The End of Another Chapter

I woke up the other day and realized another milestone in Dottie’s life had passed: it had been a week since she’d nursed. How did it take me a week to realize there was no more breastfeeding? It happened so suddenly — without any of the pomp and circumstance that most milestones receive. There were no balloons. There was no confetti. There were no pictures. There was no cake! If nothing else, an occasion as momentous as this one at least deserves a slice of cheesecake.

But … there it was, an early morning wake-up without Dottie nursing as she woke the rest of the way up. To be honest, for a while it had been mostly just bedtime and wake-up nursing. I so looked forward to those quiet moments when she’d snuggle up close to me and nurse while we began or finished our day.

Breastfeeding and pumping was not easy for me. But I was determined to make it to a year breastfeeding. At a year, if she decided she was done, that’s what it would be. But, she kept wanting to nurse and as soon as the pressure to pump and provide bottles for her was removed, I relaxed and was able to enjoy it — with far fewer tears than the pump brought me.

If you’d have told me two years ago that I’d be nursing a 21-month-old, I never would have believed you. If you’d have told me that I’d be nursing a 21-month-old well into my second trimester of my next pregnancy, I would have told you you were crazy.

It’s worked for us, though. Most importantly, it’s worked for Dottie. I’ve always followed her lead. I nursed her when she was hungry, not on my schedule. And I promised we’d be done nursing only when she was done.

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And, so here we are again — the tears have found me once more. This time, not because breastfeeding is hard and exhausting and I don’t know if I can do it anymore. This time, it’s because I miss it. I miss that special part of my relationship with Dottie. I’m sad that that part of our story is over. Mostly, I’m sad that I don’t even remember it ending.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the bond we created while breastfeeding isn’t just going to go away because Dottie isn’t nursing anymore. And I knew, eventually, that part of our relationship had to end. It’s just another chapter in our family’s love story that will close as we move on to the next chapter.

Thankfully, Dottie is very free with her hugs and kisses, often stopping right in the middle of what she’s doing, running over to Mr. B or me and asking for “kisses, please.” Hugs are given freely, and snuggles (‘nuggles) are abundant. There is a lot of love in our little toddler. And our closeness isn’t going to end just because she’s not nursing anymore. I just wish there had been some warning. And cheesecake.

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A Golden Child and Some (Irrational) Anxiety

Tonight, just as we were settling into our bedtime routine, Dottie was overtaken by fits of laughter. Serious, uncontrollable, gut-busting laughter. Brought on by the word … “seriously.” And, as laughter took over her small body, it busted out of her and right into me. There we were, snuggled into the rocking chair, unable to control our laughter. At bedtime.

Mr. B wasn’t too pleased — I could tell. But, he couldn’t be mad, either. Because … seriously … that laugh!

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Dottie is just coming to life these days. Her personality constantly has us laughing and shaking our heads. Every day is a wild, wonderful adventure with Dottie around. I laugh more now than I ever have. And I’m constantly left standing in awe at this beautiful, spirited soul who, for some reason, the universe chose to entrust to us.

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s not 100 percent laughter 100 percent of the time. I mean, there are those times that she looks at us and we just know we’re in trouble.

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But, seriously (ha! ha! ha!), I have no idea what I did to deserve this child, but I’m so glad I get to be her mom. She fills our world with so much love, laughter and joy. Every time I think I couldn’t possibly love her more, my heart grows … and grows … and grows. She is everything good this world needs — she is golden.

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I am so excited to welcome Wink to the world and introduce him/her to Dottie. She’s going to be the most amazing big sister and such a wonderful friend and confidant and role model. I couldn’t have written a better big sister for Wink.

While I know Dottie’s going to be an amazing big sister — and I can’t wait to see Mr. B with his newborn child again — if I were being completely honest, I’d tell you that there are days I worry that I’m not a good enough mom to have two kids at home (plus one who lives in my heart). I worry that I’m … simply … not … enough. How can I give as much to Wink as I’ve been able to give to Dottie? How can I give to Dottie what she’ll need while caring for a newborn?  How can I love big enough?

