Tag Archives: last days

Weaning

Ten years ago this past month I began nursing my first born baby girl, and this exact month a decade later I weaned my last baby boy.  The beginning was an awkward beautiful rite of passage to motherhood and the end an emotional compilation of natural closure and necessity.  At 17 months, my baby is completely nourished by a healthy diet of solid foods and less interested in nursing.  I needed to prepare my body a few days in advance for our service trip to Honduras with malaria medication that was not okay for nursing. I left it up to him in those last few days as he was already growing less and less interested.  I was letting this natural process unfold and not offering what I knew was so good for him, unasked – a lesson I know I will come back to over and over throughout the years.

With his little “milk” fist pump sign language, he tugged at my heart and I would willingly respond.  It was emotional for me.  My husband would send me up to the rocker that we splurged on with our first, I knew out of both his sense of practicality and to honor sentiment – to get every last bit of worth out of our most expensive new-parent purchase and for me to be able to have a special moment where I first held and soothed and fed all of our babies.

With 4 children and the smart phone era, nursing has been a fairly distractible time of practicality and efficiency.  If a kid, or three, are near, there is always someone asking something of me even as I sit bound to my babe.  Or, I have had the chance to get caught up on an e-mail or a social media hit.  About 6 months in, it dawned on me how much my nursing life had changed over in a decade.  I had begun my nursing life bound to sit.  I prayed, read or just gazed at my baby in a quiet nursery for what seemed like half of my waking (and sleeping) hours.  It was soothing and sweet, quiet, sometimes lonely, time for me to think and look and smell and see my sweet baby.  It made me sad to think of my last baby looking up at a face that wasn’t gazing back at him, and for myself to not be relishing this precious time.  I knew all too quickly, my babe-in-arms days would be on the go with the boundless energy of a toddler taking on the world, too busy experimenting to be held quiet and still.  Oh, it’s already happening –  drawers are being emptied, bookshelves cleared, little feet pitter-patting to the next exploration – and my heart just hurts over the change, always hurting for what is going away and expanding for what is to come.

I put away my phone those many months ago while I was nursing, and I sequestered myself to cozy quiet(er) places in order to choose presence, and it was worth every minute.  I memorized his eyes, the gray-blue becoming brown, eyelashes unfurling, the wisps of hair growing fluffier, and I kissed his sweet baby toes a thousand times.  We touched each others faces, his small hands memorizing me and my large fingers tracing tiny features.  I remember when my first-born discovered my eyelashes and she would ever-so-gently take her little finger and brush it back and forth across each set.  My second had a thing for hair, still does.  As I’d nurse him he would splay his fingers wide and draw his hand back and forth through long cool strands.  Even now at age 8, when we are cozy on the couch or cuddling before bed he’ll say “can I touch your hair mama?” and he’ll gently stroke his hands through as he is visibly soothed by the sensation.  And my third, her thing was ears.  If you knew her as a baby you are smiling now, because she probably played with yours too!  As I’d cozy her in to nurse, her little finger and thumb would instinctively go to my earlobe and she’d gently rub the soft skin endlessly.  I miss these moments like mad.

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I took this photo 3 days after the birth of my last baby, after a decade of burgeoning belly shots filled with hope and expectation.  I was sad to see my belly so quickly diminishing.  A strange thing to miss, I know, but it meant so much more than bothersome baby-fat to me at the time.  It represented a womb that would never be full again.  Much as I am intentional about that choice to be done with 4 kids at home, it isn’t without grief.  My postpartum belly left me in shock after my first.  I remember the big soft jiggly belly that came home from the hospital with me and thinking, “hmmm, now I don’t remember anyone telling me about THIS!  What the heck? When does THIS go away?”  By the 5th, I was extremely sad to see it going.

My kids are all here now, or there in heaven, and we are all done.  Well, we think.  But we’ve decided and are so far on the track of preventing any more.  A friend recently sought advice for her 40th birthday and after a few brainstormed trips and triumphs for a good celebration, one said “I had a baby my 40th year. That’s one way to celebrate.”  And it’s the one idea that made my heart skip a beat, “Now that sounds fun!” I thought. Truly.

But I am done.  All done.  Four was the hope and four is our limit and we are stretched to capacity all the time. (Oh, but it’s not so bad really – what’s one more? we say.)  Friends who began when we did and ended earlier are out on family adventures together – ski trips and un-baby-friendly hikes and such.  That looks fun too, I think.  Our oldest are nearing pre-teendom, are they getting what they need from us?  Can we really be there for them when there are still diapers to change and choking hazards to constantly, constantly scan for?  Will they ever get all they ever need from us?  Of course not, and I know better to think they should.  But still, my big huge aching love for each of them is vast and immeasurable and I just wish sometimes I has a clone of them for each day they’ve lived.  I cannot fathom I will never again see my first born’s first dance hip hopping back and forth to mother goose songs on her little CD player (which of course she was so brilliant to figure out on her own at age 2).  Never again will my first little guy snuggle in my arms, head-to-feet between my elbows.  Not any more will my spunky 3rd child say “hold you me?” with arms spread wide now that she knows to say it “correctly.”  And not ever again will I nourish my baby from my body, giving life and sustenance, comfort, bonding, immunity, health, closeness and connection in the very closest way, ever, again.  This feels hard.  But this feels right.  And in some moments feels good.

