Our Journey to Parenthood - Laura from "Oakland Avenue"

As part of my blogging hiatus, please enjoy this post by my amazing sister-in-law and friend, Laura.  Check out her blog, because she's kind of a mommy blogger rockstar ;-).  If you missed the first post in the series, read about Abby's journey to parenthood and the story of God's grace in the midst of miscarriage.  

I aways wanted to have children later in life. While "later in life" is quite the subjective term, for me, that meant early thirties. I thought I'd get married in my late twenties, enjoy a few years of just being a couple with my husband, then ease into parenthood like gently releasing a canoe into a placid lake. Instead, my canoe flipped of the roof of my car, landed hard on the shore and bounced into the lake in the middle of a hurricane.

married a Hugh Grant look-alike at 23, soon after graduating college. We both wanted 4.5 children - he wanted three, I wanted five or six, so we compromised when sharing our "public number" at 4.5. We also knew we wanted to wait a bit, he felt he just wasn't ready and wanted to be more "financially prepared," but for me it was a different reason. While I wanted a lot of children, I didn't really want any babies. I was never a baby-person growing up, I just wasn't interested in them and didn't know what to do when interacting with them. I never volunteered to hold a friend's baby and I definitely never babysat unless I had to. I was the type that wished children came out as thirteen-year-olds, picking out their own clothes, feeding themselves dinner, communicating their emotions in plain English - minus the hormones of course.

All throughout our first few years of marriage, my husband and I talked about having kids "sooner rather than later" but each time "sooner" came, we pushed it out another year, maybe two. In 2011 our friends and family were just starting to get pregnant and have children which helped move our needle a little closer to the "ready" side, but it still moved pretty slowly. I had a fulfilling career in public relations at a local agency and knowing that we'd like me to stay home with the kids, I wasn't quite ready to give it up, plus the DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) lifestyle is pretty fun - we were content to play the doting aunt and uncle. 

In June 2012 my husband and I took a two-week vacation. It was never meant to be our babymoon, but God had other plans. In August of that same year, we found out I was pregnant. As I walked downstairs with the positive test to show my husband, I couldn't stop the tears. I didn't feel I was ready to have a baby, be a mom, or give up our current life, but deep down, all of that just masked my true reasons - I was scared. Scared that I wouldn't know what to do with a baby at 2 a.m., scared that my baby wouldn't love me back, scared that I wouldn't be as good of a mother as my friends or sister-in-laws, scared of everything and anything that had to do with me being a mother to a baby. 

Throughout the months waiting for our son, I cried a lot. I struggled with anxiety, fears and worry over how I would ever manage to take care of a baby. I avoided putting together a nursery, purchasing baby gear or doing anything really related to becoming a parent until I was at least 25 weeks along. I didn't even purchase an outfit for the baby until I was 30 weeks for fear of it making things too "real."

By the end of the pregnancy, I was ready to have our baby, but I think the reason might have been an even toss up between getting to meet him in "real life" and shedding the 20 plus pounds I had gained. After a pretty difficult 32 hour labor, I finally met my baby, Eli, face-to-face. Our introduction wasn't what movies are made of or what you hear about in the baby books. Meeting my son that first time didn't make me forget the pain or fill me with love and joy - instead I remembered every ounce of pain and was filled with fear and skepticism. Even after nine months of getting to know my baby and preparing to be his mother, I was still scared. 

But God granted me grace with my newborn and six weeks into motherhood, I realized everything had changed. I believe it was partly because I needed trial by fire to prove to myself that mother-instinct is a real thing and I could in fact take care of a baby, but moreover because God, in his mercy, changed my heart and softened it towards my son and towards myself as a mother. I realized I had been putting God in a box, not allowing him to work in my life and show me that He is my source of strength and he provides all I need at every stage of life, especially in mothering a baby. I kept wanting to wait to have children until I was "ready" - I'm not sure what I was looking for, a baby not to cry in my arms I suppose - but what I needed to realize was that I would never truly be ready, and that's okay, because I would be the best mother for my baby boy - simply because of God's grace in my life. 

Today, I'm so grateful parenthood came unexpectedly to my husband and I. I've found that life as a parent is more fun and more fulfilling than life as a DINK, and I believe Eli came with the absolute perfect timing. God had a plan for our family, one that was so very different from mine, but also much better. While our canoe took quite a few scratches and dents getting into the lake, it's staying afloat and moving through the waters better than I ever expected.