Now, I know that if I really spend any time at all (even a second) thinking about it, I’d have no reason to doubt what an amazing, love-filled adventure lies ahead of us. I mean, loving big — every day — is what the B family does best. Plus, when I thought I couldn’t possibly love someone as much as I loved Penelope Joy, Dottie arrived. And my heart grew with plenty of room for both of them (with even a little lot of room for a certain rescue pup).

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But knowing something and knowing something are two very different things.

I suppose this happens to all moms — all parents — when they add baby #2 or #3 or … #6 (in my parents’ case) to their families. And, please don’t get me wrong: I am beyond thrilled to have another baby and cannot wait to live this next chapter of our story. But to say there’s no anxiety would be to deny part of my experience, part of my story.

So … now that that’s out of my system, I wanted to also share that we heard baby Wink’s heartbeat last week. There were tears. And smiles. And more tears. I guess there’s not much more to say about it. (Squee!!)

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And Baby Makes … 5

In case you haven’t heard — or read — by now, our family has some exciting news to share:

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Dottie’s going to be a big sister!

I have so much to say about our family’s big news. But, as usual, I’m not sure where to start. Maybe the “beginning” …

Pretty much since Mr. B and I started talking online, we talked about our hopes and dreams for the future. And one of our shared dreams was that we both, one day, wanted two children.

Fast forward just shy of two years from the day Mr. B and I first talked, and our first baby was born. You, likely, know the rest of that story. Then, our rainbow baby was born.

As you can tell if you follow me on Instagram — or anywhere else, really — we’ve spent the last 18 months really, really living our life and enjoying every second with Dottie. She’s a spunky girl with a lot of attitude, and I couldn’t love her more.

But, Mr. B and I both started to feel a little longing for another baby. We talked about what it would mean for Dottie to have a living sibling to be by her side through life. I have five of them, and I’m a better person for each of them. I couldn’t imagine denying Dottie that.

But, for me, it was confusing. I mean, we had our two kids. But, we also didn’t.  Needless to say, it took me a while (and a lot of tears) to really say “yes, let’s do it, let’s have another baby.”

When we decided to go for it, we decided we’d take it a little easier and let the universe decide for us what was going to happen. (Was I anxious/eager every time my period was supposed to start? Heck yes. Did Mr. B have to calm me down from the lure of over-tracking everything? Yes. But overall, it was much more … relaxed … this time around.)

And, it happened.

Let me tell you, I had big plans about how I’d surprise Mr. B when the second pink line appeared. But, in reality, I told him exactly — I mean, exactly — the same way I told him the other two times: “Hey! Put your glasses on and get in here and look at this. Do you see that line? Is it there?!!!”

We kept it to ourselves for all of, maybe, 24 hours. We each had permission to tell one person. And then we told a couple more. And then … well … within one week after we found out, we had told everyone.

I was only five weeks along when we went public-public with the announcement. Is that early? Yup. Am I scared something could happen and I’ll have to make another, less joyful, public announcement? Darn right I am.

Trust me, I didn’t miss any of the shocked noises or big eyes or glances full of judgment when we told people I’m not due until early April. I get it. It’s early — very, very early. But, since Penelope, Mr. B and I decided that no matter what happened, we would share our pregnancies early — that is, if we were blessed enough to have any more. We had learned that we can’t go through this alone. We need our village around us — for happy things and sad things.

We want you to share our joy with us; we want you to celebrate at our side. But, we also need you to be there for us if anything were ever to go wrong. Because that’s how life is — it’s up and down and, sometimes, inside out. It doesn’t only take a village to raise a child — it takes a village to be a human. And you are our village.

So, yes, I’m just now going on six weeks along. And it’s still very early. A lot could happen. But, this is our story — and this is how we choose to tell it. We’re just happy to have so many people around us holding us up in hope and light and prayer.

 

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The Thing I Thought I Couldn’t Do

I’ve been thinking a lot about bravery lately. Bravery, and all the forms it takes. You see, “brave” isn’t the same thing for everyone. Just like our fears and anxieties are all different, finding courage to face them means something different for every person.

For some people, being brave means facing tangible fears — like snakes or spiders or the dark. For others, being brave means waking up each morning and facing the day — when all your depression wants you to do is stay in bed and hide from the world.

