Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Birth Story

Can't you feel it ever closer?
We breathe it in and then we exhale.
We touch both sides and now eternal
standing closer to the veil.
-All Saints' Day, by Carrie Newcomer

I've been anxious to write the birth story. Actually, I've written and rewritten it over and over again in my head and on paper these last seven weeks. In truth, I feel like I have multiple birth stories and wasn't sure which one I wanted to tell.

My water broke while I was simmering a big pot of soup and baking pumpkin rolls one Saturday afternoon when Matthias was just shy of 37 weeks gestation. Right at thirteen hours later I was holding him in my arms. I only felt contractions about six of those hours. No epidural. The world watched its first triple crown winner since Secretariat race as I lay in bed that evening waiting for real labor to start. There was an influx of laboring women and my midwife joked she was having her own Breeder's Cup that night. She said I was her American Pharaoh.

Matthias was healthy and a couple weeks later I had made a near complete recovery.

Sounds lovely (and obnoxious), doesn't it?

Told another way, I went into pre-term labor one weekend after a long, hard pregnancy that had me pretty sick and mostly in bed for 18 out of 37 weeks. I chose to take Cytotec after having no progress and no real contractions for several hours after my water broke. I can't really find words to describe the pain. I would have had an epidural if there had been more time. I required stitches and Matthias suffered a broken collar bone. While I delivered him quickly, the final stage of labor (after the baby) sort of stalled. I then received a dose of Pitocin. I continued to bleed and no one was sure why or where specifically it was coming from. My midwife had to be careful in choosing medications to help stop the bleeding because I was also at risk for blood clotting due to other complications of the pregnancy. I passed out five times in the next twelve hours. I eventually received a blood transfusion. The IV line quickly failed and leaked blood into my ever swelling arm for a little more than an hour before anyone actually thought to check it as I complained of throbbing from what I understood should have been a relatively painless process. I had three back-to-back migraines. In some ways I feel cheated of my son's first week of life.

That's really more drama than I care for.

The birth story I really want to tell (while being honest about the good, the bad and the ugly) is one of God's grace.

I was not interested in having biological children. I was actively and diligently trying to prevent them.

I felt what I would learn eight days later was my very first pregnancy pain and symptom while I was singing Turn my heart, O Lord. These waters were slow to turn. Because when I did see those two little lines I immediately began praying for it not to be so.

Even when I realized the Lord was asking me to be pregnant. Even after I had prayed for years for Him to make clear to me what He wanted me to do -- and expressed my willingness to do anything. This was an assignment I didn't want to take.

Though my heart and my attitude were ungrateful and rotten, He was sweet to me throughout. It isn't hard for me to believe that every baby ever born is appointed by God, but I felt especially aware that Matthias was so.

I received a card from a local ministry with a very specific prayer and scripture they were praying for me that spoke directly to some of my fears and anxiety. Before they even knew I was pregnant.

Once, about midway through the pregnancy, I was feeling especially burdened. I began to worry I would always think of Matthias as a burden. And I began to feel sorry for him. I worried he would always feel like a burden to me, and I didn't want him to carry that load. I wanted him to be confident that he brought joy to my life. And I prayed that one day -- even if it would take years -- I could tell him with complete honesty how joy-filled his life was to me.

While I was praying, my husband was out having lunch with a friend. Randomly and off the topic of their conversation, this friend felt moved to tell my husband he knew that Matthias would bring us so much joy in the years to come. It seemed odd to Johnie, but he came home and told me about it. It didn't seem odd to me.

Due to lupus and antiphospholipid antibodies, Matthias and I were at risk for a whole laundry list of complications and significant health issues. Miraculously, we escaped them all (save for what was technically a pre-term delivery). That didn't stop me from worrying and praying about them. As I poured out my heart to a trusted spiritual director in the early weeks of my pregnancy, she beautifully prayed for grace to surround my womb. It became a prayer I continued to offer.

How poignant, then, that some of the first words out of my midwife's mouth when she saw me in labor were, "You're going to have a baby tomorrow. I love Sunday babies. Sunday's child is full of grace."

Beyond that, I had prayed and prayed for an early November birth. My due date was smack dab in the middle of the eight day span between the anniversaries of my grandparents' deaths. I didn't want to have a baby during that time and wasn't sure I could bear my child being born on the same date I lost my precious grandmother. The Lord answered those prayers beautifully.

Just for fun and to show just how well He knows me and loves me, the Lord more specifically timed Matthias' birth at precisely one minute prior to the end of Daylight Savings Time. My good friends know the day we get our hour back from the government is my all-time favorite day of the year. The first hour I spent with Matthias was that redeemed hour. Plus, we think it's pretty cool that his medical record says he was born at 1:59 a.m. but received his first shots, his first diaper and began nursing in the minutes leading up to that.

In the weeks following, as I prayed about a positive screen for a possible genetic defect, I would realize his birthday is also All Saints' Day.

I felt like God was telling me during those weeks of not knowing about my son's health that Matthias belonged to Him and I could trust Him. I know well that God doesn't protect us from all infirmities, but was relieved to learn the Lord spared him and the positive screen was the result of a (relatively minor) deficiency in my own body.

While I initially had some complications after his birth, a couple weeks later I recovered almost completely. Seemingly overnight. I and many others had prayed for my health throughout the pregnancy and the days following the delivery. It was like a miracle. I feel like the Lord healed me. My midwife admitted at my follow-up appointment that there was no medical explanation for me to be doing as well as I was so quickly.

I trusted that the Lord would answer my prayer for joy in time, but I was surprised with how quickly it came. Newborn babies are my absolute favorite people. But I was quite ill on Matthias' first day. I was passing out and struggling through a migraine. Our sweet friends were visiting throughout the day (I welcomed them), but each time Matthias would be wheeled into our room to meet people I would tense up at having to manage this squirmy little stranger.

Johnie was instantly enamored. I wasn't. When he asked me if I thought Matthias was cute I said, "I don't know." (That was also the moment -- I kid you not -- Matthias chose to give me the stink eye for the very first time. I still wasn't sure how I felt about his looks, but that at least made me chuckle.)

It was in the early minutes of November 2nd when I fell in love. A nurse brought him into the room so I could feed him. But he was sleeping so soundly and I didn't feel like wrestling to get him to nurse. So I just laid his little body against mine and felt the rise and fall of his breaths. I rubbed my hand up and down the little back I had felt inside me just days before. I looked up at the clock and realized Matthias had one more hour left of his very first day of life. And he and I spent it alone in the dark and quiet. I wept and thanked God for the miracle of his life. And the joy I have felt has only increased from there.

I have always defended motherhood as a high calling. But I didn't think it was for me (and still know it isn't for everyone). I didn't realize how much fulfillment one can find in changing diapers and cleaning spit up. The joy in fighting through bleary-eyed exhaustion to hold a sleeping baby and drink in that precious peaceful face for just a few more minutes. Sure, it has its hard moments. I have times of anxiety and frustration and sadness and every other emotion conceivable. But some cliches have merit. The rewards truly are immeasurable for me.

Boy, how those rivers turned. And they flow with joy and contentment I have never felt before.

Yet still, as warm and fuzzy as that sounds, my very first words to my newborn son will forever and forever be: Oh baby... You almost killed your mama. And if I had to sum the whole thing up in one sentence, that'd probably be it. I would only add but for the grace of God.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pregnancy Anthem

From my mother's womb, You have chosen me...

I have been anxious about this pregnancy since the moment I felt that sudden, sharp twinge of back pain ushering in a dull ache that stayed with me those first few weeks. I figured I was either exhibiting some new lupus symptom or -- the thing that made my heart race -- I was finally experiencing firsthand the back pain my mom always described as unlike any other, felt only during pregnancy.

A week later the fear ratcheted up a notch when two lines confirmed my suspicion. And the fear only increased a few weeks after that when antiphospholipid antibodies, what I had prayed so fervently against, were positively identified in my lab work.

This pregnancy has made me afraid. I've dealt with fears and anxieties I couldn't have even anticipated.

Now that I am in my final weeks, free from so many of the bad things that could have happened, I still fret about what is ahead. Even if everything goes "smoothly" I can't think of a non-scary way to get this boy out of my body. A newborn onesie never looked so big as when I considered getting something out of me that could fit into that thing! (Please do not do what Johnie did and hold up a 0-3 month sleeper and say, "He might even fit in this when he's born.") Then after that, you know, I'll have a son to raise.

But anxiety is not a new friend. It has been with me before. I have fought it and by the grace of God it has yet to completely overtake me. When I feel its rough, gnarled fingers curl around my neck and tighten, I cling to Jesus.

While I battle back fear, I strive always to remember that I belong to Jesus and because of Him I do not have to be afraid. I try not to live a fear-filled life. As Johnie and I have made several decisions over the years, we have chosen to go for many things when we see our "no" list is just fear based.

The first time I heard Bethel Music's No Longer Slaves I was driving. It immediately resonated. What a beautiful thing to proclaim: I'm no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.

The pregnancy hormones have leaked from my eyes in buckets of tears. And that's what I blame for sobbing down the interstate the moment I heard the line "From my mother's womb, You have chosen me. Love has called my name."

