Bits of Life in April

Well hello there, you old neglected blog! It seems I’m a very sporadic blogger. I love to blog about life and update my loved ones and friends but having two little ones underfoot is challenging enough in the world of smartphones and constant internet access. I find it difficult to make sure I’m not becoming addicted to the escape of mindless scrolling and watching others live their lives and perhaps I need to change that in the form of something healthy and thought provoking like blogging. I do try not to overshare now that the kids are getting bigger but having an outlet to muse about life has always been necessary for me to “exhale.” I’m afraid you’ll have to be content with very sporadic blogging! Know that I think of you and pray for you if we’ve ever “met” via blogging, and that just because you’re out of sight does not mean that you’re out of mind! I love my blogging buddies and friends who have read my scattered thoughts over the years.

It’s been almost two years since major anxiety became a part of my life, and about a year since I shared that struggle. Maybe we should start with that! I’ve had seasons of debilitating anxiety and depression, but those have come and gone, and popped up again every now and again. I’m not nearly as freaked out about my own mental state as I was when I began this journey. I’ve learned so much about myself, and I’ve had to advocate for myself TO myself throughout this thing, with God’s help. Right now, I’m in a season of what I would call, “moderate” anxiety. Nothing crippling, I can still function, but maybe there’s a little more than the average mom.

I have made friends over the last couple of years who have been there for me when I needed some prayer, and I’ve been honored to become friends with those who have asked me for prayer for the same cross! I can see some of the picture that God has been painting over my life, and some of the “whys” and how this struggle has helped me out of pits of apathy in my faith. In fact, I’ve learned why “faith, hope, and love” are all SO important and how much MORE I need to grow in each of those things.

I’ve learned that hope is the antidote to despair, and quite necessary for MY personality (hello, melancholic Hannah). I’ve also learned that faith is not an easy thing and that it requires the relinquishing of control. You can’t see ahead in the storm, but you know that God is pulling your boat along and staying with you throughout all of it! You have to stop trying to anchor yourself because you want guarantees and assurances and allow God to take you where He wants you to go. And over the entirety of my life, I’ve looked back and realized that I’ve been desperate to find love and acceptance because I have not accepted God’s love in its fullness. Maybe that’s another faith thing… having the faith to accept that I can do nothing to merit the love that He offers, but that He always offers it anyway. When I was recently listening to a Blessed is She podcast, I heard the phrase, “you cannot clean the fish before you catch it.” Meaning, we can’t fix ourselves and our sins entirely before we go to Jesus. He cleans us and purifies us. That’s been a helpful analogy for me to remember in my day to day, because I so often want to hide in my own shame and not pray until I feel that I am “worthy.” You don’t have to tell me how wrong that thought process is… I realize the many levels of vice connected to it!

I bet I could go on for scrolls and scrolls worth of thought on my journey through depression and anxiety, but I think it’s time to wrap that portion up. I’m doing a lot better with it, so if you’ve been praying for me, may I sincerely thank you for that? It means the world!

Life has been interesting. There are lot of changes, both big and small, in the works as well as the daily grind. We got a new car and that has been so nice! We dealt with about 5-6 weeks of illness in our home from stomach bugs to very bad colds and all of it went through every person. Parents have dealt with sobering health issues and all of it has taught me that you can neglect everything (like blogging) but NOT prayer. How are people ever okay without faith and prayer? Daniel’s jobs have been intense and fruitful. Lent has been very lenty.

I got to help put together a Women’s Retreat at our parish and learned a lot! My next read, by the way, is going to be Introduction to the Devout Life, whenever I manage to pick up a copy. The talks at our retreat were based off of the book. Daniel and I began praying the Litany of the Sacred Heart every Friday because of it!

