Joseph’s Birth Story

First of all, I want to start by saying every birth is beautiful. I know some women have difficult ones, traumatic ones, short labors, long labors, Cesareans and more, but bringing a life into the world is incredible. For doing that, you are strong and brave. It is a great blessing to co-create life with God, house that life in your body and then nurture him or her outside of the womb as well.

I was so nervous about the birth of my first, James, and what it would be like. See here. I had planned an un-medicated delivery and ended up being in a lot of pain for weeks and weeks that followed because of some side effects of interventions I had not planned (ie. episiotomy and epidural). While I made peace with how his coming into the world went, I still hoped for something a little different with my second.

My hope and ideal was an unmedicated birth, without my water breaking first. My water breaking means unbearable back labor for me, and immediately having to go to the hospital because I was Strep B positive and needed one dose of antibiotics. I preferred to be able to labor at home for a while and wished for anything shorter than a 24+ hour labor. I was also hoping I didn’t have to go to the hospital in the middle of the night and not be able to say bye to James or go into labor before my mother in law was there to help.

This second birth for me was redeeming. I prayed and prayed for these certain things above to come to fruition and particular fears to be alleviated. And while God doesn’t always answer prayer how we want it answered, God answered each one of these birth prayers very specifically! I was nervous once again about the birth itself but also adding a second child to our family and how I could ever love the next child as much as James.

My mother in-law arrived on Monday, April 1st and had two days of “training” on how to do nap time and bedtime routine, which are pretty extensive (first child problems). On Tuesday evening, I noticed my Braxton Hicks were coming maybe every 20-30 minutes. They didn’t hurt at all so it wasn’t thinking too much of them other than it was different than the random ones throughout the day. I must’ve been in early labor during the night because I woke up Wednesday morning April 3rd with an upset stomach. As Ryan ran out the door for class that morning, I told him I felt weird and it was probably just all the chocolate I ate the day before. I texted my doula my symptoms and she said she had a feeling it was baby day! At 8am was around when I realized the tightening of my belly was coming with heavy cramping at the same time, and they were already 4 minutes apart.

In between hanging with James and my MIL and working through the contractions on the stability ball, I was keeping Ryan updated via text.

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In birth class you usually learn to head in to the hospital when your contractions are roughly 5 minutes apart, 1 minute each for 1 hour (5-1-1). By 10am, mine were already at 3 minutes apart, but I felt like I was managing the pain pretty well and I was trying not to over think it! I didn’t want to have a baby in the car, but I also didn’t want to get turned away from the hospital for not being far enough along…When would be the sweet spot?!

I decided to call Ryan home from school after only an hour and a half of being gone. He got the car packed while I was eating a snack and the pain was getting worse. I said goodbye to my precious James before his lunch and we got to the hospital by 11:30am.

When checked at triage, I was 6cm, 90% effaced. Whoohoo! Let’s GOOOO! Our nurse walked in and introduced herself. She was one of Ryan’s classmates’ wives! She was super sweet, made us feel very comfortable, and it was just another confirmation that God was watching over us!

We settled into the room around Noon… got my labor playlist going, got back on the bouncy ball, and was chatting it up with my midwife and nurse between contractions. They hurt really bad, but I was in a good head space. My doula was massaging my back and Ryan was speaking scriptures over me.

The midwife checked me around 2pm, while I was standing up (SO COOL I didn’t have to climb back into the bed on my back while in pain for a check). I was 10cm, fully effaced!

WHAT!!! AMAZING! HOW DID I GET HERE!

2 hours had flown by with singing, breathing deeply, and offering up contractions out loud for prayer intentions. I was calm and supported and God was with us in that room as I battled the pain with love and joy to meet my child. This was when I realized how deeply spiritual labor and delivery can be.

My water was still intact. The midwife said if I wanted, they could break my water and baby Joseph would come very soon after.

After my water broke at 2:20pm, in came the TERRIBLE HORRIBLE NO GOOD VERY BAD stabbing back pain. I distinctly remember this song “Warrior” coming on my playlist. I literally got chills. It was perfect timing for these lyrics.

Take a listen- super motivating!

I started feeling urges to push and climbed up on the bed in between a contraction. My face fell into a pillow while on my hands and knees, and I squeezed it hard as I was hit one after another with intense waves of pain. I stayed on all fours and began to sweat profusely! I had just about finished my one dose of the antibiotics. Yet again, perfect timing.

“Ahh he’s coming!!!” I was glad I had my face down because I didn’t want to focus on how crowded the room was. Ryan was holding my hand. The midwife was holding me up and occasionally pushing on my back. A student, the midwife, a resident, and two nurses were all doing who knows what, touching me and talking to me.

I started to push… and SCREAM. Yep, I was a screamer. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t care if people were judging me at that point! It was honestly the worst possible pain I could ever imagine. I tensed up. I started joking (sort of serious!) about really wanting the epidural NOW. Of course it was too late. Another contraction, another push, and another scream. I tensed again and made no progress.

Everyone was telling me I could do it, and all I could do was yell, “Jesus, Jesus help me!” The midwife then said, “Hold on Rosemary, he’s right here.” I replied, “Joseph??”, and she said, “No. Jesus.” HA!