Over halfway through the pregnancy, with a clean bill of health from the anatomy scan and finally starting to regain some strength and energy that had abandoned me around week nine or so, I felt like I could turn my prayer attention more toward Matthias' character and life outside the womb. I could feel his movements and kicks inside of me. I could dream about the things we would do together, the things he would do in his life. As I began to dream and pray about what I hoped he would accomplish, I realized those decisions were best left to God.

Just the night before I had prayed for the Lord to knit him together specifically for the kingdom work He wanted for our boy. To place in him the character he would need to serve the Lord in whatever capacity He deemed best. To put in him the desire to do His will. To plant in his heart the safeguards he would need to withstand whatever temptations he would face. And to equip us as parents to nurture those things and help them grow. To open us up to support the Lord's will in Matthias' life even if it wouldn't be what we would pick for him.

The song painted a beautiful picture of the Lord doing just that. Already choosing our son. Already covering him in grace and love and weaving him into the beautiful tapestry of His kingdom. Something He had been doing for me since I was in my own mother's womb. How profound. How overwhelming is His love.

So much about Matthias is a mystery. What will he look like? What will he enjoy? Where will his talents lie? What kind of struggles and triumphs are ahead for him? For us? I don't know. But the Lord knows. Thank God, He knows.

All my fears were drowned in perfect love.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A prayer request

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
-Corrie Ten Boom

I can't begin to express how thankful I have been for all the people who are joining us in praying for our baby. You all have brought me so much comfort through these rough weeks. At just the right moment I'll get a card or a note or a text or a gift or a word that speaks directly to what I'm needing. It helps me know and remember that God is near and that He cares and is taking care of us in the sweet, all-knowing way that only He can.

I wanted to post a prayer request this morning, but it kept growing longer and longer. So for those willing to read an emotional pregnant woman's early morning jumbled-up thoughts, I figured I'd write a full blog post.

First of all, I am so incredibly thankful for a medical team that has been so concerned - and loving - with the health of my baby and me. All the appointments and blood work and ultrasounds are a bit stressful, but I'd rather know all of these things than just be left guessing. And, it is like soothing balm on my anxious heart every time we see or hear something "normal" about our baby.

Through my second chorus of "is that normal?... Are you sure?" yesterday, our midwife was patient and reassuring. I think I asked at least half a dozen times if she saw anything to be concerned about. And I couldn't help but add, "would you please tell me if you see anything at all?"

I sort of thought that yesterday's ultrasound would be similar to the one before. I would leave with a reassurance that everything was fine that would carry me through several weeks. I am not sure if it was because yesterday's ultrasound became a bit more about deciding the sex of our baby, or if most of the discussion centered around all the things that will happen at the next appointment, or if it was something else all together, but I was even more anxious leaving than I was arriving. And I was anxious arriving.

Our "big" mid-point ultrasound is scheduled for next time. This is when they will check for a number of abnormalities, and when a lot of complications are discovered for many women/babies who have complications/health concerns. Maybe it is a normal mom thing that everyone experiences, but I just want so badly for the baby to be healthy. And I feel like I don't have the most stellar genes to work with, nor is my body well-equipped to support a healthy baby. My body attacks healthy things. The baby seems blissfully unaware in the ultrasounds, but I feel like he must be fighting a battle. And as I pray for the Lord to knit him together, I know that this baby's health and well-being rest squarely on His shoulders. Even more than most, I just can't do this.

I will have follow-up blood work done to measure my antiphospholipid antibody levels. Those test results, in part, will determine whether or not I should take blood thinner injections. I pray I will not have to deal with any more complications at all. And while I am willing to take blood thinners for the health of the baby, I would rather not have that issue at all. I am most nervous about blood clots causing some type of issue for the baby or me. And if the doctors feel strong blood thinners are necessary, I am uncertain what to do. This treatment comes with its own set of worries, concerns, side effects and dangers. As of now, I am unsure how I will proceed if the doctors feel that stronger medications are needed.

So, above all else, please continue to pray for the health of our baby, Matthias. (I am still transitioning from calling him "baby" to calling him by his name.)

Beyond that, learning the sex of our baby brings a whole new dynamic to pregnancy. Johnie and I have always said we are much more concerned with our baby's health than our baby's sex. But we are glad to know we are having a boy. On the scale of boy-girl preference, I leaned slightly toward girl. Even though we tried not to think about it much, we had dreams for a little boy and dreams for a little girl. Giving up our little girl dreams were a little sad, but I think there would have also been sadness to give up our little boy dreams.

There is so much I am excited about - and relieved about - with having a boy. I remember how much fun my brothers were when they were babies and toddlers. To get to experience that again will be great. (If Matthias is anything like my brothers.) Also, if Matthias looks like Johnie or acts like Johnie in some ways, I think I'm going to enjoy it. (There are some traits of my brothers and my husband I'm hoping he doesn't get. I had been praying for this baby to be protected from bad/negative traits/genes and my brother shared with me what he had been praying for the baby: That the good things from the Roses replace the bad things from the Karrs and that the good things from the Karrs replace the bad things from the Roses so the baby is made of only good things.)

But, still, I've never been a MOM to a boy. I feel like I have so much to learn. (I'm open to any book suggestions you think may help.) I felt like Johnie must have felt shortly after we learned we were pregnant, when he wanted to make all of those decisions that won't affect the baby for several years. I felt an overwhelming need to start planning and working on things we won't have to deal with for more than a decade from now with our son.

I felt much more prepared to raise a girl than to raise a boy.

There's still so much we don't know about Matthias. Most of our questions are ones we would have whether our baby was a boy or a girl, it's just that we've only really started to ask them now. Will he be athletic? Will he be adventurous? Johnie and I aren't either of those things, but we want to encourage him. Thankfully we have a diverse extended family we hope will help fill in our gaps.

Will he share my love of cooking or of writing? Will he enjoy going hiking or fishing with me? Will he be interested in technology and programming like Johnie? Will he love Christmas? (If Johnie's bah-humbugness is a gene, I hope he didn't get it.) What will his favorite season be? Will he be quiet and reserved or way more outgoing than either of us?

I hope he loves to read books. I'm assuming he won't be very interested in my childhood dolls and toys, or with building a dollhouse with me, but maybe. Judging from many of my nephews, I'm trying to prepare for many more superheroes and legos in my life. (Though my life is currently void of either of those things, so any child would change all of that.) We'll just have to wait and see.

I have prayed a lot for Matthias in my womb, but I feel led now to pray for his life post-birth. I want him to be strong and independent. I want him to be respectful and loving and kind. I want him to be confident. I want him to always feel surrounded by the grace and love of God and to be completely sold out for His will in his life. I want him to love his mom (and his dad) a lot, but not too much.

And as I think of what I want for him through all the stages of his life, I just go back to my original prayer. I hope he makes it to all the stages of his life, healthy.

Again, thank you all so much for praying with us!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

An attitude adjustment

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30 

I've kind of made it a point to emphasize just how unplanned this pregnancy was. Just how not on board and unexcited I have felt about it. I realize I crossed a line somewhere from honesty to rottenness.

I wholeheartedly believe it is completely okay for women (and men) to react with shock, anger, frustration and a whole plethora of emotions on the opposite end of the spectrum from joy and elation upon learning of a pregnancy. One of the things that has helped me the most pre and during pregnancy are those friends who were open and honest about their less than happy pregnancy and parenthood feelings and experiences. In a world where we all try to paint on smiles and present perfect, polished selves, I think we need more people willing to be raw and authentic.

I realize I wasn't always being true to myself so much as I was wallowing in muddy self-pity. Constructing a pitiful sword to fall on. And God got the brunt of it. I'm ashamed of how I've acted toward Him these past couple of months. He can handle my anger and He can handle my frustration. I don't even think He's upset about my questions. But He sure doesn't deserve the ugly spirit I have had toward Him.

I'm finding it hard to put into words.

In the midst of my frustration and incomprehension I (somewhat unknowingly) withdrew a part of myself from God. As quickly (within 24 hours of learning of the pregnancy) as people began talking about the possibility of future pregnancies, Johnie and I had already beat them in discussing how we planned to prevent any other pregnancies. I was still mostly rational at that point. After learning about the antiphospholipid antibodies, logic went out the window. And so did some of my trust in God.

To His credit, He never stopped being so incredibly sweet to me. (Which I may forever be in awe of. Such gentle, loving responses to my brash pigheadedness.) But while I trusted Him a little bit, I didn't trust Him fully. And while I submitted to Him a little bit, I didn't submit my will fully. I went from "we can still trust God after this baby is born" to "how can we get my uterus taken out after this one."

Johnie made the clever joke that we're like Coach Calipari's players: One and done. (I really hope you laugh at that because it was a proud wife moment for me.) But I went further than that. I felt so done I wasn't open at all to any possibility of anything beyond this one. My heart was calloused and I basically told God, "I'll carry this one for you, but never again. Never. I don't care. P.S. I don't even know what you were thinking with this one in the first place. But, I'll do it. Just for you. I hope you're working on some kind of medal for me for it. Because, if you remember, I didn't actually want to do this. But I am. Since I love you. Seriously, though, I really don't think this was your smartest move."

I told myself He was trustworthy and out for my good and all-knowing. But my heart wasn't listening. Aches or pains that couldn't be soothed the way I normally find relief, plans that couldn't be made or followed through because of this pregnancy I would hold up to God. "Do You see now why I didn't want to do this? If this is supposed to be teaching me something, I'm not getting it. What could this possibly be accomplishing?!"

