Monday, June 19, 2017

Not Enough on My Own

37 weeks, 5 days pregnant today...but who's counting?!

As the long stretches of silence on this blog attest to, this pregnancy has stretched me in ways I didn't think possible. In trying to process it all, I alternate between being traumatized by various aspects to feeling strong and grateful for being able to do things I haven't previously been able to do.

My Zofran pump is the perfect example of this. I think back to all the times I've stuck myself with a needle, to the pain that caused, and also to the pain, welts, bruises, and burning sensation it's caused...and I just want to curl up in a ball and cry. But then, I think about the difference the pump has made, how sick I would be without it, and how amazing it is that the love I have for a little girl I have yet to meet, motivates me to stick a needle in my skin (sometimes multiple times a day). Then, I am flooded with gratitude and in awe of the graces I've received this pregnancy.

Because, that's basically what this pregnancy has been for me. I've walked a tightrope between being gripped by sadness and fear and being overwhelmed by hope and love. There isn't much space in between.



In these final days (or weeks) of pregnancy, I feel this even more acutely. The end of pregnancy is hard for every mom. But in addition to those normal struggles is weird HG stuff. There's the ongoing nausea and feeling like puking. But, it's HG, so it's also being worn down by all the HG triggers. It's missing being able to read a book without the smell and feel of the paper making you too nauseous to continue. It's constantly shushing or shooing your children because their little voices and hugs make you feel like throwing up. It's getting sick from a light being on, or from looking at a screen.

And it's also the well meaning comments... especially people reassuring you that it's ok if it's still weeks until you deliver your baby, when you're hoping it will be hours. It's being asked your due date a million times, and being reminded that there are still days and days between you and an end to perpetual stomach flu.

To add to all of that, I've been feeling so afraid of labor lately. Afraid of the pain, and afraid of the unknown.

Until today.

I had my weekly doctor appointment, and although I had looked up Mass times in the hospital chapel and knew Mass was earlier, I decided to pay Jesus a quick visit, anyway.

Except that, as I knelt in the chapel, more and more people trickled in, grabbing a Missal as they entered. Then a priest came. Then...there was Mass!

After Communion, I was praying... praying for my four children and husband, and begging God for the grace to keep going. And then, it washed over me- beautiful peace and sudden conviction that I needn't be afraid. I felt renewed grace to offer up my suffering, and suddenly didn't feel terrified of labor anymore.



It was just a moment of grace, pure and simple. But that moment changed everything.


I may still have days or weeks of HG left. I may have a painful labor ahead. I may even have another bout of post-partum depression ahead.

But it is just the cross. And Christ has already conquered the cross. There is no need to be afraid.








Friday, May 19, 2017

No Greater Love (When Your Vocation Finds You)

It was probably right around ten years ago, when I remember experiencing a deep longing for God, especially while in prayer. I was at a place where I had been seriously praying to know my vocation for a while. I brought these moments of longing to my spiritual director at the time. 

"What do they mean?" I remember asking her. "What is God calling me to?"

I felt like God was very definitely calling me to a life of holiness. I wanted to know what that would look like. I wanted to take this deep longing for God seriously.

"Am I called to religious life?" I asked her. I had always felt a draw to marriage, but if God was calling me to great holiness...well, certainly that meant religious life. Married life was too ordinary.

My spiritual director (herself a religious sister) smiled knowingly, and told me there was no rush. She wisely said that we should wait about five years, and then if I then felt called to religious life, we could discern that more deeply.

The following year I met Andrew. 

In that time of discernment, something I often prayed for was the grace to love as God loves. Kind of a lofty prayer (and, like praying for patience, is one of those God tends to take TOO seriously) but it was what was on my heart. I just wanted to love, the way that God had created me, personally, to love.

Andrew was different than any man I had ever met. Our relationship was different than any I had ever had. With him, I could be completely myself. Not only did he respect that, but he was on the same trajectory. He had been praying to know his vocation, intermittently discerning the priesthood, and he wanted to live a life devoted to God. When we got engaged, we often ended our letters and emails to each other with, "I am so glad that you're the one I get to journey to heaven with." Engraved in our wedding rings was the motto of our marriage, "Totus Tuus Domine" - "All is Yours, Lord." 

We dreamed about our marriage, about our children, about how God would lead us.

When I think back to those days of discernment, I realize that I couldn't have picked this vocation if I had tried. I didn't find Andrew, he found me. And with that, God basically handed me my vocation, wrapped in a love I didn't understand at the time.

Four hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancies later, and I look back on those memories with a gratitude I couldn't have imagined. Andrew and I needed that time to fall in love with each other and God's plan for us. We needed to find deep peace to draw on when it felt like the cross was a bit too heavy.

Although this is HG pregnancy #4, this particular pregnancy has stretched me in ways that I never thought possible. The HG has taken its toll, in more ways than one. Daily nausea since October has worn me down. My worst round of anemia yet has made me weaker than usual, and humbled again and again. My Zofran pump and sticking myself 1+ times a day has seriously tested my sanity. 

The weird thing about HG is that you literally go from being a perfectly healthy, normal young adult to being very sick for nine months, then - if all goes well! - back to perfectly healthy again (although the lingering effects of HG are very real, as my kidney stones and ongoing nausea after Maria's birth demonstrated). On the one hand, it makes me so much more grateful for my usual health. I've found myself in places and situations that I don't necessarily belong, that have given me a glimpse into the far greater suffer of others. I get deliveries from home health, had an iron infusion in the hospital's cancer center, and have received Anointing of the Sick three times this pregnancy. With each of these experiences, I'm grateful that "all that I have" is mild-moderate HG. I'm grateful that I don't have severe HG, at danger of losing my life and admitted into the hospital for weeks at a time. I'm grateful that I only had to go to the cancer center's infusion department for IV iron - not cancer. I'm grateful that I'm receiving home health for only a few weeks more...not for months to years more. I'm grateful that I don't have diabetes and have to wear a pump for the rest of my life. I'm grateful that I've received Anointing of the Sick to get me through the roughest patches of HG - not because I am preparing for death.

