Monday, April 30, 2012

Butterfly Farm

A friend from church raised butterflies last year as part of her home school curriculum. This year we and two other families decided to join in the butterfly farm fun. Six tiny caterpillars arrived in a six-ounce plastic cup with food on the bottom and tissue on the top. The girls enjoyed watching the little creepy crawlers who lived on the kitchen counter. I did first.
Then they grew. They grew so much they pooped all over the bottom of the cup, and sloughed their skins off, and crawled all over each other for lack of space. Then they grew some more. We were supposed to leave them in there until they all turned into chrysalises on the tissue paper at the top, then tape the paper to the top of a butterfly habitat. Finally one chrysalized and we all cheered, but later that day it fell to the bottom of the cup. I checked the instructions, which told me to tape it to the top of the cup. It stunk in there and five other hungry caterpillars were threatening to ingest my fingers, so I figured I'd wait until the others had chrysalized before rescuing the first one.

The next morning another caterpillar had chrysalized and the fallen hero had mysteriously disappeared. Three more caterpillars quickly joined their frozen friend on the tissue paper and we were left waiting for one last, fat caterpillar to give up the feeding frenzy before I could throw away the dropping-laden cup and move them to their new, happy home. But I
didn't know he intended to enact an R-rated version of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This guy was hungry. He proceeded to eat all of the sloughed-off skins, but he was still hungry. I watched in horror as he gnawed at the little string attaching one of his brothers to the tissue. The little chrysalis plopped to the bottom of the cup, but he was still hungry. For the next three days we watched as he devoured every bit of his brother, but he was still hungry. He gnawed at the string of another chrysalis, and it too plopped to the bottom of the cup.

On Sunday my friend assured me that caterpillars are not carniverous, and I assured her that our mutant friend most definitely was. She thought maybe I should remove him before he ate any more siblings. I told her there was no way I was opening the lid on that cup: better them than me falling to the jaws of the mutant larvae. One week after his siblings, he finally felt full and chrysalized. The second chyrsalis that he had dropped was still laying on the bottom of the cup, apparently not yet nibbled on. I felt relieved, four out of six isn't too bad.

We made a little butterfly habitat from a diaper box and some clear plastic with pin-holes in it. I dug up a dandelion and planted it in a cup in the box. Naomi created a fake branch for them from construction paper. I misted the box to keep it humid and prepared a sugar water solution for the butterflies to drink from a fake flower when they emerged. We taped the chrysalises to the top, including the fallen one, and it wiggled in protest as I strapped it down with a thin strip of scotch tape, so I knew it was still alive. Then we waited. Actually we totally forgot about them for a week. We are busy around here, you know.

One day my eye fell on the diaper-box habitat in the corner and my heart skipped a beat. Oops! I wondered if any of the butterflies had emerged yet so I snuck over and peeked in the plastic. Three painted lady butterflies were happily fluttering from the dandelion to Naomi's fake branch and over to the fake flower where they sipped sweet nectar. Phew! The girls were elated. Mr. Hungry was still in his chrysalis, and I thought it might be better that way. I contemplated letting the first three go outside before Jaws emerged hungrier than ever,  but the weather took a turn towards cold and rainy and I figured they'd have a better chance of survival inside.

Eventually even Jaws emerged, healthy and apparently less rabid. The girls named the butterflies, even though they couldn't tell them apart. They were named Bella, Claira, Lizzy, and Naughty. One evening I told the girls that we would need to let the butterflies go soon. Naomi and Emma agreed, but Hannah burst into tears. "No, Mommy!" she sobbed, " I love them!"

"Hannah, honey, they can't keep living in a box," I reasoned. "The dandelions have died, and they're not happy in there. If you love them, you'll want them to be happy."

"But I'll miss them too much!" she wailed. Matt tucked her into bed that night and he came up with a plan to take pictures and videos of the butterflies before releasing them. She reluctantly agreed.

The next day Hannah teared up again at the thought of letting her friends fly free, but the weather was so cold, with temps near freezing at night, that I conceded to keeping them a few days longer.

This morning the sun shone after a light rain, the temperatures were warming into the 70's, and Hannah had made peace with good-bye. "Let's let them go now," she urged me. "I don't want them to die."

 It was time. So we gathered on the front porch and opened the plastic cover on the habitat. In a few seconds one was fluttering around wildly. He finally found the opening and flew up and over the house in a flash. I caught a little of it in the video below:

The other three butterflies were stunned and still at first. I lifted each of them out with a stick and set them on the ground. Within a minute or so two of the butterflies stretched their wings and flew across the field toward the apple orhcard. The fourth butterfly took his time. We carried him on a maple seed helicopter and set him in the grass. We brought him a dandelion and watched him uncurl his proboscis for a good, long drink. Finally, he too took to the air, and our butterfly friends were gone, but it was a happy ending. Hannah's eyes glowed with fulfillment. "They really do like it out here," she sighed, "It's like the biggest world they've ever seen!"

