Monday, April 18, 2016

Andrew's Birth Story

This is an ENTIRELY UNEXCITING story. It's very difficult to write, because it is just so unexciting. 

1. My water broke. 
2. We went to the hospital. 
3. We had a baby. 

But it wouldn't be me telling the story, if it were less than 1,000 words, so here's some more story to go with it: 

We had twins 18 months ago, and were done, with everything. We both agreed that this was a good time to settle in and slow down. 

So naturally, in the year that followed the birth of our twins, I started a new job, we found out we were pregnant, Wally started a new job, we sold our house, lived in two households for three months, bought a house three hours away, moved all our stuff (while eight months pregnant), and had a baby, affectionately nicknamed Baby Number Five In Seven Years

Some people noticed I was a little grumpier through this pregnancy, to which I say: Yes, I absolutely was. 

Baby Number Five In Seven Years was due March 30th, but my husband only had 2 days of vacation at his new job and didn't qualify for paternity leave, my kids just started a new school, our new town didn't have friends or family who could show up on short notice and indefinitely take care of four kids six and younger, and my midwife was three hours away. 

Anytime I wonder about God's timing, I think of Andrew. He had the courtesy to arrive while we were in the same town as my midwife, while the kids were on Spring Break from school, and two days before my husband's weekend from work. And best of all, he provided just enough time after putting the kids in bed, for me to finish a cup of coffee with my dear friend, Holly, and my parents. 

Toward the end of our coffee chat, I either peed my pants, or my water broke. (Eight-and-a-half months pregnant after a day of pulling kids around in the wagon, kickboxing, and jumping on a trampoline, it could have been either.) I excused myself from the table, and jubilantly called out from the bathroom, "We're having a baby tonight!"

Seven years ago, I wouldn't have even mentioned I was going to the bathroom, much less talked loudly to other people while in the bathroom, much less about something like giving birth. I wish I could reclaim that luxurious modesty from years past of visiting the bathroom without a parade of children,  sweet children who urgently need to tell me something so important that it becomes tragically unimportant, if told two minutes prior or future. 

Holly had just stopped by to visit her god-son (one of the twins), and alleviate some of the frenzy of evening dinner and bedtime with four crazy kids, and now, here she was, just in time for Andrew's arrival! 

I gathered my thoughts, changed my pants, and asked my mom for a ride to the hospital. 

Holly offered to call Wally. Oh, right! We should tell Wally that his son is arriving! For the multiplicitous time in our friendship (and that day alone), I thanked the Lord for Holly. 

So at 8 pm on Tuesday, March 15th, my mom and I head to the hospital, and Holly calls Wally, who was three hours away, at our new home in Conroe. He was working on house projects after his shift at work. 

We checked into the hospital at 8:20 pm, my midwife arrived at 8:30, and I let her know we'd have a baby by 10 pm. Everyone agreed this would be very convenient. 

Just as paperwork and registration, introductions and IVs were completed, my contractions grew stronger, and I was no longer good company. But everything remained calm, bouncing on my pilates ball, breathing through contractions, small talk with my mom between contractions, and wondering how far along we were. 

I was surprised when my midwife said I could start pushing, whenever my body felt like it needed to push. Wow, we were already to pushing! Hooray! She anticipated my birth phases really well, because after one or two more contractions, I felt the transition to pushing labor. 

Contractions have always scared me; any kind of intense uncontrollable pain scares me. But for some reason, this time around, I could really focus. And instead of being consumed with "OH MY GOD, THIS IS SO RIDICULOUSLY PAINFUL AND AWFUL," everything was more controlled. My friend's brother had just died after a long illness, and I prayed for him as contractions intensified. It's amazing how tangible faith becomes in extreme situations. I was also really glad my mom was with me. Having been through it four times herself, she knew all the right things to say as we progressed. 

It's probably no surprise that Baby Number Five in Seven Years came crying into the world after only two pushes. And then I just got to relax and cuddle this sweet 6-pound-14-ounce little one. All I remember from those first few minutes is how much I loved baby Andrew, and how good it felt to not be pregnant anymore.

It was 10:15 pm.*

I still marvel at the timing of everything. One year ago, we didn't see any of this -- a new job in a new city, a new home, a new baby. At times it felt everything would collide into a colossal mess of poor planning. And yet, here we find ourselves, calmly and unpredictably living out this sweet life together! 

*Wally arrived from Conroe after everything calmed down, around 11:15 pm.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Our New Town

We're settling into our new home in the woodlands of southeast Texas really nicely. (To be clear, not THE Woodlands, just the woodlands. We like to think of it as all the trees without the taxes. Or gondolas.)

The People of Wal-Mart are here. Not too long ago, I was pushing twin 18-month-olds in a faded stroller, with my 8-and-a-half-month pregnant belly, sitting down for contractions in the rice aisle. I believe we've found our people.

Apparently, last year's family membership to the Grapevine Sea Life Aquarium was over-rated. We have a whole wall of aquariums less than a mile away at our local Wal-Mart. And this display is much clearer about the life cycle of small fish. And the dangers of open filters in a small aquarium. 

Walmart Memories, circa 1985
Walmart in Conroe, circa 2016
There is one electricity provider. (I spent 45 minutes on the phone with customer service, trying to figure out their rate. Nobody knows.) 

I'm sure the super-nice receptionist at Conroe City Hall thought I was nuts. I called, just to verify there is only one electricity provider. 

