family

Emmanuella’s First Birthday: What I Want to Remember about the Past 12 Months

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Today has been marked on my calendar for a year. My baby is one. One! On October 24, 2017 at 10:15 am, Emmanuella Joy Dedrick came into the world and forever changed my life. Now 12 months have passed and I have a spunky, active toddler in my life who is learning to walk (5 steps so far!) and is happiest when she is destroying something.

In a way, the year has whizzed by; it seems that she simply can’t be a year old already. But at the same time, I can’t imagine life without my daughter. It seems so long ago, like she has always been a piece of my heart. From that perspective, of course she’s a year old.

Regardless of how long or short it feels, this past year has been the best I have ever experienced. 

 

Here are some things from this year I want to hang onto forever: 

  • Emmanuella falling asleep on my chest as a newborn. It’s a rare occurrence if she falls asleep in our laps today. And I never know when will be the last time, so I soak up every one.
  • Dustin dancing her to sleep every night for months.
  • How often we watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy during my maternity leave. Dustin and I would watch and Emmanuella would have her hour of PURPLE crying.
  • The way that Emmanuella adores attention. This past Sunday in church, she stood up, leaned on the pew, and waved and said, “Hi!” to everyone behind her. We have no sign of stranger danger or shyness.
  • How delighted I feel when she says “Mama.” “Dada” is far more common, so each time is a thrill.
  • Those perfect baby giggles. Right now she thinks it’s the funniest thing ever if I pretend to eat her food.
  • That yummy baby smell Emmanuella has after bath time.
  • What flawless baby skin feels like.
  • The struggle of making it through our hip dysplasia journey but how much strength we gained along the way.
  • How fun it is to go to the grocery store with a baby riding in the cart.
  • How strangers come up to me and tell me that my baby has my eyes.
  • The precious rolls Emmanuella has on her arms and legs. You just want to eat them up!
  • All of the firsts we’ve experienced this year: big ones like the first Christmas and first steps, and little ones like the first time in a swing or in the pool. Everything is new and exciting.
  • People who ask, “Is she like this all the time?” as she smiles at everyone she meets. Yes, she really is. Emmanuella is the most easygoing baby in the world.
  • The fun places we’ve gone: many Flying Squirrels baseball games, an Orioles game, Busch Gardens Christmas Town, the National Zoo, camping, the pumpkin patch… this girl doesn’t slow us down. She just makes going places all the more fun.
  • How Dustin and Emmanuella go outside to wave every morning when I leave for work and are waiting on the porch when I come home.
  • All I’ve learned about God’s perfect timing and love for us. Emmanuella is our perfect gift from God and I am so grateful.

October 24 is going to be a special day in our house for the rest of our lives. We celebrate our dramatic, beautiful, happy-go-lucky Emmanuella and remember the day she was born – 7 pounds, 8.3 ounces of perfection. She has changed and grown so much since that day, but no matter how big she gets, the love I have for my daughter grows along with her.

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Photo courtesy: Missy Brown Photography

 

marriage

The Number 1 Lesson I’ve Learned after 6 Years of Marriage

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Six years.

One baby.

Three homes.

Hundreds of long conversations.

Thousands of kisses.

Millions of laughs.

Numerous fights.

Many tears.

Some things are hard to count.

Dustin and I got married young. He was 23. I was 22, and had graduated college just four months earlier.

I often wonder if we did it the right way. It has become much more common to wait a few years to wed. According to these statistics, the average age for women to get married in the US was 27.4 years in 2017. For men it was 29.5 years. (If this was true for Dustin, he wouldn’t even be married yet.)

Instead, here we are at 28 and 29 celebrating another year where we managed to work through our problems together without killing the other person. And y’all, it ain’t easy.

Getting married so young meant we had to learn how to “adult” together. We had to learn how to manage finances, navigate the job market, and organize a household together.

Learning these skills together was valuable in a sense–we each had a partner by our side to help us through the process. In another way, learning life skills together means everything, everything requires compromise. You don’t get to choose your way on anything because every decision affects the both of you.

For us, getting married young was right. It was also incredibly difficult. 

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Looking back on the six years we’ve been married, I smile at the many high points Dustin and I have experienced together (like bringing our precious daughter into the world)… and I regret the moments when I have allowed arguments to spin out of control and said hurtful things that I couldn’t take back.

Praise God for grace and forgiveness. 

This is the number one lesson I’ve learned in marriage: 

Marriage is awesome. You get to spend every day with someone you love and who makes you happy. It’s also hard. Why? Because early on you find out that marriage requires sacrificing a lot.

You cannot be selfish in marriage. A successful marriage requires you to put aside your needs for the needs of the other person. This is not always fun to do. In fact, sometimes it really sucks.

But here is why it works: your spouse will do the same for you.

Remember what Jesus said in Luke 9:23: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me.”

In the same way that being a Christian means rejecting your sinful desires and following Christ, being a good husband or wife means denying yourself and focusing on your spouse. When both husband and wife follow this model of putting the other’s needs first, both people feel appreciated, valued, and loved.

