Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Ultrasound We Never Expected

+JMJ+

This is going to be a long one, but it's because every detail is an important part of our journey. Please bear with me...and if you don't have time to read it completely, all I ask is that you pray for us.

About a month ago my husband and I headed off bright and early one morning on our "date" to my doctor's appointment. I was 18 weeks 3 days pregnant and we were eager to have what I call the "big" ultrasound - the approximately halfway-through-pregnancy anatomy scan that would (assuming the baby was cooperative) reveal to us whether we are having a boy or girl.

Typically I bring the kids to all of my appointments because, well, that's just usually what moms have to do if they don't have family nearby or a babysitter to call. Just this once, though, I had made the decision to try and find someone to watch the boys so that Michael and I could learn the exciting news together without any distractions, surprise the boys with a gender reveal, and simply share a bit of rare alone time (with the ultrasound technician, of course).

Thankfully, a friend from my Catholic moms group volunteered to come over to our house that morning which was truly a gift...because we were about to experience an ultrasound unlike anything we could have possibly dreamed or anticipated.

Soon enough we learned that our baby is a girl(!) and although I only said a few words of joyful surprise, internally I was over the moon. After having two boys (and suspecting I might forever be a "boy mom") I had hardly dared to dream of a daughter...and here she was! She was kicking, yawning, and moving so quickly the ultrasound tech was kept on her toes.

My favorite photo from this pregnancy, taken on Mother's Day - a few days before the ultrasound.
I felt nothing but anxious excitement & joyful anticipation, secretly hoping this baby might be a girl.

Towards the end of the anatomy scan we were looking at our baby girl's brain when the mood completely changed.

The woman administering the ultrasound took some measurements of the brain's lateral ventricles and promptly told us they were measuring noticeably large. She calmly informed us that the doctor would be in shortly and they would get to work fitting us in for a level 2 (high-risk) ultrasound with some perinatologists across the street.

When the doctor arrived she explained that the lateral ventricles are where cerebral spinal fluid starts out before draining down to the 3rd ventricle, the 4th ventricle, and then the spine. If the lateral ventricles are enlarged, it indicates that the fluid is not draining properly and is building up, which starts to put pressure on the other parts of the brain.

This is called ventriculomegaly and can happen for so many different reasons, many of which are completely unknown; known causes could be a genetic syndrome or chromosomal abnormality, an infection, a blockage somewhere in the ventricle system, or quite simply put the baby could just have been made that way from the moment of conception. Often there will be other anomalies seen either in the heart or other parts of the brain, especially if it's linked to something genetic; many other times the swelling is the only problem detected which is referred to as an "isolated" case. Much of the baby's prognosis depends on the root cause in addition to the severity of swelling, but we won't fully know that until she is born, has an MRI, and has some blood-work done (and yes, we were offered a fetal MRI but the doctors assured us it is unnecessary and redundant since she will need one after birth - and no amount of added data would change anything about our care).

To help paint a better picture, the lateral ventricles should typically measure no more than 10mm at any time during the pregnancy. The average size at our baby's gestational age is 6mm. Our daughter's were measuring at about 15, and after our high-risk ultrasound later that morning we were told the measurements were 15.2 and 16.1mm. 10-12mm would be considered a mild case, but with these measurements there was no sugar-coating that our baby's ventriculomegaly is severe.

Long story short, the OB made some calls and managed to get us that emergency appointment. We had the high-risk ultrasound, spoke with a perinatologist, spoke with a genetics counselor, and then spoke again with 2 perinatologists about what to expect and how to proceed from there on out.

Honestly, you know that what you're facing is serious when the specialists are completely swamped yet they still fit you in with only an hour of waiting; then, despite how busy their office was not one, but two perinatologists sat down to discuss the details of what our care will look like moving forward. They did not appear rushed or to be thinking about anyone else and displayed the utmost compassion and respect while they were talking with me, which I found to be a very welcome surprise...but it also helped me understand the gravity of the situation from their point of view.

That day we learned an alarming amount about ventriculomegaly and hydrocephaly (which is what ventriculomegaly starts to be called when the measurements are >15mm). We were told it is almost a certainty that our daughter will need surgery shortly after birth; hydrocephalus is treated by putting a shunt in the brain to drain the excess cerebral spinal fluid and alleviate the added pressure. The pressure on our baby's brain as she grows can have a variety of outcomes in terms of cognitive and/or physical developmental delays, but typically there is somewhat of a correlation between the severity of the swelling and the severity of an outcome - and the doctors indicated they have no reason to doubt that the lateral ventricles will continue increasing in size throughout the pregnancy....

We recently returned for another follow-up ultrasound, hoping to learn that our baby's lateral ventricles had decreased or at least stabilized but that was not the case. We were not shocked to see that the vents have increased, but we were a bit surprised to see just how rapidly they have increased: in exactly one month the vents have progressed from 15.2 & 16.1mm to 21.8 and 23.2mm. 

Additionally, our appointment last month suggested possible agenesis of the corpus callosum but the doctors couldn't get a great angle. We held out hope that perhaps this time they would get a better look and inform us the corpus callosum was fine, but again this was not the case. They did get a better angle and still don't see any evidence of a corpus callosum (CC). The CC is a band of nerve fibers that connects the two hemispheres of the brain; plenty of people have an absent CC and are perfectly healthy, so this isn't really the main concern. It's commonly seen with ventriculomegaly, but it was still a bit of a blow to the optimism we were struggling to hold onto all month.

