A Journey Revisited

Over two years ago, I shared three blog posts about our journey to having a baby. The first told the story of our experience with fertility testing and all the emotions that came with that process. The second detailed the continuation of that process as I began taking hormones to boost my egg production. The third went on to proclaim the joyous news that, after two rounds of said hormones, we were finally pregnant.

Fast forward to this past April. We have a gorgeous daughter who brings boundless joy to our lives and we learn daily the ins and outs of being parents. We’ve also reached the point where we’d like to add another child to our family … as yet, we’ve been unsuccessful. Again.

The midwife who delivered Evie also did my postpartum appointment, during which I asked how long we would have to try naturally before seeking assistance. She told us that, due to my age (under 35) and the successful pregnancy and delivery of Evie, most physicians would tell us to try for a year … but because she knew us and our story, we could contact her after 6-8 months.

Nine months after Evie was born, we began trying to conceive. The first month was no big deal because we were *just* starting again, and with Evie still so young we weren’t in a rush just yet. Even the second and third cycles were relatively bearable, but by cycle 4 it started to get to me. By the time we met the end of cycle 6, we contacted the midwife to request assistance. We’re due to leave Germany in about 7 months, and we wanted to do what we could with people who know our story and wouldn’t force us to go through the whole process again.

The midwife (who, by the way, is one of my favorite people on the planet – her presence in the delivery room was absolutely a divine appointment) told us she could prescribe the hormones for three months, after which she would have to refer me on to an actual physician. She started me on a double dosage of the hormones, the same dosage I had taken just before getting pregnant with Evie. Cycle 1: no success.

In the second cycle, she changed my prescription to what was technically a triple dosage. However, the prime ovulation day happened to coincide with the day we were traveling from Germany to Oregon, so …………. Cycle 2: no success.

For the third cycle, I remained on the triple dosage, and we are currently in the middle of that cycle. Should we not conceive this time, I’ll be referred on to a new doctor, and I have NO idea what will happen after that.

I will say that gift of  Evie in our family drastically reduces the frustration and anxiety of this new fertility journey, but not completely. We’ve heard so many stories about how quickly people got pregnant with the second child (often when they weren’t even trying), so you think: that could be me, too. You assume the struggle only happened that first time, and that your body should just know what to do this time. And when it doesn’t respond that way, you find yourself focusing just a bit too much on why and it’s not fair and but everyone else is getting pregnant so easily.

You guys, infertility (even if temporary) is horrible. To say this season is “difficult” is an understatement. It makes you question your body, your emotions, even your trust at times. And the enemy would have you believe that your body is broken, that your emotions are overactive, that you’re placing trust is in the wrong place. And yet the Father, in His infinite kindness and grace, is so much bigger than those insecurities and He wants you to find your identity in HIM above everything else.

I KNOW that my God is faithful.
I KNOW that He loves me and Lou and Evie more than we could ever imagine.
I KNOW that He already has our family’s future in His hands.

I also know that He has surrounded us with exactly the right people to support and encourage and lift us up to Him, to walk alongside us every step of the way. And that is where I see His faithfulness the most – even though He has not yet fulfilled the desire of my heart, He has by no means left me alone. He has not yet given me what I want, but He has given me what I *need* to walk this path.

God has made me a mother. He has given Lou and I the greatest gift we could imagine by allowing us to be the parents of our precious daughter. We desperately desire to parent more children, which is why we will pursue fostering/adoption when we move back to the States if we have not been able to conceive again. We would ask that you join us in praying for the conception of a new child, but also that we would experience contentment, joy and peace while we wait. We would also encourage you, if you know others who are walking through a time of infertility, to come alongside them in faithful support. Not with cliche statements or uneducated comments about what they must be going through (unless you’ve dealt with it in your own life, in which case PLEASE walk with them and love on them), but true support: pray for them, hurt with them, be steadfast with them in trusting God’s love for all of us.

Lastly, if you are walking this road right now, know that you are not alone. We stand with you in every facet of this journey, praying and trusting and yes, hoping, that God will intervene and grant you the children your own hearts desire.

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The Best of America

To say the last few days have been interesting is the understatement of the century. Every presidential election is full of hope and angst and judgment and support, but this one … well, you all saw it happen, too. I don’t need to remind you of the media bloodbath that took place. It was not the best of America

(Side note: I’ve never been diligent about praying for our nation’s leaders, but I find my heart very much changed in this regard. The recent things happening with our government have shown me the error of my ways, and the ever-growing need to be on our knees for God’s grace and mercy.)

Now that it’s over, I find myself thinking about what if and what’s next. I was not remotely pleased with either candidate put forth, so the end result was never going to make me “happy,” per se. As a mostly-conservative Christian woman who believes that children are living people with the right to live from the moment of conception, I did not have a representative in Hillary. As an educated woman with a Mexican husband and a biracial daughter, I did not have a representative in Trump. At the end of the day, I didn’t really feel safe with either as my husband’s commander-in-chief. Neither of them is the best of America.

HOWEVER. While all that nonsense was taking place, we had a school concert in which the band and choir students performed a variety of American music. Patriotic songs, folk songs, works by contemporary American composers, etc.

American music.

On a military installation.

With an audience full of military and DoD personnel.

In a high school gym.

I mean, really. It doesn’t get much more American than that. The final piece of the evening was a combined performance of “America, the Beautiful,” and we invited the audience to join us in singing. As we prepared to close the evening, we thanked our audience (parents, staff, administration, community members) for supporting our students and programs in so many ways. I took a moment to mention that that day was such a big day for America … but that none of it mattered much in that moment, in comparison with what was taking place in that gymnasium.

Whatever Mr. Trump’s presidency holds, I pray that such moments continue to happen and to show who we truly can be as a nation. Those people, those students, that community, coming together in honor and strength and unity and friendship. They are my representatives. THEY are the best of America.

Now that I’m “Mommy”

  
This year, I got to celebrate Mother’s Day as a mother for the first time. My daughter is 22 weeks old today, a number that seems so large and yet so small at the same time. Evie’s life span of almost five months is a minuscule fraction of her potential lifetime, and yet she learns and grows and changes and advances at such a fast pace that I’m constantly in awe of how quickly time has passed.

