Thursday, September 21, 2017

Ready for Rosalie

+JMJ+

Somehow this pregnancy has managed to pass in the blink of an eye - even though some parts of it felt slower than molasses.... It's hard to wrap my head around the fact that we discovered Rosalie's prenatal diagnosis about 18 weeks ago. 18 weeks! These past 4.5 months have been quite a journey and now we find ourselves preparing for an even greater adventure in just a few days - life with Rosalie Elisabeth!

36 weeks pregnant (okay, 1 day before, but close enough!)

We learned awhile ago that the severity of Rosalie's hydrocephalus meant I would need a planned C-section at 37 weeks (as soon as she is considered full-term/not premature) so that she can have a shunt placed in her brain as soon as possible. Way back when we first learned of her hydrocephalus diagnosis we also learned that there is nothing to do about it during pregnancy - besides monitoring the swelling, hoping, praying, and arming ourselves with all the possible knowledge through various consultations with specialists, of course. Beyond that, we simply had to wait.

Well, we've waited. And waited (and kept ourselves busy preparing for what we can as we've moved forward). And here we are in the homestretch!

Rosalie Elisabeth will be born bright and early Monday morning on September 25th. Assuming a safe delivery, the plans for her first 24 hours of life include: having an MRI, meeting her big brothers, getting baptized, and having brain surgery to place a shunt (which will begin alleviating all the extra pressure her brain has been experiencing from the build-up of cerebral spinal fluid). I'll join her in the intensive care nursery as soon as I can get out of recovery, but thankfully Michael will be by her side right from the start.

Honestly, I'm probably a lot more anxious about everything than I've let on (or even allowed myself to previously admit to myself) because this final week has brought on a whirlwind of sudden, unforeseen emotions and 9-months-pregnant tears...but there are so many things that have also brought me great peace and joy along the way. 

Number one, your prayers have helped. I don't like to admit that I have struggled to pray about all of this as much as I feel I should have been praying all along...but there are many times I felt too drained to pray myself. Just knowing so many of you have been holding us in prayer has truly carried me through. 

Secondly, we have had wonderful, compassionate support - from medical professionals, our family, friends, and the fantastic people we've met through the Be Not Afraid ministry. I've been blessed with friends to cry with, talk with, celebrate Rosalie's life with, and I cannot believe the incredible tangible gifts people have given us - through watching our kids during medical appointments and/or showering us with thoughtful notes or gifts for our baby girl.

The final thing that has brought me a lot of peace and immense joy has been preparing our new house for Rosalie's arrival. I nested hard, acquiring and installing curtains, artwork, frames, & shelves in ALL of the kids' bedrooms, among many other things. Most especially, though, designing and arranging beautiful (girly!) decorations for Rosalie's room gave my heart something happy, lovely, and productive to focus on during all those months of waiting to meet her and start getting some more answers about how she may be impacted by the hydrocephalus.

Now, simply standing in the nursery is cathartic for me as I look around and see tangible signs of our love, prayers, and joy that we get to finally hold her soon. Naturally, I am happy to share a few pictures of the finished product with all of you:




I was super excited to support a few Catholic artisans when choosing artwork for all the kids' bedrooms and could not be happier with everything I ordered! Rosalie's room features a floral heart with a custom quote from JustLovePrints (above left) and a floral watercolor of North Carolina from FawnlyPrints (above right).


Did y'all know that Raleigh, North Carolina is called the City of Oaks? That fun fact led me to find some beautiful artwork on Etsy, including a print (above far right) that features the quote, "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow." I still can't get over how perfect that is for our little hydrocephalus warrior's nursery!


Months ago we began asking everyone to pray for Rosalie through the intercession of St. Gianna, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Gerard, so it was really important to me that I display their pictures somewhere (see the little frames above). The bird print seen here is from yet another Catholic Etsy shop, WhenBeautyMetTruth.


And finally...her ever-increasing collection of headbands and bows. ;) Even more touching is the fact that a friend hand-painted that canvas featuring Rosalie's name and a verse from 1 Samuel. It was such a thoughtful gift I received at Rosalie's baby shower this past weekend and it matches her room's decor beautifully!