But this gratitude doesn't remove the very real trauma of HG. It doesn't keep me from getting flashbacks to earlier in this pregnancy, when I was sobbing and praying that I would be able to find something to eat and drink that day. It doesn't take away from the weird mental distancing I've had to do to deal with my Zofran pump, its needles, the burning, and the large, painful welts I get from it. It doesn't take away the tears I sometimes cry at the end of the day, when I just want a break from feeling so miserably nauseous every day.

But it is worth it. It is so incredibly worth it. I am glad that I've done it four times, and I will be more than willing to go through it again. And that sounds truly crazy, but it's true. The reason?

Love.

Because I'm not just blindly suffering. I'm suffering for the love of individual people. And my love for them makes my suffering seem like nothing - a small price to pay in exchange for the privilege of getting to play a part in these four remarkable people coming into existence. It's worth it because of them... 


...and it's worth it because of him...



And it's worth it because of her.


And it will be worth it for any future children, too. 

I'm not sure which saint said this, but I heard this quoted on the radio this morning, during the replay of daily Mass, "Suffering is brief. Joy is eternal."

I can't help but thinking that, if I (God willing) reach heaven one day, I will have wished that I suffered better, with greater love. I think I will be grateful for the opportunities I was given to suffer for love. 

This morning, I was headed to get my first IV iron infusion, and I had thoroughly scared myself, thanks to Dr. Google. I was so afraid that I was going to have an awful reaction, or that my baby girl would react poorly or something. I turned on the radio and listened to daily Mass as I drove. Then, I heard one line from today's Gospel that changed everything,

"No greater love is there than this - to lay down one's life for a friend."

I felt peace wash over me. This infusion and all the weird and unpleasant stuff I've dealt with this pregnancy aren't pointless. They are for love, love of a particular child. And this love in suffering, it is answering a prayer I prayed long ago - to learn to love like God. Still a long way from getting that down, but suffering in love for these four beautiful children of mine has changed everything.


An IV of wonderful, wonderful iron!

I'm not a saint. I hope to be one one day, but I'm still pretty far from it. Yet, I look at where God has led me, and at this vocation of mine - and I'm speechless by the ways it has made me grow in holiness. Holiness in religious life is possible, but God knew what I didn't know - that only through marriage and motherhood could I be stretched and pulled in the ways that I needed to be in order to grow closer to Him. When the nurse was hooking up the IV for my iron infusion, I realized how familiar needles are to me, and tegaderm tape, and tubing, and the connectors between tubing, and even swiping an alcohol wipe on my skin before a shot. Because of my Zofran pump, those things are all part of my daily life this pregnancy. For a moment, that realization felt very strange. I never thought I'd be able to do something so medical, on a daily basis. 

But then, in the next moment, the line from the Gospel popped into my head, "There is no greater love than this - to lay down one's life for a friend."

My daughters (and my baby son in heaven) aren't merely my friends - they are my sisters and brother in Christ. They are people I love immensely. And they are people that I am glad to suffer for. I just look at my two oldest children living their lives - dancing and singing and playing and learning - and realize how little my suffering was in comparison to their lives. I don't know what my Gabriel's life looks like now - but I hope and pray it is a life spent experiencing the beatific vision. I hope it is a life surrounded, eternally, by love. How could the little suffering I endured for him to exist compare to that reality? I feel the kicks and rolls and wiggles of my youngest daughter, see her daddy's face light up when he feels her foot press back against his hand, see the delight on her sisters' faces when they get to feel her kick or hear her heartbeat, and already I know she is worth it. Her life matters. In view of the amazing reality that is my baby daughter, my suffering seems like a very little sacrifice.

A dear, dear friend of mine (who is a religious sister) has been one of the people who has kept me going this pregnancy. Every time she sees me, there is a deep joy and gratitude in her eyes. She has prayed for me and baby every step along the way. When I saw her recently, she told me, with tears in her eyes, "I always said that I would do anything for love. You've shown me what that means."

But I want to protest, "It's not me! It's all grace, don't you see??" Because I still lose my patience with my children, I still complain about this stupid daily nausea, and I'm still not as loving and selfless as I could be. But, you see, God is teaching me to love in suffering in the easiest, gentlest way possible. He has given me a cross that looks heavy, but is really very light in comparison to so many other people's crosses. Because suffering is awful, but suffering in love is so much easier. 

I still feel miserable. I'm sure I'll continue to complain, and be cranky, and lose my patience. But one look at these faces, and I know that this suffering is like nothing. It's not because of the delight they give me (although they do fill me with delight). Losing Gabriel broke my heart, and the life of a mother is filled with many little sufferings and separations. The joy they bring me is not because they bring me fulfillment - it is simply the delight of knowing that I've been allowed an opportunity to play a role in their stories. I don't know yet where God will lead them, but I am grateful to be able to play a role in their stories. Therese, Maria, Gabriel, and this baby...their lives (in this life and the life to come) are of immeasurable worth.

And that makes it all worth it. 



Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Mother's Heart (On Grief and Joy)

I'm not sure what it was that triggered it.

I was driving home from the library with the girls the other day, and it was glorious out. We saw temps rise into the 70s this week, and we soaked up the sunshine and fresh air (before this morning's snow!) while we could.