For others … well, for me … it’s about facing things that still bring me a deep sense of grief and anxiety. Like being out in public on Mother’s Day and seeing all the happy moms and their happy kids going to church, eating brunch or playing in the sun. And, this week, it was about visiting family at the hospital where Penelope Joy was born, where she lived and where she died.

It took me nearly a week to offer a visit. Not because I didn’t want to. As soon as I heard they would be at the hospital, all I wanted to do was to rush there and hug them and be there for them. But I couldn’t do it. There are still days when I avoid the road the hospital’s on because I can feel the weight of the air caving in on my chest as we left the hospital for the last time with only a plastic bag of Penelope Joy’s things.

I knew the day was coming that I’d need to face the trauma, to look it in the face and say “hello again.” And, finally, after talking about it with Mr. B for over a week, and with my therapist, I was able to take the first step and reach out for a visit. The whole time, telling myself I had the freedom to turn around at any point if I had to.

As I pulled into the parking deck, slowly circling down … down … down, the last time I’d been in that parking garage nearly three years ago flashed in front of my face. I parked, got out of the car and looked down, realizing my whole body was shaking with the anxiety of what was coming.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

The elevator ride up out of the parking level was full of heavy, deep calming breaths and some tears. I stepped off the elevator and sat in the chairs before making my way over the bridge to the hospital. Everything came back to me: the long, sleepless nights; the desperate prayers over Penelope Joy’s bed; the early (early) morning calls from the hospital to “get here as soon as you can”; and, finally, the last story, the last good-bye.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

When I had collected my thoughts, and myself, I made my way to the hospital to get my visitor’s badge and head up to the NICU to see my family and meet the precious Baby E for the first time.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

“Have you ever been here before?” as the man at the NICU check-in counter.

“My baby lived here for a while a few years ago,” I wanted to say. “Then she lived upstairs for a few weeks. Then she died.” But I couldn’t bring myself to tell the whole story. Not that day.

“I haven’t visited her yet,” is what I actually said. He directed me to the hand-washing station. And in I went.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

The smell of the soap almost sent me right back through the door. The memories it brought with it too much to face. But I went on.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Then … I walked in their room. And my cousin was holding his gorgeous baby girl. The love in that room took away all those dark, scary memories I was holding onto and replaced them, at least temporarily, with every single happy, beautiful, good memory that we had there with Penelope Joy. From the first time we held her to the day they took all her tubes out because she was in such a good place, from the doctors and nurses who became our family to the prayers and love we received from all over the world. And, finally, my heart was filled with all of the people who came to meet our little miracle baby and filled our room with such light and hope.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

It wasn’t a long visit, but it was an important visit. Because I was reminded of the difference a little love can make in the middle of a scary situation. And I was reminded that bravery and courage come in all forms.

Sometimes it’s a mom and dad waking up and going to the hospital morning after morning, not knowing what kind of day is in store for their little baby — but they do it with tentative smiles and extravagant love because that’s what their daughter needs from them, and that’s what’s going to get them through.

And, sometimes it’s a grieving mom doing the one thing she didn’t know she could do — because that’s what family is for.

I won’t say there were no sad tears as I drove home after the visit. Because there were a lot of them. But, they were healthy tears and, in a way, much-needed tears. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to drive past the hospital without thinking of Penelope Joy. But, I hope one day the happy memories of her life we shared there will come flooding over me more often than the sad ones.

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Living Life on Purpose

I’ve been thinking a lot about Purpose lately. I follow a lot of amazingly creative and inspirational women on various social media channels. (OK, Instagram. Mostly Instagram.) And many of them have one thing in common: they quit their day jobs to pursue their Ultimate Purpose. They threw caution to the wind, took a leap of faith and … they’re just doing it. And so many of them are killing it.

It’s not just on Instagram, though, it’s everywhere. It seems like everywhere I turn, there’s a new podcast or blog or book inspiring people to live their Purpose. To stop what they’re doing if it isn’t their True Calling, their Purpose, in order to do something that fills their soul and their whole being.

It can be contagious. Some days I listen to some of these podcasts and feel so inspired and driven to do something more — something bigger with my life.

Other days, though, it makes me feel so … inadequate. Like I’m some kind of failure because I’m not actively seeking, discovering and living my Purpose. This “push toward Purpose” makes me feel like I’m not doing enough with my life. Like I am not enough.

