Hope and Heartbreak

This blog has always been transparent and raw- a way to process and a way to share.

So, I want you to know her. To know our Shalom.

I had been looking forward to Mother’s Day for awhile; it was the day we had chosen to make our pregnancy announcement. We would have been 13 weeks along with Sweet Baby Number 2.

When my mom came to visit, Judah surprised her with a onesie that said “Oops they did it again! I’m going to be a Big Brother!” We were going to FaceTime my dad and tell him the news later that week.

My mom came on a Sunday and we had a doctor’s appointment Wednesday, so we decided to wait to call my dad until then. We all jumped in the taxi, excited to finally see our baby on the big screen.

The week before we went for our initial appointment but the doctor couldn’t see anything. I sat in the park awaiting the results of a blood test- praying for good news. He called, telling me that everything was fine, that my hormones indicated the presence of a pregnancy so I must not be as far along as I thought I had been. I slowly let my breath out.

My gut was still in knots.

I tried to believe what the doctor said was true, but it still felt off. I was already experiencing morning sickness and was fairly confident about the date our baby had been conceived. Last pregnancy morning sickness hadn’t come til later in the pregnancy, around this same time.

Not wanting to worry myself for no reason, I told myself I was being silly and listened to my husbands reassurance. I had doubts when getting pregnant with Judah as well, but everything turned out fine.

It would be fine.

Lying there on the examining chair at 9 weeks pregnant, the ultrasound still found no trace of a baby— my worst fear was confirmed. I looked over at my husband for a glimpse of hope, struggling to accept the doctor’s words.

Granted I’m living in a foreign country, the doctor was not speaking my primary language. I forced myself to stay calm in order to fully comprehend what was going on. My husband and I slowly followed the doctor into his office. We sat down and he explained that we had had an anembryonic pregnancy, otherwise known as “blighted ovum”. This is when the fertilized egg attaches to the wall but the embryo doesn’t develop. However, the placenta continues to grow and hormones continue to rise, which is why I still felt pregnancy symptoms.

Since I hadn’t miscarried naturally yet, the doctor immediately jumped to explain several alternatives for ending the pregnancy. Still in shock, I began to weep. I collapsed on Jesse’s shoulder while the doctor who had delivered Judah tried to mutter condolences of “don’t cry, you already have one baby, you’re young, you’ll have more, many people can’t have any…..” My husband kindly told the doctor to shut-up as I had begun to absorb the finality of this baby’s life.

I went out into the waiting room where my mom was playing with Judah, one look at me and she knew. “Oh Hunnie” she whispered and engulfed me in her arms.  I’m so glad she was there. But I needed to hold my baby. I turned to pick-up my firstborn, kissing his head and telling him how much I love him.

It was not the doctor’s appointment I had been anticipating.

That day we went to work as normal, went to a meeting, as normal, and went to bed.

The next day and the day after that we went to work. Numb. Filling the hours with “normal” life tasks while I waited to naturally miscarry.

Finally, at 11 weeks “pregnant”, the doctor recommended a D&C procedure to clean out my uterus. I needed it to be over. So I went in and after again confirming no signs of life, 15 minutes later I walked out of the office feeling as empty as I have ever felt.

My husband and I sat on a bench in the same park where we had celebrated being pregnant with Judah, and started to mourn the life of our little “Shalom”. The name God had given us for our baby girl. We didn’t know the gender, but had a feeling Shalom would have been a girl.

Shalom. Peace.

We talked about the friends she would have in heaven, Jesse’s and my siblings we had never met, and other loved ones who we know had gone to be with the Lord.

Since then it has not been easy. It’s been difficult to find joy. Unless blatantly distracted, my spirit still feels broken, womb still feels empty. My family feels incomplete.

I stumbled upon Jeremiah 1:5 the other day, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” My first instinct was anger. Why God would you form this child if you knew the outcome would be a miscarriage? It just wasn’t fair! I expressed this to my husband who gave me a different way to look at it:

“Kimmy, this verse is saying that our child WAS indeed known.”