I knew that Joseph had to come to us one way or another, and if I could just focus on getting him out instead of resisting, the pain would stop. One big final push and he was born at 2:53pm.

21 inches. 9lbs of chunky goodness.

We did it! He was here! And the pain was over!

Joseph, Ryan, and I enjoyed an hour of uninterrupted time with skin to skin, breastfeeding, chatting, and basking in the whirlwind that just happened. We looked at our SECOND little boy and we were in awe of the result of our self-giving, life-giving love.

I literally just took a lunch break and had a baby. SO FAST. SO INTENSE. And now, so peaceful.

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There is probably some extra dose of assurance with mothering a second kid because hey, it’s your second time around. But, I really feel like the empowering birth experience gave me such a positive spirit and confidence with each step after that, staring with his birth, his first latch, and moving into how to get to know and calm this new little babe.

My physical recovery was yet another blessing and answered prayer. I was up walking around pretty easily an hour afterwards and other than normal uterine cramping, felt great. I guess God knew I’d need to be able to have the strength to hold my needy toddler AND my baby at the same time when we got home. This was so different from the first birth’s feeling of overwhelm and defeat.

Honestly, the biggest struggle going from one to two kids hasn’t been things like how to get two kids out the door, how to manage their schedules (yet), or how to get anything else done- this is close to impossible, but doable… It’s been my heart figuring out how to love both kids in the ways they need to be loved at the same time. People told me my heart would naturally just expand, and it didn’t come that easily to me. I felt my heart tearing in two separate directions with two different very loved kids who had very big needs. The first two months were a painful stretching period and we ALL had to learn more patience. While the adjustment was really hard on James, it has gotten noticeably better now that we are nearly 3 months in. It is the sweetest thing to hear James tell us how much he loves his brother and say, “shhh shh, it’s okay Jo-fuf!” when he’s fussing.

Joseph is proving to be a generally calm and silly little one. His smiles light up our life. We love him so much! Thank you for all of the support as we grew to a family of 4!

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Self-Care 101

“Self-Care.”

This is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days and it used to make me cringe. It just seemed like a lot of people used it to justify expensive shopping trips, spur of the moment tropical vacations, nightly chocolate cake and bubble baths, weekly manicures, monthly massages and mud baths, and ALL captured with a beautiful filter for their snapchat/instagram. I guess I wrongly associated it with being selfish or high-maintenance.

As you may have read my perspective of the first 3 months of motherhood, I am 100% for giving yourself to serve others, and that can means seasons of not getting to enjoy life in the same way you used to. However, I have learned the hard way in this wonderful, yet very difficult first year of motherhood, that pouring yourself out for your family cannot happen without plugging yourself in for a charge occasionally. And though God’s love wishes to perfect us and grow us sometimes through bearing hardships, that still means finding time to be alone to pray, be still, and slow down.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.   //Luke 5:16

The reality is, no one can pour from an empty cup. 

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I had figured out how to take care of myself when it was just me planning life around me, but it was harder to figure out what I needed when my focus and time were so attentive to my son, my husband, and our home.

During the first year with an infant who fed around the clock and doesn’t sleep much, it was especially difficult to figure out what I needed to stay sane or how I could even make those things happen. Heck, I was just trying to figure out how to keep a tiny human alive.

But as time went on, I realized more and more that many of the times I was anxious or upset over little things was when I hadn’t been praying, hadn’t had an adult conversation (besides my husband) for several days, hadn’t been listening to or reading anything positive, or hadn’t taken a break to do anything that brought me joy. I realized, especially in stressful seasons, my mental health is something I actually needed to work on.

Self-care isn’t necessarily about indulging yourself, it’s more about nourishing yourself so you can blossom in your vocation.

And sometimes “self-care” is doing things you don’t really want to do in order to create a more balanced life, like exercising regularly, finally scheduling that doctor appointment after 3 years, forcing yourself to go to bed earlier, getting organized and purging old clothes from high school, spending less time scrolling on social media or with toxic friends, doing the dishes right after dinner each night so that you have time with your spouse instead of stressing that they pile up and you can’t handle it all.

I knew I did need to change several things to find a little pep in my step again! My word of 2018 came quite easily to me: RENEWAL. Life is always going to be busy so I needed to find some small steps to take care of myself, and renew my mind and soul. (The same thing I preached to other people pre-motherhood, I now needed to practice!)

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So January 1st, I left the babe (now toddler) at home with dad and drove to Starbucks to start brainstorming.

I broke the categories up into MIND, BODY, & SOUL. I made a few other goals for the year, but most of them revolve around this practice of making my interior life a priority.

Then, I made my list under each category of the most important things I needed to do to take care of myself.

These are simple things… perhaps just the minimum things I need, but nonetheless things that will go a long way for my well-being when done frequently.

I can tell you after working toward implementing these this first month of the year, I may not be accomplishing all of them, but I feel hopeful and motivated for the months to come because I’m breaking out of the rut. There is a great satisfaction in using my time wisely, seeing myself as a daughter of God that deserves to grow intentionally and is important enough that my needs are worth the effort. That is not selfish. Loving my mind, body, and soul in a small way each day is extremely valuable.