Evie is not the only one who has changed. I frequently find myself thinking about the ways I have changed, as well. Before Evie was born …

  • I placed the  highest priority outside the home on my students. 
  • I committed to more things outside the home. 
  • I only thought I loved sleep. 
  • I seriously contemplated various projects (crafts, garden, etc.) and even attempted some of them. 
  • I wasn’t a terribly emotional person. 

Since Evie …

  • I can’t wait to leave work and pick her up from the sitter’s house. I still love my students, but peace out y’all. 
  • I think about committing to new things, but am less likely to overcommit than before. (Thank you, Lysa Terkeurst.)
  • Sleep is a beautiful, wonderful, mysterious and often evasive thing. 
  • Projects are for project-y people. I am not one of them. And that is okay. 
  • From time to time, I will cry for virtually no reason. Lou will compassionately say, “Oh Babe! Don’t cry!” My response? To shrug my shoulders and say, “Believe me. If I could control it, I WOULD.”

All that aside, there is an entirely new facet to my heart that I had only ever heard of from others. Evie takes my breath away, and not just because of childbirth. She is such a beautiful little girl (seriously – have you SEEN my kid?!) and she is such a joyful baby, bringing her middle name to life in her personality. 

Never before had I experienced being so frustrated with someone in one moment that I thought I might scream, and in the next moment seeing that tiny little person smile and almost forgetting I was frustrated in the first place. (Almost.)

I watch her play with toys; focus on something as she tries to grab it; stare at the world around her; her little mind is always learning so much and it’s an incredible thing to behold. I like to use the hashtag #raisingagenius because it’s funny, but let’s be honest – the way God designed the human mind to learn and grow and process is so far beyond “genius.” It’s miraculous. 

And Evie is miraculous. The other night, I watched a short video dedicated to women who became mothers after years of infertility. Some women conceived and delivered their children, while others because mothers through foster care and/or adoption. The dedication at the end of the video read, “Wishing a very special Mother’s Day to those who have fought for that title (and those who are still fighting).” I look back at the time we spent wading through our own battle and I could almost let myself forget just how painful it was now that Evie is in our lives. 

And yet her existence is all the more precious because of the battle. 

I don’t know what the Lord has for our family’s future. I don’t know if conception will be a struggle again. I don’t know if we will actively pursue adoption. But I do know this: He is the good, good Father, and out of His good love He gave us a child. He bestowed upon us the gift of a new life, a precious little person to raise in grace and beauty and wisdom and truth. A future world-changer. 

In the past, Mother’s Day was for other people. It was a day to celebrate my mom and my grandmothers, and I do joyfully celebrate these women. My mom, my mom-in-law, my grandmothers, my sisters, my dear friends, all of these women have spoken their motherhood into my life in more beautiful ways than I can count. Such celebration should take place on a daily basis.

In more recent history, Mother’s Day became a glaring reminder of my non-motherhood, that what my heart longed for was being withheld from me for reasons beyond understanding. While I continued to celebrate the already-moms, my own heart cried out against my not-yet-mom status. 

This year, Mother’s Day still holds all of these things for me – the joy and the pain, the loss and the gift, the already-moms and the not-yet-moms. But now it also bears witness of my newest title: Mommy. This little girl has brought a joy we’ve never known into our lives, and for that we give God all the glory.

   
   

A Journey: Part 4 (Conclusion)

Be aware: this blog entry tells a birth story. As such, there may very well be details that are … less than palatable. You’ve been warned.

We were fortunate enough to have both of my parents here in the days leading up to my delivery. On Friday evening (Dec 18), we had actually just finished having our own Christmas dinner and opening gifts. As had been happening for months, I felt some “leakage” down below and went to the bathroom – such is preggo life. However, the issue did not cease as it usually had in the past, and I knew something was different. I called the labor and delivery department at LRMC (Landstuhl Regional Medical Center) to ask for advice because, when it’s your first delivery, you have NO idea what is really happening. The L&D nurse told me to come on in and they would check things out, so that is what we did. Being the over-planners that we are, our hospital bags were already in Lou’s car, so we filled my parents in on the situation and headed up to the hospital. I called our friend Tricia on the way so she could be ready to bring my parents to the hospital in the event this was the real deal.

The L&D staff were ready for us and put me right into a triage room where sassy nurse Vanessa had me change into a hospital gown so she could take my vitals and a sample of fluid for the doctor to examine. (That, by the way, was the last time I wore proper clothes for the next three days.) We didn’t have to wait long, and soon Dr. Pierre came into the room and said, “Well, I guess since your water broke, it’s time for you to have a baby!”EJ Birth-1.jpg (I think this gown may have been the ugliest thing I have ever worn in my entire life. And to think I spent three entire days in it.)

I think I wrung my hands like a spastic cartoon and uttered something that sounded like, “Okay!” A delivery room was already prepared for me so we moved in and got as comfortable as we could. The L&D beds at LRMC are, shall we say, not so comfortable. There are bars in the worst places under the mattress, which is incredibly thin itself. And when your frontside (and your backside) is great with child, this just isn’t great. However, considering the fact that rolling over in bed had been a challenge for a few months by this time, you just deal with it. There was a large armchair that folded out into a bed, so that’s where Lou landed.

(From this point on, many different things happened but my actually memory of the timeline is quite hazy, so please bear with me.)

Dr. Pierre had checked my cervix and there was zero dilation, as had been the case at my previous two OB appointments. My water did not actually break, but rather ruptured, so they needed to help the process along to reduce the risk of infection. This “help” came in the form of a foley balloon, a nasty device that forces the cervix open in an effort to help it open more on its own. I say “nasty” because the insertion of said device HURT! Fortunately the procedure was relatively quick, and my contractions began almost immediately after.

*I feel it important to note that my contractions STARTED at 2-3 minutes apart and remained thus for the majority of my labor. The only change was when they were only one minute apart.*

With the foley balloon, you simply have to wait for it to come out on its own, as this means the cervix has effectively begun dilating on its own and labor is progressing. If this has not happened after 12 hours, medical staff will look at other options, but mine came out at 7 hours, sometime on Saturday morning. My dilation was close to a 4 at that point, so they would begin checking every four hours from then.EJ Birth-2.jpg (Birthing balls really do help. For a while, at least.)