In the course of running errands, we drove past both the funeral home that prepared Gabriel's remains (the place we went that awful day his remains were delivered), and the cemetery where he is buried. But the real trigger was the fresh air blowing through the rolled down windows. The weather reminded me of the day we found out that his little heart had stopped beating.

Suddenly, stuck at a stoplight with my two older daughters chattering in the backseat, and my youngest daughter kicking in my belly, it hit me - my son's body is in the ground.

It was the first time, in a long time, that I was hit by such a strong wave of grief.


Later in the week, we saw some friends who were expecting when we were expecting Gabriel. They now have an adorable little guy who was born a few weeks before Gabriel was due. As I sat in Mass looking at him, I suddenly realized - that's about the size my little boy would have been, if he had lived. Suddenly, I was hit by another unexpected wave of grief.

I realized, as I sat there, that my little boy has never cried, and will never cry. He is loved, and so, so we'll cares for. But I was really hoping that I would get to be the one who cared for him...and I'm not. I know he is happier than I could ever make him, but selfishly, I still wish I hadn't been asked to let him go so soon.

A mother's heart can be so complicated. I'm trying to accept that my pain will never go away, because my love for him will never go away.


As I write this, I feel the strong kicks of my Gabriel's baby sister. She is the baby of the whole pack, and I'm sure already beloved of all three of her big siblings. We went in for a growth check for her earlier this week (to make sure she isn't being affected by my HG) and she looked absolutely beautiful. Her strong, playful personality has just been shining through on these ultrasounds. She brings me so much joy, this youngest daughter of mine.


I think the joy (and chaos!) of this pregnancy has distracted me from the rawest edges of my grief. The other day was a reminder for me - this new baby of mine cannot take the place of the child I have lost. She is her own unique person, and she brings her owns joys with her. She is also the only person in our whole family (Andrew and myself included) with a big brother. Gabriel will always be special to her, and she to Gabriel.

(23 weeks!)

It is a strange journey, this pregnancy after loss. Unquenchable grief mingles with immense joy and delight. I never know what end of the spectrum a given day will bring. What I do know is that all this suffering seems as nothing in light of the children who exist because of it. My love for these four little ones has made me braver than I ever thought possible - brave enough let go of these little ones, bit by bit, as they grow up. Brave enough to endure day after day of tears and high emotions and tantrums. Brave enough to face the reality that I must love them, even though I could lose them. Brave enough to embrace and walk away from the casket of my first born son. Brave enough to be open to another child, and her life. Brave enough to endure the nightmare of hyperemesis gravidarum, and months of nausea and medicine and daily needle pokes in my stomach.

And brave enough to know that the only way I can do any of it, is by letting go and relying on God's grace. As St. Paul reminds us...God's is truly enough - enough to carry me further than my weak little legs could ever go.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

So, You Need a Zofran Pump? (And Other Hyperemesis Gravidarum Minutea)

Congratulations! If you are reading this post, you or someone you know probably needs a Zofran pump.

If you're using a Zofran pump, you're probably one of the 0.5-2% of all pregnant women who suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum. So, you can consider yourself one of the elite. The specially chosen.

Regular readers know that this is my fourth HG pregnancy, but it is the first pregnancy that I've needed more than one medication to manage my symptoms. This pregnancy I have rotated through five different anti-nausea medications, and am currently on four different ones. Even while on multiple different medications, I still threw up and lost weight in my first trimester. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been without that medical support!

So, first a really important note. Please, please don't comment on this post about the safety of Zofran. And please don't hound any HG moms in your life about it either. Zofran, and any other anti-nausea medications used to treat hyperemesis gravidarum, are not used lightly. Hyperemesis gravidarum is, historically and still in modern cases that are untreated, a potentially deadly condition. It is not to be taken lightly. Before current treatments, hyperemesis gravidarum was often a death sentence to women. Not so any longer! But it is still a very serious condition, that requires proper treatment to sustain the life of both mother and baby. No use of medication is without potential risks, but the risks of not properly treating hyperemesis gravidarum are far more significant.

(As a side note, the actual incident that resulted in the lawsuit surrounding Zofran involved an instance where a patient was given a significantly larger dose at one time than she should have - the equivalent of being on a Zofran pump for several days, given at once. Obviously, that would be problematic, and is more of a reflection of malpractice than anything else.)

So, first of all, if you need a Zofran pump - all kidding aside - I'm sorry. I'm sorry your HG is so rotten that it's come to this. However...there is hope that it might make a big difference for you! So, it's also a little bit of a good thing, too. My second trimester is definitely more manageable than it was with my second pregnancy, and I think that the pump is playing a part.

When I found out I needed a Zofran pump, I scoured online for every pump tutorial I could find. I knew it was subcutaneous, so I knew I would have to be sticking myself with something. But I didn't have the faintest clue as to how that actually worked. And, while I am not afraid of needles, I wasn't relishing the idea of actually sticking myself with one. (Side note: I show a picture of the needle itself in this post, so you can see how small it is, but there are NO pictures of me actually sticking myself. You're welcome.) 

So, in my search, I could only find tutorials for one kind of Zofran pump. (Here's a great video tutorial for that other kind of pump.) Then, my home health nurse showed up...with a different kind of pump. And I couldn't find any tutorials on it! So, here is a tutorial for how to use my weird pump, in case your home health company uses the same kind. (I think my nurse told me this one is usually used for chemo treatments, but I'd imagine there are other companies that use it for Zofran, too.) It is really similar to the other kind of pump that is used, but it's actually easier to switch medicine cassettes (no loading of syringes necessary!). So, without further ado...let's dive on in!