Whether you’re a mom or not, I’d venture to say most people are too busy, too scheduled, and too stressed. Maybe if you’re struggling to get started, this list below of mine will give you some ideas! Ask yourself, what is the MINIMUM I need to do each week to feel healthy, happy, and whole? I’m not talking about training for a marathon, having a spotless house, or doing perfectly on every single work project… just the little things to really look out for your long-term self.

MIND

  • Listen to a podcast, read an article or a few pages in a book
  • Have an encouraging conversation with a friend (on the phone or in person)
  • Write in my “One Line a Day” book each night
  • Plan meals for the week on Sundays (even if it says Pizza)
  • Journal once a month

BODY

  • Wash face & brush teeth twice a day (this sounds so sad, but it is an example of how the minute my son woke me up for the day, it was off to the races. He could wait for a couple of minutes while I started every morning with some basic hygiene.)
  • Move everyday (Stroller Strides 2-3x’s a week, reaching 10k steps, 10 minutes of stretching, going to the park etc.)
  • Take vitamins. Sit down for all meals, not snacking with processed food during day. Focus on veggies & limit sweets.
  • HYDRATE HYDRATE HYDRATE

SOUL

  • Take deep, meditative breaths while rocking James to sleep. Once asleep, pray for him, my marriage, my family and friends
  • Read scripture and devotional each week (sometimes this is daily, but I’m working in baby steps)
  • Play music and sing while cooking or playing throughout the day
  • Go pray in the church adoration chapel alone once a month
  • Fill in my “I am grateful for:” section in my planner each day. (It’s harder to be frazzled when you come from a place of gratefulness and when you have moments in the day to just stop and force yourself to slow down.)

 

How am I doing all of this when I already didn’t feel like I had the time or energy to before? Well, I’m not doing all of it yet…but the short answer is that I’m trying to improve the way I use my time to use it more efficiently.

  1. I have been trying to make a habit out of sitting down for breakfast with my son, getting out my planner, and first thing, writing down my 3 most important tasks or hopes of the day. I find that this helps me get my head on straight before I just start reacting to my day. I also look and see I have scheduled to go to workout class today, so my morning needs to prepare for and work around that goal.
  2. Finding a friend to do a babysitting exchange 🙂 I watch your kid, you watch mine, gives me pockets of time I know I can take a long shower, journal, or just be in silence to think.
  3. Grocery Delivery occasionally
  4. Delegating/getting better at communicating my needs (This one is HUGE) ie. I do bath time while my husband does the dishes; I literally text my husband at work and say “I need to shower tonight”, so he knows we need to work our evening around giving me the time to do that and he’ll remind me if I forget.
  5. Making appointments and putting it on the calendar (my time away in prayer, my workouts, my Bible Study… all ‘obligations’ that I don’t want to miss!)
  6. Alexa play my favorite music” while we are eating lunch, or “Alexa, order more paper towels.”
  7. Podcasts while making dinner or driving

Any other ways you work in your “self-care”? What are your typical go-to activities to fill your cup? 

 

James’ Birth Story

As the final weeks of my pregnancy were approaching, I began to get a non-stop nervous feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. The time that my life would change forever was almost here. Earlier on, I had plenty of worries about whether I would miscarry again, but that those worries had switched to my labor and delivery. I would lie in bed pondering what it would be like and when it would happen. That last week is the wait of all waits! I read and watched around 50 birth stories, and marveled at how this miracle of birthing a baby could be so incredibly unique; no two stories were alike.

Would I be able to handle it?

Would we get to the hospital in time? What if it snowed and we got stuck?

Had I done enough squats, pelvic tilts, and inversions to get him in the best position? (Maybe I’m the only one who had this thought… haha)

How in the world could a human being possibly come out of my body?

What if I had complications and had to go from my choice of unmediated to a C-section? Would we have breastfeeding problems?

Question after question flooded my mind, until about a week before my due date; I heard in my heart, “do you trust me to be Lord over your labor?”

“Yes, Lord,” I responded. “Walk with me through this. Please guide me. However he comes, please bring this baby to us safely.”

I started walking up and down the stairs in our apartment complex the few days before my calculated due date based on the sympto-thermal method, January 6th. (The doctors told me January 2nd based on a typical 28-day cycle, but my stubborn self kept telling them that was wrong :P) I was listening to my workout playlist to pump me up. Every step up and down I would pray for our little one to come. Peace washed over my concerns and somehow by the first week in January, I felt really ready, strengthened, and excited. I had to finally accept all of the unknowns that I could not control and trust God in this area of my life too.

On January 5th, I ate my couple of dates, finished off the rest of the pineapple, and did my normal stair routine (all of these things are somehow supposed to bring on labor). I reflected on the arrival of baby Jesus and how awesome the process was of His coming into the world. I felt calm thinking of how much we had prayed for and wanted this baby, and trying to relate to the myriad of emotions that Mary must have felt. The angel reassured her “Fear not,” and I prayed for the same humility she had on the news that she would be a mother. I also thought of the baby we lost in 2015 and how grateful I was to hopefully be bringing this baby into our arms.

My husband’s co-worker had joked with him earlier in the week that his mother AND his wife’s last meals before labor were Pizza Hut. If we got desperate we should try it. Well, that night, January 5th, we had nothing in the fridge, and decided it would be funny to order Pizza Hut (we usually get Dominos).

