we sometimes suddenly find ourselves in situations that require us to remain calm and collected with Herculean physical strength, even though there are moments when we just want to curl up in a ball and awaken from the bad dream into which we seem to have been plunged.

And so I accepted the NICU challenge.

With the help and support of God, family, and close friends, I entered a state of “mommy autopilot”, ready to do whatever it took to turn my and Henry’s relationship into the “normal” that I knew.  This wasn’t just about my baby’s physical health.  This was about my style of mothering and everything that I believed the mother/baby dyad was meant to be.  We both needed the nursing, the snuggles, and the proximity to gaze into each other’s eyes so we could get to know each other through unspoken words.  I entered a world of mothering that seemed guided more by science than by instinct.  Weighing diapers, measuring milk, and watching the clock between feedings became the new normal for me.  The machines quietly whirred along, humming the tune of my baby’s growing strength and stability.

As the hours turned into days, Henry was thankfully moved into a Special Care room that provided a place for me to sleep so I could be by his side 24 hours a day.  He was gaining in strength and starting to nurse more effectively, which left more room in my anxious mind for thoughts of the rest of my family.

The visits from my other three children were brief and bittersweet.  My parents took wonderful care of them during the first few nights when both Rob and I stayed at the hospital, but it soon became apparent that my children’s homesickness could only begin to subside by being at home with their Daddy.

So I sent Rob off, certain that I was strong enough to handle the sleepless NICU nights on my own.  I wasn’t quite as prepared for what I would encounter during the first visit from Rob and the kids.

The sudden and prolonged separation hit my 22 month old Hazel especially hard.  When she arrived in my hospital room, clinging to her Daddy, I expected her to want to sit with me, cuddle, nurse, and reconnect.  But instead she looked at me with a sadness and distrust I had never seen in any of my children’s eyes before.  She preferred to stay with Rob rather than come near me.  It struck me in that moment how much our constant and reliable presence solidifies the trusting bond we have with our young children, and how quickly that trust can begin to waver.  That was a difficult moment.  All I wanted to do was go home and return to the way we all used to be, and yet I felt as strongly tethered to Henry’s machines and tubes as he was.  So I had a good cry, and moved forward with more determination than ever to focus on my premie and his health so we could go home as soon as possible.

Eventually, the NICU week did come to an end, and my family joyfully arrived to take Henry and me home.  I was especially hoping that my presence in familiar surroundings would encourage Hazel to surrender her trust to me again.

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Hazel with Henry

Upon arriving home, I reveled in the simple things I had missed so much:  the big blue La Z Boy that could hold a nursing mama and baby plus up to two other children, our king size bed that promised the joys of co-sleeping again, and our kitchen table where we could all sit as a big, happy family that evening.  But as I soaked all of this in, I carefully watched my little girl circling around me as if she couldn’t quite believe that I was really home to stay.  Finally, I sat down in our big blue chair.  Hazel gazed at me intently with her big brown eyes, then suddenly, with a choked, “Mama!”, she ran into my arms and we assumed that old, familiar position that says, “You are mine, and I am yours–completely and forever.”  As she happily nursed and I brushed away my happy tears that threatened to mix with her own on her soft, sweet cheeks, I sighed with relief.  I was finally home!

I often wonder what I would do if tested like the great saints and martyrs were.  Perhaps on a smaller scale, situations like this are God’s way of showing us who we really are and which virtues need strengthening.  We are not called to find the easiest, safest, most convenient way of living.  We are called to seek God’s way.  Those who are called to the vocation of marriage also carry the responsibility of embracing their gift of fertility and all that encompasses.  For some, this calls for heroic measures, whether it be using Natural Family Planning to avoid a high risk pregnancy for an indefinite amount of time, or accepting pregnancies at God’s calling, trusting that His plan is best, whatever the outcome may be.  Others are called to live out the message of God’s love in all of the smaller mundane moments of parenthood while caring for a large family.  Some couples are called to bear the burden of infertility, multiple miscarriages, caring for a special needs child, or losing an older child as part of God’s plan for their lives.

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A healthy Henry (second from right) with Mommy and siblings.

