Family Life, motherhood, Parenting

The secret whatever of motherhood

May 9, 2018

First, the good. This has little to do with her birth order and more to do with her temperament, I suspect, but Zelie is an angelic baby. I know this because I have had 4 other babies of varying levels of good behavior (number 2 in particular being a real doozie) and this newest human is an exceptionally calm and delightful varietal.

I love all my kids, but boy do I like this one a lot. She sleeps great, smiles often, and functions as a baby ambassador of goodwill wherever she goes.

If I had given birth to my number 2 child in the number 5 position, I think I’d be sending out a different sort of report right now. But as it stands, delightful Zelie has actually made life more pleasant and in many ways, easier.

Isn’t that strange? That having 5 kids could be easier than having 4? Economy of grace, y’all. His ways are not our ways. All I know is that when Luke (also a very good baby by all accounts) was the age that Z is now, I was one perpetually breastfeeding stressed out and sleep deprived mama. Zelie drinks bottles, sleeps through the night (lowers voice) for going on 6 days now, and lights up with a 1000 kilowatt smile if anyone so much as glances in her direction.

Because I don’t have post-partum depression this time around (thank you Jesus) and because I’m not nursing her at this point (worrisome weight gain on her part and a thyroid issue on mine which inhibits milk production…BUT WHY AM I JUSTIFYING MYSELF TO THE INTERNET? Oh yes, because breastfeeding is often mistaken for a moral issue by the court of public opinion) I’m feeling emotionally stellar. Waking up happy and glad to see the baby. Getting some quality time in at the gym – the pool, specifically – and having almost none of that “I’ve lost myself in motherhood” ennui that so often marks this fragile period after welcoming new life. I don’t feel like I’ve lost myself at all, in fact. I feel like I’ve found myself, if anything. That I’ve finally nailed down some best practices for how I mother and not how the internet/my mom/a book/etc tells me I should mother (note: my actual mom is very supportive and non-judgemental about my mothering. #blessed).

What works is having baby in a separate room at night – until recently, in a bassinet thing on the floor of our walk in closet – and not sleeping thisclose to my head. What works for me is lots of physical affection and following baby’s sleep cues and offering food every 2 hours or whenever she is acting hungry, and not following any kind of a feeding schedule whatsoever (27 year old first time mom Jenny is open-mouthed in horror at the thought) and letting baby nap wherever/whenever she wants to. In a plane, on a train, in the car, at a…bar? Sure. Whatever gets the job done and gets those zzzz’s logged.

Case in point: she is currently napping placidly in the rock n’ play whilst Luke and Evie engage in a knock down drag out screaming match one room over. True to fifth-born form, she seems to prefer ambient noise (lol that’s what we’ll call it) during her daytime naps.

What works is accepting help when I need it, declining invitations when we can’t make it, and not feeling guilty about things like sometimes missing fun parties or about keeping everyone out way too late because we had a fun night with friends and everybody ran around like a fool eating gluten-full hot dog buns and drinking gatorade until 10 pm.


If I had to sum up my secret for being a mom to many it would probably be just that: whatever.

Whatever works for the actual family, skill set, and personality God gave you. And not only whatever works, but in whatever you do. Laundry, carpool, nursing a sick little one, serving dinner to a cranky elementary schooler, having a hard conversation with a young adult. Every level of motherhood is saturated with opportunities to glorify God in the “whatever” while also doing whatever works for your family.

For me, more food comes out of packages and boxes than it might at your house. I frequently leave the house for an hour or more in the evenings to work out or pray or sit in the car in the grocery store parking lot and stare out the window contemplating the darkness of night. I read too late into the evening and drink a little too much coffee most mornings, but I also have been training myself to stop-drop-and-roll into a horizontal position should all 3 homebound kids chance to sync up their nap times in the afternoon.

I try to keep my eyes on my own page and remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy. That while Satan probably can’t tempt me to abandon my family and run away to Mexico to a margarita farm he can easily nudge me into thinking that mom over there is doing a much better job with her kids/house/spiritual life/body/career and I should probably just give up because I’m failing at all of it.

I’m learning to lean into the harder moments and not escape into a glass of wine or a perma scroll when the going gets tough. I don’t want to numb out the hard stuff, but let that hard stuff build up my muscles for the harder stuff to come. I know big kids will equal bigger problems, and if I can’t referee toddler death matches over the backyard hose I will find myself ill prepared to have all the sex talks and car safety lectures and that await me just around the riverbend.

I’m trying to do more sitting down on the floor and tickling. Kissing my already resistant 7-year-old’s cheeks while he still permits me to. Saying “why not” when they want fudgesicles and rolled up lunch meat as a meal and pushing through praying a family decade of the rosary even when someone is screaming and someone else is curled up in a ball of self pity because the 6 minutes we’re asking of them is too much to handle.

I used to think that this was just survival mode and that things were going to calm down at some unidentified point down the road but then one morning this year I looked in the mirror (figuratively but also literally) and saw a 35-year-old mom with 5 kids who is really, really tired but also fairly happy most of the time, and figured I’d better get about the business of enjoying life in the here and now.

So we go to Mass as a family on Sundays even when it’s rough, we have margaritas on the patio on a Tuesday night because we can’t find a babysitter, and we stay up just a little too late reading most nights because introverts recharge alone together, and we’re going to be pretty tired come 6 am either way.

This embrace of reality has yielded some surprising results. First, that I am actually happy even at my presently overweight size. I know I’ll lose the baby weight and I’m working hard in the pool and at the grocery store to do so, but I also know I’m going to look at pictures of myself from this season someday when I’m older and my nest is empty and think to myself “daaaaaaang, you looked good, girl. No wrinkles. Cute babies everywhere. Shiny thick hair.”

I’ve also discovered that I need about 30% less sleep to survive than I’d ever believed possible. This one is a shocker, and some days I’m convinced God is bending the laws of physics to give me more rest in fewer hours as long as I remember to ask Him for it. So 5 hours can feel like 9? Yeah, sometimes. And that’s wild. Especially for a girl who used to start to cry herself when she was awakened by a crying baby. (Yes, I would actually start crying if I was awakened too many times by a newborn baby. And I have had 5 of them. If that’s not proof that God equips the called rather than calling the equipped, I don’t know what is.)

I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy the next phase of motherhood because it’s already so much more fun than the early years. I didn’t love my first babies any less, but I definitely didn’t enjoy them the way I’m doing now. I worried and measured and researched and counted ounces and minutes and diapers and just generally felt like I was perpetually way out of my depth.

And now? I know I’m way out of my depth, so I can stop worrying so much. Worrying does nothing besides ramp up my baseline anxiety, and honest Abe I don’t need any help in that department. I know I’m messing up my kids. I’m sure I’ve made some choices that may haunt them one day. And (this is the worst part) it’s probably not even the things I’m consciously worrying about. So I beg the Lord’s mercy over my mothering choices and I pray His words over them as I send them out into the world (or the backyard) each day, and I ask for forgiveness over and over again when I fail.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Col. 3:17

coffee clicks, current events

Coffee Clicks: Star Wars Day

May 4, 2018

Howdy readers, happy weekend eve!  First, I’m so excited by the flood of NFP stories that have been hitting my inbox. Seems like the series is going to be a huge success. If you’ve already sent me something, thank you! If you haven’t and you’d like to, go right ahead, but know that I have a pretty hefty stack to share in the coming weeks so I can’t guarantee that they’ll all be included in their entirety. I have been so humbled and inspired by the courage and the sacrifice and the goodness of so many of the couples who have reached out to share their testimony. There are seemingly ordinary people living extraordinary lives all around you.