This is my handy-dandy pump. The whole main part is the pump itself - what keeps track of dosage and the mechanisms that get the job done. You can barely see a strip of white at the bottom. That's the top of the cassette that contains the actual medicine. I just cut it off because it's basically covered in a sticker with all my prescription information and I figured you didn't need that. ;-)


Here's what my set-up looks like, when I'm gathering supplies for a site (the place where the catheter is inserted in my skin) or cassette (the actual case with the medicine, which doesn't get changed every day) change. I'll walk you through each item step by step.


This is the sharps container. You can't just throw your used needles away in the trash, so you have to put it in this handy container. I usually put in my used catheters, too, since that's a biohazard type waste, but I don't know if everyone does that. When it gets full, you give it back to the home health company and they bring you another one.


One of my weird triggers this pregnancy is washing my hands. Thankfully, I can wash my hands with soap and water most of the time now, but there was a stretch where I could only wash them in the morning and had to resort to hand sanitizer to avoid puking from the feeling of water on my hands. Why am I tell you this? Oh, right...just reminding you to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you change your site! 


An alcohol wipe so you can get your skin super clean like the nurse always does before you get a shot. You get to pretend to be a nurse, lucky dog!


Tagiderm. It's a clear, plastic kind of tape that covers your site once your catheter is inserted. It didn't give me huge problems when I first started using a pump, but now it's super itchy. You can always talk to your home health nurse for suggestions for dealing with the itchiness, but I find putting regular lotion on old site usually soothes the skin.


This is your actual sub-q site set. It has the tubing and needle you need to get hooked up to the good stuff. 


Step 1: Stop the pump! This means that no Zofran will be pumped out when you disconnect the tubing.


Step 2: Get set up to prime the tubing in a minute. I kind of felt like a genius when I figured out how to do this. My nurse couldn't figure it out, either. I used to have to completely unlatch the medicine cassette to get the option to prime the tubing. Then, I realized that when the pump is stopped, you can select options, press enter, and you're all set to prime. Woo-hoo!


This is how the screen will look when you hit enter. Don't click the Y button yet! You're all set to prime the tubing once she switch to the fresh one.


This is how your site looks when you open it. I have no idea what the point of that plastic circle on the bottom is, so please enlighten me if you do know. The cylinder at the top of the tubing is what we're after here. DO NOT touch the cylinder itself! To attach the new tubing, hold the actual tubing, not the cylinder. If you touch that little cylinder, disinfect it with alcohol or alcohol wipes, so it's sanitary, again. 


Step 3: Switch the tubing. On the left, you can see a thicker tubing and a thicker cylinder (you can touch the outside of that one, but not the inside). One the right, you can see the littler cylinder (the one you can't touch) and the thinner tubing. The thicker tubing is what is attached to the medicine cassette. The thinner tubing is attached to the site. When you switch sites to a fresh one, you want to unscrew these tubes from each other, and screw in the new tubing to that thick tubing. Confused yet? When you're done, it'll look like this again. 


Step 4: Prime your tubing. Right now, your new tubing is filled with air, and you don't want air or air bubbles in your tubing. To avoid that, you "prime" it, or pump a small amount of medicine through the tube to fill it up. This is the side view of the catheter/needle. The blocky looking thing on the right is what you pinch and retract once you have successfully inserted the catheter into your skin. The left blue part is covering up the needle encased in the catheter. Once the catheter is inserted, the needle is retracted from your skin. 


See the little needle in the center there? 


Here's another view.


To prime your new catheter once you're hooked up to the medicine tubing, point the needle downward (into your plastic case that the site came in, or on to a piece of tissue), and click the "Y" button on the pump. I usually have to press it three times before I see a spurt of medicine come out of the tube. Once you see that, you know that the tubing is air free!


Once your tubing is primed, peel off the sticker from that white circle around the needle, and take off the blue cap. This is the needle you're going to put into your belly (or leg...but belly is usually easier because the skin is less tough). It's tiny, isn't it??? Not scary. If you relax and pinch a really large chunk of skin (pinch an inch) you usually won't even feel it going in. Even if it does sometimes hurt, it's quick and not too bad. You can do it! Before you insert the needle, pick a spot on your belly, rub the skin liberally with the alcohol wipe, pinch and inch of skin, relax, and stick the needle right in the middle of the pinched skin. Relax and put it in straight, and you'll do great!


When you pinch the top, the needle retracts and looks like this. Thankfully, that whole thing doesn't have to go in your belly! You only put in the tip. And you're done already! You're a champ. Click that top left tab over the top of the needle.


And throw that used needle away in your sharps container!


This is what the site looks like when the catheter is inserted! Put the tagiderm tape on top and you're good to go. I'm not showing you my whole bruised and welt covered belly because I'm too modest, so you just get to see this little corner. 


I usually alternate sides of my belly for sites. Because Zofran is a skin irritant, it causes redness, bruising, and welts, and the sites need to be changed often. I find once a day or so usually works well, but some moms need to change them more frequently. The irritation is a small price to pay for keeping food down and being able to talk and sit upright! It isn't fun, but it isn't awful and you kind of get used to your stomach looking like a punching bag. Icing old sites or applying heat can help.

After you install the new site, you'll still have the old site and tubing hanging off of you. Pull that out of your belly, and it will look like this. Just a tiny little catheter! The catheter is stiff, but somewhat flexible. If you insert it correctly, it should cause pain once in (although occasionally the Zofran will sting when first pumped in). If it's really hurting, it's time to switch your site! Sometimes a tiny bit of clear liquid or a few drop of blood will come out of the old site (especially if it was getting really irritated and not absorbing the medicine well). Sometimes nothing comes out. Some women like to squeeze out excess Zofran after removing the catheter. Do whatever works for you. You shouldn't need to put a bandaid on it. (I have only briefly needed to once, when the site was just a really bad placement and ended up bleeding a lot when removed. That is not normal, and probably won't ever happen to you....but don't freak out if it does. The bleeding should still stop fairly quickly.) I always throw my old catheter away in my sharps container.


