Friday, May 30, 2014

If you're not making your own chicken stock,



1. It's so good for you.
2. It's super cheap.
3. It's versatile (translated, "I use it to make ham soup and beef stew and you can't tell it's chicken stock").
4. Homemade tastes waaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy better than storebought. And you know what's in it.

The health benefits of homemade chicken stock (or "bone broth") are extensive. You can read all about how wonderful it is for you here, here, and here.

See what I did there? No links. That's because if I waste time researching why it's so great for you, I'll never post this dumb thing. My box is full of unpublished drafts that only needed "some links."

Trust me - bone broth is good for you. I read about it somewhere. At some point.

But the reason you should be making it is - it's so darn cheap. I mean really. I was shopping today and noticed that a quart of chicken stock is $2.69. That's just regular Swanson stock. I didn't price out organic options. (I'm not talking about broth here. Storebought broth is yuck, and I say that without judgment because I've bought it in the past. But seriously, if you're making soup with storebought broth (not stock), you might as well use bouillon cubes.)

Making this stuff could not be easier.

Every time you make and eat chicken, save the bones. If you are tacky like me, you can even serve chicken to your family when they all come over for a get-together and then you can ask them to put their bones in a bowl. Cooked bones, raw bones, spine bones, thigh bones, wings, necks, drumsticks, doesn't matter.

Get yourself a big Ziploc bag and freeze those bones. You can even label the bag if you're feeling fancy. Bonus points if you come up with a funny title.

See what I did there? I did not waste time suggesting funny titles to you.

Every time you chop an onion, throw the onion peels and the root ends into the Bone Bag.
Every time you chop celery, put the trimmings into the Bone Bag.
Every time you find a quarter of a bag of baby carrots that you forgot was stowed in the bottom of your produce drawer, and you find they're getting a little unpleasantly slick - not rotten, just maybe not fresh - put them into the Bone Bag. Or if you use big carrots for things, put the peels and the roots in the Bone Bag.

But you know what? If all you have are the bones, that's cool. Just don't put weird stuff in there, like cabbage or broccoli. Stick with the onion-celery-carrot trio. (Yes, tonight I am all about time efficiency. Didn't Google what that trio is called in French. It has a name. You can look it up if you want to.)

When over time, the Bone Bag becomes full of bones and vegetable trimmings, dump it into the biggest pot you have, fill it with water, add a little bit of apple cider vinegar (I've read this helps extract the gelatin from the bones), and bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for the rest of the day.

Here you're about to (probably) decide you never want to eat at my house again. That's ok. Anyway, what I'm going to say is, most days I'm not up for straining stock after dinner kitchen cleanup is done. So when I go to bed, I turn off the pot and let it sit there. Yup. All night long.

Then in the morning, I bring it back to a boil, let it cook another hour or two, and then turn it off.

Let cool.

Strain. I use a cloth on top of a strainer.

Pour into old yogurt containers, Ziploc bags, or fancy glass jars. Label. Freeze.

This stuff seriously makes THE BEST SOUPS.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I love this life

Photo credit to my wonderful sister-in-law, Kelly Ward. May 25, 2014.
Memorial Day weekend up north. The water was 37 degrees but the sand was sure fun.

Tuesday morning, after the long weekend, Brian called just to ask how Will was doing. "I miss him," he said. 
I wanted to remember how the dribble on his shirt had collected a tiny strip of sand.
Kelly took this, too. I love how his soft ear is bent over. It always seems to be bent over.

In the morning, when I pick Barrett up from his bassinet, I hold him with one arm and with the other I pull up the shades. When the day hits him, startling him out of the darkness, he squirms wildly, like an earthworm I've turned over with my spade. His reaction makes me laugh every time.

When I walk into Will's room to get him out of bed, I say, "Good morning, big boy!" He flies up with a huge grin and says, "Yeah!" His hair these days is always worked into an impressive bedhead. The longer it grows, the more epic. I always wanted a little boy with a bedhead.

Car rides are fun with a two year old. I'm getting very good at spotting construction vehicles, tractors, and every kind of big truck imaginable. I'm also getting to be pretty awesome at quoting children's books. I will not divulge the number of books I've memorized as I'm rather ashamed at what's occupying my mental file cabinet at the moment.

Fart humor is growing on me. I'm sorry, but something that makes William laugh so heartily, so consistently, has become funny. Maybe ask me about this one again when he's twelve.

Yesterday I nursed Barrett upstairs in the rocking chair while Will played around in his crib after nap. The baby must have been very hungry and Will got antsy waiting for me to get him out. He proceeded to toss all his books out of the crib, one by one. We came up with a points system. Every book that landed split-pages got zero points. Face-down was one point, face-up was two. A book that landed on its side was three points. I calculated his points over and over and he loved it.

When I carry Barrett around the house, I literally cannot stop kissing him. If he is within proximity of my face, I am kissing him. His head. His pillowy cheeks. When he smiles at me, his face grows by a third because his mouth opens so wide.


Barrett's either very serious, or SERIOUSLY smiling.

We're going grocery shopping today. We will probably ride the horsey ride three times at the beginning, and three times at the end. Every time the horse will stop moving, Will is going to throw up one hand and give me a shocked look. When we're done, and ready to go to the car, he'll say, "Bye hosey!" Then he'll run ahead while I push the cart. At two, his run is not fast and he holds his arms stiff at this sides while his chubby legs carry him forth. He'll find the one strip of gray tile (that happens to be the path closest to the checkout line) and stick to it. He'll stop and press all the big buttons on the lottery box. Everyone who notices him will look at me, see Barrett strapped to my chest, and either smile or say, "You've got your hands full!"

I always thought birthday parties would be such a drag, and yet here I am, planning for thirty people to come to my house after church to celebrate my little man who won't even remember the day. I'm so excited.

Poor William must think that coffee is a food group of its own. I drink it because I'm trying to lose weight, because I've got an oral fixation, apparently, and because as much as I hate to sound like a McCafe commercial, a cup of coffee is like a miniature break. Even when I'm drinking it while nursing the baby and drawing a guitar for Will to color.