Also, for my Instagram followers, a heartfelt thanks for your prayers for my dad. His surgery yesterday was a success, so now we wait and pray for a clean pathology report. We are asking Julia Greeley to intercede that he be cancer free and have a miraculously easy and complete recovery.

Our editor did a sobering interview about the grim implications of little Alfie Evans’ death. Eternal rest unto him, the little martyr, O Lord.

I grew up Catholic and straggled away for a while during college, but I was always on board with the Church’s teachings on contraception. (Even as a full-on heathen in college.) But it wasn’t until listening to Dr. Smith’s famed “Contraception, Why Not?” presentation and then reading her impressive volume “Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later” that I really understood that teaching on an intellectual level. She is eminently clear and approachable to read even with her high level of scholarship, and I think every single human person should be forced to listen to Contraception YN at least once in their lifetime. (fun fact, there is a “secular” version of the recording available where she makes the case from a strictly natural law perspective, no religion necessary.

Another gem from that lion of Catholicism, Archbishop Chaput. Fun fact about the good bishop: he has something of a photographic memory for human beings. So if he has met you once or twice and then seen you not at all for years on end, he will probably look you in the eye, call you by your (correct) first name, and ask you how your kids/job/parents are doing. He’s astonishing.

This mom is a superhero for her daughter and put together a really practical and compassionate how-to for talking with little kids (read: big mouthed hams) about classmates who look/act/sound different than the “average” kid. I really appreciate this as a primer for helping my own crew (especially Evie, ahem) navigate those moments in the checkout line in a more constructive and loving way then pointing and yelling WHY IS THAT MAN REALLY REALLY FAT, MOM? WHY? (I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe his metabolism works about as well as mine does. Now please let me crawl into a hole and disappear.) An interesting aside: my kids have only rarely pointed or stared at someone in a wheelchair or with an obvious disability. They’ve never said anything about our favorite checker, Kami, at King Soopers, who has Down Syndrome. They don’t bat an eye when we drive through downtown Littleton and see a bunch of students with canes crossing the street across from the Colorado College for the Blind. But if you are overweight or happen to be in possession of a pair of  long ponytails as a grown man? Look out. My 4-year-old is about to publicly humiliate her mother again.

Check out this hilarious, interactive, and exhaustive multimedia coverage of the imminent Royal Wedding and any religious or political differences aside, someone is getting married in a princess dress this weekend and I AM HERE FOR IT. (Not responsible for any questionable content you might stumble upon whilst reading the New York Times.)

Any big cinco de mayo plans? We’ll be having margaritas and celebrating a Lord’s Day dinner with a group of neighborhood families and hopefully putting all 30-something collective children into the backyard, weather permitting, because it snowed yesterday. Snow, I tell you. Only briefly and it didn’t stick but I tell ya what, I am well and truly done with laundry and am ready for swimsuits ‘n activewear season where my kids can run wild and free and go through only 1-2 articles of clothing a day. Which is a significant downtick from the 15 items they are currently soiling per day.

Have a wonderful weekend! And, even  more importantly: May the 4th be with you.

Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Family Life, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, Sex, Theology of the Body

Living Humanae Vitae: stories of faithfulness to the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage

May 1, 2018

How many times can she write about NFP?

I can write about it as many times as it takes in order for me to internalize the seemingly simple concepts undergirding this most perennially misunderstood of Catholic teachings: openness to life.

I’ve spilled plenty of digital ink on the splendors of HV in the past, and I don’t retract a single character of any of it, but boy, living it out day-to-day is a little different than studying it in abstraction.

I just finished reading a trilogy of stories set in ancient Rome, around 70 years AD, and the grit and virtue and boldness of the early Christians whose lives it chronicled astonishes me. Not only because of the certain death in the arena at the jaws of wild beasts which they faced if their clandestine faith was exposed, but because they were truly – at least in the fictional narrative I read- in constant conversation with one another and with God about His will.

It reminded me a little bit (and only a little bit) of practicing NFP. The willingness to look foolish, to feel foolish, and to be subject to some degree of rejection – varying from bemused to downright nasty – by the culture at large. This comparison both consoles and shames me, because on the one hand I probably don’t need to worry overly much about imprisonment and martyrdom in 21st century America (not at this precise moment, at least) and on the other hand, how embarrassing that the relatively benign cross I’ve been asked to shoulder feels so crushing upon my feeble shoulders.

Because for all the beauty and truth and goodness I perceive in the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage, living it out is often none of the above. I don’t want to spend the next 12 to 14 months “getting my body back” only to balloon to an unspeakable number on the scale again with another pregnancy. I don’t want to practice copious amounts of abstinence within marriage, feeling more like a roommate than a spouse while I learn the ropes of (yet) another method of NFP. I don’t want to peer anxiously into the mists of my 40’s and wonder if I’m going to be one of those lucky women who keep ovulating well into their 5th decade, thereby prolonging the suspense and surprise of another baby in the very twilight of my fertile years.

I don’t have the faith of Sarah and Abraham. I don’t have the confident humility of Mary. I lack Elizabeth’s joyful surrender. I spend a lot of time worrying about all of this, to be perfectly honest, and for the first time in my life, I can wholeheartedly empathize with the temptation of contraception.


(It’s a big but.)

God knows my heart better. God knows our needs better than we do. And God asks so relatively little of us modern Christians in the developed world. My children have food and medicine and beds to sleep in. There is no conflict in our region that daily imperils their lives. We have medical care to bring them all, almost certainly, to adulthood, a reality unthinkable only a few generations past. We are richly, richly blessed. My life is not without its challenges, but should I come face to face with a Christian mother from the ancient world, I don’t think she would recognize my suffering as such. Maybe she would look around at the vast temptation all our technology affords us to ignore God – to become like gods in a real sense – and she would nod her head in understanding at the real difficulties this presents in raising a faithful family. But I think she would probably also look at our overflowing closets and dishwasher and running water and marvel at the sheer wealth and provision we tend to take for granted.

And I wonder if she would look at me with my access to a clean, safe hospital (and epidurals!) and good maternal healthcare and a supportive, faithful husband and no known health issues and steady employment and wonder why I was so afraid of bringing new life into the world.

I wonder that, too.

Is it because I’ve been conditioned to not overdo things in the gestational department by a culture that hammers us over the head with the message that two is plenty? Is it because I have unrealistic beauty standards for myself based largely upon the availability and use of contraception? Is it because we have little to no daily support outside our extended family (which alone is an enormous advantage) as we parent these children of ours, the village having since passed into the realm of history and metaphor?

