I have loved my younger child differently

This year has been a whirlwind. 

When I say whirlwind, I mean there is still a box of maternity clothes sitting on my bedroom floor that I haven’t managed to find enough time to put away. (And if I’m going to be totally honest, there may be some pregnancy apparel still hiding in my dresser drawers, too.)

Whirlwind as in there are even some newborn clothes hanging in my own closet from those early weeks when the baby needed changing often, and I couldn’t yet climb the stairs following my c-section. 

Whirlwind as in when I stop to let my mind focus on the fact that today that baby has lived on this Earth for one full year, I feel I need to catch my breath.

We have been racing through this year. Sprinting towards survival. Carried along by the busyness of each day, filled with all the things it takes to enable more than one tiny human entrusted to your care to make it successfully until the next sleep. Diaper changes. Outfit changes. Meal prep. Instruction. (More instruction.) Discipline. (More discipline.) 

Then the forceful current of our daily routine pushed us through time even faster as we dealt with my own health issues for many of those months. Each day’s cherished prize: our heads hitting the pillows.

I cannot believe that last night, I put to bed a baby, and today, in this house, another toddler wakes.

first birthday

And just like that, a year has flown past.


I hadn’t stopped to really let myself think about it until last night. (You know, with the racing through life, and all.) The end of summer blurred into my eldest’s daughter’s birthday and its preparations, suddenly dropping us off to this day. But last night, it hit me. (Trust me, my husband will tell you.) It’s something about laying a child down to sleep, knowing they will have crossed that milestone the next morn of passing through another year that makes the floodgates open. And even more so that first year. I’ve come to realize–having been through two–that first birthdays are more of a celebration for the parents than the child, because you are rejoicing in the fact that you’ve successfully kept alive another soul for an entire 12 months. 

Not only have you cared for that little person for all those days and weeks and months in ways that stretched your abilities, you have learned to love another  in a way you didn’t know you were capable. An unstoppable, breathing, beating love that flows through your heart and mind, coursing through your veins and out to your actions. A love that everyone tells you will happen, but until you experience it, you can’t completely comprehend. 

And after your first child, you wonder how it would be possible to be filled up with the same love again, because you are already pretty convinced your heart in its current state is at capacity. 

Now that a year has passed after the birth of my second, let me tell you a secret. The truth is, for me, it hasn’t been the same.

My love for my younger child is different.

Before you think I am a terrible parent, publicly proclaiming my favoring of one child over the other, allow me to explain. 

I have already told the story how in the hours before my youngest’s birth, I was an emotional mess, sobbing in triage as my bewildered husband looked on. Not wanting to go through what I was about to experience because I was scared out of my mind. Scared not because of the pain of impending surgery and recovery, but because I knew the depths of what was to come. 

This time, I knew about the impossible love. And it was overwhelming.

reaching child

With this child, I already knew how far my love would reach.


Earlier this week, grandchild number 13 on my husband’s side joined our family. After he had a short NICU stay, my sister-in-law asked how I was able to stand being separated from my first daughter after her birth, since she also took a turn in the NICU. My answer was partially that I was so drugged, after a long labor followed by emergency c-section, I barely knew what was going on. But mostly the reason was that I had no frame of reference of what to expect as a mother and for me, hadn’t yet experienced that bond between parent and child. Now on the other side of that, knowing what it’s like to hold what you held inside you for 40 weeks, it would be much more challenging to go through something like that again.

And why is that? Well, you know how when you’ve done something once or you’ve been training to do something for a long time, and that moment comes to perform, your body kind of just takes over? That it acts on impulse, moving faster and more confidently than previously thought possible? Similarly, I have learned that once you’ve experienced the love of a child, the next time around, your heart responds accordingly. It knows what to do. It’s been here before. 

And because your heart knows what to expect at each new stage, it’s like it fills to overflowing before milestones are even reached. Gone are many of the uncertainties about what’s ahead, replaced by confidence that you know every new development is better than the last. You think newborns are great? Nah, wait till you see them smile. Love those 6-month-old giggles? Wait till a toddler whispers, “I love you, Mommy.”

I felt this love differently because it ran over what are now well-worn paths in this Momma’s heart, deepening the marks left by my first, pushing the boundaries to make room for more. Prayerfully cutting off the selfishness that clogged it before. Helping me better grasp just how My Father loves me and how far He’d go to reach my soul. How He’d send His Son in exchange for it.

Last night, my toddler helped me put the baby to bed. She recited our traditional nighttime story and then asked if she could pray. As I listened to her words and watched as my baby pushed her arm through the slats, spreading her fingers to touch her sister, I could feel the familiar tug as my heart stretched again.

