About Me, birth story, Family Life

The birth of Zelie Grace

March 20, 2018

It has been almost 3 months since little Z made her debut earth-side, but it feels like a lifetime ago. (And, for the record, I have been writing this post for more than 3 weeks, so that bodes well for the future.) Partly because I have never taken this long of a break from blogging in all the 11(!) years I’ve been tapping away, and partly because kid number 5 has utterly transformed our family – and my motherhood – from “yeah, I guess we do have our hands full but it’s pretty manageable” to “why is my coffee so cold?/I’m in a Jim Gaffigan level of aquatic distress here.”

Don’t get me wrong, she is a good, good baby. (I’d tell you how well she’s sleeping but I don’t want to inflict pain on parents of typical newborns who might be reading this.) But we’ve finally scaled beyond what I can handle under my own power, and I am at last fully dependent upon God’s grace to survive the day by day.

And on the days I don’t tap into that? Hoo boy.

So I’m learning to be more flexible, more resigned to bouts of insanity, and more desperately reliant on regular prayer – not just in-the-moment Hail Marys – including morning Scripture reading and a daily rosary (that nice little 4 am feeding session ensures that I finish any lingering decades). And even though I know how desperately I need prayer in order to function, I’m a miserably slow study and I keep trying to forge ahead under my own unimpressive power. Then something stops me in my tracks and flings the spiritual complacency back into my face like a rejected vegetable side dish, and I am made concretely aware, once again, that I am borderline incompetent apart from God’s grace.

One recent morning, for example, my darling 4 year-old threw a tantrum that, as I relayed to my siblings via our group chat, was of “Youtube viral video proportions.” In a Starbucks packed with no fewer than 5 dozen spandex legging-clad high schoolers, she flopped off her barstool, flung a bag of million-dollar organic potato chips on the floor and screamed all the screams that her tiny body was capable of producing because, I guess, someone touched her? Took a salt and vinegar chip without asking? I’m actually still not sure.

I blinked at her in mild annoyance and then proceeded to pack up the other 3 kids (biggest brother was at school) and schlepped our complaining procession out the door, Evie flopping like a wounded tuna on the floor as I gently tugged her along by one arm, which is thankfully still connected at the shoulder socket. Any of the horrified high schoolers who had been on the fence about eventual parenthood will hopefully make good choices and avoid the activity that oftentimes results in parenthood for a good while longer after witnessing our parade of chaos. For some of our adolescent observers, however, I fear the fracas may have pushed them firmly into Camp Dog-Mom, and for that I am truly sorry.

But where was I? Oh yes, the birth story. The longest lapse between “hello, baby” and “here you go, internet” that I’ve ever allowed. Mea culpa. But as you see from the above material, it was unavoidable.

(The fact that I’m almost 500 words into this bad boy tells me two things: first, I have lost neither the ability nor the desire (yay!) to write. Second, this will be at least a two-part saga, so consider yourself warned.)

Zelie’s pregnancy was pretty great. I was sick in the first trimester but only in a vague all-day-motion-sickness sort of way, not actually barfing. Which is great but also probably resulted in my all-time weight gain record (we’ll get to that later on). I stayed pretty active until Thanksgiving and then I think I just sort of gave up on life/ever being not pregnant again. She wasn’t due until New Year’s Eve, by the way, so that’s kind of a long slog of apathy and poor milkshake choices. We had a family wedding, 2 birthdays and Christmas to get through at the end of December, so I had been hoping to go either really early (like my oldest, a 37-weeker) or else maybe on Christmas night, once all the festivities had passed. Once the wedding was safely in the rearview the weekend before Christmas (and having unsuccessfully coaxed her out on the dance floor) I was even resigned to a Christmas baby, and in fact, had to depart from our family’s Christmas Eve festivities post-haste because I was contracting every 6 minutes and an hour from the hospital.

Alas, it was the stomach flu. A horrifying strain that ripped through every adult in our extended family during the week between Christmas and New Year’s (but spared the children, oddly and mercifully). As I was barfing and timing contractions (now 4 minutes apart) late into the night on what was now Christmas morning, I began to doubt that I was going to survive this labor. I’ll spare you greater detail, but it was a rough ride, and the contractions that just would not organize into any kind of pattern turned out to be the result of dehydration. My father-in-law and sister-in-law graciously stayed the night on Christmas Eve and got up with the kids to open stockings while mommy and daddy clung to life upstairs. By about 11 am we were able to open presents and the contractions were gone. Womp womp.

The next 3 days were rough. Really hard emotionally and physically. I almost went into the hospital just to get a bag of fluids but decided (with my doctor’s approval) to drink my weight in vitamin water and get my fluids the old fashioned way. I was exhausted by the prospect of a pre-delivery hospital visit and I didn’t want to be induced, so home we stayed. I was big, I was dehydrated, I was sore from days of constant contractions, and I was mentally exhausted from life itself. On December 28th my little sister came over with chocolate shakes from Chic-fil-a (I swear, I have no idea how I gained as much weight as I did) and we tried to watch a terrible Hallmark movie. I had to keep pausing it to reposition myself because I was so uncomfortable (foreshadowing) and eventually she raised her eyebrows and asked “should I go home and pack a bag?”

I agreed that it probably would be wise, and she ran squealing out into the dark winter night. It was around 8pm, and I lumbered upstairs to add a few finishing touches to ye olde hospital bag (which I barely touched during our 30 hour stay) and attempted to get some sleep. At around 11pm I conceded to Dave that this was probably (at last) real labor, and that I wanted to take a shower before we headed out. Into the shower I jumped and apparently into action he sprang, because when I waddled back into our room 15 minutes later in my towel turban there he stood, fully dressed to the shoes, and holding our suitcase at the ready.

Ladies, the man is a professional labor companion at this stage in the game.

I, however, was not quite ready to actually go to the hospital, so I wept and begged that we try to sleep just a little longer. After about 20 minutes I finally allowed myself to be herded into the car, and this is where the real fun began. We’d driven about 5 minutes down the road when I frantically grasped Dave’s arm and barked to him “turn around!”