Dr. Pierre was no longer on duty by this time, so Captain Segovia came and introduced herself to us. She is a midwife at LRMC, and was on a 24-hour shift that day. At some point during the day we also saw Captain Nicaisse, another LRMC midwife who had seen me for a number of my OB appointments, and I had grown to like her immensely. It turns out that both women are also Christ-followers, and there is no doubt in my mind that their presence in this story was completely divine. These two women saw us all the way through Evie’s birth.

Moving forward … I believe the next dilation check still had me at a 4, but the one after finally had me at a 6. In the meantime, I labored in the bed, on a birthing ball, in the shower, and walking around the L&D hallways. The contractions continued to be 2-3 minutes apart, but they grew more intense with each passing hour. My parents spent time in the room with us, as did Tricia and our friend Kris, who came in specifically to pray over us.EJ Birth-3.jpg (Always surround yourself with prayer warriors.)

Lou also spent a brief period of time in the ER, as he had tripped on the stairs at home the night before and fractured his big toe … Because this story wouldn’t be truly fun without an unexpected injury.EJ Birth-4.jpg (He’s always there.)

As Saturday wore on, I discovered a new appreciation for jello cups and chicken broth. Christmas dinner had been the last food I’d eaten and, delicious though it was, no meal will successfully tide you over for 33+ hours. Lou slept a bit and I had dozed off and on, but there wasn’t much actual “rest” taking place.EJ Birth-5.jpgEJ Birth-6.jpg(For those of you who wonder where I get the cheesy smile from, behold, my father. I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

We moved into SaturdayΒ afternoonΒ and the contractions had gone from intense pressure to actual pain. I endured many of them by leaning on Lou’s shoulders as he sat on the chair, and I found myself moaning/groaning more and more. I can’t seem to find the right words to effectively describe what a painful contraction feels like, because I had never felt anything like it before. As I leaned on Lou, he kept encouraging me to “try to relax if you can.” For a while, whenever he said this I would force myself to relax the muscles in my pelvic region and it actually did help. However, I wasn’t able to do this for very long, and pain became so great that I was crying.EJ Birth-7.jpg (This guy. He is priceless to me.)

I remember thinking, “I can’t do this … but I don’t have a choice …” A number of times, I told Lou I didn’t know how much longer I could on without any pain relief. From the beginning, my birth plan in regard to drugs consisted of the following statement: “I want to see how far I can go without them.” That was it. My regular pain tolerance is very low (I’m a wimp) but I know the female body finds all sorts of crazy strength in labor, so I simply wanted to see what I was made of. I wasn’t quite ready to give in and have an epidural, so we tried two rounds of fentanyl first. The first dose helped me to actually sleep for 30-45 minutes before I felt contractions again. The second dose did absolutely nothing, and the pain was back in full force … and my dilation was still only at a 6.EJ Birth-8.jpg (Tricia, can you please be present for any future births in our family?)

Sometime Saturday evening, the nurses had me kneeling on the bed and leaning over the back of it as another labor position. After two mood-altering contractions with zero relief, I turned to Captain Segovia and asked, “Is an epidural out of the question at this point?” She replied, “Not at all.” To which I responded, “I want one.” She asked if I was sure, I said yes, and she immediately called for the anesthesiologist. Within 15 minutes, the most massive needles were making their way into my back and administering such sweet relief … (BTW, I only know the needles were massive because Lou told me- he said it’s a good thing I didn’t actually see how big they were.)

Counting backwards from delivery, I must have gotten the epidural around 9:00 on Saturday night. Ladies, say what you will about the wonder of an all-natural birth, and I’m sure you’re right – I would even like to try again for it in the future. However, after 24 hours of labor coming to a standstill, I will sing the praises of the epidural. I will do so because not only did it actually allow me to sleep (yes, SLEEP) for about two hours, but it also numbed my body from the waist down, rescuing me from the pain of contractions. This ultimately allowed my body to relax and push dilation to a 9.5 by the time I woke up around 11:30 p.m.

*Side note: One of the weirdest moments of labor came after I woke up from the epidural. As I mentioned, my body was completely numb fro the waist down – I literally could not feel ANYTHING. And yet, as I looked down at my feet, I saw that my right big toe was moving, as if it were possessed. Numb or not, somehow the message was getting from my brain to my toe. Bizarre.*

Although my dilation was at 9.5, Evie still wasn’t quite far enough down in the birth canal, so Captain Segovia had me sit up very high in the bed to let gravity help the situation. I think I sat that way for another 1-2 hours … And then it was time to push.EJ Birth-9.jpg (My mom is truly a rock in my life.)

I laid down almost flat on the bed, and a piece of the bed was removed so the midwives could sit right in front of me. Lou was instructed to hold my left leg and act as a support while I pushed, and my mom took turns with the nurses holding my right leg. Captain Segovia told me that I needed to take a deep breath and hold it as I pushed 3-4 times per contraction. She also told me to pull my knees closer to myself while pushing. This resulted in my body being basically folded in half, with my knees just about touching my ears. (Not really, but it sure felt like that, and I’ll bet it’s not that far from the truth.)

For a while, the only way I knew I was pushing was when Captain Segovia told me I was doing it right. The epidural had only just started to wear off so I still couldn’t feel very much. Again, somehow my brain was sending the right messages and the rest of my body was successfully receiving them, otherwise I’d probably still be pushing.

I pushed for 2 hours and 45 minutes, but I have no recollection of any sort of time – I only know it was that long because my mom told me so after the fact. I was only aware of exhaustion, fading numbness, the pressure of being folded in half, and the difficulty of holding my breath while pushing. Segovia and Nicaisse took turns coaching me and making the way out easier for Evie. Each time I pushed, they would count to 10, after which I could take a new breath, although there were times when I simply couldn’t make it to 10 without breathing.

At some point they realized that Evie was face up, making it all the more difficult for her to successfully pass through the birth canal. Captain Nicaisse opted to try to manually turn her over. This meant that her hand was all the way inside the birth canal, turning Evie over and holding her facedown until she had moved far enough that she wouldn’t be able to flip back over.

