The Pregnant Lent

For the second year in a row, I’ll be “doing” Lent while pregnant. Contrary to what any men or non-pregnant women out there may think, normal/healthy pregnancies are NOT enough sacrifice to count for the entire Lenten sacrifice and preparation. There are definite happenings that constitute an immense dying to self, I will say, and this year I obviously have the added wild card of Princess Lucia, who demands all of me and then some. And of course, pregnant and nursing moms are always exempt from fasting and abstinence. So all this leaves me pondering lately– how are pregnant mothers specifically called to observe the season of Lent? It’s tricky, but I do really want to try harder this year. Last year I think I spent a great deal of Lent suffering and recovering from strep and several head colds, as well as the general exhaustion of the late third trimester. In other words, I had the physical suffering part down pat, but certainly didn’t feel spiritually refreshed by the time we were singing Alleluia again.

In general, I’m coming to realize the great truth that motherhood is an intense form of dying to self, as any mother (or father, really) can tell you. My sleep schedule is not my own. My eating schedule is not my own. I can’t even go to the bathroom or shower without an audience or a crying soundtrack in the background. I’ve learned a great deal this year about how selfish I really am and that the dying to self thing does not come naturally. And that is precisely why I need great spiritual aid in this time of life. When I have the least time for quiet and prayer is when I need it most. There is no possibly way I can sustain my well-being, especially mental and emotional, without supernatural sustenance.

Yet most days, between Lucy’s extremely early wakings and struggle with naps, I find that the only formal prayer I may have gotten in is grace before meals and hopefully night prayers with Tom if we haven’t yet collapsed in exhaustion. This is not good for keeping my soul refreshed, renewed, strengthened, and growing in virtue. I cannot use motherhood and pregnancy as an excuse for not improving my spiritual life; it is, in fact, essential to my vocation as mother to improve my spiritual life daily. It is difficult though, especially for me, since I am not that great at multi-tasking prayer or spiritual reading while supervising Lucy or folding clothes or any of the other million tasks that need to be done. And with this second pregnancy, an afternoon nap with Lucy has become a true necessity.

I’m hoping to make small additions to my prayer life this Lent. Fasting is less about denying one’s self and more about realizing how dependent one is on God. For me, that will mean fasting from wasting my precious few free minutes of time on social media and using them for connecting with Scripture, quiet, and spiritual reading.

Simcha has a great Lenten reading list, and Elizabeth Foss gives several suggestions, with more in the comments.

Tom and I will pick up our practice of reading a chapter (or portion of a chapter) from a chosen book of the Bible during Lent. We read Isaiah during Advent and Christmas. I’m thinking the Gospels, and maybe a different prophet for Lent. Personally, I am also planning to continue plodding my way through Orthodoxy, which is amazing but I can only get about 5 pages in at a time before life calls. I also want to read Caryll Houselander’s Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross. She wrote beautiful, lucid meditations, such as the one I wrote out in this post. The important thing is, while I can’t fast from food and physical sustenance again this Lent, I do need, ever so much, to strengthen my soul with total reliance on God through increased and dedicated prayer time.

(Also, since the challenge is 7 posts in 7 days, it should totally count to do two posts in one day!)

The Suffering and Beauty in Love

I read the following meditation by Caryll Houselander in today’s Magnificat and thought it was so very insightful and beautiful:

In the fact of loving at all, there is for us, fallen creatures, an element of suffering. We realize the frailty of those we love, the million evil chances that threaten them. We are haunted by the fear of loss, of parting. By a strange paradox, falling in love brings us a new realization of our own nothingness, our helplessness to do, even to be, what we would, for the beloved. Only the sacrament of matrimony in which in a mysterious way God re-creates two as one, in his own love, can overcome this nothingness…

The lover is like the craftsman: he has to give himself to years of discipline, of patient work and perseverance, in order to attain his skill.There must be countless new beginning, the exacting process of habit-forming, with its repeated denials of self, until at last his mind and eye and hand work in harmony on the material that he knows, as he knows his own soul. Just so is the lot of the lover, who has life for his material, life that sin has twisted, so that it is like wood that is knotted and warped. Yet on this material he acquires the skill that makes the craftsman an artist and enables him to fashion his own life into a thing of sheer beauty, and not his own life only, but the lives of those dear to him. 

And by the way, this masterful description of the hopes, fears, and sacrifices requisite to married love was written by a woman who never married!

Why we love midwives (and HATE insurance!)