“What’s wrong?” he asked with some alarm, thinking we’d forgotten some essential item.

“They’re going to send me hooooooooome,” I wailed melodramatically, traumatized to envision myself as the shamefaced grandmultipara sent packing by L&D on a cold December night because she (snicker) didn’t know what real labor felt like.

So my sweet husband, bless his heart, he turned that car around and we trudged back up the driveway and onto the front porch. My sister threw the door open with some alarm as it was now going on midnight and she heard us bumping in the night, and out from between her legs shot our naughty, non-negotiably-indoor-at-night cat. I uttered a few choice words not suitable for general audiences and sprang off the porch in hot pursuit, cursing a blue streak that not only were the kids going to wake up to mommy and daddy gone (sob. But y so devastating every time?), but also their beloved cat was going to be eaten by the mangy coyotes whose goings-on had been blowing up my NextDoor feed as of late.

Not.on.my.watch. 

That cat was coming back inside, if all one billion contracting pounds of this angry pregnant woman had anything to do about it. Dave tried to coax me back into the house, cold and contracting and frantic as I was, but to no avail. I was beyond reason at this point in the evening (and well into labor, as it would turn out) and he recognized a losing battle when he saw one.

He gently allowed the storm door to swing shut, standing there for the better part of thirty minutes silently observing my late-night gymnastics in the street, watching and laughing (laughing!) as I crouched and tumbled beneath parked cars, darting in and out of our neighbors’ yards and chasing that damn cat from driveway to driveway, beseeching her to surrender herself into my desperate outstretched arms. Oh my gosh, nobody in my family is dramatic.

Tia told me later that she marched right back upstairs and crawled into bed because my bad cat-titude had confirmed for her that I was definitely in labor, and that she’d be safer in the guest room.

Well, she was right. And as soon as the bleeping cat was safely in my arms and in the house I realized that those disorganized contractions were now 3-4 minutes apart and coming on long and strong. Was I the first woman to ever employ a cat doula in the history of the human race? Maybe.

Stay tuned for part two, where my labor transitions from feline to human supervision and we accidentally give our daughter the wrong name for the first 15 minutes of her life.

And hey, guys?

It’s good to be back.

Hi guys! I’m no trouble, but my arrival somehow pushed mom over the precipice of reality so she can’t find her phone/keys/other sock currently in her left hand, etc. Pardon the interruption in service.

About Me, birth story, Family Life

And Zelie makes 7

January 5, 2018

Lovely blog readers, I have a sweet little someone to introduce you to. After 9 long days of prodromal labor spanning Christmas and a multitude of other festivities, Miss Zelie (zay-lee) Grace Uebbing made her debut at 5:10 am on Friday, December 29th. 7 lbs 11 oz and 20.5 inches long, she has ravishing dark hair like Evie did (though notably less of it) and dark, stormy blue eyes.

She takes her name from St. Zelie Martin, mother of St. Therese the little flower, who was canonized in 2015 along with her husband, St. Louis Martin, the first such occasion of a double canonization for a married couple in the Church’s history. Grace is a nod to Our Lady and to the extraordinarily different birth I had the fifth time around.

And speaking of birth stories, you know I can’t wait to write hers, and have been thanking God over and over again for how different her arrival into the world was compared with my previous births. She is sleeping and nursing like a champ (color me vv surprised by the latter) and is the absolute delight of each of her older siblings.

John Paul (5.5) immediately asked “when are we going to have another baby so she can have a younger sibling????” the first moment she was laid in his arms, which was almost impossibly sweet, but also, #toosoon.

We’re adjusting well to life as a family of 7 and I’m trying my hardest to postpartum like a boss, ala Blythe Fike, so I’ll be lying super low for the next few months. I’m posting a little bit on Instagram if you want to pop over and see baby pics, but am also mindful of how crazy fast the newborn phase goes, and am committed to trimming out as much social media as possible so that I can soak her up.

From the eve of the final day of Christmas, wishing you a beautiful finish to the season and the happiest 2018!

About Me

An unvarnished Christmas letter

December 19, 2017

Dear family and friends,

Well, another year is almost on the books. And 2017 was quite a doozie, wasn’t she? 

Well, the Uebbing family was no exception to the general turmoil and upheaval that seemed to mark this blessed calendar year as borderline apocalyptic: 3 moves, the purchase of 2 houses, endless rounds of antibiotics, black mold, a blown up transmission and a sweet new baby due to arrive imminently who we’ve considered nicknaming “Marquette.” 

Yes, it was a good year, full of surprises and carefully curated moments you can’t find on Instagram, both because my account is largely inactive and because it would possibly be illegal to share such raw emotion.

Let’s address the elephant in the room right off the bat: yes, we’re having “another one” and yes, we know “what causes that” and no, we don’t have any particularly hard and fast numbers to give those of you who are scratching your heads wondering how many more we’re going to have. But we’re not smugly holding out on you, we promise! We’re just not totally sure ourselves.

Figured we’d get the bedroom talk out of the way from the starting gate, in an effort to keep this as true to life as possible. If the guy in the Santa hat at the gas station trying to sell me windshield degreaser wants to know how many weeks along I am and how close together my contractions are and whether my husband has a surgery scheduled, surely you, internet friend or stranger, has similarly pressing questions.

How are the children this year? I’m so glad you asked! I can’t wait to list out their achievements and honors for you in an effort to communicate to you how good we are at this parenting gig:

Our oldest child, Joseph, is a delightful 7-year-old who has shown a beautiful capacity for media consumption and screen time. It’s almost like he needs no training or instruction whatsoever in how to fire up electronic devices!

I predict he will be an early texter and we couldn’t be more proud of this completely intuitive and masterful skill sure to be put to good use when coordinating how to cut class in middle school. We have responded to his natural aptitude by eschewing all devices in the home in order to facilitate his native skills, because “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and so with the exception of mommy’s 4 year-old laptop, he has almost no exposure to technology of any kind. This makes his antics at grandma’s house when he spies an iPad on top of the fridge even more delightful for all parties involved.