To summarize, our baby girl has a medical condition with her brain that is called severe ventriculomegaly/hydrocephaly which may or may not lead to mild or incredibly severe cognitive or physical disabilities. In addition, it appears that an important structure of her brain (the corpus callosum) is missing/never formed. I think you all can imagine what kinds of information we were told we might expect from this condition and none of it is pretty. This is one of those medical conditions that commonly tosses around the words "dismal," "poor quality of life," and "bleak" to name a few.

Many people want to know what all of this means practically speaking in terms of the pregnancy and delivery. In short:


  • There is nothing to be done during the pregnancy other than to wait. There are no preventative measures, no possible in-utero fixes, and no genetic tests that can give any definitive answers regarding the root cause of this condition (there are plenty of things our baby can and will be tested for once she is born, so we will get some definitive answers then). 
  • Currently we will plan on a normal delivery, but depending on the progression of swelling in the brain and the baby's head circumference I may need a C-section. 
  • It is highly unlikely I would be induced early for any reason (research studies showed this to have poorer outcomes because younger babies risk more complications from surgery and recovery). The doctors want the largest, most fully-developed baby possible for the neurosurgeons to operate on in order to give her the best possible outcome.
  • We have transferred our care to the specialists, will now be delivering at Duke University Hospital (which is consistently nationally ranked for neurology and neurosurgery), and will have monthly (level 2) ultrasounds to monitor our baby's condition.
  • We will have a fetal echo-cardiogram performed to hopefully verify that everything is perfect with the baby's heart (because ventriculomegaly is commonly seen with other brain or heart anomalies).


Pretty soon we'll be meeting with the pediatric neurosurgeons at Duke to discuss logistics and get more questions answered, but we basically have a whole lot of uncertain waiting ahead of us.

After birth our daughter will most likely need brain surgery and beyond that we have absolutely no way of knowing anything - because there is no telling what the pressure could mean in terms of how the rest of her brain develops and functions. Our baby girl could appear perfectly healthy otherwise or she could experience a multitude of symptoms or developmental delays I feel it unnecessary to list here.

These past 5 weeks my husband and I have been through an array of emotions as we process, grieve, and move forward. We do not lament our daughter's existence, but rather grieve because of the situation and the cards she has been dealt. After two perfectly normal, uneventful (in every good sense of the word) pregnancies this really was shocking news. No one ever expects this kind of thing.

To be honest, I don't need people to tell me to have faith or hope - because we do and always have. But having faith doesn't mean that we can't feel sad or angry or concerned about what this might mean for our daughter and our family. As Christians we are not worried in the traditional sense because we know God will be with us - but of course we have logistical concerns. We do have peace, though, that everything will transpire as the Lord plans.

I don't need people to tell me not to Google things or worry myself, because my husband and I are praying hard but we also refuse to go into this situation blindly or naively. It's important for us to read the medical literature given to us by our doctors, to understand various case studies about ventriculomegaly or hydrocephaly (especially the cases most similar to ours), and to know the statistics and risks of things like our daughter potentially being stillborn (which I am very sad to say are high enough that we need to take note and at least consider that the worst could happen).

I also don't need people to shrug off our daughter's condition or what we have been told as something that is no big deal just because there is a (small) chance she will be fine. Sure, doctors don't know everything and God is beyond statistics, data, and case studies - but just because there is a small chance our baby's outcome may be completely normal does not mean we can count on it or plan for it. The statistical likelihood of our daughter being stillborn is far greater than that of her surprising us with a perfectly normal outcome with no health issues or developmental delays. Suggesting to us that she can be fine (which of course we hope and pray for!) doesn't help at all when we must also prepare our hearts for the possibility that she might not be with us very long.

The fact is that we have been given more than half of this pregnancy to prepare for the worst (while hoping and praying for the best) so that no matter what the Lord's plan is for our daughter and our family we can learn to embrace it with peace. We need to accept the worst as a possibility so that if it comes we are not shocked and can better see His goodness through it all.

It should go without saying, but we also do not need to hear anything cynical or negative. If anyone in our lives processes this information and feels the need to comment in a manner that is anything less than supportive or mentions the concept of "termination," we do not want or need to hear from you (no disrespect, but this journey is difficult enough without unhelpful or negative comments).

What DO we need?? Prayer. And sometimes a listening ear, to be accompanied on this journey. Because I think the only thing worse than experiencing all of this would be to go through it all alone.

There are (rare) cases of mild and severe ventriculomegaly that have resolved themselves in utero and we believe the Lord can fully heal our daughter if that is His plan for her. We have much faith - and we also recognize that a complete healing may not be God's plan. Whatever He wills, we will accept.

We wholeheartedly believe that this daughter was given to us and we were chosen as her parents for a reason; no matter the outcome we trust the Lord to carry us through. And despite any anger, sadness, or stress we may experience we simultaneously rejoice for this little girl and the gift that she is to us. Never before have I simultaneously experienced so much sorrow in tandem with immense joy as we prepare to meet our baby girl face to face. The only way I can think to describe it to those who haven't experienced something similar is to say that it's a heart-wrenching place to be in - one that I can only hope is refining us so that we may be drawn deeper into the love and mercy of our Lord.