Oh, I finally printed Joan’s baby pictures and managed to take a few photos to my kind OB/GYN who has waited patiently for almost two years. I’m sure he’s been very busy delivering babies and forgot all about it, but I warned him when Joan was born that I was terrible at getting photos printed… We had a really nice chat and he laughed about what he said to me in the delivery room. He had delivered 6 babies in a very short period of time when she was born and was quite sleep deprived. I still remember how crazy his hair was when he came to check on us the following day…

I still listen to Matt Maher almost everyday with the kids and try to throw a few podcasts in there during quiet time. The podcasts mostly don’t happen, because mom life is so busy and full. Eliot, for the most part, knows all his letters and the sounds that they make, so hopefully I’ll be diving into some research soon on homeschooling and teaching your kid to read. I can’t believe he’s going to be four this summer! His chatter knows no bounds and neither does his stubbornness. He has a BIG HEART for God and the newest phase includes “fixing donuts” like the Donut man and singing songs. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, Philippians 4:13” is my favorite thing to hear him sing. He’s added it to his repertoire of Fred Rogers songs and “We will, we will, we will rock you.” I think he’s going to become quite an amazing young man one day!

That better be all, as this post has gotten monstrous. Lots of love from all of us here!

 

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God Also Thought of Me

It’s been almost sixteen months of Joanie out of the womb. She has such a big personality. I’ve been reflecting on life with her as she nears that moment when you realize, she’s not really a baby anymore… What is it that makes you realize it? Discovering they have developed opinions on things? Seeing them work so hard to be just like you? Watching them look for approval in your face as they learn a new thing? The will emerging when they are told “no?” Maybe it’s all of those things. But it’s becoming apparent that soon, she will run and jump and no longer need assistance walking, and that is so beautiful and so sad at the same time!

I struggled to find my place as a mother again when she was born. She was so different from Eliot! I didn’t expect to struggle in that capacity. Sure, I knew how to do the diapers, the feedings, the kissing of all the ouchies. I knew how to rock her, soothe her, and play with her… I knew all the lullabies and so on some level, it was much easier with a second baby. But that spunky personality… whew, that was a real curve ball. I kept expecting her to want to be clingy, to LOVE nursing, to be shy. But of course she wasn’t going to be the same as my first! She’s NOT my first.

We did things differently with her. For starters, we did not Co-Sleep, and she became a champion sleeper! She was sleeping through the night by ten weeks! And then, for whatever reason, after being an amazing nurser from the start, nursing fell out around five months, and she became even more independent. And as far as rocking, she would much rather laugh it up and crack baby jokes than put her head on my shoulder for hours!

For a while, I was so frustrated by those things and I felt like a failure as a mother. It wasn’t until recently that the common sense that each baby is different REALLY began to sink in. By considering myself a failure, I was actually considering my baby as a failure too! How awful. Once I made that realization, other means of contentedness began to fall into place.

God didn’t give me a second melancholy, clingy, highly sensitive baby, even if I felt like I would be a pro at that the second time around. I had learned with my first the beauty of that kind of child. So many snuggles, so much empathy at such a young age, such a thirst for learning… God gave me the opposite and I was going to have to learn all about this new kind of child. He gave me an independent, bouncy, good-humored baby. I was focusing on the challenges, but He wanted me to see the beauty too!

And such beauty was there to be had by this second child. She is the jelly to Eliot’s peanut-butter. What a comedian this child is… She actually cackles ALL THE TIME. She has the most adorable grin. She is so spunky that she’s not afraid to express displeasure with something. She’s also such a sweet spirit! She shares easily and is such a fan of playing!

I realized that if I had been given another melancholy child this time, the struggle that I’ve had with my anxiety and mental health would have been so much worse. There have been so many times of anxiety over the last year and a half that have been soothed by my baby! I’ll be in a state of fretting and then Joan will do something hilarious or play peekaboo, or start growling and the laughter will bubble out of me. She’s not a fix for my problems, I don’t view her that way at all. But she is a balm from the Lord for my heavy spirit. God was ACTUALLY thinking of me when he designed Joanie.