I've got ten pounds to go before I hit my goal weight... a number that is STILL ten pounds over my wedding weight. I've never been at my current number for such a sustained length of time. Oh well. I saw a sign yesterday that said, "Mother Teresa didn't walk around complaining about her thighs. She had sh*t to do." Sorry about the swear, but I thought it was appropriate.

I think I am going to be one of those people with a sign on their front door that says, "Deliveries - please don't ring the bell! Barking dog, sleeping babies!"

I was made for this. I love this. I can live with the chaos, the dog hair, the dirty clothes and sticky floors and scraped up faces. It's hard to believe... was pregnancy REALLY that tough? Couldn't I do it again soon, if only to perpetually have a squirmy little baby in my house?

Finally, two big smiles. Could they look any different?

Friday, May 23, 2014

William is TWO!

Hi there, my big first-born, second love of my life, my two year old boy.

Who can I talk to about slowing this down? Can you please take a few more years to turn three?
Really, has any parent ever asked for that before?

My transition to motherhood was a little rough. Nursing was so killer for so long. I felt like my old life was completely gone. I wondered if I would ever look good again, or sleep normally again. But never, not for one milisecond, was I not completely head-over-heels for YOU. I remember weeping when I looked at you, my perfect blond boy who looked like ME. I couldn't believe how lucky I had gotten.

I believe that God knew it would be a little bit of a bumpy road, and so to give me strength, he gave me that mountain of love for you. I hope I can relive those days in heaven.

Last week, one morning right after waking, you asked for a hug ("hock") in the midst of your diaper change. This is customary. So before putting your diaper on, I sat you up, wrapped your worn, faithful blanket around your shoulders, and squeezed you as hard as I could without cutting off your oxygen. Behind us, the Michael Card CD Come to the Cradle was playing. This was the same music we listened to for hours upon hours as I nursed you and rocked your little infant body. As I hugged you, I closed my eyes and heard the music and was transported back to that room in North Carolina, with its wooden blinds letting the evening light stream through as I rocked you to sleep. I continued to hug you and you sat very still, for a long time, as the song played. I wondered if you remembered those moments too.

Thank you for being my first born. It couldn't have started any better than with YOU.

At two years old, you are just plain wonderful.

- You have a habit of exclaiming "Oh!" before many of your sentences. I'll ask, "William, do you want to play with your truck?" and you'll answer, "Oh! that truck. HUGE." Or - "William, do you want some blueberries?" "Oh! blueberries." Or, "Do you want to come inside?" "Oh! nectarine." (Which sounds more like "Tangerine," and means, "No, I don't want to come inside, I want to eat a nectarine out here if you don't mind.")

- Your s's are silent. "Hee tractor?" you'll ask whenever we go outside. "Hocks on!" you'll cheerfully exclaim.

- You love asparagus ("goos"), venison steak ("meat!"), and all fruit. Really, there's not much food you don't like, although I'm having a hard time getting you to drink milk. Your breakfast every morning, by request, is banana and peanut butter. ("nana ba-pu") You've just started saying, "Mmmm," when you take bites of food. When I hear that, I want to bottle up the sound and save it for hard times.

- We have little inside jokes. When I sneeze, you say, "Bless you, mama." (Which sounds like "budge-you-mama.") Then it reminds you of our inside joke and you say, "Bless you, Papa Bear." Then I catch on and imitate another great, big, exaggerated sneeze. "AAAA-CHOO!" Again you say - ""Budge-you Papa Bear!" Then I say (and if I forget, you prompt me): "I never get sick! Yes you do Papa Bear, you're sick right now!" You love it. Or often, when I'm changing you, you'll get a little glint in your eye and say in a coy little voice, "Popcorn!" (Only it sounds like "Ca-ko!") Which means you want me to find the popcorn that's hiding in all your chub and EAT IT! And we have a good old tickle session! Until mama needs to get on with business. Or when you put on your little hardhat, I'm supposed to say, "I can't see! I can't see!" ... until you shake it off your head and I go, "Ahhhhh" in a dumb sounding voice. You laugh and laugh.

- Your daddy says what he wants to remember most about you being two are these two memories. First, when you were chasing Bo behind the barn, yelling, "Get 'im, Bo!" with such glee and joy that it seemed no one could be happier. And when you were out keeping him company while he was attempting to plant raspberry bushes, and you wouldn't stop talking his ear off  about riding the tractor. ("Dada-holdyou-tractor-trailer!") You were so fed up with waiting that you bent down low to the ground where he was planting the bushes, looked up into his face, waved a hand in patient request for his attention, and said very seriously, "Dada. Tractor." He laughed, put down his work, and took you for a ride.

- You love - and by "love" I mean adore, cherish, are infatuated with - tractors. Our riding mower is a sorry excuse for a tractor, but you are so thrilled to see your old friend each time. You hold your hands to the heavens and look upward and say in a serious voice, "Tractor BIIIIIIIIIIIG."

- You love trucks, Grandpa (and all the good things he stands for: driving in the Caddy, playing on the pool table, dancing to his guitar), basketball, and stringed instruments. Don't ask me how this got started, but you're obsessed with the double bass. Almost every vertical, thin object is your "big bass." You have banged out many a beautiful tune (I'm sure) on the microwave handle, your water bottle, the hammock stand, and several poor trees in the yard.

- At snack time, you like to clear off your little white table (by depositing all the toys thereupon onto the dining room table), take your snack to your fresh clean spot, sit down facing the wall, and eat very seriously. This always tugs at my heart and I feel compelled to sit with you and keep you company.

- You have a wonderful imagination. The other day you offered me one of our cork drink coasters as "hot coffee." I took a sip and told you it was delicious. You then reclined onto Bo's bed and continued sipping your hot coffee, complete with slurping noises.

- I've been rotating your toys in a new system, and it's working well. Still, I think we could get rid of them all and only keep your plastic ride-on Tonka truck, your tiny plastic basketball net, and your basket of balls, which you thrillingly dump out a couple times a day. You're not too bad about picking them up when told, too.