We have much to celebrate, so I am making more of a concentrated effort than ever before to enjoy ALL the pregnancy things with this baby (like decorating the nursery specifically for her!), because no matter what happens she is fiercely loved. And to be frank, I need something beautiful and joyful to cling to and focus on so that I do not lose sight of what a miraculous, wonderful gift this baby is.

Our baby girl at 22 weeks 3 days. Isn't she beautiful?!

Right now we are facing a lot of uncertainty, but I can see many ways in which we have been blessed already on this journey. So many, in fact, that it's a topic deserving of its own follow-up post at a later time.

I'm actually surprised by how "normal" Michael and I have managed to be, all things considered - which I am certain is in thanks to all the prayers we are getting. Right now we are striving to live with joy, peace, and much gratitude for all the children we have been blessed with; we are taking advantage of fun trips and experiences we can have with the boys before things get more complicated and doing all the tangible things we can think of to welcome this baby girl and prepare for her arrival.

So...please pray for us.

We are praying first and foremost for a healing miracle, for a safe delivery, a successful surgery if it is needed, and the best possible outcome we can hope for. We are praying especially through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Gianna, and (last but not least) St. Gerard. St. Gerard is a patron of expectant mothers and has multiple miracles attributed to his intercessory prayers that have brought safe deliveries to moms and babies in high risk situations. And his feast day is our daughter's due date. Once I realized this I felt another wave of reassurance that God is truly with us, because anyone with eyes of faith can see that it surely is not a coincidence.

After all, there are no coincidences - just God-incidences.


"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

Romans 8:26-28

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"One Word" Update & Books Lately

+JMJ+

In January I wrote about my "One Word" that I wanted to focus on for the new year, which was revive. I shared a bit about my husband's and my journey and how the stability of finally planting our feet, buying a house, and setting down roots offers us a prime opportunity to focus on reviving many aspects of ourselves and our lives that seemingly (or necessarily) fell to the wayside as we lived in "survival mode" moving around the country for so long.

Nearly halfway through the year I'm pleased to see and feel that my efforts have been largely fruitful. Decorating our "forever" home, designing plans for our little girl's nursery, and crafting in new ways with the kids have allowed many of my artistic skills to reemerge and be put to good use. I even signed myself up for a "handcrafted night out" during which I made artwork I can happily display in our house (something that was so so good for my soul)!

Can you believe I made this?!?!

Launching and running a Catholic moms group with a friend has utilized many of my ministry, community-building, and administrative skills that are usually manifested in less obvious (and less fun) household administrative ways during these all-consuming baby and toddler years of motherhood. It's refreshing to feel like I have an avenue beyond the walls of our home to give back, support others, and do what I can to get everyone connected and sharing their Catholic and motherhood resources. Plus, the group gives me friends and prayer support when needed, so those are all good things.

Honestly, this year of revival is not so much about reviving skill-sets I may have to offer, but to get back to doing things that make me feel more wholly myself and more fully alive. To pay attention to my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, to revisit hobbies and passions, and to simply live my daily life in a richer, more complete way that honors my whole being - not just the demands of marriage and motherhood.

Another of my passions I have rekindled is reading good books. Any bookish mama of littles can attest to how challenging it can be to find time in the day for more than the hundredth picture book (although I genuinely love reading those because I refuse to own or borrow any from the library that I deem to be annoying or less than good quality). I am constantly reading, but in recent years I have gone through various phases of pregnancy brain, postpartum survival mode, and just plain "being a mom to little kids" that have caused me to resort to reading only articles, blogs, and picture books for longer stretches of time than I care to admit. I've had good bursts of book-reading energy here and there (I recall making short work of the entire Anne of Green Gables series and 3 or 4 religious books in a 4 month time-span during my pregnancy with Peter), but until this year I hadn't really gotten into any regular kind of reading and motherhood groove.


Baby girl & I managed to read while the boys splashed around
their new water table (hence the fish gift from Peter). ;)

I missed books. I was the bookworm little girl that always had her nose buried in a story from a young age, which is no doubt the reason I have needed glasses since 3rd grade. So, getting back into reading real, enriching literature has been a wonderful way to feel more like my real self again. Plus, it was one thing I managed to keep up with during my first trimester fatigue even when creative endeavors came to a brief halt. I love that reading allows us to nourish our minds even when our bodies are tired.

What have I been reading lately, you ask? Well, here's a list (in chronological order) since I began about 4 months ago:

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
  • Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
  • The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
  • Unplanned by Abby Johnson
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  • Let the Fire Fall by Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR (currently reading)

I have owned the Chronicles of Narnia since childhood, but somehow I had only read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a couple times and The Magician's Nephew once. After reading 5 of the 7 books this time around I took a little break and switched up genres, but I do intend to finish them soon.

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I had never before read ANY Jane Austen novels, so you can imagine that having devoured all these books has helped not only revitalize and quench my thirst for good literature, but also helped me achieve something I feel I should have done years ago. After all, it's never too late to read a good book!

I suppose there are other ways I have worked on "reviving" forgotten or dropped passions or habits in recent months, but the only remaining one that comes to mind is the obvious: I resurrected this blog! I had been thinking about doing it for many, many months and recently felt the time was right.

