Monday, December 30, 2013

Breastfeeding, Guilt, and Letting Go of Control

I've heard several moms express that they were wholly unprepared for how difficult breastfeeding would be.  This is honestly a very foreign concept to me. I'm not sure how the seed was planted (most likely something I read on a blog or several) but I was very prepared for breastfeeding to be a trying  experience. When I was pregnant, I read many more breastfeeding books than pregnancy or parenting books combined (this was my favorite). I read about all the potential pitfalls that awaited me and kept the books handy for reference after birth. 

Imagine my surprise then when Lucia and I experienced not a single breastfeeding problem. No latch issues, no tongue ties, no supply issues (except perhaps when I went back to work part time when she was 8 months and I struggled to find time to pump), not a single clogged duct. I didn't even have engorgement pain when my milk came in. We were certainly blessed in this respect and because I had expected a struggle, I did not take this for granted. I was able to feed my child the way I desired, in the way that nature intended. It seemed, I had also avoided one of the biggest source of new mother guilt (breastfeeding issues).  

Except I didn't. I shared this Facebook post earlier this week:

I didn't realize until I posted just how heavy this had been weighing on me. I've heard women recount time and time again the burdens of guilt brought on by motherhood and I have blessedly been free of most parenting guilt. I acknowledged that I felt sadness about Lucia weaning so early but it's only recently that I've realized it's more than that.

If you've read my post on breastfeeding in church, you have an idea how I feel about breast feeding. I believe breastfeeding is beautiful, an incredible work of nature.  It bonds mother and child and has incredible mutual health benefits that research is only beginning to uncover. I feel all my passion and facts supporting extended breastfeeding don't mean a thing when I am trying to promote something that I couldn't even do myself.

During the early months I sometimes resented that I was the only one who could feed Lucia and would groan when I had to stop what I was doing again to feed her. But after that initial period, especially when it became spaced more than every two hours, I really, truly loved it. It was special time for the two of us. I would stare down at her as she would look up with her big blue eyes and I could see how much she loved and trusted me in that moment. I could provide all the nutrition that my child needed, in a way that no one else good and it felt good.  Even once it became "nursing gymnastics" and it was less of me holding my baby and more of me becoming a jungle gym with milk, I loved that time to withdraw from the rest of the world and just be the two of us. 

So when she stopped, it was much more than a physical separation. Just like so many other moms get emotional about the big milestones that signify that their little ones are a bit more independent and need them less, weaning was emotionally difficult for me. In part, I felt like I had forced Lucia to become independent before she was ready because I am certain that working outside the home three days a week contributed to the decrease in nursing. But the emotional pain went deeper than that and it wasn't until I started reading the comments on my above Facebook post that I realized why I was taking it so hard. You see, many of those comments went something like this: "My child weaned (at an early age) because I was pregnant..."

Ah, and there is the heart of it. I always assumed that I would at least be pregnant with the next child before weaning the previous one (and I had even hoped to tandem breastfeed). Eventually, there would be a last child who would be weaned without a pregnancy or younger sibling, but since we want a large family, that seemed many years, maybe even decades, away. 

And then Lucia weaned with no sibling in sight and that was a physical reminder that our family would never be what we had hoped for. Yes, it could still be large and perhaps we would get pregnant soon and our kids would still be close together as we desired, but it would never be that "perfect family" that we had planned. I don't know where I picked up the obviously flawed idea that we can perfectly plan our families. I'd like to blame it on the contraceptive culture which tries to tell us that we have perfect control over when we have children, but I think it goes deeper than that (and I've certainly seen that same mentality among NFP circles).  I don't think it's a bad thing that I've been forced (by this any many other reminders in my life) that I truly have little control over these things, but it stings nonetheless.

Originally, when Lucia weaned, though longing for another child, we were postponing pregnancy; we were living with my parents and David was still searching for a job after graduating with his PhD a year prior. Shortly after, he was offered his current job and we immediately began trying to get pregnant. I had renewed hope that if I got pregnant right away, Lucia may take an interest in nursing again when the baby was born (I know this may sound odd to many of you, but having her start nursing again at 2 was not a strange concept to me since I had originally hoped to nurse long after that). Then the months passed with negative pregnancy tests and menses bringing fresh tears and deepening the wounds. After four months, we got a positive pregnancy test and the pain of Lucia no longer nursing dissipated because I would now have a new child to breastfeed. 