So after the birth experience I had with Henry, would I do it again if God asked me to?  Absolutely.  As I write this, we are awaiting the birth of our fifth child.  While we are hopeful for a smooth labor and delivery of a healthy baby, we are also prepared to embrace whatever situation God chooses to give us.  Although the week in the NICU with Henry was difficult, it also showered me with many blessings.  I realized how fortunate we were to have such a big, strong premie with no serious health concerns.  I now have more compassion for other mothers who go through the same experience, and I feel compelled to send extra prayers out to parents who are separated from their children due to illness or long hospital stays.  But most of all, that week in the NICU gave us Henry.  Joyful, inquisitive, energetic Henry.  Someone who God gave us the privilege of bringing into the world.  Someone who makes every anxious, difficult, unsure NICU moment a faint memory as the person God created him to be shines brighter and brighter with each passing day.

Tips for Establishing an AP Style in the NICU

1. Pray.

God will not fail you.  He will give you the strength and wisdom you need to get through this.  All you have to do is ask.

2.  Be informed and have a birth plan.

Put your plan for labor, delivery, and newborn care in writing and bring plenty of copies with you so you and the medical staff will have a clear goal in mind for the type of relationship you eventually want to have with your baby.

3.  Have a support person present who can be an advocate for you and your baby.

Either a doula or a husband/coach who can communicate your needs when you are unable to is indispensable.  This person should also be well versed in exactly how you want your newborn to be cared for so he/she can communicate these desires to the NICU team immediately following birth.

4.  Be persistent.

Remind the medical staff that you want to hold and nurse your baby as soon as possible.  Speak with a good La Leche League leader or lactation consultant immediately following birth so you can be well informed about how to pump and get your milk supply going.  Insist that baby receive only your milk, even if it’s through a feeding tube for awhile.  Premies often have difficulty nursing at first.  Keep trying.  Insist on sleeping in the same room as your baby if at all possible.  You are your baby’s best advocate.  The persistence will pay off.

5.  Build a relationship of trust with the medical staff.

Be persistent, but speak with respect.  Voice your desires and concerns, but be open minded while listening to their reasons for how they want to care for your baby.  Be willing to compromise at times, and have good information to back up the way you want to see your baby cared for.  I found that by appearing well informed and open minded, the staff seemed more likely to ask my opinion and involve me in their decision making process of how to move forward with Henry’s care.

6.  Let your baby experience you as much as possible with all of his senses.

“Hug” your premie in his warming bed by cupping your hands around his tiny body so he can feel your presence.  Place fabric swatches that have been tucked next to your skin for a few hours next to your baby’s head so he can smell your familiar scent.  Talk and/or sing to him.  Lean in close and look into his eyes when they are open.

Let your baby experience Kangaroo Care once you are allowed to hold him:  Hold baby skin to skin with plenty of warm blankets covering both of you.  This will also encourage him to nurse more frequently.

Participate in as much of your baby’s care as the staff will allow.  Take his temperature, change his diapers, learn how to administer a feeding or medication.  Your baby will thrive on more interaction with you, and the medical staff will have confidence in your ability to care for your premie.

7.  Trust that the bond you’ve already established with your older children will carry those relationships through this time.

Separation from your family is never easy, but a well-established bond gives children something familiar to come back to.  Trust is fragile, but children are very forgiving and resilient, especially when the bond with their parents is deeply rooted in mutual respect, faith in God, and a love that runs deeper than the surprises and uncertainties of life.

My children and I sometimes discuss the events surrounding Henry’s birth.  Although they still agree that it was no fun to have Mommy away for so long, they also unanimously agree that Henry was worth it!  They love their little brother dearly, and they have lived the lesson that God’s plan for life is worth a little sacrifice and hard work.

A Peaceful, Pregnant Pause

“Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater wishes and so on; so that children have very little time for their parents; parents have very little time for each other; and the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”  –Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

The third trimester of pregnancy has always been difficult for me.  Maybe it’s because my small frame feels stretched to its limit while bearing relatively large babies.  Maybe it’s because I feel a bit anxious that my history of early deliveries will repeat itself with less favorable outcomes than I have had in the past.  But the biggest challenge of my third trimester is to live in direct contradiction to my natural inclinations of perfectionism, hard work with little rest and infrequent breaks, and a slight tendency towards over-commitment.  While my previous pregnancies and the nature of big family life have helped me gain a healthy control of these personality traits, I still find myself struggling to rest my weary body when there are dishes to be done, piles of laundry to be folded, and clutter to be picked up.