I thought I needed another highly sensitive and clingy baby to snuggle through the hardships. But what I really needed was sparkling, twinkling, playful eyes, and easy grins, and lightheartedness. Joan is pure JOY, which is why I constantly use the hashtag, “joyful joanie” to tag her.

I see her bless her brother too. She loves to play and share with him. She looks for him first when she wakes up each day, and she mimics him in almost everything. She also paves the way for him to be brave with her bold, feisty spirit! In contrast, when she gets hurt, Eliot is better than even I am at consoling her. He sings to her in the car when she’s angry and she stops. He kisses her ouchies and makes her giggle. He tells her that it’s okay to be sad if she’s upset. He holds her hand whenever she lets him. He chases her around the house to wear her out.

Joan makes me laugh. She lightens my load. Her beautiful smile brings me such joy when I come home to her, and her laid back behavior when I have to go out without her never puts me in any distress. Her giggle can part the clouds. She is so much joy.

Eliot’s detailed care and high empathy shows me the love of God at all times. When I feel alone, he hugs my neck and says, “you’re the best girl in the world and I love you,” and I remember that I’m not alone. He forgives me so easily when I mess up, and he prays for me if I’m having a difficult day of any kind. He adores books and snuggling, and asks to just “be with me,” all day. His favorite part of any outing is always, “that our whole family was together.” Eliot is pure love.

I was given two very different kinds of blessings, and I’ve come to see God’s love for me in each of their designs. He didn’t just make Joan. He put her in this family, and she balances it beautifully. He gave her to us to raise and through raising her, we are rich beyond any treasure. God also thought of me when He formed her. The world is a fuller and better place with Joan in it. How amazing that I experience the love of God through my son and the joy of Christ through my daughter.

Need a New Read? Try this!

Jesus calls me to surrender and there’s nothing like releasing fears and falling into peace. It terrifies, true. But it exhilarates. This, this is what I’ve always wanted and never knew: this utter trust. This enlivening fall of surrender into the safe hands. – p.158

Above is a quote from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It took me about a month to read it (which is fast in my current life with little ones running around). I savored it. I read passages over and over. I wrote down quotes. And most of all, I began a gratitude journal.

If you are at all familiar with the book, the premise is that she was dared to record one thousand gifts of thanks to God. In her journey of recording gratitude, she learned how to really live without fear, count it all joy, and be in close relationship with God. She learned how to reconcile the parts of life that make many give up their faith. She learned that she didn’t need all the answers, she just needed God. I’m not a book reviewer, so I’ll let that be enough to tease your interest.

It’s like God had Ann write this book just for me. So many of her struggles are mine too. With all of the mental struggle that I have had for over a year, I resonated deeply with her words about releasing fears.

I tried it. Cautiously… This giving thanks thing. She calls is Eucharisteo in the book. One of the kids would get sick, and I would sit by them and try giving thanks. I can’t explain how to do that–just go read the book–but guys, it worked. Thanking Jesus for all the blessings that I could find was the only way that I had peace. I didn’t “feel better,” and I think it’s important to note the difference. I felt peace. My soul wasn’t disturbed in the midst of illness, pain, or chaos.

The hard part comes in actually sticking to it. I could count my blessings and give them to God, and then an hour later be freaking out about the next thing. It was a wonderful read into our nature as human beings. We fling ourselves off of the cliff and into God’s hands, and then let go of Him when we realize where we are and we think we need to save ourselves. Kind of like Peter when he got out of the boat…

The book itself encouraged me to keep at it though. I’ve been trying to keep on giving thanks, even when I forget after a while. Just like we keep going to confession, we keep having to commit ourselves to God and to wanting only Him. It’s a read that I will keep around and read again soon, as it was so packed with wisdom, scripture, and meditation. If you struggle with fear, control, having joy, or doubting God, do yourself a big favor and read this book.