At this point, we've done all the "big" things and are simply tying off a few, small loose ends (like packing a hospital bag, getting myself a haircut and mani/pedi, & meeting the priest that will baptize Rosalie when I go for confession and the anointing of the sick in anticipation of my C-section). But realistically, we are so ready to meet you, baby Rosalie. 

To all our family and friends: if you would like to receive Rosalie's medical updates please make sure to get the link to her Caring Bridge site within the next few days (or reach out to my mom or someone else for that info if you're reading this when I'll be in the hospital).

As always, thank you for your continued prayers!

"Just when you think you know love, something little comes along to remind you just how big it really is."
-Anonymous

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Celebrating Life (with Professional Family Photos)

+JMJ+

In the past I never really wanted to get any professional photos taken during pregnancy. Sure, I would admire other people's sweet family/maternity photos, but somewhere deep inside there was a vain part of me that had no desire to spend money on images that highlighted me when I was anything but my "normal" self. Don't get me wrong - I have loved capturing "baby bump" images throughout all 3 of my pregnancies (as evidenced somewhat by this blog and largely by my private Instagram account)...but to actually invest money in maternity photos? No thanks.

But boy, did a prenatal diagnosis entirely change my thinking.

The first couple of days after our 18-week anatomy scan were emotionally tough and draining as my husband and I processed everything we had been told (and further researched) about our daughter's brain condition. Honestly, it wasn't until the afternoon of the 3rd day that Michael and I finally got to a good place as a couple; only once each of us had gone through 2 long days of our individual processes of handling the initial grief were we blessed to have a fruitful, beautiful conversation that ended with us being on the same page moving forward.

Before that afternoon conversation, though, we had Saturday morning plans to do a fun gender reveal for our kids - something we had been planning to do well before we discovered anything out of the ordinary.

As I made play dough and crafted a little volcano filled with baking soda and pink food dye the night before the gender reveal, I remember Michael questioning if I still wanted to do it for the boys as originally planned. By the time he asked me, though, I had already firmly resolved not to allow any tears, worries, or fears stop us from also celebrating all the good things we had to rejoice about. And man, oh man, was I excited to share the news with the boys about having a baby sister!

That resolution about pushing forward with the gender reveal and creating a happy family memory amidst Michael's and my own struggles with initial sadness or anger laid the foundation for how I would begin to approach the rest of this pregnancy.

Since that day I have found much peace in doing ALL the things I can to truly cherish this pregnancy (despite it looking and feeling unlike anything I could have imagined). I find myself constantly doing my best to intentionally live it to the fullest and be thankful for it - uncomfortable aches or pains and all. After all, we have been blessed with a daughter(!) - our Rosalie.

So, for the very first time during a pregnancy I truly wanted to get some professional family photos taken, despite the reality that I may feel uncomfortable or awkward. But, with all the other things we've had going on and budgeted for as we continue settling in our house and planning for Rosalie's arrival (landscaping, installing a fence, purchasing a van, just to name a few) I never would have dared to suggest out loud that we budget the time or money to have our photos taken.

Cue my friend, Giedre! She's an incredibly talented photographer that just relocated to North Carolina. She approached me about doing a family session to help build her local portfolio as she transitions her website from looking iconically "Chicago" to "Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill." Thank Goodness she thought of us, because it was just the push Michael and I needed to actually prioritize photos in the midst of everything else we've had going on.

And her photos are ones we will cherish for years to come. Here are some of my favorites:


Be...


still...


my...


heart!!!


Another perk of Giedre approaching me when she did was that we were able to do the photo shoot during my grandmother's recent visit! Getting some photos with her was an extra-special bonus.



Seriously, if you need a lifestyle portrait photographer in the Triangle area of NC check out Walking Dot Photography. Photographing 2 toddler boys is no easy feat, but Giedre managed to get some beautiful, honest images of our boys (and the entire family).


Truly, she captured Gabriel's (right) and Peter's (left) personalities in a single, sweet photo (above)!


