Wednesday, December 28

Beth is 10!

Woah Darling, you're 10.  Ten years young.  Yesterday you declared, "I'm a decade old now!" and I couldn't help but think that you're not old, you're still so young!  You want so badly to be "old" and grown up.  You talk about getting a car (you hope Jenny will give you hers!) and what you will do/be when you grow up (an illustrator or a housekeeper!).  You want so badly to be given more privileges and to do more adult tasks.

I know you're going to make a GREAT adult one day, but there's no need to rush this growing up thing.  I try to tell you that being a kid is fabulous because you can try out new things whenever you want, but it's hard for you to sometimes find the joy in that- and that kills me because you are pretty much awesome at anything you put your mind to!   

For your birthday breakfast, I made you homemade cinnamon rolls- but you had to eat and run because Jenny took you on a special horseback riding expedition!  I always think your birthday is so special since it's right after Christmas and you always have family here to help you celebrate!  For dinner, Daddy smoked brisket and we had beans, creamed corn, and your favorite pickles.  We had a Texas sheet cake and Blue Bell ice cream- you went to the store with PawPaw to pick out the flavors you wanted (Homeade Vanilla and Mint Chocolate Chip).   Daddy and I gave you a new sewing basket, a "Big Sis" charm for your bracelet and some heart earrings.  You also received books, more earrings, and a special wallet. 

Daddy and I love you so, so very much.  So do your brothers and sister (even if they don't always show it!), your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.  You are SO very loved, sweet girl.

The End of 2016

Merry Christmas!
If you're visiting here from our Christmas letter, I invite you to look around at a few previous posts from this past year to catch up on our family!  I didn't write here much this year, and missed a few special occasions I fear, but what I write here serves the purpose of keeping our family's memories in one place.  And I don't mind sharing!

We started 2016 as a family of six and ended it as a family of seven!  In case you missed the news, we welcomed Theo to our family on October 7.  Yes, he was 13 days late, just like his big sister, but I don't hold it against him because he's just so stinking cute!  It has been such a pleasure to welcome him to our family, and the resemblance between him and his siblings has been phenomenal.  He definitely fits in!  He was diagnosed with a VSD only 4 days after birth, but we received good news in early December that his heart appears to be healing on it's own- no doubt due to the faithful prayers of our family and friends.  Thank you for praying for him, would you please continue to pray that it fully heals and won't require surgery?

Ryan has supported me through yet another long pregnancy, been my loyal companion, and is my greatest love.  We celebrated 11 years of marriage in July and he is celebrating 10 years at his workplace this year. He recently had an experience that has lead us to be even more thankful for employment at a company that values its employees.  Ryan spent a lot of time woodworking this year, starting with headboards for the boys, spending a couple of months on a chicken coop, and wrapping it up with some Christmas gifts!  He coached Luke's soccer team again in the spring semester, but we took the fall off so that we could have some free time before Theo was born.  Ryan also founded an LLC with a friend and they are busting into the real estate business in their "free time."  It's been very rewarding for him to work on these side projects- you know Ryan is the kind of guy who likes to stay busy!

I spent the greater part of 2016 gestating another human being. ;-)  We wrapped up our school year in June and I had a delightful summer hosting my sister at our house.  I loved having her in our home as it gave us a chance to reconnect and share life together.  Her presence helped bring me out of a funk I had experienced in my early pregnancy when I just didn't quite feel like myself.  We kept busy all summer, started school a little early in August with the hopes of getting some good work in before Baby came.  Those last few weeks of pregnancy were emotionally and mentally very difficult, but the payoff came when we had a wonderful, peaceful, and QUICK home birth, and discovered we had another son! The whole experience was an answer to my prayers.  I feel like I never had a huge burst of "nesting" energy during his pregnancy, so I have a lot of home projects I hope to find time for next year!