This put me all in a puddle. Wishing I could have known her. Wishing I could have held my little Shalom. But again. Shalom. Peace.

I have peace knowing that God knows my Shalom and He is holding her now.

So what did God set Shalom apart for? For Him. To point us towards His glory. Towards His peace.

Shalom’s estimated due date was on Thanksgiving. I couldn’t wait to have my own little turkey “in the oven” and again a newborn babe around Christmas time. In fact, there were many dreams and visions I’d already had for my unborn child. From the moment I saw the double pink lines –I took the test the morning before Judah’s first birthday– his baby sister’s life had become a reality.

We will remember the day we found out we were pregnant, the day of the miscarriage, the day of the procedure, the day she should have been born, and the following days, months, and years that we had anticipated her to be with us.

Our family will hopefully grow and Judah will eventually become a big brother, in God’s timing.

But we will never forget.

Our precious Shalom.

Who is now living in an unbroken world. Experiencing the fullness of Him. Dancing and singing with the angels.

And we are still here. Looking forward to that day we will be reunited. Doing our best to live for Him until then.

With Shalom reminding us we are graced with His peace.

His Perfect. Timeless. All-Knowing. Peace.

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Change is Coming

The months are flying by.

Plans are being made. It’s becoming more real, more impossible to ignore.

Change is coming.

Where am I at in this process? I think I’ve mostly moved out of the angry phase, but I’m still grieving. I’m mourning the loss of what I thought would be. I’m sad that this did not end up being “our” place I tried to tell myself that it was. This is where we were going to plant our roots, deeply invest in the community, put our kids in local schools, and grow old together.

This was where we would maybe even one day lead a team of our own. Train, lead, mentor others. Stick around long enough to reap baskets of fruit and watch it multiply.

I was living the dream. MY dream. It was was everything I thought it would be, and more.

Though it wasn’t without challenges, the mountains we faced were never too much for God. He shone bright through the thick of the fog. He drew us closer to him, closer to each other.

And now, at its end, He is using this season to remind me where my true home is.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the Shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My Refuge & my Fortress, my God, in Whom I trust.”-Psalm 91:1-2.

“For all things come from you- we are strangers before you & sojourners as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow…

I know, my God, that you test the heart & have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, & now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely & joyously to you. O Lord, keep forever such purposes & thoughts in the hears of your people, & direct their hearts to you.”         -1 Chronicles 29:14-15, 17-18.

As we leave, I leave knowing in Whom I am found. In Whom I rest. In Whom I belong.

I leave with purpose still: always Alacritas. Surrendering, offering myself freely & joyously to whatever God has for us next.

“For God is good, & all He does is good.” -Psalm 119:68

My Baby Accessory

I bring my baby to work with me every day.

Since my job involves helping refugee moms and their children, having Judah with me seems very natural. I love strapping him into the Ergo carrier on the way to work and having him close to me all day long. I love how he gets to be around people from different cultures and how he has gotten used to being passed around from person to person.  On a typical work day, Judah is content playing next to me on the ground or sitting with me in my lap as I talk with the other women.

Today, however, was a little trickier. Today I needed to explain something more in-depth and needed to have both hands free. So, I passed my baby off to someone else. Judah cried and screamed and fussed for the entire 30 minutes and had to be taken out of my line-of-sight. As I sat there working with the women, my heart was tearing in two. I knew that the work I was doing was important, but I was also very aware that my child was in distress, and that I was currently choosing the women over him.

After I got home and fed him dinner, I let him stay up a little later than usual. I played with him, kissed his chubby cheeks, tickled his belly, and gazed into his big, brown eyes. I felt like I had betrayed him today.

This made me think more about our future. More about my personal goals and ambitions. I think part of the reason why today made me feel guilty was that we had just hired a nanny to watch Judah for 5 hours one day a week so I could get work done without him.  I’ve felt like I’ve been running non-stop.  Full-time mom, full-time job, wife, daughter, sister, friend.  Oh, and I’m taking online classes for my masters in counseling. With my husband also working full-time both on and off the clock, I’ve really been struggling to do it all and not feel like a limp noodle at the end of each day.