Time marches forward and I dream of the day I can pursue a Ph.D. or publish a book, take ALL of my kids skiing, or walking, and know all will be safe without a hand from me.  But I pray they will always reach back to hold this hand far beyond when they will need it to stand.  I pray we will have woven our hearts together similar to the miraculous ways God knit them together in my womb.  This will take work on our part to see and know them as they need to be seen and known.  I will do my best at that commission and consider it my greatest work.

I strive for meaning and purpose in my life and faith, ask God regularly what He has for me to do in this world and who He wants me to be.  I know I am meant to be a mother, above all else.  I work at my career with a full sense of calling, but the work of my womb has been my magnum opus.  The work my body did nearly without need for the mind and will I so intentionally put to every other task of my life, has been the most beautiful work I can behold.  To have created and carried these eternal souls.  What a gift.

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Emotional Roller Coaster

I am too exhausted for a properly written blog post, but I need to write.

I had an emotional roller coaster day today.  I started the day wondering if the normal elements of my day would be my “last” before the baby comes – beginning with my shower…my drive to school with the kids…my meals – before everything changes.  Then some sweet “nesting” time with my littlest running “last” errands that needed to happen before baby comes – crib sheets, carseat, hangers, snacks for the hospital – just a few last to-do’s.  It brought me back to my first pregnancy, the hopeful anticipation lacking any taste of fear, to be gathering these treasures.  I was so prepared then.  So prepared.

Afternoon NST results: healthy heartbeat, lots of contractions, but I measured smaller than last week = ultrasound ordered for tomorrow or next day.  Three years ago when I weighed a pound less than the previous week, I was confused and a little disappointed.  I hadn’t crossed a threshold I’d been waiting to cross with my weight.  It was the first sign my baby Fisher had died, I wonder if I knew in that moment?  I remember that one pound was such a bummer.  Today it is a centimeter.

But it isn’t really death I am afraid of right now, it is the magnitude of this life that is about to come. (But who am I kidding, of course I fear death – I guess it’s better said that I am not anticipating it.)

With all my contractions and activity, I was hoping I was in labor today so this would all be over and he would be safe in my arms.  Yet I don’t want my last pregnancy to be over yet. I adore being pregnant and it has gone by too fast.  And I am just not ready.

Are we ever really ready?  I’ve thought I was in the past.  I am a planner and like to be prepared for what is coming next in life.  I have done this childbirth thing enough to know I am not prepared, that we never can be fully prepared, there are too many unknowns. I am feeling unprepared on so many levels.

And yet, it all feels like the proverbial absence from riding a bike.  It is second nature by now for me to respond instinctively to a babies’ needs.  I am beyond excited to hold and care for my baby boy in every way, smell his sweet smell, snuggle his soft skin, feed and soothe him with that telltale bounce as my next permanent hip accessory.  I cannot wait to know him and begin a lifetime of discovery of who he will become.  I love thinking about that.

I am also overwhelmed at the thought of it.  With 3 kids already, how will I have the energy?  I am exhausted, irritable, grateful, terrified, in awe, and feeling ill-prepared – all wrapped in one.

I finally packed my hospital bag, halfway, and remembered my baby needed clothes too.  Revelation. Obvious subconscious avoidance going on there.  So I finally sorted through the baby boy clothes I last had to put away before they ever were worn.  Tears washed over these clothes unpacking them as fiercely as they had come when I had last put them away.  Huge waves of grief overcame me – so many memories of my first son who wore so many of them and the second who never got to.  Some were still new, just for him.

Lots of contractions still, and they are getting painful.  Is it a weary 37 weeks of burgeoning at the end of a long day, or was today my day of “lasts”?

I hope I am in labor tonight.  God help me if I am.


Darkness & Light: Where He Abides

01 Winter Song (with Ingrid Michaelson)

Today is a day of joy and pain. It is the unexpected birthday of my baby girl’s planned birth, on the anniversary of my baby boy in heaven’s funeral – this Winter Solstice day of the Darkest Night.