Thank you to all of you that have been patiently following along all these years! And for any new readers out there: welcome. I hope 2017 is shaping up to be what y'all have hoped and dreamed! If not, you've got 6+ months to turn it all around! :)

"Revive your light. Manifest your dreams. Realize your worth."
-Alex Elle

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The One Sentence that Realigned My Pregnancy Priorities

+JMJ+

Pregnancy is unlike anything else in this world. I know I'm stating the obvious here, but the changes that take place in a woman's body during pregnancy are crazy, amazing, marvelous, and weird all at once. 

During my first pregnancy I was an unemployed newlywed (because we knew my husband's contract would have us moving soon, so a job made no sense unless I wanted my resume to look flaky); I occasionally babysat for a family I knew through college connections or substituted at our parish's school, but I had a LOT of downtime in which I read a lot of blogs and wrote my own. Thankfully, reading about pregnancy and postpartum life from the perspectives of many other Catholic women helped better prepare me mentally and emotionally for much of what I would experience. 

Truly, all those blogs helped me be realistic about many things I have witnessed other new mamas struggling with, especially in regards to body image. I am no expert, but all that reading combined with my background in kinesiology as a Fitness Specialist has always helped me maintain a pretty healthy mindset when it came to all the physical changes related to pregnancy. I found myself learning and embracing phrases like "9 months on, 9 months off," which taught me to be patient with my body; by the time my second baby was born and losing the weight was a slower process than the first I had no problem allowing my body at least the same amount of time it took to grow a baby to eventually lose all the weight.

Still, pregnancy is a roller coaster of physical changes and emotions that gets the best of all of us at times. And boy, does the Enemy have a way of making even the most confident ladies manage to feel self-conscious at every possible moment of weakness he can use.

In my head I have always known it is perfectly normal to "show" sooner with subsequent pregnancies, but I didn't have a visible baby bump too much sooner with my second than my first. So, during this third pregnancy when I had strangers already noticing at 13 weeks I admittedly felt self-conscious. My brain was telling me all this was normal, but I still felt caught off-guard by showing SO soon! 

Even when well-meaning friends commented on my baby bump I would smile, but internally I felt myself cringing because it seemed too early; on some level I guess I was worried that showing as much as I did early on might correlate to increased pregnancy weight gain in the end...which is silly and not necessarily the case, but it did cross my mind.

14 weeks

Then, at 14 weeks pregnant I had a play date with a friend. Before we said our goodbyes she said one thing that completely realigned my thinking. We spoke about how far along I was and I sheepishly said, "yeahhh, I'm showing already." Immediately she sincerely exclaimed, 

"Isn't that SO exciting?! I'm so happy for you!"

Instantly I felt myself grinning; all those silly body-conscious reflections fled from my thoughts and all of a sudden I felt 100% at peace and SO joyful about having a visible bump so early on! I snapped the above photo that very night in an effort to shed any remaining timidity and more fully embrace the joy I have been so undeservedly given.

All it took was once sentence from a kind-hearted, good-natured soul to completely reorient my thoughts and priorities in a positive way. 

This is why we need friends, y'all. 

With each of my previous pregnancies I remember distinctly wishing I could always show sooner; once I had been granted that wish I was foolishly acting diffident about it! Thankfully God used my friend to help me stop wasting my thoughts on something so ridiculous.

16 weeks

Ever since that day I haven't been worried about weight gain or what my bump may or may not look like, which is absolutely a grace. Instead I have been able to simply focus on the gift of our daughter's life and spend my time being excited and praying for her. Even if I were to gain more weight during this pregnancy, I would gladly do it if it's what our little girl needed to grow; that's a crucial aspect of motherhood, right? It's about humbly putting our own fears or insecurities aside and - in a way - offering up our own bodies for the sake of caring for another.

At 20 weeks pregnant I currently find myself wondering how the time flies so quickly as I scramble to embrace every little happy moment or milestone before it completely passes me by! Thank Goodness for friends that get us out of our heads and help us rightly see the joy and beauty we are surrounded with!

"Friends are medicine for a wounded heart and vitamins for a hopeful soul."
-Steve Maraboli

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Baby #3 is a...

+JMJ+





GIRL!!!




The volcano was the perfect way to surprise the boys with the news! I can hardly think of anything that would be more exciting to them than an explosion of colorful lava unless it somehow managed to additionally incorporate trains, construction trucks, and dinosaurs all in one.... 

Gabriel (who poured the vinegar in) had been confidently informing me that our baby is a girl since the day we first told them about the pregnancy weeks ago. As soon as the pink lava splashed out he happily exclaimed, "Pink! So it means it is a girl! So I was right!" 

Little kids, I tell ya. Sometimes they just know.

To be honest, we would have been excited about the baby's gender regardless and I frequently told everyone I had no preference...but now I can admit that I was secretly hoping for a daughter this time around. :)

Believe it or not, we unintentionally dressed in blue & pink the day we did the gender reveal!

God is so good. And this little girl is already fiercely loved. Please, please keep her in your prayers as she continues to grow.