After we both downed a full deep dish greasy medium pizza each, we both weren’t feeling too great. My husband joked that he might have been having contractions. I went to bed with an upset stomach—maybe it was the grease, or maybe it was the start of something?

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At 11pm I awakened to a pop and my water breaking– classic movie style. I remembered from our birth class that if this happens in the middle of the night, to try to go back to sleep and get all the rest you can before you’re in active labor. I texted my doula to let her know, and laid back down, but of course could not sleep. I felt what I knew was a REAL contraction. I remembered that I wasn’t in control of how my body would work through this. I tried to get out of my head and once again, let go.

At this point I was feeling contractions maybe every 5-15 minutes. An hour later, they were every 6, then another hour they were every 5 minutes, and by 3am, they were 4 minutes apart. I was on the phone with my doula on and off, who was such a calming source of support and was listening to me on the phone to see how I was managing and breathing through each one. (I highly recommend a doula no matter what kind of birth you’re hoping for!)

I was mostly lying on the bathroom floor on and off the toilet, and Ryan was packing his bag—yes he hadn’t packed yet!– loading the car with my bag, and checking on me occasionally. He kept offering unappetizing food to me that he found in the fridge, like sausage and yogurt. Oh, husbands…He started to fuel up with this early breakfast because I would need him a lot physically and emotionally!

okay. THIS WAS IT. IT WAS HAPPENING.

At 3:30am, once my contractions were at 3-4 minutes apart, we called the doctor and headed in to the hospital, where we checked in to triage and met up with our doula.

(SIDE NOTE: When I first got pregnant and saw my due date would be beginning of January, I decided to move practices to one that would deliver closer to our home so we didn’t have to drive an hour to the hospital in the snow. I HATE snow and I just KNEW there would be snow when our little guy decided to come. Lo and behold, that was the ONE day in January that we got snow, but it hadn’t started coming down much yet thank goodness, but the trek to the car in the freezing cold was brutal.)

My husband left our car down by the front door of the hospital with the flashers on and intended to go back down to move the car once we got settled in; but almost immediately I needed his support and the car had to wait. I was 5cm and 100% effaced when we arrived.

Several hours went by, eyes closed tightly, breathing deeply, hanging on for dear life with my arms around my husbands neck while my doula pushed deeply on my lower back. I’m pretty sure someone snuck knives in and was stabbing me back there. I alternated from squats, to stability ball hip circles, to swaying, to sitting on the toilet.

At this point, Ryan went down to move our car from in front of the hospital to the parking garage. But unbeknownst to me, it wouldn’t start. He wrote a sign saying, “Car won’t start. Wife in labor. Be back later.” He got back to the hospital room acting as if everything was fine, but inside was worried that we wouldn’t have a vehicle to take our baby home in.

One of the sweetest moments was having my labor playlist playing and singing along a little bit with “It is Well with My Soul” with Ryan… I even managed to squeak out a little harmony. I don’t remember what I was really thinking about the entire time, mostly just praying silently for strength, and when I did talk, thanking Ryan and our doula profusely for their help.

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By 11am I was 8cm, fully effaced. My doula remarked that we would have this baby by lunchtime! Things were progressing really well and fairly quickly! I knew I must’ve been in “transition” as they say, when I told my husband to “shhh” and his singing became annoying. I was in the ZONE… I was going to get to meet our boy soon!

When the nurse came for a check around Noon, I was 10cm. However, I couldn’t start pushing yet because James was having trouble descending past a little ridge on the cervix.

Fast forward to about 3pm. I was getting tired and felt ready to push so I asked for another check to get the clear to see if he was making his way.

He was still stuck.

My doula suggested some squats and getting up off the ball to see if we could encourage him to make progress. My husband was holding me, helping me squat up and down through the horrible pain. My contractions picked up quite a bit doing this, but I got tired very easily. Still, our boy wasn’t quite ready to be pushed out.

Fast forward to around 7pm. I was mentally TOAST. I decided to take a break and lay on my side with the peanut ball between my legs for an hour or so and was dozing in and out of sleep in the short time between contractions. It was at this point that I realized that I did not have the energy left to let my body relax to get him past the ridge, and push him out unmedicated.

Although I was a total zombie, I was thinking clearly and not out of pain. I had a flash back to our birth class when we did an activity ranking our priorities in our birth plan. My number one preference was to have a vaginal birth, over all of the other interventions that I did not want. I had now been at 10cm for around 7 hours and James was still chillin’ in the canal. My contractions had started to slow and stall out. I had a horrible feeling that if he stayed squashed in there too long, that his heart rate would start to fluctuate and they would try to convince me to have a C-section. At that point, I didn’t feel like I could get my body to relax enough to release James past the ridge, nor did I feel like I had the energy to push.

To make a long story short, I finally decided to get a dose of an epidural around 9pm and soon after, pushing started! The nurse (who actually attends our church), instructed Ryan to hold a leg! Ryan stepped into his coaching role, giving me feedback on my breathing and pushing techniques haha! I chose not to be annoyed and it actually really helped! We met our baby boy at 12:58am on January 7th.