Today, I had my second midwife appointment (2 appointments in 21 weeks of pregnancy? Yes, that happened). While I was there, my mother spent over 30 minutes waiting to talk to an insurance rep and then another few minutes getting (surprise!) nowhere at all with him. (Oh, by the way, she was also feeding Lucy lunch at the same time. Multi-tasking at its best, I say!). I can’t help but think of how sadly warped our medical system in the US is, especially because of the reason my mom was calling the insurance company. In order to choose freely where one wants to have one’s baby, and in what circumstances, one must pay out of pocket and then endure months and months and months of unending phone calls and wait signals and broken promises of ever seeing any of one’s hard-won cash come back into one’s sad pocket.

When we were pregnant with Lucy, I was still covered under my dad’s policy, plus under Tom’s as well. We had NO IDEA that this little fact would come to ruin our lives (or at least our hopes of getting our money back). You see, apparently, two insurance companies must turn their backs to each other and their clients, close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears and say, “Nahnahnahnah!” over and over so they can’t see or hear anything of importance regarding your coverage. Double coverage– the two words that are the bane of my existence. Lucy is pushing one year old, and guess how much closer we are to getting this resolved? Not any closer at all. Each time I call one insurance company, the say, “Oh, go call the other one. Get a piece of paper. Send that paper to us. Then we’ll slowwwwly push that paper through a thousand people and in a month you’ll probably have to repeat the whole process because some law or policy will have changed and screwed it up. Or more likely, we lost it.”

Now, with this second baby (also paying out of pocket, in order to have the prenatal care and birth of our preference), our one (thank God, not two!) insurance is saying nothing out of network is covered. Evidently, our plan’s benefits changed magically without us receiving any notice at all. To say we’re livid is an understatement. To say I hate all things that have to do with using and calling and pleading and yelling at medical insurance is just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, we could’ve just saved ourselves all this headache and grief by being normal people and having our babies with an OB-Gyn at a hospital. Just a little copay here and there and done, right? Maybe. I did start with Lucy at a wonderful pro-life OB office nearby, where many of my friends work. There was nothing really wrong with the doctors or the care, but everything about that scene said, “You are a number. Let me check your chart to see what the last doctor you asked you. Let me tell YOU what is happening and what will happen to your body. Let ME decide what you should do, whether you want that or not.” And that’s just the way it is in medical centers like that. It wasn’t hostile or super uncomfortable, but I wasn’t comfortable, and I knew there were other options.

So I started reading, and watching, and researching, and talking to friends who had done prenatal care and birth in a different way. The options were amazing– home birth, hospital birth center, free-standing birth center, water birth, zero interventions, and most of all, health care providers who actually practiced the belief that women’s bodies were made to carry and birth babies, and most times, the woman will know best. Also, OBs are surgeons. They are wonderful, wonderful, surgeons, and thank the Lord we have them when surgery is absolutely necessary. But…for normal, healthy pregnancy…it’s not! Again, women’s bodies=designed to give birth. Most European countries recognize this and still employ midwives as the main prenatal care for low-risk/normal pregnancy (as in 80% of births are with midwives!).

So around 18 weeks, after talking to many friends who had had home or birth center (free-standing) births about the pros and cons, Tom and I decided a midwife birth center was what we wanted for the rest of the pregnancy and the birth. We decided to have the birth at the center instead of at home because our insurance supposedly covered a birth center at 80% (ahem, none of which we’ve seen!), and we didn’t relish the thought of our tiny apartment being the birth place. Also, the birth center has four stunningly beautiful rooms that are each themed differently and could all be in a design magazine.

We never regretted that decision. The differences between the OB and the midwife practice were stunning. My appointments were a leisurely 25- 60 minutes in length, and I almost never had to wait more than 5- 20 minutes to be seen (compared to an hour wait average at the OB, and 5 minutes with the doctor!). I met not only all the midwives, who seem to be magical fairies, all calm and happy and casting their calm happiness upon everyone else, but also the small office staff. They knew my name, Tom’s name, and all my medical history. They cared. They asked ME if I wanted such and such a test. They never, ever did even the smallest procedure without first asking permission. It was wonderful.

Lucy’s birth was a great experience for a first birth, due to the midwives and their calm support and deep respect of my labor process– nothing was rushed, there were no intrusive questions when I entered the birth center, no bright lights or beeping machines. Just quiet voices, strong arms to hold me up, and the intensely relaxing warm water of the birth tub. Thus, I’m actually strangely looking forward to doing it all again. Yes, yes, it’s very hard work and there is some pain, but it’s also so exciting and such a wild ride of adrenaline and anticipation.