And then we lost the baby. And I realized that there really is no guarantee we will have another child. We probably will someday. I am young and healthy and most women who have miscarriages go on to have healthy pregnancies and babies. We take longer to get pregnant than normal, but while secondary infertility can affect anyone, we don't currently have any reasons to think we won't conceive again. But there was something about that miscarriage that reminded me that maybe Lucia is our only, our last, baby. And, oh what I wouldn't give to still be nursing her, to still have that link to her babyhood right now.

So maybe it isn't so much breastfeeding guilt but that breastfeeding uncovers a longing for something that is gone. Our "perfect family". The child we lost. The control we thought we had. The innocence of young motherhood that once lost, can never be recovered. 

Why You Rarely See Streams of Consciousness These Days

I've noticed that my blog posts recently have become much more "topic-focused" and much less "stream of consciousness".  I've been thinking quite a bit about why that is.  Part of it is that blogging has become more of a "job".  Not in a bad way or in a something-I-am-forced-to-do way, but more of it's something I take pride in and put a certain amount of regular effort into and take seriously.  I do sponsored posts and reviews and giveaways sometimes.  But this is not, and I can't imagine it ever being, a major source of income in our family, so I don't consider it a job in that respect.  Anyway, there is something about being a "more serious blogger" (read that with a bit of sarcasm and furrowed brow) that lends itself to writing posts on set topics.  

More focused posts are easier to write.  Sometimes they take longer as they often marinate in the "drafts" section.  But I find that if it's a topic that interests me, when I'm actually ready to sit down and type, it comes out faster.  I'm sure that you can think back to your English classes in school and remember teachers trying to get you to focus on topics and narrow down your theses because it's easier to write clearly about one thing.  So it's easier to write in a way that is not all over the place and confusing and overly complex if I just write about one thing (and still, I know, sometimes my writing is all over the place and confusing, though I am not sure about complex).  

It's easier emotionally to write this way as well.  I can compartmentalize my life.  "Today I am going to write about X and in doing so, I can avoid Y.  Because Y is painful/difficult/embarrassing/shameful."  It seems to be a common topic recently that blogs only show the sunny side of life and leave readers feeling inadequate.  (One of my favorite recent posts on this topic is this one by my friend Dwija.)  And I get this.  I get it from both sides.  Some of the blogs I read (and in "real life" the people I meet) can make me feel inferior.  When I compare myself to these amazing women, I come up really, really short (metaphorically and usually, literally, as well).  And I know, that while there are a few people out there that really do live perfectly charmed lives, those people are very, very rare.  People present the best that they have to offer and that is what we are comparing our whole person - the best, worst, and in between - to.  

I've had to stop reading certain blogs and avoid specific people at different times in my life because I just couldn't handle it.  But I want to be clear that during those times, it was not the other person's fault.  I was the one who couldn't handle it.  I'm not to be blamed either of course, but neither are they.  Sure, some people may go out of their way to show off and that may be a form of pride or other sinfulness, but simply putting your best foot forward is not something intrinsically wrong.  There are two sides to this coin:

We are not required to show our messes and our pain and our suffering publicly.  
We should not feel like we must suffer in silence.  

Ultimately, it us up to the individual to decide what to share of themselves.  If someone chooses to share the not-so-pretty side, they should be shown support and love and never, ever shamed for being less than perfect.  If someone chooses to be reserved, they should be given privacy.  Simple as that.  There is no wrong way.  There is no right way.  And I think I do it a little bit of both on this blog.

I've written quite a bit about pregnancy loss since my miscarriage in October.  I did think briefly about whether I would share about it on my blog given that I had not publicly announced the pregnancy yet.  But I quickly realized that I needed to share it for a few reasons.  I write about all the important event of our life on this blog.  Unlike most of these, losing our child was not a happy event, but it was one that completely changed our family, more than a new job or a move ever would.  To me, not writing about it minimized it.  Our child, though he/she never lived outside the womb, is a unique individual who has touched our lives and will forever be a member of our family.  It just didn't seem right that I would keep it all from my blog.  I also shared because I was looking for prayers and guidance.  The prayers and kind words and advice shared by readers has been incredible and has greatly helped me through the grieving process.  

I've received many comments and emails that say something along the lines of "Thank you for your bravery in sharing your story."  And I appreciate those comments.  But I don't feel brave.  I greatly hope that my words and resource sharing may help other men and women who have experienced pregnancy loss (and their family and friends understand what they are going through), but that was only a tiny bit of my reasoning in sharing.  I share because it helps me heal.  Because the process of writing my story and getting responses gives me peace and allows me to think through the complex emotions.  Because it's the best way I know to get the most people possible to acknowledge the life of my child and that acknowledgement is important to me.  Because I want someone to listen.  So I don't feel like it's an act of bravery.  The women who do not share their stories, who suffer the pain of a loss alone - either because they choose to or they have no support, no one to listen or bear the burdens - they represent bravery to me.  All women and men who lost a child, no matter how they deal with it, no matter how cowardly or self-serving they may feel in the healing process, they all exhibit bravery in their own way.