Because now I know the miracle of a child is not only about new life. 

It’s about how it transforms yours.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16, The Message)

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Why I’m glad I’ll never be a pro at parenting

It’s 7:46 p.m., and I’ve been snuggling and rocking my second-born for over an hour.

I’m listening to her soft snorts as she breathes out her nose, silently willing her to just. go. to. sleep. as she fights it with every fiber in her now overly tired body. As I stare at her features barely visible in the dim light of the nursery, I wonder how I could find something so sweet still so incredibly … terrifying.

 

baby held by God not us

Her life is not held in our hands.

 
It’s been more than three months now since she entered our lives. A span of time that has mystifyingly stood still and yet passed so fast. The terror I speak of started the morning of her birth. Well, I’m sure it started before, but that was the moment it became so real that I wanted to run screaming from Labor & Delivery triage.

“I don’t want to do this,” I sobbed to my husband, who looked at my tear-stained face completely bewildered, as I lay shaking on the hospital bed in preparation for my scheduled c-section. 

“Can we just go home?”

He paused a second before carefully responding.

“Hon, I think it’s a little late for that.”

This was not how I pictured the birth day of my second daughter. I had thought we would talk and laugh and wait in excitement until they walked me back to the OR. Instead, my stomach was a tangled mess of knots and my heart was thudding and my mind was spinning. I don’t think I had ever been so nerved up about anything more in life. 

I wasn’t scared of the surgery. Or of the recovery pain I knew was coming. What had me so horrified was what I had wanted every day for nine looooooong months: the thought of this new life entering into the world.

This new life we had to bring home. To care for. To raise. For at least the next 18 years, Lord willing.

And it absolutely freaked me out.

I didn’t feel this way before the birth of my first; at least, I don’t remember feeling it so strongly. Maybe it was because I now knew what I was getting into and the significance of it all. 

My husband was right–there was no turning back. And as scared as I was, when the time came, I didn’t run. Actually, once I scooched my very pregnant self onto the operating table, I was at peace. 

Minutes later, at 9:01 a.m. on September 15, sweet Aurelia Ruth made her debut.

 The minutes and days and weeks that have followed already have blended together into an indistinguishable twist of time, as we try to figure out how to best meet the needs of this precious little soul.

Our second-born is definitely more challenging than our first, but that is not saying much, because I think I somehow birthed the World’s Easiest Baby with her. I have joked that wolves could’ve raised Olivia, and she would’ve turned out the same. So when it has become clear that I don’t have all the parenting answers (not that I ever thought I did), the terror starts creeping back in to lurk in the corners of my heart.

But that terror, I have learned, also cracks open a door to turn to God. To seek Him, instead of run in fear. To cling to truth, instead of listen to the lies of the Great Deceiver. To realize finding the “right” answer doesn’t rest on me, or in some book, or on some mommy blog, but in the Creator and Provider. For if He cares for the lilies of the valley and the birds of the air, He surely cares so much more for my children. And for our marriage. And for me.

That’s why I am glad I don’t know it all when it comes to being a parent. If it were totally easy, it would also be easy to think “hey, I’ve got this,” puff out my chest, and leave little room for God. 

I am sure there will be bigger challenges ahead than how to get my baby to sleep. And I pray He uses those challenges to keep me humble and on my knees, asking for His direction and help. 

As I lay my finally dreaming babe ever, yet ever, so quietly and carefully down in her crib and tip-toe backwards through the darkness of her room, fingers silently wrapping around the doorknob, I am not leaving the terror behind. I am simply choosing to let the Almighty wrap us both in His powerful arms.

He is there in the darkness.

He is there to conquer my doubts.

He is there in the late-night feedings. In the cries that cannot be soothed or explained. In the exhausting yet oh-so-rewarding moments that each new day brings. 

He.

Is.

There.

And I’m so grateful He’s got this, not me.

gift of a  child

Thank you Lord, for this most precious gift.

“My help comes from The Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 101:2)

What to do when waiting robs your joy

It’s amazing how quickly you can turn to despair when you are physically spent.

After about a week’s reprieve from the nausea and vomiting that returned at the 32-week mark of pregnancy, I was completely caught off guard when it came roaring back yesterday. Add this on top of my already-depleted energy from 3- to 4-hour stretches of contractions less than 5 minutes apart for the past few days, and I rapidly spiraled downward.

I have just two weeks left at most in this pregnancy, and yet, it’s as if time was standing still. And it’s like the lack of physical strength in my body also drained any mental capacity I had to cast reason and perspective on my present circumstances.