And one bonus tip: it’s way easier to follow this method if both spouses are pursuing Christ first and foremost in their lives.

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Dustin and I have done this right and we’ve done this wrong over the years. We’ve seen the difference this makes in our marriage and we want to shout it from the rooftops: being equally yoked is a good start but it’s not enough.

We were always equally yoked. We had been Christians for many years before we married, or even met. But Christianity cannot be passive. 

When we actively pursue the Lord in our daily lives, we grow closer to one another. It’s a beautiful side effect of our faith, and something that I believe God intended all along when he created marriage.

I am so grateful for the six years that Dustin and I have shared together. We’ve each grown personally and we’ve grown as a couple. And yet, I know that we have a lot of learning to do as the years continue to pass.

If there’s one thing that sums up six years of marriage it’s this: we’ve had our surprises (*cough* Emmanuella *cough*).

The unexpected, both good and bad, has cropped up over the years. It’s been a journey getting this far. But I know for sure that there is no partner I’d rather have by my side through it all than Dustin.

Let’s celebrate all that we’ve shared so far and look to the future.

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family, motherhood, pregnancy

8 Reasons Why a Scheduled C-Section is Not the End of the World

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When my OB/GYN laid out the possibilities for the delivery of my breech baby, I was devastated. A planned C-section was the safest option. And absolutely not what I wanted.

I had my plan. Visions of calmly laboring in the tub while soothing music played in the background had danced in my head for months. I wanted the room to be dimly lit and relaxing with Christmas lights aglow. I did not want my baby to come into this world in an OR.

I originally thought a scheduled C-section was the end of the world. I broke down and cried and felt all the hormonal emotions when I found out that my dream of laboring in that hospital tub with Christmas lights all around me would not become a reality.

But much to my surprise, I became the loudest cheerleader for C-sections after experiencing my own. Here’s why:

1. No Labor

I have a low pain tolerance. In fact, I found pregnancy itself painful. But what is more pain than general pregnancy discomfort? Contractions. Or so I’ve heard. The worst that I had to deal with were mild Braxton Hicks contractions. But childbirth has a reputation for being painful for good reason. And with a planned C-section, you get to avoid that.

2. No Tearing

When a baby arrives via a Cesarean incision, that means there will be no vaginal tearing. My daughter didn’t take the usual “path” and that was A-okay. Why? It turns out that she was born with a head in the 99th percentile for circumference. There would have been tearing if she had taken the usual way out. Personally, I’m glad she didn’t.

3. Recovery is (Sometimes) a Snap.

Of course, all recoveries are different because all women are different and have gone through different pregnancies. But with a little help from the pain meds I received at the hospital, I felt ready to be active again after about a week. I ran a 8K race just five weeks postpartum. Family members regularly told me that I should slow down, but I was listening to my body. I felt fine, almost completely normal. And I have a little scar below my belly button to thank for that.

4. You Get to Plan Everything

Type A mamas rejoice! Knowing exactly when you will have your baby means that you can plan ahead. This means you can have your house clean, your hospital bag fully packed, dog-sitters arranged, and even know the schedule of who is visiting the new baby the first few weeks. This was a huge benefit for me personally. Once we knew when the finish line was coming, all the arrangements could be made with a firm timeline. No more waiting and wondering.

5. No Rush to the Hospital

It’s a surreal feeling to park in the hospital parking deck knowing that you will leave with a baby, but not being at all in a hurry. I casually walked inside and even had time for photos along the way. It’s stress free. There were certainly no worries of having the baby in the car on the ride to the hospital when I wasn’t in labor.

6. Relaxed Atmosphere in Surgery

This is not the case for all planned Cesareans, but in many cases the surgery will be fairly routine. My OB/GYN chatted throughout the process, keeping me relaxed and at ease. In my experience, the explanation of a C-section sounds much scarier than it actually is.

7. It’s Faster

I have friends who suffered through labor for days and pushed for hours. But the C-section process took about an hour from getting a spinal at the start to being sewn up and wheeled back to the recovery room with a sleepy, pink newborn in my arms. After nine long months of waiting, it’s like you get an express lane for a baby. No harm in that.

8. The Result is the Same.

This is the main point: at the end, you still have a baby. On October 24, 2017, I became a mother. And on that day, I learned it doesn’t matter how your baby enters the world. What matters are the moments to come.

A C-section isn’t the end of the world. It’s the start of a little life who becomes your whole world.

family, fatherhood

A Thank You Note to Daddy

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Every so often, I like to tease Dustin about the fact that he wasn’t ready for kids when I got pregnant with Emmanuella (it’s not a secret that she was a surprise). Why do I tease him? Because he is an incredibly devoted father and simply obsessed with our baby girl. Now he likes to claim that I am the one who wasn’t ready – ha!

Emmanuella is one lucky little girl to have Dustin as her daddy. For the past seven and a half months, I have had the privilege of watching him be loving, sweet, silly, and generous with our daughter. He is so involved with every aspect of fatherhood; Dustin was made to be a dad.