- You love basketball. You love the way the ball goes through the net. You love saying "basketball basket" whenever you see one. It sounds like "bookaball backet!"

- You are very comfortable in your crib. It's your happy place. Some mornings when you're having a hard time (maybe the world seems a little overwhelming?), I put you in there with a big old stack of books and let you have a 45 minute break. You seem much calmer after your world has been shrunk down for a bit. When I go to get you in the morning, it's usually after I've listened to you jabber for thirty minutes or so. Even still, when I get there, you roll around in your crib and play hard-to-capture. It's difficult considering transitioning you out of it, since you haven't tried to climb out and since you seem to happy in there. We've got some time, I suppose. You're still sleeping in your own room, but when Barrett gets to be about six months old or so, I'll move him in there with you. I have a feeling you'll love it.

- You're sleeping great. It seems as though you've always slept through the night but I have to remind myself this is not the case. I am having a hard time breaking away from the winter pajamas routine though. The winter was so cold that I got used to putting you into bed with multiple layers on, then covering you with a couple blankets. Last night I put you in a light (light? come on, mama) footie pajama and covered you with a quilt. When I went to bed a couple hours later I was so warm in a t-shirt under the sheet. I walked upstairs to check on you and make sure you weren't too hot. Gosh. It had to have been 80 degrees in your room, yet you had fallen asleep under your blanket like a good trooper, wet with sweat. I changed you completely, diaper and everything, putting you in a t-shirt and shorts and covering you with a light muslin blanket. You smiled in your sleep. I'm sorry, son. I just didn't want you to be cold. Can it really be almost June?

- You shut doors and drawers behind me. You are my little neatnik. You are just like your daddy. You also do this funny, compulsive little thing - when I say a word that ends in a soft t, like "fruit" or "Barrett," you add a distinctive, hard t sound under your breath. You're not correcting me, simply enunciating for me. I find it fascinating and funny.

- You are such a sweet boy. I know that seems like such a generic phrase, but your heart is truly so tender. You love cuddling, being held, giving kisses to us all (especially Barrett), loving your stuffed animals and even animals in books. You are an example to me to be kind to others. One day, I was driving to grandma and grandpa's and got stuck, waiting to make a right turn. All the traffic signals were in my favor, but an old lady on her bike was shuffling her way across the street and I could not turn. She was stradding the seat and moving herself by her tiptoes, creeping along verrrrrrrrrrry slowly. By the time she crossed, my opportunity was gone. I was just about to say something horrible, like "Nice" or "Thanks, lady", when I saw you looking out your window with a smile, waving at her, and saying, "Hi!" I realized with a horrible THUD that YOU treated her better than I had. And that God was saying to me, "I sent him down with a love for people. You better not show him the wrong way to treat them."

-You wake up from each nap asking to see "Doc talk?" and when I get out our puppet "Doc", you are very attentive to him, showing him all the things in your room in order to impress him. I don't even try to hide that it's me talking for him. I don't even put full effort into it every time. But you are always very serious about impressing Doc. I try to do it with a happy heart, knowing there is a day coming when you won't ask to see Doc anymore.

- You are very social. You love people. You enjoy telling everyone at Meijer that the horse is broken ("hosie broken!") even though they fixed it a long time ago. You are becoming very good with please and thank you. I think you know that people find you delightful.

- Every day you become more attached to your brother. You have always been sweet to him, perhaps a little aloof, but now you want to share your toys, hold him often, give him kisses, hold his hand (with a death grip, I recently realized), talk to him, and ask about him. I tell you every day that Barrett has a wonderful big brother, that you are my wonderful big helper, that Barrett loves you so much, that you are going to be best friends. I pray every day that God will plant love in each of your hearts for each other. You are Barrett's protector and he is your loyal companion. I wonder if, even now, you remember the days before he came?

- You and your daddy spend a lot of evenings "working" in the yard. Daddy of course is working, and I hear your loud chatter all the way inside the house as you keep him company. I for some reason can't seem to get any yard work done with you outside, as you're always asking me to "take a walk" or push your bike or take you to see the tractor, but you seem content to let daddy work while you enjoy his manly company. You are very impressed with all the big equipment he uses. You talk about the chainsaw, compressor, tractor, blower, drill, and splitter. You talk about how he "cut oak". My dear little funny boy, my heart hurts to think it won't be long before you are using all of those things beside him.

- Your vocabulary and language has exploded in the past three months - since we brought Barrett home, pretty much. I find you saying phrases different ways ("William ride horsey? William hold horsey?"). I get the feeling you are trying to learn and practice your English. I'm sorry it's such a complicated language.

- You love books. In your toddler talk, I've discovered that you've memorized many of them. I often can decipher you quoting passages to yourself (like "BANG! POP! SSShhhhhhhhhhhhh.... Oh no! A blowout! Back off the hammer! Hit the brake! Use the Jake!" from Big Rig).

- You love church, and worship, and clapping. You are Silent Bob still when it comes to singing, but I'm sure that will happen in time. You and I have a good time during morning devotions. We usually start out at the piano, you playing your tambourine, until you take my hand because you want me to dance around the room with you as we clap and play our instruments. How amazing it will be when there are several of us, playing and singing our hearts out to God! Your favorite Bible story is of Elijah the prophet, undoubtedly because of the picture of the ravens bringing him food by the brook. (You try to cuddle the birds in your hand.) I was a bit concerned at first, because you shouted "Baal!" whenever I'd bring the book out. You just loved the picture of Elijah jeering at the prophets of Baal, but your limited language did not allow anything but the troubling, "Baal! Baal!" The more I tried to correct this, the worse it got, with you all confused thinking that our wonderful God was the light fixture. Eventually I gave up, deciding to ignore it. Now you say, "Baal - blech." That's right, buddy. Baal is blech.