8lbs, 6oz of pure love! A 95th percentile head could’ve been part of the reason he was having some trouble moving down…

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We looked at our little boy and were in awe of the result of our self-giving, life-giving love. He was beautiful! He let out a wail, and was calm immediately after being laid on my chest. James was so alert and already studying our faces. My husband and I sang a little song to him “We love you so much, we love you so much, we can’t even tell you how much we love you.”

Once we got settled into our recovery room around 4am the next day from when this all started, Ryan told me about the car and went down to find a security guard to jump it. Thank goodness we did not get towed!

I know there are many people who feel so strongly about their plan and the ideal birth for them personally, that if it doesn’t happen that way, they struggle with all kinds of regret and resentment. My main goal going into my birth was simply that I would feel comfortable with how it unfolded, and that I would gave consent to any decisions made. I did just that. I proved to myself that I could handle the pain, I could offer it up in prayer, remain flexible, and the birthing process could be beautiful, not scary.

Did it go exactly according to my plan? No. Do I wish I had gotten the epidural earlier and not had to go through the entire struggle? No. It unfolded how it was meant to and I have many memories of the beauty in the process. I do think getting the epidural earlier would’ve restricted my movement too soon and it would’ve taken even longer, or he wouldn’t have budged.

Our little James is still stubborn and still very alert, but just as sweet as the day he was born. We love him so much and can’t believe one year has passed since this 26-hour crazy birthing marathon!

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My Heart Got Hit in the Face 

When we first brought James home from the hospital, my awesome husband left to get ice cream for me around the corner at 7-11. What else would I want after staying up for 3 nights in a row after giving birth?!

He came back to me standing in our living room, sobbing, holding our newborn. He thought something seriously wrong had happened, but instead I was told him I was crying because I was worried that something could one day happen to our baby James. I felt so vulnerable that I loved this tiny life with my entire life. My hormones might have been going crazy, but so were my newfound emotions to love and protect this bundle with all that I was.

Well, people say to become a mother is to know what it’s like to have your heart walking around outside of your body for the rest of your life. I one hundred percent agree.

And two days ago, my “heart” got hit in the face with a chair.

This day was like any other. He was sitting on the floor playing, my husband was sitting at our kitchen table, and I was putting things away in the kitchen, watching James and talking to him. Unfortunately, this 8-month-old crazy man is obsessed with trying to pull himself up on everything.

I looked away for maybe 10 seconds… in that short time, James had scooted on his bum to the nearest chair – he can’t crawl yet – , pulled on one leg and brought the chair toppling down.

I will never get that image out of my mind of seeing my baby on his back with the chair completely on top of him. He was screaming. I ran over, threw the chair off, scooped him up, and the blood began to flow out of his mouth.

The back of the chair had hit his face and busted his gums. His two front bottom teeth that were only beginning to peak through the top of his gums were now fully exposed to the front.

I rocked him and nursed him to calm him down, and thank goodness my husband was there to calm me down too. I was focused initially on making sure James was okay, until all of the questions and the guilt started coming…

Would his teeth fall out?

Did he have gum damage?

What if he needed surgery to support his now exposed teeth?

How could I have let this happen? I shouldn’t have let him sit that close to anything he could grab…
Panic set in and I just HAD to get that baby to the ER. Someone needed to evaluate his injury! My husband smartly recommended we check with our pediatrician on call and see what they suggested. Since the teeth had not broken and were still attached, it turns out we could wait to be seen until the next day. Despite my desperation, it was true, James would be okay.

(To cut to the chase, the next day we ended up seeing his pediatrician and a pediatric dentist, who assured this worried mama that his roots were still holding the tooth in securely, and that baby’s mouths heal very quickly at this age, so everything should go back to “normal” on it’s own soon.)

After things had calmed down a bit, I sat in the dark bedroom rocking James down for his nap, and in the stillness, the tears started flowing from me. (If it’s not obvious, I’ve totally turned into a mega-crier).

I was living the fear that I had when I first brought him home from the hospital…I won’t be able to protect my child from every hurt.

I realized this is only the beginning. We survived this “first incident.” I know with this active child there will be other incidences, whatever they are. Maybe it’ll be a bump on the head when he’s learning to walk, or a crash when he’s riding his bike. Maybe he will experience a broken heart,  a sports-related injury, or something else that I don’t even want to imagine.

There’s no denying that when you’re open to love, you’re also open to pain.

I thought to call my mom. I wondered how she felt when she saw me get hit in the eye with a baseball as a little kid. Or when the brass lamp fell on my brother’s head. She totally got it. It’s hard, but it’s part of being a parent.

A lot of times it’s no ones fault. It’s just a lessen learned, and a chance to comfort them, maybe a chance to watch them grow and learn. It’s another chance to help your child navigate the situation, until one day they are the adults helping their own kids navigate them.

I am grateful this was just a very minor hurt in comparison to the many other things children can suffer from. I can’t get off my mind the moms and dads who’s heartbreak for their children’s pain is daily, and I most surely have compassion for the extent of their hurt. Anytime your child is in pain, or potentially could be in pain, you feel the pain right along with them.