Our daughter can’t yet express gratitude, but if she could, she would thank her daddy for so selflessly doing the following things:

  1. Thank you daddy for all the diaper changes. When we were in the hospital and mama wasn’t allowed to get out of bed, you stepped right up and changed my diaper. You had never done that before, but learned how to do it just for me. And you’ve done it a LOT since.
  2. Thank you for dancing with me. It was really fun when you used to dance with me until I fell asleep. Now that I’m older, I don’t fall asleep that easily, but I still love to dance with you (and always will).
  3. Thank you playing with me. My new favorite game is knocking over the block towers you build for me. And you even get in my baby pool with me. You’re silly and I like it!
  4. Thank you for staying home with me while you work. It has been a lot of fun to roll and crawl around the room while you are at the computer doing your job. I know that you have a lot of work to do, and so I try not to be needy while you do it. But I know you’ll always stop to feed me a bottle whenever I want.
  5. Speaking of bottles, thank you for washing them all the time. You’ve washed them (and the breast pump parts) a lot more often than mama has, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
  6. Thank you for treating mama so nicely. You help her out with all kinds of things. I usually want to eat right after you and mama do, and you always clear the table and start the dishes so she can nurse me.
  7. Thank you for being patient with me. When I was brand new, I was still learning what the world was. I had never seen anything like it before and it was a little scary. Sometimes I cried for no good reason, usually during Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. You like those shows, but you never got upset if you couldn’t hear them over me.
  8. Thank you for being a good role model. I like to watch and learn from you; you have a lot to teach me.
  9. Thank you for being there to put me to bed every night. I always look forward to my goodnight kiss.
  10. Thank you for loving me every day. I’m usually good, but some days I’m fussy, and you love me just the same. And I love you too.

Happy first Father’s Day, Daddy! Thank you for being mine!

motherhood

What I Want for My First Mother’s Day

me-and-ellaSunday will mark my first Mother’s Day. Six months ago Emmanuella made me a mama and I will be forever grateful. For 197 days, I’ve spent my time feeding her, changing her, rocking her, and trying to outnumber her cries by her giggles. They have been the most joyous days of my life.

In a way, I still feel undeserving of Mother’s Day. My sweet angel is nearly always content. Strangers ask me, “Is she ALWAYS like this?” when she shows off by smiling her most gigantic open-mouthed smile at everyone she meets. I respond, “Most of the time.” And it’s true. I’ve been blessed with an easygoing child.

But whether I deserve it or not, this is a holiday in celebration of me (and all mamas). And so, here is my first Mother’s Day wish list:

  1. I want Emmanuella’s happy days to overshadow the few in between that are sad.
  2. I want to provide for the needs of my child.
  3. I want to teach Emmanuella to care for others first.
  4. I want her to know that a relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in her life.
  5. I want my daughter to one day marry a man with a heart like her daddy’s.
  6. I want my baby to have a solid foundation of faith to fall back on when hard days come.
  7. I want Emmanuella to enjoy a healthy life.
  8. I want her to have strong bonds with friends and family.
  9. I want my daughter to never fear the consequences of doing the right thing.
  10. I want her to see the best in people.
  11. I want Emmanuella to grow up to be a woman of integrity.
  12. I want her to be known for her kindness.
  13. I want my baby to see the value of learning new things.
  14. I want my daughter to know that making mistakes is okay; we can learn valuable lessons from them.
  15. Overall, I want Emmanuella to always feel loved and cared for.

That is my greatest Mother’s Day wish of all.

 

motherhood

11 Things I Didn’t Expect about Maternity Leave

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I’ve now been back to work longer than I was on maternity leave (have been for awhile actually). Those 10.5 perfect weeks of baby bonding time seem so far away now. It was a whirlwind of not knowing what I didn’t know. Through my sleep-deprived fog, I wished for time to stand still. It didn’t.

Looking back, those days were filled with joy, tears, laughter, frustration, and many situations our hospital baby classes didn’t cover (though I would recommend those helpful classes to everyone – our sincerest thanks to Brenda!).

Here are 11 things that I didn’t expect about maternity leave:

1. For the first month, you will live in practically one spot. 

Give or take a month anyway. It was a month for me. From the day we brought Emmanuella home from the hospital (October 27) to Thanksgiving, my designated spot was parked on the left side of our couch in the living room. I didn’t plan to live my entire existence in this spot, and yet stayed there, day after day, (mostly) all day long. Or it at least felt like that. The reason? You’ll want to be somewhere super comfortable. Since my baby breastfed every 2 hours, I wanted to be in the most comfy breastfeeding seat. Emmanuella is almost six months old and I STILL hangout here (I am not afraid to ask you to move if you’re in this spot either).

2. You won’t feel like you get anything done. 

Except you are. You are keeping a human alive, which is kind of a big deal. It just doesn’t feel like much. Most of the time newborns are asleep (if you’re lucky like I was), so it’s a lot of watching the baby to make sure she’s breathing. And when she wakes up, you breastfeed, change her, and let her sleep again. This cycle repeats itself over and over, and slowly you get more little glimpses of awake time and personality.