“All fear is but the notion that God’s love ends. did you think I end, that my Bread warehouses are limited, that I will not be enough? But I am infinite, child. What can end in Me? Can life end in Me? Can happiness? Or peace? Or anything you need? Doesn’t your Father always give you what you need? I am the Bread of Life and My bread for you will never end.” – P.161

Thoughts on Control and Feeding my Baby

My mom and I had an intimate conversation recently about how motherhood changes over time. Perspectives broaden, little things really don’t matter as much, and things that you once couldn’t stand become things you crave.

I breastfed my firstborn until he was thirteen months old. I hated every second of it. I breastfed my second child for four months. Really hated it too, but was resigned to it. I had a lot of conversations with my mom and sister about wanting to love it, but really just doing it as a service to the kids. My mom shared how her perspective had changed through a series of events, both good and bad. She started off hating it for kid one and two, and by kid five, it was her favorite thing! My sister started off hating it at kid one, and ended hating it at kid four. I figured I’d be more like my sister, because I could NOT see myself ever enjoying it, unless something drastic happened.

Something drastic did happen. At four months postpartum, my milk started waning. I couldn’t make enough. I have come to realize that my depression was causing it to decline. It dropped off quickly, and the less milk I made, the less my daughter wanted it! Eventually, she outright refused it, screamed constantly, and we switched to bottle feeding. We tossed around the idea of seeking help for the matter, but the pros of bottle feeding really appealed to me. The stress of finding a consultant, making time to correct the problem and pumping more did NOT appeal to me. My daughter was becoming a great sleeper, loved the bottle, it made it easier for me to be away from her, and I didn’t have to endure sticky milk all over me, sore breasts, being on a timer, and feeling like a cow… So my milk pretty much dried up. I went on my way for a while… I didn’t mind the bottle feeding so much. I was really preoccupied with life. At four months, coinciding with my milk drying up, I began having steady panic attacks. My anxiety got so much worse.

I still didn’t really mind switching. It was inconsequential to me. What I wanted was to enjoy my life again. That meant I needed to control it. I needed her to take bottles so I didn’t have to spend as much time feeding her, so that I could have more time to myself to get everything under control. I needed to be able to be away from her whenever my needs arose. To enjoy my life, I just knew I needed to control it. Breastfeeding my baby wasn’t enjoyable to me. How could I enjoy something that made me feel so without control? I wasn’t going to live with the anxiety, so I needed to control my life, get the anxiety out, and then I could get back to living. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I basically ALLOWED the anxiety to control me. I wasn’t in control like I thought… I thought I quit breastfeeding because I was in control. But in reality, I quit breastfeeding because the anxiety was in control. It dictated my choices. I had this mentality that I needed to stop life for a bit to regroup. Life doesn’t work that way…

You don’t get to stop life. Instead, you fall away from your life and it goes on without you. All of the sudden, my daughter is ten months. She is as independent as they come. She’s no worse for wear even though she was bottle fed! She’s smart, fierce, independent, healthy, and tries her hardest to keep up with the toddler. Bottle feeding/breastfeeding—your child is getting fed. THAT is what matters.

But for me, bottle feeding became a symbol of my control. I wasn’t going to allow anything I didn’t want to happen to me or my life. I didn’t like breastfeeding, oh well, guess I will just bottle feed instead of taking the hard road to build up my supply again. I didn’t like the anxiety in my day to day, so I was going to ignore its presence and get my life together BY MYSELF, instead of taking the hard road of working THROUGH the challenges. By the way, trying to work through my anxiety alone basically looked like avoidance, spontaneity and a lack of maturity. It didn’t help.

Now, I really have changed my perspective. I really crave breastfeeding. I really embrace the lack of control, because I never could control it anyway. I’ve learned a reliance on God’s care of me. Breastfeeding could have actually helped my anxiety too. If I had stopped trying to control my life, who knows where I would be right now. I know I have a control problem though… And I have a hard time giving myself over to God, my kids, and my husband. I want to do better in the future. And you know what, if I am ever blessed with another child, I can feel the desire in my heart to sit, rock, nurse and bask in the goodness of God.