Plus, she made sure the pregnant mama felt beautiful and loved with lots of kisses. ;)



I don't think Giedre had any idea just how much this photo session meant to me, but I'm immensely grateful she captured this precious time in our lives for us. Someday I hope to show these pictures to Rosalie - and she will see the love our family has for one another and how she was included in that love long before she was even born.


"For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him."

1 Samuel 1:27

Monday, August 28, 2017

Introducing...(A Baby Name Reveal!)

+JMJ+

Hands-down one of my favorite parts of pregnancy is going through the process (with my husband) of discerning our baby's name. I specifically say "discerning" rather than "choosing" because we feel strongly that names help reveal something about who we are as the Lord intends us to be - which means as parents we take care to find the "right" name that our child will be called for all eternity.

When I was pregnant with Peter we initially had a wonderful name all figured out and agreed to sit with it and pray about it - and sure enough, within a month or two my husband and I both felt that it simply wasn't right for him. We didn't know why, nor did we know what name we SHOULD give Peter at the time, but after prayerful consideration we knew the first name just wasn't him. So, we kept at it and eventually found the name we felt at peace about - the one we feel is surely who he is.

Because of how seriously we take the naming process, my husband and I tend to keep our name choices to ourselves until the day the baby is born (which is NOT to imply that people who share names earlier do not take it seriously - I'm simply sharing the reasoning behind our typical process). Waiting gives us time to rightly discern who we think our baby is (because clearly sometimes we feel led to change our selections!) as well as have that time to simply bond with the baby in a special way before inviting the entire world in.

But, as with all things parenting-related: sometimes our position changes and/or our process evolves with each child to suit the specific circumstances. Which is just a fancy way of saying that this time around we have decided to share our baby's name sooner!!!

Because of our daughter's brain condition, many of you have asked if we would share her name early so that y'all can be praying for her by name - and at this point my husband and I have agreed that it just makes good sense to do so. Plus, we have been confident about her name for awhile now.

Without further ado, I would like to introduce to you:



I plan to share more later about how Rosalie got her name, but for now I will simply point out that Rosalie is a French name meaning "Rose" and Elisabeth is a Hebrew name meaning "My God is an oath/oath of God" or "God is satisfaction/My God is abundance."

Thank you again to everyone holding sweet Rosalie in your prayers!

"God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it."
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2158

Thursday, August 24, 2017

#Eclipse2017

+JMJ+

Were any of you in the "path of totality" for Monday's solar eclipse?? Maybe if my kids were older and I wasn't third-trimester-pregnant I would have been daring enough to travel somewhere to experience the full eclipse, but as it was we were fortunate enough to experience 93% coverage without having to leave the house or ruin the kids' nap-time!


My grandmother recently came to visit for a 6-day trip and the solar eclipse happened on her last full day with us in North Carolina. Thankfully, she brought with her a legitimate pair of official eclipse-viewing glasses because I had not even attempted to procure my own.

She told me to use her glasses and insisted she didn't need them, but once I had seen the eclipse at its peak for our area I didn't have to do much coaxing to get her outside for a glimpse. And honestly, the eclipse was pretty neat - but I think my favorite part was witnessing my 89-year-old grandmother's priceless reaction when she saw it!


She was joyfully surprised and exclaimed, "oh my goodness gracious, would you look at that?!" with a huge grin on her face. I will never forget her sense of awe or the way she laughed when I showed her where to look.

It was undoubtedly a fun and memorable event, but while the Triangle area of North Carolina experienced 93% coverage at the peak of the eclipse Baby Girl and I reached 80% totality...and we haven't peaked yet! ;)


Monday marked 32 weeks, y'all. Keep the prayers coming!

"The best gifts in the world are not in the material objects one can buy from the store, but in the memories we make with the people we love."
-Amanda Boyarshinov

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tidbits on Community: A Gift that Keeps On Giving

+JMJ+

You know you're pregnant with a third child when...