As I finally just poured out all my ugly feelings to a trusted Spiritual Director, she asked me simply, "Do you believe you've sinned?"

It took a couple minutes for me to fully process my immediate "probably" into a completely sure "definitely." Not to be overdramatic, but it was like the scales fell off my eyes. I had been a stinky brat to a sweet, loving God. I mean, like, majorly stinky.

But I confessed and we prayed and slowly my burden seemed lighter.

This pregnancy has felt like such a heavy burden. Shoulders drooped over, unable to take deep breaths, not knowing if I'd collapse with the next step heavy. Why couldn't I just mother children who are already here? I actually want to do that, and that's something I thought You wanted me to do. If You want to introduce a new life into this world, why -- of all places -- would You put it in my broken body which, You must know, is set on destroying healthy things? It felt like I was being set up for failure.

Again, words are still failing me.

I realized my perspective had been wrong and my heart had been wrong. I had listened to untruths. And I chose then to turn back to God. To accept His trustworthiness and His Sovereignty and, thank Him for it, His grace. Though it was spiritual chains being unbound, I felt physically freer. Like I could finally move and breath and unhunch my shoulders.

And the verse came to mind: "My burden is light."

How had I not recognized that such a heavy burden was not from God?

This is where I want to conclude with something profound or thought-provoking. Make some sort of renewed commitment or dream of a perfectly healthy pregnancy from here on out. I don't have any of that. I'm simply trying to take each day, each thing, as it comes. Sometimes I do that well, other times I do not. If you've read any of my previous posts you know this is a continual work for me.

P.S. You will probably be relieved to know that my plans to allow someone in a back alley of a foreign country to cut me open and rip out my uterus for a nominal fee have been canceled.

Note: I also feel like I need to add another post script for those who may be reading this and may be struggling through incredibly difficult trials. I, in no way, was trying to make some kind of doctrinal or theological statement, or say that just because something feels heavy or hard doesn't mean God isn't with you, or isn't present, or that you're doing something wrong. This is just my experience from one day of going through a surprise pregnancy I feel especially unequipped for. Please don't take it as anything more than that. From my experience, God gives special mercies through the especially dark times.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The appointment when nothing bad happened

Everything grows rounder and wider and weirder, and I sit here in the middle of it all and wonder who in the world you will turn out to be.
-Carrie Fisher

From the moment I learned I was pregnant I started thinking of all the things that could go wrong. Each day, each step, each new pregnancy thing I had to do, I thought of bad things that could happen. And sadly, some of my fears have already been realized. The (stupid) antiphospholipid antibodies. Spending two and a half weeks in bed while lupus and migraines got to reign my body.

At eleven weeks pregnant, I prepared for my fifth (fifth! Ridiculous.) pregnancy-related doctor's appointment with trepidation. My cheerful midwife thought it would be a great idea to schedule the appointment the Friday before Mother's Day. That way I could hear my baby's heartbeat -- and maybe even have a sonogram -- as a sweet first Mother's Day gift.

It was a nice gesture, but it sounded like a horrible idea to me. How sad to find out my baby didn't have a heartbeat, or has a heartbeat but some tragic abnormality, going into Mother's Day weekend. Not only would I grieve but so would all our friends and family, on a weekend filled with celebration. I had thought about how and when to tell them the bad news in the best way possible. Couldn't we postpone such bad news until some normal weekend? How about wait until after Mother's Day to get the bad news?

I know that it's possible that I could have a healthy little baby to snuggle in November if God sees fit, but it's kind of in His hands. I don't know for sure exactly what He's going to do in this situation. As far as my own self goes, I feel like the odds are stacked against me and this baby. So I tried to steel myself for more bad news that Friday afternoon.

Johnie and I planned for heavy construction traffic, and actually made it to Lexington more than an hour before my appointment and did a little shopping. We got to the office pretty close to my appointment time and settled in to wait for a long time, but were called back immediately. Thank God, my blood pressure was normal - again.

The nurse pulled out the doppler to find the baby's heartbeat. I held my breath, reassuring myself it was okay if she didn't find it. She said she did find it, but I couldn't even tell it was a heartbeat. She repositioned the wand and I heard it. Strong and steady. Like beautiful music.

I went through the exam with my midwife and we went over my bloodwork. My numbers had slightly decreased. Still no bad news. She didn't mention the sonogram, so I assumed we wouldn't be getting one that day. But she excused herself and wheeled in the machine. Once again I held my breath until the image came on screen. I could see a head and body but couldn't make out much more.

She was talking about arms and legs and a pulsing umbilical cord. I didn't see any of that, but Johnie and I began a chorus of "Is that normal?" that lasted for the rest of the appointment. Then, she saw the baby's little hand. "Oh, see that hand," she squealed. "And that tiny little thumb!"

"I see it!" Johnie said.

I felt like Rachel on Friends when she couldn't see her baby. "I don't see it," I sheepishly admitted.

The midwife froze the shot, enlarged the image, and scooted the machine closer to me. "See?" And finally I was able to see it.

She printed out that shot, and then took another picture of the head and body and printed it out for us.

"What about the other hand?" Johnie asked.

"Oh, it's in there," she said.

Silly husband, I thought. Worried that the baby doesn't have two hands just because we only saw the one. I chuckled a little.

We waited while she added another roll of printer paper and watched the baby for several more minutes. I was able to make out things more clearly now and was just in awe getting to watch. S/he did a flip. At one point, s/he brought his/her hands up to his/her face. We all laughed. I wondered if maybe the baby could feel the pressure from the sonogram wand and was distraught that his/her comfortable home was being disturbed. Hands to face, "Is this how it's going to be in here now?!?"

And then it hit me. Maybe Johnie's concern had rubbed off on me. I hadn't seen the baby's legs. I could clearly see the arms - even the fingers and thumbs. I could see eye sockets and a nose and mouth. Why were there just two little nubs where the legs should be? I decided I would ask the midwife at the end of the sonogram and assured myself that we would be okay even if our baby didn't have legs.

Just then, the baby kicked both legs out with a flourish. I was able to see them clearly. I thanked God and started crying. What a fast and sweet response to my worried heart.

I had prayed and prayed throughout my pregnancy that my baby be protected from any illness in my body, and that the Lord please protect my baby from any mistakes I am already making as a mother. I pray throughout each day for the baby to feel calm and peaceful, safe and loved. Protected from anything bad in my body or in the world.

I couldn't help but watch the sonogram in awe. It felt like my prayers were being answered. I know that bad things could still be discovered, but my baby looked healthy and was active. It seemed like s/he was chillin'. Hangin' out. Exploring his/her own small little world. Oblivious to any bad thing. Exactly how I hoped my baby would look.

When we got out to the car, I just started sobbing. Johnie was a little confused, and worried.

"Of all the ways I imagined this appointment could go, I never let myself think about the possibility of nothing bad happening."

It was such a sweet gift from God. I could only feel thankful. And a little hope started bubbling up inside of me: What might it be like if we actually do get to have a healthy baby?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Stupid* antibodies, and a friendly reminder from God

Jesus' friends had been so afraid, they had only seen the big waves. They had forgotten that, if Jesus was with them, then they had nothing to be afraid of. No matter how small their boat - or how big the storm.
-The Jesus Storybook Bible

Curled up in bed one night I cried and confided in Johnie. I was feeling so insecure. So nervous. So worried. Just five days prior I had learned that I tested positive for several antibodies which cause my blood to clot abnormally. This puts me at an even higher risk for miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, slowed growth of the baby and pre-term labor than lupus alone.

I was thankful that they caught it this early in my pregnancy and I was thankful my levels weren't so high as to require blood thinner injections right away, but I had still been disappointed by this news.

I had prayed specifically, since I learned about lupus and some of the pregnancy risks, to not have to deal with this issue if I ever did become pregnant. In the moments after I learned the news I felt like it was just the beginning of my deepest fears for this pregnancy being realized. What other bad things were going to unfold in the days and weeks ahead?

But after spending some time in prayer with God, I began to feel better about things. Less panicked. More peaceful. Over the years, when troubles arise in my life when I feel like I am trying to do the Lord's will and I wonder why He is allowing obstacles to get in the way, I sometimes think of people like Mary. I have thought of her a lot during my pregnancy. If anyone ever deserved a pain-free, care-free pregnancy, it was Mary carrying Jesus. But she was so young and her story was so unbelievable and she had to ride on a donkey for several days and deliver her baby alone in a strange, unsterile, humble place. Why should I expect to have it easier than Mary? I mean, I already do have it easier than Mary, and why am I expecting even better treatment than the chosen mother of the Savior?

The fears didn't vanish though. They kept creeping back up and I kept fighting them back each day. Earlier this particular day I noticed that the Lupus Foundation of America had posted a new article about pregnancy outcomes of women with lupus and the antiphospholipid antibodies. I refrained from reading it for several hours until curiosity got the best of me. Maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

It was worse.

The fears just overwhelmed me. And as Johnie tried to calm me down, I got even more anxious and started veering into fears of my parenting skills and how this baby would affect our marriage. For each problem he tried to solve, I replaced it with twelve new ones. Finally, he just listened and waited for me to calm down. And when it seemed like I had said all I could think of to say, he pulled out the Jesus Storybook Bible.