We also learned that, because I’d been laboring for so long, Evie’s body had begun to release some meconium (a.k.a. newborn tar poop) and there was a chance she may have inhaled/ingested some. LRMC very wisely had the L&D unit right next door to the NICU, so some NICU nurses were on standby to take care of Evie in the event that she had ingested any meconium.

Back to the pushing. Captain Nicaisse had told my mom that, if my dad wanted to be in the room also, he could stand behind my head and witness the birth without having to see … well, everything. Moments later, both of my parents were in the room with us as I continued to push. Lou still held my left leg, Tricia was taking photos with Lou’s camera, my parents were holding my hand and my shoulder and encouraging me, and a spunky little nurse named Cora was practically levitating as she literally cheered me on. Twice, the midwives told me I could reach down and feel the top of Evie’s head, which they could see was covered with dark hair! I imagined it to be the size of, say, a pomegranate. Boy howdy, was I wrong.EJ Birth-10.jpgEJ Birth-11.jpg (I could not have asked for a more amazing support system, and I only hope to be for Evie what my parents have been for me.)

Finally, at 4:15 a.m. on Sunday, December 20, Evelynn Joy made her appearance in this world.EJ Birth bw-1.jpg

Someone said, “Here she comes!” With supernatural strength and energy and breath (for my body was completely out of all three), she came out all at once – none of this push-once-for-the-head-then-again-for-one-shoulder-and-then-again-for-the-other-shoulder nonsense for us. As Captain Segovia lifted her out and up, I was shocked to see how much bigger her head was than I had thought. Evie had indeed ingested some meconium, so Captain Nicaisse quickly clamped the umbilical cord and they took her to a special table across the room where the NICU nurses started working on cleaning out her nose, throat and lungs. Lou was able to cut away more of the umbilical cord, and he and my dad both got some quick videos of Evie’s first whimpering cries.EJ Birth-12.jpg

To go back and watch these now, it breaks my heart to hear how pitiful these little sounds were, muffled by the oxygen mask. At the time, however, all I knew was that my body wasn’t quite done and that I hadn’t yet held my newborn daughter. Unfortunately, it was also time for my parents to leave, as my dad’s flight back to the US was that morning. He and my mom had to race to Frankfurt, and he barely made the flight … But I know he would do it again in a heartbeat to be able to witness the birth of his first grandchild. Having my parents be present for what is surely the most amazing experience of my life is a blessing I will never take for granted.

Meanwhile, the NICU nurses did what they could for the moment and then one of them brought Evie to me. I held her for maybe two minutes before they whisked her off to the actual NICU for further treatment. Those two minutes were so fleeting, especially considering how tired and delirious I was, and I barely remember them … I’m so thankful Tricia caught that moment with the camera. Lou went to the NICU so he could see what they were doing for Evie, and Tricia stayed in the room with me.EJ Birth-13.jpgEJ Birth-14.jpg

Captain Segovia finished clearing out the rest of my placenta so they could assess any tearing that might have occurred during delivery. (She asked if I wanted to see the placenta. My response? NOPE. Heck no, techno.) Both midwives consulted with the doctor who was in L&D that night regarding the tearing, and it turned out I did need stitches. Captain Nicaisse was more experienced with this, so she took care of it. I have to say that this was more painful than the actual delivery, which was more pressure than pain. It didn’t help that I was excessively emotional from delivery + parents leaving + baby in NICU.

When Nicaisse finished with the stitches, Segovia and the nurses began clearing away the mess that comes with childbirth, and Tricia and I cried together over all that had happened. She stayed with me until Lou returned from the NICU around 6 a.m.Β  and then she went home. A NICU nurse came with Lou to explain what they had been doing for Evie. They had done quite a bit of suctioning in her nose, throat and lungs, but they needed to monitor her and administer medication to eliminate any infection that might have occurred due to either length of labor and/or meconium ingestion. She would have oxygen tubes in her nose, a feeding tube in her mouth, and an IV.

The nurses’ shift change was about to take place so we had to wait until 8 a.m. to go see her. When we got to the NICU, Evie was lying in her bassinet with all the aforementioned tubes and wires in place. When your daughter is hooked up to machines the first time you truly get to see her, your heart breaks. I saw Evie and immediately began sobbing. She was so tiny with big dark eyes, she was absolutely beautiful, but those tubes … oh, those tubes. The oxygen tubes were taped to her cheeks, the feeding tube in her throat was ever so small, and she had little pin pricks on the soles of her feet from the IV. We weren’t allowed to hold her at that time but we did get to change her diaper, and we held her hands and stroked her hair and stayed as close as we could.EJ Birth-15.jpgEJ Birth-17.jpgEJ Birth-18.jpg

The doctor came through for rounds at 10 am and gave us more info on Evie’s condition. She was receiving very specific amounts of oxygen, medication and baby formula, the first two of which they hoped to decrease over the next two days as her body gained strength and stability. The formula they fed her was suctioned back out of her stomach at intervals to check gastric juices and make sure her stomach was digesting properly. The NICU staff was optimistic about Evie’s prognosis, and we were allowed to spend as much time in the NICU as we wanted, aside from the two shift changes each day.

That afternoon, the feeding tube in Evie’s mouth had been replaced by one in her nose. The amount of oxygen she needed was slowly decreasing, meaning her lungs were working well on their own. And joy of joys, we got to hold her! We had to be very careful with all the tubes and cords, but you put up with just about anything to hold your precious newborn child.EJ Birth-20.jpg

Over the next two days, Evie’s little body showed incredible strength and resilience. Her respiratory issues resolved themselves quickly and her stomach digested good amounts of formula very well. A batch of paperwork had to be completed before she could be discharged, but even then she was discharged only about two hours after I was. Time seems to pass ever so slowly when your child is in the NICU, and yet Evie’s stay there was really very short. And so, Tuesday afternoon we packed our little family into the car and headed home, where Chuck and Mimi (my mom) were anxiously awaiting us.