All I know is that we had 5 babies in 7 years, and I’m tired. I want my body back. I want to sleep through the night again. I want to eagerly count down the months until all 5 kids are in school full time and my professional life can ramp up again during those 35 available hours a week.

Basically, I want motherhood and child rearing to have been a fleeting season that flies by (as I am repeatedly told by strangers at Target) and is gone in the wistful blink of an eye, but I also want to reject the cultural narrative that my children are somehow holding me back and that my fertility is something to be tightly managed, suppressed, and ultimately discarded.

I want it both ways.

I want to live in harmony with the culture of which I am a part while also raising children who transcend the culture to seek the Lord’s will over their own. I want to be confident in our choice to live faithfully the Church’s call to marital chastity and fruitfulness and also look great in jeans and effortlessly drop the pounds that pregnancy hangs on my diminutive frame. I want to fill my home with happy children and also be handed the keys to a Nissan NV with a wink and a smile from a God who, as it turns out, subscribes to the health and wealth gospel Himself, despite what the actual Gospels say, and will surely reward my faithfulness with material abundance and children who sleep through the night from birth.

I want a lot of contradictory things.

And my greatest discomfort lies in that friction between what I claim to want as a subject of Christ and what I pant enviously after as a citizen of the world.

I have some stories to share with you from friends and fellow Christians in the coming weeks as we approach the 50th anniversary of Bl. Paul VI’s prophetic text, Humanae Vitae, in July. They are stories of suffering and heartache. Stories of loss and betrayal. Stories of hope, of fidelity, and of a peace that surpasses understanding. They are the stories of ordinary men and women who are using NFP and struggling, failing, confessing, and getting back up again to keep at it because the struggle is worth it. Because the Church asks us to do this thing in Her wisdom, not in Her sadism. Because either we trust in the Apostolic authority handed down from Peter or we are each our own little magisterium and, as such, are tasked with an exhaustive and impossible list of things to discern for ourselves using the quivering compass of our own consciences.

The Church asks us to do much harder things than what Humanae Vitae contains. We worship the Creator of the Universe contained in a scrap of bread. We proclaim the Resurrection of the dead and immortality. We turn our cheek to let an enemy get a better angle for the second punch. And yes, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice even in the bedroom, which is the very last place our culture encourages us to exercise any sort of restraint or charity.

It’s a wild ride. It’s an impossible mandate without Jesus. And it is going to the stuff that 21st century saints are made of, I’m firmly convinced.

I think after reading some of the stories I’ll be sharing over the next 2 months, you’ll think so, too. We hear plenty of stories of people who find the demands of Christ impossibly high and, like the rich young man in the Gospel, walk away.

But sticking with it when the going gets tough? Relying on the unfathomable depths of Jesus’ mercy when we inevitably stumble and fall?

Now those are some stories worth telling. 


Culture of Death, motherhood, Parenting, Pornography, Sex, technology

Pornography, technology, and being the parent who says “no”

April 25, 2018

We had some sweet little friends over recently during a rare spring-like burst of warm weather and had the snacks flowing and the sprinkler turning in the backyard, and I had a very “I have become my mother” sort of interaction with one of my son’s buddies.

He had his “phone” with him – an old iPod or a very original iPhone, I’m not qualified to confirm which (though it looked more like a phone to me) and was asking for our wifi password to connect to the internet to play music videos off of Youtube.

“Sorry buddy, we don’t do screens without parents in our house.”

“But it’s just music, Miss Jenny (I don’t ask them to call me this, but it’s fairly adorable/extremely aging that they do).”

“Yeah bud, I trust you, but I don’t trust the internet. Here, I’ll pull up a Pandora station on my computer.”

He continued to fiddle with his device for a few more minutes until I had to gently lay down the law: “bud, you’ve got to turn that off and put it in your pocket, or else you need to take it home.”

Thankfully my kids are not old enough to be mortified by me yet, but I imagine at some point they will feel exactly the way I did when my mom poked her head into the family room and caught my girlfriends and me watching a “Sex in the City” VHS (Lolol) tape that we’d rented from Blockbuster for a sleepover one Saturday night.

“Girls, you’re better than this. This is garbage. You can’t watch this in our house.”

I eye-rolled her haaaaard (and also rebelled like a hellion in college), but my mom was right. And she wasn’t afraid of me – or of my friends – thinking that she wasn’t cool. She didn’t have any ego in her parenting as far as morality was concerned. If it was wrong, she let us know, and while there is room for improvement in everyone’s parenting decisions, this was one area that mine got pretty right.

The funny thing is, even though my parents were known to be less permissive than some of my friends’ parents, if only because they were more likely to be home and therefore less likely to let us host raging parties during their weekends away – my friends flocked to my house after school and on weekends, many of them specifically seeking out the counsel and friendship of my mom. Even though (maybe specifically because?) she often told us “no.”

Fast forward 20 years and I know that we are in the minority in our parenting choices where media and technology are concerned. Our kids don’t have iPads, they don’t have internet access without us peering over their shoulders, we don’t have cable, and we (try to) vet anything they watch on Netflix before they see it. Are we being overprotective? Hell yes we are. Will they someday have unbridled access to everything the www has to offer and go hog wild, glutting themselves on the raunchiest content available? Yes… and hopefully, no.

We’re trying to train them to make good choices in that realm, just like we’re coaching and micromanaging the things they eat, the time they spend on their homework, and the physical activity they get each day. I’m not planning to follow my 18 year old around checking his cell phone any more than I’ll be trying to sneak bites of broccoli into his pasta sauce at that point: the hope is that the training and coaching will have paid off by that point and he will be captain of his own ship. But between now and then, it is our job to teach, guide, coach, protect, and, frankly, look like a jerk in front of his buddies who have their own tablets.

He may never thank me for it, or he may look back in his early 30’s and be glad we tried our best. Either way, it is not my job to be his best friend. It is my job to help him become the best version of himself. And in 2018? That means being super, super cautious where the internet is concerned.

It isn’t a matter of if my kids will eventually see porn, it’s a matter of when. And it isn’t a matter of whether they see the darkest and most degrading, chauvinistic violence committed onscreen, but at what age they first encounter it. I’d just as soon they be twelve than seven, since by that point we will have had several dozen conversations about dignity, sexuality, abuse, consent, and addiction.

It’s not enough to say “well, it’s out there, we have to assume our kids are going to find it,” throwing our hands up in surrender. It *is* out there, and yes, our kids are going to find it. And it is up to us as parents to arm them with the training in virtue and common sense to do with it what they ought: identify it correctly as dehumanizing garbage and reject it as such.

Will they falter and fail? Almost certainly. Will they pick themselves back up again after they stumble, and have the courage to start fresh? That part is up to the grace of God and the best efforts of the adults in their lives to form them, pray for them, and model lives of repentance and virtue.

Our culture eats purity. It feasts on vice and mocks virtue, and signals to parents that any wild oats our kids may sow are simply inevitable stages in modern life. We are told our kids will – and, in fact, should – question the gender we “assigned” to them at birth. That pornography is healthy and normal. That sexual activity among preteens and even younger is only natural, and is best managed with a box of condoms, a scrip for hormonal birth control, and a well-supervised setting where they can experiment “safely.”