Our family took one big trip to Panama City Beach in Florida for a last-minute Memorial Day weekend getaway, and it was so very beautiful.  While traveling in the car all day isn't my most favorite thing in the world, getting away with just my little family always offers us a chance to reconnect and experience new things together.  This trip was no exception!  We stayed in a nice condominium within walking distance from the beach.  We ate easy meals together, built sand castles, fished and caught crabs, and took a late night walk in the dark on the beach. Those times together are always so joyful because everyone is always so happy to be doing something new!  They are great memories for all of us.

Bethany Grace just turned 10 years old!  She is halfway through her 4th grade year at our home school, and is still an incredible artist.  She's been taking piano lessons all year long and has a natural affinity for music! She loves to sit down at the piano and figure out how to play hymns that we're studying or music that she's learning in choir at co-op, which makes the fine arts side of me so very happy.  She also enjoys creative writing and LOTS of reading!  She has been such an incredible help since Theo has been born; she is a proud big sister to her younger siblings!  After much preparation at home, our Bishop allowed Bethany to be confirmed in May.  This was a big day for her as a young woman!   She loves hanging out with her friends, baking, reading, going to the library, and teasing and taunting her brothers in a sisterly way!  I can see that she has a bit of entrepreneur in her as she's always considering how she can sell her art or coming up with ideas to stock up an Etsy shop!

Luke Michael turned 8 in October and has continued to grow and mature in ways that greatly impress me.  His mind is very logical and goal-oriented; this is a wonderful talent that we are learning how to utilize and mold into gifts for God.  Luke received his First Holy Communion in April and soon after trained to be an altar boy.  In August, Luke started attending 2nd grade at a hybrid school, in which he attends classes on Mondays and Thursdays and we complete his lessons on the other days he is home.  As a high-energy extrovert, he is thriving!  He loves his friends and his teacher, and he loves being able to attend mass more often than any of us.  He still loves Legos and the thrill of figuring out how things work.

Jackson Paul is still my silly, sweet, thoughtful boy that is now officially the "middle child." He can be incredibly wild and crazy or painfully shy and soft-spoken!  He turned 6 in June and had a really fun day picking blueberries and swimming with his uncles at the pool.  Jack is in 1st grade and he loves school.  He is always eager and happy to start his work and always has a wonderful attitude about getting his work done.  He (and Luke) both love being read aloud to, and Jack has also made some wonderful strides toward learning how to read on his own.  He is also a budding artist and is begging to start music lessons of some sort.  Right now he is preparing for his First Holy Communion next spring.  I just love his enthusiasm for everything he wants to do.

At almost 3, Caeli Rose is spirited, silly, imaginative, and soooo cute!  She can easily get lost in play for an hour, loves books, and follows Luke and Jack around like she's just as big as they are. She is still so expressive, telling stories and talking with her hands and hips, and she owns the room.  Her speech has exploded in the past two months, and she loves doing her "work math" alongside the older kids when they are doing their school work.  She loves Finley but always fusses at the cats and chases them away!  She puts her whole spirit into anything she does, I have no doubt she will move mountains one day.

Theodore Augustine Joseph (yes, that's three names!) will be three months young soon.  He is smiling and cooing at everyone and is so close to laughing!  I think he will be rolling over soon, as Caeli did at three months old, because he has some strong abs for an infant!  He sleeps well at night, usually waking up once or twice to nurse and then falling contentedly back to sleep.  His current loves are: his big siblings and anyone who will talk sweetly to him, diaper changes and laying on his changing pad in the bathroom, baths, and nursing.  He currently hates getting out of the bath, and roads that have lots of stop lights (I agree with him on this one).

Wednesday, December 7

A Visit From St. Nicholas

Jolly Saint Nick visited again this year, bringing the usual oranges, chocolate coins, and books about the saints for the children.  This year he also left some hollowed chocolate St. Nick candies and candy canes, which were well-loved!  Everyone also received a little felt fox Christmas ornament.

After breakfast, Grandma and Grandpa picked them up for a special outing to see a full-length production of The Nutcracker.  Beth has been before with Grandma and Grandpa, and last year I took them to see an amazing production by one of the local dance studios.  This was Luke and Jack's first time to see the professional production, and peek in to the orchestra pit and enjoy a few other "extras" since it was specifically a school day.  They came home raving about how wonderful it was and how much they loved having such a special day with Grandma and Grandpa!

