Playing Pregnant

December 3rd, 2017

I remember it clearly.

My mother drawing the hopscotch board on the driveway in sidewalk chalk. Drawing it properly – with a big square at the center, diagonal lines dividing it into four equal triangles numbered 4 through 7.

My mother, showing us how to hop on one foot and then on two. One. Two-three. Four. Five-six. Seven. Eight-nine. Ten. One last hop across the line.

My mother, showing us the tricky part. Throw the beanbag on a number. Hop across, skipping that number. One. Two. Four. Five-six. Seven. Eight-nine. Ten. Hop across the line. Returning to pick up the fallen beanbag. Ten. Nine-eight. Seven. Six-five. Balance on one leg on four while picking up the beanbag on three. Now two. One. Hop to return to the starting line.

I was five. Anna was six. Joshua was almost four. This was our homeschool P.E.

As clearly as I remember it, one detail escaped my notice.

Thankfully, it didn’t escape my father’s notice. He took a series of pictures, which made plain upon later inspection what my memory does not.

My mother taught her four oldest children to play hopscotch while heavily pregnant with baby number 5 – at least eight months pregnant with baby number 5.

If pregnancy slowed her down, we didn’t know it. Pregnancy was part of her life, and of our lives by extension. We had no idea that pregnancy meant altering much of anything.

Maybe the relative ease (at least to all outward appearances) with which my mother carried and bore her children influenced my early desire to have a whole slew of children myself. Certainly her example made me confident that healthy pregnancy, natural childbirth, safe homebirth was possible. After all, she had seven healthy pregnancies, seven natural childbirths, five safe homebirths (the other two were planned hospital births).

And then I had two pregnancies that were anything but healthy. I had two births that were about as far from natural as you can get. I had a month’s worth of hospitalization between the two births.

Our maternal fetal specialist told us he didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t continue to have more children – but that we should expect similar outcomes each time. We should expect preeclampsia, preterm delivery, NICU stays.

And so we did. I wrestled with the idea of hoping for a normal pregnancy for a while before deciding that the specialist was right. Better to expect the most probable circumstances and be pleasantly surprised if things don’t turn out that way than to set myself up for disappointment by hoping for an improbability.

And then we passed the point where we had been hospitalized with Tirzah Mae. We passed the point where Tirzah Mae was born. We passed the point where we were hospitalized with Louis. We passed the point where Louis was born. I was more pregnant than I’d ever been.

Then I was term.

And then, today, just shy of thirty-nine weeks, over eight-and-a-half months pregnant, I stood with my preschool Sunday school class and led them in singing:

“Hallelu- Hallelu- Hallelu – Hallelujah
Praise ye the Lord
Hallelu- Hallelu- Hallelu – Hallelujah
Praise ye the Lord
Praise ye the Lord
Praise ye the Lord
Praise ye the Lord
Praise ye the Lord”

The gals who had been visiting at the desk outside our classroom’s big window turned around to watch as I squatted down low to the ground on each “Hallelu” and popped up with my hands in the air for each “Praise ye the Lord.”

And I thought of my mother, eight and a half months pregnant, teaching my siblings and me how to play hopscotch. And I rejoiced, thankful that I’ve now been able to experience what I never imagined, on this side of preeclampsia, I’d be able to experience: a perfectly healthy pregnancy.

39 weeks pregnant and still playing with the kids.

When I shop local

November 25th, 2017

I’m not one to shop local for local’s sake. Trade protectionism, whether on the federal or state or local level, isn’t my gig.

What I am into is three things: bargains, service, and stuff you can’t find anywhere else. And truthfully? It’s highly unlikely you’ll find all three in any one location.

Except maybe at The Heavy Hanger. I was first introduced to The Heavy Hanger one year ago today, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (sometimes called “Small Business Saturday”). I hosted Thanksgiving for my whole family at Prairie Elms (our home), and one of my sisters felt the need for a new bra right away. She’d looked on the internet for the best place to buy a bra in town and had found The Heavy Hanger.