Our Journey to Parenthood - Abby from "A Cheerful Heart"

It's official...I'm holding twin boys in the hospital.  Because blogging isn't something I have too much time for right now, I have a a series of posts for you called, "Our Journey to Parenthood".  First up is an unlikely journey shared by a super intelligent and wise friend, Abby.  Enjoy :-) 

Hi there -- I’m Abby, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about my journey to parenthood. In case you’re wondering, I like: drinking french-press coffee alone and with friends; knitting recycled yarn; teaching piano lessons; studying the Bible, theology, politics, philosophy, and history; reading; writing; bonfires; DIY projects; and living in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Somewhat reluctantly, I have also gained a bit of expertise about hunting, the U.S. Military, higher education, and miscarriage. This story is hard to tell, but it’s important, and every step of this journey displays God’s tender care. Thanks for reading!

Sitting in a coffee shop wIth this blank screen in front of me, it's impossible not to eavesdrop on the conversation at my back -- a young woman in her senior year of college, gushing joy about her upcoming wedding and eventual plans to have three kids and adopt two after taking a few years to "grow up first." I’ve said all those things, too, and I wish I could share with her what I’m learning the hard way about the journey to parenthood.

The beginning:
I grew up in a loving Christian family, and always imagined myself becoming a mom. At 16, my doctor treated some painful medical problems and indicated I should not procrastinate in starting a family after I got married. I dated Aaron in college and naively expected the year he deployed to Iraq was the hardest thing we would weather together. He came home safely, though many guys he went with did not, and proposed later that year. I was 21 and excited to have kids soon, but we disagreed about the timeline to expanding our family. Our engagement was so hectic that the discussion slipped through the cracks.
Unsurprisingly, my five-year marriage has included sharp disagreements about when to have kids. I was uneasy about postponing pregnancy without scriptural justification, especially with my medical history, but I don’t know what compromise should have looked like -- you can't have half a baby or be half a parent!

What I would change:
I wish we had studied the Bible with respected mentors instead of rushing through our evangelical pre-marital counseling with conventional secular values about family planning, like, "Get ‘settled’ first.” We received that advice from Christian family members, too!  
The biggest fundamental attitude shift we both needed was about money and stay-home moms -- we believed we had to rely only on Aaron’s income before we could start having kids so I could stay home with them. He started a PhD program when we got married, which meant I’d be working for at least five years. While it's worth sacrificing to have a parent staying home, I don’t think preventing pregnancy until that’s possible needs to be one of those sacrifices. This is just one way my view of motherhood was far too narrow!

Parenthood, past and present:
We’ve covered a lot of ground: successfully preventing pregnancy, unexpectedly conceiving, unsuccessfully “trying” before getting pregnant, several miscarriages… Just not completing a pregnancy with a live baby or adopting! Now the roles have switched and Aaron has baby fever while I’m apprehensive (read: terrified) about getting pregnant.

Because I’ve had three miscarriages, parenthood seems to be only morning sickness, scary mini-labors to deliver tiny babies, and grief. I don’t always know how to answer people who ask if I have kids, but I am a mom, and I’m learning that God is using the ministry coming from my losses as the way I live out that motherhood. I don’t get to kiss “owwie”s, but I extend immediate comfort to many women for their miscarriages. I don’t pack lunches, but I mail care packages. I don’t get to teach my children about the gospel, but it is always something I share with other grieving families. While it is not what I would have chosen, taking care of those who mourn is my physical expression of mothering, and it is just as significant as anything I could be doing with diapers or playgrounds or homework if the babies had lived.

Parenthood in the future:
God designed marriage, intimacy, and reproduction with purposeful wisdom. It seems to me that “family planning” should cooperate with this, welcoming what God might send instead of mostly preventing a good gift. While postponing pregnancy is sometimes prudent, the
Bible indicates children are a blessing without caveat!

So right now instead of calculating possible due dates, I dread the possibility of wasting weeks feeling like crap, falling in love, and crashing with grief in another miscarriage. And yet, we leave this in the Lord’s hands. Is it hard to be open to a new life right now?
YES. But I’m confident this is what God is asking of me. This is sometimes exciting, but mostly obedience worked in fear and trembling.

My journey to parenthood has taken a twisted road at best, and the destination is not going to look like I expected. Most days I wonder if I’ve reached my final destination already. I don’t know! But, “My comfort in my affliction is this: your promise preserves my life.” (Psalm 119:50) That promise does not necessarily include having a child. Instead, as a Christian this promise guarantees something infinitely more satisfying: beholding what great love the Father has given to me, that I am his child, and as such I will share in the perfect, unending joy of God the Father, my good shepherd.  
This is hard to say, but it is true: the journey to parenthood may not make me a parent, but it is making me a child.