We know that by depriving him of the crack-like reward of glowing screens, we’ll probably have a monster on our hands come adolescence, and we can’t wait to see what his little mind comes up with in an attempt to thwart our draconian regulations!  

Joey also enjoys wearing the same stinky, lime green Ninja Turtle hoodie to school day after day in flagrant violation of dress code, and engaging in convincing self talk with, well, himself, but also with his teachers, convincing them that the cupcakes, pizza, cookies, and whatever other treats that present themselves in the classroom week after week in an endless parade of GI issues are “probably gluten free.” He will make a fine politician or a trial lawyer one day. He is a charming smooth talker, a surprisingly sensitive guy’s guy, and a really great big brother.

Next in line is John Paul, who, at 5 and a half, is more sensitive and serious than your grandfather. He enjoys sitting alone and staring into space, reciting profound and sometimes bizarre contemplations from the unplumbed depths of his startling mind, and cutting and gluing things. He takes frequent “sick days” from kindergarten, which turn out to be mental health days about 14 minutes after his ride to school departs, at which point he appears, sans pajamas, decked out in business casual and requesting our itinerary for the day. Every time I swear I’m not going to fall for it, but every time his Shakespearean acting skills win me over. 

John Paul is also our most naturally pious child, preferring to tattle on any and all siblings and cousins rather than miss a single opportunity for a wayward perp to repent and get right with God. At least, I’m sure that’s what motivates him.

He has a strong sense of justice and can recall the nature and number of transgressions made against him and his personal property dating back to around age 2. He taught himself how to ride a two wheeler in response to his elder brother’s prowess, and he has a mean wrestling takedown move that handily levels the playing field, despite the 18 month gap between them. His other hobbies include fasting at dinnertime and then eating a light supper of clementines and whatever scraps I relent to throw to him at 9 pm in an effort to get him to JUST GO TO BED.

He is a man who knows what he wants, and he is not afraid to get it. He’s also a master snuggler, detail oriented, and most likely to remember something about you that will help him make your life better in some way, whether it’s how you take your coffee or the name of your favorite band.

Genevive. Freshly four. Our only daughter. Speaks sometimes entirely in cat noises, even at school. I retrieved her one fine day in November and was informed by her teacher that “well, instead of talking, she just meowed all day,” which tells me she is naturally suited for Montessori work and probably a genius to boot.

When she’s not at school, her passions in life include lobbying me to take her to Starbucks, pretending to breastfeed her growing collection of stuffed cats, and informing me of the minutiae of her bodily functions. She is devastatingly pretty and charms strangers with a bashful flutter of her long eyelashes at the grocery store before climbing into her carseat and throwing a 20-minute long tantrum so loud that I have been tempted to hang my head out the window like a dog just to make it home. She loves 70s music (Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Paul Simon), taking off her clothes, and cats, and I predict she is going to be the most interesting teenager on the planet. She is also disarmingly affectionate and sensitive under all the swagger and screaming, and loves her some mommy time, particularly if cuddles in her rocking chair are involved.

Luke. “Luke the Duke,” we dubbed him almost from birth. It’s fitting, as he is now a nearly 40-pound 2 year old who speaks at a 1st grade level, wears 3 and 4T clothes, and is utterly convinced that he is the same age and aptitude as his two older brothers. He has the entire Dave Matthews Album “Under the Table and Dreaming” memorized, and yes, I’m a little embarrassed about that.

He has a big round belly of his own which, he tells strangers, is “due any day now,” and he long ago mastered the push-n-scale technique involving a tall chair, the refrigerator, and whatever perishable item happens to be on the lowest shelf. Some of his highlight reel conquests involve an entire Costco vat of hummus, a dozen eggs, an avocado with the skin on, and on a particularly memorable occasion last summer, a raw jalapeño.

He loves Christmas but does not love Santa, which he urgently informs me at each blow-up Kris Kringle we pass in our daily drives in and out of the neighborhood. He is adept at fetching his own wipes and diapers, which almost makes up for the speed at which he goes through them. He is the delight of our hearts and the mortal terror of the family cat. 

Obviously we both couldn’t be more pleased with our beautiful, talented children who play no sports, are involved in zero activities, and are still responding really well to food-based bribery for behavior in Mass.

(One out of four is completely potty trained, too, so naturally, we are wondering if we need to look into some kind of gifted program.)

We hope your Christmas is blessed, beautiful, and filled with the gentle sound of quietly bickering siblings and the creak of the fridge door being opened over and over and over again. And please, sweet baby Jesus, no stomach bugs this year. 

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

The Uebbing family 

(mommy not pictured because daddy is a living saint)

coffee clicks, current events, pregnancy

Coffee clicks: December 15th

December 15, 2017

Even though it’s the shortest possible Advent, liturgically speaking, I’m still kind of feeling like things are craaaaawling by. Christmas is 10 days away, which is so soon. But when I stop to think I might still be pregnant 10 days from now…. well, yeah.

At any rate, it’ll be a magical sort of progression of time between now and then for our family, baby or no. Today is Evie’s 4th birthday, which she marked by coming downstairs at 3 am to snuggle while I was up being a pseudo-productive insomniac. We cuddled for a while before I convinced her that it was, in fact, still nighttime, as evidenced by the Christmas lights glowing merrily out the window.

Tonight we have the Christmas program at school, and then tomorrow, the absolute highlight of Advent 2017: STAR WARS. Also my birthday celebration with my parents, all my adult siblings + spouses. If I ever doubted God’s love for me, that silly notion was laid to rest when Disney bought Lucasfilm and started cranking out a brand spanking new iteration of everyone’s favorite space opera every December for the past 4 years. Hashtag very blessed.