It was certainly a happier ending than I had imagined two weeks earlier.

Elijah Talks with Daddy

Elijah loves to socialize, and the first time we set him in his bumbo seat at the table he was ready to talk to us.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


When the blue sky dims
And the greens fade grey
When he's fed and changed
But he still won't play
I hold my son
And gently sway
We rock together
To end our day

He arches and squirms
And gnaws my thumb
He wails and bellows
As my ears grow numb
I sing and sway
Like a steady drum
Rock, creak, rock, creak
Rock, creak, hum

He chews his blanket
And rubs his eyes
He drools and fusses
And then he sighs
Warm in my arms
He sinks to the beat
Rock, creak, rock, creak,
Rock, creak, sleep

Five chubby fingers
Wrapped around mine
His soft, warm breaths
Keeping time
As the sun drops low
And the day's chores cease
We hold each other
And find release
Rock, creak, rock, creak,
Rock, creak, peace

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Grace for Today, Hope for Tomorrow

Last night I sat in my living room with three other ladies from our church who have become good friends over the past (nearly) three years since we moved here. It was a small turnout for the women's prayer group, but we didn't mind. Matt attempted to put the kids to bed upstairs while we met, but ended up falling asleep in Hannah's bed while the kids "cleaned" their room.

With loud bumps and thumps and squeals overhead I shared with these ladies how I have been feeling, well...tired of my job. I've heard people speak of the "seven year itch" of marriage. I think I have the seven year itch of parenting. I find myself trying to get away from my kids, wanting to do something more with my life, wishing I could parent and do something else too...anything else. Three older, wiser moms smiled and commiserated with me. They shared experience and scripture, and upheld me in prayer.

Why do I continually find myself amazed when God answers our prayers? I should expect it by now, but I woke this morning with no expectation whatever of the grace God would pour out on my family.

Naomi had had a horrible attitude the day before, continually attempting to break family rules behind my back. She had been sentenced to spend the entire day by my side being "watched" today. We told her (in the words Pa Ingalls had used to Laura) "If you can't be trusted, you must be watched." We had never attempted this sort of consequence before, and I wasn't exactly looking forward to spending a day being the watcher of a grumpy, play-deprived child. There goes my "me" time.

But Naomi woke cheerfully and obediently followed my lead all morning. I never realized I could so enjoy spending a morning working together with my daughter. I taught her how to load the dishwasher, how to stain-treat the clothes, and how to run the washing machine and the dryer. We cleaned out and organized two kitchen cupboards. We baked coconut bread together and made lunch together. And we had a great time. Hannah was so inspired that she washed the dishes for me, and Emma set the lunch table.

This afternoon I dug out an American history computer game that had been given to us years ago and got it running on the school computer. Journals and math problems have never been completed so quickly as they were today, with the promise of a game to come. I took the time to cuddle Toby and play peek-a-boo with Elijah. We sang songs and acted silly together. We enjoyed school time, dinnertime, clean-up time, and bedtime today more than we have in months, and I feel refreshed. Maybe I do like this job.

All three girls were filled with that peaceful, satisfied feeling tonight at bedtime. I praised them for being such good helpers and for having such good attitudes, and I admitted to them that Mommy had needed an attitude adjustment too, and that God was gracious enough to adjust my attitude as well as theirs. "This is the best, best, best day ever!" Hannah glowed as I tucked her in, "I just feel so, so happy!"

I am thankful that the prayers of the saints and the grace of God reach out to the corners of my heart where I didn't even know they were needed. It was a hopeful day for me, and I'm sure it was for my kids, because after I had tucked them in bed I found "Ice Crem" smuggled on to the bottom of my grocery list--way to dream big, girls. May I dare to have sweet dreams for tomorrow too.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mom Advice: Why "Baby Wise" Isn't

When I was anticipating the birth of my first child I felt pretty well prepared. I had read books on childbirth and breastfeeding and parenting philosophies. I had the gadgets that other parents relied on to soothe babies: swings, bouncers, and baby carriers. I knew that some people get extra-fussy babies to love, and that it would be difficult for a few weeks if we were blessed with a screamer, but we'd get through it OK, my doting husband and I. I would gently train my darling to sleep through the night by feeding her in a dark, quiet room, and laying her back in her bed when she was sleepy, but awake so she could get used to drifting off to sleep in her own bed. At first she might wake every two to three hours, but eventually she would drop those middle of the night snacks and we'd all be sleeping soundly again in three or four months.