Friday, November 18

Theo's First Month

The first few weeks of Theo's life are a blur to me, but I'm left with the overall feeling of thankfulness.  Thankful that he actually decided to come out on his own, thankful that my labor and delivery was amazing and practically perfect, and thankful that he was overall healthy.  I didn't write down the details at the time but here's what I remember.

Late Monday night/early Tuesday morning when he was 3/4 days old, I noticed he was breathing very quickly.  It concerned me enough to call our family practice doctor on Tuesday morning so he could have his newborn checkup.  Ryan and I brought him in and the doctor immediately listened to his heart and heard a loud murmur, saying there was a very obvious "swishing" sound instead of the clear lub-dub rhythm that a heart should make.  He was reassuring that we'd find an answer soon and immediately placed an order for an echo-cardiogram to find out the cause.  The appointment was scheduled at the hospital the next day, but that's all we knew.  Ryan and I went home very anxious and worried.  My thoughts went to the darkest place, of course, because I had no education and no idea what any of this could mean- but I didn't want to spend time on Google either so we just spent that evening in prayer and concern.

The appointment the next day went well.  The man who performed the scan was very kind but he couldn't diagnose anything, so he said he'd rush off the results to a cardiologist who could perform the diagnosis.

I think that afternoon we got a call from our family practice doctor who said Theo was diagnosed with a VSD- ventricular septal defect.  He had a medium-sized hole in the wall separating the ventricles of his heart, and this caused the murmur as the un-oxygenated blood was pushed into the other side with the oxygen-rich blood, and was then carried to the rest of his body.  His only symptom was heavy breathing due to the fact that his body needed more oxygen to make up for this- we were so happy that otherwise he was fine (his lips/limbs weren't blue, he was nursing fine, and he had already gained weight!).  All of this meant we had to see a pediatric cardiologist ASAP- on Friday.

They squeezed us in on Thursday.  He had an EKG test and was examined by the cardiologist, who was also very kind.  At this point, Ryan and I realized that Theo was not in a life-threatening situation, but we had to mentally prepare for the fact that Theo might need surgery on his heart before too long.  Theo was placed on Lasix, a daily medication that helps clear the extra fluid from his heart, thereby making it not need to work as hard.  This brought his breathing back to normal.  The medication will not heal his heart, but it will "buy us time," to allow his heart some extra time to heal itself and also allow Theo to grow bigger and stronger in case surgery is needed if it doesn't heal.

On Friday, a lump on my foot had gotten bigger and so swollen that I could barely walk.  Fearing a blood clot, since it was on my "bad" leg, the doctor called us in for an exam.  They couldn't diagnose anything so they sent us to the minor ER for an ultrasound.  On Theo's one-week birthday, he spent it sleeping on my chest in the waiting room while I felt like a dummy for having such a stupid problem.  Of course, nothing was wrong, and by the next day I was pretty much completely fine!

The next day was Saturday, and we had his newborn photos taken at our house.  Ryan took the big kids to the baptism of our dear friend's son (Theo's future buddy), but I stayed home and took a 3-hour nap in bed with Theo.  He and I needed some cuddle time together!

Sunday I noticed a rash on Theo, but we thought it was probably one of those weird skin newborn rashes that babies get.  It looked funny to me though- white heads that came up in clusters on his arms, then his legs.  At first I thought it might have been a reaction to the blood pressure cuffs that had been on his arms, as that's where the rash first started.  But then it moved to his legs, so I (hesitantly) called the doctor.  He said they don't want to take any chances on Theo, as the appearance of a bacterial infection could be too hard on his heart, so he said I need to bring him in.  So we went.  They took a culture of his rash and said they'll call us when the results were in.