So a whole contingent of us went down to be fitted. The proprietress was skilled and efficient, finding just the right bras for our diverse and not-found-in-department-store sizes. We were sold. I was sold, even though I didn’t end up purchasing any that day since I had a full supply I’d laboriously bought from Amazon after Louis was born (have you ever shopped for nursing bras online? I bought and sent back probably a dozen different sizes and models before I arrived at something that worked, even if it wasn’t ideal.)

My sisters have since taken special trips down to Wichita to get new bras from the Heavy Hanger. It’s that good. And the last time they were down? It was time for me to start replacing those post-Louis bras. So I got a new bra too. And a new bathing suit with actual support – on clearance for a great price. (The bathing suit I had in my drawer was one I made myself TEN YEARS AGO after I tried fruitlessly to find something sufficiently supportive – so finding a bathing suit with support that fit off the rack and was on sale was kind of a big deal.)

Well, that’s all marvelous, but it’s what happened next that convinced me that The Heavy Hanger was worth its weight in gold. As I passed that magic line last month into “more pregnant than I’ve ever been”, I also experienced the relaxin-induced ligament-loosening that prepares the body for labor. My ribcage expanded and my bra band became really uncomfortable. I toddled off to The Heavy Hanger last week expecting to drop a couple hundred dollars on new bras to get me through the next month of pregnancy.

Instead, the owner listened to my predicament and told me not to waste my money on bras when we don’t know what I’ll need in a month’s time. She sent me out the door with a $1 extender (that perfectly solved the problem I was having) and encouraged me to give her a call when I have the baby so she can get me the right size then.

This is why even a globalist like myself supports my local bra shop. Service, selection, and a shopkeeper who’s not going to encourage you to waste your money.

If you find yourself in the Wichita area, I highly recommend dropping by The Heavy Hanger.

Any day now Sometime next month

November 21st, 2017

With my other pregnancies, I was reticent to make predictions about when baby was coming. I told my due date with Tirzah Mae (Christmas Day is a pretty spectacular due date), but always immediately clarified “so we’re expecting the baby to come around the New Year.”

Louis was due July 31, and the last thing I wanted was for people to get “due in July” in their heads and therefore get impatient and start asking me when the baby’s coming too soon. I told everyone I was due at the beginning of August.

Left to themselves, many babies go past the due date. I myself went two weeks past. And that’s just fine. “Late” generally means “not yet ready to face the outside world”.

And I was (and always have been) determined to let my babies choose their birthdays.

But after two babies born prematurely due to severe preeclampsia, and with our maternal-fetal specialist telling us we should expect a recurrence, I gave up on obscuring my due date. After all, it’s not like I’ve ever gotten close enough to the due date to feel pressured.

I haven’t scheduled anything besides doctor’s appointments for two months now, because I expected to go to the hospital for bedrest at any time. For two months now, my fellow Sunday School teachers have been telling me they’re hoping to see me again next week – explicitly or implicitly expressing their hopes that I not have a baby just yet.

And every week for the past two months, I show up to Sunday school or Bible study and see the relief on all my friends’ faces. I’m here. I’m still pregnant. Friends and acquaintances, all of whom have been praying, catch my eye and we share a look of rejoicing, thankful for God’s grace in prolonging this pregnancy.

And then, yesterday, I reached 37 weeks. Term.

The baby can come now, at any time.

Now that we’re term, “stay pregnant” doesn’t apply.

We have. We are. And now the baby can come, whenever he chooses.

After two months of expecting the baby to arrive at any time, of praying the baby won’t, of counting down first to “more pregnant than I’ve ever been” and then to “term”, it’s time to switch gears.

Now that everyone knows it’s only three weeks until that magical “due date”, now that everyone knows we’re term, now it’s time to switch gears.

For months, it’s been “any day now” I expected my health to head south – now I need to adjust to “could be another five weeks”.

Because I still believe it best for baby to choose his own birthday. And I don’t want my excitement over making it to term to rob this little one of his final fetal triumph – that of initiating this amazing process we call “childbirth”.

Book Review: For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope

November 20th, 2017

What makes for a good marriage? What combination of inborn traits, behaviors, and life circumstances makes for marital longevity and bliss?