It really is amazing to discover what your mind and body can do when it comes to childbirth. It’s also difficult to NOT compare your experience to that of someone else … I have several friends who were able to give birth without any drugs at all, but my body simply couldn’t deal with that. It did not want to progress beyond 6 centimeters without help, and risk of infection became greater the longer I labored without said progress. In the end, there is absolute truth to the mindset that a healthy baby is all that matters.

Today, Evie is 6 weeks and 1 day old, and she’s quite the little champ. At birth, she weighed 7 pounds 12 ounces, and was 19.5 inches long. At her two week appointment, she had already gained 9 ounces, and I’m certain she has steadily gained since then, as she is an absolute pro at breastfeeding. She has begun smiling more readily, and my heart just about explodes each time. Her eyes are still a dark gray and she’s got a bit of a mullet going on, and I take every opportunity to dress her as fashionably as possible. We’ve gotten no end of compliments on how beautiful she is, and we have to agree 100%. You always hope your child will come out NOT looking like an alien, and we’re in constant awe of her beauty.

This little girl has absolutely destroyed us – in all the best ways. We simply can’t get enough of watching her, talking to her, staring at her, holding her, even in the wee hours of the morning (because of course she is completely awake after those feedings). Our minds are blown at the gift God has bestowed upon us, and we cannot help but tell our story to anyone who asks. Now that we are on the other side of this journey, everything we struggled with during those two years seems so much further away, one could almost forget about it … and yet I know I never will. Indeed, that part of our lives makes the existence of our daughter all the sweeter.

It is my very dear hope that our story brings encouragement to others. In all the time we waited to become pregnant, God’s faithfulness was never diminished. However, now that Evie is in our lives, I cannot imagine that anything would ever cause me to doubt His faithfulness or His goodness.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great privilege to introduce to you Miss Evelynn Joy Moreno.EJChristmas-8.jpgEj 1 month-3.jpg

There’s no such thing as “too many shoes.”

  

In a few short days, we will be exactly seven weeks away from Tamale’s due date. WHAT THE HECK. People keep asking me if I’m ready, if I’m nervous, if I’m tired of being pregnant, if we have everything we need, etc. 

My answer to just about everything is, “I have NO idea.” πŸ™‚ 
Then, every once in a while, someone asks if I’m excited, and I have the opportunity to share just a little bit of our story and how God has blessed us with this pregnancy. This photo is part of that story.

Ever since our life group began meeting last summer, they have prayed for Lou and I to be blessed with children. They laid hands on us, they cried with us, they comforted us, and then they celebrated with us when we announced I was pregnant. One day, I ran into Audra (one of the life group gals) at the Exchange on base, and we had a long conversation about infertility and miscarriage. Her own story included both pain and restoration, and it encouraged me greatly.

A few months later, another dear life group friend approached Lou and I at church, wanting to pray over us, which of course we were happy to accept. After she was finished, Audra approached us as well and handed me a small package wrapped in pink tissue paper. “I’m supposed to give this to you,” she said. “This was my favorite thing of my daughter’s, but God told me I’m supposed to give it to you.” I opened the package to discover the precious sparkly TOMS from the photo above. Lou and I were already teary-eyed from the prayer, so of course we sobbed even more at this beautiful gesture.

While I don’t remember exactly when we received the shoes, I’m pretty sure it was sometime in the next two months that I became pregnant. Up until my 16th week, we wanted a boy and felt fairly sure we would be having a boy … which is proof that we are not in charge. πŸ™‚ When our life group threw the gender reveal party and we learned we were having a girl, Audra’s gift took on even more joyful meaning than before.

The shoes were merely one in a string of instances in which close friends heard from the Lord concerning our child. One friend dreamt about her first birthday party. Another friend had a dream in January about the very week I would tell her I was pregnant, AND that the baby would be a girl. A team of people leading an Encounter at our church spoke multiple words of life and abundance over our family. From day one, we have been constantly encouraged about the future of our baby girl and confirmation of her very life.

The cliche that says “A picture is worth a thousand words” doesn’t begin to do this photo justice. This photo’s story is one of hope, joy, and the goodness of God. No number of words could ever fully describe any of this.

*Photo Cred: Erica Lee Photography*

A Journey – Part 3

I am pregnant. 

Let’s just repeat that sentence: I AM PREGNANT!!!!!!!!!!

Words really cannot begin to express everything I’m feeling right now – what a journey this has been! Twenty-three months since we first began actively trying to get pregnant; twenty-two months since the first pregnancy; twenty months since learning we’d miscarried; ten months since meeting with a doctor to start looking into fertility issues; two months of taking hormones to see if they would help; after all of that, there is now a little critter growing inside my belly.

All of the waiting and pain and encouragement came to a magnificent conclusion the day we learned I was pregnant. I had been using the Ovia fertility app to track my cycles, and it said that the next cycle would begin on a Thursday (April 9th). I typically experience a few extra “symptoms” leading up to this point, but that month I hadn’t had them at all. So I told Lou that if I hadn’t started my new cycle, I would take a pregnancy test on Friday (April 10th). 

Friday morning arrived with one of Lou’s early alarms going off … And by “early,” I mean 5 a.m. I got up after the second alarm went off five minutes later. I took the test and waited for the timer on my phone to go off. When it did, I looked at the test and literally jumped in shock – it was POSITIVE!!! I went back to the bedroom and heard Lou roll over as I entered. The moment I said I was pregnant, he began to laugh with joy and I fell to my knees in tears. A few days later, a blood test at the clinic on base confirmed the pregnancy and we began to truly rejoice together.

Since learning of this pregnancy, we have had the opportunity to experience even greater joy as we share the news with others. Both of our moms cried when we told our parents all together via FaceTime. Our siblings participated in a long group message full of exclamation points and excited emojis in response to an announcement video we made just for them. We made t-shirts for a cheesy reveal during prayer requests with our life group, and everyone there jumped up and cheered and laughed and even cried, so great was their joy at seeing their months of active and personal prayers answered in this way. Our Facebook announcement was nothing short of EPIC, garnering literally hundreds of likes and comments from our FB family around the world. Each new reveal has increased our own joy exponentially.                                                                                                              

 

 
But there is so much more to why we are celebrating this new life. And it has to do with the road we have travelled to get to this point.