- Your daddy could not love you more. He delights in you so much and is often more of a softie when it comes to disciplining you than I thought he'd be. It breaks my heart a little bit to say this, but sometimes your relationship reminds me of unrequited love. Your daddy looking at you with adoring eyes, saying, "You know what, buddy... daddy loves you so much." And you, totally blowing him off, running after your basketball or (once yet AGAIN) talking about your HUGE truck. Your truck is not huge. But your daddy sure loves you. I wonder if he will continue to be so expressive when you get to be a big teenage boy. If he's not - if his love mellows into a more unspoken emotion, that is - I will point back to these days and assure you with everything in my being that you and your siblings are the light of his world.

There is so much more to you. I can't fit it all into a blog even if I tried. You are an excellent child. You have your tough days of course, but they bring me to the cross and I hope someday they will bring you there as well. And even during those tough days, which I have to say are really few and far between, you are still my affectionate, creative first born who - I have to brag - LOVES his mama. I love you too, sweet boy. You are as close to perfect as I could have hoped.

Happy second birthday, William Bernie!

Love, Mama

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Keeping it Simple with Two in Cloth Diapers

I still love cloth diapering, but it's definitely gotten intense the past couple of months!

Before Barrett, I was washing cloth diapers every five days or so. My stash has grown to about 35 diapers, which made for a very comfortable length between washes. William was going through about 5 a day, so if I didn't get to sorting right away, that was fine.

When Barrett was brand new, I put both boys in disposables for a couple weeks to transition. (Disposables are convenient and they travel great... besides that, I hate them!) I was anxious to get back to using our cloth diapers. Thankfully, Barrett fit into the one-size pockets in two or three weeks, so back we were.

However, back in cloth diapering world... things were definitely more crazy. Barrett was going through about 10 diapers a day. William started wetting more heavily so he began needing more frequent changes. It seemed as though every two days, I was out of diapers. Also, even though the diapers I use can fit a new baby and a big toddler, they need to have the rise adjusted with snaps, so I was sorting two different piles of sizes and pre-stuffing each pile to make sure I had the right number of inserts to covers and to make diaper changes faster.

I began to grow VERY weary in well-doing, to borrow the phrase.

There was about a week in there when I was questioning if this was worth it! What else could I be doing during the 45 minutes it took every two days to sort diaper laundry? Working out? Cooking dinner? Doing a puzzle or reading books with Will? I told Brian, "I feel like I'm being a very good steward of our money, but maybe not so much with my time."

I think God had mercy on me (because He definitely has more important things to worry about in this world than my use of a particular type of diaper) and I was able to figure out a system that helped me.

In no particular order, here are some tips I learned:
1. Add extra absorbency. I don't know why Barrett seems to wet through diapers faster than his big brother did at his age, but the regular insert I was using wasn't cutting it for more than an hour or so. Adding an extra "preemie-sized" prefold diaper to the insert I was already using made it so I could suddenly go three or four hours between changes (barring poop of course). Suddenly, the diaper seemed as absorbent as a disposable! This has given me at least an extra day between washes, as well as the extra minutes I save by not constantly changing his diaper.

2. Don't pre-stuff. I know not everyone uses pockets (even if I think they're the best ever!) but not pre-stuffing has saved me a lot of time during sorting. Now I just count the pile of inserts, count the covers, and make sure I have enough of each. Then two neat stacks go under the changing table (for Will) and the coffee table (for Barrett - whose room is still the office for sleeping/living room for changing).

3. Use disposables. This is counter-intuitive, but knowing I have a stash of disposables in case I get too busy to sort diaper laundry is a stress-reliever. I find myself hardly using them, except on days we'll be out of the house for a long time. There have been weeks I'll take an extended break for a few days, if life is very busy. I don't worry about it.

4. Think of other ways you can simplify. For me, this has meant using disposable wipes instead of cloth ones. I hope to go back to cloth wipes one day, but for now, I am content with knowing I'm saving where I can. (Incidentally, I just throw the disposable wipes in with the laundry, and they don't fall apart. They get nice and clean with the rest of the diapers and then I pitch them when I'm sorting into the dryer. Simplifying has also meant not worrying about stains, line drying the covers (every time), or bothering with the outdoor clothesline. If I can hang up the covers in the laundry room, great - that saves some wear and tear. Otherwise, they get tossed into the dryer for a few minutes. And stains that I would previously be worried about... they'll just have to stay for now.

5. Think of the dough! I am saving a TON of money by cloth diapering. I paid off my stash in about the first ten months of William's life. Since then I've had to make purchases here and there for extra insert materials or to convert some velcro diapers to snaps (wayyyyy better). But even if it took a year to pay off the diapers, William is almost TWO now. So that's a year I've been diapering him for free, with the exception of the odd pack or two of disposables I've bought for trips or for the transition to having two babes. Barrett is being diapered for free as well. I love walking by the diaper aisle in the store and not having to shell anything out... if I don't want to.

Okay, those are my tips! Hopefully, William will be out of diapers within a year. But changing up my process has made having two in cloth much easier. I am much more relaxed about being a "die-hard cloth diaperer", and ironically I find this mindset to make it EASIER to actually stick with it. If you're struggling with this problem, I wish you the best of luck!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Barrett's Birth Story

It's a BOY!

Baby Barrett Brian Ward was born Sunday, February 16, at 5:58 PM.

7 lbs. 7 oz., 21 inches long, Apgars 8/9

He's the opposite of William in looks - covered in dark hair!

I am so THRILLED to have a brother for William. I would have been perfectly happy with either a boy or a girl, but (as I'm sure the Lord intended it) my heart is just rejoicing that we have another boy. Bring on the bunk beds and the boys' room!

Birth Story:

I had been anxious about how it would all turn out. I had been through labor before, but would I know again when to call my parents, when to head to the hospital?