That weekend was relaxing.  We didn't have anything going on, etc.  But I did notice the tip of his toe was red.  Then there was pus underneath the nail.  I thought it was ingrown so I left it alone.  Of course it didn't get any better, so I hoped to text my doctor a photo of it but, of course, they insisted that we come in on Monday.  At this point I was on the verge of losing it. I had a hard time keeping track of the number of doctor visits we'd had in his less-than-three short weeks, and emotionally I was so drained.  I couldn't believe we had to go in yet again.

While we were there they received the results from the culture of the pimply rash.  STAPH.  My newborn baby, born safely at home, had staph.  I lost it.  I cried in the doctor's office room, holding my precious newborn and wrapped in the arms of my husband.  I just couldn't hold it together anymore.  The doctor was very compassionate and concerned with my emotional health, but reassured me that we couldn't take chances, and that Theo needed oral and topical antibiotics.  The idea of giving my newborn oral antibiotics made me feel sick to my stomach, but I also didn't want to mess with staph.  I got home and started googling natural alternatives to treat staph and got overwhelmed again.  I finally submitted to, what I feel like was God giving me permission to just let someone else take care of us.  I question everything, all the time, but there was a relief when I just gave in and said "yes" to the antibiotics.  It sounds funny but in a way, it was a very spiritual experience to recognize that God had placed these doctors in our lives to take care of us, and that I just needed to let go of trying to be in control.  I couldn't control this.

We gave him the antibiotics, twice a day- and boy, he didn't like it!  But, his staph infection cleared up, and his toes slowly got better.  Several days later my mom flew in, family came to town, and we got ready to baptize sweet Theo.  I can't even express how relieved I was so have some live-in backup help, cheerful smiles from family, and of course our dear friends who had offered months before to host the party.  It was God's plan, because there was no way I could have handled a baptism party at our house!  Sometime in that first month was also Luke's birthday, a dentist appointment (in which I took all children by myself for dental cleanings!), and Halloween. 

As time has passed, things have seemed more "normal," or at least it's our new normal.  We're adjusting to three big kids, a toddler, and a baby who seems like one of our regular babies now.  He sleeps, nurses, looks around, and then sleeps some more.  He never cries- except in the car!  Just this past week I feel like he's made his first real eye contact with me, giving me some giant, gummy smiles (instead of those sweet but accidental smiles).  I think I'm still recovering from everything, emotionally and mentally.  In retrospect, it's a blur.  I can see that it was chaotic and kind of rough, but the time, we coped and went through the motions.  I am incredibly thankful that this part is behind us and for the beautiful pictures and moments I've intentionally burned into my memory from his birth and first month.

Wednesday, November 9

Theo's Baptism Day

In July, we decided to schedule the baptism date a safe four weeks past my due date.  It gave me something to look forward to and prepare for!  We set the date for Sunday, October 30, after mass.  My mom was able to fly in to celebrate, and we had several friends and family offer to help prepare and host the party.  The whole day came together beautifully and went perfectly for our precious Theo.

Ryan and I had been praying so fervently about whom God wanted as the godparents for our child, and I specifically prayed that Ryan would be inspired.  Throughout the pregnancy, though, we didn't really talk about it, but God had put the same couple on each of our hearts. Ryan finally told me who he thought should be the godparents, and we asked them about a month before my due date. They generously accepted and have been praying for Theo ever since!

Blessing of salt and placing it on his lips

Blessing of the water

Baptized!  He fussed only a little bit- no big yells, although he did gag after being anointed with chrism!

All of the little boys in attendance gathered around very closely for a close-up of the baptism.  It brings me such joy to see all these little boys welcomed at the church, curious about our faith, and interested in the life of the church.  May they answer "yes!" if God calls them to the priesthood!

His godmother placed him on an altar of the Holy House chapel as we all offered his "first prayer" to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He smelled so wonderful with the scent of blessed chrism oil!

Our family of seven with our beloved pastor, who cares so deeply for his flock!

Father Hough along with Godparents Christina and Josh

Three of the four grandparents made it to Theo's baptism!

Part of our big, beautiful extended family!