"For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him."
1 Samuel 1:27

Thursday, May 25, 2017

How Peter Got His Name

+JMJ+

Considering we've reached that point in pregnancy #3 when my husband and I finally allow ourselves to start thinking seriously about names (we wait until we discover the gender - so stay tuned for that announcement!), it should come as no surprise that baby names are now constantly on my mind.

Many, many moons ago I wrote about how we chose Gabriel's name and figured it's high time I did the same for our second son, Peter!

As soon as we found out that Peter was a boy we revisited the old baby name list we had first drafted back when I was pregnant with his big brother. That provided a jumping off point with ideas, although naturally our feelings towards some names on the list had drastically changed. Peter was on that list, but only as a good middle name.

Pretty soon we had settled on a first and middle name that both Michael and I liked a lot; it had a great nickname and the first and middle names were nods to great Saints as well as people in each of our families. This was a no-brainer - or so we thought!

We tend to keep our baby names private until the baby is born, which gives us ample time to sit with the names, think, and (of course) pray. Michael and I agreed that we thought we had the name pinned down but would continue feeling it out and praying about it.

Within a month or so I began having serious doubts about the initial name we had chosen. It was a fantastic name (which is why we have never told it to anyone in case we decide to use it for a different child), but I began to doubt that it was THAT child's name. I didn't initially mention my doubts to Michael, but after a couple months I felt strongly enough about it to express my hesitations out loud. To my relief, Michael said he shared the exact same sentiments! The longer we sat with that first name, the more convinced we became that it was the wrong name for our second son.

We were on the same page. But what name WAS the right one??

We quickly realized that Peter had shifted to the top of our list, not as a middle name but as the first. I had never thought I would use Peter as a first name, but suddenly my husband and I found ourselves loving it, which just goes to show that the Holy Spirit is constantly doing work around us.

We settled on Peter, but were at a complete loss for a middle name. If we couldn't find the right middle name it would be back to the drawing board...so again we prayed. And waited. And prayed. And for a long time we still only had "Peter."

Then, on Easter Sunday 2015 we had a long talk in the car on our way home from Rhode Island about potential middle names. We brainstormed at least 15 names and I finally began to feel hopeful that we could, in fact, use Peter as a first name like we felt called to. Out of nowhere we suddenly had multiple options which we narrowed down to only a couple.

We left that conversation feeling that "Matthias" had the strongest potential and agreed to pray about it.

For the first time since we agreed on Peter I was completely at peace about his name. I was convinced that he was Peter Matthias and within a few weeks my husband and I agreed that it was THE name.


I should mention that when we choose names we carefully consider origins and meanings. Our oldest (Gabriel Alexander) has names that mean "Strength of God/God is my strength" and "Defender of men." Not only do we consider how the names themselves flow together, but we consider how well the meanings go hand in hand as well.

Peter means "rock" and Matthias means "Gift from God/Gift of the Lord," which we felt was perfect.

Additionally, we wanted to choose a name that felt like a good fit with Gabriel's so that our children have nice sounding "sibling names." I like when all the kids' names sound like a list that flows, rather than having all different sounding styles thrown together. Gabriel and Peter absolutely feel like "brother names" to us, which further solidified our choice. Both our boys have at least one Hebrew name, which was not at all something we necessarily tried to do, but perhaps made us feel that much more confident that the names seemed to fit nicely.

I wanted to give my husband time to think and pray about "Peter Matthias," but in my mind the name was pretty well settled that Easter Sunday back in 2015. From that day I never had doubts.

Peter is about to turn 2 years old and my husband and I have commented to one another on more than one occasion that he is SUCH a "Peter." Nothing else would suit him properly, especially that first name we initially picked out.

In case you couldn't tell, I love the process of choosing baby names and feel like it is such a powerful way to prayerfully bond and better discover who each child is before we even meet them face to face. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of baby names to go consider.... ;)

"The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names."
-Anonymous

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Vacation that Made Up Our Minds (Or how we ended up in North Carolina)

+JMJ+

Back in July 2016 my husband's contract with his then-client in the Boston area had finally come to a close, and instead of instantly securing a contract with a new client (as my husband had been doing for the past few years as we followed his work from Michigan to Florida to Pennsylvania to Massachusetts) we decided it was time to take a break. We had been married less than 4 years and already lived in 4 different states and were blessed with two babies along the way. 

In short, we were getting burnt out. Our initial plan had been to have my husband continue his consulting career until Gabriel (our oldest son) reached school-age, but after starting completely over (and over and over and over) the thought of doing one more project then settling down left us feeling rather blah. I was yearning for stability, community, and unchanging close friendships we knew we could count on. So, my husband, Michael, agreed to take a break, enjoy a vacation, and we would go from there.

You can imagine that during all those years of moving around we were constantly discerning God's will in regards to our next steps and where we should go, but we were also continually discussing and evaluating what we would look for in a place we could set down more permanent roots. This had been an increasingly frequent topic of discussion as his contract came to a close and we were feeling pretty strongly about a couple of options, but there remained one more part of the country that had plentiful job opportunities for Michael that we had not been and could, for several reasons, consider as a feasible spot to settle down. Perhaps you can guess, but that place was North Carolina.

Knowing how we already felt about the other top contenders on our list, we decided it was important to use our vacation time to scope out some firsthand knowledge and thoughts about North Carolina. The bonus was that we could also easily spend vacation time in Charleston, South Carolina - a city that I had been longing to revisit as an adult and introduce my husband to. 