86529015Realizing that rest is essential to the welfare of my baby and me, I have a choice to make.  I can either sit and stew about the dirty bathrooms, the activities I wish I had the energy to do with my kids, the never ending piles of laundry, and all of the thousand and one other things that I seem to think I should be doing, or I can look at these next two months as an opportunity.  An opportunity to simplify, slow down, and invite the gift of peace into the often accelerating tempo of our family life.

I frequently find myself praying for the gift of greater joy as I go about the sometimes mundane duties of motherhood.  I’ve come to realize that the answer to this prayer will not be in the form of sudden excitement over the prospect of changing yet another dirty diaper, or a happy thrill upon seeing ground-in grass stains on both knees of my son’s new khaki pants.  Perhaps joy is a closer relative to the stillness of a peaceful heart than to the elation of a child on Christmas morning.  For is not the elation over acquiring the things of this world simply a fleeting moment of happiness?

A peaceful heart is filled with space that is waiting to be filled by God and His will.  A peaceful heart remains joyful even in the midst of unhappiness, as there is no greater joy than enduring anything for the love of God.  A peaceful heart has mastered the art of being in this world, but not of it.

How can I help my family be this oasis of peace in a world that praises multitasking, full social calendars, and long hours of work in the pursuit of materialism?  When we keep such tight schedules that there is no room for God, our sense of peace becomes almost non-existent.  A true sense of joy is stifled by the more superficial high of happiness.  We float about on the cloud nine of this world instead of proceeding with the steady footsteps of faith towards the infinite realms of God’s love.

Some questions that our family reflects on and prays about before adding to or changing our schedule of activities are:

1.  Will this activity leave ample time for our spiritual obligations and family time?

It’s of the utmost importance that our family attend weekly mass together, receive the graces of the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month, and have time for daily prayer and scripture study.  We also place a high emphasis on eating dinner together and having regular family fun time in the form of a game night, movie night, or day excursion.

2.   Does this activity help me use the talents God gave me for the good of others?

My husband and I visit this question anytime a new opportunity arises for us, whether it is a paid activity or a stewardship opportunity.  As for our children, we do our best to help them discern whether they truly have a strong interest in an activity.  After trying the new endeavor and following through with their commitment to it, we discuss this question with them again and decide together if it is worth a further investment of their time, or if God has gifted them with a different ability that they should explore.

3.   If this activity provides compensation for my time, is it worth the amount I’m getting paid, or is my time more valuable used in another way?

My husband is faced with this question frequently.  Sometimes he feels called to do something that pays very little, but is clearly a way for God to work through him for the good of others.  Other times, something he is doing simply isn’t worth the money for the amount of time it takes him away from his family.  In each instance, as long as he seeks out God’s will in the situation, we always seem to have enough money for what our family truly needs.

4.   Does this activity help me to be the best mother, father, student, co-worker, Church member, etc. that I can be?

When our family is over scheduled, Mom and Dad are stressed.  When Mom and Dad are stressed, so are the kids.  This usually results in something small, like a spill at lunch time, turning into a comment from my 8 year-old along the lines of “I bet sometimes you wish you didn’t have all of these kids to take care of!”  (Okay–maybe I sighed a little too loudly as I bent down to clean up the mess.)  The language of the body speaks volumes to our children.  Do I speak a language of stress, exhaustion, and burdened, or do I speak a language of loving servitude, peacefulness, and quiet joy?  We need room in our schedules for the flexibility that parenthood requires, for moments of silence with God, and for time to relax as individuals and as a family unit.

There are other questions I am sure I will find myself pondering as I guide my family down the path of the new year, but these will hopefully point us in the direction we should go.

Pope Benedict has declared January 1 World Peace Day 2013 with the theme, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  I hope our family can contribute to a greater sense of peace in the world by reevaluating our priorities, cutting out unnecessary activities, and living a life that is less hectic and more faith filled.  A life that teaches my children that space and silence are invaluable tools for hearing the voice of God.  A life that teaches everyone who we touch that the home can either begin the disruption or the restoration of the peace of the world.  In the words of Thomas A Kempis, it’s up to us to “first keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.”