I slowly figured out that in between feedings, I could do ONE thing. Whether that be to wash a single load of laundry (but definitely not have time to dry it, fold it, or put it away), put dishes in the dishwasher, or take a shower, I could only choose one. So I had to choose wisely. I’m still eternally thankful to the many people who brought us food in those early days. I NEVER had to cook. #blessed

3. Your hormones will still be out of whack.

While I never dealt with full-blown PPD (a very serious matter – and mamas if you are, PLEASE get help), my hormones were still crazy. It was a constant roller-coaster ride of sweet baby bliss and I’m-so-exhausted-can-I-please-just-cry?. It takes time for your hormones to level out, but they will. It’s a slow process that can only be aided by time.

4. There are a lot of doctor appointments.

I had no idea that my calendar would be so FULL! Now, admittedly, we did have extra appointments for Emmanuella’s hip dysplasia treatment. But it seemed like we were constantly going to the pediatrician, orthopedic pediatrician, or hospital for hip ultrasounds. But even without the extra ortho visits, we went to see our good friend and pediatrician Dr. Ted a lot (and she was healthy)!

5. Sometimes you’ll spend an entire day paying bills.

This is perhaps the number one thing I was not anticipating. There was one day in particular that I spent 8 HOURS paying bills. Again, we had more bills than average due to extra appointments, harness and brace fittings, and ultrasounds, but I just wasn’t expecting the sheer multitude of bills. Why every single thing seems to be billed separately is beyond me.

6. Coordinating visits is hard.

Everyone wants to see a new baby. Of course they do. But my goodness does it take a lot of thought and effort to make sure everyone gets the baby time that they want (and you want them to have). This is made harder if family is coming from out of town and will need to stay at your house to visit, as was our case. Thankfully, our families were very flexible and understanding that everyone could not come at once. Dustin and I even decided that we would take four whole days to be with Emmanuella by ourselves before having any visitors (except for those blessed people who brought us food). Our immediate families visited in the hospital, and then left so we could have our parent bonding time. It was a beautiful time that I look back on with fondness and so much gratitude.

7. By the time you’ve figured things out, it’s over.

Emmanuella was an incredibly easy newborn but we were still first time parents with a lot to learn. Adjusting to life as a family of three was incredible and full of joy, but not without its challenges. I had to learn how to function on little sleep. Emmanuella and I were still getting to know each other. I didn’t know what each little cry or expression meant yet. We were both learning to breastfeed which came easily at first… until it didn’t and we were both crying. Ten and a half weeks in, I finally felt like I had the whole mom thing down. And it was over. There was no time to bask in the glory of this huge success.

8. You’ll get jealous of other countries.

I was a big fan of baby forums, especially a What to Expect group of moms that all had babies in October 2017. These moms hailed from all over, including foreign countries. When we US mamas started talking about going back to work, the Canadians and Australians started chiming in with sympathy. I haven’t looked thoroughly into the maternity leave laws in these countries, but many mentioned that they would be spending 6-12 months with their babies… paid. Sigh. I made sure not to research that further because my jealousy would not be becoming.

9. Life might be easier than you expected…

In our case, we had the world’s happiest baby. Emmanuella is easygoing, and has been since birth. She’s happy to eat, happy to sleep, happy to play, happy to cuddle… you name it and she’ll go along with it. I don’t know how we were blessed with this angel-child, but we were and I’ll take it.

Other parents had warned us about how difficult it would be, how the the incessant crying would drive us to the edge of our sanity and how sleep deprivation would make us crazy, but that wasn’t our experience at all. I adored the newborn stage. If I could guarantee that all my babies were as easy as Emmanuella, I would have four. (Note: Some babies are really difficult because babies are unique individuals with different temperaments. I do not mean to say that being a mama is a piece of cake because, y’all, #momminainteasy. It’s just that in my case, my expectations if this life being SO HARD were not the reality.)

10. …But sometimes it might feel like just a small task is so much.

Yes, I had an easy newborn. But I still remember feeling overwhelmed sometimes. The first couple weeks I felt like I had SO MUCH to do… and I really didn’t at all. The thought of even taking a half hour to go on a walk seemed like a daunting task that I didn’t have time for (mostly because of that every two hour feeding schedule we were on). And I still had to find time to shower. And “sleep when the baby sleeps” (I was really bad at that). And every other little thing that I thought I had to do. I now realize I was putting too much pressure on myself. Basically my only priority should have been keeping my baby content and loved.

11. You’ll miss it more than you can ever imagine.

Tomorrow, my baby will be six months old. I don’t know how half a year has passed so quickly, but she didn’t stay a newborn long. I now have a giggling chatterbox who rolls all over the place and steals the hearts of everyone she meets. While I miss those sweet newborn days, I will still love my precious Emmanuella Joy no matter what age she is. Being her mama is the greatest blessing I could ever receive.

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Photo courtesy: Marshall Arts Photography

just for fun

28 Things I’ve Learned about Life for My 28th Birthday

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I’ve always been a big fan of birthdays. It’s my own personal holiday; what’s not to like? I’m 28 years old today (or at least I will be at 10:16 p.m.) and as a writer, feel like there is no better way mark this occasion than sharing what I’ve learned (and am still learning) from 28 trips around the sun.