My contribution to the party was Theo's cake!  It's lovely due to the loving criticism encouragement of my sister! ;-)

The rest of the party food and decor was thanks to these two lovely Grandmas!  We shared lunch at the party: Ryan's smoked brisket, beans, corn, and coleslaw.  Theo's godmother brought the party punch- always beloved by the kids!

Our party hosts Andrea and Charlie, two very amazing friends who generously offered to open their new home to host our giant party.  It was wonderfully liberating for me, newly postpartum, to not have to actually host anything at our home!

Monday, November 7

The Birth of Theo

This is a story that I didn't think would be my story. I've heard of wild and crazy fast labors before, but I haven't heard of anything quite like this!


I have to start on October 5.  On that day, I was 11 days past my due date, and my midwife requested that I have an ultrasound to check on Baby to make sure everything was still okay in there.  They check several things, but one of the things she noticed was that the amniotic fluid level was very low- low enough that an OB probably would have scheduled an induction right then and there.  My midwife was comfortable letting me hydrate, which would increase the level, and check again on the following Friday.  We continued to try to naturally induce labor but Baby wasn't ready yet!  So I chugged water (seriously, gallons) and we went again on Friday the 7th to have another bio-physical profile and non-stress test, but this time we went to our backup midwife's office at the hospital.

We showed up, waited forever (reminded me of why I can't stand offices!), and finally had our ultrasound done.  The fluid level had gone up significantly, praise God, so I no longer had to worry about my fear of being induced!  We went into another room for the non-stress test, and the midwife asked me if I wanted her to check me for dilation.  My midwife, who was there with us, said she had wanted to check me later anyways so we might as well do it now!  At this point I was like, whatever!  (Previously when my midwife had checked me, she couldn't tell me anything because my cervix was still posterior.) Well.  This midwife really, um, wasn't shy, and she got in there and pulled my cervix forward, and declared I was already 7 centimeters!  This choked me up and I had a huge emotional release right there.  I didn't know this could happen.  I had no idea I could be 7 cm with a posterior cervix, and I certainly wouldn't have thought I could ever get to 7 cm without a single contraction.

She asked if she could help the baby move down by stretching my legs and hips, which actually felt very good as she worked on me.  She asked if she could strip my membranes now, and I consented, but once she checked me again she said the baby had moved down and I was now 8 cm dilated.  She didn't strip my membranes at this point because she wanted me to make it home in time to have the baby!

I remember feeling sort of paralyzed, worried all of the sudden that labor would kick in and I'd have a baby on the side of the road on the way home. Ryan and I walked cautiously back to his truck, and I don't remember speaking much on the way home.  I think we were both shocked.

We got home and Ryan immediately started blowing up the inflatable birth pool that we had rented, and I started stripping and re-making the bed.  I got out snacks for my birth team, cleared off my desk for her supplies, and pulled out all of my postparum things.  I wasn't contracting or having any signs that there would be labor any time soon.  It felt like a dream.

After everything was set up, we decided to take a nap, and we both slept for about an hour.  I remember waking up feeling very refreshed, but disappointed that still nothing was happening!  I texted my midwife to come over and help get things going- she hadn't gone home because she didn't want to be far from us!

She and the rest of the team came over, and we did everything we could thing of to get things going.  She stripped my membranes and she said I was only 7 cm dilated. (Only!)  She rubbed clary sage and castor oil on my belly, and she said I should work on maneuvering him lower into my pelvis.  The trouble was, everything I knew of to do that worked only in conjunction with contractions- and I wasn't contracting!  She also had me use my pump, and this finally started giving me an occasional contraction.  Maybe one every 15-20 minutes, and even then they were only 30 seconds or so.  I lightly moaned through them, did deep squats, and used the lift-and-tuck Spinning Babies technique.

After a couple of hours, I knew I would have the baby relatively soon, but I wasn't convinced it would be that day.  Things were moving too slowly and I thought I was handling it all too well.  I told myself the contractions weren't hard enough to make any significant changes, and felt like I was going through the motions of moaning and squatting only due to "muscle memory" of having done it four times already!  I joked with everyone that I wasn't really in labor, because mentally I felt fully present to what was going on around me (they were watching television) and I had convinced myself that nothing was really happening.