Earlier, I thought the nanny was the epiphany I’d been waiting for. Five hours a week of solid ME TIME to do school/work prep/emails/meal planning or whatever I need to do. (We’d also heard that the nanny was in need of more work, so by hiring we’re also giving her an opportunity to make a little more cash.) However, when I got home tonight, the glorious-ness of that “me time” was replaced with sadness and mourning for those 5 hours a week I wouldn’t get to spend with my baby.

I know this probably isn’t normal.

I promise you, I am a normal person. But yes, he is my firstborn.

As I sat up with my baby tonight after dinner, all my dreams and career ambitions felt like nothing in comparison to having my baby on my hip for the rest of my life.

We’ve had other babysitters before to go on dates, but only like once or twice a month, and at nighttime when Judah’s sleeping. What feels different to me now is that I am making a conscious commitment to put work above my baby, when I’ve never had to make that decision before. I study and write papers only after he goes to bed at night, and during the day he’s with me on-site.

Five hours a week. It feels like an eternity without him. One of my biggest fears is that he’ll take his first steps or say his first word when I’m not there. However, I know that these five hours will give me time to be completely focused and crank stuff out, which will indeed make it easier for me to breath the other 93-ish hours of the week…

Yes, I counted the hours. Ok, so I get to spend 93 out of 98 hours with my baby? Now that doesn’t make me feel so bad. Maybe I should’ve done the math from the start…

 

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Baby’s First Christmas

 

I blinked.

One year ago we were decorating the tree, gabbing on about how next Christmas we would have a baby crawling around. I was balancing hot coco cups on my table-top bump, crocheting a blankie (that I never finished) for the babe inside me. We still didn’t know his name.

Suddenly, my belly buddy was a baby in my arms.

Although there’s not much time for leisurely sips of hot cocoa or crochet this Christmas, our hands and hearts are full. We are giddy in love with our firstborn son, Judah.

Having a kid at Christmas makes everything five times more exciting. I can’t wait to see Judah’s reactions to snow, stockings, and colorful Christmas lights.

While I thought he would for sure be all over the Christmas tree, he purposefully kept his distance. He was actually pretty skeptical of the Christmas box we pulled out of storage, but I can’t blame him since out came a PLASTIC tree.

I got weepy when I pulled out the ornament someone had gifted me at a baby shower. Baby’s first ornament. Cue the tears.

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When we tried to take our family picture in front of the tree, per his nature, Judah just kept clapping and squirming. It all makes sense to me now when families talk about how many tries it takes to get a good Christmas photo…

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On Christmas Eve Judah opened up a yellow toy car, closely resembling all the taxi’s he sees everywhere. However, Judah was more interested in the string and tape that held the present together.

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On Christmas morn he pulled our wooden baby Jesus out of his stocking, and before we could place Jesus in the manger of our nativity set, Judah proceeded to literally “taste and see that the Lord is good” as he put the figuring in his mouth.

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While on our annual Christmas ski trip in the mountains, Judah had his first experience with the cold and the snow. As soon as we stepped out the door of our lodge, he sucked in his breath and looked at me like I was crazy! He didn’t even imagine that I would actually set him down in the cold white stuff all around us—and he quickly made known to us his discomfort. Trying to warm him up to the concept, we sat in the sled with him and slid down a little hill. Again, he urgently requested we go back inside.

Maybe you’ll like Christmas more next year, my little snow bear. Don’t you worry, it will be here again before you blink…

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Deciphering Doubt

 

In my last post regarding motherhood, I wrote, “I’ve even surprised myself at how natural it’s been for me to step into this new role.”

Well, as the saying goes, pride cometh before the fall.

Suddenly, it seemed that I was questioning myself at every turn. The biggest cause for doubt was when there were a few months that Judah stopped gaining the recommended amount of weight. As much as I tried to play it cool, this was very troubling.