This is asinine and more – it is diabolical. We throw our children to the wolves and then we cry out in horror when they themselves become the wolves. We have to be the grown ups, and not to get too Daniel Tiger up in here, but groo-oohn-ups pro-tect.

And say no. And generally do things that make them super unpopular with kids, like withholding matches and credit cards and car keys and, yes, even technology, until and unless the child proves himself capable.

I’m already sweating over the inevitable “how to recognize pornography” talk with my seven-year-old, and came darn close to it last month when his kindergarten brother came home wide-eyed from a trip to the modern art museum and regaled the back seat with tales of “naked people” paintings. We had a decent conversation about the beauty of the human body and how there is a difference between “art” and “bad pictures” like someone might take with their phone and…we stopped there. On the one hand, I’m grateful for the anecdotal point of reference to be able to return to as the conversation continues over the years. On the other hand, I’m going to have 3 teenage boys in my house in less than a decade and come Lord Jesus, come.

What are your best practices for modeling – and expecting – good behavior with technology in your home? Are you already getting the eye rolls from your kids? Do you have good, open communication with their friends and have clear expectations for what flies in your house?

coffee clicks

Coffee clicks: April 20

April 20, 2018

Long time no curate, faithful readers. I hope everyone is headed into a spectacular weekend of still-Easter proportions. We have a “birthday party” planned for our freshly-minted 6-year-old (read: a trip to the indoor trampoline park with his brother and two cousins which might as well be Disneyland in his mind) and then a party for my mama on Sunday. I also have big plans to, um, go to sleep before 11pm tonight.

We’ve been working on our budget big time this month, and so I’m writing this from my one and only trip to a coffee shop in all of April. That might seem impressive to you or it might seem sad, depending on how good you are at self denial. Me? I’m a pretty miserable nickel and dimer and known for rewarding my own “good behavior” by frittering away $4 here and there on designer coffee, so having gone 20 whole days without succumbing to the siren call of the green mermaid feels pretty great. It’s also immensely satisfying to see so little activity on our checking account when I log into our online banking system. I’m also really, really enjoying this decaf mocha that I did not prepare for myself, because a treat is much nicer than a boring old routine entitlement. (Even nicer? Being out of debt a little sooner because I’m not being an idiot and spending $$$ on flavored milk and mediocre coffee.)


A really gorgeous reflection by Msgr. Charles Pope on why God keeps the Church so close to the cross. This section in particular really moved me:

“At the foot of the cross we must suffer with the Lord for the sake of the Church. Now is a time to multiply our prayers by being more faithful to the Rosary and adding the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The Lord may be calling us to fasting and abstinence beyond the mere requirements of Lent. Perhaps He is calling us to Eucharistic adoration, increased visits to our church, or attendance at daily Mass. In addition, we must attend to our own sins more seriously. Perhaps there is one sin or sinful attitude that we can curb by God’s grace.”


Another case of horrifying government overreach in the UK, and another sweet baby boy being sped along on his way to the grave because the adults in charge (not, oddly enough, his parents) insist they know what is best for him. Alfie’s father made a desperate plea to Pope Francis on Wednesday of this past week, begging the Holy Father to intervene and asking permission that his baby boy be transferred to Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome where he could perhaps undergo experimental treatment not offered in Britain:

After the Supreme Court decision, Alfie’s parents issued a statement saying: “Our son’s life is not futile. We love him. We value him. There are people willing to treat him and we have the state saying ‘it’s not worth giving him the chance.”‘


A thoughtful piece on social media – Facebook in particular – in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, inviting us as to do some soul searching about the nature of online sharing and the concept of privacy, both our own and our neighbors’.


The connection between Satan and … porn? You’ll definitely want to read this.


“The sign of the cross is our badge.” I appreciated the Pope’s encouragement to “teach your children” to unabashedly cross themselves before prayer. We’ve been working on our little savages at mealtimes to slow down and actually physically make the sign of the cross before launching into the world’s fastest and least sincere rendition of blessusolordandthesethygifts on record, but it’s a work in progress, especially for Luke who is generally 2 fists deep into his pasta before we get to “Amen.” But it’s important. So, we’ll keep trying.


Wishing you a beautiful weekend of warm weather and springlike festivities. Over here we’ve got a mixed rain and snow vibe headed our way so I’m trying to summon some kind of warm feelings for this November-esque weather on the cusp of May. If only pumpkin spice anything were still readily available to keep the flame alive.

Catholic Spirituality, large family, Marriage, motherhood, pregnancy, self care, Theology of the Body

“His body, your body”

April 17, 2018

About a month ago I was talking with a priest friend on the phone, sharing some difficulties about this present season of life with a whole lotta babies and a really wrecked body. Wrecked not only in the sense of “I don’t like the way I look” (though, sure, there is that) but in the sense of “everything hurts when I walk down the stairs, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to run comfortably across a parking lot again, let alone a mile.”

Getting old is hell. But it sure beats the alternative! And I’m not really that old yet, at 35. I remind myself of this when I see a haggard specter of my former self peering back at me in the mirror pre coffee most mornings, startling at the stranger with the same colored eyes. It’s more the mileage, not the manufacturing date, at least in my case.

One baby was hard work. Two babies was nuts! (Hardest transition by far, from one to two. If you can push past that point you’ll be golden; you’re never in the position of doubling your workload again. Unless, I guess, twins?) Three was like, nbd we got this down. Four gave me a little pause for the first couple months. And five? Wrecked. Beleaguered. Losing my keys in the car door, putting my phone in the fridge, and still carrying around a good 40 extra pounds at almost 4 months postpartum.

Worth it, though. Worth it, worth it, worth it.

And yet still really, really hard.

It’s hard to lose yourself for the sake someone(s) you love, no matter what that looks like for you. For some people it will take the form of caring for a sick or dying parent or spouse. For others it could be a more literal application, like sharing a kidney or physically shielding someone from a deadly blow. For parents it often looks like death by a thousand night wakings. A slow trickle of self denial and stress that can carve away at solid rock as surely – albeit more slowly – as a raging river.

I was telling my friend, Fr. J, that the most difficult time for me by far in terms of how I’m feeling about myself is the 30 minutes before Sunday Mass once I’ve gotten the kids dressed (with lots of help from Dave) and I’m frantically trying on option after too-tight option, the discard pile rising on my closet floor along with my blood pressure. One Sunday, probably 7 weeks or so after little Z was born, this phenomenon came to a vicious head as I stared bleakly into the bathroom mirror, rejected outfit combos strewn about my feet.

I hate you. I seethed silently at my reflection. And then I jumped, physically startled by the vitriol of my self talk. Out loud I had the wherewithal (grace is real, y’all) to say out loud, “Jesus, that wasn’t from you. Help me. Show me how you see me.” and immediately the image of His battered body hanging on the cross sprang to mind.

This is how I see your body, dear one. A sacrifice of love.

I was floored. And, I wish I could add, also completely and irrevocably healed of my subpar self image. But … work in progress.

But it sure did help to reframe things that morning.