You see, it is very important to my mom that babies are read to, even before they are born. She read the Bible to my brother and me still in the womb. I have always planned to do the same with my kids. Johnie and I have heard wonderful things about the Jesus Storybook Bible from many of our friends, so it was the first baby purchase we made. I thought we were getting a little carried away reading to an earless -- and even heartless when we started this tradition -- baby. But, I reasoned, we could probably stand to hear the Bible story each night even if it didn't quite reach our baby yet.

This night we were on The Captain of the storm. Johnie began reading and turned the page and I picked up until I got to:

They had forgotten that, if Jesus was with them, then they had nothing to be afraid of.

I could only cry. Thanks, God. What a sweet way to let me know I should probably just chill out and trust You.

He has sent me many words from friends and family and His Word in the last few weeks to reassure me He is with me in this. I randomly got a card a few days after the storm story from a women's ministry that I have done some small volunteer projects for (and that has done some major ministering in my own life) with a note (from someone who didn't even know I am pregnant) letting me know she had prayed for me and these verses came to her mind:

Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold me by my right hand. -Psalm 73:23

My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. -Psalm 73:26

She also offered this prayer: May God strengthen your body today and remind you that He is walking beside you, holding your right hand!

I don't understand why God decided I should carry this baby. I don't understand why I have to deal with this stupid* antibody issue. Or why any number of mothers have to deal with any number of pregnancy issues. And I don't know how this is going to work out.

But I am thankful for a sweet, loving, gentle, trustworthy Father who is by my side and helping me through it all. I need to be reminded constantly: I have nothing to fear. Because of Him.

*Writing this post made me realize I should probably begin now (while my baby hasn't yet developed the ability to hear) to significantly decrease my use of the word "stupid."

Friday, April 24, 2015

I really AM pregnant

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
-Psalm 139: 13

From the time I saw those two lines I wanted more information. What did this mean? Really. I wanted an ultrasound so we could get to the bottom of what was really going on.

I didn't get one at my first appointment and waited impatiently for the second one. I didn't feel like I could really accept that I was going to have a baby until I actually saw that there was a legitimate baby growing inside me.

While I was relieved that this first sonogram would be performed by a highly skilled OB, I was nervous about the actual encounter. First of all, he is a man. I usually refrain from allowing men that kind of access. (Women too, actually, but I more easily make exceptions for female doctors.) Also, a couple of my friends already warned me about their bad experiences with this particular doctor. I had hoped I would be scheduled with someone else in the practice.

Not having my doctor of choice only added to my anxiety about this appointment. I was afraid my uterus would be empty, or implanted with something unable to grow into an actual baby. And what if it was a baby, but without a heartbeat? The midwife was sure there would be a heartbeat, but I wasn't.

Several of my friends tried to assure me that there are several legitimate reasons why a heartbeat couldn't be detected that early. Namely, if I wasn't as pregnant (as far along) as I thought I was. I tried not to get my hopes up about a heartbeat, but from everything I read and knew about the timing of everything, I knew there should be a heartbeat. (Although I conceded that my not-being-able-to-get-pregnant calculations were obviously wrong, so maybe I was just COMPLETELY wrong about everything going on inside my body.)

I tried to control my anxiety about everything as I waited for the appointment. I would just feel so much better if I knew, I thought. Johnie and I had planned a fun April Fools Day announcement to our friends and family. But I wanted to chicken out. Why not wait until after we see a heartbeat and make a less fun announcement?

But after I saw the heartbeat, then I'd worry about some other thing and want to wait until after that thing was resolved before telling people. I talked with Johnie and as we kept playing out the "wait until" scenario for telling, we got to the point at which I delivered the baby and thought we might as well just have some April Fools Day fun and pay whatever potential consequences the following day at the appointment.

It was a long day of waiting. I couldn't really find the energy to do anything but wait that day. (And think. And pray.) Finally it came close enough to an acceptable time to leave the house and we got in the car and headed toward Lexington.

At the doctor's office, I waited and waited. My nerves would get the best of me and I would start crying as I waited, playing out all the possible scenarios in my head. Then I would try to pull it together so I wouldn't be crying when they called me back. Then I would start crying again because they STILL hadn't called me back. Then I would straighten up again. And again. I worried maybe they missed my arrival or my appointment. Or that I would find out the doctor wasn't there or the ultrasound machine wasn't working... and I'd just have to wait another week.

Friends were texting me well wishes throughout this time, which calmed me... and also made me cry. And then I'd pull that together.

(It was only 45 minutes... I'm not so good with waiting.)

And then I finally got called back and had to do those enjoyable things like pee in a cup (I had been waiting for that too), and have my weight displayed and... while I was getting my blood pressure taken and trying to will it to be low, I was given the following information: "The doctor has a student shadowing him this week. Would it be okay if he is also with you for the ultrasound?"

Another boy?!? Blood pressure, stay down. Where would he stand? What would he do? Stay calm, blood pressure. Should I ask Johnie what he thinks? No, I need to make this decision myself. I really don't want anyone else in there. But am I being unreasonable? I mean, he's a student trying to learn. Should I just say its okay and get over it? Is this affecting my blood pressure? Why would they ask me this while taking my blood pressure?! Are they finished with my blood pressure reading yet? What happens if it's high? Will they be mad if I say the student can't come in? I'm just going to say it...

The nurse was really sweet and early in my mental acrobatics she added, "No pressure, and it's your decision." Currently she was trying really hard to focus on a chart and not make eye contact. In case maybe I might feel intimidated?

"I'd really prefer if he didn't, if that's okay."

And the blood pressure was normal. Whew.

Then I went into the ultrasound room and waited some more for the doctor to actually come in. I'd start my nervous cry again and then clear it up when I heard rustling, and then the tears would well up again when the door didn't open.

I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself of everyone who was praying. And of God who was with me in that room. And I still really wanted to see inside my uterus once and for all, but I felt more calm and peaceful.

After what was probably only 5 minutes or so, the doctor came in. And I immediately liked him. He was warm and friendly and shook our hands. He seemed grandfatherly and that only increased when he actually started talking about his grandkids within two minutes of meeting us.

The ultrasound got underway quickly.

I thought seeing my baby for the first time -- with a heartbeat, especially -- would cause some sort of maternal bubble to explode inside of me and I would immediately feel overwhelming, inexpressible love. I thought Johnie and I would instinctively grab one another and cry tears of joy.

But that little blob came up on the screen, and this is how it went down:

That's the baby! Okay, so I really am pregnant. I really am. That little flickering thing, that's the heartbeat. My baby has a heartbeat! It's little heart is beating!

"You're seeing the miracle of life," the doctor said. "See that flickering? That's the heart."

Okay, so I really am pregnant. And the heart is beating!

"Can you see the heartbeat, dad?"

I heard a muffled yes from behind me.

This is the weirdest thing. I have a baby inside my body. I really do. Look at that little heart beating! How can they even tell this is a baby? I wonder which end is the head? I wonder where the baby is at inside my uterus?

"Okay, now we're just going to check your ovaries."

Wait! Just let me watch the baby for a few minutes! My ovaries? That might be cool to see.

"Here's your right one. Looks normal. And over here... your left one. You got pregnant from your left ovary."

You can tell that?! That's where I had the pain! I do know what's going on with me. In your face doctors who didn't believe me!

The baby came back on screen.

Oh, it's the baby! I really am pregnant. I have a baby inside me. Right now. A real live baby. With a heartbeat and everything. God, I can't believe this. I really am pregnant. I really am. This is for real. This is a big deal. Like, major. I'm really pregnant.

It all felt way more clinical and detached than I thought it would. I couldn't believe we were looking inside my body.

Then the ultrasound was over and the doctor talked to us for a few minutes. He said some of the sweetest, most reassuring things, telling me I hadn't made any mistakes and that the Great Physician was in control. And he listened to me and confirmed what I thought about what was going on.

He had said a lot of things during the ultrasound that I didn't understand (dictating notes to the nurse). He never said anything was bad or sounded alarmed, but I wanted to make sure. "Was there anything that looked abnormal or raised any red flags?"

He assured me everything was normal.

I was left alone to clean up and get ready to see my normal midwife. I looked back at Johnie who was staring down at the baby pictures in tears. "I don't know why I'm so emotional," he said.

So my husband cried at the sight of our baby's heartbeat and I could only stare in shock.

I laughed. "I have some idea. You just saw your baby, and it's beating heart, for the first time. I think it's pretty normal. And sweet."

The midwife, knowing our situation, asked me if I had been able to come to terms with the pregnancy any more in the last week.

And then I teared up, "That's a hard question. I feel like I've only really known I'm pregnant for about five minutes."

They took multiple vials of blood from me that day to test for all sorts of lupus-related possible pregnancy issues and I was cleared to not come back for another month. I was thankful to not have to go back for several weeks, but did not settle in comfortably for another month of waiting.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What about the husband?

Goodnight. I love you.

I have always thought Johnie would be a great dad. It is so sweet to see him play with little ones. This was never reason enough for me to actually get pregnant though. Because, you know, I'd have to actually grow a full size baby inside my body, get it out somehow (still haven't figured out how that is supposed to work) and then be his/her mom for the rest of my life. I was content just to watch him with our nieces and nephews.

