Thursday, September 15, 2016

Happy Life, Messy Wife

A few nights ago, I felt upset. It's hard to distinguish, sometimes, between burn-out, postpartum depression and exasperation. Our babysitter cancelled, Will was half-awake after a night shift and dinner was not made. Laura dumped out all our shoes again. I had cleaned the whole house earlier and felt so good... Then the girls did not nap; then no relief; then no time to prep for the next day's lesson; then up too late. I was falling down and only a zillion chocolate chip cookies (which we had none) would numb the pain. But then Will said something and, as uninspired as it was, it was the kick that told me: messes come and go. You matter. Messes don't.

I'm listening to The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin on Audible. I like it so much that I sent it home and told my Dad that the family should read this together. The Apple blurb says,
Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project. 
In this lively and compelling account—now updated with new material by the author—Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference. 
The biggest part about happiness is the necessity of growth and pushing one's self outside our personal comfort zone and accept failure (and embrace the fun of failure!) as a necessary part of living. Building habits, asking for help and scale back on obligations. All of these experiences she discussed came with a head nod... yes, mm, yes. But action is harder.

I am (also/still) listening to a podcast my art history teacher recommended to me. (Pro tip: stay in touch with your favorite professors/ teachers. They will continue to enrich your life with their love, wit and wisdom!) It's called Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert, and it is all about the creative life and the creative process.

I miss my creative process. I miss the ability to stay up late and write and re-write and laugh and talk and color and write letters to friends and re-write... my creative process has been replaced by a need to re-organize my house and regulate toys and re-arrange our schedule and meal plan and lesson plan and

no wonder.

no wonder I am just so tired when the evening hits that I don't finish post after post after post.

I am a creative soul, and my cup is dry.

But my heart is hopeful.

I bought acrylic paints and canvases a few months ago because I saw them on sale.

I thought, I took Studio I-III and Mixed Media in high school!

I thought, It's been too long.

I thought, I'm scared to open them.

I thought, I'm ready. 


In the meantime - here's to more messes.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Day in the Baldwin House

Chandler graciously invited me to share my day; here's to the challenge! 

My name is Julie Baldwin. I am a part-time online United States history teacher who is still on summer break/ maternity leave for a few more weeks. My husband is an emergency medicine resident, which adds variety to our schedule. We have three children under 3 years old, going on four years of marriage, and living far away from our respective home bases. For better and for could-do-better, no day is the same...

Friday - Casa Baldwin - PA, USA

At some point in the morning, I wake up to feed Stephen (3 months). It is still dark out. I peer into his face and his eyes are open. He's hungry! I grab my phone and text my husband Will, who is working overnight in the surgical ICU. He's typing up notes before rounds. Stephen falls back asleep and I plop him into the rock 'n sleep one more time...

The light wakes me soon enough... I fight the urge to ignore reality. I am content to stare at this little pudding pie drowsily.

7-8 a.m.: Get Grace (3) and Laura (1.5) up from their cribs; they are wide awake and done relaxing once I enter their room. I'm lucky they've learned how to stay put/ not scream before 7 a.m. I change diapers, feed Stephen again while the girls run around and play upstairs, test my fertility + chart, take my PPD medicine and move the party downstairs for breakfast.

8-10 a.m.: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are therapy days for my daughter Grace, but this morning, we are relaxing and waiting for Will to come home from the hospital. Breakfast varies based on time and willingness to exert effort. The girls are enjoying half a breakfast burrito each, a banana, milk and raisins. We read the morning prayers and Scripture from my August issue of the Magnificat.

After breakfast, we play inside in the front room and outside on the porch. Grace is very into coloring; I also stretch her limbs out. Laura likes reading, sliding, and building with + dumping her blocks. We hear the “choo choo train!!!!!”. I am listening to The Fellowship of the Ring while working in the other rooms.

I'll clean up the kitchen, eat my oatmeal and focus on drinking my coffee. Few things more important than my coffee intake at this point [in my mind].

Will comes home early before we leave for our appointment, and is immediately greeted by his girls with hugs around the legs. I go high for a kiss and a hug, after which he says he got no sleep and is headed straight to bed. This month is really tough on all of us. I go back to cleaning my desk off and preparing for us to leave the house.