Losing Control

Sometimes I feel like I’m losing control.

Take today, for example.  In the time span of just a few hours, I heard about some less than enthusiastic support within our parish for the Theology of the Body for Teens class that my husband and I teach, I slipped in a toddler-made puddle of water and all 140 pregnant pounds of me crashed to the floor, my husband won tickets to a college basketball game for the same night we had a much needed date planned, and a cup of milk was spilled all over my lap at lunch time.  While none of these were catastrophic events, they all added up to give rise to a multitude of emotions, many of which held the potential to lead me down a path filled with the snares of sin.

Sometimes we work so hard to lead others to the beauty of the truth of God’s plan, to nurture our relationships, to take good care of ourselves, and to practice virtue through our daily tasks, when we realize that any one of those abilities can be taken from us in the blink of an eye, even if only for a moment.

I was looking forward to getting out with my husband, and I had even just secured a babysitter for our big night out.  I want to just mope a little and feel sorry for myself that I will have to sit at home with the kids for yet another night by myself while my husband is out, fancy free and footloose, enjoying the big game.

But my conscience is telling me something isn’t quite right about that attitude.  If I take the focus off of myself for a moment, I remember that Rob’s plan, if he won the tickets, was to take our eight-year-old, Owen with him for some quality father/son time.  How blessed I am to have a husband who doesn’t want to use the tickets as an excuse to escape from his family with a guy friend for the night, but wants to create a meaningful memory with his first born son!  And then it hits me–I’ve been praying God would grace me with that same virtue of generosity that my husband so readily displays, and I nearly missed a huge opportunity for growth because I was so caught up in feeling sorry for myself!

Here it is:  my big moment.

And so my heart turns from the darkness of anger and resentment and fills with gratefulness for a husband who is such a wonderful father to his children and example of loving generosity for me.

As for those other little mishaps in my morning?  I am inspired to continue to seek new and charitable ways to lead more parents to want their children to learn about the Theology of the Body.  I am also even more convinced of the power and importance of prayer and am ever hopeful in the great power of the Holy Spirit to turn people’s hearts to the Truth.  Conversion happens only through the power of God and not solely in what I say or do.  I am also more aware of what a blessing those are who support our mission to inspire our teens to holiness with the life changing words of Blessed John Paul II.

Baby is still kicking, so aside from a few bruises, I don’t think my fall caused any permanent damage.  It did remind me of how grateful I am for my healthy pregnancy and caused me to marvel at the amazing design of my body and its ability to protect the vulnerable life within.

And the spilled milk?  I’ve heard before that “God is in the details.”  All of those cups of spilled milk remind us that we are ultimately not in control at all.  I wish sometimes that I could force my life to go according to my plan, and that everything would work out the way I have it written in black and white on my calendar.  But it’s in the cups of spilled milk and the unexpected puddles that God reminds us to surrender our frustrations to Him.  It’s through the unavoidable changes of plans and criticism of others that we can be inspired to turn to a rich prayer life filled with confidence that, where we fall short, God and the Holy Spirit will fill in.  If we can’t offer up the little glitches in our daily routines to Him, then how will we be prepared to surrender ourselves completely to Him in the big decisions of life?

So although there are moments when I want nothing more than to “get it together” and have everything go my way, maybe God knows that losing control is exactly what I need.

Wanted Surprises

Many of you are devastated by the outcome of the election.  We’re devastated on so many levels, witnesses to the decline of common sense and common decency in our country.  One moment in particular left me with a headache last night.  I went to bed, feeling a little hopeless.  It was after the results were announced.  The talking heads were sitting on a panel on one show, including Barbara Walters, discussing what went wrong for Romney.  One woman on the panel said something silly like, “Romney is just out of touch with women.  A pro-life woman doesn’t mind voting for a pro-choice candidate” or something of that nature.  But Barbara Walters stole the show with this zinger:  “It’s a shocking fact that 50 percent of births in this country are unwanted births.”  She used the words births, not pregnancies; she used the word unwanted, not unexpected.  She was trying to make a point about the plight of women in our country, that we’re delivering oodles of these babies we don’t want and that we need relief from this burden.