But, when I think about it, when I really, really think about it, I know that the life I’m living is fulfilling my Purpose. Because I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.

I don’t think Purpose is one thing; I think it is all things.

It’s not fair to expect one area of my life to provide everything my soul  needs to feel fulfilled, to live with Purpose. From my job to my family to my volunteer work — expecting one area of my life to fill my entire mind, body and soul with Purpose puts an awful lot of pressure on it.

Instead, I’m learning to think of my Purpose as my life, as a whole. It is in how I live every day. It is in what I put out into the world. It is in my work ethic, my dedication and the way I interact with others at work; it is in my passion, my open arms and my unending love at home; it is in my commitment, my time and my generosity when volunteering.

It is in finding the pieces of all areas of my life that make my soul come alive — at work, at home and everywhere I go. Because that is what the world needs: people passionately living their lives in ways that make them come alive — and sharing that spark with others. That is Purpose.

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On Assignment

Timehop tells me it’s been eight years this year since I graduated from my master’s program. That means it’s been eight years since I’ve had homework.

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And, yet, here I sit: on assignment.

I’m writing this because my therapist told me to. Well, he didn’t specifically say what to write. And he didn’t tell me to write a blog post. He simply said, “write.”

“I don’t care what you write. Just take an hour, by yourself, and write. It might be hard, and you might not write anything. But you need to get back into it.” 

So, at 11 a.m. today, Mr. B — my ever-supportive (sometimes annoyingly so) husband — kicked me out of the house and told me not to come back until I had an uninterrupted hour of time. And, apparently, he wasn’t willing to include drive-time in that hour, either.

My first session with J was on Monday. I’ve done therapy before — twice, actually — for a couple of different seasons in my life. But it was never anything that I thought was particularly life-changing. And it never lasted. After just one session with J, I think I know the reason: I hadn’t met the right therapist yet.

After just an hour with J, he’s pretty well figured me out — well, at least figured out how my mind operates and how I need to do things. At the end of the get-to-know-you, why-did-you-call-me session, he asked me what I would need to have accomplished at the end of our time together (whether it’s two months or six months or a year …) to know it’s been a success. Together we set three very measurable, very realistic goals.

And from those goals came my weekly “homework” assignments. This week’s? Make time for myself to write.

It’s not that I don’t want to write. I actually really, really do. And I miss snuggling up with my computer, the romantic glow of the screen keeping me company while I drink green tea and type whatever words happen to be at the top of my mind that morning … or noon … or night. It’s just that I’ve been struggling to make it a priority.

You guys are probably pretty sick of all of my blog posts about trying to make time for myself, about filling my cup before I can fill the cups of others. But it’s all I’ve got right now. This is the season I’m in. And as I sit here writing, listening to the buzz of the coffee shop around me, I’m beginning to think I know why it’s so hard for me — or at least part of the reason.

I don’t want to miss a thing with Dottie Lou. Not a single thing. No mom does; no dad does. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the world for working parents — whether they have to work or they choose to work, or both. For me, I think there’s even more to it than that.

I’m still carrying with me the grief of all of the experiences we missed with Penelope Joy, and the fear of missing out on one of Dottie’s milestones keeps me as close to her as possible whenever it’s in my control. There are days I still cry when I drop her off at daycare — even though I know she’s loved and welcomed as one of their own children. There are nights I cry to Mr. B because I miss Dottie so much during the day.

While Dottie goes in and out of stages of separation anxiety — when all she wants is me — I’m experiencing separation anxiety of my own. It’s hard enough to leave her during the day while I work, but to take extra time alone in the evenings and on the weekend is really difficult. And the thought of leaving her overnight causes me pretty bad anxiety — even if I want to go on the trip. Because every time I think about the possibility of missing something with Dottie, the wounds of Penelope Joy’s loss feel so fresh.

As J and I settle in to our relationship, I’m certain we’ll be working on these — and so many other — issues associated with Penelope Joy’s and my dad’s deaths. The grief? It will always be there. Because that’s how grief works — it’s a constant (sometimes gentle, sometimes not) reminder that we have loved; that we have lost. But I need to find ways to deal with Grief’s friends, Anxiety and Fear.