I’m definitely not looking forward to the second, or third, or hundredth incident, and hopefully they don’t get worse as we age. The first injury will one day just be a memory, a story we tell as part of a joke about how strong of a baby he was or how he was always getting into trouble. I don’t think it will ever get easier on my heart to see him stumble through life, but hopefully I’ll get better at knowing how to handle it. But if I don’t, I won’t feel bad… no one loves him and will feel his pain quite like I do ❤️

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A Least Expected Path

Just the night before, I was on stage in 5-inch heels with hair teased to the heavens, passing my sash and sparkling crown on to the next Miss Virginia. But that very next day, I was back in my college small town, lying in the grass in my Nike running shorts (you know the ones you live in during college), away from the spotlight, soaking in the sunshine with no makeup or hair spray. It was the perfect new setting for journaling my reflections from the great adventure of 2012.

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I had finished one of the most incredible years of my life, and had to move back into my isolated college dorm room, (my single dorm room that had no mirror I might add) to finish up my last semester of college after taking the year off to travel with the full-time job of Miss Virginia. All of my friends had graduated. I was back at the school that I nearly transferred from each semester because of the pressure and stress. And yet now, coming back to college, I felt free.

It wasn’t that I was “free” from my year traveling as a Miss America titleholder; it was deeper than that. I had grown. Somehow I felt like I had a new outlook on life. Somehow, in a place where people would assume one would become more shallow, self-centered and appearance-focused in “pageantry”, pictures, and autographs etc., God took me on a journey to learn how to deny myself and find true happiness in the midst of that world.

The night I was crowned, the Chairman of the Board of the Miss Virginia pageant handed me a silver pocket cross and said he thought I might need this for the difficult and beautiful year ahead. That was my first sign that something special was going to happen that year. I kept that cross with me each day and saw it each time I opened my crown box before an event.  I expected the year of living and traveling alone each day to be hard, but I did not expect to learn as much as I did about faith, hope, and love.

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From the day that I was given the honor to represent Virginia, I prayed for God to keep me grounded and to help me not get trapped and chained to my temptations. A couple months before the pageant, I was on my second mission trip to Haiti, where God showed me His heart for the needy, how He was there among them, and how I felt more alive than ever before in the midst of serving others. I was determined to not lose sight of what I had learned and stay the path to be the person the Lord was shaping me to be as I entered this new and unknown chapter.

There were a lot of things at the time that I was in the process of breaking free from: Desire for human approval. Pride. Un-forgiveness. Fear of being alone. Fear of not being in control. Fear of failure. Achievement and performance…Suddenly, when I won the prized title, picked up my life and moved to the Miss Virginia apartment in another city, I found myself smack dab in the middle of all of these temptations, and was forced to grapple with each of them throughout the year.

With a business manager setting up my daily travel schedule, I realized in a magnified way that I was very much out of control. Each day was a chance to find joy in the PRESENT, to be flexible, and choose the Lord’s plan over my own agenda and comforts. At the end of the day, His plan would always work out better than I could’ve orchestrated.

Of course there were many, many days that I struggled to stay flexible and surrendered…

Days that I got flustered because my hair wasn’t curling the right way and I would look stupid to the students I was speaking to…

Days I didn’t feel that my speech was quite ready or I messed up the lyrics to the song I was performing…

Nights that I read mean things online people said about me…

Several weeks of walking on crutches to appearances because I had broken my toes and was embarrassed that Miss Virginia would show up to the business meeting a few pounds heavier and not in heels…

Nights I was driving across the state and got lost in a cornfield with no GPS service and broke down crying…

Events where I was milking a cow in a dress and stepped in poop…

Days where I just hit pure exhaustion and felt overwhelmed by all the people I was meeting and things I was experiencing…

But, there was something nearly everyday that reminded me to reach out to God for help. And it was often on the hardest days when I felt most alone that God gave me confirmation that I was right where I needed to be and reminded me of my truest purpose.

It was the biggest blessing as God showed me that coming to the “end of myself” was going to give Him an opportunity to shine through me, to love someone, to serve someone, to make His name known, or at least to give me a good laugh and remember He was looking out for me along my travels. He would give me rest exactly when I needed it, and courage when I was nervous or worried. And He would sometimes miraculously get me to events on time, even with horrible traffic!

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When you ask God to be with you and to guide you, He certainly will.

He opened the door for me to share about my decision to save sex for marriage at a youth True Love Waits conference, to visit childhood cancer patients in the hospital and share that there is hope, to be an advocate in schools for healthy living by respecting your body and making wise choices, to teach fitness classes to those with disabilities, to spend time with our veterans and thank them for their service, and so on.

These events taught me to let go of seeking perfection, and just simply BE with people and love them, from playing with babies and coloring with toddlers, to deep talks with high schoolers, to conversations with businessmen and the elderly in nursing homes. I had to accept whatever came my way that day, even if it was out of my comfort zone. There is no energy left to care about what people think of you. And instead of focusing on “loving myself and accepting myself”, my goal became to try to forget about myself and empty myself for the people before me, wherever I was that day. The more and more I shared this truth of “service over self” with the students I spoke to each day, the more and more it sunk in for me to live out in my life too.

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That chance to live life really engaged with strangers from all backgrounds taught me that it was possible to make each day incredibly meaningful. And it confirmed for me that while Miss Virginia opened many doors for me, I didn’t need to be Miss Virginia to make people feel special and loved, and to live out my mission in the world. 