Saturday, February 15th, I had a mini meltdown. We went to pick up our new family car from the dealership (yes - not a moment too soon) and ended up spending the day at my parents' house, about 45 minutes away from where we live, since the dealership was close to them and we hang out with them often. The plan had NOT been to spend the whole day there, even though I enjoyed the time. I was having pretty strong Braxton Hicks through the evening, stronger than what I'd felt before. Around 7 PM, Brian told me he was going to watch an episode of a show with my dad (they follow this one show that no one else is interested in). I freaked out - started crying - saying, "We were supposed to be HOME, doing stuff today!" I had a strong feeling that I could have the baby the next day, and I still didn't have the family's bags packed. It was an irrational freakout and Brian talked me down. We made it home around 10 and plopped Will into bed. When I went to the bathroom, I THOUGHT I saw my mucus plug - but I wasn't sure. The Braxton Hicks continued as I crawled into bed. I prayed, "Lord, I really want to go to church tomorrow. Please don't let me go into labor quite yet."

I wanted to go to church for several reasons, all of which I won't go into here. Mainly, I really enjoy being in church and I enjoy seeing WILLIAM enjoy church. I love being in the house of God and I love seeing my whole family and many of my friends in one place. We were also attending Core Group afterward (like a potluck, in the church basement) which is always a fun time of hanging out. So when I woke to a contraction - nothing major - I quickly looked at the clock and was relieved it was morning - 6:30. Good.

I had ENERGY. I got out of bed and began flying around the house, sorting laundry, packing bags. I woke Brian at seven. "Do you want a haircut?" I was actually having contractions! I'd have a good one, one for which I'd want to pause and put my elbows on the kitchen counter and breathe through it. Then, ten or fifteen minutes later, I'd have another one - but it'd be piddly, fizzling out fast. I thought it was false labor, but it felt like it could easily turn into the real thing. I made a very strong concentration of my red raspberry leaf tea and chugged it, and took a big dropper full of a Labor and Delivery Tincture in a glass of juice.

Brian KNEW I was in labor. He helped me pull together everything I needed. Then he pulled down all the shades and turned the heat down to 45 degrees. "You know we're not coming back here, right?" he asked. I wasn't as confident. "I hope you're right!" I said. We left the house, ready to go to the hospital if necessary. We were all dressed up and ready for church!

The roads were AWFUL on the way. We'd gotten a couple inches of snow, and traffic had gone haywire! A man spun out in front of us on the highway - thanks to Brian's great bad-weather driving skills, we barely missed broadsiding him in our brand new (pre-owned :) vehicle. I had a few contractions on the way, but they followed the same pattern - one good one, then a couple crappy, weak ones. Oh well, I thought. Labor can pick up any minute! 

At church, people asked, "You're still here?" "When are you due again?" "Have you been having contractions?" I told them I wasn't having anything worthwhile - which was true, to me. I was sure I was in false labor. (Side note - there is nothing more annoying than wanting desperately to BE in labor and NOT being in labor (or at least not thinking you're in labor). If you see a heavily pregnant woman, it is a safe bet that her state of mind at that moment is annoyance. You would be wise to keep questions verrrry minimal. And it would also be wise to keep any comments limited to how wonderful she looks. This all sounds really horrible to say, but these comments should be taken more along the lines of how pregnant women feel. Rational or not.)

The pattern continued throughout the day. I'd be chatting with someone and have a contraction so strong it was all I could do to stand frozen in place with a smile plastered on my face... which made for a few awkward exchanges when I just could NOT talk! But then... six minutes or so would go by... and a slight, easy contraction would come and go. So disappointing! Core Group was coming to an end, and since labor hadn't picked up as I'd hoped, I was super down in the dumps.

"We should just go home," I mourned to Brian. I pictured walking back into the cold house, with all its shades drawn, and depositing our bags by the door. How defeating! It would have worked out so perfectly! William could've just stayed with my dad, and my mom and sister could have headed with us up to the hospital. And the timing would have been so good, too! No meetings or schedules to mess up - it was Sunday, after all!

But Brian was very confident I was in active labor. So confident, in fact, that he was sharing the news with lots of people - which was SO ANNOYING, I'm sorry to say! I had to keep saying, "It's not labor, it's false labor," when I had been hoping so badly that it'd turn active. He told my mom during Core Group that I'd been having contractions all day, and she became excited. I had to tell her it wasn't real - but she wasn't convinced. She pulled me and Fadwa, a very sweet friend and passionate Christian, into a room off to the side and asked Fadwa if she would pray for me. She prayed as though I was in labor, prayed for health, and safety, a smooth delivery, and a blessed time. It was a disappointing feeling that I wasn't - but it was a lovely prayer. I was so thankful for it.

Brian didn't want to go home (40 minutes from church). "Let's go to your parents' house," he suggested (10 minutes from church). "You can get in the tub and Will can take a nap. Let's just hang out there for a while." That sounded good to me. I remembered that during my last birth, the bath had made the contractions stronger and more intense. And if it was false labor, it would fade off.

So off we went, to our second home. We left at 3 PM. My parents' house (where I grew up) is so comforting and homey. We walked through the door and I felt better. Brian offered to get Will changed and put him down for his nap, but I wanted to try to take him potty first, and I felt like being the one to change his clothes. So Brian went and changed while I was taking care of Will. I was taking my sweet time changing his clothes, tickling him, when my parents walked through the door. "So you're in LABOR!!!" my mom said. They were both so excited. "I doubt it, you guys," I replied. "I'm going to get in the tub and see what it does."

My mom headed upstairs to scrub the tub and fill it up. I felt a contraction coming on, and Will was diaper-free and in a onesie, but I knew it was going to be a strong one so I had to focus. I let him get up and run around half naked - his favorite thing. I flipped onto my hands and knees and let my face go totally limp. When the contraction peaked, I lowered my head and moved it from side to side - it was such a strong one that I had to do something to distract. It was SO strong and lasted well over a minute. When it was over, I returned to sitting on my legs and said, "That was a really good one! Come here, Will-" intending to finish changing his clothes - when I felt a pop and a GUSH.

Now I know what it feels like to have your water break! I moved quickly off the carpet and stood up on the hard floor. It all ran out and I was soaked. Thankfully, it was clear. It was 3:30.

"My water broke," I said in kind of a panic. "My water just broke."