We’re blessed to be in the care of these midwives, but not so blessed that our broken medical system in America doesn’t recognize that as a truly valid choice. It’s not fair that only OBs are covered by insurance in-network. We are paying for the insurance…why can we not have the services we choose covered?! Not to mention, these silly insurance companies should check the facts: prenatal care and birth with midwives is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper altogether than hospital births. I’m talking a minimum of $13,000 cheaper, and that’s as compared to an all-natural hospital birth without a drop of pitocin or epidural– the price after that skyrockets. Midwives would save them so much money, not to mention free up the OBs for the truly high-risk pregnancies where they’re needed.

Hopefully, very soon we will work out this messy insurance catastrophe and have our little one in peace. No matter what, that is worth all the cost in the world.

First family photo in the comfy queen bed at the birth center

First family photo in the comfy queen bed at the birth center

Tired Tuesday morning thoughts

I had every intention to write a blog post yesterday, and thereby start off the week participating in Jen’s 7 posts in 7 days challenge. Then the micro-naps happened and we had a late dinner, and by the time dishes were done, so was my brain. Oh well, I suppose I can be the token mediocre blogger and scratch out 6 in 7, which would still be WAY above average for me.

I would like to report that over the weekend, we experienced some glorious weather with degrees climbing into the 70s. We went for a walk, the boys played soccer, and I went into D.C. for a balmy girls’ night out to celebrate my sister-in-law’s  birthday. (No, I don’t have any pictures of any of these events, in keeping with my usual style). Now, however, it is snowing again. Ugh, welcome to the Never-Ending Winter of 2013-2014.

I do have a few pictures of recent happenings. Lucy is teetering on the brink of her first step, and is able to pull up to standing and then let go and stand alone for about ten seconds. I haven’t been able to capture it on iPad camera since I’m desperately trying to get her to walk to my open arms. Soon, soon, I know. She is staying busy though:

This is where she ends up half the day

This is where she ends up half the day

Nana, her new best friend, helps her practice this walking thing

Nana, her new best friend, helps her practice this walking thing

New toy!

New toy!

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Oh, AND, just to show you the height of my horrible picture planning and taking skills, I wanted to take a 20 week belly shot wearing the same outfit I had on last year with Lucy’s 20 week shot. Well, I was rushing around to get to prenatal yoga that night, and remembered right before I changed into yoga gear that I hadn’t done the photo shoot. So here is the pathetic result:

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Despite terrible angles and distracting piles of crap in the background, I still think I am a little smaller this time around. Now I’m off to nap, since I have been awake since 4 AM, thanks to Lucy’s new “sleeping through the night” habit, in which the term “night” applies only to hours between 7 pm and 4/5 am. I suppose in about two decades I shall once again know that elusive treat known as a good night’s sleep.

An anti-contraception ally

I, along with thousands of overzealous pregnant women, loved watching The Business of Being Born when Lucy was in utero. It was produced by Ricki Lake, former talk show hostess, and Tom and I both wondered what her stance was on life issues, especially contraception, since babies and birth and the health of women are all things she clearly loved in her film. I found this article today on Lifesite News, which reports that she will be producing another documentary, this time warning women how dangerous contraception can be. Even if she has no idea why or how contraception is wrong morally, or doesn’t care, it’s a great thing that she is not only acknowledging the deleterious affects of contraceptions but is also willing to voice her concern on something so widely accepted.

I’m thrilled that she has decided to do this, and hope its message about the truth of contraception will reach a wide audience! Now I’m off to go re-watch The Business of Being Born to get pumped about another natural birth. Speaking of which, we had an ultrasound yesterday revealing the baby’s gender! We won’t be posting it here since Tom’s parents do want to be surprised, but if you’re dying to know, feel free to email me! 🙂

 

Why we need Date Night

Here we are, dressed up for date night. Taking the rare photo of us.

Here we are, dressed up for date night. Taking the rare photo of us.

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Last Friday, Tom and I got out for the longest “real” date since Lucy’s birth: it was 5.5 hours from start to finish, and included both dinner and a (very long) show. Was it fun? Of course. The Japanese meal was warm and filling, and Les Mis was well done overall (though we had a hard time not singing along…). The important thing though, was that we were able to be together, alone, for a substantial period, to talk uninterrupted (minus the 3 hours of musical watching) and reconnect for a little while, after this crazy, crazy little interlude of surprises in our life.