I shared this little experience with Fr. and he was quiet for a moment. A longish moment, actually, during which time I suspected – correctly – that he was praying. When he did speak again, it was to share the following beautiful image with me.

“Jesus is showing me His body in the Eucharist, and then pointing to your body. He seems to be saying ‘His body, your body…they are connected. You cannot worship the one while despising the other.”‘

I have never heard that particular connection made between our bodies and His, no matter how much lip service I’ve given to the notion of being a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” I guess I’d always mentally categorized that one into the “do not defile with sin” category, neglecting to acknowledge that it’s not enough to just refrain from defiling the temple…one must also approach the temple itself with a rightly ordered sense of awe and reverence.

I don’t know about you, but I typically do not revere my body in any way, shape, or form; from the negative self talk I engage in to the poor food choices I make to the self deprecating humor I frequently employ to mask the shame of feeling not enough.

I was quiet as I mulled over Fr.’s image, recognizing for the first time that it must not only be displeasing to Jesus to hear my negative self talk, but it actually hurts Him.

Before we hung up, Fr. encouraged me to make it to Mass to receive Holy Communion as frequently as I could manage, kids and all. “The Lord has specific graces He wants to pour out for your healing and wholeness each time you receive the Eucharist. Go as often as you can.”

Guess how many times I’ve made it to daily Mass since that conversation?

Yeah, zero.

Sure, I have a super little baby still and a double shot of preschoolers at home, but helloooooo priorities. Clearly I have work to do in that area.

However, on the Sundays between now and then, I have meditated on Fr.’s words before and after Communion, asking the Lord to really double down on those healing graces in between swipes to keep a toddler off the baby’s carseat and pulling someone’s dress down over her underwear. Again.

I can’t say whether it’s “working” yet in the sense that I’m feeling like high-fiving myself when I look in the mirror now, but it is foremost in my mind now to at least try – for Jesus’ sake – to see myself and the sacrifices of motherhood through new eyes.

I think this is probably a lesson I’m going to be learning for the rest of my life, and while I’m not going to stop begging Him to remove the thorn, neither will I refuse any help He wants to offer in tending the wound.

It’s funny, because it was the obvious beauty and truth of this very concept that so attracted me to JPII’s Theology of the Body – that our bodies are good and holy and that they speak to us of God’s heart, of His plan for our eternal union with Him. And then I entered into my vocation and began the purgative process of actually living out the Theology of the Body and whoa, nelly, is it a little tougher to believe that a fluffy, saggy mom bod speaks a language of truth, goodness, and beauty nearly as well as the body of a single young twenty-something does.

His body, your body. Unbelievably difficult to accept. But if it’s true, it changes everything. Calls to mind this quote from St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”


About Me, budgeting, self care, social media

Habits, virtue, and making it easy to be good

April 11, 2018

I almost worked “self discipline” into this title, but to be perfectly frank, habit is getting me much further than self discipline during this particular season of life.

I’m at the point in fluffy not-quite-middle-age where if something is going to happen that is good for me, be it spiritual or physical in nature, I nearly always have to trick myself into doing it.

I could fib and say this is only because my domestic obligations are at an all-time high or that I’m suffering from that familiar fourth-trimester sleep deprivation, but the more accurate explanation is that I’m lazy.

How can a mom with five kids and a job be lazy? Oh, it’s pretty easy, actually. It looks like sending my older kids to fetch diapers while I sit plopped on the couch scrolling through my phone. It looks like falling asleep in bed while reading because I am “too tired” to pray. It looks like making a bad food choice at lunch and then mentally shrugging at 4 p.m. when confronted with leftover chocolate chip granola bars from the carnage of after school snack time and telling myself “I’ll start over with good food choices tomorrow” before popping the detritus in my mouth.

Since I lack sorely in self discipline and rightly-ordered passions, I’ve noticed that if I make the good things I’m trying to accomplish sort of idiot-proof, I’ve a much higher incidence of success.

So, for example, during Lent I got into the habit of putting a cute decorative tote basket in front of my place at the dining room table each night which contained my prayer materials: Bible, copy of the catechism, Blessed is She planner, and the Take Up and Read Lenten journal. Because it was there in my face as soon as I came downstairs to sit with my coffee, I dug in and had a little prayer time most mornings, however sparse it might end up being per my darlings’ demands. On the mornings when I’d forgotten to move the basket from it’s daytime perch in the bay window? Nada. I would sit 5 feet away sipping my morning cappuccino and stare at that sucker and prayer time would.not.happen.

Another example. I’m dehydrated more often than not from a strict regimen of breastfeeding, coffee guzzling, kid wrangling, and a strange aversion to filling simple glasses of water to drink from. Some days I would get to dinner time with a pounding headache and realize that I had maybe – maybe – consumed 12 ounces of water all day in the form of a single can of LaCroix. As POTUS would tweet, SAD! Very Disappointing!

I picked up a $4 glass water bottle with a sippy top at Marshall’s last month and started carrying it around the house with me and, what do you know, I’m drinking close to 100 ounces of H2O these days. Sad, right? But also really effective.

I’ve started to do the same thing with exercise. Feeling a little burnt out on my walking routine without Starbucks dangling at the end of the route like a luxurious carrot (more on that later) I was finding my strolls around the neighborhood a little less enticing. I did the math on what I was saving in burnt cups of coffee in a month and reckoned that I could probably afford a basic gym membership to the club down the street if I were completely coffee-shop abstinent. (My entire “fun” category every month is spent on takeout coffee. Speaking of sad…)

So I dug out an old black speedo from a few summers back, tossed a swim cap and a pair of goggles into my purse, and took the plunge, literally. I logged close to 200 laps last week, all because I’ve arranged the necessary materials and started forcing myself to leave the house precisely at 7 p.m. on the nights when it works for our schedule, promising Dave and myself to be back in 60 minutes. It gives me enough time to get the babies to bed and leaves him with some quality time with the older set at the end of the day.

Habit builds on habit. And I’d venture further, saying that virtue builds on habit. When I’m already being good, it’s easier to continue being good.

When I have that big glass of wine on a school night (biiiiig mistake at age 35) I know that the next morning it’s going to be harder to get up to pray. And that if I don’t get up to pray, I’ll probably yell at my kids at some point during the day. And that we’ll be so burnt out on each other’s company from all that yelling that by 4 p.m. that I’ll succumb to the Netflix sirens and surrender my laptop while I cook dinner, feeling hassled and defeated.

I remember hearing Fr. Michael Scanlan, the spiritual powerhouse behind the revitalization of Franciscan University, tell parents during an orientation video that Steubenville was intended to be a place where it was “easy to be good.” By that he meant not that we would be so constrained by rules and regulations that we would have no choice but to behave, but that there would be so many options for choosing the good – and so much positive peer pressure to do so – that it would become a real hotbed of virtue and excellence simply because the true, good, and beautiful was readily available. 24 hour adoration? Check. Three or four daily Mass options a day? Check. Intramural and community building activities through Households and dozens of ministry opportunities? Check.