Next week the kids have just a few days of school, culminating in a half day on the 21st, my 35th birthday and the official starting point of the “advanced maternal age” portion of this pregnancy. It’s also the day of my brother’s rehearsal dinner, with his wedding to follow on the 22nd. Then it’s basically the best day of the year, Christmas Adam, a brief extra-liturgical pause solemnly observed in my family of origin by watching Home Alone and singing karaoke and maybe cigars (though not his year) and perhaps getting the tree totally decorated before a blur of long Masses and joyous celebration…

And so help me, if I am still pregnant come Boxing Day (which, despite the flurry of activity this week is still a distinct possibility) I don’t know what stamina or motivation I will have left.

So that’s what my Google calendar looks like for the rest of December. Whew.

1.

I have some great links this week, starting with a story that is close to home and utterly heartwarming:

2.

I temporarily scrapped another, lighter-hearted piece (forthcoming early next week) while pondering the occasion of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day earlier this week. I remembered how much she had helped me through Genevieve’s delivery, now 4 years ago, and since then have been asking her intercession as this current resident’s exit date draws near:

3.

Maybe you don’t know this about me (though after that disclosure towards the beginning, it’s a little more obvious) but I’m probably the biggest female Star Wars fan you’ve ever met who is simultaneously living a normal looking life (no cosplay or card games or weird conventions). But find yourself signed up for a Jedi trivia night at your local neighborhood pub and missing a 4th teammmate? You’re gonna want to call me. Or maybe Bishop Conley, if I’m not available.

But yea though ewok through the valley of the shadow of death, Bishop Conley feared no evil, and found a fisherman brave enough to take his group of friends to the island, because Han-YOLO.”

4.

Great news out of Ohio for anyone who claims to care about the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. It always puzzles me that, on the whole, culture warriors and social justice activists aren’t more impassioned about the rights of people with Down Syndrome. Seems the polar opposite of progressive.

5.

This piece is a long but essential read. My parents have been calling abortion a “sacrament” of the secularist religion since I can first remember talking about it around the dinner table, and Eberstadt’s piece magnificently distills the tenants and dogmas of this brave new religion into non-academic sized bites. (But boy, when I read heavy hitting pieces that go past 2,000 words, I sure am aware of how much the internet and social media have weakened/destroyed my attention span…)

All of the expressions of animosity now aimed against Christianity by this new secularist faith share a common denominator. They are rooted in secularist dogma about the sexual revolution”

5.

Finally, did you catch this short (unaffiliated) video about harnassing the power of Amazon Prime Now for good? I was full on weeping by the end. Praying Amazon execs see it and take note.

6.

Do you follow CNA on Instagram? You want to. Also, even Popes have that one school picture that will follow them around for ever.

Happy (belated) ordination anniversary, Papa!

Happiest last week plus a day of Advent! It’s not too late to jump back on the horse if you’ve fallen slack in your preparations and add in a little sacrifice or penence here or there as the Christmas countdown ticks down. I like to try to turn off the Christmas music between now and the 24th to kind of reset my brain in preparation for celebration, and that will be especially necessary this year as I’ve been a little, ah, lax in my generally temperate pre-Christmas indulgence in James Taylor. Also planning to try to offer up the somewhat interminable nights of prodromal labor which seem temporarily here to stay, so please, if you have specific prayer intentions, please share them and I’ll remmber you while I’m not sleeping from 2-5 am for the next few weeks…

About Me, advent, birth story, Catholic Spirituality, pregnancy, Suffering

Am I not she who is your mother?

December 12, 2017

I will never forget my labor with Genevieve, thus far my only daughter (though that title may be ceded in mere weeks now.) Partly because it was drawn out over 3 agonizingly long days of prodromal labor – not hideously painful, but hugely exhausting – and partly because she was the only baby whose sex we found out ahead of time, so we knew “who” we were waiting on in a more personal way.

I remember feeling very connected to Our Lady being pregnant with Evie during the Advent season, and with an estimated due date of Christmas Day, I allowed my imagination to carry me along on the long journey towards Bethlehem, comforting myself with the notion that even if I were averaging 4 hours of sleep each night with contractions coming almost unrelentingly (but non-productively) around the clock for days on end, at least I wasn’t on a donkey.

The evening of December 12th, 2013, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, found me once again hunched over the bathroom counter in pain, timing contractions that both I and my iPhone app knew were not going to amount to a pattern worthy of hospital admission. Dave knocked on the bathroom door, having returned from a late night grocery run, and handed me a beautiful bouquet of roses.

They were wrapped in cellophane and still bearing the store logo, but there on the crinkly plastic was an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the very same image supernaturally imposed on St. Juan Diego’s tilma on the hill at Teypeyac more than 500 years ago.

The roses eventually found their way to water. As I was balling up the wrappings and clippings to toss out, I impulsively grabbed some kitchen scissors and cut the image of Our Lady out of the plastic, fashioning a little 8 inch high icon of crinkly plastic which I taped to the bathroom mirror.

I spent a lot of time looking to Mary over the next 72 hours, bracing my hands on either side of the sink and looking into her delicate brown face. I reminded myself in between the waves of seemingly inefficient and interminable contractions that she too was a mother, that she too had done this. I fixed my eyes on the black sash draped around her waist, whose imagery symbolizes pregnancy.

That’s right, Mary is actually pregnant in the image seared into the fibers of Juan Diego’s tilma.

It was, at turns, comforting and confounding to think of God putting His own Mother through this – though the jury is still out on what, precisely, Mary’s physical experience of childbirth entailed. Various Church Fathers have weighed in on the matter, one the Church allows to exist shrouded in no small amount of mystery. We know that Mary physically carried the Christ child in her womb and that she mysteriously and miraculously maintained even the physical aspects of her virginity upon His birth, but beyond that, God has not chosen to reveal specific details about what birth was “like” for she who was conceived without sin.

Still, as I hunched over that sink and raised my eyes to the filmy plastic icon of the Mother of God, I took comfort in the slight swelling apparent in her midsection, wondering if she had experienced round ligament pain or pubic symphysis dysfunction or sciatica – I doubted you could ride a donkey many miles at any stage of pregnancy and escape unscathed, ergonomically speaking.