This post is getting a bit off topic, but what I want to come back around to is why I usually write on topic.  My miscarriage posts, they've all been about a specific topic.  Our pregnancy loss storyRemembering my pregnancyReviews of pregnancy loss resourcesMy grief "to do" listEtc.  Like I said, it's emotionally easier this way.  I can write on a specific aspect of my loss and yes, it's painful, but I can kind of compartmentalize the emotions.  I can approach each topic individually.  And I can hide the rest.  You haven't seen any posts titled, "How I feel. Right now." because those would be ugly.  If I shared all the emotions I have inside it wouldn't be so neat.  There would be pain and fear and anger.  Frustration.  Jealousy.  Hopelessness.  There would be healing too.  And beauty.  And gratitude.  And hope along the hopelessness.  But it would be complex.  Messy.  Uncontrollable and indescribable.  And most likely too much for me to handle, at least right now.  So I don't go there.  Instead, I write about the various emotions and aspects of my loss a tiny piece at a time so they are small enough that I can handle them.  Separated from the rest of the murky emotions soup, they can be inspected and understood and shared. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Old Traditions

While my friend, Jen, is dealing with some computer woes courtesy of HP, I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for her about two holiday traditions we're "bringing back" to out family.  Since we have traveled for the holidays most years (and foresee doing so in the future as well), it's nice to have some holiday traditions just for our little family during the season.
One difficult aspect of the holidays in early parenthood is figuring out how to blend the traditions of two different families. I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to do this is not to adopt traditions of the mother’s or father’s family of origin, but to start brand new traditions for your own young family. There are many holiday traditions that families create that are unique to their families but I am attracted to old traditions that are rich in meaning but have largely gone by the wayside in our modern culture. During the holiday season, my husband and I have decided to “bring back” two old cultural traditions with our family...continue reading at ::Meditatio::

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Our Favorite Christmas Books 2013

I'm going to give you a little more notice than my Thanksgiving book post which, published the day before Thanksgiving, didn't give you much time to make use of my book suggestions.  But less than a week before Christmas, this is probably one of those posts that's only going to be useful if it pin it for next year.

What can I say?  Lucia just turned two so this is the first year we're really reading Christmas books and there was no way I was on top of things enough to check out Christmas books before December in order to be able to select my favorite books.  No way I was even thinking about it.  Although if I had thought about it early enough, I would have been able to get more books, because Christmas books go like hotcakes at our library.  And here are the best gooey, buttery, delicious hotcakes this year.

Board Books

 Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft
Kind Ox welcomes animals in from the cold saying, "There's always room for a little one here." The last of these animals is Tired Donkey who brings with him the Holy Family. There is a simple beauty and richness is the story.  Beautiful illustrations. One of my favorite toddler-level books this year.

The Story of Christmas by Patricia A. Pingry, illustrated by Rebecca Thornburgh
Explains the story of the first Christmas in simple language for little ones.

Stable in Bethlehem: A Countdown to Christmas by Joy N. Hum, illustrated by Dan Andreasen
A sweet rhyming book that counts down from 12. 12 drowsy doves, 11 cows, ...8 shepherds,. ..3 wise men, etc.  Another favorite for the youngest crowd, especially because the rhymes are true rhymes. (I have a problem with some of the "reaching rhymes" of children's literature.)

  A Child is Born by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
The prose of this one is beautiful, reverent, but simple enough for little ones.  Reminds me more of lyrics to a lovely Christmas song than the words to a children's book.
This book wasn't what I originally expected.  While each picture features the animals that would have seen the various events of the nativity, the words are a simple retelling of the biblical story.  (I had thought it would have been written from the perspective of the animals, but I liked it much better this way.)  The illustrations are beyond gorgeous.

Picture Books
I wasn't familiar with this carol and was delighted to encounter a old, very traditional sounding carol.  Lucia and I enjoyed looking up the carol and singing along with it while we looked at the pictures.  

The Donkey's Dream by Barbara Helen Berger
Our favorite this year.  This is the epitome of children's literature filled with symbolism and poetic beauty, showing that something understandable by a child can at the same time be complex.  I don't want to say more than that, because I feel like reading it for the first time without knowing exactly what to expect enhanced my surprise at the beauty in the pages.