But if I'm getting this surprise, this is a part I look forward to. Watching Johnie in action.

I just had to laugh the evening I told him our news. I think I could have asked him for anything that night and he would have given it to me happily. No complaints. (That has since died down.) He held my hand as we watched TV that night. He went out to pick our dinner up. And brought home flowers. He volunteered to do several little chores I would normally do.

And if any of you know Johnie and his track record of trying to say sweet things and failing miserably...One night before bed I was telling him how I just couldn't get over how quickly everyone just got excited about this baby and already loved him/her. They already started making plans for the baby.

I just couldn't get there. "I just don't know," I said. "I mean, am I just going to miscarry? Am I even really pregnant? Is the baby going to come early or late? Or be sick or healthy? I just don't know anything about this baby."

"We know this baby has a really great mother," he said.

Did those words just come out of the mouth of the man who said we would never work when he was trying to convince me to date him? Yes, they did. More than one miracle was conspiring around me.

When people asked us how we were feeling I said, "nervous and scared." He said, "more excited than I thought I would be."

I didn't want to bother him with added stress at the beginning of his new job so I recruited my mom to go to my baby appointments with me. Only he already planned to go with me himself. And talked with his boss to work out a schedule that would allow him to work around my appointments.

One night we were running errands and it was a couple hours past dinner and I was very hungry. I decided a chicken breast (two, actually) from Bojangles would do it. But the lady at the drive-thru informed us it would take 12 minutes. I didn't feel like I had 12 minutes, so I made him take me to McDonald's. But the line there was around the building and I wanted chicken anyway. So I screamed. I've never done that before in my life. (I have screamed before... just not over having to wait a few minutes for food.)

He took me back to Bojangles and we waited for the chicken. A couple bites in I felt settled down and embarrassed for acting so horribly. "I'm really sorry," I said. "I don't know what came over me. There's no excuse for that."

"Ummm... you're growing a person. You need to eat. I think it's completely understandable. I can't even imagine how I would act." (At which point I hoped I really was pregnant... Otherwise my behavior would have been even more inexcusable.)

He's given me the "Amy, you're growing a person." pass plenty of times since we learned the news.

There are things he does stress out about. In the first 16 hours after the positive pregnancy test, he wanted to buy all the nursery furniture, pick out a name and make a decision about vaccinations.

Randomly, a couple weeks ago, he felt it imperative to change out several of our door knobs so they would be safer for the baby... when s/he starts walking. I asked if he felt like it was something he needed to do that day. He said yes.

And, little things will pop up every now and then that bring him pause or that put him in a bad mood. But mostly, he's just really sweet.

He began reading to the baby that first night. And each night before we go to sleep he kisses my belly and says, "goodnight, I love you." (He started that on his own.) Now that I think of it, he was the first person to ever tell the baby "I love you." Pretty sweet.

One night I asked him a question I wasn't even sure I wanted to know the answer to: "If you could go back, would you change things?" I had no idea what he would say. And I didn't even know what I wanted to hear. But he gave the most perfect answer I could think of given our surprise with this baby and my deep-seated quality time love language.

"That's a trick question... I really want to have longer with just you, but I already love this baby."

With all I am nervous about with this little one, the father isn't one. (I love you, Johnie! And thanks for being awesome!)

Friday, April 10, 2015

How do I even know I'm pregnant?

The first pregnancy is a long sea journey to a country where you don't know the language...
-Emily Perkins

I have worried so many times that the negative pregnancy test results I received over the years were actually wrong and that I was actually pregnant and I would surprisingly just go into labor one night. Too many I didn't know I was pregnant episodes, I guess. When I got the positive result, I was also skeptical.

How could this be? I mean, really? It didn't make sense. I felt like telling everyone, "We had a positive pregnancy test... we're checking into what this may mean." I showed Johnie the test and I showed my mom the test just to get their confirmation that it was, indeed, two lines. Unanimously everyone who looks sees two.

But I have been a little shocked by how eagerly everyone just accepted the news. I just said (or someone else said for me) basically, "I'm pregnant." And everyone just believed I was carrying a baby inside my body. I started getting presents for the baby within hours. (I already have a shelf dedicated to baby items in my basement.) Some people already had a feeling I was pregnant before I even knew myself. Some people already knew the sex of the baby. They even instantly began calling me mom, momma, little mommy, baby mama. Did they not need more proof of my impregnation, or especially of my mothering skills first? I sure felt like I did. I only had one friend who actually demanded (okay, not really demanded) to see the test with her own eyes. She was with me on not being able to believe it.

I was kind of afraid that I somehow wrongly took the test. That I would wake up one morning and things would be normal and I wouldn't be pregnant. And then I'd have to tell everyone, "Nevermind. I wasn't actually pregnant after all. Isn't that funny? I'm just going to hide now." I'd be the girl so stupid she didn't even know that she wasn't pregnant.

I even took another test two days later just to see if it was still positive. I was also a little worried because shortly after learning I was pregnant my short list of possible pregnancy symptoms vanished and I felt like I normally do. It was still positive.

Still though. I had heard of chemical pregnancies (though I'm still unsure what those actually are) and ectopic pregnancies and other types of pregnancies that trigger a positive test result but fizzle out quickly. How could I know I didn't have one of those types of pregnancies?

I scheduled a doctor's appointment and thought maybe that would help me be sure I was, in fact, pregnant. Even the lady on the phone when I scheduled the appointment congratulated me. (I guess we do just have to take people's word for it whether or not they are pregnant.)

Many of my friends assumed I'd have some kind of ultrasound during that first appointment. Maybe those things are common for first appointments, especially with first pregnancies and high risk situations? I really wanted to see inside my uterus. Babycenter told me the baby was only the size of a sesame seed, but I wanted to see that little seed with my own two eyes. How else could I know it was actually in there?

I tried to prepare myself for a disappointing appointment. Of not being able to hear the heartbeat yet because sesame seeds are so tiny. (Believe me, they're even tinier when you think of them as real live people... How anyone comes to be is a mystery to me.) I had even prepared myself for no ultrasound at all.

Which is what happened. No peek inside my uterus. No confirmation more sophisticated (in my opinion) than the one (two) I had received at home. And yet, having a doctor's official opinion of the reading of the test somehow made my pregnancy more legitimate for some people. "So you really ARE pregnant," they said.

Myself, I questioned the midwife's confidence in my condition. Because I am high risk, she scheduled an ultrasound to be conducted by a high risk OB the following week. "We will hear a heartbeat," she said. She said it just like that. It kind of scared me. I usually try to refrain from definitive statements. How could she be so sure? Do they teach you something in midwife school that allows you to just look at a newly pregnant woman and know the tiny little heart she's growing is beating? Or is there a third line for doctors' pregnancy tests that indicate "beating heart?" (If so, they really should have told me that.)

How was everyone else in the world more sure of this pregnancy than me? I didn't know. Maybe some sort of wisdom is imparted by people who are actually parents and they understand pregnancy better than us unexpecting (maybe that is a bad word choice) newbies.

At any rate, I took my appointment card and resigned to wait another week for some visual -- concrete -- confirmation of this tiny baby.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My disappointing reaction

For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline.
-2 Timothy 1:7

I don't feel ready for a perfectly healthy little angel baby. So I really don't feel up for anything less than perfectly healthy. And part of my initial reaction of hoping this just wasn't true was because of fear of all the things that could go wrong during pregnancy, childbirth and infancy.

I feel a little justified in some of my fears since my health issues make this a high risk pregnancy and my chances of miscarriage are higher than normal. But, truth be told, even if I didn't have lupus I'd still be terrified of a miscarriage or of birthing an unhealthy baby. I mean, Johnie and I don't have the most stellar genes to work with from the beginning. And I've never been good at eating healthy or acting healthy or living healthy in general, lupus or not.

I always feared being unable to produce a healthy baby. Now those fears were in overdrive. I thought I could calm them by doing some research online (I know, I obviously wasn't thinking clearly), but I just became more anxious. And discouraged. It was so early my baby's heart wasn't even beating yet! How could I know if it would start beating? What if it had some chromosomal defect? What if? What if? What if?

This baby's due date also made me nervous. November 22nd. My grandmother, who is the most influential person in my life, died on November 27th. My grandfather, her husband, died thirteen years later on November 19th. That was their time. It was my time to grieve them and remember them. How could I handle adding another sad memory to that week? Or how could I handle delivering a baby and trying to be happy about it on the anniversary of the hardest thing I've ever had to endure? "Lord, please don't let this baby be born on the 27th," was my prayer.

My mom thought maybe God was giving me a gift, giving me something back to signify and help rectify the losses in my life. She was also completely certain nothing could be wrong with this baby. Two days after we learned we were pregnant, I sat out on the steps in my sunroom talking with her. "You just need to be open to what God can do," she said.

I was open. I knew I could have a good pregnancy and a healthy baby, thanks to God. But I also knew that there were many other less appealing possibilities. Thoughts of friends' babies who were miscarried or terribly ill or unable to survive flooded my mind. If tragic things could happen to my closest friends, they could happen to me too. One of the many injustices of living in a fallen world still groaning toward redemption is that not even sweet little innocent babies are exempt from hardship.