Note: I am still working on many of these issues myself. At 28, I consider myself a work in progress. Maybe I’ll nail this list by 29. 😉

Another note: I have to credit my dear friend Rachel Dawson for this idea. Check out her blog. It’s pretty awesome. 

  1. Know that time goes so fast. What a cliche, right? But my goodness, it’s true. My baby girl is approaching 5 months old, but I swear I had her last week. Along these lines…
  2. Unplug. I’m learning to unglue my eyes from my phone and cherish what is in front of me. You miss the things happening in real time when you’re looking down at a screen.
  3. Be grateful. Acknowledge your blessings and give thanks for what you have. All the time, not just on Thanksgiving.
  4. Keep in touch with family. Maybe it is something about having a baby, I don’t know. But I am beginning to understand how important it is to keep these connections strong and thriving.
  5. Enjoy having friends who are like family. I am lucky to have a tribe of friends who would drop everything if I needed help. Most of these friends I don’t speak to every day; some live far away and I hardly ever see. But they are my people, and I love them.
  6. Connect with your church. Since close friends and family may be far away, reach out to those in your church for connection. Even better, be part of a genuine small group. They don’t call it a church “family” for nothing.
  7. Make sure that you say “I love you.” To everyone you love. Say it often, but not without meaning behind it.
  8. Speak the love language of those you love. Building up your loved ones in this way is the number one thing they need from you.
  9. Do good. For your community. For your world. When we are so busy that our worldview shrinks to just ourselves, we have a problem. Look at the bigger picture and pitch in where you can.
  10. Speak up. If there is something you want, say so. Don’t expect people to anticipate your needs if you don’t voice them. Bonus tip: This is especially true in marriage.
  11. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to say something when you can’t do it all. Saying “no” is okay too.
  12. Pray. Daily. When Emmanuella was born, Dustin and I started doing this every night. They are simple prayers, nothing flowery or impressive. Sometimes we’re tired at the end of the day, or irritated. We pray anyway. The change this has made in us is incredible and honestly hard to put down in words.
  13. Trust God. If you’re a worrier, this is easier said that done. But I’ve found things have a way of working out in His timing (see Romans 8:28).
  14. Listen to others. If you like to be the life of the party like me, this is harder to do and takes discipline. But there is so much to learn if we train ourselves to be quiet every once in awhile.
  15. Smile at people. You don’t even have to say anything. But at least make eye contact and smile. For some people, it might be the best thing that happens to them all day.
  16. Take care of yourself. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m preaching to myself here as well. I REALLY like French fries and milkshakes (preferably together) and know that I should eat more fresh fruits and veggies than I do (and I’m a vegetarian!). Not surprisingly, when I eat well, I also feel better mentally and am less likely to feel overwhelmed or stressed.
  17. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Beating yourself up doesn’t make a situation any better. Forgiving yourself is important too.
  18. Go outside. More often. There are few things that a walk in fresh air can’t fix. And if it can’t fix it, it will at least clear your head.
  19. Play board games instead of watching Netflix every once in awhile. It’s just as relaxing, but you get to actually engage with people while you do it.  Speaking of which, I asked for Ticket to Ride for my birthday. So whoever wants to come over a play is welcome!
  20. Spend smart. Think about where your money should go. Think about needs vs. wants. Our resources aren’t really ours. Remember this and use them (or give, save, invest, etc.) accordingly.
  21. Purge. If you have something that you don’t need or use, but another person does and would, let it go.
  22. Be generous. Of your money. Of your stuff. Of your time. Giving feels good, y’all. Do it, and frequently.
  23. Make goals and strive to reach them. I’m looking at this list and there are some challenging goals here to reach for. That’s a start.
  24. Set aside time to rest. As a new mom, I’ve learned that rest is such a gift. Our lives are no longer planned within an inch of our lives and I like it. Sometimes it’s okay to just be.
  25. Make time for the important things. Think about priorities. Cuddling my baby is much higher on my list than laundry (which is why the hamper has been constantly overflowing since her birth).
  26. Keep learning. I want to be a lifelong learner. But this doesn’t mean everything I learn has to be found in a book. Learning new skills is just as important.
  27. Don’t get caught up in the “I’ll be happy when” mentality. This is a dangerous trap that leaves you chasing the next thing. You WON’T be happy when you make more money, get married, etc. if you can’t find contentment now.
  28. Celebrate! Both big days like birthdays (!) and little things like accomplishing something on your to-do list. I was once told that my personality type is the kind that comes to a wall and throws a party (instead of strategizing a way to get over the wall or blowing through the wall). This is an accurate way to describe me AND a fun way to live your life.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I have so much more to learn, and hope that this year brings many more life lessons. But see #26. I do aspire to be a lifelong learner.

And with that, let us begin my 29th year on this earth.

motherhood

A Love Letter to My Daughter on Her First Valentine’s Day

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Sweet Emmanuella Joy,

I am constantly astonished that God would choose me to be your mama. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve brushed my finger against your cheek and whispered, “You’re perfect.” You’re the greatest gift I have ever been given. My most cherished blessing. I am so grateful to call you mine.