The Birds of Bethlehem by Tomie dePaola
Every morning, the birds of Bethlehem gather in the fields for breakfast. On the morning of the first Christmas, they tell of the marvelous things they have seen. This picture book is simple enough for toddlers with engaging pictures. 

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Alison Jay
All the animals and plants of the world announce, "It is time! He is come!" A refreshing Christmas book that isn't yet another retelling of the nativity but the more broad story of salvation.

Waiting for Noel: An Advent Story by Ann Dixen, illustrated by Mark Graham
Noel was born on Christmas Day.  As her family lights the Advent candles each week and prepares for Christmas, her father shares the story of the year that they prepared for her birth as well.  I've always found the parallels between the Advent and pregnancy/expecting a child to be beautiful insightful and this book beautifully expresses that parallel through poetic prose.

Four Friends at Christmas by Tomie dePaola
This book is a purely fun one about Mister Frog who usually sleeps through the winter but stays up this year to celebrate his first Christmas.  Lucia loved it, so it's toddler-approved.

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola 
Strega Nona is much loved in our home, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to read her Christmas tale.  I found it to be surprisingly reverent and beautiful.  Strega Nona refuses to use magic at Christmastime because "Christmas has a magic of its own." Instead, she busies herself lighting the Advent candles and preparing her home (and heart) for the Christ Child.  Tomie DePaola is the only children's author I know who writes wonderful, mass-appeal children's literature that effortlessly weaves in elements of the Catholic faith. 

The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie dePaola
I first heard about Befana few years ago from a friend, but didn't know much about it other than it's an Italian tradition for Befana to bring treats to children on the eve of the Epiphany (similar to St. Nicholas on his feast day or Santa Claus on Christmas).  After reading this book, I'm thinking Old Befana may be leaving Lucia a little something this Jan 6th.

An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola
As a history major, I can't pass up this book that tells the story of the introduction of Christmas celebrations into towns where many Christian denominations avoided the observance of the holiday.  This was completely new information to me and I enjoyed reading with Lucia about the paper ornaments and popcorn balls and traditional cookies that marked early 19th century celebrations.  Toddlers can read history too! 

This is the only book we've read this year that I remember reading as a child.  This was one of my favorites.  Probably more for an older child than Lucia, I made her undergo the torture of sitting through it to please mama.  I'm sure she'll do better in a few years. 

For Every Child a Star: A Christmas Story by Thomas Yeomans, illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Way too advanced for my toddler, I read this one myself and loved it.  A beautiful story of a lonely old man that is tangential to the nativity story.  Would probably be best for school aged children or older.  

Looking over a list, I have a few observations about this year's choices:
  • All but one are pretty explicitly religious.  This wasn't intentional.  While we do like to focus on Christ during this season, I think there is space for some more secular Christmas stories as well.  I reserved a ton of books from the library based on a variety of recommendations, without knowing what many of them were about.  Several books I didn't reserve because the wait list was too long and I'm still on the wait list for many others - and I'm guessing that many of those were non-religious because they appeal to a wider variety of folk?
  • A huge chunk of these books are by Tomie dePaola.  Also not intentional.  It's not my fault that one of the best children's book authors and illustrators loves Christmas and writes all the Christmas books!
  • Children's Christmas books, especially those for toddlers, are obsessed with animals, especially the animals present at the nativity.  Kids do love animals, but if you can write a good story about people, they like those too!  
  • I was kind of sad to see that several of this books seem to not be currently in print.  (I couldn't even find a decent picture of For Every Child a Star.) We would love to have any and all of these books in our book collection, but I'm grateful they are at least available at the library.

Next year we'll probably request a few of our very favorites and then try our hand at finding some new favorites (and there were several books that we got that didn't make the cut for this list and will not be in rotation for future Christmases).  When you look at my list, are there any books that are obviously missing?  What do I have to keep in mind for next year?

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Two Year Old

My Lucia, my baby girl, is not a baby anymore.  She's two!  Although I don't really feel like "I blinked and she's grown and where or where did the time go," it's still hard to believe that I'm the mother of a two year old.  I've been taking little notes for the last six months of her big milestones and cute sayings and preferences and sitting down to put these all together in a post, I can't believe how far she's come in only six months.  She's speaking in full sentences and has moved beyond simple statements to more imaginative, silly sentences.  We have full on back and forth conversations.  She has such a curious, creative, and loving personality.  She has such clear likes and dislikes and isn't afraid to express them.  She's incredibly polite, even thanking me when I wipe her bottom on the toilet!  