I wondered over Mary’s experience of Jesus’ tiny – and then not so tiny – kicks under her ribcage. The in-utero hiccups that rattle the whole belly, the improbable acrobatics that accompany those final few weeks of stretched-outness and can’t do this another day-ness.

When it was finally – finally – time to go to the hospital and stay at the hospital, I ducked into the bathroom and grabbed the piece of plastic off the mirror. I wanted her with me still, epidural or no.

It turns out she wanted to be with me, too. The nurse who checked me upon arrival announced a triumphant “5 cm, you’re staying!” and escorted us from triage to the delivery room, where I could have and might have wept in relief. 3 days of little sleep and contractions 15 minutes apart around the clock; I sank exhausted into the hospital bed, nodding enthusiastically that yes, I did want them to call anesthesia right away.

As I settled into a blissful and exhausted sleep, I remember the nurse commenting that she thought it would be 3 hours, maybe less. She was right, because after a brief and glorious nap, I was complete and ready to push.

Our doctor arrived a little after I’d woken from augmented reality nap time and started setting up his equipment. He paused before he gowned up, reaching into his bag and sliding out a wooden icon, which he propped against the wall opposite the foot of my bed.

I gasped in delight because it was her – a beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, larger and far more saturated than my grocery store wrapper.

I laughed and told him she’d been following me throughout labor, and he cocked his head and told me “it’s strange, but I lost my usual icon of Our Lady of Lourdes somehow at my last birth, so this is her replacement. And it’s actually the first time I’ve brought this new one along.”

And so mine was to be the first birth attended by this particular image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I’ve since delivered one more child under her watchful maternal gaze, and I look forward to her presence in my hospital room this go round, too.

It is comforting to have a God who is not unfamiliar with our human condition. And it reflects such careful attention to detail and such compassion that He would entrust us with a mother who is herself intimately acquainted with the seasons and stages of our lives as women.

There is a beautiful quote from Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, her “smallest son,” which resonates deeply with me as being applicable to any hardship or physical suffering we might endure in this life, but perhaps most particularly, in facing birth:

“Listen, and let it penetrate your heart … do not fear any illness or vexation, any anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother?”

Because I am afraid.

I do fear the pain, and the anxiety of past memories and experiences of delivery can wash over me and overwhelm me at a moment’s notice if I allow them to take hold.

In these final few weeks as I prepare mentally, physically and spiritually to bring a tiny new life into the outside world, I find myself wanting to be folded more deeply into Her mantle, begging for the comfort that only a mother can offer to a small, anxious child.

Because it is coming, and it will hurt. And I will not be alone.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn, pray for us.

advent, Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, feast days, liturgical living

An Advent bucket list for busy (tired) Catholic families

December 7, 2017

We try to communicate the “not-yet-ness” of Advent to our kids without totally squelching the pleasant, anticipatory joy of Christmas on the near horizon, and I think we’ve achieved a moderately sane balance, though I’m sure we come across as too grinch for some and gluttonously liturgically abusive to others. Which is why the Church doesn’t actually mandate “how to Advent,” apart from encouraging voluntary penance and reflection and continued adherence to meatless Fridays (or some alternative penitential act of the believer’s own choosing). So that’s good news if you’re Elf incarnate and had your tree up on Black Friday, and it’s good news if you’re St. Benedicta of the Barren Pine Branch and no morsel of Christmas fudge shall passeth your lips until midnight on December 24th. 

It’s a big Church.

Here are a few ways we’re trying to keep the both/and of the season at hand. Maybe some ideas will jump out as possibly useful in your own little domestic church.

  1. Celebrating major December feast days and solemnities (Nicholas, Guadalupe, Immaculate Conception, Lucy, Juan Diego, etc.) by driving  around looking at Christmas lights, blasting Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate, and generally abandoning ourselves entirely to the wildly premature indulgence of secular “advent.” We try to really go all out for feast days, and this is a cheap thrill that we can probably manage to do once or twice during this year’s highly abbreviated Advent.

  2. Making blessing bags for our local homeless. We drive into Denver proper to take our kids to school, and we generally pass at least a panhandler or two going each way. Our oldest is particularly concerned when he sees anyone standing in the median with a sign, so at his urging we’ve started keeping gallon-sized ziplock bags in the trunk stocked with beef jerky, granola bars, chapstick, deodorant, gum, socks, gloves, vaseline, canned soup, (all of which are available at the Dollar Tree) and maybe a McDonald’s gift card, etc. Sometimes people are super receptive and sometimes they’d really rather not be handed anything other than cash, but we like to be able to offer something along with our prayers. Our kids get that *this* is St. Nicholas’ main gig, and it helps them connect with the historical person of the saint and not get totally bogged down in the more, ah, magical details of his life. 

  3. Go to confession as a family at least once during Advent. So far this only applies to adults in our crew, and we’re spoiled with great confession times at our parish, so we trade kids and allow each other to switch off going on subsequent Sundays – or sometimes both get in on the same day. 

  4. Bake something for the neighbors. I actually hate baking, so this is an act of penance for me. Maybe it’s a celebratory thing for you? Whatever the case, the kids get a kick out of ringing doorbells and passing out loaves of “homemade” Trader Joe’s gf pumpkin bread from a box mix. Win/win.

  5. Buy an extra toy or bag of groceries for a toy or food drive and take the cost of it out of your family’s budget for either groceries or Christmas. In years past we’ve adopted a whole family through our parish’s giving tree program, but this year, being a little tighter, we’re scaling back a bit. (Bonus: this is a really good way to cut off the “I wants” when entering any retail establishment with children this time of year, redirecting their attention and energy towards blessing someone else.)

  6. Watch a favorite Christmas movie (the original Grinch, Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life, Nicholas: the Boy who Became Santa) with the fireplace turned on and hot cocoa or cider in hand. We try to save this as a treat for either feast days or Sundays, but I’m super pregnant and Netflix is actually mothering my children as I sit and type this list, so maybe we’ll have a few more Advent movie nights than we would typically accrue. 