Breakfast: maple cinnamon steel oats in the crockpot, coffee, milk, bananas, breakfast burritos,

10-11:30 a.m.: Today, we actually went to the chiropractor for the first time! I was nervous... but no need. The only thing I had to fear was the insane amount of paperwork needed (times two). Grace has cerebral palsy, which mainly affects the right side of her body. She has been complaining of knee pain, and I am hoping this will help.

The doctor immediately identifies problem areas and was really fantastic with her. I am duly impressed. I was even more impressed at how calm we both remained while 2/3 of my children cried as my appointment started. Grace subsided when the doctor asked her to hold my hand; he meant it for her, but it really did help me as well. Mothering + desk job means more chiro appointments in our future. I thought he was killing me with the number of cracks I heard in my neck, but a lot of tension is gone and there is less tingling in my arms.

I would almost say that this random appointment is normal for us too, since we are always dancing between different specialists - pediatrician, neurology, eye, OB/GYN and coming soon--ortho! This visit was delightful.

11:30-12:30 p.m.: Grace falls asleep in the car, so I put her down for an early nap. Laura stays up with me and we eat lunch. I feed Stephen again; put Laura down for a nap.

Lunch: chicken breast over spinach salad with tomatoes, feta and balsamic vinegar; Laura has mozzarella cheese stick, grapes, goldfish

I love this one-on-one time with my third wee tot! I have had so many interesting conversations with fellow moms about breastfeeding and my advice is always... Do you. For me, that usually involves a weird angle and not covering up in the cape style. I have a muslin blanket that is perfect for extra coverage and any sprayage (or spit up), but I won't totally cover up any more, as I felt compelled to do with Grace. Why? Because breastfeeding is normal. There is nothing gross about it; it's actually miraculous, when you look into it scientifically. It is not lewd (baby covers the nipple, people. That's the feeding part). If it makes you uncomfortable, look away. If you'd rather use a bottle or need to supplement, go for it. But there is no room for prudish behavior towards a mother feeding her baby because it is an absolute act of love. It is hard, it is a commitment and it is beautiful. Stephen is my third breastfed baby. I wanted to quit within the first month because it was so hard with him. But I stuck with it, and it's one of my favorite times of the day now - relaxing into the couch, feeding him and helping him achieve Hulk status.

12:30-3:30 p.m.: This is magical. Laura skipped her morning nap and since Grace fell asleep WAY before her normal nap time (between 2:30-3 p.m.), so I have the house to myself. I try to do my favorite postpartum work-out video; it's the effort, right? I decide to fold the three piles of laundry I washed yesterday while watching Elementary. After an episode, I work on school prep. (I start teaching online again in less than a month!) Then, I get super tired and I take a rest/ nap till someone wakes up.

3:30-4:30 p.m.: By someone, I mean Laura. This child! We play and I continue to clean up a bit. I wanted to fix zucchini bread, but it's still really hot and I cannot imagine turning the oven on right now. Stephen wants to be fed again... Not sure how many times a day I feed him, honestly, but it is way more than I am writing down.

Mini nap time for us post-feeding.

4:30-5:00 p.m.: Grace is awake and ready to play again; we practice walking down the steps while I hold her right hand. This is a big deal because a) she used to never let anyone hold her right hand, let alone trust anyone who did not also hold her left hand and b) she boycotted walking down the steps earlier this year and we are FINALLY returning to Grace being okay going down (and not just up). We think part of that is because of her eye surgery in July- we're hoping her depth perception improved.

5:00-6:00 p.m.: I start to plan dinner. It's Friday, and I try to serve meatless meals.  The kids color outside on the patio, which is closest to the kitchen.

Dinner: salmon (cooked in a foil packet), brown rice + quinoa, red peppers

6:00-7:00 p.m.: We eat out on the porch tonight. We've been having a lot of picnics lately, and it's just easier to clean up. Will wakes up at some point and comes downstairs. The girls are excited! They climb all over him and forget about dinner.

7:00-8:00 p.m.: More playtime, but we've moved the girls upstairs for a bath. They love it, and they love splashing Will. Jammies, teeth brushed, books read and prayers said.