My thoughts grew increasingly dark and hopeless as the hours dragged on, knowing that it’s not exactly going to get any easier dealing with a newborn, toddler, and c-section recovery once this uncomfortable gestational period was over. While I knew I had many things to be grateful for–an incredibly helpful husband, a generally easy-going toddler, a healthy baby growing inside me, and the end of pregnancy just around the corner–it was like I could only focus on what I couldn’t do. That I couldn’t get off the couch and play “get you” with my girl. That I couldn’t muster enough strength to make it to the grocery store. That I couldn’t enjoy our last days as a family of three the way I wanted. That I couldn’t make the clock go faster.

Behind the smile, I’ve been masking my despair.

As I laid there wishing away each overwhelming hour, desperately wanting to be done with this miserable stage of limbo, I knew I was being short-sighted … and yet, too exhausted and numb to change my thoughts. Even that seemed like too much.

But I also knew my despair, anxiety, and impatience was destroying any ability to see the joys of each day. I never have cared too much for the well-meaning phrases of “it’s just a season” and “this too shall pass,” because I know that when you’re focused on simply speeding to the end destination, you can miss many moments of wonderful along the journey.

So I started to pray for The Lord to renew my thoughts, instead of just replenish my strength, and I knew others were praying too. This morning, I woke in a haze after a night of intermittent sleep to find this Scripture someone had shared on Facebook as encouragement, and it was just what I needed.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.” (‭Psalms‬ ‭62‬:‭5-8‬)

As I meditated on His Truth, I prayed that God would help me wait quietly during this time of turbulence and calm my soul enough to see all that is praiseworthy. I got up, turned on the bathroom faucet, and immediately the lyrics of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” filled my mind: “strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.” Yes, Lord. You promise that. And I can cling to it.

Pretty much all I want to do these days …

Instead of solely focusing on how tired I felt and how much I wanted to crawl back in bed and for the day to already be over, I decided to write down every time I encountered a blessing, starting with the fact that the sun was shining on this first day of September, the month we would welcome our new daughter into this world. I didn’t want the moments of wonderful to pass me by, unseen and uncherished. As my list quickly grew, I saw just how much I had to be thankful for.

  • A toddler who slept in
  • Coffee
  • Greetings of “mommy, up?” when I entered her room, her invitation to come snuggle in bed and read a book
  • Her sweet request to read “Sister,” and how she talked about the different ways she can help with baby after we read each page
  • Her polite, sing-songy “all done” when she finished with breakfast, followed by a request for a “cloth cloth” to wipe her crumbs
  • Daniel Tiger (!!!)
  • Her eagerness to help me make banana bread and the feeling of her small, soft hands wrapped in mine as we stir, stir, stir
  • The songs that bubble freely and tenderly from her tiny voice
  • Feeling baby girl stretch inside, despite the discomfort it brings
  • Her spontaneous chorus of “clean up, clean up” as she puts the Play-Doh back into the container
  • Her quiet, steady breathing as she concentrates on transferring popcorn from one cup to another
  • Witnessing her imagination at work as she mixes and bakes in her play kitchen 
  • Opportunities for me to learn patience and show grace when I instruct her after she throws her toys on the ground in frustration
  • The way she crosses her ankles while she eats peanut butter and jelly in her booster seat
  • When she goes potty without any protest before nap (over a month now without an accident, though I may’ve just jinxed that … )
  • Carrying her to the bed with her head cradled on my shoulder as I hum a verse of a lullaby and rub her back
  • The privilege to read her a story from God’s Word (today about the boy king Josiah)
  • Kissing her soft, smooth forehead and thanking The Lord she goes down for a nap easily 
  • A long shower while streaming my favorite Getty hymns station on Pandora and praising God for helping me get through another morning 

Clearly, my blessings were bountiful, and this day was only halfway done. I knew I would long for mornings of these magical moments in the years to come. How could I wish this away? 

She can’t wait to meet her baby sister.

Yes, this month may get harder. And I imagine it will, with sleepless nights, and surging hormones, and cries that won’t easily be comforted. But I’m praying that God will not help me survive it–that He’ll instead show me His goodness and sustain me with His grace. That He’ll quiet my heart enough to see His beauty and blessings. That I won’t be able to deny the waiting was all worthwhile.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.” (‭Psalms‬ ‭73‬:‭26‬)

Why this c-section mom has no regrets

In less than three months, I plan to go under the knife.

It will be a surgery with the most beautiful outcome I can imagine, resulting in the birth of our second daughter. I can’t think of a better reason to be cut open.

As it looks, birthing by cesarean section will be all I ever know. And (this may be hard for some to understand) … I’m totally OK with that.

Make no mistake, it will be painful. It will be messy. 

But it will be perfect.