Thus, a vacation to the Carolinas was born!

Our first stop was North Carolina, where we spent time in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh. In Durham we enjoyed some good food and visiting the most iconic site on Duke's campus: the Duke chapel.



Next, we dedicated an entire day to exploring Chapel Hill, which reminded me in many ways of my own college town...except without all the gorgeous Indiana limestone and much, much hotter. Still, it gave Michael and me both a sense of the familiar despite having never previously been to Chapel Hill.

In the morning we were blessed to meet up with one of my mom's cousins (who works for UNC) and her children. It was the first time I had seen her since my older sister's wedding in 2009 and the first time meeting each other's kids, who are similar ages and played quite nicely together. Then, we were off to explore the UNC campus!





We found fun souvenirs for the kids, enjoyed a great lunch, and definitely left with a better understanding of what life in Chapel Hill could be like.

The following day we dedicated to downtown Raleigh, which was largely spent at Marbles Kids Museum. The boys had a blast at the kids museum in Philadelphia when we were there a couple months prior, so we knew Marbles would be a big hit. Boy, were they in for a treat!

We quickly concluded that while Philly's kids museum was pretty awesome, Marbles was in a league of its own. Especially considering that admission was only $5(!), which was music to our Midwestern-grown ears. These were unquestionably our kinds of prices!


If you have young children and find yourselves in Raleigh, go to Marbles. You won't be disappointed.

In Raleigh we had the great fortune of meeting up with one of my husband's cousins, who the boys (especially Gabriel, who was almost 3 at the time) adore. More bonus points for Raleigh!

Truth be told, we quickly found ourselves enchanted by the way this place of 440,000 people managed to feel like the friendliest, most comfortable, small town. It's about half the size of Indianapolis, but reminded me of Indy in a lot of positive ways - which made this Hoosier feel right at home. Honestly, we were surprised to discover just how much Raleigh stole our hearts that day. 

Pretty soon, though, it was time to head further South to the Palmetto State!


Upon our immediate arrival we were able to get dinner at Fleet Landing, where we enjoyed ocean views and the company of a dear friend from my volunteer program when I spent a year in Chicago. She is originally from South Carolina and it was such a gift to be reunited in person (I hadn't seen her since our wedding). 

The next day we were more than ready to beach it up!

Thus began the laid-back, oceanfront portion of our trip. The boys were in heaven with all the sunshine, warm ocean water, and plentiful sand for digging. That first day we spent at the beach was honestly some of the most fun I have ever had playing in the ocean, due in part to how gleefully our boys soaked it all in. It's hard NOT to have a blast when you get to witness your children delight in something so simple and pleasant, after all.




After a morning at the beach we headed back to our rental for the boys' naps, at which point the kids slept and I read outside on the patio...which is basically vacation bliss in my book (no pun intended).


After naps it was time for more Charleston fun when we met up with my family (I have an aunt, uncle, and cousin in Charleston) at the infamous Angel Oak tree.


The boys had so much fun being little boys as they ran around the gigantic tree, climbing what they could, or poking it with sticks. Then, it was time for some (more) seafood (one of my husband's requirements for any good beach trip).


I'm tellin' ya, the food we ate throughout the entire vacation had my foodie husband over the moon, which didn't hurt the Carolinas' prospects as a potential place for us to live. ;)

One of MY personal favorite meals took place the following day when we explored downtown historic Charleston. We spent the morning doing a boat tour that cruised us past many of the important, historical locations; afterwards we perused the Charleston City Market. Then, we sat down for a delicious lunch where my husband was introduced to the Southern deliciousness known as chicken and waffles (pictured below) and I had some sort of fried green tomato sandwich (and sweet tea, of course). The fact that *I* remember the food from our trip so well is really saying something about how good it was....


In the Holy City we made sure to enjoy the Battery and White Point Gardens, Rainbow Row, and basically every other landmark we could possibly walk by before needing to cool off with some fountain splashing (for the kids) and some gelato (for all of us).


It looks like I edited this somehow, but I didn't; it was just that hot and humid!



The rest of our trip basically consisted of a lot more beach, more good food, and a bit more family time with my aunt, uncle, and cousin, before we headed north once again.


On our way back we actually stopped by (one of) the place(s) in North Carolina that would later offer Michael a job, because they were practically begging him to stop in and meet (what can I say? My man is pretty much a rockstar at what he does). We took that opportunity to also see more of Durham, since we hadn't spent too much time there on our way down.

FYI, Cracker Barrel tastes SO much better in the South

Before long we were stopping overnight in New Jersey to see another one of my aunts and uncles, and then we were back in Boston with a lot of thinking and praying to do.

The continued time off work also gave my husband the opportunity to finally recognize and feel things that I had been pointing out to him about our lives in Boston for quite some time - things that made us feel more strongly than ever that we would be better off putting down roots in either the Midwest or the South. No disrespect at all to our friends back in New England, but we just aren't New Englanders - which became painfully obvious to us the longer we lived there.

Considering we moved to North Carolina 6 months ago, you know how this story ends and I already wrote a little bit about the prayers and circumstances that convinced us we were following the right path in doing so. Our vacation helped us realize that we could have everything we considered desirable about the other top places of consideration combined (plus warmer weather AND easy access to beaches and mountains!). This place had all the potential we could ask for in regards to jobs, community, arts & culture, Catholic churches, schools, parks, various amenities, and the list goes on and on.