8:00-9:30 p.m.: Oh yeah. Stephen is still awake. Will and I discuss possibilities for the evening. We clean together, and then he goes upstairs to his computer. Stephen helps me fix a quiche.

Quiche: pie crust, cooked sausage, eggs, heavy cream, milk, shredded cheddar cheese - cook at 400 Fahrenheit for 40 minutes

We do more cleaning. (No, really, when does it stop??) I feed Stephen again and relax into the couch.

9:30-11 p.m.: I take my vitamins and melatonin. Will comes down and we watch two episodes of The Wire, season two - really excellent. Gritty; superb in every respect - acting, story lines, writing, production. For those who have not heard of it, it's considered one of, if not the best television drama ever. (Available through Amazon Prime video!)

11 p.m.-12 a.m.: I try to get to bed before midnight every night. It's my work in progress, as a night owl. I am always trying for 11 p.m. but 11:30 is my current record. Will changes Stephen's diaper, and I feed him again, if necessary. I get ready for bed, we talk about what Will should study (pulmonary something was the verdict) and other related topics, and we say night prayers. Will goes up to his office for the night, so his body will stay adjusted for his next night shift. I settle in for the night/ until Stephen wakes again for another eat. Sweet dreams!

. . .

Read more:

A Day in the Armstrong House
A Day in the Fink House
A Day in the Howard House
A Day in the Smith House 

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

In Defense of Self-Soothing

Imagine a scene of three children and a mother is reading them the charming "Big Red Barn" book before bed. It's quiet in your scene, I'm sure. Meanwhile, in my reality, Stephen is crying his face off instead of eating. Laura is helping me turn the pages and Grace is reading her own book.

A few months ago (about three, to be exact), if this would happen, my anxiety would SAIL sky high. My postpartum depression did not manifest itself in sadness, but irritability and anger. That kind of crying would send my nerves into overstimulation and I'd shut down and have to leave the room.

Will and I are focusing on my coping mechanisms: food prep, cooking, exercise, sleep, and letting chaos reign. It's okay. Even when it's not.

I remember a friend who, a few years ago, was deeply depressed; but, as a nursing student, she refused to go on medication because she knew it changed her body's chemistry. But she was miserable.

I can empathize to a certain point. Will and I talked about a timeline for me to go off my PPD medication as well, and I talked to my OB and PA about it as well. I can feel the difference. I can remain calm in the face of my son screaming even though his diaper was changed, he was fed, and he was being held. Sometimes, the baby is going to cry. Sometimes, the baby is going to self-soothe, and fall asleep via crying. Stephen just did. It seems magical now to hear his little snores. He was just *so* tired.

Haven't you ever felt like a baby? So tired you just want to scream and cry and eat ice cream and sleep at the same time? It's okay. I ate brownies for dinner tonight, and now that the kids are down, I'll go eat a second course of pork, rice and salad. Some days, ya know? Gotta eat backwards dinner. Gotta be alone and not talk to anyone and relish that.

It's been a long day, as well as the end of Will's "staycation" (he had a few days off of SICU in a row, which made this month bearable). I'm working on school prep and wondering if a calm normal exists, or if life is a giant exercise in self-soothing and juggling. I'm guessing the latter. It has never slowed down in my 28 years alive, and - if anything! - kids speed up the process. They also help you appreciate the more important things, like being together, laughing and having fun, and loving one another.

Then again, God gave us toddlers to take everyone's pride down a few notches. Toddlers don't give a damn about anything. They will ignore you and dump all their blocks out and look you in the eye while throwing their dinner on the floor. It's amazing. I am no longer crying over dinners [I spent time researching, preparing and serving] being ignored and thrown on the floor since instituting "toddler tapas" and "picnics" to the schedule.

How do you self-soothe? What makes you tick?

I hope you all are well, dear readers. I hope you take time to self-soothe, and time to re-connect. I hope you don't worry about other people's perception of you, and that you love what makes you tick.

I'm off to eat dinner, watch an episode of Elementary, and maybe fix zucchini bread since the air is cooler now. I wish you good eats and many reminders of what a treat life is, truly, for each of us.

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Sunday, July 31, 2016

NFP as a Mama of Three

It's the end of NFP Awareness Week, so I'm going to throw in a few cents as a mama with three kids under three.