Start the pump, and you're good to go! The first pump of your Zofran may sting at your new site, but don't worry...it usually won't sting after the first pump. If it keeps stinging a lot, you might want to just switch sites again. 


This is what the screen looks like when you are all done! You want to make sure it says, "running" and also check the reservoir volume number, so you know when you'll have to change it. Note: if you change the battery (it will beep to tell you when you need to) it will reboot as "stopped" not "running." So always make sure your pump is actually pumping! 


Then zip up your case and you're good to go! Anyone who has seen me up and about recently has seen me with this trusty case slung over my shoulder.

That's it! Changing the medicine cassette is basically the same process, except you have to unlatch the reservoir by turning a dial on the side. The reservoir pops out and you pop a new one in. Other than that, the whole process is basically the same. 

You can do it! And I hope it helps you as much as mine has helped me. Fight on, warrior mom! You've got this!

For more hyperemesis gravidarum info, check out Help Her, or take the assessment on the Diclegis website to get your PUQE score. HG looks different for every mom, and some HG moms don't actually throw up a lot! These resources can help you figure out if you have HG and where you fall on the spectrum. And don't hesitate to contact me with questions, either. ;-)





Monday, February 13, 2017

My Four Children (And It's A...)



Last week, I was officially 19 weeks pregnant with this newest love of ours, and we had our mid-pregnancy/anatomy ultrasound done. Ever since Gabriel's second ultrasound, the one where we found out we had lost him, I tend to dread ultrasounds. Every one is a reminder of the innocence that I've lost forever. I know there is no guarantee that I will hold a living child in my arms.

Thankfully, this ultrasound went beautifully! Baby was super active (you can see a little tip of a hand being touched to a forehead in the picture below...those little arms and legs were waving everywhere!) and super healthy. All anatomy looked fantastic, heart was functioning beautifully and pumping strong, and it made all the suffering of the past months absolutely worth it!

We also found out the gender of this newest little Chronister...ready? It's a....


...third baby girl!!! Our oldest two are elated! Therese jumped up and down when we brought home the pink balloons and shouted, "Mommy! Mommy, it's just what I wanted!" (Maria was just excited about the balloons, but I can't blame her. They were pink and they were shiny and they were hearts. What's not to love?)



Although I very much hope to have a little boy at some point, in a way it was a relief knowing this little sweetheart is a girl. I know girls. I have experience with daughters. I even have a bin full of baby girl clothes waiting for our third daughter to grow into.

But there was also another reason why I was glad to know that this is a girl. Because it gave me further affirmation that Gabriel must be a boy. For one, this pregnancy has been every bit as miserable (and then some) as my other girl pregnancies. It has followed the pattern exactly, only varying slightly in severity. Gabriel's was my mildest HG by far, to the point that some days the HG was almost more like normal morning sickness. My body responding to treatment with just one medication, and I felt pretty sick, but it was much milder than my pregnancies with my three girls. (This also means that, hopefully, any future boy pregnancies will be less severe, HG-wise.)

I also heard about this one theory that you can predict the gender of a baby based on which side the baby implants in the uterus. I have no idea if there's any truth to that, but all three of my daughters nestled into the same side of my womb, and Gabriel found an entirely different spot. So, there's that.

I can't know for sure in this life, but it was further confirmation that gave me hope that maybe, maybe, Gabriel really is a little son.

I have a lot of friends who have lost babies to miscarriage or stillbirth, and I think one worry at the back of my mind was...what if I end up loving my newest baby more than Gabriel?? What if this new baby just felt like a "replacement baby"?

Surprisingly, my love for Gabriel has only grown with the life of his younger sibling. Our Gabriel is now a big brother, and in the depths of my heart, I can sense the ways that he is fulfilling that role. I can feel his prayers for me, for his baby sister, for his daddy, and for his big sisters. He is still, very much, a part of our family. We talk about him, think about him, pray for him and ask his prayers most every day. And my love for him hasn't waned one bit. It's only grown.

I monitor my fertility, and I know what my "signs" look like when I'm able to conceive a child. The cycle that we were blessed with baby sister was the last possible cycle that I could get pregnant before Gabriel's due date. I had heard from so many people who told me that they lost one baby, and then - before that baby would have been born - they conceived another. And I'd heard from so many moms that there was a kind of healing in that. The youngest child wouldn't have existed if the older had lived, and there was a consolation knowing that two children existed in a span that would normally only allow for the one.

I knew that it didn't seem like I would be able to get pregnant, and I had reconciled myself to the fact that I wouldn't have that consolation, "rainbow" baby before Gabriel's due date. I've had issues with infertility, and it didn't surprise me that it wasn't easy to get pregnant after Gabriel. Although we had tried and hoped and prayed, it didn't look like I was pregnant, and I was convinced I wasn't.

When I got the positive pregnancy test...I was in total disbelief. I still didn't believe the second test, or the bloodwork. When our first ultrasound showed that we might be losing our newest baby, too, I was heartbroken. The child who I could barely believed existed might not make it after all. I lost it.

And then two things happened.