(I say none of this to start the ridiculous breastfeeding/bottle-feeding war, so if you’re on the hunt to fight on the internet, there are much better places to look.)

Pick Up Your Cross

eliotlake

I have gone back and forth on whether or not to post on this old blog for many months… I have always blogged as a means to really work out my thoughts, share what God is doing in my life, and chronicle those fleeting moments that vanish before we know it. I’ve also made some really good friends through blogging that I still keep up with to this day. The Catholic community that I have found has been such a huge blessing in my life. But to post on here any time in the recent past (last 9 months or so—no I’m not pregnant) would mean that I would need to SHARE. I mean, really share my heart, and share it all. My heart hasn’t been an easy place recently. In fact, it’s been a scary place. The shape of it is best described in the words of Ross, “I said SHARE, not SCARE.” (You’re laughing if you get that reference.)

I haven’t wanted to blast the scariness, the ugliness, and the heartache to the world wide web, because 1) fear of it turning myself into some kind of sideshow and 2) we have so much negativity on the internet already… However, I feel like God is calling me to share now. I don’t know why… Maybe someone will read it that really needs to know these stories. Maybe my post will help others feel less alone. Maybe it will be used as some kind of cautionary tale… I realize that what I have to share isn’t just negative, though. There are too many good fruits in my life right now for me to think that this is all pointless and stupid. This is a story of weakness. This is a story of power too. And this is a story of continuing conversion…the real reason for this entire blog.

Since Joan was born, I’ve been dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety. I really wasn’t prepared for it. I had baby blues with Eliot, and did with Joan too, but they never really went away with Joan… They just sort of morphed into PPD and intense panic. I can remember the exact beginning of the panic too. It started as anxiety two weeks before delivering Joan. There was a lot going on which was anxiety inducing which I won’t bore you with, but those things resolved, and the anxiety stayed.

Then, in a turning point, right smack in the middle of labor, I had a panic attack.

I didn’t really think much of it, because you know, birth, pushing a person out of your body, experiencing awful pain… it’s kind of cause for fear and anxiety in the first place. My amazing Catholic doctor talked me through it. I remember him wrapping up his pep talk by saying, “sometimes, I do have to get to a point to remind my patients that ‘despair’ is a sin!” That did the trick for me to give me the last push I needed (pun intended) to get through that panic attack (worse than the labor, by the way). So as I mentioned before, I really didn’t think much of it. Anxiety grew from day one. It was like a running tab causing the amount on the check I would have to write to be exponentially high. Months went by. Fall, sweet snuggles with my baby, awesome coffee drinks, pumpkins everywhere… Thanksgiving with my best friends. Cooking a real turkey. Camping with our firstborn for the first time. A beautiful Advent. Christmas. And then,

One day in early January, I couldn’t breathe. Again, I won’t bore you with the details of what panic looks like or feels like. A quick google search will provide you with all of the necessary facts if you are curious. But that panic attack came on swiftly and was enough to rattle Daniel.

After that second attack in January, it began happening frequently. And then it happened daily. And then multiple times a day. Until the basic description of my day turned into this: wake up, cry bitterly, shake, sweat, feel sick, eat little, change some diapers, make some bottles and peanut butter sandwiches, flip on Daniel Tiger or Mr. Rogers, and lay in bed crying and shaking (or with my feet up on the wall—this actually slows down a panic attack by the way) until bedtime. I saw my doctor, multiple times, to try to make some progress on it. Maybe a thyroid issue and PPD, maybe just PPD, maybe some hormone imbalance… All testing came back clear though.

I then went on some medication for my anxiety/depression. Not sedatives, but a common medication for postpartum women. It gave me terrible side effects which made me physically unable to do the minimal amount of living I was doing. I did nothing but try to sleep through it as I was told it needed to adjust in my body. I tried to hold out and did for a few weeks. But the side effects never went away.