So yeah, you could show up there a hardened party girl and stay that way, no problem, (Lee’s Place or Jaggin’ Around, anyone?) but you could also throw yourself headlong into the transformative atmosphere of excellence that permeated the campus, and ease into a routine of virtue that was considerably less challenging than the previous four years I’d spent stumbling drunkenly through the more typical college experience at a major public school.

So I’m trying to create a vice-proof, virtue and habit supportive environment in my own home where I am the boss, after all, making it more foolproof for me to misbehave, and less likely to fall headlong into a bag of Doritos* and a late-night Instagram binge session. (Note: Doritos are on the ever-expanding list of things I’ve come to realize that I just can’t have in the house.)

A couple other hacks I’m employing as training wheels right now as we transition from newborn survival mode to new normal:

  • No alcohol on weeknights (unless it’s a major feast day or a date night)
  • 3 non-negotiable exercise sessions a week. Doesn’t matter how long they take or what I do, just that I do them.
  • Instagram only on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings. (I uninstall the app from my phone and reinstall it on those days. Sad? You betcha. Effective? Indeed.)
  • No Facebook or Twitter at all. Just posting content there as I create it and then walking away, so to speak.
  • No shopping at Target or Costco, for the moment. (Diapers and wipes from Amazon, because I am not tempted to overspend when I shop online, whereas walking into brick and mortar is like entering the lion’s den for my budget.)
  • Grocery shopping only on Fridays. Y’all, this one has been HARD. But it’s helping our budget so much. I think I probably saved almost $200 last month from cutting out all the “just one quick thing” trips that always, always result in at least $40 of “oh, yeahs!”

I feel like my thirties have seen me get super into self-knowledge and understanding temperament and personality type (INTJ and choleric/melancholic, for what it’s worth) in an attempt to reprogram the direction of my own life. I guess I’ve been waiting for years and years to just magically “change” or grow out of ___, when actually I’m pretty much the same person I was at 18. I haven’t become more naturally disciplined to go to bed earlier, or less interested in french fries, or more eager to make phone calls I’m dreading. So instead of waiting for me to change, I guess I’m focusing more on “acting as if,” hoping that my tired old self will come plodding along down the path of least resistance I’m working to create. Hey, it works with my kids and a 4 p.m. veggie platter deployed against the whining “I’m huuuuungries” that interrupt dinner prep!

What habit-building hacks have you employed that have made noticeable improvements in your life? Is there an area you thought you’d never see improvement where you’ve been surprised by growth – and grace?

About Me, ditching my smartphone, motherhood, Parenting, social media, technology

Some thoughts on social media

April 5, 2018

We are in a semi-survival season here, with a newish-born babe and 4 other kiddos – first grade down to the 2-year-old who is crazy like a fox and did, in fact, climb on top of the fridge and rain down contraband Peeps on his brethren before 7 o’clock this fair morn.

But it’s not as intense of a survival season as, say, 2 months ago when the baby was still truly a newborn, and it was also bitterly cold, and nobody would ever just go to bed on the first or even second attempt.

So things have improved. My motherhood muscles have been broken down and pulled taut by a grueling new pace of life, and the routine is starting to feel, well, routine. But this week has been a little rougher.

Because, man, 4 days out from Easter and I am burnt from spending so many hours on Instagram. I actually had to make up some new ground rules for myself of only checking T/Th between 9-10 am (or something, still working on that) because after a Lent-long social media abstinence, I spent the first 48 hours of the Easter season in a blurry haze of scrolling and liking and storytelling. And I haven’t even logged back into Facebook or Twitter, yet.

I consider myself an addictive personality, whatever that means. For me, it means that abstinence is always far easier than moderation, and that when I do fall off the bandwagon, it’s with a flying leap that tends to do serious damage both to me and to the ground below.

So I didn’t have a smartphone for the better part of a year and it was magical and freeing and I was such a great mom! And then… I got another smartphone. Because all my research and attempts to find a texting-capable and still reliable dumb phone proved futile. So now I have this crummy, bottom-of-the-line prepaid Samsung situation with a screen so cracked that I have to squint to see my contacts, lest I errantly dial my boss’s phone number instead of my mom’s (tile floor, meet glass screen) and yet I’m still so lured by the siren song of digital dopamine that I will spend 4 (4! I know, because I have an app that tracks usage #irony) hours straining my eyes at, among other things, pictures of other people’s kids dressed in their Easter best and great vignettes composed of little else but fiddle leaf figs and white walls.

It’s a problem.

It’s a problem and I know it’s a problem.

It’s a bigger problem that although I recognize and acknowledge the problem, I come crawling back again and again “as a dog returns to its vomit” (Dave claims this is my favorite Scripture quote, but he is wrong) panting with desire for the thing that I have repeatedly identified as a problem: ‘social’ media.

‘Social’ media is distinct and separate from social media (texting, Voxer, Whatapp, etc) whereby I am communicating with people who are actually my friends and with the intention of sharing specific nuggets of information. And it’s not that I don’t have real friends on Instagram! I do! I love you, Instagram friends! But there is a marked difference, for me, in social media as the evolved flow of conversation and information between friends and family (letter meet telegraph meet telephone meet email) and the ‘social’ media that captivates our attention spans and fills our minds and hearts with unrest.

This is my litmus:

Social media: me reaching out to or being summoned by a specific person for the express purpose of communicating specific information “I was thinking of you/I have a question/Have you seen this article?”

‘Social’ media: essentially, it’s group-curated entertainment, heavily subsidized by advertisers and controlled by algorithms to maximize time and attention spent consuming and participating in an unending feedback loop marked less by communication and more by consumption of publically-directed content.

Social media is pleasant and useful and makes life more interesting.

‘Social’ media makes me a crappy wife and mother, and causes me to shriek in annoyance at my children when they trespass on my “me time,” in which I mindlessly consume content about other people’s beautiful lives while my own brood tries futility to get my attention from the swing set.

I’m impressing nobody with my grim self assessment of motherhood here, but truly, I spent much of Monday and Tuesday of this week in a bleary eyed haze of catch up after a six week hiatus from this stuff, and it was not pretty. I felt not unlike a Whole 30 finisher walking shakily out of Coldstone Creamery on day 31 with a sugar headache and a belly full of regrets.

I hate that this is such a struggle for me. I hate that I’m modeling poor boundaries for my kids, who aren’t even allowed to play video games or use screens without mommy or daddy present. It’s hypocritical as hell, and I know it, and yet I wave them off with a guilty internal resolve to do better “tomorrow,” because gosh darn it, today is hard and I need a little distraction fix.

And sometimes you do need a little distraction fix. But I think there are edifying distractions (articles on First Things or cat memes, for example) and then there are pure junk food distractions. The former leave you feeling mentally refreshed and lighter in spirit. The latter cause you to look up with a crick in your neck at 10:39 pm and realize with a wave of guilt that you just lost nearly forty minutes of your life to catching up on someone else’s life without actually spending time with them, and at the direct expense of your own, since 5 am will come swiftly and with the vengeance of a preschooler.

My quality of life is inversely proportional with my overindulgence in ‘social’ media, I’m convinced of it. And funnily enough, it’s those times where my life feels the most overwhelming/uninspiring/frustrating that I am most tempted to “get away from it all” and tap open a little app to escape for a quick hit.