...you receive a thoughtful gift in the mail at 32 weeks(!) and realize they are the only gender-appropriate baby clothes you own! I mean, how did such an obvious thing sneak up on us?? What a different experience from having a first baby.... ;) But seriously, aren't these baby girl onesies lovely?! The friend that sent these had no way of knowing, but they actually match our baby girl's nursery decor quite nicely. :)

And on a separate note, I just wanted to say how beautiful are the many ways we are connected through sisterhood, motherhood, and the body of Christ. 

I have worked and prayed hard to build community and to meet the friends the Lord desires me to have in the 5 states we have lived in these past (almost) 5 years. We have met several friends and acquaintances - some have stayed in our lives, many have gone, and some have pleasantly surprised us with their efforts to keep in touch. On occasion, friendships have only deepened with time and distance apart.

Right now as we navigate this high-risk pregnancy (and unknown future for our child) I am SO thankful for the many caring, prayerful individuals we have been blessed to know all around the country. Your prayers, your notes, and even generous gifts are lifting us up in ways you cannot know.

And please keep praying for us, y'all! The past nearly week and a half have left me feeling anxious to get back to our next ultrasound later this week because last time the doctors discovered something new and surprising (even for our baby girl's brain condition) and puzzling; this week should help us get better clarity about whether or not it's something that warrants attention or treatment or (perhaps) may somehow resolve itself.

AMDG.

"We are all one family in the world. Building a community that empowers everyone to attain their full potential through each of us respecting each other's dignity, rights, and responsibilities makes the world a better place to live."
-Pope Saint John Paul II

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

An Odyssey of Sorts

+JMJ+

It's been a pretty epic week around these parts! Not only did our oldest child turn 4 years old (more on that later!), but we hosted my mom, my sister and brother-in-law, and their kids for 3 days. Plus, our friends had a baptism and after-party for their littlest which means we had lots of celebrating to do in just a few short days. Then, as our busy, happy, full house weekend came to a close and we said our goodbyes to my family we rolled right into the next big excitement of the week when we got our new van!!!

Honestly, I had been looking forward to this event for a long time (and not just because we purchased the van about 5 weeks ago and had to wait for it to arrive locally). I'm not one of those women that begrudgingly avoids the mom-van as long as possible; instead, I think part of me has been eagerly anticipating an eventual van purchase since my earliest days of motherhood! And I've definitely been looking forward to it ever since Peter (our second child) was born because those were the days when my compact car started feeling more than a bit crowded on road trips....

So, shortly after we settled and bought our house my husband and I agreed that - regardless of having a third child yet or not - 2017 would be: "the year of the van." Then, of course, we were blessed with our daughter which solidified that decision and even (baby)bumped up our timeline a bit.

Seriously elated to cruise my 3 kiddos around town in our glorious, new swagger wagon :D

On the surface this photo makes me look like any other suburban mom of multiple children - super excited for the convenience of automatic sliding doors, a trunk that can actually fit more than one large piece of baby gear and luggage, and not having to hunch over and practically crawl inside the vehicle to buckle my children safely into their car seats.... I assure you that I am THRILLED about all of those things (no shame!), but this photo my husband captured yesterday represents so much more.

You see, despite our plans to purchase a van in 2017 there was a brief period of time when my husband and I questioned that decision. We knew that we wanted to have a van, but back when we first began test driving and seriously making plans to purchase one our world was temporarily turned upside down when we discovered our daughter's prenatal diagnosis.

Long story short, we had to evaluate what made the most sense for our family financially and practically speaking in light of so many possible unknowns about our daughter's situation. I will never forget the moment when my husband, Michael, matter-of-factly pointed out what had become painfully obvious to us in those earliest days of researching and processing our daughter's prenatal diagnosis - that perhaps it would make more sense to lease a van instead of buying...because there was suddenly a possibility that our daughter might not be with us long.

Honestly, I cannot explain what it is like to a) be informed of how likely it is for your baby to be stillborn or die shortly after birth or b) have to make family decisions with that information in mind...so I will just let you imagine. If you think it's absolutely heartbreaking, your imagination is probably on the right track.

Tomorrow marks 12 weeks since we got rushed to Duke perinatal for an emergency high-risk ultrasound and it sounds too simple and somewhat cheesy, but we have lived a lot of life in these 12 weeks. 