But I reflected on things that evening looking out over the field behind our house. There are no guarantees for a hardship-free life. We get tough surprises all the time. Even if I had a perfectly healthy baby, my world could still get shaken up in other ways. Tragedy can strike and life can be changed forever at any point. I've had it happen before. And God is always there to get me through it. I went to bed thankful that whatever happened, He would be by my side.

I woke up the next morning and continued to reflect on the night before. I want to be a light for the Lord. I want to bring Him glory. I try to live my life so that when those hard moments come unexpectedly, I bring Him praise and honor. I felt like I had failed miserably. Instead of trusting Him to get me through any storms that may be ahead, I just was very afraid.

That wasn't the only thing I felt guilty about. I have prayed for several years to clearly, specifically, know the will of God in the details of my life. I was at war with myself with decisions to move from Kansas to Kentucky, with decisions to take jobs and quit jobs. Always wanting to do His will, always wanting to make the right decision in His eyes.

I can't tell you how many times I have prayed, "Lord, just tell me. Whatever it is you want me to do, I'll do it. Anything." And He asks me something as simple as "be pregnant." And, at least initially, I would have refused.

I had hoped I would have reacted differently. But I didn't. I was disappointed in myself. But I slowly began to change that morning. After eight years of begging and praying, "Lord, if I am pregnant, please, please, PLEASE let the baby be healthy" I changed it that morning to, "Lord, whatever is in store for me with this life inside of me, I trust You with it. And if this baby isn't healthy in some way, I still love You and I still worship You and I still want to do Your will with my life and with this new life." And I thanked Him for answering my prayer to clearly show me what He wanted me to do, even if it was an unexpected answer.

I still want a healthy baby. I still get afraid. I just try to give it to the Lord quickly and let it go myself. And I'm sure I will continue to make disappointing mistakes in the days, months and years to come. But I hope I am growing toward a life more in line with His will.

I don't know how things will go in the weeks and months ahead. And I still don't feel excited yet. But I do feel peaceful now. And I'm letting that be enough while I wait.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sharing the news

Love and pregnancy and riding on a camel can not be hid.
-Arabic Proverb

There was little I was excited about in the first 24 hours after I learned I was pregnant. Actually, I could find two things to muster excitement for. First, since we were not even teenagers my best friend and I had always talked about some day being pregnant at the same time. She was six months along in her pregnancy, so if I was going to have a surprise I was thankful from the first few minutes that it was at the same time as my friend. We had let go of that dream a few years ago for multiple reasons, so we both saw the timing of our pregnancies as a gift from God.

The other thing I could get excited for was telling people. I had thought about different ways to share the news for years... if I ever did get pregnant. Now it was here and I wanted to have fun with it. I woke my best friend up and she quickly decided it was the best wake up call ever. Johnie's brother almost choked, we think. (Those who know us well had pretty much given up any hope that we would ever birth children.)

We told my mom we wanted her to make the announcement to the church family. She said no for about five seconds, then cried about being offered such an honor and enthusiastically agreed. I sort of thought she would just shout out something like, "I'm going to be a Memaw!" Or, "Johnie and Amy are having a baby!" With a jubilance (I may have made that word up) only she can achieve.

But all on her own accord she wanted to be ornery too. She thought about telling everyone that there was a new special someone in her life, leading them to think of a romantic relationship. But she settled on another idea that I think was even better.

Circled up to pray my mom was given the floor for her announcement: "I just wanted to let everyone know I'm getting a new car (Karr)!"

Everyone clapped politely, albeit confused. My mom already had a nearly new car and isn't usually one to get caught up in material things.

"A new little baby car (Karr)." People were still clapping and some didn't really hear her. Those who did thought she was talking about a compact car.

A couple seconds of awkward silence. Finally Johnie said, "Do you want to give any more details?"

"Well, I'll get it probably around...." She looked to me. "In November," I said. I thought everyone might catch on then. But there was still confusion.

Finally she brought her arms up like she was rocking a baby. "A new little baby car (Karr)." And people started to get it.

Unfortunately I have managed to miss all the group pregnancy announcements among our church friends to date. I always end up being out of town, or sick, or with some conflicting appointment on the one burrito night I didn't make that year. They probably react similarly to anyone who shares baby news. Or maybe we were just the least likely couple to ever make such an announcement. (One friend said, "you just know some things aren't a possibility so you don't even consider them," when talking about why it took everyone a bit to solve my mom's riddle.)

I was overwhelmed. There were squeals of joy and hugs and laughter. I looked around and people were high fiving and hugging. Some had their hands over their mouths. Others were crying. I was thankful that my mom and Johnie were there to absorb some of the attention, but I was shaking and feeling all tingly.

Maybe it was too much too soon for me to handle, but my heart was reassured to see all the joy on everyone's faces about the life inside of me. As I told them as they asked how I was handling it and apologized if they were being obnoxiously excited, I just felt so thankful to see others feeling about this baby the way I wish I could feel. And in those fear-filled moments, I always found reassurance in a community who already loved and cared for my little one.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Two little lines

A grand adventure is about to begin.
-Winnie the Pooh

Within hours of learning I was pregnant I felt compelled to write. I decided quickly to journal. The decision to blog came more slowly. I feel like there are more than enough motherhood/pregnancy blogs already, and they all do a much better job than I could ever do. But what would it hurt to share my experiences too? It's already been proven people don't have to read what I write. So here goes...

Upfront you should know I did not want this to happen. My husband and I were scared away from having children almost eight years ago when I thought I might be pregnant and later learned that I wasn't. We never really recovered from the shock of sudden responsibility we felt as we waited for a negative pregnancy test.

Ironically, it was that experience that sealed the deal for me quitting hormonal birth control. I had health complications with the three different types I tried (migraines, moodiness, weight gain, etc), but the fear that it could potentially harm my unborn child (unwarranted or not) was enough for me to stop it for good.

Within a few months we settled on natural family planning. I read several books. I still remember reading a warning that if we weren't going to be serious about NFP, then we shouldn't claim to practice it. The author lamented that NFP had such a low success rate because so many people did it incorrectly or took chances they weren't supposed to take. Also, most NFP "failures" happen in the first year.

I took the responsibility seriously and was diligent that first year. I followed every single rule. Measured and charted every indicator every day. To be fair to NFP we have not strictly followed the rules since then. It's just that some of the fertility indicators are tedious to measure, and if you track everything month after month you begin to learn about your body. (For example, my temperature swings happen later than for most women. I stopped taking my daily temperature years ago because it just wasn't as reliable an indicator for me as other things.)

 And there have been a handful of times when I have been wrong. I thought the indicators were or were not there only to learn after it was too late that I had misread my signals. That's not what happened this time. We had very good reasons to believe my fertile window had opened AND closed. And no other indication to the contrary. Still, in the hours following the positive pregnancy test I felt like a failure. How could I have let this happen?

I have always been paranoid about a surprise pregnancy and have taken dozens of pregnancy tests over the years. It has been a common refrain for me to link some symptom or issue with possible pregnancy. This particular time it was back pain.

My mom had back pain with both her pregnancies very early. When my back began hurting, I thought I might be experiencing the same thing. I lay in bed at 3 am the day of my missed period and whispered to my husband, "I just can't stop worrying about if I'm pregnant."

Eight years is a long time to be patient. Having heard it all before he replied simply, "Amy, you're not pregnant." And he rolled over and went to sleep. I nursed some hurt feelings and planned to talk to him the next evening about being more respectful to my concerns.

The next day I took the test. For the first time in my life the first little pink line began to appear. I blinked my eyes several times. It was still there. Two lines? Two lines! TWO lines?!?!?! "Dear God, no. Please no. I'm not ready. It's not time," I prayed.

I took a picture. Both lines showed up in the picture. I held it up to the light. They were still there. My heart started beating out of my chest and my breathing sped up. My skin flushed. Was I going to faint?

I talked myself through until my heart rate and breathing slowed. "It's okay. It's going to be okay. It's going to be okay. Everything will be alright."

My next thought was having to tell people. It was close to April Fool's Day. Every previous time I thought I might be pregnant around March, I always thought an April 1st announcement would be fun. So that might work out. I began thinking of how I would tell my friends. They would probably ask me how I am feeling. I actually thought I was handling it pretty well. I mean, I hadn't cried or anything. I panicked at first, but that was just for a few seconds really. How was I feeling?

I looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself, "I'm terrified." All composure was lost as I melted into sobs. I could hear my husband in the next room in a conference call meeting. On his first day of work at his new job. I couldn't really tell him until after his work day was finished. And I didn't want him to hear me, rush out and learn about our pregnancy with me a blubbering heap.

I tried to pull myself together and took several deep breaths. How do teenagers do this? How in the world do single moms handle this? I am old and married and middle class and love kids and I feel completely unprepared and unqualified. Downright unable. (Every mom in the world gained even more respect from me that day.)

Johnie had an hour before he was finished with work. How would I tell him? I really didn't want him to learn about his first child through heaving sobs. I thought about friends who had bought onesies or dad-to-be items and given them to their husbands. I didn't really have time for that. "Oh, hey... we're pregnant" seemed lackluster. What could I do?

I settled on telling him I got him a surprise for his first day at his new job. That was about the best I could come up with. I willed myself to hold it together, but his meeting ran long. And in the minutes between when he was supposed to get off work and when he did get off work I lost it again. And pulled it together again.