As we drove home, Tom looked over at me and said, “Thanks for dating me!” I smiled because it’s so easy to forget– though we are married and now parents, we are still dating. Or we should be. I think that especially for young married couples who willingly jump into the shared life of marriage as well as welcoming a new life (or two) immediately upon marriage(um…us), keeping up a pretty regular date night (i.e. planned out, and without the kid{s}) is very important. You’ve gone from having only each other to lavish time upon, in the exciting, fun-loving, whirlwind time of dating and engagement to spending all your time trying to set up a new home, both working all day and then sharing household duties.  And then the baby comes and everything gets a little cray. It’s easy to take one another for granted and count watching Netflix  on the couch as a date.

It is great (and necessary) to have daily downtime with the spouse, but there are always going to be pressing home and parenting duties when you’re actually at home, things that will necessarily distract you from focusing singularly on each other. The act of getting spruced up (or in my case, finally blow drying my hair for once) and going somewhere alone together gives you the time and space to breathe out all the stresses of life and home and parenting and refocus on your beloved. It’s good to remind each other of the things that first drew you together in the first place when you began dating. And it’s also just so nice to eat a meal in peace from start to finish.

I also realized last weekend that taking the time to go on dates and spend quality time together helps to strengthen you as a couple for tough times. Take the day after our date, for example. It was one for the books– terrible miscommunication, an overpacked schedule, lots of stress and general exhaustion, and then stomach woes for me. It led to a messy mid-morning tiff. After airing some grievances, we were able to sort things out and tackle our crazy day as a team, stronger, I think, than we would have been without our date the night before.

Also, this was only our 2nd or 3rd solo date since Lucy’s birth, since she’s just now getting to an age where we can really leave her at night with my parents. Sometimes those at-home “dates” were really all we could manage, and when we did go out, the nursling had to come along. And that is totally fine too, of course. But I’m glad we’re at a point where we’re moving up in the dating scene again…that is, until July, when Baby 2 arrives, and then we’ll be back to the beginning again. Which is totally fine, since after all, he or she will be the best proof of our love possible.

Montessori 101 (infant style)

Shortly after Lucy was born, Tom and I listened to a series of talks about parenting based on Montessori principles. We were immediately intrigued, as the ideas and methods were at times revolutionary sounding (don’t force young children to apologize to others; give a 6 month old a tiny glass cup to drink out of), and others already resonated with our own preferences (give babies and children toys of natural materials, not plastic; don’t over-praise children for every little thing they do).

Those talks began us on a journey of learning more and more about Dr. Maria Montessori, her life’s work, and the method of educating children that is still very much alive 100 years later. As I tend to do, I spent hours reading articles and checking out books at the library, and even reading some of Montessori’s own writings about her method. I had some brief understanding of the method beforehand, but only knew that Montessori schools had adorable wooden child-size chairs and tables, and that the classrooms were mixed age groups.

I discovered so much more, and most importantly, realized that Montessori principles could and should begin with tiny infants, practically from birth onward. It’s fascinating stuff. Montessori was basically a pioneer in her time, becoming the first woman in Italy to earn an MD, and shattering many preconceived notions about what children are capable of doing. She was brilliant and scientifically methodical, discovering major childhood development truths through observation.

It’s been so interesting to try and implement some of the infant montessori ideas with Lucy. We realized we were already doing some of them (cloth diapering, avoiding flashy toys and such), but the details about each month of baby’s development, each milestone, and how to guide the baby  and prepare the environment to maximize independence were so helpful.

We also really like the philosophy behind discipline in Montessori: it isn’t rewards and punishment based, but rather is focused on training the child’s free will. There are probably not many parents who want their kids to grow up without being able to freely choose the good, yet so many traditionally ingrained parenting/teaching practices actually prevent this (arbitrary punishments, coercing desirable behavior, public humiliation, etc). Montessori wants children to learn, when they are developmentally able, how to make a choice and deal with the natural consequences when it’s not the right one. And more importantly, to learn to choose the good precisely because it is the right thing– not because Mom said she had to, or she knows she’ll get grounded if she doesn’t.

So at this point, we’ve been consciously attempting to use parts of the Montessori method and philosophy with Lucy. For example:

Prepared Environment (the principle that if the baby’s area is set up correctly they will thrive and become more independent):

* Her low wall mirror, at which she would watch herself attempting to push up on all fours, then sit up, then scoot, then pull up on a stool. She also enjoyed talking to the baby in the glass and licking the little face she saw reflected there.

Ohhh, who's that?!

Ohhh, who’s that?!

Trying sooo hard to go forward!

Trying sooo hard to go forward!

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Looking at herself explore a box of books

Looking at herself explore a box of books

Now standing!