Three years ago on this day I gathered with my husband, living children, family and friends to mourn the loss of my full term son Fisher.  One year later, after two long years of pregnancy, I gave birth to my baby girl, a planned induced birth that was to be on the 20th and lasted into the wee hours of this Solstice morning.  I heard the beautiful cry of life this day where bliss and loss have become good friends.  My babies will meet in heaven one day, all six of them, and there will be laughter to replace all these tears.  There is laughter here too.  Both I embrace.

Too many deaths. Too many thoughts this month, with too little time to write.  Here are a few formed to words…

Lord, I stand with you at the edge of a beautiful life overlooking the valley of the shadow of death.  I rage with you against the horror of it, small and safe beneath your wing. Knowing you are love, that you loved my beloved and that you love me.  Still though I wonder.

I look at you, in love, wondering if maybe you betrayed me somehow by allowing death to take my child.  Were you a willing participant Lord?  Did Satan come to you as with Job, and you said: let it be? Allowed the boy I’d given every ounce of my being to nurture and love for 10 long months to die before his life began? How could you have obliged?  How do I not give you ownership when I honor your hand in everything else?  What was your role in this?

I know you did not point the gun, twist the cord, that took the breath he never breathed.  But you knew. You were there. You are here now.  Your omnipresence often comforting, implicates participation.  It is so hard reconciling death with your love.

Still I stand with you.  Still I trust you.  Even though I do not understand.  Even more now, I know your love and know you conquer death.

If only it was in my lifetime so that I, and so many others, might not have to suffer so.

It is too hard to bear my Lord, so hard, nearly incomprehensible to me, even now.  Only you know the searing pain that radiated throughout my body, that was cried out from the depths of my soul, that left me grasping for my own breath that might sustain my life.  Only you know this Lord.  Only you know me.  Only this brings incomprehensible comfort.

I praise you.  Fearfully and wonderfully, I praise you.


Presence of Place

Coinciding with the last day in our home, after long days of packing and moving and unpacking and still surrounded by so much work, we took relief in attending a Good Friday service at our home church. It was a beautiful reprieve to be able to sit, quiet, contemplative in the dark and remember the sacrifices of my savior that gives me a life I don’t deserve. To be able to worship, fully, as if alone, and to let floodgates of tears break free, as I used to most every time I worshiped in this place, as I needed to and could, it had been so long.

The places we live and breath and go to matter, they contain the life we live and give structure to it. But I know, as with everything else on this earth, they are temporal, and not the true things of this life. We attended this place, this new sanctuary and the old just across the street, for 7 years, a significant little lifetime. Now that my husband pastors the satellite campus, we no longer come here to worship and I miss it, the way I will miss our home, also a place of knowing God, of worship and nurturance, of so many memories of the rich life we had here. I carry in my belly what we believe will be the last of our children, our 5th, (unless twins) and I am remembering our pregnant beginnings here when parenthood would be brand new. It was my first of many winter pregnancies and I remember sitting in the old chapel, where we used to have church when the numbers were smaller, it was cozy and glowing with candlelight and I was immersed in identifying with Mary’s hope and awe for a child who would change the world. We were new to Seattle, pregnant for the second time, the first to last, and expectant of all the wonder and love that lay ahead. We’ve had 4 children since while in this building, devoted 3 to the Lord in dedication services we take as seriously as our wedding vows, grieved and mourned and wailed the loss of one whose middle name was Samuel, same as the son of Hannah who’s story is shared with each dedication – he was going to change the world too, in leaving us he did.

Tonight we sat hand in hand tucked in the back of the sanctuary through the whole service, something I no longer get to do with my husband and more than simple memory scenes came over me, as they have in our home these past few days, but the cumulative emotions of everything we experienced here was overwhelming to me. Again, so good to sit in the dark, to cry at a somber service that allows me to remember my savior’s death, see scenes of my son’s death, of births, of faces I love and have loved me, remember faces that are gone and realize so much here has changed too. I feel the hope that Easter is coming. It will be the first morning in our new home. It will be new life for us.

So much is unknown, it is hard to remember sometimes that I know of the resurrection, that this death is not final. I know the pain of change, that the days between Good Friday and Easter are short lived, and that He is present beside me in all of it. But I want to hold on to everything I hold dear, I want change to happen, but I want things to stay the same too. And when I repeat that it is “everything I hold dear” that matters, I know full well that everything I hold dear comes with me. In these days of tears, of remembering so much that was so good, and so hard which is meaningful too, I have been so aware of the fullness of life I have with the people who live and are welcomed in these walls. In the carpool or a park or mundane places like Costco, I have been sweetly reminded that it is my little (some would say big) family that gave any life at all to the walls and the rooms and the yard of our house, and it happens everywhere we go together. Similarly, as we have been intentional about having last gatherings with dear friends to say our goodbyes, we’ve exchanged mutual reassurances that the relationships will not go, even as we do.