Sure, there are plenty of people willing to opine based on their personal experiences with marriage, or perhaps on their experiences counseling married couples or divorcees. But what does the science say?

Ostensibly, that’s what Tara Parker-Pope set out to explore in For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.

And, if you do a cursory reading of her book, you’ll come to certain conclusions about the best marital model. Mainly, you’ll come to think that an egalitarian, 50-50 marriage is the way to go. It is clearly the best option. That is, if you fail to read page 254 carefully. There, a couple of paragraphs belie the drumbeat of “egalitarian is best” to which the entire rest of the book marches:

“It’s often a surprise when people learn that a traditional marriage, which is marked by the male breadwinner/female homemaker roles, is widely viewed as the most stable marriage. It had the lowest divorce rate in the studies by Dr. Hetherington. But just because these marriages are stable doesn’t mean they always are the most happy.

For a traditional marriage to thrive, both partners have to be happy with their individual role, perform it well, and feel respected by the other partner for the contributions they make to the marriage and family. If one partner changes, particularly if the wife decides she wants to work outside the home, the marriage can be stressed, often beyond repair.”

I love how shocked Parker-Pope is (and how she attributes her own shock to “people”) that experts on marriage stability regard the traditional marriage to be the most stable model (you know, based on things like… data.) I also love how quickly she jumps to discredit that result. I mean, it may be the most stable, but clearly one couldn’t actually be, you know, happy in a marriage like that.

When I read that second paragraph, I can’t help but think that the things she’s arguing make for a happy traditional marriage are things that make for a happy marriage altogether. Even if both spouses work, they will be happiest if both are happy with their individual role, perform it well, and feel respected by the other partner for the contributions they make to the marriage and family. And if one partner changes, perhaps maybe if a woman decides she wants to stay at home with the children? The marriage is stressed – not necessarily by the desire, but by the change in family dynamics that must be navigated before a new equilibrium is reached.

Now, does this mean that Parker-Pope’s book is not worth reading? Not really. I found it to be interesting. It sparked lots of conversation with my husband (always a nice thing whether or not the topic of discussion is marriage – but it’s especially nice when a book about marriage enables conversation with your spouse.) There was other information that is applicable even if you reject the pervasive belief that egalitarianism is the best model for marriage (for instance, did you know that couples with MORE conflict tend to have stronger marriages? It’s really in how conflict is brought up and managed that makes the difference.)

I don’t think this is a great book to read if you feel like your marriage is in trouble. It’s not terribly practical in that regard. I also don’t think it quite succeeds at the subtitle’s aim of discussing “the science of a good marriage” (given its failure to look any deeper at the most stable model of marriage – the two paragraphs above are literally ALL that is said about traditional marriage.) But if you’re like me, in a happy and functional marriage and eager to continue learning and growing within that marriage, I think this could still be beneficial (or at least interesting).

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Marriage
Synopsis: Attempts to discuss what the science says about successful marriages (that don’t end in divorce), but without really regarding a traditional marriage as a viable option (and therefore leaving out an entire area of inquiry that seems rather important to this reader.)
Recommendation: Interesting information, probably not helpful for a struggling marriage.

My brother, the pumpkin runner?

November 18th, 2017

It didn’t take long, when reading Marsha Diane Arnold’s The Pumpkin Runner, to find parallels between her main character and my brother Josh.

First, there’s the name. “Nearly all the sheep ranchers in Blue Gum Valley rode horses or drove jeeps to check on their sheep. But Joshua Summerhayes…”

Then there’s the running. “But Joshua Summerhayes liked to run…” Yep, that’d be Josh.

Finally, there’s Joshua’s penchant for eating raw pumpkin.

Not that my brother Josh is crazy about raw pumpkin (at least, I don’t think he is). But when I read:

“That was the year his family planted a pumpkin patch behind their clapboard ranch house, where the sun sparkled through the eucalyptus trees near Blue Gum Creek.

When the pumpkins had grown as round as a wombat’s belly, young Joshua stopped by to enjoy a golden slice.”