One crisis mom visit later (you know what those are, right? When your mom comes to make everything better because all you want to do is crawl into your childhood bed and have your mom stroke your head?) and a long conversation with her about her own struggle with anxiety, and then an even longer phone conversation with my brother who experienced some crazy anxiety too, and I was finally ready to do some battle.

I came to a realization that my PPD, Panic, and Anxiety really has only been helped through prayer and God. Many people find relief through medication, therapy, and other methods. Most days, I wish I was that person. But I’m not. However, what I’ve discovered in this journey, I wouldn’t give up, even though it is such a painful cross.

I began going to Adoration, and for the first time since my actual conversion, really getting it. Adoration is that thing you can’t describe intellectually, no matter how much I had wished someone would. The more you try, the further you get from it. This was the first experience in my life that I truly began to understand, just a little bit, about mysticism. Typing that out is a little too weird for me on this old blog, so I’ll move on. Weekly Adoration. Monthly confession which turned into bi-weekly. Lots and lots of Mass. All of the sudden, I found myself at church way more than anywhere else. And when I was home, I actually opened the bible. I craved it.

This cross has saturated me in the Sacraments and in sacred scripture, and in prayer! I went to prayer ministries across the city, retreats, and even a concert by one of my favorite Catholic artists. In short, my relationship with Jesus is more intimate than it has ever been.

It’s still a daily struggle. So much has happened in the last nine months that deserve their own posts, but probably won’t get one. PPD doesn’t mean life stops. It doesn’t mean you stop loving. It doesn’t mean you are worthless. My life has very much been full to the brim of love, life, adventure and silliness. But it is a daily struggle to make it through. It is a daily struggle to not despair, as my doctor put it. It is a daily struggle to choose joy. But I’ve finally begun to understand what true hope means, and why we are to have it.

If you ever experience any of these struggles…if you ever feel alone or like you aren’t enough… If you find it hard to stop crying and feeling bitter sadness… I am so sorry and I grieve with you.

If any of this is your story too, please remember, you aren’t just a face across the internet. You’re a child of God. That truth will set you free from the sadness. Maybe not in the exact moment that you want, and it may not stay gone forever. But Jesus will take your hand and walk with you if you will pursue Him through it. He will make the burden lighter. He told us to pick up our cross and to follow Him. Will you do that with me?

“And you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Love and Life Right Now

Everything is getting neglected right now. Everything but one thing… the relationships with three of my favorite people on the planet: Ellie Belly, Joanie pony, and darling hubby. 

I’m loving the bonnets I made for Joan and to test out the pattern now that I see her in them! I’ve tried them with and without the lace and I’m all for that cute vintage lace. This was today when we sat around in Eliot’s room and played toys for 2 hours. I love that kid! Joan is a big fan too!

She gets really content when I take her pjs off in the morning, even if she’s squawking. 

We have been baking A LOT to spend time together. I love baking with him! Most people think I’m insane to bake with an infant and a toddler but I love the joy it brings Eliot and how much he learns! And he loves eating the chocolate chips. 

Pjs forever right now. Mine are basically the baggiest clothes I can find, and Eliot rocks some fire truck pjs like they are going out of style. 

Lots of cozy naps. Today he asked if he could sleep in my bed. I told him no only because we’ve made such good progress with him on his own. He now sleeps all night alone!


Daniel and I spend the evening chatting, drinking cocktails, playing video games, or watching a show and it’s awesome. Life is so great right now. I’m still exhausted but that’s having a newborn around for you. Even so, I couldn’t ask for anything more–I’m so happy. 

It’s never perfect

But within the chaos, there’s such beauty. We held a private baptism for our little Joan this past Sunday the thirteenth of August surrounded by many of our nearest and dearest. It was such a beautiful, real moment in the messiness of life. It was small. The toddler had one little meltdown. We didn’t really know the logistics until last minute. But the grace of the sacrament was present, the toddler stopped freaking out the moment that the deacon began praying a blessing and the baby was brought into the church. It was such a special moment. 

We are blessed beyond measure.