  7. Slowly deck the halls. Our fake tree is already up and lit, loud and proud, but is otherwise naked. We’ll probably let them start throwing some ornaments on the branches this Sunday or next, kind of drawing out the expectant longing of Advent. We used to be super hardcore and leave the lights turned off until the week of Christmas, but then we had a seven year old whose actual nickname is Kringle, and I got too big and too tired to fight him on it. Blaze on, Christmas lights. Blaze on.

  8. Light the Advent candle every night at dinner, and singing one verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (0r forcing your family to listen to the Pentatonix version over and over and over…)

  9. Buy a coffee (or a sandwich, or an order of fries, or…) for someone in line behind you. Even more surprising when it’s just a random day in December and not actually the 24th or 25th. 

  10. Pray for the Lord to reveal a concrete and specific need of someone in your immediate (or virtual) community, and then act on it. One year I was sure that God was nudging me to send a moderate sum of money to a friend across the country and so we consulted our budget, pulled a few strings, and fired off an Amazon gift card in the determined amount. Not only was it gratefully received, but it was also apparently the exact amount this family was in need of for something. It’s fun to be involved in God’s generosity.

  11. Make a construction paper Advent chain with one link for each day of the season (and it’s fine to jump in now, just count how many days are left!) and write a fun treat/sacrifice/good deed on each link. Let kids take turns tearing one off each day and also point to its when they ask “how many more days till Christmas?” (cut up purple and pink strips of construction paper, tape together in a chain, write stuff on) <— #shescrafty 

  12. Go visit Santa/St. Nick. Be sure your kids tell him they’re praying for him when they finish the visit, and he might just shock you by bowing his head and praying a quick prayer with them before they hop down. (Local peeps: Southglenn Santa is the real deal).

  13. Bring your pastor a six pack of fancy beer/bottle of scotch/a nice red wine. They get a lot of sugar during the season, but maybe what they could really use after back to back to back liturgies and tons of hospital visits and hours in the confessional is a stiff drink. 

  14. Inquire whether there might be an elderly member at your church who is far from family and will be spending Christmas alone. Consider inviting them to go to church with you this year, or to come for a meal or dessert. Christmas can be hard for the elderly and the lonely.

  15. Pray a rosary – either alone or as a family – for someone who has lost a loved one this past year. Christmas can be a complicated time for someone who is grieving. 

  16. Make a meal – or order some takeout – for a family with a new baby. It can be tough to have a new baby during the season when everyone else is gearing up for a big party about … a new baby. Maybe offer to help the mom wrap presents, or offer to have her ship her Amazon orders straight to your house and offer your elf-ing services, complete with drop off.

  17. Pick something quiet and simple to fast from, either for all of Advent or each week. Maybe one week it’s Christmas music in the car, maybe the second week it’s chocolate. Do something that helps you internally recollect your heart even when the rest of the world is already deep into party mode.

  18. Remember that even if you don’t finish the shopping, don’t get the cards out, don’t plan the perfect menu and can’t afford the big toy, you’ve got 12 whole days – including December 25th – to celebrate Christmas. And that it’s really all about a teeny little baby, His Mother’s magnificent “yes,” and the unfathomable gift of our salvation.

Contraception, Culture of Death, current events, Marriage, Parenting, Pro Life, reality check, Sex

It’s not a fertility problem, it’s a marriage problem

December 1, 2017

I read – and shared – a piece from Medium with my Facebook readers yesterday morning. It’s about the precipitous decline of childbirths in the West – particularly in America – and especially in the year 2017.

In it the author, Lyman Stone, contemplates the impending collapse of the US fertility rate and tries to make some sense of it. He also rings a few alarm bells, launching wondering statements into the ether in an attempt to explain “why” this is happening. And also, to communicate to the reader that barring a full-stop culture-wide reversal of the trend, there is little we can actually do to recover to a baseline replacement rate of fertility.

I think he makes some compelling points, and that his data are both fascinating and confounding.

I also think we may be missing the forest for the trees.

The problem, from where I see it, hasn’t as much to do with our fertility rates as with what we have done – or what we have allowed to be done – to marriage.

Marriage has undergone a radical paradigm shift over the past decade. Sure, the roots of that shift date much further back, reaching into the origins of widely available artificial contraception and no-fault divorce, but marriage has been transformed from a commonly-agreed upon arrangement of mutual sexual fidelity between one male and female “till death do them part” has been dismantled piecemeal over the last decade at breakneck pace. And not only dismantled, but resurrected as something entirely different, styled and promulgated through the media and disseminated with breathtaking effectiveness across the digital continent.

So let me bring this back around to my thesis: people aren’t having children because people aren’t getting married. At least not “married” in the way we would have commonly recognized as marriage 100, 50, or even 25 years ago.

Let me try to explain.

Old view of marriage: (leaving religion entirely aside) Life partner/best friend + sexual attraction + desire to build a family + pledge of fidelity and financial/emotional support through thick and thin = lifetime commitment.

(Were there people who fell outside the bounds of this overgeneralization I’m making? Yes. But they were cultural outliers.)

New view of marriage: contractual arrangement ordered toward self-fulfillment/actualization, sexual desire and acquisition of maximum pleasure + material goods + financial fail-safes engaged to legally protect both parties in case of dissolution + mutually agreed upon terms of behavior/performance = finite legal arrangement hinging upon the satisfaction of both parties.

You notice in the old view of marriage, friendship – or at least partnership – and the creation of a family, built to last, were at least a part of the bundled expectations at the outset of marriage. My theory is that far fewer couples today go into marriage thinking primarily of the other, let alone the potential others, who might benefit from their committed union.

Marriage used to be ordered toward the future and toward the other. I would argue the marriage, in its present culturally understood form, is ordered primarily towards the present and the self.

And that’s not a great recipe for childbearing.

Because if marriage is primarily about me, and about my fulfillment in the present moment, then it makes almost zero sense to take the flying leap of courageous insanity necessary to procreate the next generation.