Thank Goodness we took the vacation that we did, because otherwise we may have never discovered a place which we could so easily call our home. More and more I see the intricate ways in which God is continually blessing us here, which I have nothing but gratitude for. It took 4 years of moving around the country, but we are finally home. I can only hope that all of you feel equal amounts of peace wherever the Lord has placed you.


"The breaks you take from work pay you back manifold when you return because you come back with a fresher mind and newer thinking. Some of your best ideas come when you're on vacation."
-Gautam Singhania

Friday, May 19, 2017

3 Generations & a Mother's Day Away

+JMJ+

Since I was away at Franciscan University for my sister's commencement (shout out to my husband for taking care of the kids all weekend!), I had a rare Mother's Day. I was able to shower, get ready, attend Mass, and eat food without first taking care of or planning around the needs of others. Speaking honestly, it was a pretty weird experience for this mama of two boys ages 3 and under.

However, it was also a lovely opportunity to spend more time with my sister, my mom, and my grandmother before flying home that afternoon.

Our morning began with Mass at the campus chapel; since it was my first time visiting Franciscan I was grateful to be able to go to church there and experience a bit of what my sister does on a regular basis. Then, we headed to a restaurant to enjoy a Mother's Day brunch.

The food was good, but the company itself made it a pleasant, one-of-a-kind Mother's Day experience for me. After all, how many of you that are married with young children typically get to spend the day with your mother and grandmother who all live in separate, far-off states (without taking care of your kids to boot)??

Pretty soon it was time to head to the airport, but before saying goodbye we made sure to commemorate the occasion with plentiful photographic evidence.

My little sis and me with our mom

With our grandmother

Three generations of moms!

What transpired next was the craziest of circumstances, which my grandmother immediately proclaimed "is a God thing!" You see, my mom, grandma, and I traveled to the airport together since we all rode in my mom's rental car. Their flights were later than mine, and even though my grandma had the same airline as me we said our goodbyes when I checked my bag - because at 89 years young she deserves to be wheeled to her destination.

So, after I got through security I texted my mom my terminal and gate number (D78). She immediately responded with "D79." I stared at her text, confused for a moment before I realized what was going on. Despite having a completely different airline and being in a large airport we had gates right across from one another! 

My mom and I quickly met up and as we approached my gate together who do you think we saw??? None other than my grandmother, who was patiently sitting in an airport wheelchair at MY gate - because her flight was the one AFTER mine that departed from the same place.

Truly, I had never experienced anything quite like this. 



So, I enjoyed the remainder of my time at the airport unexpectedly hanging out with my family.

Even with all the travel it was a nice way to spend the day. I got to celebrate 3 generations of motherhood within my family and I couldn't help but appreciate having a little breather from my darling boys and just focus on the child that was with me.


The following day would mark 18 weeks of pregnancy. The whole weekend I was feeling filled with hopeful anticipation about who this little baby is (A 3rd boy? A first girl?) because the big anatomy scan ultrasound was coming up and I felt so eager and excited by the prospect of soon discovering something so wonderful!

Then, returning home to greetings of warm, little boy hugs and kisses was the perfect way to end the day.


I know that I am so blessed to have these sweet children. At times it is chaotic, messy, and downright exhausting...but I honestly wouldn't trade all that for the world. The gift of motherhood and this crazy life are so complicated, but even when it's bitter it remains assuredly sweet. 

To those of you who experienced sorrow on this Mother's Day, you were held especially in my prayers. And to all of you fulfilling motherly roles, God bless you. The world needs your gifts and love more than you can imagine.

"What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family."
-Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My First Time at Franciscan

+JMJ+

This past weekend I flew to Pittsburgh and was looking forward to the long-awaited trip for several reasons:

  1. I was finally going to see the place where my younger sister (Peter's godmother) has been studying and working for the past four years, 
  2. it was only the third time I had EVER been away from my children overnight, 
  3. I would see one of my sisters, my parents, and my grandmother, and 
  4. my little sister was officially graduating with her Masters Degree!!!

Technically my sis completed all her degree requirements awhile ago, but she couldn't walk in commencement last year due to studying abroad and having to delay her comprehensive exams until August. She has steadily been working since, but I'm sure she is happy to officially receive her diploma - and I know was happy to witness it!

On Friday night I had the pleasure of staying at the house my sister currently rents, which allowed me to be with her on Saturday morning, help her get ready for the big day, and share some quality time before things got busy.

Once all of the present family was ready and gathered at my sister's house on Saturday, we went out for a pre-commencement brunch. I think it goes without saying, but being reunited with family for a joyous occasion is always a gift.

With my little sis, the most recent Master of Theology in the family


Before long it was time for the main event!


I can hardly begin to describe how utterly different this ceremony was from all the other university graduations I have attended, largely because my older sister went to a school of about 12,000 students and my little sis and I obtained our degrees from a certain Big 10 school with the measly number of 48,000 students.... Needless to say, when I graduated from college there was no earthly way for each student to walk across the stage and have their name read aloud. 