Now standing!

*Treasure baskets- small baskets filled with 3-5 themed real life items (e.g. different types of brushes, religious items, kitchen measuring utensils, different types of paper, etc.).

Her low shelves with all her baskets and toys accessible, so she can crawl over and play with them herself

Her low shelves with all her baskets and toys accessible, so she can crawl over and play with them herself

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One of her early treasure baskets to the left

Playing with (and eating!) paper, a favorite activity still

Playing with (and eating!) paper, a favorite activity still

 

*Montessori-specific toys- Maria developed quite a few toys, or tools, for infants and toddlers to aid development. As she observed them, she discovered certain times when the babies interest was very strong in something specific, such as grasping objects, shaking objects, opening and closing lids, pulling things out of a box, turning knobs, etc. So she came up with some materials to capitalize on what she termed these “Sensitive Periods.” Lucy has a few, though really, you can make many yourself or get creative and find similar objects among your household goods.

Imbucare box Lucy has, for fitting shapes into a hole and then opening the door to retrieve.

*Floor bed- after she outgrew the co-sleeper, we bought a very thin Ikea crib mattress (2″ off the floor) and laid it out on the floor. She soon learned to crawl off, rather than fall off. Of course, there were drawbacks to this too… she would often just crawl off and scream at the door when she didn’t want to sleep. Oh, and the whole mice/roach issue down there. We’ll try it again when we move permanently. For now she’s in a pack and play, though I suppose we could transition her back to the floor bed at some point.

Personal Care:

*Cloth diapers- helps them prep for potty training by actually feeling wet vs. dry. (Though admittedly, she’s been in disposables for a couple weeks to heal a nasty diaper rash). Montessori also found that the Sensitive Period for potty learning is 12- 18 months. I know, I know, it does sound crazy, but there’s reason behind it: at around 12-13 months, the baby has learned to stand alone and most likely walk steadily. This means the the nerves along the spinal cord are myelinated, which means that bladder control is possible. Thus, the toddler can feel the muscles either holding or releasing, and can learn when it’s appropriate to do so. I don’t think a 13 month old will learn to use the potty in 2 weeks, like a 3 year often can, but if it’s done steadily, the little toddler can learn the sensations and form habits. I, for one, aim to take advantage of this Sensitive Period with Lucy, because if she is potty trained even a few months after the new baby is born, I’ll be a much happy diaper-er.

*Feeding- early independence in feeding is encouraged, with things like drinking right out of a tiny glass, instead of sippy cups, and using real materials like glass, ceramic, silver, and wood instead of plastic stuff. She loves her silver demitasse spoons and bamboo spoons, though we have to supervise her closely when using ceramic dish ware.

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Language:

* Montessori has extensive information on how infants acquire language. At this stage in Lucy’s development, the important things are mimicking her sounds (all parents do this, I think!), and being as specific as possible with our language. For example, giving specific names of things, “That’s a tulip/terrier/sweet potato”.

*Reality-based books- Since children can’t really distinguish reality from fantasy until they are around 4, Montessorians generally stick to reality-based books for little ones. We have a lot of board books that fit that bill (touch and feel animals, ones featuring photos of other babies, food, or household objects, etc.), but I know there are a few childhood favorites that aren’t necessarily totally realistic that we still show to her. I think if there’s a good balance, the kid will be fine. I do notice, though, that she is far more interested in the ones that have realistic photos or drawings.

*This may not go under the Language category really, but we have tried to be conscious about how we react to Lucy. We try not to overpraise and say, “Good job!!” about every little thing she does. It’s hard though, because, darn it, she’s so cute, and you are proud of even the little accomplishments, like finally crawling forward, or recognizing her name, or whatnot (well, I suppose those are rather big accomplishments, after all). But we do try to make sure we don’t just lavish unnecessary, empty verbal praise. It makes more sense when we say things like, “You pulled yourself up on that chair! You’re a big girl!” or just generally comment about what she is doing. And then there are times we’ve learned to just leave her alone; she certainly doesn’t need us constantly narrating her actions all the time. She concentrates much better when she is working in peace.

Anyway, there is much more still learn as Lucy grows, and we look forward to taking the best practices from Montessori’s work. We don’t agree with everything, and that’s fine. We take what works and leave the rest.

If you’re interested in any of this, I highly recommend starting off by listening to the talks I linked to above. They are so informative. I also recommend (with a few caveats regarding the breastfeeding and sleep) the book, Montessori from the Start. It has some good ideas for how to implement Montessori from birth through about age 3.