You don’t realize it yet, but your name is unusual. We named you Emmanuella, a spin-off of Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” Your daddy and I chose this name for you because we believe that God is with us, no matter what struggles we may face in life. My precious daughter, when you reach out to God, you will find peace, comfort, and rest. Have faith in Him, sweetheart, for He will never leave you (Joshua 1:9).

Your middle name, of course, is Joy. My baby, please understand that the Joy in your name is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is a temporary feeling. It can be brought about by a funny joke or a new toy, but it is joy that Daddy and I wish for you. Joy has something that happiness does not: Jesus. You see, joy is eternal; it’s a state of being, not an emotion. Joy is anchored in Christ. It is the knowledge that no matter what life throws at you, your hope remains in the Savior. This is my greatest wish for you, Emmanuella. It is through reliance on Him that you will constantly find a state of joy.

Emmanuella Joy, I look at you and cannot believe that you, a perfect angel, are my daughter. How did I ever get so lucky? Though you are only 3 and a half months old, I believe we already share an incredible bond. I prayed for you long before you were born, and here you are, so much more than I ever dreamed you’d be.

I love so many things about you, from the way that you instinctively curl your hand around my finger when I hold you, to your toothless grin that melts my heart. And as you grow, I am sure I will fall in love with you over and over again.

Mama will never be perfect, baby. I’ve already made more mistakes than I can count. But I can promise you this: I will never forget what a gift you are. God gave you to me, and it is now my blessed responsibility to care for you. This will sometimes mean making sacrifices. Other times it will mean you won’t like me very much, because I will have to give you limits and discipline. But even when those days come, you will still be my most cherished gift, a present that I could never deserve.

Words could never express how much I love you, baby girl. May you grow up knowing how deeply you are loved by me, by your daddy, and by God.

All the love in my heart,

Mama

family, motherhood

Our Birth Story

emmanuella-hospital-3I’ve been meaning to write this blog for awhile but have put it off for several reasons:

1. I have a newborn. Time is not on my side right now (I’ve take to blogging on my phone while nursing and pumping).

2. I was on a lot of drugs so the details are very fuzzy in my memory.

3. Emmanuella was a scheduled C-section. How much of a story can there really be when her birth was planned?

I think it’s that third point that made me hesitate to write this blog at all. But Emmanuella deserves to have her story documented, even if there were no midnight contractions, no rush to get to the hospital, and no pushing. One day I’ll share this blog with her and tell her how she came into this world, even if the story would not be considered exciting by most.

My Breech Baby

Emmanuella’s birth story actually begins a week and a half before her birthday. Dustin and I went to our 38 week appointment and discovered that our baby was breech. The hard lump that I felt in the middle of my stomach was not her butt as my OBGYN had suggested months earlier; it was her head. Dr. Pendlebury did a quick handheld ultrasound which confirmed her suspicions. This was going to complicate matters (before this news, I was just discouraged that after so much walking and raspberry leaf tea, I wasn’t dilated or effaced at all).

Our Options

1. Do nothing. Go home, hope that the baby flips on her own, and wait to go into labor. If I did go into labor with the baby still breech, an emergency C-section would be necessary. However, as Dr. Pendlebury pointed out, I am a small person and I was already 38 weeks along. My baby girl had ran out of space. It was highly unlikely that she was going to flip at this point.

2. Try an ECV (External Cephalic Version). This means my doctor would try to manipulate the baby to turn from the outside. This has about a 50 percent success rate. I would be induced immediately after the procedure if it was successful. But there were several risks involved that could have sent me into an emergency C-section and I was warned that it would hurt. A lot. That didn’t sound so appealing either.

3. Schedule a C-section. We could simply opt for surgery on our own terms and on our own schedule. This was the only option that prevented the risk of going into an emergency C-section (something that we really wanted to avoid). It was also the safest delivery option, even if it meant a major abdominal surgery was imminent.

Our Decision

Dr. Pendlebury said we didn’t have to make a decision right away. After all, this was a big surprise and we both needed to digest the news and discuss the options that we had just heard. So we left the office and discussed our options in the car. By the time we got to work, we had made up our minds. Emmanuella would be born via scheduled C-section. We called my OBGYN and made the arrangements. October 24 would be the day.

Dealing with the Disappointment

At the time, finding out that a C-section was in my future was a major disappointment. It just wasn’t part of my plan. I had a birth plan written up; it was very simple (because I had heard that the more detailed plans are, the more likely it was that births don’t follow them): Go to hospital. Hang the purple Christmas lights I had bought solely for the hospital in delivery room. Labor in tub with my birth playlist for as long as possible without epidural. Get epidural when needed. Have baby. Was that so hard to follow? Apparently so.

I dealt with the news quietly at work that day. I told the necessary people (my boss, the HR mamager) that I had an official last day of work and went home. And broke down. This was NOT what I wanted.

The next day was a little better. I reached out and told several close friends that Emmanuella’s birthday would be October 24 (unless she decided to come on her own before then). I reached out to some friends who had delivered via C-section to hear about their experiences. And I began to mentally prepare myself for what was to come.