He will come too, He is already there. When I am not always sure the why or the what of the path we seek to faithfully follow, I take comfort in knowing He is with me, and that His life gives everything that matters to my life.


Hiccups

I remember with some clarity that last day of his life.  He was six days overdue.  I spent most of the morning at the kitchen table, most of the day in my pajamas.  I was tired, sick with a bad cough, large in my overdue time with a big baby boy in my belly.  I had been doing so much to prepare for him, to care for my 4 1/2 year old girl and 2 1/2 year old boy.  It was nice to sit.

I sat at the kitchen table decorated with green and red, messy from remaining breakfast and the odd craft project with my laptop in front of me.  I positioned myself with my back to the sliding door so I could take in the sights and sounds of the house and my beloved people.  We were all in waiting.

My mom, who’d arrived a few days before to help when he arrived, and my 2 1/2 year old Barley, so excited to be a big brother, were passing the time by making gingerbread together.  I took pictures of their happiness.

We were happy and playful that day.  It felt like a real Christmas Vacation day when you are a kid and it is so fun to be at home from school and yet you’re just kind of wandering around wondering how to make the best of all this time.  There is one picture burned in my mind when both kids stuffed their bellies full of their animals and my mom took a profile picture of the three of us.  My belly was huge.  Our smiles were huge, that day before everything changed.

Mid-morning Fisher had hiccups, as he had nearly every day before.  We felt his in those moments, having no idea it would be the last time.  Barley’s little hands moved below my big belly, my mom’s on top and mine guided each of theirs to the subtle bumps like a blind person adeptly passing fingers across braille words.  I knew just where to press to feel his little back for thumps, I knew him, inside and out.

Often his hiccups and kicks came at night, or that is when I was most aware of them.  I remember cuddling in my big queen bed with my little 4 1/2 year old girl Bug, her hands and head taking in the wonder of this little life inside me.  I remember the awe in her eyes, the smile on her face, explaining once again how it all worked.  She was going to be at the birth; she wanted to see him come out.

I was sitting at the kitchen table ordering a custom made stamp of his name for his baby announcement.  I’d gathered gray blue-green paper with clay colored stars, a stamp that said “Joy” and a silver star brad to hold his picture over red paper.  It was going to be a play on a Christmas theme, this son who was suppose to be born in the season of remembering our Savior’s birth.  I poured over fonts, this one or that one, measured out size and visualized placement.  I am a thoughtful decision maker, some, my husband mainly, would say slow.  I finalized the sale just in time to take a shower before my OB appointment.

It was late afternoon and snow was starting to fall in Seattle.  A hot shower felt good.

While Scott took his shower we had those few stolen moments to talk that parents of toddlers have. “When do you think this baby is going to come?” he said.

“I just don’t feel like he is going to, well not today” I said, “but I want to bring my bag for the hospital to this appointment though, just in case.”

In all my three pregnancies, I had never brought my bag of things to an OB appointment before.  In the steamy warm room I wiggled my naked round belly dancing around on the soft white bath mat.  “Maybe I can wiggle this baby out of me!”

We both laughed at how funny I looked.  How audacious of me to be so silly!  I often remember that last carefree moment.

I put a few more necessary things in my suitcase; a second outfit for Fisher, an extra blanket, two more cozy pairs of socks for me and a few toiletries.  It made us a few minutes late getting out the door, but I was determined to bring these things along, again, just in case.  Scott wouldn’t take my advice and left his things at home, he thought I was being overly prepared but obliged the “crazy pregnant lady notions.”  I like to be prepared for things.

The kids were napping and since my mom was here to watch them we let them stay sleeping.  We thought we might even grab a warm drink and a little time together after the appointment.  There is a Starbucks below the OB office and I fondly remember going there after many of my appointments with our first baby, when it was just us and we could do things like that, linger over a conversation and hang in the lull of anticipation without any little ones with needs at our feet or to quickly return to at home.

We’d been bringing the kids to all the appointments, getting them used to the idea of a new baby in any way we could.  They loved to hear the heartbeat on the doppler.  Thank God they were sleeping and that my mom was here.  Thank God.

The falling snow compounded our lateness as the traffic was not moving near our house.  I was anxious to get there and knew it was my fault we were late.  We re-routed ourselves and headed through downtown Seattle, where it wasn’t moving much faster.  I called my office to tell them how late we were running and offered to reschedule.  “No, just come in” the receptionist said “if you can get here in 20 minutes Dr. B will see you as her last patient.”

The last patient of the day meant the other pregnant women would mostly be gone. That was a gift from God too.

These small bits of provision on this most horrible of days gave me hope that Someone, a loving God whom I don’t fully understand or know how He works and wish above all else He had spared my son, but still, a loving God was taking care of me in all this.  In so many profound and often unexplainable ways, I was cared for.