Our fertility path has been significantly shorter than that of MANY other families, and there appears to be no medical reason or condition for why we did not get pregnant sooner. However, the pain of our loss and waiting period was not lessened simply because it was shorter (as almost any woman who has miscarried a baby or had any sort of infertility issue will tell you). It’s a scar that remains for the rest of your life … and yet I have been learning that there is a vast difference between a scar and an open wound.

I have lived my entire life with the knowledge that God hears our prayers and that He answers them (in His way and in His time). I have prayed for many people and situations throughout my life, and I have been fortunate enough to see Him answer those prayers. However, it’s one thing to fervently hope and believe in God’s plan for someone else’s life, and an entirely different thing to hope and believe for yourself. Satan is so skilled in using deception and uncertainty to fill one’s mind with doubt and fear, and even the slightest hint of weakness can open a wide door through which these negative thoughts come flooding in. 

I must admit that I experienced a good deal of this over that year and a half, and it is by the grace of God that I did not sink into a long-term depression. I felt tremendous sadness each month, to be sure, and every time another friend announced a new pregnancy, it felt like a kick in the stomach. But through each wave of pain and frustration, the Lord showed His hand in my life through the people He had so lovingly placed around me. My husband never failed to comfort me and remind me that God still had a plan for our family. Our life group laid hands on both of us multiple times, literally standing beside us as we waited for God to show what that plan would be. Our parents and siblings and dear friends back home have ceaselessly prayed for us from the very beginning of this journey. Women who did not even know of our struggle felt the Spirit urging them to pray for us and encourage us, only to to discover that they felt such an urge because they had gone through a similar struggle in their own lives.

Rest assured, friends: NONE of this was by accident. None of the prayers sent up on our behalf were in vain, and none of the tears we shed went unseen by the Father. But even more than that, God did not prove Himself faithful simply because He is giving us a child. He would still have been faithful even if we had never conceived, and we have seen evidence of that faithfulness in so many other areas of our lives. And He doesn’t even have to prove Himself to us, mere mortals on this earth. He is, in fact, GOD, the Creator of the universe. And as such, He shows immeasurable love and kindness by allowing us to experience any good thing in this life.

God does not operate in coincidence, and He does not leave questions unanswered simply to toy with us. Lou and I have both learned a myriad of things throughout this experience, and I know we will continue to learn and discover more as we move forward. 

One of the things I have already learned is this: uncomfortable though they may be, I will always be thankful for the nausea and heartburn. They are continuing evidence that a Tamale is being created in my womb.  

A Journey – Part 2

I am learning more about faith and trust and belief than I ever have before. And I know with all my heart that it is necessary and good … But boy howdy if it isn’t incredibly difficult.

We are not infertile. At least, that’s what the tests say. 

Over the last several months, Lou and I have done a full battery of fertility tests to see if there was any physical hindrance to pregnancy. Blood samples, urine and semen samples, an HSG, a pelvic ultrasound, progesterone tests, and more blood samples. Literally nothing is off-limits in this process, and one can’t help but feel incredibly exposed – physically AND emotionally. I cried through almost every appointment, sometimes because they were rather uncomfortable but mostly because each new test made the situation more real, and the fear of actually being infertile became almost crippling as we were forced to continue waiting for answers. 

In the end, all signs pointed to our reproductive systems being “normal,” and that nothing was necessarily “wrong” with either one of us. Believe it or not, I almost wanted something to be “wrong.” I know at first glance that might seem disturbing, but hear me out. Of course I don’t really want anything to be wrong with either of us,  no one wishes for a part of their body to be damaged or defective. However, the lack of damage or defect means there is no quantifiable solution, no physical explanation for the miscarriage and the lack of another pregnancy, nothing that could be fixed or remedied. Literally the ONLY explanation is that God has a different plan for us, and literally the ONLY thing we can do is trust Him and seek His will. 

I thrive on order and logic and planning. So trusting and waiting, while NOT knowing the plan, is more than a little challenging for me.  I know full well that this NOT being the case is really a blessing because it means Lou and I are both healthy, something for which to be very thankful … But apparently just being healthy isn’t enough to guarantee pregnancy, either.

So, I began the first round of fertility drugs in February. I took a version of Clomid (used to stimulate ovulation hormones) for five days early in my cycle. Then, on day 21 of my cycle, I had to give blood for a progesterone test to see if ovulation had occurred, which it had. February came and went, and now so has March, during which the doctor actually doubled my dosage of Clomid. This particular process generally takes place for up to three months, unless pregnancy occurs first. If I do not get pregnant, the dosage will go up and another drug may be added. That regimen will continue for an additional three months and so forth and so on. 

I don’t know how long doctors encourage patients to continue with this process, but we are not content to simply wait and hope for years that we may conceive. Each month that passes without pregnancy continues to be fraught with tears and emotion and pain, and it’s exhausting. For the forseeable future, I will continue with the regimen because there’s no reason not to – we do not yet know what God has in store for our family, and we don’t want to close any doors without His say-so. 

All that being said, we have decided to begin pursuing adoption. My own sister was adopted as an infant, so it is something that has always been part of my life and I have always said that I would absolutely want to adopt if my husband and I were unable to conceive. We have a number of friends who have adopted children (both in the USA and here in Germany) so we feel fortunate to already have those resources available and close to us. At the moment there are so many different pieces to this decision. 

What age? Boy or girl? Do we consider siblings? International or domestic? Foster-to-adopt? 

Then there’s the question of which agency to work with. And then how to raise the funds. And then whether or not to give the child a new name if they’ve already been given one by a birth parent or an agency. 

And in the midst of all that, if I happen to get pregnant during the process do we still continue with the process?

There is NOTHING small or minor about any of this, and we didn’t expect that it would be. But while it’s one thing to view it as a “what if,” it’s an entirely different thing to begin seeing it as a reality. I’d be lying if I said the process didn’t seem daunting here at the very beginning. And yet I find that my heart is starting to feel just a teensy bit excited. Because a baby (or toddler or kindergartener) doesn’t have to share my genes to be my child.

A Journey

Infertility is indiscriminate.

It can happen to literally any man or woman on earth, regardless of their health or medical history. Of course there are any number of reasons why someone’s body is unable to reproduce, and medicine has come so very far in explaining – and sometimes even reversing – these reasons.