Children of the Heavenly Father, safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in heaven such a Refuge e’er was given…
(hymn text by Karolina Sandell-Berg)

A simple system for controlling paper

Back in the newlywed days, our idea of a fun outing together was attending a Franklin Covey seminar about organization.  At the time, this presentation about reducing clutter and making a system for paper just went in one ear and out the other.  For the next couple of years, we still allowed all of our mail to grow in piles, only to be sorted through when it was embarrassingly bad.  Our desk area was generally overflowing with piles, and our file system was nonexistent.  Thankfully, we somehow managed to keep on top of our bills and important paperwork.

After Lewis was born and the bustle of having a newborn settled down, I started to look at the house from the eyes of a full-time homemaker.  I was really excited by the prospect of using all of my skills, gifts, and talents to make our home and family blossom.  Unfortunately, organization wasn't one of my natural "gifts".  Eventually, even though I didn't have the natural tendency to organize, the clutter got to me.  I was determined to act.  No more paper piles!

What really put me over the edge was a particular ledge in our family room.  When we would come in from garage, this clean ledge became a dumping ground for mail, among other odds and ends.  It looked terrible.  This cluttered ledge would make our whole house look messy, even if everything else was picked up.  The other thing that really motivated me was a desire to have a clean desk when we had company over.  Our desk is right next to our kitchen table, so we would have people over for meals and they got to look at an overflowing mess of bills and magazines while enjoying enchiladas.

One day I just sat down, went through all of the papers, and developed a system that made sense for our lifestyle.  Here is what we do now:

1 - Deal with paper everyday.
We used to bring in the mail and stack it in piles until they got big enough to spark a two hour session of organizing our stuff.  This didn't exactly motivate anyone to stay on top of bills and filing.  Now we bring in mail everyday, open it immediately (which is generally only one or two envelopes), and put it in it's designated location.  I love this system because it keeps papers from piling up and I can get to important documents when I have more time.

2 -  Put paper in it's designated location.
I have 5 locations or categories for paper items that enter our home.  Almost everything fits into one of these categories...

  • Bills or action items - These items go into a file on our desk.  I pay them once a week or once every two weeks.  When they have been paid (which I do online so there is nothing to mail), they are moved to the "to file" section.  Other examples of action items might be invitations, appointment reminder cards, or checks to deposit.
  • To file - These items which also go into a file on our desk might include paid bills, health insurance statements, special notes someone has written us, ultrasound pictures, and other papers that we don't want to throw away.  I only file about once every 3-4 weeks. *of course, this requires that you have a filing cabinet or another long-term storage solution 
  • To read - These items go on our bedroom  nightstand or on the refrigerator.  I found that we needed to take magazines, news articles, ministry updates, or other things we wanted to look at in more detail and store them in a place we would actually see them.  When they were just dropped on our desk, we would lose track of them for weeks or months.  Now if either of us has something on our nightstand like a Pottery Barn catalog or the latest issue of "This Old House", we just read it before bed and I throw it away within 1-2 days.  Brad has a harder time letting go of magazines than I do, so we don't have a perfect system for disposal yet.  :-)
  • Trash - This is pretty self explanatory.  One thing that helps us decide what to save versus what to throw in the trash is a "rule of thumb" we learned at that Franklin Covey seminar.  The question is..."how easily can I find this information again if I need it?" For instance, maybe you got an ad from Target or a flyer about a neighborhood 5K you are interested in.  That ad or flyer could clutter your desk for weeks while you have good intentions to do something with it, or you could just toss it and look it up online later if you need the information again.  This applies to almost everything...there is little need to keep a bunch of paper.
  • Coupons - Anything that is a coupon goes into a basket on our desk.  I try to clean out the basket once every couple of months and throw away coupons that are expired.  Having our coupons in one place allows us to do quick searches when we want to go out to eat because we are only looking in one location.
3 - Clean the desk once a week.
Inevitably, no matter how good we are at dealing with paper, random clutter still builds up on our desk.  Generally our bibles, books, pacifiers, and other commonly used household items end up making it look messy.  As long as I take everything off the desk and put things back where they belong about once a week, this mess doesn't get too out of control.

There you go...3 steps.  Easy!  If we didn't have a super simple system, we wouldn't keep up with it.  Everyone is different, and I wish I was savvy enough to have a brilliant and gorgeous system for organizing our papers, but I really don't.  It's just functional and keeps things under control enough to prevent major piles.  Of course, it's imperfect and from time to time we get lazy and let it build up until I re-instate all rules and we go back to a relatively clean desk.

I don't know what would work best for your family, but I can tell you it feels awesome to keep paper clutter to a minimum and know where important documents are...and that's coming from someone who isn't really into organization!