Every phase with her is completely new - she's my first and I don't have a ton experience with little ones and she consistently surprises me with "outperforming" what I think is typical behavior at each age.  I know that she is advanced in some aspects, especially her verbal skills, but is average or perhaps a bit behind in others, but (and this may sound really silly) I wasn't prepared for a child her age to be such a person.  A unique individual.  So able to communicate and contribute to the world around her.

And she's such a joy, a source of immeasurable joy and beauty to David and me.  (Can you tell I'm tearing up as I write this?)  When I first saw her as a beautiful little newborn, I loved her more that I could imagine loving anyone, but what has amazed me is that I feel like that love only grows as she does.  Sometimes I just stare at her playing or laying next to me and it's like my world stops and I'm so, so at peace.  I thought it was my job was a parent to teach my daughter about the love of God, but I now know it's a two way street; my daughter has taught me more about love and faith and beauty and goodness and God by just being, just living than I can every teach her through intentional instruction or even just my daily displays of love and care toward her.  And now that she can hug me and cuddle me and kiss me and tell me "I lush you, mommy," and be still my heart.  I always wanted to be a mother but I'm starting to realize that I never really understood what it meant.  It is so much more than I ever imagined it could ever be.  And my marriage - I know that children can be hard on a marriage in the day-to-day, we-don't-have-as-much-time-alone-together kind of way, but in the deep, I-choose-to-love-you kind of way, Lucia has brought so much life to our relationship.  When I look at her, I see the reflection of my love for David and his for me.  Our love did this.  Made this.  We are in this together.  We were chosen, blessed, to be the co-parents of this beautiful child of God.  He entrusted her into our care.  Together. 

Don't get me wrong, she's not perfect.  There are tantrums and the hour we spend at Mass each week is more difficult than I can ever imagine.  There is poop on the carpet (not currently) and hair pulling and other less-than-desirable behaviors and activities and gross things in our home.  But you can't have the joys of children without a few nasties and even in the midst of a terrible tantrum I'll still tell you it's worth it.

Anyway, here's what Lucia's been up to:

19 months
asks for "nose kisses"
taking gymnastics classes
loved birds and bugs "moth"
starts being scared of bugs
loves playing with buckles
"shhhh!" (pretends people/dolls are sleeping)
signs "sorry"
temper tantrums starting

20 months
loves "Mi Mau" (Mickey Mouse)
loves, loves, loves to "wash" things with a wet rag
21 lbs (5%), 31.5 in (25%), head 5% - She looks so big to us but actually very tiny!
says "please"
signs "I Love You"
counts to 2

21 months
says "mi koo" ("thank you")
knows "pink" and "green"
loves her music box (with the spinning ballerina)
colors with bath crayons in the bath while mama can take a shower
adds "ie" to everything - huggie, eggie, etc.
speaking is much clearer, not just mama and daddy can tell what she is saying
"I Love You"
"new dahpuh" ("new diaper"
loves Winnie the Pooh and Finding Nemo

Have you ever seen "The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh" (or read the book)?  Lucia's really digging that movie right now.  There is a part where Pooh eats too much honey down in Rabbit's hole and gets stuck on his way out.  That scene, with Pooh stuck in the hole, is depicted on our DVD cover.  Every time Lucia sees it (which is multiple times a day) she starts SHOUTING, " Oh no! Oh no! DUCK! DUCK!" (Translated: STUCK! STUCK)!  She is clearly very distressed and scared for Pooh.  David or I have to talk her down and remind her about how Pooh gets out and every thing is ok.  It's really kind of cute and very puzzling at the same time.

22 months
consistently says, "Mi koo" (Thank You) after being given something
putting words together "Smell good"
"excuse me"
counts to three
Loves Lilo and Stitch

23 months
loves Dumbo
"look at me"
full sentences
"Mi koo, welcum" ("thank you, you're welcome")
"rock-a-baby" - puts her babies to sleep in her cradle
started singing - words to a tune
love Curious George, show and books!
"Let me hold you, Daddy!" (instead of "Hold me!")

24 months
loves Curious George - read Curious George stories every night at bedtime
daddy always puts her to bed, she falls asleep in our bed and he moves her to her crib mattress on the florrs next to our bed after she falls asleep
hunger strike - not eating much, wants all the milk
dresses herself 
does creative play/uses imagination - says "Monsters, Inc!" and hides under covers (also does this with animals and nativity characters
likes playing with dolls/figurines in a more creative manner - they eat and walk and talk and kiss
first Spanish word "la luna"
calls pumpkins, "punkin patch", even when there is just one
started to get in a pushing phase, where she pushes her friends down because she likes to be able to cause a reaction (crying) - we're working on "gentle hands"

"What's that, Daddy? What's that?" (always twice, never just once)

Me: Lucia, I see a squirrel. Do you see it?
Lucia: I get it, Mommy! (Running off to get the squirrel for me.  My champion.)