When I read that passage (from the second and third paragraphs of the story), I remembered my brother Joshua’s love for raw green beans. Now, don’t get me wrong. We all loved to munch on the raw green beans while we spent countless hours stemming for mom to can. But Josh took it to a whole ‘nother level. We teased that Josh ate more than went into his bowl to be canned.

The Pumpkin Runner goes on from there, of course. It tells the story of young Joshua Summerhayes, young no longer. At 60 years old, he’s still running powered by the pumpkins in the patch out back. But when a newspaper announces a run from Melbourne to Sydney (just 900 km or ~560 miles), Joshua tells his dog: “It’s been a while since we’ve visited the city, Yellow Dog…. We could see two cities and get in a little run as well.” And so they did – Joshua in his orange gumboots, Yellow Dog beside him, and Aunt Millie driving from stop to stop with pumpkin treats as fuel.

I’m not sure Tirzah Mae was as impressed with the story as I was – it was a bit long and she had her eye on a Barbie easy reader she’d picked up the last time we were at the library (groan!) But I sure enjoyed envisioning my brother, 30 years down the line, running a long distance race fueled by raw green beans.

I’ll be Aunt Millie, driving the Jeep.


The way they play

November 17th, 2017

Both of my children love to play with their dolls.

But how they play with their dolls is completely different.

Tirzah Mae is a little mama, hugging and rocking and feeding her dollies. She loves to wrap them up in blankets and make sure they’re warm. She holds them in a cradle hold or against her shoulder, patting and shushing them. She changes their diapers. She calls herself their mama.

Tirzah Mae with her doll

Louis takes a more active approach. He squats on the floor and arranges his dolly so her feet are on the floor too. Then he makes her walk or crawl across the floor. Or he holds on to her arms and swings her front to back or side to side. You can tell, by the care he takes to make sure his dolly is head up and feet down, that he is not treating the dolly merely as an object to be manipulated. No, he is playing with a pretend baby, just as his sister is.

Louis plays with a teddy bear

I could try to identify the sources of their different ways of play. Could blame age or developmental stage or differences between the sexes. I could talk about socialization, with Tirzah Mae imitating her mama’s more cuddly style and Louis imitating his papa’s more playful style. Perhaps it is a combination of all these factors.

But I don’t really care what causes the differences. I’m just enjoying watching the way they play.

The Nights are Long

November 16th, 2017

November is never a particularly good time for me. The sun comes up late and goes down early. The sun sits low, only weakly shining forth, even when not obscured by autumn clouds.

Therapy lights help me cope. The bedside lamp that kicks on for an artificial dawn. The lamp I sit in front of while I do my morning devotions… and while I eat breakfast… and while I eat lunch… and while I take my afternoon tea.

I try to cope. I relax my expectations, remind myself that this is November. I alternate periods of activity with periods of rest. I try to stay in the Word, keep truth bombarding me in song throughout the day.

But there are still days when the sun goes down and I cry for an hour over everything and nothing in particular.

There’s too much to do. My son threw away the other beater so I can’t make the cookies I measured ingredients for earlier. I cleaned but the house is still messy. I’m afraid the baby turned transverse. I split wood on the helping tower I’m making for Louis and don’t know how to fix it. I need to go shopping to get a new beater, but if I’m going to actually go inside a store with the kids I should get everything I need, but the thought of making a grocery list is daunting without adding the pressure of getting everything I need.

Finally, I ignore the mess going on in my head, distracting myself by cutting out some Nativity finger puppets (ostensibly to figure out what extra felt I need.)

I fall asleep, but when my false dawn begins and it’s really still night, the old worries rise again and I wonder if I’ll get through this day, this week, this month, this season.

The nights are so very long.

Packing for the hospital (and other preparatory activities)

November 14th, 2017

Tirzah Mae takes after her mama in quite a few areas – and one of them appears to be the propensity to read up on life changes before they occur. She’s been working hard the past month or so, preparing for the new baby by reading books about new babies. (The real story? Louis got into the shelf of “new baby” books that happens to be near the storytime area at the library one Thursday and we ended up with half a dozen “new baby” books to peruse.)