But it’s never a quick hit, and it’s never enough. I don’t feel better afterwards. I don’t dust off my pants and smile cheerfully in the direction of my obligations and responsibilities when it’s over, refreshed by a new perspective or a little mental solitude. Quite the contrary, I am, generally, more ill at ease, less content, and much more snappish after I’ve been mindlessly observing other people’s’ lives to escape momentarily from my own.

It doesn’t help me escape. It makes me feel even more trapped.

And woe to the child who stops me in my scroll with a pressing irl “need” like a wiped butt or a filled cup or a question about something they saw in the backyard.

“mmmhmmm,” I’ll often mumble, not looking up. “That’s super interesting. Here, let me help you with that,” eyes still glued to screen, not even bothering to use two hands to gather someone’s tangled hair into the world’s most pathetic little ponytail.

My children should not have to compete with a screen.

And I should not prefer a screen to their little faces! So what is wrong with me? What is wrong with us, that this seems to be a struggle of such epidemic proportions? And what are the realistic solutions, given the profoundly ironic reality that I’m going to share this blog on Facebook after I finish writing it? The Internet and digital communication are here to stay, and so, like electricity and food and pinot noir, they are something we have to learn to enjoy in moderation.

What are your thoughts? How do you protect your kids from your own online consumption habits? Do you have rules and behaviors that help you draw the line? Do you struggle with feeling addicted to digital content/social media/connectivity? Do you have any lasting solutions for moderation you’d be willing to share in the combox?

I’d love to continue this as an ongoing conversation we can have about best practices and how to use social media rather than being used by the social media. I’m also eager for any book suggestions – two that I’ve read that have really helped shape my vision, idealistic though it may be, for my own use of social media are Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” and Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation in a Digital World.” A third title I haven’t read yet but plan to is Jean Twenge’s “IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us.” (How’s that for a subtitle?)

Catholic Spirituality, Easter, feast days, liturgical living, motherhood, Suffering

A Cross of Splinters

March 27, 2018

I was going to double down on Lent this week.

I had big plans, flush with grace from surviving Palm Sunday’s armed liturgy, sweating with the exertion of having spent 90 minutes sit-stand-and kneeling + slapping palm ‘swords’ out of my toddlers’ (and not-so-toddler-sized kids’, ahem) fists.  

My prayer after communion went something like:

I could have done a better job at Lent, Lord. I’m sorry. I’m going to really mean it this week. For one week – Holy Week – surely I can be the best version of my Lenten self.


I imagine God, at this point, winking at St. Peter (or maybe St. John Paul II, in my case) leaning over and mouthing “hold my beer” whilst rolling up His spotless sleeves and queuing up a mighty fine lineup of golden opportunities for me to make good on my offer to finish Lent with a bang.

You know when you pray for patience and your internet goes out for 4 days? Or something along those lines. Well, 2 days into Holy Week and I’m feeling preeeetty divinely spoiled by the myriad opportunities to unite my own pathetic sufferings to Christ.

God knows what I can handle. He knows that for all my spiritual bravado, I’m notorious for crumbling under the slightest pressure. I think (I hope?) He finds it endearing. Kind of the way I enjoy Luke’s efforts to help me “clean” using a stolen bottle of Windex.

So instead of cancer and car accidents, He sends croup and power outages that cut off humidifiers and sound machines at 2 and 4 and 5 am. A barfing cat and a dwindling bank account and a broken espresso machine and a computer battery that will no longer hold a charge on its own the very same week the charging cable crapped out.

And if I manage to check myself before I launch into an internal temper tantrum over the very foremost of first world problems (my espresso machine is broken. Privilege level: platinum), I can recognize that God is throwing me a big ‘ol softball here.

But piled up all together? Man, even these teeny splinters of problems – when there are enough of them – can feel like they add up to the weight of a cross.

And I’m notorious for trying to carry it by myself.

He has been reminding me this week with every waking child, every mediocre cup of french press, and every sibling fight broken up whilst the Hunger Games of spring break unfolds in my living room – that I don’t have to. That I can’t.

That nothing that I plan on offering up is anywhere near as effective as the things that I have to accept from Him, willingly – if not always joyfully – as His will over my own.

I wanted to give up snacking between meals. But I’m a quasi-nursing mom, and it turns out instead He wanted me to give up grumbling about night wakings.

I planned to read my Bible every morning over a cup of coffee. He taps me on the arm in the form of a needy 2-year-old and asks over and over again that I read Brown Bear, Brown Bear without snapping as my tepid infusion of caffeine cools on the counter between trips through the microwave.

I wanted to get back in shape by doing a specific postpartum exercise program every night before bed. Instead I’ve been working on not erupting into apocalyptic rage when bedtime stretches into the 9 o’clock hour because there are now more than twice as many needs as parents and why does everyone want to be touched at the precise time of day that I most want to run away screaming if one more person puts so much as a finger on my still inflated and decidedly-not-toned body?

The irony is not lost on me that my feeble attempts to prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ agony in the garden are interrupted by screams for cough drops, cuddles, an extra blanket, and a back rub when I JUST WANT TO BE ALONE FOR A MINUTE, GUYS.

I want to run away from my state in life in order to offer a sacrifice of my own design to the Lord.

But He just wants my actual heart. The best laid plans of mice and moms often go awry…

My Lent has been a disaster. At least it has from my point of view.

And it is tempting to project that failure over the remainder of Holy Week and assume that somebody is going to barf during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and that Easter will be “ruined” because the only kid who hasn’t yet caught the respiratory virus going through the house will wake up hacking at midnight on Good Friday.And that may well happen.

What I imagine God is wondering, though, is whether I will respond with my predictable temper tantrum over my perfect plans going awry by, um, life with actual human children, or whether I will cheerfully shoulder my little pile of splinters with a fiat more pathetic than anything the world has thus far known.

“I cannot do great things, but I can do small things without complaining about them” – #thingsStThereseneversaid

I hope that I can remember even 3 hours after hitting “publish” on this piece that what He really wants from me this Holy Week is my exhausted, frustrated, and fickle heart. That when I’m tempted to scream in frustration during dinner prep I can instead put my head down on the counter and pray a silent (or heck, VERY AUDIBLE) Hail Mary as I beg for the strength to love my children well, stir the mac and cheese, and to accept the actual crosses – small though they may be – that He has put in my path for this season.

See you on the other side.



About Me, birth story, Family Life

The birth of Zelie Grace, part deux

March 22, 2018

(Part 1 here)

Where were we? Oh yes, induction by house cat.

After an animated 20 minute drive to the hospital, we arrived around 1 am and were swiftly checked in to the natural delivery suite.

Apparently I was so calm the nursing staff assumed I must be in want of the Cadillac of birthing tubs, and was offered that luxury upgrade frequently during my stay in hotel hospital. To which I replied calmly, between contractions: LOLOLOL.