Natural Family Planning is getting to know the woman's fertility through various means (mucus, hormone monitor, basal thermometer, etc.) and then, making a decision about when to have sex in order to avoid, conceive or whatever. This is called TTA (trying to avoid), TTC (trying to conceive) and TTW (trying to whatever).

We have a child from each of these. Grace was a TTW - we were open to having a baby, and based on where I was in my cycle, we had a 5 percent chance of conceiving. Laura was TTC - we wanted to have another baby close to Grace. Stephen was TTA - the postpartum method we were using was not successful, and his conception was considered a method failure. This does not mean that NFP = children even when you are avoiding. Plenty of people successfully avoid using the same method. To me, this means that God wanted Stephen in our lives. I cannot imagine life without this chunky monkey. Practically, I also changed how I track my fertility postpartum!

This time around, I started charting with my teacher before my 56 days were up. After a lady has a baby, she is definitely infertile for the first 56 days. After that, even if you are breastfeeding, your fertility can come back (as we learned) before the usual six months. It is unusual, but it does happen.

We are currently using the Marquette method and working closely with a wonderful teacher as we navigate the postpartum period. Since I do not have any health problems we have to work around, this is the easiest method for us. Every morning, I pee on a stick (we buy with Amazon's subscribe and save - a steal! Especially with five or more items, you get a 15 percent discount) and my ClearBlue monitor (Also on sale with Prime currently) tells me if my fertility is low, high, or peak.

From the Marquette website:
The Marquette Model (MM) system of NFP brings 21st century technology to NFP by using the ClearBlue Easy Fertility Monitor, a device used at home which measures hormone levels in urine to estimate the beginning and end of the time of fertility in a women's menstrual cycle. The information from the monitor can be used in conjunction with observations of cervical mucus, basal body temperature, or other biological indicators of fertility. The MM was developed by professional nurses and physicians at Marquette University in the late 1990s. A recent (2007) study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing demonstrated a 97-98% efficacy of the MM in avoiding pregnancy when taught by a qualified teacher and correctly applied.
There is more protocol in terms of how many days one should avoid post-peak, and postpartum pre-peak vs. postpartum post-peak, but that is not what this post is about. This post is about why Will and I choose NFP over other methods.

The easiest place to start is our faith. We're Roman Catholic, and as part of our Christian faith, we practice total fidelity. We do not use artificial contraception. The Church does not require us to use NFP, but it does advocate responsible parenthood. "Be fruitful and multiple" does not mean have more children than your sanity, bank account and body can handle. The Church's teaching must be seen through the eyes of total love; it is for communion of body and soul, not a separation.

That being said, NFP is not a Catholic-only method. I know many non-Catholics who use it. Leah Libresco, a Catholic convert from atheism, recently wrote on learning NFP while engaged. She recommends Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which teaches FAM - Fertility Awareness Method, or NFP + barrier methods during avoiding times. TCOYF is the definitive text for learning about one's fertility, reproductive health and charting. This is not only for married folk - charting is the best way to understand how your body is working, and learning to recognize  and interpret changes.

Next, is science. Unlike the popular myth that all NFP methods are the same (or the rhythm method), a woman's fertility is unique and scientists like those at Marquette University, or Dr. Hilgers with his Creighton method, are actively studying women's fertility and have proven, peer-reviewed methods of helping women avoid and achieve pregnancy when practiced correctly. I say "correctly" because this is the danger of NFP - a woman can get pregnant. But this happens to people using birth control methods as well, so I'm nonplussed about this part. I truly think that NFP is as valid a method to avoid and achieve, with the bonus of *knowing* one's fertility (no more guesswork!) and creating an incredible bond with your spouse.

We use the Kindara app to chart - so well organized and a beautiful design. I love that I can add-in more information than what is provided already too.

Finally: love. There is nothing more trust-building than two spouses on board with fertility planning. The husband is equally as involved as his wife; he carries responsibility as she does. This is not always easy. Will and I did not pick NFP because we enjoy this challenge; but is it worth it? Absolutely. We practice fidelity to one another; open communication; incredible vulnerability; respect and acceptance of the total person; value and honor for God's design; true self-sacrifice. The benefits, for us, outweigh the fear.