First, because the cost to me personally is so high: social, professional, financial, physical, and even sexual well-being can all take a real beating during childbearing and rearing.

Second, if I am partnered with a spouse who views our union primarily in terms of contractual benefits weighed against risks, and whose fidelity I cannot count on, I would have to be somewhat delusional to take the step to introduce a permanent fixture into our union: a child.

Until we can restore and adequately communicate an authentic vision of marriage as the fundamental building block and the primordial relationship of society, no government policy or tax break is going to make a dent in our fertility freefall.

Unless we recapture a sense of sacred duty toward the future, and an obligation to provide for someone beyond ourselves and our immediate needs, then from a purely hedonistic perspective, marriage looks completely insane, and having a child might be considered tantamount to self harm.

Are there other factors at play? Surely.

The current economic situation presumes a dual income household in most parts of the country (and given the typical consumerist expectation of standard of living), and bucking that trend by having more than 2 kids and almost by proxy, being priced out of daycare as a viable option, means being willing to suffer the cost of a radical downgrade in “experiences” and standard of living.

Like maybe being a single car family. Or not taking vacations. Or not owning a house for the first 5 or 10 or ever years of marriage. Or not bankrolling (gasp) a trip for every single offspring through a 4-year university of their choosing.

Of course, there are more dire circumstances than the absence of a college fund. And many families can and do choose to suffer those iniquities willingly out of love, or at least resignedly through gritted teeth and furrowed brows. And those couples, in my opinion, are the real heroes in this equation. Couples who don’t just forgo the annual vacation or the college fund or the organic milk, but who live a life markedly below what is considered “standard” middle class living, foregoing even basic pleasures and nearly all luxuries and likely being ridiculed while so doing.

But if the rest of us can’t get past the vision of marriage as a “me first” vehicle for self-fulfillment and happiness that may happen to include a kid or two at some nebulous point down the road, provided all the appropriate financial failsafes are in place and the milestones of adulthood in a materialistic consumer-driven society such as ours are checked off, then we’ll make little if any headway in rebalancing our precarious fertility rate.

And so, finally, why does it matter?

Why look to the future and worry about a time that doesn’t personally concern us?

Why not just leave the childbearing to the religious zealots and the immigrants and the poor, uneducated working class to pick up the slack?

In short, does it matter that people are no longer getting married and having babies?

Being 20 or 30 years old can indeed at times feel something like immortality, the inevitable physical and mental and financial slowdown of old age will one day claim us all, if we are fortunate enough to achieve it.

So even if we have no personal interest in weighing ourselves down with the baggage of a lifelong commitment and a handful of small people who share our DNA, have we stopped to consider the consequence of an aging population outnumbering the generation or two beneath it by 50 or 100 or even 200%?

The choices we make today will engineer the society we inhabit in the future. And as everyone who has ever had a mom who drilled mom-isms into their little brains can repeat in a singsong voice, “our choices have consequences.”

And a future of upside-down demographics where the culture is overwhelmingly grey and non-productive, fiscally speaking? That’s where forced – and likely plenty of voluntary, as is the duty of a good materialist – euthanasia will probably come into play.

Look to Japan to see the social and economic cost of an upside-down population where every worker is disproportionately responsible for 2 or 3 or even 4 pensioners a piece, and do the math.

On a fundamental economic level, our failure to adequately replace the dying, aging population otherwise known as all of humanity leads to a gruesome end-of-life scenario for those of us who will not or cannot invest in the next generation.

But who cares? Shrugs the pro choice, pro radical individualism, pro what-suits-me-needn’t-concern-you camp.

I suppose that remains to be seen, whether those who are so flippant about other people’s lives today maintain that perspective on their own lives one day in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, the rest of us should be getting about the business of having and raising families, despite the temptation to count the cost – and the cost is often and increasingly dear.

But when you look a little further down the road, through the mists of time, the long-term cost looks to be far, far greater.

advent, Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, feast days, liturgical living

Have yourself a very little Advent

November 29, 2017

In past years, in my enthusiasm to be liturgically aware and impart said knowledge to my offspring, I think perhaps I’ve been a little intense in the Advent department. We had a rigorous (laughs softly and stares vacantly into space) tree-decorating schedule involving the procurement of a real!fresh! evergreen on the first Sunday of Advent, followed by lights on the second Sunday, ornaments on the third, and the tree topper on the fourth, and a complicated formula for when Christmas music was appropriate on the radio (feast days, but only major feast days, you know? Also, do you hate younger me a little bit yet?)

This year, too swollen and too tired to fight inertia, the (fake) tree has been erected, entirely without my assistance, and is strung with scraggly leftover colored lights from our exterior decorating efforts of last weekend. They are too few in number to be considered appropriately festive, but sufficient to keep the kids enthralled. My attention to said tree involves mainly yelling at the two year old to stop unplugging it and trying vainly to communicate the dangers of live electricity to his toddler brain. Gone is the liturgically-nuanced schedule of only lighting the thing on feast days until Christmas truly begins.

My kids still know whether it’s a feast day or not, however, since this time of year that’s the one sure way to get “dessert:” a mouthful of mini marshmallows after dinner. Somebody pretended he was very, very devoted to St. Catherine Laboure last night around 7 pm and earnestly implored me to impart the story of the Miraculous Medal to him while stuffing his cheeks with pillows of high fructose corn syrup.

Anyone who tries to dissuade you from motivating your kids with sugar is just trying to make life unnecessarily difficult, I can assure you.

Outside, the strings of light are burning well into the evening hours, though we’re still 4 days away from the actual, well, advent of Advent. I’ve made vague threats about cutting off the constant stream of Kosi 101 Christmas classics on the minivan sound system once we’re firmly out of ordinary time, but we all know I’m bluffing, just like we all know dinner this evening is going to be rice + some frozen veggie + any defrosted meat for the 5th night in a row.

I came across this beautiful reflection by Michelle Chronister last night and exhaled a big, heavy sigh of relief, and maybe shed a tear or two. Because of course Advent is a time of preparation and mild penance: we’re awaiting the end of a pregnancy.