"Hi, um, I'm new in town, trying to set up electricity, but it looks like there's only one provider." 


"Um. There's only one provider?" 


"So, there's not, like, a website I can go to, to choose an electricity provider?" 

"Ma'am, what do you mean?" 

There are two internet providers. We had a phone line installed to get internet. 

There are no sidewalks. Buses pick up kids who live 1/4-mile from school, because it's easier to build an expansive bus service than sidewalks.

We have both a Hobby Lobby and a Michaels, across the street from each other. Also, Walmart, Target, Lowes, Home Depot, HEB, Aldi, and Kroger. I walked a mile with all five kids to Aldi earlier today. We made it back home with groceries and all five kids, so I'm going to call it a smashing success. 

It's 80 cents extra per bag of trash set out on garbage day. Recycling is collected every week. If you have extra recycling, don't set it out by the recycling bin. It will be ignored. If your brush isn't cut into 4-foot branches and tied into bundles with twine, it will also be ignored. 

Thrift stores are actually full of people's faded, broken stuff. These are not the second-hand boutiques of Dallas! I had to wait until we visited to Dallas to buy a used microwave at a resale shop, because these citizens of Conroe (Conroe-ites? Conrovians?), they don't junk stuff that's not junk. 

Our neighbors fly a "Come and Take It" flag, every day. Every house on our block has a lone star displayed on their house in some way (ours included). Parking spaces are large enough for the pick-up trucks that fill them. #TXproud

There's a great rec center, everyone is friendly and welcoming, and there's a national forest just down the road!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Just Another NFP Rant

I don't blame my midwife. She's looking out for what's best for her patient, and she's unintimidated by awkward conversations. (I suppose you'd have to be.)

Usually she waits until after the baby's born to bring up contraception, but this time she asked at my 32-week appointment:

"So, have you thought about birth control?"

I get it. We've had FOUR surprise babies in six years. Obviously our birth control of choice (natural family planning -- Billings method) isn't working the way we expected. (The one baby we did plan came with a twin. If that's not enough to make you throw your hands in the air and forego all future attempts at planning anything, I don't know what is.)

She focused on the financial concerns of more kids, which surprised me.  She knows I dealt with postpartum depression after the twins (who wouldn't have?) and that my body is tired. I thought, for sure, she'd focus on the need to rebuild emotional and physical reserves.

The truth is, the financial side of large families doesn't bother me. I understand that limited resources are being split among a growing number of needs. But if I choose to prioritize more family over annual family vacations, why is that a problem? I believe even poor kids can grow up happy, healthy, emotionally stable, mentally strong, and most importantly, kind.

Life in large families can seem not-so-glamorous compared to the marketed best practices of family life in our society: one room per child, one phone/laptop/iPad per child, annual family vacations, biannual technology upgrades, and an approach to parenthood that emphasizes its life-changing irreversible inconvenience over any inexplicable desire for building up future generations.

Should only the wealthy or most financially secure have children? Does having money make someone inherently more loving, more patient, more committed, more naturally endowed to be a good parent? Sure money can buy good resources, but it still can't buy the love or attention of a parent.

It's so easy to get excited about a first or second baby born into a certain income level with employer-sponsored health insurance. But incomes are fluid and health insurance fickle. Why judge a child's potential success or happiness on the stability of his or her parents at a passing moment in time? What if the poor kid has a special gift for laughter, and it doesn't bother her that much to miss back-to-school shopping each year? What if the rich kid born to a trust fund and sports-themed nursery becomes so self-centered that he accidentally kills four people while driving drunk and his actual defense is affluenza?

Convenient as it may be, money can't buy happy, functional kids, or happy, functional families. 

But the truth is, I am frustrated by natural family planning. And I'm frustrated with the Catholic Church for teaching against contraception. It's not that I think they're wrong. I completely agree that contraception is harmful to women and to marriage and to society. (And I can trace how each of our children has been a blessing to us in their unexpected arrivals!) But I also think that many young children can be harmful to women -- especially when she doesn't have the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical support to carry the load. (I know the Catholic Church doesn't overtly teach families must have a million children. But for those of who really suck at NFP, it's kind of a consequence of being married and Catholic.)

Simcha Fisher describes Natural Family Planning perfectly: It's the worst possible method, except for all the others. (Follow that link if you're a Catholic who's frustrated with NFP. It won't solve all your problems, but you'll feel better knowing you're not alone in the world.) 

The Catholic Church has never seen poverty as a character flaw; if anything it's elevated to a virtue. Even Jesus chose to be poor when He walked among us. 

But I feel like we're in a Catch-22 with our faith. Why is it so many examinations of conscience ask parents if we're providing a Catholic education for our children, yet Catholic tuition isn't accessible to most large families? Sure we can always homeschool (which also takes significant financial reserves and mental capacity), and yes, there's so much more to a Catholic education than attending a school that happens to share property and a budget with the local parish. But there just seems to be a disconnect between teaching that children are a blessing, yet not helping families with all these blessings. All these blessings.

I actually cried (like gross cried, in front of strangers) on the first day that I attended a women's Bible study at a local parish that offered free childcare. It had been such a long time since being around other women without my children, and for someone with this many little kids, childcare or babysitting really is a luxury. As a result, spiritual formation and the sacraments become luxuries too.

I don't have answers. But honest dialogue is always a good place to start.

Not Rich Kids. But Mostly Happy.