First of all, I realized that our newest baby had a big brother who was (most likely) in heaven. A BIG BROTHER. Of course he would want to pray for her. So, I asked him. I am convinced that this sweet big brother not only prayed for the existence of his baby sister (to console his poor mama's heart) but that his prayers may have also been what saved her life. Since that first ultrasound, her growth has been absolutely perfect.

Secondly, when I was driving home one day, it hit me - St. Rita wanted to be the patron saint of this pregnancy and this child. The same way that I felt that St. Joseph wanted to be Gabriel's patron, I felt that Rita wanted to be our newest baby's patron. St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death, a fitting patron for our third child. What was Rita? The patron saint of hopeless causes. It came to me so suddenly, out of the blue, but has given me much peace this pregnancy. I have no doubt that Gabriel is collaborating with her.

In my lowest moments this pregnancy, the times when it felt like I was dying (even though I knew I wasn't...because hyperemesis gravidarum feels like you're dying, since you end up living your days focuses on basic survival and in bed or making visits to the hospital, like someone who is terminally ill) I asked Gabriel to pray for me. I asked him to pray for his baby sibling. And that gave me peace. Knowing he still has a very real role to play in our family means so much. And now, knowing that he is the only brother to three sisters??? Their future boyfriends don't stand a chance against the intercession of their brother.

Mass has been a real consolation to me, since losing Gabriel, since I know that at Mass the veil is briefly lifted and we get a glimpse of heaven. All the saints and angels are present at every Mass. That means that I can have great hope that, at Mass, my whole family is briefly reunited through the  presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

One Sunday, though, the reality of that really hit me. I was sitting in the pew, praying after Communion. Baby sister was kicking me in utero, Maria came over for a snuggle and a prayer, and then even Therese came over, to join in our snuggling. Suddenly, it hit me - every time I go to Mass with my family, I am a mother of four. I get to embrace and pray with my Therese, my Maria, my Gabriel, and my youngest daughter. All six of us are reunited.  We are reunited in Christ, just as we will be one day in heaven.

I've often felt jealous of those mamas with pews filled with little ones. But that moment, embracing my three living daughters and knowing that - through the Eucharist - my son was with me, too...I felt like the richest person in the whole world. The reality of four children hit me. There were four little fruits of our marriage. Four little children we existed because of our vocation to marriage. Andrew and I, when discerning if we were called to marriage, often wondered what God's special plan for us would be. And in that moment, I could tell you. I could name four people who are part of that plan.

And you may not be able to see a pewful of children beside us at Mass, but that's the reality - in the seven and a half years of our marriage, we've been blessed with four children. Four children! There once was a time when I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to have any children. And we have four! And at each Mass, reunited with Christ, and through Him with our Gabriel, we are a big family. We are parents, once again, of four children. Four little souls who pray with us at each Mass. That reality blows me away. 


Awhile back I wrote: 

Because here's the incredible thing. I have this sense that Gabriel's story is far from over. I have this sense that he is paving the way for the rest of the family. I have this sense that all five of us are still connected, connected in a way that no one else (save future, hopefully living children) can ever be a part of. Gabriel is a part of us. He always will be a member of our family. Nothing can ever change that. But he is now a part of something bigger, something we don't understand yet.

With the existence of his baby sister, I'm beginning to get a sense of God's plan for Gabriel. It's only a small piece of that plan, but I now know that his intercession for his family is part of the work he is doing now. I have a feeling that there is so, so much more that I don't understand yet.

And as my belly swells and our youngest daughter grows bigger, my love for Gabriel grows, too. He is still, so much, an integral part of our family. Heaven and the resurrection continue to feel more real to me than ever before. And we have a member of our immediate family of six, who has gone ahead of us and is praying us all along on our journey.

And my love for my youngest daughter? It grows more and more by the day, too. I am still often filled with disbelief that she exists! She is an incredibly busy, active little girl, but I still have moments when I feel her kick and wonder, "What WAS that??" And then I remember, "Oh, right. Baby. I'm pregnant." I have been filled with wonder at the lives of each of my children, but the life of this child is the first I am experiencing with the knowledge that not every child survives. And so, with the passing of each milestone, each kick, each doppler reading of her heartbeat, each wave of nausea - I am filled with wonder. 

And I was reading over old blog posts recently, I remembered something else. I remembered getting into the elevator after the appointment where we learned we lost Gabriel, and having a brief, clear image of a healthy baby girl come to mind. It came out of nowhere but gave me incredible peace, as if God were saying, "There is another child coming after this." I had forgotten about that, but now I realize...this little girl is another piece of the puzzle. She is another part of the unfolding of the mystery of God's plan, in the life of our little family.

(Joining Rosie for My Sunday Best.)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Book Review: A Sea Without a Shore

One of my favorite things about the work that I do - my writing, my speaking, my media/blogging work, and my work with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability - is the amazing people I've gotten to know.

One of those people is Jeannie Ewing, fellow writer and fellow member of the NCPD's Council for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. We also have three children that match up just about perfectly in age (including our in-utero children) and I think it's a cruel twist of fate that we don't live in the same town so we can have tons of play dates and get to geek out about theology together. ;-)

One of the other things that I love about Jeannie is how she uses her theological knowledge to lead others on their journey to God - especially those in the midst of pain and suffering. Jeannie is no stranger to suffering in her own life, and she has written beautifully in her previous books about the grace that can be found in the midst of it. She has used her own experience as a caregiver of a child with special needs to help other parents navigate those waters. And she's also written about the process of grieving and finding hope in the midst of it.

In her latest book, A Sea Without a Shore - Reflections for the Brokenhearted, Weary, and Lonely, Jeannie offers her usual depth in the form of a devotional. This isn't an academic theological work on suffering - it is a work of deep reflections, meant to help those in the midst of difficult challenges find hope.