What I'm Packing in my "Hospital Bag"

This post was drafted about one day before I was recently admitted to the hospital for pre-term labor.  So I got to use my hospital bag a little sooner than I expected.  I was very pleased with everything we had stashed away, and didn't need Brad to go home and get me a bunch of other random items.  So I still stand by this list and hope that by our 3rd visit, we have bag packing down to a science.
I wasn't exactly prepared when my water broke with Lewis at 36 weeks.  While I'd done some google searches about what to bring in my bag to the hospital, I had no list and no bag ready to go.  When the time came to leave, packing for the hospital meant rambling off random items for Brad to shove in our bag as I thew on some sweatpants.  After our stay, I realized that while we definitely got by just fine, I had a lot of things I didn't need and didn't have a lot of things I would have liked.

Subsequently, this time I've made an extensive list of things to pack in our hospital bag.  I hope the list will prove helpful if for some reason I'm not able to pack my own bag and someone else has to go to our house to pick up what we need.

Here are a few things I'm packing this time around:

Nursing bras and nursing tank tops - I totally spaced this off with my first delivery and it would have been nice to wear some nursing friendly undergarments (besides just my hospital gown) after the delivery.
Comfortable pants and a nursing friendly shirt - Again, it didn't really occur to me that I might want to be dressed in something other than a hospital gown beyond day one when I started seeing a lot of visitors.
Warm socks or slippers - Okay, so basically unless you want to be tucked under your blanket in your bed the whole time, pack your own socks...and slippers would be a great way to walk around the room without having to put on real shoes or slip around in your socks.
A decent "going home" outfit - It feels just AWESOME to put on your clothes after giving birth because you are comparatively back to your normal self.  I had to go home in the same outfit I arrived in with Lewis, but it would have felt much better to slip into some non-maternity clothes (although stretchy pants and a loose top are still a must).
Toiletries and makeup - This time around, I'm determined to take a real shower with my own toiletries and maybe even put on some makeup.  If I'm feeling really ambitious, I might dry my hair with a blow dryer and feel completely refreshed.  I've visited a lot of moms in the hospital in the last year, and I have been encouraged by how many seem to be in better spirits because they are showered and somewhat pulled themselves together (even though inside I'm sure they are dog tired).
My pillow from home and an eye mask - I brought my own pillow to the hospital last time, and I will definitely do it again.  There are enough obstacles to getting good sleep in the hospital, so there is great advantage to having a comfort from home to help you get some much needed rest.  Also, the eye mask will block out the ambient light from the equipment in the room so the hours (or minutes) spent sleeping are quality.
My pump and a nursing cover - So, I couldn't have had this with Lewis because I didn't get my pump until a couple of weeks after he was born.  BUT, this time I'm coming armed and ready.  If by some miracle these babies are born at 36 weeks or later, I'm doubting I'll have to use it.  However, chances are that they will have some problems nursing due to prematurity and I'll be relying on my pump more heavily.  I know the hospital will have a pump available for me to use, but I'd almost be just as happy to use my own...so I'm bringing it.

Here are some things I'm going to skip this time around:

A "focus object" - In our birthing class they told us to have a "focus object" for use during contractions.  I was not distracted by this so called "focus object".  For me, breathing, thinking about relaxing, counting in my head, and taking a hot bath were much more helpful than the "focus object" I had with me.
Lots of newborn clothes - It's fun to take the baby home in a new outfit, but other than that, I didn't really find it to be that fun to put a sleeper on my newborn at the hospital.  They provide gowns, and the newborns are messed with so frequently, they really don't need to wear very much anyway.  I think I'll bring a couple options for the trip home, but not as much as I packed last time.
Diapers, or other baby care items -  Once again, the hospital had everything Lewis needed in those early days...plus, you pay lots of money to be there so it's nice to just take advantage of the "free" diapers while you can.
Things to do - I think with Lewis we had Downton Abbey on our iPad ready to go in case we needed "something to do".  The reality is that there was no down time...I was either having contractions, birthing a baby, nursing a baby, seeing guests, or sleeping the entire time I was at the hospital.  I don't remember feeling bored.  However, I think Brad appreciated having the iPad available :-).

Other things I'm planning to do / bring:
  • Take pictures with our camera (maybe even a video!)
  • Have a list of people we can call to watch Lewis when we need to go to the hospital
  • Have a list of people to text / email updates to along the way
  • Create a to-go bag for Lewis so he is prepared to stay a couple days with someone without much warning
  • Be more comfortable turning away guests if I am completely exhausted
  • Not feel afraid to buzz the nurses because I'm worried I might be bothering them
  • Spend more time consulting with the lactation specialists while their services are available to me in the hospital
Of course, I know that all of these plans to make my hospital stay more comfortable could all be in vain and thrown out the window with one unexpected event.  Sooo...I'm trying to find some balance between being more prepared this time, and also knowing that ultimately God is the one who will take care of me and provide my every need.  

If you've had a baby, what was the best thing you brought to the hospital?  OR what is something you won't bring again?
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