It’s joyful, it’s a little frustrating, it’s soon-but-not-yet, and there are moments when it’s really, really hard. When the rest of the world is spinning frantically into premature celebration – not unlike watching all of your pregnant friends give birth and still hanging out in third-trimesterville – it can be a little deflating.

Here are some things I’m doing to survive the intensely historically accurate Advent we’ll be experiencing in our home this year (minus the prenatal donkey ride).

A minimalist Advent bucket list of sorts:

  1. Confession. If I do nothing else, I’m at least going to try showing up for Mass 15 or 20 minutes early one Sunday and getting in line. Our parish has wonderfully convenient confession times, and there’s nothing better than heading into the Christmas season with a clean conscience and an invigorating infusion of grace.

  2. Decluttering + giving away excess toys and clothes. We started this on Black Friday (instead of doing any shopping, which was oddly satisfying) and the kids got really into it, though I later discovered their enthusiasm was partially motivated by a (false) belief that all donated toys would be replaced with newer and more desirable models. Whatever our personal motivations are, we’re bagging up excess as a family and making space in our home – literally – which feels very right as we await a season of more. Plus, the house already looks sparser and more subdued, scrappy Christmas lights and all. It feels good to make space and let go of excess.

  3. Small acts of charity. Whether they be for neighbors, strangers, or each other, we’re trying to focus on being generous in small things, like clearing away your brother’s dinner plate, or bringing mommy a diaper, or pulling in the neighbor’s trash can. We have the little manger filled with last year’s straw, but it’s unlikely I’ll get my act together enough to empty the thing out and refill a fresh box of straw for good deeds. It seems sufficient to wave a vaguely sausage-shaped finger at the little crèche when I catch someone being generous, doling out verbal attaboys to kids caught being good.

  4. St. Nicholas will come on the 6th, and he’ll collect our Santa letters and maybe even the bags of clothes and toys we’ve bagged up to donate, if I don’t drop them at Arc before he rolls up in his sleigh. I am hoping to emphasize charity and generosity over “I want I want I want” this year, especially as we’re planning on the leanest of gift exchanges.

  5. Koslig. Or Hygge. Whichever Scandinavian term you prefer. I’m lighting all the candles and cranking on the fireplace in the evenings and playing soft Advent carols (and okay, okay, Christmas music already, too) and pulling little people close to me on the couch even though the house is trashed and I’m so, so tired. I want to emphasize to them that waiting in expectant hope is more important than frantically rushing around the house wrapping and decorating and getting ready. Plus, I only have energy to do that like one out of every seven days. Coziness and lots of candles and blankets and pillows and a general slowing down of our usual evening routine will (hopefully) emphasize to our kids that this is a special time of year, and that anticipation can be delightful. Plus, I’m way too tired to do a Jesse tree.

That’s it. That’s our simple Advent plan this year. The presents are few and mostly purchased, the tiny diapers are stacked in a closet awaiting a little person to swaddle, and we’re settling in for a somewhat restless season of waiting, watching in the dim candlelight for the brighter light that is to come.

May it be enough.

Uncategorized

Mental health + motherhood resources

November 27, 2017

I wanted to link up a few of my pieces on motherhood and mental illness, rounded up for the convenience of anyone listening in to today’s earlier segment on the Jennifer Fulwiler show on Sirius XM where we chatted maternal mental health, postpartum in America, and some of the stigmas surrounding mental illness:

Motherhood + mental illness

Oops, it happened again

It wasn’t supposed to feel like this

The motherly art of rest 

Bringing home bebe: surviving week 1

 

coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks: Black Friday Edition

November 24, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving Friday. We’re having an ironically woke Black Friday over here, where I run around nesting with the energy of a thousand forrest creatures and invite – nay, compel – my earthside offspring to bag up and give away books/toys/clothes they’ve outgrown or tired of. If that doesn’t kick consumerism in the teeth, I don’t know what does. (Okay, I did buy a single pair of maternity leggings. $12 bucks! Motherhood is not my favorite retailer, but for the price of 3 coffees, I’ll take a fully clothed home stretch.)

1.

Speaking of keeping one’s wits about them as the Christmas shopping season officially kicks off, this thoughtful piece on resisting the nastier side of shopping is worth the read.

2.

I loved this interview. It’s everything I’d like to say to the culture and then some, but 100 times more eloquent. Eberstadt is definitely near the top of my happy hour dream guest bucket list.

3.

A Seal Breaks Open.” What exactly is going on with this bizarre zeitgeist we find driving the present news cycle, and why is it that so many of the proffered so-called “solutions” are essentially gutless and ineffective? Could it be that we don’t truly understand why things have gotten so bad, and that sexual morality cannot simply be distilled to a watery lesson in consent?

4.

There are few things more frustrating to me then getting a few chapters deep into a new (and often well-recommended) read only to be blindsided by what is more or less (but generally more, depending upon the recency of publishing date) eye-popping print pornography. I spent a few hours last week compiling a list of the books I read in 2017 that I would actually recommend to a friend. You’re welcome.

5.

No one needs nuns in order to get contraceptives, and no one needs these guys reigniting the last administration’s divisive and unnecessary culture war,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket Law and lead attorney for the Little Sisters.

Yeaaaaah, it’d be great if we could stop suing nuns over birth control. Particularly sisters (read: consecrated celibate women) whose entire mission is humble service to the elderly poor (read: post-menopausal). When I think about the money and energy and resources this circus has consumed over the past several years, it makes me sick to think of how much good could have been done. Instead, millions of dollars in legal fees and ridiculous mission creep of the first degree. Let.them.serve.

6.

America – and the universal Church – has a brand new Blessed. If you aren’t already familiar with Solanus Casey, prepare to fall in love. He was beatified last week in Detroit and peep his red frames – I’m pretty sure he was the original Catholic hipster.

Hope your post-turkey coma is mild and your weekend is long.