"Ha!" said Brian triumphantly. "I knew it! Linda, Maegan's water just broke. Forget the bath!"

My mom came downstairs and I made eye contact with her. I was so afraid. "Mom, it's going to get a lot worse now," I said.

"Don't worry about that," she said. "Call your midwife and I'll finish up filling the tub."

I called Tracy. "My water broke," I said. I felt so frightened and unsure. This was uncharted territory for me - William's water hadn't broken until the very end, when he was too low for it to go anywhere. "Should I come in now?"

She asked lots of questions. Was the fluid clear? Was I having contractions? How far apart had they been? I told her I didn't know how far apart they'd been - we hadn't been timing them. "Don't come in just yet," she answered. "You can go ahead and get in the tub and time a few contractions. When you begin to feel a heaviness in your bottom, come in. But call me first."

It's a bit blurry now, but I changed out of my clothes in the living room. Brian took my fluid-soaked clothing downstairs to wash it. My dad had taken Will to put him down for his nap. I made it up to the bathroom and got in the tub. I laid on my side in order to get my belly in the water. Every time a strong contraction would come, I'd raise my arm and hold onto the side of the tub for dear life. I found it very hard to relax during the contractions, the way I had with Will's delivery. With these, I felt like I had to "hold on for the ride". But funny enough, they DID NOT seem to get worse, now that my water had broken. (I'm sure at some point they did, because they certainly did get painful, but it didn't happen right away.) And even stranger still, the pattern of "one strong contraction, a couple weak" continued. Even though my water had definitely broken, this pattern totally messed with my mind. It seemed the very definition of false labor.

Brian sat on top of the toilet next to me. He was trying to download an app to time the contractions. At some point, my mom came in to check on me. "How's the water?" she asked. "It's getting a little cold," I replied. She found we'd run out of hot water, and actually went downstairs to boil some water to heat the bath. I heard her imitating Mammy in Gone with the Wind. "I'm gonna go boil some water, Miss Scarlett!"

I wasn't in the tub for long... maybe 45 minutes. Brian had finally gotten the app to work and I had signaled a few contractions. I felt another beginning. "Okay," I simply said. It was a very strong one, and suddenly I felt an urge to push come over me like nothing I'd felt thus far. It was a sudden and compulsive and unmistakable feeling. The contraction was very long, too, but I managed to say before it ended, "I think we're going to be going to the hospital now."

I called the midwife while Brian ran out of the bathroom to "alert the troops".

"I'm feeling like I have to push," I told her. "I could be wrong, but I'd feel more comfortable at the hospital."

"Okay, honey," she said. "You come right in, then."

"Tracy," I said, feeling VERY unsure of myself, "what if I have to push while we're on the way?"

"Then I'll drive to wherever you are," she said. "You just get going here and call me if you need me."

If you've ever been in labor, maybe you can identify with two things. The FIRST thing is that you just don't KNOW what's going on with your body. You've got a group of people all around you, waiting for you to call the shots. Do we go in? Do we stay home? If you wind up at the hospital in slow, tedious labor for twenty hours, everyone agrees it would've been better for you to have stayed home... but it wasn't like you KNEW that was going to happen. If you find yourself feeling like you have to push on the way to the hospital, everyone agrees you should've gone in sooner... but how were you supposed to have known how it would go? If I could pick one word to describe my labor with Barrett, it would be unsure. I was completely clueless about whether I was in active labor (until my water broke), how far dilated I was, or how fast it would go. Just because you're the woman in labor does NOT make you any more knowledgeable about what's happening to you! At least... this has been my experience both times.

The SECOND thing you might identify with is, when you're in serious active labor, moving or walking or switching positions is terrifying. Because what if I have a contraction on the way? I knew I'd be more comfortable at the hospital, but even the thought of getting out of the bath was so scary. There was a moment when I just gritted my teeth and told myself, if I have a contraction on the way, OH WELL. Just do it. My sister came into the bathroom to ask if I needed anything. She helped me gather my things while I got dressed. The car was warming up outside and my mom wrapped a blanket around me while I slipped on my crocs and walked out into the snow.

The weird pattern of "one major contraction, a couple weak" continued even now. It really messed with my mind. Looking back, I was in serious active labor - ready to PUSH - and it makes sense that I was unable to smile, talk much, be very happy, etc. But at that moment, I was thinking, "I could be just getting started. Why am I feeling so irritable? Why am I feeling so weak and exhausted? Why are these so uncontrollably painful? Why can't I relax, like I did with Will?"

Brian and Erin (my sister) sat in the front of the car, and I sat next to my mom in the back. I knelt backwards in the back seat and draped myself over the back of the bench. I asked my mom to help me remember how to breathe through a contraction. Was it one breath in, three breaths out? Was I supposed to breathe IN through my nose, or was it supposed to be through my mouth? The next contraction whooshed in and my mom was trying to count breaths with me. I couldn't do it. All I could do was take big, slow, heaving breaths and hold on for dear life to the back of the seat. Why couldn't I RELAX? I was a relaxation MASTER with William!

After that contraction, I told my mom, "Okay, that's not going to work." What ended up helping, up until the very end, was letting me grip her hand, and reminding me gently, "Breathe. Get oxygen to the baby."

Something that had been bothering me, ever since my water had broken, was that I had stopped feeling the baby move. Or at least, I couldn't remember having felt the baby move. I confessed this to my mom on the way - "Mom, I haven't felt the baby for a long time." She immediately prayed, fervently. She told me later that my saying that made her afraid, but she thought, "I am not going to let her have this thought!" She strongly assured me that the baby was absolutely fine. I was not convinced, and I was very anxious to get to the hospital.

The ride to the birth center with Will was about 35 minutes, but it felt short. This ride felt like it took forever. I was in so much discomfort and I knew that getting to the hospital would signify the end of the discomfort... somehow. I just wanted it to be over. Eventually, my kneeling grew uncomfortable, and I sat with my head on my mom's shoulder, gripping her hand, and holding on for dear life with each contraction. At this point, they felt like they were curling my body around itself, trying to push out the baby.