This is not a topic I ever imagined I would be exploring in relation to myself …. And yet here I am, staring this possibility in the face.

After 9 months of marriage, Lou and I decided to start trying to get pregnant. We succeeded within the first month, only to suffer a miscarriage two months later. After another 9 months of tracking and trying, I made an appointment with a doctor to start looking into why we hadn’t gotten pregnant again.

My appointment was literally a divine one, as the doctor I met with was a fellow follower of Christ, a member of our church, and a long-time victim of infertility herself. She wanted me to track my cycle and ovulation as consistently as possible for three months so we could have some clear data on how my body was working. Before I left, she PRAYED for me, and I left the clinic with much more hope than when I entered.

Three months later, I still was not pregnant, so I scheduled the follow-up appointment with the doctor. I was ready that day to start testing, to give blood samples, to do whatever needed to be done to get some answers … only to learn that such testing has to be done on a very specific schedule, and I would have to wait another month before we could start. Not only did this mean another month of wondering whether or not we’d get pregnant, but it also meant another emotional meltdown when it turned out we weren’t.

Last Friday morning, I went to the lab to have blood taken for the first round of tests. There are a number of other tests that have to be done as well and it must admit I’m a bit nervous about them. I’m nervous about all of it, if I’m honest.

There’s such a vast difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. Much of what I’ve written in this post is fact, information, detail. It’s not emotion or feeling or anything to do with a person’s soul … and yet the reality of what it all means affects the very core of my being. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that my husband and I might not be able to bear children. I never guessed it, never assumed it, never REALLY considered it at all. Even though it happened to my mom, I was still sure it wouldn’t happen to me. Now it is a an actual possibility and I find that, as with the miscarriage, infertility is not something frequently talked about. It feels like an “accidental sin” – you know you didn’t actually do anything wrong but goodness if it doesn’t feel quite the opposite. Over the last 15+ months, I have felt broken, inadequate, incomplete even, and there is absolutely no way to prepare for those feelings.

There’s also a disappointment and a fear of failure that comes with the possibility of infertility. Not just disappointment in your own heart, but in those of others. As illogical and ridiculous as it might sound, I fear disappointing all those amazing family members and friends who have supported and encouraged and prayed so fervently for us. I realize this doesn’t give any credit to these faithful people, and I know (again, in my head) that such fears are both unfair and unfounded. But that’s where the enemy sometimes finds a way in.

All of these facts and thoughts and fears crash through me at any time, without warning. I’ve literally never felt so lost or confused in my life. My own mother struggled with infertility throughout her adult life and I realized the other day that I personally know exactly how she felt all those years ago – to watch so many other women get pregnant and bear healthy children while you are potentially unable to is a pain unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And yet, because my mom has been there, she understands my feelings and confusion and pain and can encourage me in a way that others can’t, however sympathetic they might be.

A few days ago, a friend asked me how God sustains me through such a trial – she had prayed for a woman at church who has a situation similar to mine. Because I’m currently in the middle of my own trial, I didn’t have a clear answer for her, because I don’t always feel sustained. I don’t always feel peace, and I don’t always feel or even see God’s hand in all of this. We can rarely see the light sat the end of the tunnel in our own lives. And yet … I do know that He is carrying us through it all … And I know this because His Word tells me so, and because of those who have surrounded us with love and support.

One of my dear friends said that not one word, not one prayer, not one murmur lifted to the Father on our behalf has been wasted, that she counts it a blessing to come alongside us in this way.

Another friend reminded me of the story in Exodus 12 when Moses held his arms up so the Israelites could have the necessary daylight to win a battle; his arms began to tire so his friends held them up for him. “We’re holding up your arms,” she told me.

I don’t know what the Lord’s plan is for our family. I don’t know what He will do for us, or in us, or through us. It may be that we aren’t infertile, but that God’s timing is simply different than what we would wish. It may be that we decide to adopt as soon as possible, because we dearly desire to be parents. No matter what happens, I don’t know when or if the pain we currently feel may lessen. But I do know that He is faithful to His children, and that He is the giver of all good things, even when we can’t see it.

30 Days of Thanks. Sometimes deep … Sometimes not so deep.

A few weeks ago, a devotional was given a at PWOC in which we were encouraged to take the next thirty days and write down one thing each day for which we were thankful. We were even provided a cute little jar and 30 pieces of paper. I kept mine in the bathroom so I would remember to do it right after removing the day’s “war paint.” And much to my surprise, 39 days later I actually have a completed jar!

As I look back over the 9+ months we’ve been in Germany, I can see the moments of struggle and difficulty that come with moving thousands of miles across the world. However, I can see just as many (if not more) ways in which God has blessed us, provided for us, used us, and taught us more about Himself. And as I looked back through the last thirty days, I was encouraged to see what a large variety of things I have to be thankful for.

So here, in the order I wrote them (not the order of importance, mind you), including deep things and shallow things, including hashtags and hidden stories, is my list of 30 Days of Thanks.