It’s funny to me that God decided to use my time as a “beauty queen” to give me a deeper understanding about being His masterpiece and being content in His never-fading joy…a strange path I never would have planned for myself, and a path that often leads some to discontentment.

It was once I had the crown that it truly sunk in that I didn’t need to pursue any crowns on earth, and the true secret to a full abundant life was entire separation to Christ. It’s easy for people to think having some kind of “glamorous” elevated position is the most fulfilling; but I’ve found that it’s pursuing the humble life that is actually most beautiful. And what’s amazing is that almost every single Miss Virginia in the “sisterhood” that I’ve ever met is focused on making a difference in this world without the crown as well. They are always looking for someone to help and someone to support.

So when I moved back into school that summer, yes, I was ready to relax, unplug, and just be plain old “Rosemary” with no one to answer to for a little while. But I’m also forever grateful that God chose a crown and a sash for that sweet time, to teach me about relying deeply on His strength and storing up crowns in Heaven.

Often in the ways we least expect it, God heals our weary souls and offers His abundant grace to us on the extraordinary path He lays before us.

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Mother’s Day

I have childhood memories of the Sunday morning of Mother’s Day when my dad and brothers brought me breakfast in bed. I may have only been 7 or 8 years old, but that sweet gesture made me feel honored as a young woman, and excited to be a future mother. I have thought about what this day with my own child might be like for many years.

2 years ago on Mother’s Day, I was miscarrying our first baby. We decided to still go to church, but at a different location and time than our own. The church we happened to be visiting asked all mothers to stand and be recognized. Tears burst forth for the millionth time that day. My womb and my hands were empty. My husband nudged me to stand, but I couldn’t muster up the strength. I sat and hung my head.

I was a mother on this particular Mother’s Day, but not how I had hoped I would be.

Last year on Mother’s Day, my husband and I had just found out we were expecting for the second time. We were nervous with this pregnancy after our loss, but were overjoyed nonetheless, and it seemed like God’s perfect timing. It was a happy Mother’s Day for our family to have the hope of a healthy baby to come, and a nice distraction from focusing on last year’s experience. We traveled down to spend the day celebrating with my mom, dad, and Grandma Rosemary. We shared the exciting news with my grandma, who was elated to hear she would have another great-grandchild. She was in her 90’s and her memory was starting to go. Several times through the first half of my pregnancy, she didn’t remember that I was pregnant. It was very sweet how thrilled she was about the news each time, reacting as if hearing it for the first time every time I told her. When I think of this pregnancy and that Mother’s Day, I will always remember my grandmother (my son bares her maiden name as his middle name).

This Mother’s Day is bittersweet. It is extra special for my husband and me, as we are able to hold a precious baby boy in our arms. Oh what joy fills our souls to be gifted this little life! I think about how my life has changed already, and how I am learning more each day about what it means to live out my maternal vocation in my family and in the world. Yet, this Mother’s Day is still a reminder that my grandma passed a week after my son was born this year. She was an incredible mother and grandmother, and I know my mom and I miss her very much.

And also, many others weigh heavy on my heart… It is a reminder of a friend who lost her newborn son last year, a friend who isn’t able to have children but longs to be a mother, a friend who’s mother was absent growing up and she still has wounds, a friend whose mother passed away when she was young, a friend whose son is struggling and rejects her as mother. My heart goes out to all of these women and the ache they may feel on this “holiday”.

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It’s okay to feel incredibly grateful for the mom(s) in your life who have been your role models, while simultaneously feeling anger or sorrow about your own circumstances. It’s okay not to feel like posting something happy on social media, and it’s okay if you do! It’s more than okay to be thrilled about the special relationship you have with the mother God gave you and want to shower her with praise. And it’s okay to not know what to feel on this day. This day brings out many different emotions, and may bring out different emotions each year that it rolls around.

There is no denying– Mom’s are heroes. And Mother’s Day is a beautiful day, one that lifts up this unique and nurturing role we are given as women. We shouldn’t take this day away! But if there is a woman in your life you know who may be struggling on this day or just deserves a little extra encouragement, remember to reach out to acknowledge her. Offer a hug, a card, a text.

This Mother’s Day, let us rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. Let’s celebrate the women in our lives who have lived out this motherly role, no matter the number of earthy children they may have.

Thank you to all mothers for your service, your courage, your compassion, your fidelity to your family, and for making the world more honest and life-giving. Happy Mother’s Day to ALL moms… We honor you.

Click here to read more about the movement to #honorallmoms.

 

A Reflection on the First 3 Months of Motherhood

Sometimes motherhood looks like the greatest joy I’ve ever experienced, like seeing my son smile for the first time or watching my husband rock our newborn in the hospital and sing our favorite hymns to him at 3am… And sometimes it looks like getting peed on, pooped on, and spit up on all in one day, and shedding tears in the grocery aisle at the same time as my little one screams. In my humble opinion, there is no job more difficult than being a parent—but no job more rewarding.

Being a mom takes strength I don’t have. It is only by the special grace of God that women are even able to grow another human in their body, give birth, and then give the perfect food that their own body makes.  It’s a miracle! There is no other way I would be functioning without that grace. (And praise God He also provides an occasional Starbucks when I haven’t slept a wink!)