We made it there. Brian pulled up to the front doors and my mom took the keys to park the car while Brian and I walked into the lobby. I was a mess, stumbling in with my ugly pink bathrobe, Droid in my pocket playing my Pandora Worship station, face flushed and look of misery in every expression. Even in my pain, I wondered what I must look like to those peacefully enjoying the quiet of the waiting area.

I knew we had to register. I told Brian, "You go register, I'll wait here." I leaned my elbows against some kind of a pillar (?) and stood anticipating another whopper of a contraction. There was commotion - Brian said, "She's in labor." "Active labor?" someone asked. "Yes," Brian replied, while at the same time I said, "I think so." A nurse came quickly to me with a wheelchair. I was confused - did they want me to leave Brian? "I want my husband," I said, panicky. "I'm right here," said Brian - but did he realize they were taking me away? Wasn't he just getting started registering?

Oh, I was in a blur of pain and confusion. I didn't realize that since I was OBVIOUSLY in active labor (DUH Maegan), they waved him on and told him to worry about registering later. The nurse was ready to escort us both up to the Mother Baby unit. I heard someone at the desk say, "I'll call up there and let them know we have an active labor patient." I clutched the arms of the wheelchair, periodically pleading with the nurse to stop moving to I could have a contraction - which were so uncomfortable I simply couldn't sit down through them. We wheeled into the unit and I saw Tracy (my midwife) and some other nurses greet me with a big smile.

As the wheelchair rolled into the delivery room, I felt another contraction coming on. I laugh about this now - I must have looked like such a drama queen - but I knew I HAD to be out of that wheelchair and so at the very moment Tracy was leaning in to help me get out, I flopped onto the floor so that I could experience the contraction on my hands and knees. I heard a collective GASP of horror as everyone must have assumed I just collapsed. So I was almost wanting to laugh, to explain that NO, I was just REALLY needing to be on my hands and knees, but I'm just holding on tight while this contraction rocks my whole body and I can't say a word. So the moment of everyone's shock and horror lasted a bit longer than it needed to. Thankfully, I think Brian figured it out and told them I was fine.

After the contraction, they helped me change into my gown and get into bed. They strapped on the monitors (I was so relieved to hear the baby's perfect little heartbeat!) and my mom and Erin walked in. Tracy checked me. "Oh yeah, you're complete," she said in a breezy way. "You can push anytime!"

So much for wondering whether or not I was in active labor. Fully dilated! Shows how much I know.

Oh, I was so frightened to push! I remembered how difficult and painful it was to push out Will! "I don't know what to do," I whispered to my mom, who was holding my hand on my left side. "At the birth center, they coached me."

"Tracy," said my mom, "at the birth center where she had William, the midwives coached her through the pushing. Can you give her some direction to push?"

"Oh, sure," she said compassionately. "When you feel a contraction coming, take a breath and then blow it away. Then take another breath and bear down."

Here goes nothing, I thought, when the next contraction began. I followed her instructions and pushed through the contraction until it was over. And somehow, it felt RIGHT - it felt like the right thing for my body to be doing. Still - "It burns, it burns!" I whispered to Tracy in a panic. There was so much pressure it was unbelievable. "Maegan," said Tracy, "did William have lots of hair when he was born? Because when you just pushed, I saw hair! I could have twirled it around my finger!"

"No way," I said. "Are you sure you saw the baby's head?"

"Yep," she beamed. She sent the nurse out to grab a couple supplies, and I felt another contraction coming on. I took a breath, blew it away, and began to push. And I felt him descending, and I continued to push. "Um, Mom," said Tracy in a calm but insistent way to my mom, "could you press that red button on the wall there? Let's get Linda (the nurse) back in here." In the pain and pushing, I knew that was a good sign. Suddenly, the head was out. I was shocked. Should I keep pushing? "Keep going!" said Tracy, after untangling the cord from around his neck. I pushed again - out came the shoulders - and again - and there was my baby, being lifted up and onto my chest. As he was brought up to me, I saw, just as Brian said, "It's a boy!"

I cuddled him on my chest in shock. It was so fast. So, so fast. He was born less than a half hour after we'd pulled up the the front doors - probably less than twenty minutes after we'd gotten into that room. I couldn't believe it! In two contractions, I'd met my baby - my second little boy! I had guessed it would be a boy, and I was right! Just what I had hoped for! A buddy for William! "Hi, Barrett!" I whispered to him over and over. I sang him a song as he cried, as they wrapped him up and put a hat on him. He was quite blue when he'd first come out, but soon he pinked up nicely and quieted down.

I just can't tell you how stunned I was. I look back at the pictures and it looks like I was so emotionally void. No sobbing, no tears, just taking deep breaths and singing to Barrett. Actually, the stitching up and all that aftermath lasted much longer than pushing out my baby! I was so curious to know his stats, but I also wanted to hold him and not let him go. We tried nursing and he latched on, but it was too much to attempt while they were stitching me up (which seriously took forever!) so we went back to resting. The quick delivery had affected him too - he still had a lot of amniotic fluid in his throat - so the nurse kept suctioning him out and making sure he was breathing well.


The rest is pretty straightforward. He was born at six PM, early enough to get visitors that very night - William, my dad, and my best friend Kathleen. We spent one night in the hospital, which was a nice time of bonding and resting with Barrett, and waited out the following day, rather impatient to leave! We booked it out of there twenty-four hours after he was born. I felt so great, I walked all the way down to the lobby. The physical recovery for Barrett was already so much better than it had been for Will.

I love this picture. First time I was able to hold him after having Barrett. I love how his little hands are folded.