Writing helps.

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When Nothing Goes As Planned

As our Sunday winds down, with Mr. B and me hanging out on the back porch reading and writing to the glow of citronella candles, I can’t help but feel like we just experienced a life-affirming weekend.

It didn’t start out that way. Far from it, actually. Wednesday afternoon, Dottie Lou came down with a fever — which progressively got worse, topping out about about 103.4 Wednesday evening. After a sleepless night for Dottie and Mama, Thursday morning, we took her to the doctor, though by then her fever was gone and she was acting like her normal self. The doctor couldn’t see anything really wrong with her and sent us on our way.

By Thursday afternoon/evening, the fever was back. Bringing with it screams and cries and moans. My poor baby was in horrible pain — but from what, we couldn’t tell. After dealing with just over an hour of ceaseless screams, we called the nurse line at the pediatrician’s office. They couldn’t offer much because Dorothy didn’t have any other symptoms, and the fever was controlled with Motrin.

Poor Dottie slept a total of about five minutes that night. Mama, too, as Dottie thrashed and kicked and screamed. But Friday morning, she woke up — again — fever-free and happy as her normal self. At this point, I was super confused. Until I buckled her in to her car seat. That’s when I saw a few red spots on her hands and a couple on her feet. A quick trip to the doctor’s walk-in clinic hours confirmed it: hand-foot-and-mouth disease.

No daycare. And no work for Mama. We pretty much quarantined ourselves in the house all day Friday — with me washing my hands often enough that they got pretty raw. My attitude found itself a little on the raw side, too, as I cursed hand-foot-and-mouth for taking away the wondrous weekend I had in my mind. Running errands, hanging out at the park, shopping for a few wants I had, tackling a springtime to-do list. This weekend, like a lot of others, was pretty much planned out before it even started.

But hand-foot-and-mouth wiped the slate clean, as we found ourselves pretty much stuck to our little corner of the earth — trying to keep Dottie from exposing any other kids to this nasty sickness.

And, you know what? This has been one of my most favorite weekends in recent memory.

Friday after work Mr. B and I took Dottie to a local hiking trail, where we knew we could avoid running into anyone or touching any surfaces someone else might later touch. We put Dottie on the ground and let her roam free. She made it about 50 feet before she sat down and started digging in the dirt with her hands, followed by some running through the crunchy leaves. And, she was so very happy.

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It wasn’t a long trip because Dottie tired quickly. But, it was a good bit of fresh air that she and I both needed.

And, Saturday, with nothing to do, we finally put up Dottie’s swing set and filled her sandbox. We spent much of the day alternating between the warmth and sunshine of our backyard and the cool protection of our home. We went at Dottie’s pace and just enjoyed ourselves — no agendas, no to-do lists, no plans. I couldn’t stop feeling like I was on a different planet, looking at my life from the outside. I felt my life’s purpose being refreshed before my eyes. Dottie was happy. I was happy. Life was — life is — good.

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Today was much the same. Though we had intended to go to church, I felt it was best to keep Dottie away from other kiddos still. So, we hung out, had a picnic lunch and just spent time enjoying each other’s company. Dottie learned lots of new things, like how to get on the back porch without any help, how to peek under the fence at the neighbor’s dog and how to drive Mama crazy by repeating the same phrase over and over (and over and over), knowing that Mama couldn’t figure out what she was actually saying.

We topped off the weekend by sharing with Dottie one of our favorite things about spring- and summertime in Michigan: the return of the ice cream shops.

Being without a plan and without a to-do list tends to throw my world into chaos. I like things in front of me so I can see them, anticipate them and then anticipate what I can do if something goes wrong.

Life has been really great about trying to teach me that I really don’t have any control over anything — in big ways and small ways. Thankfully, hand-foot-and-mouth — though not fun and definitely painful for Dottie Lou — is a pretty small thing in the grand scheme of life.

So, I find myself, sitting here on the back porch, watching the candles dance in the breeze, feeling really thankful for the blessing in disguise this weekend. This “quarantine” forced me to focus — really focus— on what’s really important. And I’m going into this new week feeling refreshed and renewed.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have this week’s planner calling my name — those to-do lists won’t write themselves!

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