Tirzah Mae’s favorite of the new baby books is, without a doubt, Lizzy Rockwell’s Hello Baby!. I’ve read it to her by request at least a half a dozen times – but, beyond that, it’s a rare day that doesn’t find Tirzah Mae silently reviewing its pages.

Hello Baby is different from many of the “new baby” books in that it focuses less on the big sibling’s emotions regarding the new baby and more on what to expect when mom’s pregnant.

Doctor’s appointments (ma-ppointments, Tirzah Mae calls them), complete with a Doppler (Tirzah Mae calls it a “gobbler”) to check baby’s heartbeat. Mama going through old baby clothes to set out some things for the new baby. Packing a bag for the hospital. Grandma coming over when it’s time for mama to go have the baby. It’s all very well done.

Tirzah Mae has been paying careful attention to what she’s been learning. She checks my blood pressure and invites me onto her examination table just about daily so she can listen to the baby with her gobbler. She reminds me that we already went through our boxes of baby clothes to have some ready for the baby when he comes. And yesterday she decided it was time to pack my bag for the hospital.

So long as what I need in the hospital is dishrags, I’m all set to go.

36 week selfie

November 13th, 2017

36 week selfie
Me this morning, at 36 weeks. (Also, a really dirty mirror. This picture actually convinced me to clean the mirror today.)

New to me as I experience 36 weeks for the first time:

  • I look pregnant. Undeniably pregnant. Not “could-just-be-android-obesity.” Pregnant.
  • My pelvis feels like it has a hinge in the middle front (because it does!) My body is preparing to birth a baby.
  • Movements at 36 weeks and however big this baby is are way different than movements at 32 or 34 weeks and ~3.5 lbs.
  • I can’t for a moment forget that I’m pregnant. Whether it’s kicks or Braxton Hicks or not being able to reach my feet, I am constantly aware that I am pregnant.
  • Did you catch that, folks? I’m pregnant! I’m STILL PREGNANT! Despite the increasing discomfort, the euphoria at that constant reminder has not faded.

That said, please continue to pray for me. Pray that I would fix my eyes upon Christ and praise him whatever may come. As I approach term, still healthy, I find myself becoming more and more excited at the prospect of having a normal birth. But with the excitement comes fear. What if I get my hopes up for a term pregnancy, for spontaneous labor, for a successful VBA2C… only to have them dashed? A friend encouraged me to set my hope in Christ rather than in a specific birth – and while I know that is the absolute best advice anyone could give, it’s easier to assent to it mentally than to put it into practice.

Family worship (or, quit complicating things so much)

November 9th, 2017

We knew even before we had children that we wanted family worship to be a thing in our household.

We also knew that the thought of family worship was overwhelming and intimidating. We knew how hard it could be to be consistent in personal devotions – and how many times we’d stopped and started at attempts to spend devotional time together as a couple. How on earth could we do family worship?

It just so happened that we have children who don’t do a great job at sleeping – and I started reading Tirzah Mae a Bible story from The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories by Mary Batchelor (which my mom gives a story a baby shower gift) every night before putting her to bed.

Then, last Advent, I got out the Advent wreath and we made a point to light the appropriate candles and sing a Christmas hymn after supper each evening.

As we got ready to put away our Christmas decorations, it struck us that we’d been complicating the idea of family worship overmuch – and that we were missing out on a great opportunity to train our children as a result.

We combined the Bible story I’d been reading with the hymn we’d made a habit of singing, added a time of family prayer at the end – and now we have family worship almost every evening.

It turned out to be that simple. We get the kids in their jammies after supper and then choose a hymn to sing. We read from a story Bible (we’re actually reading through The Ology by Marty Machowski right now, having gone through the Old and New Testaments in story form twice now – we plan to alternate going through the storyline of Scripture and doing something more theological/doctrinal like this.) Finally, we pray together – Tirzah Mae and then mama and then papa (Louis isn’t quite talking yet.) Then it’s kisses and toothbrushing and off to bed.

Simple and totally doable, now that we quit complicating things so much.