Lucia, holding acorns above her head with both hands: "Come here, squirrels! I have popcorn!"

"Let me hold you, mommy!" (instead of "Hold me, mommy!")

This is the last milestone post I plan to write for Lucia, it's not so much that she won't have new milestones, but the new words et al. come so fast these days that I can't keep up.  And these posts are really for those early years, the baby years, and like it or not, Lucia's not a baby anymore, she's a little girl.  A sweet, imaginative, funny little girl. 

Just started following?
To catch up on Lucia's monthly posts, click below:


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pregnancy Loss: Feeling Joy Again

 Today I would be 20 weeks pregnant.  We lost our baby at exactly 10 weeks.   I have now been "unpregnant" longer than I was pregnant, and almost double the time that I knew I was pregnant. But grieving is not a number's game.  I wish there were a formula:

2x = y, where x is the amount of time you were pregnant and y is the amount of time it takes to heal

But it's not so tidy.  And while time certainly will help the healing process, the amount of time doesn't necessarily relate to anything.  Not the age of your baby at death.  Not the time you knew about him/her.  There is no general timeline, although there seems to be a basic pattern.  It takes some people longer than others to go through each stage.  And, from what I hear, it's more of a spiral pattern, in which you've felt like you've already passed through a stage and find yourself back in the same place, only each time it's (hopefully) a little shorter, a little less painful than it was before.  

If you know someone who is suffering a loss, and not even specifically a pregnancy loss, I found these words from Kathleen Olowin, in her book Angels in My Heart, to be especially helpful in understanding the needs of the grieving: 
The first stage of one of disbelief and follows the initial learning of the loss.  Most often it is felt as emotional numbness or "shock".  This is nature's way of making us go on autopilot for the first few days or weeks after a loss...This is usually the phase in which we receive the most support.  People call, offer to bring meals, ask how we are doing.  It is assumed that the person is in an active phase of grieving and needs support.  In reality, however, the person is feeling numb, unable to really begin to process the emotional factors that are yet to come.  When asked, they will answer that they can't think of anything someone else can do to help...This stage, unfortunately, often wears off at the point at which society expects people to begin to adjust and move on. (Olowin 2009, 133-134.)
Last week, I shared my "Grief To-Do List", a list of things that friends and family could refer to if they wanted to help during this time which continues to be difficult.  In part, I wrote this list to let people know that two months after my miscarriage, I would still greatly benefit from the support of others.  And that if these things would help me, most likely the women they know (or will someday know) who have experienced a loss have similar needs.  If you know someone who had a loss a few months, or even years, ago, maybe it's time to check up on her and see if there is anything you can do.

On that post, one commenter wrote:
I never had any expectations of the people around me when I miscarried, especially the third time around. I knew that I would hear comments that were insensitive and that most people could not and would not understand the pain of such a loss (I already had 4 children). I guess that is why I put up a wall around myself. We have no family here in town, so I knew that I had the other kids and all of my motherly duties to attend to. I, for the longest time, forced myself to do what I had to do for the kids and my husband. With time, my duties got easier and I could feel joy. At some point, I knew that I had to decide for myself that I could not mourn forever (I am not saying that you should not mourn)...
Oh, how my heart broke at that comment.  But it makes an important point.  However much the support of others may help, it is ultimately up to the mourner to find a place of healing.  At first, I was very hurt when friends and family said hurtful things or, perhaps even worse, said nothing at all.  Not just hurt, but angry, very angry.  Why didn't they see my hurt?  Why didn't they want to help?  Why were they so callous and cold?  But with a little more time, I've realized that they simply didn't know what to do or say.  Did I know what to do or say before my miscarriage?  I honestly don't know, because (to my knowledge) I haven't had a close friend or family member experience a miscarriage during my adult years.

But I did have many family and friends that were supportive.  We did receive meals and packages in the mail and kind words and innumerable prayers, many of them from blog readers or online friends who I've never met.  What a blessing!  What a comfort!  But as the comment above addresses, it's really up to me to find healing - to give myself the space and ability to grieve, to find ways to bring myself comfort.  Even if family and friends said and did all the right things, I would still have much "interior work" to do.  And if I had absolutely no support, not a single person who showed me love and compassion, I would still be able to heal.  It would certainly be more difficult to go it alone, but we have inside us the ability to heal, to move along the continuum of grieve and find a place where were "could feel joy".  Much of this more personal grieving I have been able to do together with my husband, but there are some pieces that are just between me and God. 