1. I’m thankful for a husband who loves me enough to make lunch for me!
2. I’m thankful to be part of a worship team where I feel comfortable and valued.
3. I’m thankful for friends like Courtney who lift me up and who value spending time with me.
4. I’m thankful for our Life Group, aka our Germany family. We would not well survive without them!
5. I’m thankful for the technology that allows me to stay in touch with loved ones back home.
6. I’m thankful for good friends who like to make GOOD FOOD.
7. I’m thankful for friends who share their “connections” in the hopes that my life may be enhanced!
8. I’m thankful for people who follow through!
9. I’m thankful for people who offer to bring you dinner when they know you’re overwhelmed.
10. I’m thankful for gloves and Amazon.de.
11. I’m thankful for students who recognize what I try to do for them and who appreciate the chance to learn.
12. I’m thankful that we have friends who like Chuck enough to help out when we need someone to rescue him.
13. I’m thankful for restaurants that are open on Sundays. 😊
14. I’m thankful for the extra money from Starbucks that has allowed us to make a third car payment this month. #GoAwayDebt
15. I’m thankful for a particular day to thank and celebrate our veterans, past and present.
16. I’m thankful for a life group that actively prays for each other, blessing and being blessed in return. #womb
17. I’m thankful for the skills and training that allow me to put musical things together at church!
18. I’m thankful for friends who encourage me without necessarily realizing it.
19. I’m thankful for the chance to live in Europe!
20. I’m thankful for the chance to learn parenting principles that we can use when we are blessed with children.
21. I’m thankful for the chance to “fill a stocking” and bless an injured/deployed soldier. #GiveBack
22. I’m thankful for Hershey’s candy cane kisses. #ShallowAndIKnowIt
23. I’m thankful that God gives us chances to pray for someone in the Starbucks safe room.
24. I’m thankful for the gift of music in all its facets, and the joy it gives me.
25. I’m thankful to see my dad again so soon, even if only for a weekend!
26. I’m thankful for spontaneous movie dates with my handsome hubby. #mockingjay
27. I’m thankful for people who are kind and loving when letting you know you’ve unintentionally hurt them, instead of lashing out in anger.
28. I’m thankful for the financial blessings that allow us to give AND live in comfort.
29. I’m thankful that my husband loves me enough to step outside his comfort zone for me. #RealLifeSingOff
30. I’m thankful we have “family” over here to spend Thanksgiving with!

See? Variety. Quantity. Worthwhile AND ridiculous. There’s no end to the blessings of the Lord, especially when we’re walking in the path He has for us.

May we continue to seek His path.
Happy Thanksgiving!
πŸπŸ‚πŸ—

Overachievers unite! (As soon as possible and don’t you dare be late.)

I’m your typical first child – clean, on time, orderly, bossy, anal retentive, overachiever, you get the picture. There are plenty of stories about my childhood that involve me taking charge of other kids and organizing whatever game we were playing. My teenage years saw friends calling me “Dr. Mandy” because I had a solution for everyone’s problems. I’m a teacher and a supervisor, so I basically get paid to tell people what to do. (Not much has changed over the last three decades.)

I’ve always preferred being busy – it’s rare for me to spend any length of time doing nothing. Even if I’m just watching tv, I still find myself needing something “productive” to do with my hands. My mind is rarely quiet and almost the only time our house is silent is when we’re sleeping. And even that isn’t true, as we always have either a fan or other white noise turned on at night.

I can think of times over the years when I was incredibly busy, so busy that I literally didn’t know how everything was going to get done – the weeks leading up to my senior recital; giving lessons and working in a men’s clothing store while in full-time grad school; school Christmas events AND a church choir program AND the Singing Christmas Tree; teaching in a new district while giving three afternoons of private lessons and overseeing all the music for Scrooge, etc. These were all good activities, necessary parts of life at one time or another. And they were exhausting, but there was always an end in sight.

We’ve now been in Germany for just over nine months, and I suddenly find myself in another season of “mondo busy-ness” (thanks to Briatron for that incredibly accurate phrase). Mind you, the first five months included more down time than I’ve ever experienced before in my life, and at times I thought I might just lose my mind from boredom. People kept telling me to appreciate that time, to take advantage of the chance to rest, and so on. And at first, I did rest – I read, I journaled, Chuck and I took a lot of walks (I know where literally every walking path is in and around our village). It was nice for a while, but having such an enormous – and seemingly endless – amount of free time simply is NOT easy for someone like me! I had no job, we only had one car, our internet wasn’t hooked up yet, and Chuck was my only companion when Lou was at work. Needless to say, my boredom was reaching an all-time high.

And then things started falling into place faster than a falling brick obeying the law of gravity. I began teaching private voice and piano in April/May. I started training for Starbucks in June. I joined our church’s worship team in August. I started teaching voice through the Youth Program on base in September. Now, ALL of these things are part of my weekly schedule, as they have been for the past 3 months. And I suddenly find myself overwhelmingly exhausted.

When I say exhausted, I don’t mean super tired from lack of sleep (although those 3:45 am alarms for opening at Starbucks are certainly a factor). Neither do I mean that I am exhausted to the point of hospitalization (because that would be scary). But I have been so very tired physically, emotionally, even spiritually, and it wasn’t until I realized that I had cried multiple times in a matter of days over everything from homesickness to dirty dishes – literally anything could set me off. It was frustrating, not to mention embarrassing.

Saying “No” is NOT easy for me. (And all of my students stood up in adamant disagreement.) But really, it is incredibly difficult for me to say no to things because I am afraid of letting people down. I’m afraid of coming off as flaky, inconsistent, even selfish. It’s even more difficult – who knew that was possible – to QUIT doing something because you took on too much to begin with. You’re letting people down, you’re either creating or adding to a problem, you’re giving people a reason to think less of you, etc. etc. etc. These are the thoughts we overachievers struggle with, and they only exacerbate the aforementioned exhaustion.

But God, in His compassionate grace, has been teaching me a great deal in this area of my life:
– It’s okay to say “No.”
– Sometimes the WISEST thing is to let go of an activity(ies)
– I cannot be an effective helpmate for my husband if so much of my energy is being used elsewhere.
– Neither can I be an effective teacher, friend, employee, or volunteering my energy is being spread out amongst so many different things.

As they say, the struggle is real. And I am nowhere close to being on the other side of this lesson … But at least now I know I’m learning it, and I take comfort in the fact that I’ve become aware of this before life has the chance to completely fall apart.

I’m thankful for a husband who understands my internal need for busyness and helps me navigate the crazy that goes with it.

I’m thankful for friends who give me resources like the phrase, “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work for me.”

Most of all, I’m thankful that, in the words of my dear friend Courtney, there is grace for that. There’s grace for the overwhelmed, grace for the overworked, grace for the confusion, grace for the learning process. In His perfect and infinite grace, the Lord surrounds me with love and support as I’m being reminded that even I have limitations (who knew). He knows exactly what I need, what I THINK I need, and where the former takes precedence over the latter.

So, to all my fellow overachievers, there’s grace for us. Realizing you aren’t actually able to do everything in the world sucks royally, it really does. It’s humbling, to say the least. But let’s be honest: there’s an unexpected freedom that comes from realizing you don’t HAVE to do everything in the world, that letting go of some things means you might just have more time … to do something else instead. πŸ™‚