Fast-forwarding twelve weeks later - things are great. I expected a transition much rougher than this has been. Physically, I bounced back so much faster (though losing the baby weight is proving to be more difficult this second time around!). I stayed very strict with my vitamins and didn't experience the frightening mood swings that I did with Will (extreme bouts of sobbing for no reason? not fun!).William started out mostly aloof toward Barrett, though as the weeks pass he's growing more interested and very sweet toward his little brother. He hasn't acted jealous at all and he loves being my "Big Helper!" The hardest part was not being able to be Will's mommy like I had been used to being. It was tough to let Brian put him to bed every night and give him his baths and feed him his meals. But it was good for their relationship, and they're even closer now. And now that I've been back in full-on mommy-mode for a while, those first few weeks seem like a blur.


And Barrett is the BEST baby. I mean seriously, just the best little guy I could have asked for. William was a very mellow, easy baby as well, but Barrett just SHINES because he's the second-born - he doesn't have his needs met immediately at every moment. He patiently waits, rewarding us with huge smiles. He's so soft and snuggly and sweet... just SO SWEET. He makes me want to have a million babies. He just makes me so, so happy! He's been sleeping through the night since he was five weeks old - which I honestly don't expect to keep happening for much longer, as I'm sure when he starts growing more he'll need to be up again. But it's been so nice - oh, so nice while it's lasted! He's healthy and happy and mellow, and just the best baby. William even says, "Best baby!"


Yesterday was Mother's Day, and I spent the day knowing I couldn't be happier than I am right now, at this moment in my life. My two little boys are my joy and crown. Brian and I are more of a team than ever. Life is so, so good!

So until next time!


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thoughts on babies, pregnancy, and the State of the Ute.

This day marks one year since we lost our December 2013 baby. It is so strange to be holding a baby in my arms this month. It certainly lessens the heartache of what this day meant one year ago.

After May 6, 2013, it took a few weeks to stop crying every night. It took a short time to get pregnant again. It took several months to stop feeling like the February baby pregnancy had betrayed the December baby pregnancy. I cried once in December, on the day the baby would've been due. It took a while to process some irrational thoughts and fears about what had happened to my December baby. I cried once more, a couple months ago, when we finally planted a tree and buried beneath it what I had wrapped up from that May 6th night. That last time, though, was a different cry. It was a cry of gratitude and hope and of finally, FINALLY placing into the arms of God something I had held onto for almost a year.

I hope it doesn't sound selfish to say that I grieved for December even after February was a reality. I hope it just reflects on how much I love these gifts that God has given me.

And there are some things I've realized. One is that God loved that baby enough to create it. The moment it was conceived, it was a soul fit for eternity. And when it passed from this life into the next, without experiencing any pain or suffering in this world, it began spending eternity with God. He loved it enough to create it solely for Himself. And the second thing I've realized - that I HAVE to believe - is that my baby is not a nameless face in Heaven. Somehow, in some way, it is being loved and held and cherished there. And that as its mother, I will be able to spend eternity with a child I never knew on this earth. That will be a wonderful gift.

So a tiny flowering almond tree is planted in my front yard. We received it as a bare-root plant from a mail-order catalog. It's a mere stick right now, not any taller than Barrett. It's a reminder of how fragile and lovely it is to have a child.

Which brings me to my thoughts on pregnancy, babies, and the State of my Uterus.

The end of my pregnancy with Barrett - the last two or three months of it, really - was hard. I was exhausted. I ate too much food and exercised too little throughout my pregnancy and I wound up gaining more weight and putting more pressure on my body than I had with Will. With Will, I'd walked everyday. I'd eaten healthier meals. These things were hard to sustain with Barrett, since I really had no place to walk (iced-over driveway and roads and record-low temperatures) and I had much less time to spend cooking for myself. That's not an excuse, of course, to swing to the other side of the spectrum and eat very poorly - but that's what I did and I sank myself into a cycle of fatigue, fueled briefly by more food, which of course only led to more fatigue. I thought to myself - with Will, I worked a desk job and sat all day. I'm constantly on my feet now. So I kind of believed I was being active, when I wasn't really. 

Next time around - if God blesses us again - things will be different. I have seen now the difference between a pregnancy where I walked every day, and a pregnancy where the only walking I did was up and down stairs with a toddler on my hip. Two months postpartum with Will, I was in all my old clothes. Almost three months postpartum with Barrett, I have fifteen pounds to go before I hit that same place. Next time, I will somehow make twenty minutes of time each day to be active.

Next time. Oh, next time. Heavily pregnant with Barrett, I swore up and down that I would NOT get pregnant again until May or June of 2015. By golly, I was going to have fifteen months to NOT be pregnant and I certainly was going to enjoy the heck out of it. When I asked Brian for his input, he shrugged and said, "Babe, I don't care. Whenever you want to have another baby, I'm up for it."

Well, I thought. I don't want to have a "hunting season" baby. And I don't really want to be big and  pregnant in the summer. Having Barrett and Will in late winter/spring seems to have worked out.

So it was "decided." I would get pregnant again in May or June of 2015. I even said this to people.

I went in to the midwife's office to get prepared for some semi-permanent birth control.

How haughty. How presumptuous and arrogant. How foolish

Here I am on May 6, pondering my little December baby again. I remember the horror of that night... I'm afraid horror is just the best way to describe it. I had no control. I wanted that baby so badly, but it was not mine to keep. WHO gives life and takes it? Not me. WHO "decides" when to have a baby? Not me.

For a month of my life, I thought I was going to  have two babies, nineteen months apart. When that second baby was lost to us, suddenly I had to wonder if I would ever have another child.

Why did God bless us again so soon, with Barrett? I don't know. But I am thankful, OH so thankful. And the presumption of telling God that I will "decide" when I have "the next one" is a stark reminder that I am in constant need of a readjusted perspective. I am sorry, Lord.

What God has laid on my heart is that this is the time in my life when I am having children. I am not guaranteed another baby, but should the Lord bless me again, I will not throw that in His face by making demands and having expectations about the timing. I have to stress that this is strictly what God has put on my heart. It does not mean I think every family should feel this way. I promise.

I don't know how many children I want. I do hope for a big family, full of love and laughter. I'm sure at some point, Brian and I will agree that "we're all here". But until then, I hope to remember that "not my will, but Thine be done," that life is precious and fragile and uncontrollable.