Sometime soon, I'll be sharing what helped me find some peace and move along the grieving process.  If you have experienced a pregnancy loss yourself, I would like to include the things that you have done that have brought you peace.  If you would like to contribute, leave a comment or email me at  If you leave a comment below, I will use the name (and blog link if your commenting account is linked to one) to attribute your quote, but if you would like to me to attribute it otherwise or leave it anonymous, do let me know.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Season's Greetings!

I love sending snail mail.  In fact, the only thing I love more than sending it is receiving it.  As you can imagine, the Advent and Christmas seasons are ones of great joy for me as I trek to the post office (or send David in my stead) with arms full of Christmas cards and packages for our loved ones.  Lucia and I walk to the mailbox at least once a day to pick up our treasures from family and friends across the country. 

I know that Christmas cards are a cause of stress for many people - just one more thing to do amongst the hustle bustle of the holiday season.  And I'm here to tell you that even though I love sending Christmas cards and I love receiving them, they are a source of stress for me as well.  

This year, we've stripped down our Advent.  Aside from taking out Lucia's Christmas-themed books and stuffed animals, we haven't done a thing to decorate for Christmas.  We have a make-shift Advent wreath of appropriately colored candles in clear glass votive holder (that have been lit a total of 3 times this season) and a Advent countdown paper chain (that we just took a week's worth of links off).  We've been listening to Advent music (I'm loving Haley's Advent playlists) and I've been burning holiday-scented candles (my favorites are the Fresh Balsam and Spiced Apple Toddy) and we've gotten close to two dozen Christmas picture books from the library (I'll be sharing some of our favorites soon) and I've been love, love, loving this season.  I'm sure some people would be horrified by my lack of go-all-outness this holiday season, and I'm sure not every year will be like this, but the bare-bones simplicity of this Advent is exactly what we've needed.  

Despite throwing most of the "quintessential Christmas activities" out the window, I have not tossed out the Christmas cards.  All the other Christmas trappings that we have forgone can be distractions from the meaning of the season, but Christmas cards epitomize one of the things that I cherish about this season: connections with the people who are important to me. I have, however, found some ways to make them a little less stressful this year.  Instead of having to worry about handwriting cards, printing a picture to enclose, and writing a family newsletter (or not writing a family newsletter and feeling bad because I've always wanted to send one and never had), I ordered photo cards from Minted with "Yearline", a photo version of a family newsletter:

As much as I love to be able to write a personal message in each card, sometimes the choice is between sending out cards or wanting to write a personal message and not getting them out at all.  So this year, I focused on just getting the cards out.  I ordered a gorgeous, religious design I loved.  (It's actually quite hard to find religious photo cards, but Minted had a great variety of them.)  I personalized it with the 2013 "story of our family", I got them in the mail, folded them, stuffed them in the envelopes, licked & sealed, stamped our return address and the postal stamp on it, and sent it off.  Did you notice I missed a step?  The addressing part?  I uploaded a spreadsheet of addresses and Minted printed them on the envelope for me.  It was truly as painless as Christmas cards get.  I have had to address some envelopes because I did not have updated addresses for many of our recipients when I ordered my cards, but with more than half of them already printed out, it was no biggie to address the others one by one as I got the addresses.

Do you send out Christmas cards?  Do you run to the mailbox to check for them each day in December?  What are your quick and easy Christmas card tips? 

I received my Christmas cards free of cost to facilitate this post.  I was not required to write a positive review.  Opinions are 100% my own.  See disclosure policy.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cheesecake-filled Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I love to bake.  Love, love, love it.  I don't do it much because we don't eat sweets much, but when a birthday or special occasion comes around, I never turn down the opportunity to make a cake myself.  Lucia's birthday party this year was Mickey Mouse themed and I decided to do cupcakes because the price of a Mickey Mouse cake pan was more than a half sheet of cake at the grocery store, so no.  I found this pin of easy looking Mickey Mouse cupcakes and decided to go that route.

But that is not what this post is about.  This post is about the recipe, not about the little decoration on top (which I'm sure you could figure out on your own).  Anyway, like I was saying, I love to bake and I can follow a recipe pretty well, but this time, I could not find the recipe I wanted so I made it up and it came out great - the best thing I've ever made in my opinion.  So here it is:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pan with liners. Make the the chocolate cake batter and cheesecake filling using the following instructions.