Now, this is obviously ridiculous: We all know, even the most cynical among us, that there’s no way 50 percent of the births in this country are unwanted.  Walters is guilty of either sloppy thinking or deception.  Some women have unexpected pregnancies, but they adjust to the idea quickly and go on to deliver babies who are welcomed, wanted, and cherished.  There’s a big difference between an unexpected pregnancy and an unwanted pregnancy.  There’s an even bigger difference between an unexpected pregnancy and an unwanted birth.  It was important to Walters’ agenda that she used the terminology she did, that she avoid the complexity of emotions a mother experiences when she finds out she’s pregnant, whether the baby was planned or not.  It was important to her agenda that she avoid this complexity because it would mean she has to admit that many, many women surprised by their pregnancies want their babies but are made to feel they have two choices: abortion or a life of desolate, lonely failure.

My question is, why would any new mother, whether it’s 50 percent of them or .5 percent of them, not want her new baby?  What lies or fears are blinding her to the gift she holds in her arms or could hold in her arms?  Women are lied to about the burdens children bring to them.  I’m not saying it isn’t tough to be a parent, especially for single parents.  Parenting is hard work.  But the work pales in comparison to the blessings the vocation brings.  The relationship we have with our child is nothing like anything we’ll ever experience.  Children are mirrors.  We can’t hide behind the masks we present to the rest of the world.  Our children reveal to us the best and worst parts of ourselves.  We discover courage and love we never knew we had; we face dark places of anger and selfishness we want to rid ourselves of.  Children are also windows into the fathomless love God has for us.  We catch a glimpse of God’s unconditional, vast love for his creatures when we became a mama or papa.  Children bring to their parents’ lives a sense of focus and purpose.  Life takes on new clarity and possibility.

The fact is, our culture doesn’t have time for these subtle lessons.  Our culture doesn’t have time for children and what they require of us.  So our culture needs to describe an unexpected baby as unwanted instead of a big, fabulous surprise, like the prizes my mother used to bake in our birthday cakes, like the epiphany I experienced when I realized after two years of friendship that my now-husband had a crush on me.  Unexpected, delicious surprises.  But, no, children cannot be welcome surprises to folks like Barbara Walters.  They speak from a different place, a strange place I’m glad I don’t understand.  People like this are redefining childhood and parenthood and it’s frightening.  Children are not valued because they can’t produce, can’t add to the economy, and detract from their parents’ productivity.  Children are irrelevant in this society that has become so blank, empty, and blind.  Children are too expensive and inconvenient to be cherished.  It’s pitiful.

Barbara Walters and people like her are not evil.  They really believe they are freeing women from systemic oppression, liberating them to live out their potential.  I just want to say that my greatest potential as a woman is revealed in my mothering.  Every woman has a right to know the truth about what she’s missing if she kills her baby.

By the way, my youngest daughter Lydia was a surprise.  Ah, a fantastic, unexpected surprise.  We couldn’t wait to meet her from the moment we found out she’s was coming. She was born on my birthday.  She was no mistake; she was certainly not unwanted.  Here she is, my darling girl:

 

 

When I look at her, I think, thank God for his surprises.

 

Pre-Election Reflection

With the Presidential election day fast approaching, I’ve found myself faced with some interesting questions from my young children.  “Who are you going to vote for?  Why?”  “Who will use our country’s money the way he should to make more jobs?”  And the real stinger that arises from our discussion of the two candidates, “What is abortion?”

This last question stops me in my tracks.  How do you explain abortion to three innocent children who only recently saw twelve week sonogram images of their newest sibling? How do you explain that the same baby they saw kicking, twisting, breathing, and waving is not viewed by all as a precious gift from God?  Our culture has become so hardened against the gift of life that instead of exclaiming, “Awww, he’s so cute!” as my six-year-old son did, some new parents only perceive their unborn child as an inconvenience, a burden, or a “mistake.”