Thankfully, we've been able to monitor our baby's progress and we (along with all our medical staff) have a better (and ever-increasing) grasp on our daughter's specific situation. In my mind, the worst possible outcome would be stillbirth...but at this point I'm fairly confident that won't happen to us. After all, her condition is being monitored and still appears isolated which, despite the extreme severity of swelling and pressure on her brain, gives us every reason to believe she will have a healthy (C-section) birth without additional complications. Yes, she will need surgery within 24 hours, but our incredibly knowledgeable pediatric neurosurgeon will do everything in his power to ensure she is delivered at the right gestational age to give her the best possible outcome; in our meeting he was extremely confident that she will be born in need of an immediate shunt but should be healthy otherwise. It's everything after her birth that remains uncertain, but at least we feel more and more confident about what to expect in her first 48 hours or so.

So, amidst all of this Michael and I did not hesitate to purchase - not lease - our van. It would be easy to live in fear, but we are not afraid. We have been covered in prayer these past 3 months and I trust that y'all will continue praying in the months to come. The faith that we have in the Lord to take care of us (no matter what happens) combined with the confidence we have in our medical care and facilities leaves us feeling like we are in the best possible place for our daughter (and us).

We are travelling an uncommon journey, but at least now we'll be riding in serious comfort and style. ;)

"Even his griefs are a joy long after to one that remembers all that he wrought and endured."
-Homer, The Odyssey

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Power of Sharing (and Social Media)

+JMJ+

It's no secret that the internet is a powerful force to be reckoned with - one that has the potential to do immense good or seemingly irreparable damage. It can build us up or break us down, depending on how we use the tools at our fingertips, who or what we expose ourselves to (intentionally or inadvertently), and of course, where we are at with our emotional and/or spiritual health. All of this is just a fancy way of saying that the internet can be a horrific nightmare or an abundant blessing - which is something my husband and I discussed at length during our engagement as we navigated and set boundaries for the role social media would play in our relationship as a married couple.

When, at 18 weeks pregnant, we were told that our daughter has severe ventriculomegaly AKA congenital hydrocephalus we had a choice: we could suffer in silence and loneliness or we could expose and share our vulnerability with others in hopes of being supported.

Thank Goodness we had the strength and confidence to do the latter, because thus far it has been nothing but a blessing.

Honestly, it's difficult to chronicle the intricate ways in which the Lord has lifted us up throughout the past 3 months - especially because I have enough material to write a small book. But, one way I can tangibly explain it is through the people that sharing our story has put us in touch with.

Let me first backup and clarify that sharing our journey with others was not something that happened overnight. My husband, Michael, and I needed time to process and grieve the diagnosis in our own ways and then as a couple. We needed much of that first month to deal with our own emotions and our relationships with God individually and together. We needed time to process and run through all the worst case scenarios so that we could begin finding peace with where we were at and we told very few people outside our circle of closest family and friends.

During that first month I eventually reached out to a college friend that is a powerful prayer warrior and intercessor to have on our side. She then informed me that one of her good friends (who I remember meeting once at a Matt Maher concert!) had recently given birth to a baby with hydrocephalus and asked if I wanted to be put in touch. Of course I did! While I had quickly joined a ventriculomegaly support group online, this was the first real person I had ever met that could more fully relate to our experience; it helped, too, that she is also Catholic and I could discuss things like prayers and hospital baptisms with her. Despite the fact that her daughter's situation was very different from ours, it was healing and gave us hope to find someone who had lived through even a glimpse of what we were dealing with.

Then, after having our time to process and gradually tell family my husband agreed that it was an acceptable time to share about everything on the blog. He was more of the "it can't hurt at this point" mentality, but I had a strong sense that it could be a blessing. I especially thought this because I help run a very large, local Catholic moms group - and nearly all of the women that regularly attend the play dates knew when our big anatomy scan was and had been eagerly awaiting a gender reveal; having the blog was a great way to share the news with everyone in the moms group and begin receiving a lot of prayer support while ensuring that I had the personal space I needed when I saw everyone face-to-face. Seriously a huge blessing!!!