I struggled to sort through what the doctor was telling me, what the baby blogs were telling me, what other mom friends were telling me, and what my mama gut was telling me. Yes, I know all babies are different. Yes, I have plenty of milk supply. No, I don’t want to supplement using formula. Yes, I do see that Judah is steadily decreasing in the chart’s percentiles.

To add to it, I was also fighting the cultural pressures around me. More than a handful of times, women would straight-forward tell me how skinny my baby was. Tssking, they would judge me for the size of my child, chiding me for not feeding him enough, accusing me of ill-mothering simply because my baby wasn’t fat. Unfortunately, since Judah’s doctor was cut of the same cloth, I didn’t feel like I could trust her word, not sure if what she was telling me was because of her bias or because of science. As it was, there were already several other health topics we could not disagree more on.

While I never want to compare Judah with other babies, I also know there is an extent of which comparing is healthy in order to gage where “normal” should be. It was indeed concerning that he was not gaining as much weight as the universal baby charts averaged.

I immediately blamed myself for his slow growth. My previously calm, prayerful state of mind quickly switched gears and began to over-analyze the way I had been nursing Judah, searching for a solution.

Had I been too relaxed with the amount of time he nursed for?

Was it wrong to put him on a feeding schedule to try to get some structure in my life?

Should I not have taken him to work with me?

Were his surroundings too stressful for him to not nurse long enough?

Was he sweating too much from the summer heat?

I scrutinized the food I had been eating, questioning the amount of “good fats” I’d been consuming. Was I too worried about losing the baby weight myself that I hadn’t been eating enough? As it was, I was hungry all the time and felt like I was relentlessly snacking either on almonds or oat muffins.

I even consulted with a lactation consultant, getting ideas for different techniques or methods I could try with Judah. However, a lot of what she told me I had already tried and nothing had been changing.

Needless to say, this season was altogether mind consuming. I controlled as much as I could, but in the end, it was actually when we went on vacation that Judah began to gain healthy weight again.

I’m tempted to read into this and shame myself for the amount of worry, stress, and energy that I put into “fixing” Judah, wondering how much of that Judah was able to sense which could have contributed to his slow weight gain even more… The truth is, I will never know if Judah’s growth was a reflection of my mothering style or not.

But what I can know to be true is simply how thankful I am now.

Thankful that it was when we were around family and friends, taking a break from life, slowing down, and being cared for and loved, that Judah, too, felt loved. Thankful that his little body finally started to show signs of plumping up and that his Mama could take a deep breath in and out, realizing that he was going to be okay.

While Judah will probably never be the baby with chunky thighs or stomach rolls, what matters is that he’s healthy. And although he’s in the “below 5%” group on the baby charts, at least he is on the charts now.

As a new mama, I know that this is not going to be the only roller-coaster Judah’s going to take me on. But what this up-and-down ride of emotions has taught me is that while I will indeed search the heavens for all the answers, sometimes the best thing my baby needs is simply for me to breath, slow down, and give him all my love.

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The early moments of Mamahood.

Although the first few months have been more challenging than not, these early moments of being a mama have been SUCH. A. GIFT.

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I feel like I’ve even surprised myself at how natural it’s been for me to step into this new role.

For example,

I never thought I would be able to sleep less than 8 hours and still be able to function. So guess what? For awhile there I was sleeping fewer than 5 hours on average and I’m doing just fine.

I never thought a drug-free labor is something that would actually appeal to me… I mean, why would I do that to myself? Hmm, okay then, how about a home-birth? Bring it on. Seconds after pushing Judah into the world, I believe I even said something along the lines of “that was amazing, I would do that again!”

I also never thought I would be one of those first-time moms who doesn’t over-react about every little “issue” their baby is going through. It’s like someone snuck me a chill pill. Although I would say I’m naturally more easy-going, the fact that I’m able to remain calm when it comes to caring for my first-born babe is truly crazy, especially considering how much love I feel for him.