About halfway through Hell's Kitchen, as I squatted through a contraction, I felt a huge pop or kick or... something.  I think it was my water breaking, but it was up high, like behind my belly button.  I've never felt my water break outside of the birthing tub before, and with this there was no gush of fluid.  But things immediately changed and I was pretty much in transition at that point!  I immediately got into the tub, leaned over one side and grabbed Ryan's arms, and continued to moan through contractions which felt like they never quite ended.  I asked for a cold wash cloth on my head and neck because I was so hot!  But I still felt I was in great control, and kept telling myself it was going to get worse.

After about 30-45 minutes of  "real" labor, I felt like pushing.  So I did.  I don't think anyone else realized what I was doing at first! I remember hearing everyone around me- encouraging me I now know- but I don't remember their words.  My arms were wrapped around the outside of the tub, pulling so hard that Ryan told me later he thought I was going to pop the tub!  I switched positions and about 15 minutes later, I birthed my baby and pulled him up out of the water onto my chest.  I remember saying, "Thank you God!" maybe 50 times in a row, I was thankful he was HERE but also thankful that pushing was OVER!

We sat there in our relief and joy and admired our baby. I was so thankful it was all over!

 It took me a few minutes to slip back into reality, and then we turned this baby over to reveal the gender.

It's a boy!!!

We can't say we were surprised because my mama's intuition had me believing it was a boy all along.  We still hadn't decided on a name yet, though.

After a few minutes, I delivered the placenta and got into my own bed to be examined.  Ryan held our unnamed Baby Boy and I was declared healthy, but still bleeding a little too much.  To help with the bleeding, Ryan brought Baby to me and he latched right on; another perfect nursing baby.  What a blessing!


At some point I got up while the midwife examined Baby and I took an herbal bath.  My friend and placenta encapsulater stopped by the house to pick up my placenta, and offered to make me a smoothie with a small chunk of my placenta in it to help stop my bleeding.  I drank it all (it tasted delicious!) and my midwife told me she'd feel more comfortable if I took a medication to help stop the bleeding, so I did, and it helped.

I got back into bed with Baby, they packed everything up, and left at around 11 pm.  Ryan and I settled in for the night (the big kids were with Grandma and Grandpa) with our new son!

We slept off and on all night, with him by my side in bed.  <3 p="">
We asked Grandma and Grandpa to bring the kids over around 9 am to meet their new sibling, but Ryan and I wanted to have a name picked out before they came home.  After some discussion and a little bit of flip-flopping, we settled on Theodore Augustine Joseph, and we planned to call him Theo.  We couldn't pick only one middle name- I really wanted both to honor those saints!  So we just went with it!

The big kids came home and met their new brother.  Everyone loved him, even Caeli!  She still called him "Baby French Fry" though, since this was his in-utero nickname due to my craving of extra-salty French fries!

Overall I am so pleased with the way everything went.  Being 13 days past my due date is hard physically, emotionally, and mentally, but if I knew I was going to have a labor like that again it would be so much easier to endure the wait!  Ryan thinks the home birth was SO much better and loved the experience, but it wasn't that huge of a change for me compared to the birth center.  I loved our birth team and was glad we didn't have to get in the car during contractions or several hours after birth to come home.  And it was nice to recover at home in my own bed!  I think Ryan may have loved it so much because we were in our home where HE was still the host and provider; he knew where everything was when someone needed something, and was able to still sort of be in charge.  At the birth center, we were still guests.

We are so thankful for another son, and so happy that he's here!  There is no other feeling in the entire world better than delivering your baby, after waiting for so long, holding him on your chest, and meeting him.  I knew him and he knew me, but examining him part-by-part and admiring his features is still my favorite part of the process!

Recently I've been learning to pray for my specific desires and intentions, and as silly as it sounds, just asking God for what I want and what I think I need while leaving room for His will to be done.  I very specifically prayed for a fast labor, and when people asked if they could pray for me I asked them to pray for a fast labor. God heard and answered me!  Deo Gratias!

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