I was so sure when we sidled up to the nurses’ station that I’d be sent home, with my advanced-maternal-age tail tucked between my legs, but lo and behold, I was escorted directly to a delivery room, and the midnight cat calisthenics I’d performed in the street had progressed me to “7, maybe 8 centimeters.”

What the whaaaaat?

Anyone who is familiar with the entrances of the older 4 of the Uebbing crew knows that this is not a normal pattern of labor for me, and since I had thus far only cursed at the cat and was not attempting to strangle anyone with my IV line, I couldn’t imagine that this was “real” labor. I just could not.

In fact, here’s how sure I was that I wasn’t really anywhere near baby time: I SENT THE ANESTHESIOLOGIST AWAY (never never do this) because I wasn’t “sure” what I wanted to do in terms of pain relief. In retrospect this seems foolhardy at best and…I won’t say what, at worst. But I really did need a little time to process what was happening: namely, that I was in active labor (apparently late in the game, too) and I wasn’t in excruciating, universe-ending pain.

That, my dear readers, turns out to be the difference between posterior and “normal” or anterior presentation of le babe. Because, unlike her siblings, this little piggy was facing the right way, mommy wasn’t teetering on the precipice of a psychotic break.

It was a really wonderful and peaceful departure from my previous 4 childbirth experiences, and I am profoundly grateful to have had this particular aspect of my motherhood redeemed.

That alone makes going for an unwieldy number of children “worth it,” on some level.

Once I’d sent away the magic doctor, I spent a few minutes alternating between prayer and repeatedly asking Dave “What is happening? Why is this happening? Is this really happening?” and received a very clear invitation from the Lord to go ahead and get the epidural if I wanted to. I was struggling a bit with feeling like this was a test I was somehow failing: as if by resorting to meds I was forgoing the opportunity to have a beautiful, unmedicated birth experience. And maybe I was. But I spent a few minutes in conversation with Him and here is what He said to me:

“I just wanted you to know it could be like this. I love you. You’re free to choose.”

That’s all.

He wanted to tell me a different story about bringing new life into the world. And I was convicted in these precious moments of labor/prayer that this more peaceful birthing process, cat corralling notwithstanding, was His gift to me. No strings attached. Meaning, I didn’t have to be a hero and try to go au natural.

I am forever mistaking my own efforts and willpower for God’s grace. Imagine my surprise when they give out again and again, and I realize that without Him I am nothing.

He was offering me a beautiful gift: a labor experience saturated with peace and the supernatural grace to remain present, in the moment. It was honestly the best thing I could have asked for, and the last thing I would have thought to ask for. Because I knew how labor “went.” I knew my story: fear, pain, suffering, and trauma. That’s all I believed giving birth could be, and I would have taken that knowledge to my grave before sweet Zelie’s birth.

Now I think of the gift I can give to my younger sisters and, one day, my own daughters, whispering to them an alternative narrative, and I am so overwhelmed by the beauty of it.

At one point during my moderate travail, Dave leaned over and whispered to me: “If it’s a girl, we should use Grace in her name, because there is so much of it here.”

And there was. There was so much grace.

And there was a profound feeling of freedom, too. I really felt invited by the Lord to choose the path of least resistance and to let Him write a new story with this delivery, and so I did.

I took the drugs, no regrets. And in God’s providential design, that anesthesiologist I sent away in a moment of uncertainty was only able to come back once I was teetering on the brink of 9 centimeters, barely before I passed the deadline of the point of no return. Once the drugs were locked and loaded, I rested for a bit and resisted a couple offers of “if you let us break your water, baby will be here in 10 minutes.” Thinking back, the first few offers were made pre-epidural, and the entire nursing staff was very eager to help me achieve a natural birth, which I give them major props for.

Those gals wanted to see a natural birth, gosh darn it, and they’d given me the primo natural birthing suite to prove it – and I was sorry to disappoint those lovely ladies, but having personally experienced the last few centimeters of labor a time or two, I was certainly not about to attempt round 5 in a hot tub.

Anywhoo, the drugs kicked in, my doctor came in with his icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe and propped it opposite the end of my bed, and then we chilled out for a somewhat uneventful 45 minutes, at which point I consented to AROM and felt some serious “pressure” which confirmed me in my drug-seeking decision because either that epidural was on the lighter side, or this baby was huge.

(Spoiler alert: baby was not huge, and I walked from the delivery room to recovery, so epi-lite it was)

Finally it was show time. And after 8(!) excruciating minutes (sure beats 4 hours!), during which I may or may not have vocalized glory to God for pharmaceuticals, little Elizabeth Grace Uebbing was born.

As happens not infrequently in high-altitude deliveries, our beautiful little 7 lb, 11 oz princess was pretty blue and needed some blow-by oxygen assistance to get things rolling. Less typical was her being whisked fairly quickly off my chest and carried over for inspection by the neonatal team. I watched in mounting anxiety as the room filled up with doctors and nurses, a small crowd forming around her bassinet across the room.

I was yelling out to her from my hospital bed “Elizabeth, mommy loves you,” because I’m pretty sure I read in the scary chapter of What to Expect When You’re Expecting that you should do that, and at some point in so doing, I looked over at Dave and said “that’s not her name. I don’t think that’s her name.” He nodded in agreement from his post at her crib side, trying his best to look unconcerned for my sake. As the minutes ticked by and more doctors filled the room – now the respiratory team had been called in, I heard the announcement – I grew more and more concerned.

I began praying aloud while my doctor stitched me up, asking the Holy Spirit to fill her lungs, pleading with her to breathe, breathe, baby girl.

At one point I started praying fervently for the intercession of St. Zelie Martin. “Zelie” was on our short list of names, but I wasn’t sure Dave was fully convinced, and I didn’t want to force a name he didn’t love. I began asking St. Zelie to plead my girl’s case in heaven, begging that her oxygen levels would come up and that she wouldn’t be headed to the NICU. 

Looking back, I don’t recall thinking she was actually going to die, but I was very worried that she was going to be intubated, and that something might be wrong with her lungs, because 20 minutes in, she hadn’t made a sound other than gasping a couple times. I remember specifically choosing to petition St. Zelie because she had lost so many of her own babies, and because she could sympathize with my aching mama heart to have my girl whole and in my arms. I also recall being unbelievably at peace despite the circumstances, which is a miracle in itself considering my temperament.

Finally just before the 30-minute mark we head the most beautiful sound in the world: our baby girl’s cry. Soft and undemanding (as it is still, for the most part) but very much alive and well. I shed a few tears of relief as they wheeled her, not to the NICU, but back to my arms, and we re-named her Zelie Grace Uebbing.

And she has brought nothing but grace to our family since the moment she arrived.

She is the fruition of my motherhood in a powerful way that I wouldn’t have expected from a fifth baby. So few people go this far, as I am reminded on a daily basis when we’re out and about, and honestly, were it not for the Church’s teachings on contraception and openness to life, neither would we have done so. 

Zelie was not in our plan.

But she was in His.

And we are so thankful.

Exhausted, overwhelmed, and occasionally weepy. But so very grateful.

St. Zelie Martin and holy Mother Mary, full of grace, pray for us.

(P.s. a great read for pregnant mamas/birth professionals of every stripe)