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What’s my secret? 3 things:

1)My amazing down-to-earth husband who keeps me calm and is in charge of googling whatever inquiry I may have about my little. Of course, for all the serious things we go to the doctor. But for the minor things I don’t trust myself when it comes to google search, so this man does it for me. This is also the man who wakes up at 4am every morning to rock my baby back to bed in order to give me more sleep. Sleep does wonders for my emotional stability and ability to process clearly. Surprise surprise. AND he makes me coffee. Thank you, babe.

2)On-the-job meditations for moms: I have a stack of 25 Bible verse cards my mama gave me. I keep them on the coffee table so whenever I nurse Judah they’re easy to grab and meditate on. One of my all-time favorites is Isaiah 40:11 which says, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those have young.” Keeping truth at the forefront of my mind helps me to surrender my tight grasp on my baby and lift him before the Father each morning. I truly feel His peace around me.

3)Community: Doing life with a group of moms who have kids both in and out of diapers has been huge as I step into mamahood myself. Observing how mamas from several different cultures mother their babies has given me more perspective than I could ever imagine. These women have encouraged me, given me advice even when I don’t ask for it, and have taught me to have grace for myself when it comes to being a mama.

Saying all these things DOES NOT mean I’ve figured everything out. Oh my goodness. BY FAR! I definitely have my moments… ask my husband.

Seriously, I have gained so much respect for all the moms out there, and I haven’t even gotten to the discipline stage yet. I know my respect will only continue to grow as I experience each new phase of Judah’s life…

But all this said, I am simply overflowing with gratitude for this season of becoming a mama and for my precious baby boy. Every new day I have with him is a delight.

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Judah’s Birth Story: Part 2

The transition happened fast.

Around 9:00pm I started feeling the urge to push. Since my water hadn’t broken, I decided to let the doctor check me; I was 8 centimetres dilated!

My “favorite” position was kneeling on the ground with my head and elbows on the futon. I hated switching positions, and getting up to go to the bathroom was super dramatic. I could not have done it without my awesome Jillian Michaels birthing coach, my steady, solid husband, and my friend who helped me “ride the waves”.

The doctor checked me again. I was now at 10 centimetres. Good to go! I switched positions to make it easier for the doctor to deliver the baby, squatting in front of the futon with my husband supporting me from behind, holding me up with his arms hooked under mine.

Pushing felt different than I thought it would, though I really didn’t know what to compare it to. I have no idea if I was doing it right… I simply pushed when my body told me to, all-the-while picturing my baby boy laying on my chest…

FINALLY, I heard shouts that he was crowning. I got really excited, pushing with all my might, counting to 10 before stopping. COME ON BABY!

And then, at 10:46pm… HE WAS HERE!

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The doctor lifted him by his leg to show me my baby boy had entered the world. Immediately, the baby was placed on my chest. I looked down to see the most perfect little human I had ever seen. Wow. He was mine.

I looked at my husband. I couldn’t believe it. We did it!!!!!

As soon as the cord stopped pulsing, my husband cut the cord and we announced his name:

Judah Steele

We would go to the hospital the next day to get him weighed and measured.

After the placenta was delivered, I handed to baby to Jesse to hold while the doctor stitched me up. I had torn pretty badly. Did I care at the moment? Not one bit. It helped that the doctor numbed the area so I wouldn’t feel the needle– the only drug I agreed to for the whole birth.

The doctor had his nurse assisting him; it was hilarious to watch them converse back and forth about his stitching job.

Nurse: doctor, your stitches look beautiful.

Doctor: wow, they are really beautiful. My work is turning out very nice.

Once I was all stitched up, Jesse handed Judah back to me and he nursed for the very first time, latching on like a champ!

When all seemed well, we profusely thanked and then dismissed our all-star team.

Then it was just us three…

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Alone with our new baby, Jesse and I reflected on the crazy amazing experience of Judah’s birth, while looking at him in our arms. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. We thanked the Lord for our sweet Judah, and for giving us a textbook 12 hour labor birth in the comfort of our home.

I showered while Jesse changed Judah into his pjs. Then the three of us went to bed tired, happy, and hearts full as full can be.