Chocolate Cake (slightly altered from this recipe)
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and salt. Set aside. 

3. In a large bowl, stir together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition, then stir in the vanilla. 

4. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk; beat well.

Cheesecake Filling (taken from this recipe)
8 oz cream cheese 
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 egg white
1/2 tsp vanilla

5. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and confectioners' sugar for 3 minutes. Beat in egg white and vanilla.

6. Once you have mixed both the batter and filling, scoop a spoonful of chocolate batter in the bottom of the muffin liners, then a small spoonful of the cheesecake filling, then cover that will more of the chocolate batter.  Aim to have the muffin liners 3/4 full when all ingredients are included.  It is ok if a bit of the filling isn't covered, it will still cook just fine. 

7. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean (it may not be completely clean if put into the cheesecake part, but it should still look "set"). Frost with cream cheese frosting when cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. butter
3 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Make sure the cream cheese has been sitting out to room temperature.  Beat the cream cheese and butter together with an electric mixer. Slowly add the confectioners' sugar half cup at a time.  Add the vanilla and beat until creamy.

Other notes:
  • made 28 cupcakes (a few of them were perhaps too full, so it could have made a few more)
  • took about 30 minutes prep, 15 minutes baking
  • I didn't use a stand mixer for any of it.  Thought I would mention that since I despise recipes that say you must use a stand mixer.  I have one and love it, but sometimes it's not worth it to lug it out of the closet.
  • After you frost the cupcakes, it's best that you keep them refrigerated since cream cheese frosting can melt.
  • If you feel like doing the Mickey decoration, you might want to try to find cookies smaller than sandwich cookies; they were a bit on the large side.  I got them to stay in the cupcakes by cutting slits in the top of the cupcake with a knife (after I frosted them and inserting them - then refrigerating them so the frosting hardened around them.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pregnancy Loss Resources: After Miscarriage by Karen Edmisten

I've read several books about miscarriage since my loss.  (After I finish the ones I currently have on loan from the library, I will have read nine.)  Some were more helpful than others and they represented different types of helpful - medical information, memoir, coping strategies, etc.  I had planned to share some brief thoughts about each in a single post, however, my "brief thoughts" on After Miscarriage turned out to be not quite so brief, so this book at least will get an entire post.  My reviews of other books will probably be much shorter and will appear several to a post in the coming weeks.  After Miscarriage was my favorite book on the topic (so far) and I find it fitting that it has a post to itself and that it appears first.  

The most helpful book I've read since my miscarriage, Karen Edmisten's After Miscarriage is a hodge-podge of short contributions from various people who have lost a child, poems, quotes, bible passages, and pieces from the author's journal.  Many of the poems, quotes, and scripture passages did not deal directly with miscarriage or even death (though some certainly did), which helped me understand the universality of the emotions I felt.  I also appreciated the shortness of it all - no single piece within the book is more than a few pages long, so I could pick it up, read a short passage or a single quote and put it back down if it were too much all at once.  That said, I read it all in just a few days, though I feel like I will continue to refer back to it often during the difficult times in the coming months and years (especially if we experience a future loss).  

After having five miscarriages, Edmisten herself has experienced a range of emotions and put these into a short but thorough resource for Catholic women after pregnancy loss.  It is a blessing to read others' experiences and realize that the strange new emotions I was feeling are actually "normal" for the context.  Reading through the various pieces by women (and a man) who have "been there" made me feel much less alone, especially since I have very few people in my daily life who have had a miscarriage. I found myself relating to most of the passages, and even those I did not personally find connection with helped me understand how others' grieving processes may differ from my own.  I found the book to be very nurturing and uplifting, free of platitudes and generalizations. 

My only critique of this book is of a poem it contains that referred to a baby having a "pair of wings".  Many of the resources I've encounter talk about "angel babies", a concept that is not consistent with my Catholic faith (angels and humans are separate beings, one cannot become the other), and I was very much looking forward to reading a specifically Catholic resource that would not include that reference.  Obviously, that one poem can be easily overlooked.

Though written specifically for Catholics, most of the books should be helpful to Christians of all denominations and I would recommend it as a gift to give a friend who has recently experienced a loss.  I have, in fact, have sent it to three women in the past two months since reading it myself and thought about starting a ministry to send it to women for free.  It turns out there already is one: A Magnolia Sweet Healing.  Click over to see how you can get a copy for free or how you can donate to help women receive copies of this book.