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What I’ve realized in the first few months is that motherhood in its essence is the Christian life. It is a stretching process, challenging us to care for someone else more than we care about ourselves, shedding pieces of our selfishness everyday.

It is saying, “I am weak, but He is strong.”

It is giving drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and taking care of the sick. (Matthew 25:34-40)

It is sanctifying and it is saving.

It is a glimpse into how much the God of the Universe loves us and laid down His life for us, and it is opening my heart to a deeper love.

And while I am giving of myself to this little human whom I love so much, I am trying to figure out who I am as a new mother and full-time homemaker, after leaving a job that I also loved so much.

When our little guy was around 8 weeks, I hit a weird slump. Before that, I think I was running on pure adrenaline and love. But now I was starting to become stressed about a lot of parenting decisions, and anxious to get into a routine to start incorporating things into my life that I thought would make life like it used to be or more of what it was “supposed” to be.

Maybe I needed to join an exercise group, join a mom’s group, find my volunteer project, do creative meal planning each week, start home improvement projects, have a cleaning schedule, a laundry schedule, a grocery schedule, an Eat-Awake-Sleep schedule, a quiet-time Bible study schedule, and visiting or skyping with friends and family schedule… Talk about me putting pressure on myself!

I started to find myself basing how my day went on how much I could accomplish on my to-do list. I wasn’t recognizing all of the soothing, changing diapers, feeding, rocking, and cuddling I was doing for the baby! But these things are a big deal, especially in the early months, and take a lot of time and energy on top of making sure my husband and I are fed too.

After I had a few emotional breakdowns, I was reminded that my top priorities right now in this early adjustment phase were filling myself spiritually each day by praying throughout my day and maybe doing some sort of reading or studying, keeping our little one alive and giving him all the love and attention he needs, and making sure we have some food in the house for dinner. Anything else that gets done or incorporated is icing on the cake, and every little decision or accomplishment along the way deserves to be celebrated! All or some of the above-mentioned schedules are important and can assist in helping me create a happy, healthy home, but they are not ultimately where my happiness lies, and do not dictate who I am.

What I needed to hear from my husband (being a parent with him makes me love and appreciate him even more 🙂 ) and what I’m now telling you if you’re a new mom is– go easy on yourself, get back to the basics, and don’t feel guilty for not being society’s definition of super mom.

Also, don’t be afraid to give yourself completely to your family. It’s okay to accept this as your entire vocation and let your life change when you have a kid. Love requires sacrifice and love changes us. I’m once again learning that I can’t do everything in the same season, or at least that adjusting to this new life takes time before I put those extra items back into the mix. It takes time to grow into parenthood! I needed to process that my life will look very different than it did a few months ago and this change is very good 🙂

Over the years, before I was even pregnant, I was often given the advice to be careful not to lose myself when I started a family. I needed to make sure I kept all of the activities and hobbies in my life that make me happy, and maybe (if staying home) keep a part-time job to make sure I’m staying interesting for my spouse, and to still have skills when my kids grow up. In theory, these are good intentions! A mom does need outlets and does need to prioritize a few things in her life that help fill her up so she can be the best mom she can be!

But in this short amount of time (and I have SO much more to understand!) I’ve realized that it’s okay to lose myself for a little while in taking care of our family. And maybe the “me” that I’m losing isn’t what actually makes me, me. It feels uncomfortable to change. It’s hard sometimes to be satisfied with “just” taking care of a baby and creating a God-centered home, when in reality that is an absolute privilege to be able to do. I’m not saying to abandon everything you enjoy, but I came to see that things like keeping up with the news, or posting on social media, or being in a book club, aren’t actually YOU, they’re just ways you choose to spend your time.

Motherhood forces us to answer the questions, “Who am I, really?”, and “What parts of my day and what parts of me matter most to the Lord?” When you become a parent, you learn new things about yourself every day. It has already begun to teach me that it is enough to simply be a child of God first, then a wife and mother, then a sister, a daughter, and a friend.

Sure, mom and homemaker carry certain important job responsibilities that need to be fulfilled, but the most important part of those is the heart and attitude I have while carrying out these roles. I am the first to admit I do not live this out daily! But it is my hope to so. I’ll need this reminder over and over as the days and months get harder and bring new challenges with hopefully more children to come.

I know when we let go of pursuing what we think will make us happy, there is a freedom in taking this time in life for what it is and letting it change you…Letting God change you… Accepting the hard work of being a parent as if doing it for Jesus Himself…Laying down your to-do list, laying down your expectations, laying down your worries, laying down your desires, and laying down your life.

The beauty of motherhood is found in pouring ourselves out with love. I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to do so for the world. Thank you, God, for making me a mama.

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Then Jesus told His disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

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“Since the Cross of Christ is the sign of love and salvation, we should not be surprised that all true love requires sacrifice.

Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands.

Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice. Do not be afraid of the Cross of Christ. The Cross is the Tree of Life. It is the source of all joy and peace. It was the only way for Jesus to reach resurrection and triumph. It is the only way for us to share in his life, now and forever.”

Saint John Paul II