Through sharing what I wrote on the blog I had a couple of local moms recommend the Be Not Afraid ministry to me. This Catholic non-profit works with any parents given a prenatal diagnosis for free - providing prayer support as well as practical help navigating the complicated and somewhat scary world of NICUs, high risk birth plans, and more. They also provide peer support and pair you with other parents who have gone through similar diagnoses or surgeries in case you'd like to talk to people who have been in your shoes. As their parent care coordinator once told me, "you can text me when you have a hard day - and the hard days do come - and I will drop everything and talk to you if you want...because I understand and have been there. We all have friends and family that want to be there for us, but at the end of the day we are part of a club that no one else wants to be in or can fully understand."

I don't think I need to break down how wonderful it is to have an organization like Be Not Afraid to lean on. Had I not shared everything with the moms group I probably never would have found them.

In short, ever since I published about the diagnosis on the blog the support and new connections have been overflowing. A mom from the online ventriculomegaly group I joined reached out when I posted something in the forum; from her I learned some valuable information about cord blood banking and some experimental procedures taking place at Duke University Hospital - the exact place I will be delivering and seeing our pediatric neurosurgeon. There are parents that fly their kids from all across the country to participate in these cord blood infusions and here we are already planning to be there and with easy access should we want to go that route; God seriously knew what He was doing when He led us here not too long ago!

Next, we found out I would definitely need a C-section and sharing that information led to a friend adding me to a Catholic C-section moms group. I have received a lot of peace being able to read about others' experiences and when I posted a question that mentioned our daughter's diagnosis a mom that has two children with hydrocephalus reached out. She then connected me to a large hydrocephalus group online and gave me additional information about the procedures at Duke mentioned above. And so on and so forth.

The connections with prayerful people that have walked a similar path, the valuable information they have provided, and the peer support and solidarity that has sprung from all of this only continues to grow. When things like this happen the world seems much smaller and I cannot help but marvel at how amazing the internet is. In three months' time my husband and I went from knowing literally no one that has experienced our daughter's diagnosis to having a handful of real people other than our doctors to ask questions and feel better prepared.

Not to mention, sharing our story has allowed hundreds (seriously hundreds - perhaps even thousands?) of people beyond the scope of our immediate family and friends to lift us up in prayer - which I know is helping in ways I can see and feel and in ways we will never fully be aware of.

Prayer, human connections, and community support are wonderful blessings at all times, but especially in times of suffering or trials. The fact that the internet has aided in bringing us all of these things shows me how very good social media can sometimes be.

At the root of this reflection, though, I can see that this force for Good doesn't necessarily come from utilizing the internet or social media tools - but stems entirely from speaking out, not only about the joy we have because of the gift of our daughter's life but also about her prenatal diagnosis and what that means practically for our family right now.



My husband and I could have chosen to go through this pregnancy without telling a soul about our hopes, prayers, or struggles...and how depressing and isolating that would have been! Undoubtedly some things are rightly or prudently kept private, but in our case speaking up instead of suffering in silence has made all the difference. By opening ourselves up and allowing others to support us - through prayers, watching the kids during several medical appointments, or meals when the time comes - we have already been blessed beyond measure.

It doesn't always come naturally to share our deepest worries, fears, or stressors with others - but if there is one thing I have been learning throughout the past 3 months it's that sometimes the healthiest thing to do is to be vulnerable and allow ourselves to be helped by others. Today's society often makes us think it's inappropriate to share anything about our lives that doesn't appear to be perfect which I think is an unfortunate mistake. Everyone has their struggles and we could all do well to stop being afraid of admitting it. Sharing our story has provided us support, healing, important resources, prayers, and ever-increasing trust that no matter what the Lord will take care of us and our little girl.

So, if there is something you're struggling with I hope you will consider sharing your heart with someone you can trust - whether it's a family member, friend, co-worker, priest, etc. There is no need to shout from the social media rooftops unless you seriously think and pray about it being beneficial to your situation, but telling just one supportive person can make all the difference between isolation or receiving abundant help.

"We don't heal in isolation, but in community."
-S. Kelley Harrell