True love must know sacrifice. This is why our wedding vows speak of leaving our mother and father and joining to our spouse. The current statistics on divorce is about 50 percent**, which is terrifying. NFP users have a lower rate - hovering around 9.5 percent. Having sex is not just for creating a child. It's also for bonding! But the accountability and responsibility is still there, and we take that seriously.

It's hard to be pregnant. It might not seem that way, especially coming from someone who has had three successful pregnancies in three years. We were open to that. We were open to that challenge. I would not recommend this path to most people, but we feel very blessed to have our three children and be in a position to care for them. It should not, however, and is not to be taken for granted. People love asking if we're done now that we've had our boy. Hopefully not! Will and I are still discerning, as is part of our marriage.

"Which Method of NFP Is Right For Me?" quiz


I love strolling down memory lane. I love thinking about all the walks we went on while dating and engaged; hiking and talking about Big, Philosophical questions and telling stories and discussing what we wanted in life. Will and I decided that we wanted to spend our lives together - eating and grocery shopping; chores and cleaning up after little people; in good times and in bad; in morning sickness and in health. I thought I loved Will when we got engaged, and even more when we got married. And I did. I love him even more now. Be assured that marriage is hard for us too, and NFP is harder. There is a lot of dying to self. NFP strips away the pretension and the pride, and leaves us to face our own reality. Each NFP experience is unique, and I like knowing that it is part of our love story. It's anecdotal evidence, but in the search for fullness of the human experience, what else is there?

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** EDIT: A friend sent me this article, which says that divorce rate is well below 50 now and that this statistic is incorrect. Happy to hear!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Yes You Can, Fellow Human

At the end of May, we passed the two year anniversary of Grace's diagnosis. Last Tuesday, Grace had eye surgery. Today, I made two more appointments with specialists after two therapies. I'm going to be the first to admit that keeping up with Grace needs a lot of planning and coffee. She's doing awesome overall, and of course, needs some tweaking too with all the growing up. (That's where the specialists come in, for the fine tuning.)

A few hours post-op
Grace is constantly changing. Every week in therapy, I have something new to discuss with her six therapists. Her language is exploding - this is especially exciting since her stroke was in a language center, and we didn't know how she'd be affected or what the symptoms would be. Speech therapy is an amazing resource. On Wednesday, we have a transition meeting where she'll be evaluated for what her state-provided therapies will be once she turns 3 years old. It's exciting and nerve-wracking.

I was talking to my best friend about Grace, and we talked about Grace's diagnosis. It's part of her, but it's a complicated relationship. Most days I'm fine; other days, I feel overwhelmed. I try to avoid talking about future Grace - there's too many unknowns. I remember being in an appointment with the neurologist, and she told me Grace would never use her right hand normally. I was really taken aback - for me, as long as we did the therapies, Grace would get better, right? Well, the hand is a complex blah blah blah. One of her occupational therapists provided a more optimistic viewpoint, with the consideration that we just don't know. I find a lot of comfort in not knowing. It's the reason I try harder every day. Every day, you see, is a glimpse of the ultimate triumph. God has given me this little girl to cherish, love and teach.

Motherhood is a very emotional journey. When I write, I only write of my own experiences. I cannot testify to anything else. There are a few very distinct memories from Grace's first year which I carry with me: when they first handed her to me; when they first woke me up to feed her and I was still deliriously tired from labor; looking at her MRI scan. No one can love Grace more than me, and I take that responsibility very seriously. It helps me keep my patience; it helps me apologize when I don't; and it lets me indulge her a little more than others would. The same goes for Laura and Stephen. Sometimes just holding them feels like our moment in eternity.

Grace isn't neuro-typical, like her two siblings. And that's okay. Everyone has trials in life. Grace's trials will be many, and she has an amazing support system on both sides of the family, as well as friends, therapists and doctors who love her. That alone can sustain a person.

So can possibility...

{chills, right?!}

I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —

Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of Eye —
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky —

Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation — This —
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise —

by Emily Dickinson 

Grace has limits physically. We're working on those. A good attitude and perseverance is the best asset in life. A life centered on Christ; a live given to others and served in love. These are the things the world needs. 

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