The next week and a half flew by in a blur of activity. With an exact end date in sight, I made sure the kitchen floor was mopped and laundry done. I packed my hospital bag, washed baby clothes, and set up a changing table downstairs. I even bought underwear that were two sizes too big so that the elastic wouldn’t hit my incision (in hindsight, one size up would have sufficed). I guess you could say I was ready.

The Day Arrives

My C-section was scheduled for 9:30. I was told to arrive at the hospital at 8:00. Before I left the house, I had to shower using special soap that smelled like straight up alcohol. I couldn’t wear contacts or makeup, and hair products weren’t permitted. We left the house in no rush at all. It was the strangest feeling ever. I felt like we SHOULD be in a rush; that’s what you see in all the movies. But then again, I’ve never seen a movie about a scheduled C-section (does one even exist?).

Arriving at the hospital was almost too relaxing to be real. We didn’t use the designated parking spots for delivering mamas. There was no need to; I could walk from the parking garage just fine. Dustin even stopped me outside the entrance to take one last “before” photo. It honestly felt like any other day at the hospital since we had recently been attending baby classes.

We used the labor and delivery phone to notify the staff our arrival and after several minutes (again with the theme of not hurrying), a nurse took us to a pre-op room. I put on a hospital gown and the fun began. It was time to get me hooked up to an IV.

I tell everyone that getting my IV was worse than the actual surgery because it honestly was. It took two medical professionals five tries to get my IV in. It wasn’t their fault really. They would hit the vein and a second later, it would collapse. On the fourth try, they actually tried to numb the area first using an additional needle. Although I didn’t feel any numbing sensation at all – just an extra stick. Ouch! On the fifth try, by some miracle it worked. The hardest part of the day was over (although multiple purple bruises would remain for weeks to remind me of that traumatic experience).

While still in the pre-op room, Jill, the anesthesiologist nurse went over the surgical procedure with me while nurses scurried about, preparing for the upcoming surgery. Dr. Pendlebury came in as well to do one last ultrasound, making sure my baby was still breech (she was). It was just about 9:30. Go time (although we wouldn’t go right away since we had to wait several minutes for the OR to be available).

What a C-Section is Actually Like 

The first thing to happen was my spinal (like an epidural except you can’t move at all from your chest down). Y’all, I HATE needles and had just been stuck FIVE TIMES (plus an extra to “numb” me) so I was not looking forward to this at all. And it didn’t help that Dustin wasn’t allowed in the room for this part. He is my go-to hand-holder in all needle situations. So it was surprising that getting the spinal didn’t really bother me. They numbed my back first and I felt a burning sensation. But when the big needle went in, I didn’t even know it. Thank you technological advances in medicine!

I was told that the spinal would make me feel “buttery.” Apparently that’s what other patients call the sensation. I STILL don’t know what that means. But in my experience, I’d liken a spinal to one of those nightmares in which something is chasing you and you have to run, but you can’t move. It was the most bizarre feeling ever. My body felt like it was superglued to the table I was lying on. I couldn’t move if I wanted to. (I guess that’s a lie. Once Dustin was allowed back in the room, I experimented with my abilities. I discovered that if I used ALL of my body’s energy, I could slightly wiggle my right big toe. A nurse confirmed I was doing it. I highly recommend playing around with that if you ever have the chance. It’s just cool.)

The surgery itself was FAST. My doctor made the initial incision, and Emmanuella was out about 10 minutes later. 10:15 to be exact. I didn’t expect to be able to see everything that was going on because the drape obstructed my view but it turns out I could see EVERYTHING reflected in the chrome light above the operating table. Let me just tell you that it is the weirdest feeling to watch someone cut into your stomach but not feel a thing. I went back and forth between watching the procedure because it was so exciting and looking at Dustin because it was so gross. I remember saying something like, “This is disgusting but I want to SEE!”

I was obviously on some hardcore drugs at this point, but one thing I recall in crisp detail is feeling terribly nauseous during the surgery (I was warned this could happen) and telling the anesthesiologist nurse. She gave me some drug that she said would go straight to my brain and BAM! All nausea was eliminated instantly. We repeated this process a few times during the procedure. WHERE was this miracle drug the first 20 weeks of my pregnancy when all I could do was throw up or lie down in agony?! I needed it then!

Emmanuella’s Arrival

emmanuella-hospital-7As I said, the delivery took no time at all. My doctor announced that she was coming, and Jill asked Dustin if he wanted to see. He said yes, and she grabbed him by the arm, and allowed him to stand up and look past the curtain. Dustin said later that Jill had a firm grip on him – we presume this was in case he passed out. Dr. Pendlebury pulled Emmanuella out (feet first, the silly goose) at 10:15 a.m., and passed her through the curtain to me. She didn’t even come out crying at first; I like to think that my sweet babe was as eager to meet the world as we were ready to meet her.

My baby being laid on my chest was an unforgettable experience, despite the drugs that caused me to forget other details about the day. My first words to my daughter were, “Hi baby,” and I was in complete awe seeing her perfect face for the first time. I reached out and touched her tiny hand, and she grasped my finger right away. Several people had told me that I would cry in that moment, but I didn’t. I just felt a sense of wonder. Finally, after months of waiting, my daughter was here. The moment was everything I ever dreamed it would be, even though it wasn’t exactly how I pictured it.