The commencement ceremony at Franciscan University of Steubenville was everything I always imagined the campus environment and community itself to be: small, dignified, brimming with Hope, and permeating Truth.


Not to mention, the printed list of candidates for graduation provided a bountiful supply of solid, Catholic names - just in case we need some fresh inspiration during this pregnancy! ;)

After graduation we spent the afternoon watching my sister rejoice and take photos with her friends, visiting the campus gift shop (where we got SO many awesome souvenirs), and taking family photos as we toured my sister's favorite spots on campus.



I had heard my sister describe many of these places over the years and even seen some of her own photos of them, but it was truly a gift to set eyes on them for myself knowing how much these places mean to her. 




Soon it was time for a congratulatory dinner, giving gifts, and firming up plans for the rest of the weekend before we would all be heading our separate ways. That night while my sister was off with friends (visiting another friend in the hospital, who unfortunately missed commencement for medical reasons) I was blessed to reunite with a dear Hoosier friend from my campus ministry involvement back in college! I had not seen my friend, Liz (who now works at Franciscan), for 4 years - so being able to catch up and share more about each of our journeys in person was such a delight.

It amazes me that this was only my first time visiting a city and school in which my sister has lived so much life these past 4 years. To finally be with her, celebrate with her, pray with her, and laugh with her in the dear place that has been her home all this time is an experience I absolutely cherish. 


I love you, seester! You have a brilliant mind and a beautiful soul. I'm so proud to be your sister (and grateful you are mine!). I cannot wait to see how the Lord continues working in your life.

"A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints."
-Pope Benedict XVI

Friday, May 12, 2017

Father's Day 2016

+JMJ+

As I continue to resurrect this blog that laid more or less dormant for so long there will be a quite a few recaps from events that transpired long ago. I could just skip over everything I failed to write about in a timely fashion, but then you would miss adorable photos of my kids and their shenanigans and nobody wants that!

Last year for Father's Day my husband, Michael, wanted to celebrate with a fun family outing. Truth be told, there weren't many things in New England that we felt were priced so that we really got our money's worth (Midwestern problems, I know - but it's hard to adjust to northeastern cost of living as people that grew up doing similar things for a fraction of the cost!). However, there was one place we had been that we felt was truly worth what we paid in terms of what the kids got out of it - and that was Thomas Land.


To be accurate, the place we went to was a theme park called Edaville, located not too far from Cape Cod; the previous autumn they had opened an entire new area within their park called "Thomas Land," where all the rides are geared towards little Thomas & Friends lovers. We had a blast going there when Gabriel was a little over 2 (and Peter was maybe 3 months), so we decided to go again.

The first time we went, baby Peter literally napped through the entire visit because we only stayed through the morning and lunch (and we still felt good about the price and what we got out of it, which is saying something). This time, however, Gabriel was old enough to stay through his afternoon nap time (he later fell asleep as soon as we began the drive home) and Peter could actually go on some rides!

Here he is riding the "Diesel Derby"

Plus, there were a couple rides that were not yet open the first time we visited the park so this time we got to experience it all. What a joy that Peter could actually join us on a few rides at only one year old! It is a great amusement park for young kids, I'm tellin' ya.

Riding "Winston's Skyline Express"

We usually spend the majority of our time in the actual "Thomas Land" portion of the park, but during lunch we have never failed to also visit the real locomotive they have on display.


This time around Gabriel (who was 2 years, 10 months) even requested to go on a couple of the generic (read: not Thomas & Friends) rides in the main area of the park, like this airplane:


After lunch was a good time to briefly head indoors to the air conditioning for the restrooms, changing table, nursing room, and, of course the upstairs level that houses small rides specifically geared towards young children. We were pretty much the only ones inside, so Gabriel requested to ride these little tracked cars over and over and over and over and over while Peter took a little snooze in the stroller.


Once Peter woke up it was time for our final ride of the afternoon - THE Thomas train (pictured above). It's a real train ride (led by the official Thomas the tank engine, of course) that takes you around all of Edaville.

Riding the train

The boys always have a blast on the Thomas train because A) it's Thomas, B) it's a train, and C) it gives a nice view of all the rides. As a mother I adore the Thomas train because it means I get to sit down for at least 15 minutes.

Being the cutest brothers

The entire day was a great way to celebrate the excellent father my husband is while having a lot of family fun. It's kind of crazy to think that this was Michael's third Father's Day (4th if you count when I was pregnant with Gabriel), because it feels like just yesterday I was beginning to catch real glimpses of what he would be like as a daddy or celebrating the gift of his fatherhood when Gabriel was just a baby. I do not know where the time went, but I do know that I sat on that Thomas train ride marveling at our 2 precious children and how much they adore Michael.


I'm so blessed to have this man as the father of our children. Just look at that image of him holding our baby! I captured it amidst fits of giggles as Peter delighted in being held by his father and smothered him with baby kiss after baby kiss.

Michael, you are such a dedicated dad who is already teaching the boys so much through your words and actions. Thank you for loving all of us so well and setting such a strong, positive example for our kids in countless ways. We love you and would be so lost with you, your love, and everything else you bless us with daily.

And a happy (belated and/or early) Father's Day to all of you with fatherly roles out there! You help shape and guide us (for better or worse); the work you do is so important, so thank you!

"A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms, even when his hands are empty."
-Anonymous