I want a way to sugarcoat this issue or to simply avoid it altogether.  But this simply cannot be done.  I cannot downplay or excuse the horrors of abortion without driving a wedge between myself and the virtues that lead me towards God.  And so I take a deep breath and carefully explain the term as simply as I can, realizing that if they are ready to ask the question, then they are ready to hear the answer.  It is in hearing my answer out loud that my heart starts to break with the knowledge of the unraveling of their innocence–that we live in a world that requires such an explanation to be given to such young children in the course of discussing our wonderful right to vote.

I am also acutely aware of how important our family’s values are and the way they manifest themselves in our lifestyle. As we began forming our family mission statement one evening, I asked everyone to think of ways to describe our family.  My eight-year-old son immediately responded,  “We’re Catholic.”  These two simple words summed up perfectly our emphasis on living out Catholic values in every aspect of our lives.  Our prayer habits, the way we treat others, and the values we strive to instill in our children all point to the fact that we are, indeed, first and foremost, Catholic.

As attached parents, we demonstrate daily that bringing new life into the world to care for is worth the sacrifice, hard work, and self donation required.  Our children see my husband and me sacrifice sleep, material possessions, and fancy vacations so we will have the means to answer God’s call when it is time to welcome their new sibling into the world.  They see the amazing ability my body has to be completely turned over to the nourishment of new life within.  And we all made sacrifices when I spent a week in the NICU with our fourth child.

I realize there are many issues to consider when voting, but I hope my children will grow to realize that the basic right to life from the moment of conception to natural death should be a given, and that any candidate who does not support this creates such a chasm between himself and God’s grace that he will find it incredibly difficult to make wise decisions in regards to anything else that affects the common good of our country.

On election day, our children will know that my husband and I voted, and they will know why we voted for a particular candidate.  In their observance of this, we hope to pass on a tradition richer than being loyal to our country or a particular political party.  We will pass on the tradition of voting Catholic.

A Living Prayer

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi

My patience has been running a little thin lately. I’ve found myself grumbling a little more at my children and heaving my shoulders in big sighs, even as my conscience is telling me to be more gentle, patient, and joyful in my vocation. On the brink of complete frustration in my perceived failings as a mother, I suddenly realize why I am struggling lately.  I’m pregnant!

While pregnancy can be a time of great joy and anticipation, I will admit that it is also sometimes just plain difficult, tiring, and painful.  As a mom who has always practiced extended breastfeeding, I find myself now nurturing two little ones with the outside of my body and one with the inside! Some days I literally feel completely drained by dinner time.

So I have to ask myself, “What is God’s Great Plan in all of this?” I believe I am parenting in the way He has guided me, but why does that seem so difficult at times?

As I look to Mary, our Blessed Mother in heaven, the answer becomes clear.  God has not presented me with pointless trials and difficulties during pregnancy, but with great gifts of opportunity. He gives me the opportunity to emulate — through the very flesh of my own body —  the virtues lived by Mary.  My children find joy and peace when I happily sit down to comfort them at the breast or simply give them a hug. Kindness and goodness are evident when I seal a wound with a bandage and a kiss. Generosity shines forth when I nourish their little bodies with food before sitting down to eat my own, and gentleness triumphs when I teach them proper behavior with a soft word and natural consequence rather than yelling or ineffective punishment.

And love? Motherhood gives us all the evidence we need to confirm that this is, indeed, the greatest of all the virtues. For God has given us mothers the wonderful gift of being able to completely give our bodies over to the nourishment of new life.  This is what it means to be a woman who is called to the vocations of marriage and motherhood. We are not only called to make good choices for our bodies, but to make holy choices that are fully in line with the will of God.  It is only when we embrace our femininity the way that God designed it, and give ourselves over to the love of God and our family, that we will truly know who we are and feel at peace that we are on the path to heaven.

Mary was so perfect that she was assumed both body and soul into heaven.  I am grateful that, as an attached mother, I too have the opportunity to strive toward her complete holiness.  I have the opportunity every day to live life as a prayer through the actions of my body. This is the Theology of the Body: our bodies are a reflection of the interior of our souls.  I am honored that God has given me this unique ability to give myself to Him in such a way.

And the extra fatigue, aching back, incredible weight gain, and days when I feel I have been constantly poked and prodded by little hands and feet both inside and out?  I’ll gratefully accept those, too, as an opportunity to overlook discomfort in favor of growing in the virtues I’ll need to carry my family to heaven.