He didn't act like he suspected anything when he saw my face. "So, I got you a surprise for your first day of work."

"Oh, really? You didn't have to do that. What is it?"

This is harder than I thought it would be. I swallowed and could only whisper, "I'm pregnant."

His eyes got wide. "Really?!?"

I shrugged. "That's what the test said."

A tiny smile tugged his lips upward. But only for a few seconds. Serious, he asked, "how are you feeling?"

"How are you feeling?"

We were hugging. I couldn't see his face. What is he going to say? What is he going to do? How is he going to react? What is this going to mean for us? The seconds ticked slowly by. Was he waiting on me to answer first? I wanted him to answer first.

Finally he spoke. "I'm just really worried about how you are feeling."

"I'm scared."

We began discussing how and when to tell people. My best friend had always made me one of the first people she told (after her husband) about her pregnancies. Johnie agreed we should do the same for her. So she was our first call. We tried to call my mom but she wasn't available. We called Johnie's parents and siblings and grandparents.

We would be seeing our church family the following night. We live in a very tight knit open community. We strive to share life like a real, authentic family. This was rocking my world. I couldn't see my friends and not tell them. If it was even possible, it would have felt dishonest. But the thought of Johnie announcing our pregnancy and then everyone looking at me was overwhelming. I never like a lot of eyes on me and especially in a situation like this. I told him I just couldn't handle it.

He suggested I stay home and he announce it without me. That'd be a great way to have everyone at my house -- sick with worry -- in less than ten minutes. We agreed to call the friends we would see the next evening before we were to be with them. That way things might be settled down a little before I actually had to have anyone looking at me.

That was until we talked to my mom. She was ecstatic. Beyond ecstatic. She kept thanking the Lord over and over again. And she told us this was the best moment of her life so far. My husband tried to clarify -- with both of her children also on the phone -- and she said that her own births were the most amazing moments of her life when they happened. Emphatically, this was the best yet, she said, and that it would only get better when the baby arrived.

I knew my mom would be excited. But I had no idea her reaction would be so over the top. It actually helped me feel a lot better. I mean, everyone we told had sweet reactions. But my mom's response was priceless. I was already feeling a little guilty that my initial reaction was void of happiness and Johnie's lacked much enthusiasm. At least this baby had others who responded in such pure joy.

She also had plans with close friends in the coming days and was unsure how she could not tell them. Johnie received an email that night from a dear friend and we almost had to call him and his wife to tell them the news because Johnie didn't know how he could hide such a huge life event. (That friend later said he knew by Johnie's short reply that something was up.)

So, Johnie and I decided that night that mom should be the one to make the announcement to our church family. We weren't sure how she would do it, but we did know it would be great. And almost certainly better than any way Johnie or I could manage to tell anyone in the next 24 hours.

In true mom fashion, she didn't disappoint. Neither did our friends.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Home buying redux. Or, what not to do when buying a house.

We couldn't have planned it any better.

For most of my marriage with Johnie I dreamed of owning a home in Kentucky. Before we even had actual plans to move I asked my grandfather to wait on carving our Wichita address into a piece of wood he saved for me from a tree we had planted together. Because I wanted my permanent address to be in my home state.

Years later, I finally know what that address is but I never could have imagined just how long and curvy the road home would be.

Even before we officially sold the home we loved in Kansas we were already looking for Kentucky houses. The first couple of years it was mostly casual internet searches and random open house viewings. We weren't even sure what city we wanted to settle in and visited houses from Frankfort to London and many places in between.

I felt burned by our real estate experience in Kansas and made a list of must-haves for the house and the process.

We began working with a (fabulous) realtor in the spring of 2013 (Jonnie Jean Young). By that time we had decided we wanted to settle in London -- someday -- close to our friends and church family. We found a house we were excited about but we were unable to swing the down payment necessary for a loan on a home that wouldn't be our primary residence for a few years.

The home search was suspended until the following winter. We had a diagnosis for my health issues and it was becoming clear to me that I couldn't keep up with my job and my personal life. We made the decision for me to stop working and, with nothing holding us to Frankfort, to move. By this time a couple of our friends were also home shopping in London. As we learned quickly, each of us had talked to our spouses about how we would love to be neighbors. So, we decided to house shop together.

We considered homes listed in the same neighborhoods. We considered house/lot options to build side-by-side. We looked at land to build a duplex. We looked at properties that included a primary residence and rental home on-site. We looked at large single family homes to remodel to fit our needs. Nothing quite worked.

With no solid prospects, Johnie and I, along with some other dear friends, secured a large rental home in London and continued the search. (In case you haven't already deduced this, Johnie and I don't do housing in the same way as most American families.)

In late July our friends called us about a house they were extremely interested in. It was in the same subdivision as several of our other friends. Actually, some of our friends had been interested in buying it several months prior before they learned it didn't qualify for financing at that time. It had been a foreclosure and by this point had been purchased by an investor.

Before: Bedroom
I had walked around the outside of this house a year or so previously. It was old and dirty and small. And kind of creepy. From what I had learned from our friends who had been interested in it before, it didn't have a lot of the things on my list. Johnie had asked me to look at it with him several times. I always said no.

But none of us were really interested in living in the house. It sat on an acre and a half of land and we were thinking we could fix it up as a rental and then build our two-family duplex at the back of the lot.

Our friends went under contract on the house in August. We began our house-building plans and my friend coaxed me through the front door by telling me it wasn't as bad inside as she had thought it would be.

By the time I actually looked at the house the outside had been cleaned up considerably from when I had just walked around the yard. And the inside had been aired out a little and some of the walls had been fixed.
Before: Dining Room

I stepped through the front door and it reminded me of our rental house in Frankfort. Which isn't a good thing. I didn't like that house. But I had to agree with my friend. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

The weeks ticked by. The end date to our lease crept closer. Home building plans got more complicated and expensive-feeling to me.

I have always wanted a master bath. I'd have one in the house we built. We would have a two-car garage. We were going to have everything on our list. And, someday, even an in-ground pool.
But, as we dreamed of all the nice things we would have in the house we were going to build, I began feeling uncomfortable with the price of those things. And I began feeling uncomfortable with my own greed and selfishness.

Before: Living Room
It sure would be a lot cheaper and less complicated just to live in the foreclosure house. We had lived in the Frankfort house for two years and this one was bigger than that -- with major remodeling potential. But still not wanting to actually live in that house, I decided not to talk about my thoughts with anyone.

The closing ended up getting delayed because of a clerical error with the deed. We were all assured that it was a matter of when -- not if -- it would be cleared up. It was right around this same time I posed the question to Johnie: "What if we just lived in the foreclosure house and didn't build?"

We talked with our friends and, later, with the investor, and a new plan was hatched. As we waited for the deed issue to be resolved, we subdivided the land into two portions. We would get the half with the house, our friends would get the other half to build. And because we wanted to move out of our rental house when our other friends would be moving out, the investor agreed to let Johnie and me determine, coordinate and oversee the work on the foreclosure house so it would be ready when we needed it.
Before: Kitchen

We thought that meant he would be paying for things and the cost would (basically) be rolled into our loan amount at closing. What it actually meant was he would let us work on and pay for renovations on the house before we closed.

So, yes, like stupid people, Johnie and I began working on a vacant foreclosed house we didn't own. By this time, I was starting to feel a little nervous. Because this was for sale by owner, we weren't using our beloved realtor. And because we were initially more interested in the land than in the house, we never had an inspection.

Before: Bathroom
We entered this work phase as we had entered the previous ones: Prayerfully. We knew we were taking a gamble and were risking any money we spent on the house, but we decided it was worth the risk. If it worked out in the end, it would be more than worth it.

We started slow with the work. That means we mostly just spent our time. We spent several days cleaning the house. And we spent a while deciding just what projects we would tackle before we moved in, paring them down considerably since the expenses were all coming out of our own pockets.

This might be a good time to mention that new plan we hatched was a verbal one. (Hence the initial misunderstanding about who would pay for what.) The actual contract wasn't revised from the original one. We were waiting for a full loan approval for Johnie and me since it had been so long since our first one when we began the process. And we needed the deed issue to be resolved.
After: Bedroom

Anything we would do to the house at this point would start costing more serious money. I wanted to paint all the rooms which would be several hundred dollars alone. I was at war with myself. If I spent the money and did the work and we didn't get the house, I would kick myself for being so stupid. But if I didn't go ahead and paint now when the house was empty and I had the time to do it, I would kick myself at closing for not doing that work when I had the chance.

I quizzed all my friends on whether or not to paint. One advised that I should sit with each decision... how would I feel about either decision years from now? And that helped me. If I didn't paint and we didn't get the house, it was inconsequential. If I didn't paint and we did get the house, I'd have a lot of added work and stress when we moved (something I try to avoid these days). If I painted and we got the house, then it would be really helpful and I could tell everyone how crazy we were to paint the house before it was even ours. And if I painted and we didn't get the house, I could tell everyone how crazy we were to paint a vacant house we didn't even own. I love a good story. And Johnie and I do crazy things like that. That's just who we are. We aren't really very normal. Decision made.
After: Dining Room

Toward the end of January, the painting was well underway. The contractor we had spoken with several weeks prior finally had time to do our projects. We scheduled to meet him at the house one Tuesday afternoon, the same day our housemates would be moving on to continue their missionary work.