From Amazon's description:

"Everyone experiences suffering and trials throughout life, whether in the form of death or significant loss of a relationship, finances, a home or job, and even a pet. Loss affects us all, and we are often left feeling empty, lonely, and lost in the midst of such excruciating darkness. Others may attempt to ameliorate our fears, concerns, and struggle, but to no avail. Even our faith may seem to fail us. Jeannie Ewing understands that holy darkness may veil us in a cloud of unknowing for a time, but we don’t have to capitulate to despair. Instead, we can journey through the mysteries and misunderstandings through the eyes of faith. In A Sea Without A Shore: Spiritual Reflections for the Brokenhearted, Weary, and Lonely, you will find a familiar friend journeying with you throughout the often murky and tumultuous waters of grief. No matter the cause of your pain and strife, this devotional will offer short but poignant insights that open your heart to God’s love and mercy."

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my review, and I will tell you...if you are in the midst of loneliness and suffering, looking for a way to address this in your prayer life, this book is definitely worth a look! You can find her book in paperback and Kindle form here.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

On the Grace of Perseverance (at 17 weeks)

I'm 17 weeks pregnant this week.


This pregnancy has followed the pattern of my first two. Once I hit 14-16 weeks or so, the hyperemesis gravidarum shifted. I went from moderate HG, spending all day every day in bed, throwing up every night, struggling to eat and stay hydrated...to mild HG/bad morning sickness. What does that look like?

The good news is that I'm not spending all day, every day in bed. I do need to retreat back to bed by mid-late afternoon, and stay there (or else I start having dry heaving fits and occasionally come close to throwing up). But I wake up at 7:00 a.m. or a little earlier every day....so there's a lot that can be accomplished in those hours. We were able to continue homeschooling while I was so sick (although we took some time off during Advent- I purposely started school a month early in case we were blessed with a new baby this academic year), but it's so nice to not being trying to do everything electronically (just looking at the Kindle Fire screen makes me nauseated, remembering how much time I spent looking at that screen when I was so sick). 

We've moved our school supplies and work back to the playroom, which is next to our bedroom and requires less walking around for me. It's nice to be able to be cracking open actual paper books, and doing calendar time, and checking worksheets. We've also spent this month participating in the Gameschool Challenge over at My Little Poppies, and we've had so much fun spending time playing games together in the afternoon. Maria is currently obsessed with Zingo, Therese is enjoying checkers, and both girls are loving learning how to play chess with the help of this game. I started learning chess around kindergarten, and I love that I get to continue that tradition. ;-)



We can usually get through our main subjects in a couple of hours in the morning - Math, Reading, Handwriting, Art Appreciation, Religion, Literature/Before Five in a Row (Maria's preschool curriculum), music, poetry, and Latin. It sounds like a ton, but it really isn't! We use Mother of Divine Grace, which is an accredited, classical curriculum, and I substitute in Handwriting Without Tears (Therese's pre-K class used it last year and she and I both love it), All About Reading (pricey but fantastic phonics program that uses the Orton-Gillingham method, a method highly praised by one of our old speech therapists), Modern Curriculum Press Math (which I like, but which I'm not particularly attached to, so we'll probably switch over to Abeka next year, like MODG recommends). The subject that they beg for (and that I pop on for them every day while I make lunch) is Song School Latin. I can't recommend it highly enough! We just listen to the songs and watch the videos right now, but we'll probably use the worksheets with Therese next year. The girls are in love with Simeon the monkey, and their Latin professor father (and his students) get a kick out of occasionally hearing them say, "Salve, Pater!" when they seem him. This program makes Latin mainly a game, so they adore it. They have a version for Greek, too, which I might get next year. 



So, if you can't tell...I really enjoy getting to teach them. Breaking up the occasional fight or dealing with the occasional tantrum/screaming fit isn't fun, but it also seems like such a small price to pay for getting to be out of bed and spending time with them!

When my nausea is at its worst (so, pretty much all of my first trimester) the only thing I can do is read books on my Kindle Paperwhite. Out of curiosity, once I got into my second trimester I decided to update Goodreads to figure out how many books I had read or re-read from the end of October to the beginning of January. I can't recommend the exact number, but I think it was right around seventy. SEVENTY books. Lots were kids classics or re-reads, but I also read some classics that had been on my list forever (I spent Christmas week reading Gone With the Wind, and followed it up immediately with Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the pairing was probably one of the most fruitful I've ever had in my reading). When I realized how much I had read, I decided to make myself a reading list for this year, and am already plowing through it. (Grapes of Wrath has surprisingly been one of my favorites so far this year, although I'm in the midst of Vanity Fair and Viper's Tangle and loving them both!) This has been the case in each of my pregnancies - my reading life has spared my sanity. It has reminded me that there's more to life than my nausea. Even when my body is weak, my brain can keep learning and working and pondering, and that is such a blessing.

Right before this pregnancy, I became the social media manager for our Archdiocesan Office of Natural Family Planning, and I also had two speaking engagements that I booked ages ago and happened to fall in my first twenty weeks of pregnancy. Thankfully, all of the above has been able to be done remotely (via e-mail, Google Hangouts, and , and that has been a blessing, and actually has worked out really well. and the wonders of Windows Movie Maker). Being able to still do work for the Church while being so sick has been a huge sanity saver, too.

I've regained all the weight that I lost during my first trimester, and starting gaining weight on top of that (i.e. weight toward my official pregnancy total). I can stay better hydrated, and tolerate more foods. I can go to Sunday Mass. I can walk short distances without getting a pounding heart. I even showered standing up this week...which is huge!