After taking a few minutes to bask in Emmanuella’s perfect arrival, a nurse asked if I was ready for her to be weighed. I said I was, and my tiny angel was lifted from my chest and placed on a scale. Seven pounds, 8.3 ounces, the nurse announced. Length 20.5 inches. Long and skinny. She didn’t get that from me.

Dustin was then allowed to trim Emmanuella’s umbilical cord. Dr. Pendlebury had to do the initial cut in surgery, but she promised Dustin she would leave it long, so he would be able to ceremoniously cut the cord afterward. From my place on the table, I couldn’t see, but a nurse filmed this for me to watch later. (Fun fact: There wasn’t much for Dustin to trim. It turns out that Emmanuella had an unusually short umbilical cord, which is most likely why she didn’t flip to the correct position in the first place.)

The rest of the time in the OR is kind of a blur. I remember holding Emmanuella again as I was being sewn up, and still feeling the sense of amazement that she was really here. I also remember feeling an overwhelming sense of nausea, and passing Emmanuella to Dustin while I got another dose of that miracle nausea cure. I reached out to touch her in Dustin’s arms, and soaked in the perfect moment. We were finally parents.

emmanuella-hospital-2

family, motherhood

4 Parenting Lessons I’ve Learned from a Pavlik Harness

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Today my baby girl graduates from a Pavlik harness to Rhino brace. For the past 6 weeks, my little love bug has been confined by straps of felt and Velcro, a sight that wasn’t always easy for me to see. The new Rhino brace will still be confining, but we’ll at least be able to take it on and off for diaper changes, baths, car rides, and to steal unhindered snuggles every once in awhile. We’ll be able to give Emmanuella baths again. We’ll be able to see her feet again! These seem like such little things, but as we mark the halfway point of her treatment for hip dysplasia, these are things that can (and should!) be celebrated.

While the Pavlik harness and its challenges are not something that I would wish for other parents, I have to admit that our time with this device came with many lessons, some of which were incredibly valuable to me as a parent.

Lesson 1. It’s okay to grieve over what you’ve lost. 

We never expected to have a child with hip dysplasia. Neither of us had even heard of the condition or understood what it meant at first. But we soon found out that our newborn wouldn’t be exactly as we pictured her. All of those precious newborn clothes in her closet wouldn’t get worn. We were being sentenced to six weeks of snap sleepers one size up (and leaving a few snaps undone at the bottom). And we could forget about bath time for awhile. And seeing her precious, tiny feet. We wouldn’t be able to hold her certain ways (Dustin’s favorite janguar-on-a-limb hold was out). The news of Emmanuella’s hip dysplasia meant that the ideas we had of the newborn state would be altered slightly. It is natural to grieve over a loss, including a loss of your expectations. So take that time. Let it out. Cry. I did one day while looking at those adorable clothes with the tags still on. It’s okay to be disappointed that things did not go according to plan. What’s not okay is when the grieving lasts forever. Because…

Lesson 2. You will adjust to the circumstances you’re given.

Really. You will. I feared that cuddling and breastfeeding would be awkward and diaper changes frustrating when working around the harness. It turned out that my fears were unwarranted because we adjusted to life in the harness just fine. When my sweet baby snuggled against my chest, I forgot that the harness was even there. And sure diaper changes are an extra challenge when you have to get a diaper under two sets of straps on each side. But you get used to it when that is the way life is. Now if you timed me changing Emmamuella against another new mom who didn’t have to work around a harness, I’d probably be just as fast. Because I’ve learned my way around it. Obstacles sometimes aren’t nearly as threatening as they seem at first.

Lesson 3. Parents of children with special needs are superheroes. 

For a short period, we have a child with a special need. And it has given me so much respect for the parents who take care of special needs children for a lifetime. It takes a lot of time and energy to ensure you baby is receiving the proper treatment, even for something as minor as hip dysplasia. Emmanuella won’t remember her time in the Pavlik harness, but we will. We will remember the constant specialist visits and ultrasounds (and the extra bills that came with them). We will remember getting home from one orthopedic pediatrician visit across town, just to get a phone call that said come back to the hospital right now for an ultrasound or you’re not getting in for another two weeks. Most of the time it wasn’t that bad. But there were moments. And those who devote their lives to making sure their children are receiving the medical care they need deserve an award.

Lesson 4. Health is a gift. 

In 6 more weeks, Emmanuella will hopefully be finished with her treatment. If her ultrasound is clear at that time, there is a 99% chance that her hip will be healed for life. This is the outcome we’ve been praying for since her birth, and right now everything is on track. There will still be follow ups for a couple years to make sure that her hip is growing correctly, but our months of a harness and a brace will be over. Having gone through all this, though, I will not be taking our child’s health for granted. A healthy baby is a gift. Our own health is a gift as well. And this experience will serve as a reminder to take care of our bodies and treat them like the temples God intended them to be.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought for a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)