Hiring the contractor meant some really serious money (or what I consider serious money). My nervousness only increased. We were going to be out of our rental house at the end of February and had a verbal agreement that we could move into the foreclosure house before closing, but still no actual revised contract.

I couldn't sleep that Monday night and spent quite a while talking with God about all my house worries. Everything felt so shaky, like it could crumble at any moment. So many times throughout the process I just wanted to throw my hands up, walk away from the foreclosure house and the dream of having friends as neighbors, contact our realtor and find a decent house like regular people. This was one of those times. I remember telling God that night, "we're going to be committed to paying this contractor tomorrow, and we don't even have a contract yet." In tears I fell asleep, resigned to continue on this unstable ground.
After: Living Room

The next morning we said an emotional goodbye to our friends, and as we were watching them pull out of the driveway Johnie's phone rang. It was our loan broker telling us all the loan and contract paperwork were ready to sign. The deed issue had been resolved a few days earlier. A couple hours before we met our contractor, we had the paper contract my heart had been hoping for.

Progress on the house went into high gear. We began going over to do projects on nights and weekends, or sometimes even while the contractor was there. One Saturday a friend came over and turned on the water for us and I held my breath and then thanked the Lord when all the pipes worked, minus a very minor, easily fixable drain leak at the bathtub.

And then, in early February, with the contractor finished and the paint almost complete, the appraiser came. Through the months of working on the house, I had fallen in love with it. It was good and solid. There were no roof leaks. The basement stayed dry. The hardwood floors were absolutely beautiful. I had the best dishwasher I've ever owned installed in the kitchen, as well as a stunning red sink with its own little story. The contractor added a gorgeous built-in to replace a non-functional window in the dining room. After all the work we did on the house, we uncovered no major issues.

After: Kitchen
I cleaned and prayed before the appraiser was set to arrive. I wanted to do everything I could to help the process. All along I had trusted the Lord that if we weren't supposed to get this house, then we would just get another one. But now I actually wanted this house.

The appraiser made me nervous. An appraiser caused a snafu when we bought our first home. We had already spent all our extra money fixing up this house, we didn't have anything to compensate for a low appraisal. By the time the appraiser arrived at the house, I was in tears from nervousness and sneaked out the back as he entered the front. Thankfully, Johnie was there and able to act like a sane person for the both of us. I told the Lord that if we weren't going to get this house, I wished He would have let us know before that day.

Before we even knew the results of the appraisal, Johnie received a job offer. It was work even more in line with what he loves than what he was already doing. And after a week of negotiations, we felt like it was doable for us. But, we learned, the new job would put us $250 above the annual income cap on the loan program we were using. If we didn't close before the job switch, we would need to switch loan programs, wait at least 30 days for a new income history and bring more money to the table.
After: Bathroom

As we were considering the job, the appraisal came in and was what we needed it to be. We still didn't have a firm closing date, but a good possibility that we could close in time for the new job not to affect things.

With fear of losing the house and fear of not being able to meet the (exciting) challenges at the new job pretty much the only things in our reasons to say no column, we decided not to let fear make our decision and Johnie accepted the new position. We continued on with our plans to move.

The rental house we were leaving was more than 3000 square feet. We needed to be out of it by February 28th, a Saturday. I had realized several weeks earlier that I could not move completely out of and then clean such a big house in one day. And we were already busy on Saturday the 21st. I'm sure my friends would have bailed me out and spent their whole Saturday getting everything wrapped up for me, but we decided to move all of our big things on Monday the 23rd. I planned to move all of our smaller things slowly, one car load at a time, the week before. It would cut down on boxes and packing and unpacking.

Except for that's the week we got the historic snowfall, followed by the historic cold.

We stayed snowed in our driveway until our landlord dug us out. And our friends got out and worked on our house for us those days. We had accumulated a list of projects that were to be fixed that week: New sink hoses to allow for running water in the kitchen, a new cord for the stove, the bathtub drain repair. We also learned in those final days before the move that what we thought was the thermostat wasn't. We didn't have one for the air conditioning. Only for the heat. (Thankfully, we didn't need it right away.) And also, the mailbox we thought was ours actually belonged to the neighbors.

48 hours before the move, the easy drain issue turned out to be way more complicated, we still needed to hook up the stove, and I couldn't even park in the driveway of that house because of all the snow. We weren't even sure if we'd be able to move into the house on Monday because of the snow. But we pressed on.

On Sunday, friends came over to clear the driveway and work on the drain.

Set to move the next morning, but still unsure how it would all unfold, I made another trip to Lowe's in tears Sunday evening. Still no working stove, still no way to take a shower.

"This is just how things like this go," my mom told me. She had agreed to stay the week with me to help me move. (Thank God she did.) "It's like when you read a book. We're at the part where everything is messed up. But in the end it all works out and everyone is happy."

"I didn't want to write a book, mom, I just wanted a story."

Thanks to several of our friends, the actual move went great. And, amazingly, the house felt like home almost instantly.

We still didn't have a working bathtub/shower, but we planned to travel back and forth from the rental house to finish packing and cleaning anyway. We would just take our showers there.
Our loan broker told us we could probably close on the house by the end of the week. And I had already started discussing our celebration -- for when we did close -- with our friends. We would all get to be at the closing table together. Us for the house, them for the land. I wanted to do remakes of all the crazy pictures from the first closing in Kansas. And then we were going to plant a tree or set a stone or start digging a footer -- something -- to signify this day. And then we were going to eat a delicious dinner together.

Throughout the week, my mom, my brother, my friends and I worked to get all the final items moved to the new house and get the old house cleaned out. Johnie was working faithfully each night after work to fix the bathtub drain. I was confident he would get it soon. My health was not doing great and I was needing to rest more than I preferred, but I was much healthier than I could have been and I had a lot of people helping. I felt hopeful.

On Thursday the bathtub drain still wasn't fixed. I was afraid I was going to have to take our friends up on their offer to shower at their house. And our broker called to tell us the final underwriter didn't approve our loan because of a fallen downspout noticed in one of the pictures. Any hopes of closing this week were dashed. If everything went smoothly with the repair and reappraisal, we could possibly expedite the closing to Monday, our broker said.

Johnie was pretty disappointed. His official two week notice went into effect on Monday. If the lending company required a third employment verification and if Human Resources disclosed his notice, we would be starting all over with a new loan program.

But Johnie fixed the downspout that afternoon, the appraiser sent in his paperwork, and we continued to work on getting settled into the new house and moved out of the old house. We had done everything we could do.

Friday morning I talked to my friend who was buying the land with us. I told her we may close on Monday, and that I was feeling okay at that moment. Some other friends had volunteered to get things wrapped up at the old house that day and Johnie had fixed the tub drain. I could take a shower at my new house! I got out of bed with a plan for the day and felt like I could actually accomplish it. My mom and I worked on some projects at the new house with plans to clean at the old house with friends after lunch.

But the broker called as we were eating lunch to tell us the paperwork had been approved and we could close that afternoon. If we (four, for the house and land) and the investor could get there. Johnie was ecstatic. I was nauseous. I had not planned to take a break from scrubbing floors to go close on a house. And the old house had to be cleaned because we were giving it back to the landlord the next day.

On top of that, neither of our friends were available at the same time.

I cried. I cried hard. So many things had not gone how I had imagined they would go with this whole process, and now my dream of a fun closing and celebration with our friends was also being shattered. I knew I was being a baby but it took me a few minutes to pull it together. The important thing was that we would all finally own this house and land we had worked and waited for.
We worked it out so we would filter in throughout the afternoon as we were available to each sign our portion of the documents.

I left the old house, not even completely sure if the investor would make it to sign his portion of the documents, and went to the new house to meet Johnie and change out of work clothes before heading to the title company.

I thought we would just sign our stuff and leave, but Johnie said he'd stay and wait for the investor to arrive. Our broker told us as soon as the investor signed, the house would definitely be ours. As we were waiting, I noticed I forgot to change my jeans and had brown stains on my knees from cleaning earlier. (Just another thing to add to the train wreck, I thought.)

The investor was late. And I was not feeling very good about what seemed like rushing through paperwork at the last minute on a Friday evening. This was a big deal for me and Johnie. I wasn't sure everyone else at the table understood just how invested we were in this house.

We tried to portray what we felt like by the time
 we made it to closing. This actually doesn't do it justice.
By the time all of the paperwork was wrapped up it was well into the evening. Though it wasn't said explicitly, we got the impression that the paperwork wouldn't actually be reviewed by the loan company until Monday morning. I left hoping we wouldn't get a bad news call the following week.

My friend met us back at our house when we finished up the closing. We hugged and cried and she saw the house -- with our stuff in it -- for the first time.

"We couldn't have planned it any better," she said. "Obviously, we didn't plan this."

What we did plan was that celebration we had wanted. And I told everyone, "legally, everything is done. But it won't be official until we celebrate."

Monday came and went with no bad news. And as the days passed, I began to finally settle into owning a home once more. I had dreamed for so many years about this, I had to keep reminding myself it was real each morning. It took us a while to switch from renting mentality (should we ask the landlord?) to owning mentality (we can do whatever we want with this wall!). But I am thankful to finally feel like I am putting down roots in a place I love surrounded by people I love.