You may wonder how I can say that. It’s not that I set out to have my babies by c-section. In fact, to be honest, the thought of a c-section never seriously entered my mind when I was pregnant with my first daughter. Sure, we’d attended a birthing class, and I’d read through “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” so I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that it was an option. 

And unbelievably, as a notorious over-planner, it’s not like I went into labor with an elaborate birth plan either. My plan after 40-plus weeks of carrying this little life was pretty basic at that point–please, please, PLEASE, just get this baby out of me! Yet, I still assumed she would take the southern route.

However Olivia–and God–had other plans for her debut.

About 14 hours after arriving at the hospital in labor with her, it was time to push. And push I did for over the next two hours. I was making progress and the RN was describing Liv’s full head of dark hair to me, but something wasn’t right. Liv’s head was transverse. I remember my OB made several attempts to turn her head as I pushed, but as soon as the contraction was over, her head would turn right back. It must’ve all been very stressful on her, because her heart rate kept decelerating. And so my OB gently told me that she felt the best option for a safe delivery at that point was to quickly move to the OR. 

What happened next struck me as so odd.

Everyone in the room, from the OB, to the RN, to the resident who had been observing my labor, began apologizing to me. “I’m so sorry,” they all said, with tilted heads and sympathetic gazes, as they began prepping me for the c-section to come.

“What are they sorry for?” I thought. “It’s OK,” I reassured them, as I struggled then to NOT push with each contraction as instructed. “I just want whatever is best.”

Less than 30 minutes after the decision for the c-section was made, Olivia Annmarie entered the world. But her experience of trying to find a way to greet it had taken its toll. She wasn’t breathing. Several minutes passed, and we didn’t even realize she was out of my body, let alone being bagged and worked on. I remember asking the anesthesiologist hovering at my head if she was almost out yet, and she replied that she was already out and over at the table. Then, we heard her tender little cry. 



Liv spent her first couple hours hanging out in the NICU.



After a brief look at her, she was whisked off to the NICU with David following. But thankfully, after those first few moments, she rebounded quickly and had no further issues.

I’m not going to lie–my recovery from her arrival was long and hard. It took many weeks to start to feel somewhat normal again. But through the pain, I would look at my sweet baby girl and nothing else mattered.

She was here. She was perfect. (Even with the little “conehead” she initially sported right above her ear where she had gotten stuck.) 



My perfect view while I recovered.



Not long after I got pregnant with our second, the questions started coming. Those who knew I had a c-section with Liv started asking, “So, do you think you’ll try for a VBAC with this one?”

I didn’t mind the question, and I knew the inquiries were well-meaning. But the answer is no, I am not.

Turns out, after discussing with my OB, that I have a slim chance at a successful VBAC. Liv’s birth revealed I have a misshapen pelvis, and it’s likely that if I labored again, it would end with the same result. And so, without hesitation or any regret, I scheduled my c-section for Baby No. 2.

What’s surprised me in the months since my first c-section is that I’ve learned my lack of regret regarding it is considered somewhat … abnormal. I’ve heard other moms describe how they’ve grieved over this method of birth and felt they’d been robbed of a different experience. How they’ve longed and hoped and prayed for another option. How they’ve felt their bodies failed in some way.

I’ve heard other completely well-intentioned moms cheer on those whose chance of a natural delivery is diminishing with mantras of “your body was made to do this!” Except, sometimes, it isn’t. And there should be no shame or guilt associated with that.

Because I believe that the verse we often quote regarding our tiny miracles applies to us mommas too: “I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made … “ (Psalm 139:14)

If God’s ways are perfect (which they are), then I am also perfectly designed, just as He intended. And since His way is perfect, I can say with confidence that my children’s entrances into this world, whatever shape that may take, are part of His perfect plan as well.

So why did my medical team feel the need to apologize as I headed to the OR? Why the shame and the guilt and the regret expressed by so many? Just because your body doesn’t “do” something–be it a natural birth, breastfeeding, or the ability to bear a child on your own–doesn’t mean you have failed … because wouldn’t that be saying that God has failed in His plans for you?

To me, a life coming into this world–and the nurturing and growth of it–is miraculous and amazing any way it happens. What’s “best” may look different for each mother and child, but that doesn’t change the perfection of God’s design for you.

So to the mom who’s pushed out that child without any medical intervention at all, let me share the truth from God’s Word: you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

To the mom who bears the six-inch scar near her bikini line: you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

To the mom who nurses her babe for 18 months: you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

To the mom who prepares bottles of formula for her bundle of joy: you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

To the mom whose child was placed in her arms by another: you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

There’s nothing to regret about that.

“God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true …” (Psalm 18:30)