So, that the amazing, wonderful news. The baby is healthy and kicking every day (and we'll hoping get to find out if this is a little miss or mister next week). I'm able to do more around the house, to relieve Andrew of a lot of the burdens he took on for all of those weeks. 

But, I have to be honest...there's another half of it. 

The other half is the fact that I still feel nauseous all day, every day, and will until I give birth. The nausea is much milder in the morning (and when I wake up in the middle of the night), and just builds as the day goes on. I typically need to spend evenings and nights in bed, so I can't hang out with friends, eat dinner with my family, or even spend a lot of time with them in the evening. If I talk to much or am up too much in the evening, it leads to a dry heaving fit and me praying not to puke. Even during the days, I have to be mindful of not doing too much, although I can do more as my physical strength returns (it usually takes me a month or two to regain the strength I lost from being in bed for so long). We've been needing to avoid being too social, because if I were to get a cold or stomach flu, I could have a major HG relapse. (I got a cold over Christmas, and it resulted in weight loss, dehydration, and throwing up.) But even as I'm strong enough to spend more time out of the house...I won't be at my usual level of functioning for another 5-6 months or so. 

The good thing is that, at this point, those around me around suffering much from this. I'm able to be present to the girls all day. Andrew is still having to take on extra responsibility and make extra sacrifices, but is getting some relief as I'm able to take on more. And the baby is thriving, and we're well past the point where my HG could be dangerous for him/her. The only piece of the puzzle left is me. 

I've been looking back at some of what I wrote during Maria's pregnancy, and finding comfort in the knowledge that I've survived this process twice before. But at this stage - I start to feel overwhelmed. I start to panic when I realize I will still feel miserable and nauseous for at least another 5 months, if not longer (the nausea lingered for a while after I gave birth to Maria). I'm also aware of the fact that I could have a repeat of my last post-partum experience with kidney stones. And I try not to feel too afraid, too overwhelmed. I try to just focus on getting through one day at a time - enjoying the days when I'm doing really well, and resting more on the days when I'm not. 

But the reality is, as most HG moms will tell you, this latter part of pregnancy is hard in an entirely different way. I seem to be totally normal, smiling and going through my day. But I feel miserable all day, every day. Relentless nausea for so many months wears on you. It wears on your sanity. It is hard. And it's hard to still be cheerful and kind when you just feel so miserable. I'm still on four different nausea meds, including my lovely subcutaneous pump. And even on four different nausea medicines, I still feel nauseous all the time. It sounds like something so minor, but imagine a time you have been really nauseous - a bout of motion sicknesses or stomach flu - and imagining feeling that way non-stop for at least eight months. You would go crazy!

HG can be so isolating. so lonely. Because it is a rare condition, most people haven't experienced it or anything like this, and it can be hard to explain to someone else. Thankfully, I've been able to join an amazing HG Facebook group, and it feels like such a relief to talk to women who know exactly what I'm going through (many who are even sicker than I have been, and some of whom have nearly lost their lives to HG). 

But there is still this struggle, this struggle to not give up. The struggle to maintain friendships when you can't talk on the phone, or have friends come visit, or hang out with anyone in the evening (which is when all family/friend dinners, mom's night outs, and social get togethers seem to happen). The struggle to not be too hard on yourself when you aren't able to function as fully as you're used to. The struggle to not constantly snap at every person in sight because you just don't feel well.

So, I pray for the grace of endurance, and perseverance. I normally have antenatal depression begin to kick in by now, but having so much support this time around has made a huge difference. The care and concern and prayers of so many people have made a huge difference.

And my Gabriel has made a huge difference, too. He showed me that there is something worse than HG. And his prayers...his prayers have sustained me like nothing else. It sounds strange, but this little big brother has already done so much for his younger sibling. I've struggled with infertility in the past and chart my cycle, and although we were certainly hoping that we would be able to have this child...it shouldn't have been possible, given my specific history. And after that first scary ultrasound, it didn't even look like this child would make it. But here I am, more pregnant by the day, and still in total disbelief. I can't believe that we've been given this child, and that this child continues to survive (and make his or her presence known in the form of the world's most adorable kicks). I'm just in such disbelief, and so incredible grateful. Before Gabriel, I knew that each child is a gift - but now I know it with more certainty than I ever thought possible. And the love in my heart really has grown. I love each of my four children more than I could ever say, and am so grateful for their existence. Every time I hear my girls talk about their baby brother, it comforts me. And every time I ask him to pray for his baby brother/sister, I feel such peace. He will always be a part of our family. 

Many times a day, I tell my girls how grateful I am for my children, and how much I love them. Every night, we ask God to bless each one of them by name. And every time we talk about the children in our family, Gabriel's name is sure to be mentioned. I am so grateful that he is the big brother of this child, and that his love for our family is still so felt. We certainly love him.

So now, two prayer intentions. Please continue to pray for the health and survival of this sweet newest baby. And please pray that God gives me the grace of perseverance in spades. The very real suffering of an HG pregnancy is so hard - but I believe with all of my heart that it is worthwhile. I believe each of these children are worthwhile. I would trade them, or their pregnancies, for anything. They were worth the suffering.



Long ago, back when I was discerning my vocation, I prayed for the grace to learn to love as Christ loves. I had no idea that this was how God would teach me how to love through suffering, for the sake of another. But honestly? Can you think of an easier way to learn that lesson? These four children of mine have taught me that suffering is as nothing, when undertaken in love. I don't always bear that suffering with patience, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn to love in this way. 

Honestly? Hyperemesis gravidarum, in all its awfulness, seems like such a small price to way for the gift of a Therese, Maria, Gabriel, and Little Baby in my life. They are so worth it. 

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