I didn't have a clue. Maybe the first week went according to plan. Later I learned that most newborns are sleepy and docile for the first week or two: then they come to life. I tried laying my daughter in her bassinet after a full feeding and she screamed as if I'd laid her on a bed of nails. I patiently tried again and again at 1:00am, 2:00am, 3:00am. Eventually I decided that laying her down "sleepy but awake" wasn't going over well with this chick. I tried letting her nurse until she was in a deep sleep, all limp and floppy, then moving ever so slowly, inch by inch to gently sneak her into her bassinet. This was extremely taxing and painful, you cannot imagine how many hours I spent hunched over a bassinet, lowering my daughter by one millimeter per minute so she wouldn't detect the motion and slipping her oh-so-gently out of my arms and into her bed. I would carefully tuck her in and inch back away, drunk with giddiness at the prospect of two hours of uninterrupted sleep. I would sink into the comfort of my bed, close my eyes and savor the sweet respite to come. And then she would stir, whimpering at first, but I knew it was over. It didn't matter if I held my breath and prayed, or if I sprang from the bed to hold her hand, or jiggle the bassinet, or even nurse her again, she refused to sleep anywhere except in my arms, preferably attached to my breast.

How can you prepare for the physical and psychological torture that can occur when you live on a few 20 minute naps per night, night after night after night? By the time my daughter was six weeks old my body had depleted all of its reserves of stress hormones, energy, and patience. I felt like a different person, irritable, angry, unstable. I begged Matt to help me. He did try, but he was working full-time and trying to complete schooling as well. When he held Naomi in another room, nothing he did soothed her. I would hear her cries and be unable to sleep anyway, so eventually he gave up trying. "She just wants to scream," he concluded, "and she can scream just as well in her bed as she can in my arms." I called my mom and cried, but she lived a six-hour drive away and had a job of her own to work. I remember once finally losing control and (gently) throwing my baby into her crib, running to the kitchen and pounding both fists on the counter as I screamed, "Why won't she sleep!"

I was losing my sanity alongside of my marriage--something had to give. One friend in particular saw my frail state and pitied me. She came to my house and cooked me soup, she brought movies for me to watch while I nursed my daughter (or rather let her sleep attached to the breast) just so I could take my mind off of my miserable existence. And then one day she offered me a book called "On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep" by Gary Ezzo. Her sister had used this book with her three children and loved it. It was a system of scheduling the baby's feedings and naps, and letting the baby cry herself to sleep in her own bed for every nap so that she would become accustomed to falling asleep without the use of "sleep props" such as pacifiers, nursing, and motion. The book convincingly argued that this was in the best interest of the babies, who needed sleep to grow well, and parents who needed sleep to parent well and to maintain their marriages.

The book didn't sit well with me. It grated against every maternal instinct I had, but I was desperate, more desperate than I have ever been before or since that day. Baby Wise dangled the tantalizing carrot of uninterrupted, peaceful sleep just in front of me: a few weeks of scheduling and "sleep training" and I would be human again, my marriage would be happy again, and my baby would transform into the smiling, cooing baby I knew she could be after she'd had a few good nights of sleep. She would thank me later. And so I began.

Step one: give the baby a full feeding. This was difficult since she was so sleep deprived that she fell instantly to sleep every time I put her to the breast. I undressed her and wiped her with cold wet cloths to keep her awake and sucking until I was sure she could hold no more.

Step two: give the baby some awake, play time. Play? This guy had obviously never met my baby. Since I had to detach her from the breast for this step this translated into "Let your baby scream like hell's bells for an hour while you sing her songs and pretend like she's playing."

Step three: put your baby down for a nap. This meant dropping her in her crib and walking away while she ramped up the crescendo of wails three notches above ear-splitting and mind-numbing. I tried to relax, tried to reassure myself: the author said most babies only cry for five minutes, but some might go as long as forty. I wasn't supposed to check on her or let her see me or hear my voice, that would only encourage her screaming. So I sat, enduring the nails scraping against the chalkboard of my heart and waiting for her to give in, but she didn't: ever.

This cycle was supposed to repeat itself nicely every three hours (about 30 mins for feeding, 60 mins for play time, and 90 mins for nap). But three hours after my daughter's last feeding began she was still screaming like a fire-alarm in her crib: no nap had been taken, not even for one minute. I scanned the book for advice on what to do if your baby cries the entire 90-minute "nap" period and is still wailing when it's time for the next feeding: sorry, no advice there. So I decided that she wouldn't learn anything if I "rewarded" this "fit" with a feeding , and I let her keep on crying. I know, I cringe even admitting that now, but remember how desperate I was? We do unimaginable things at the depths of desperation.

My heart grew calloused to her cries. I was going to win this war. To my dismay my  baby continued to cry for two more hours. Five hours after her last feeding and her last nap she was red as a beet, drenched in sweat, and pleading with all her might as if her life depended on it. I stood over her crib and cried: was I a good mother or a bad one for letting this go on? I finally decided that this could be dangerous to her health and I picked her up, calmed her down, and nursed her. But I continued to reason that the scheduling would work, I just had to give it more time. So, utterly drained as she was, I didn't let my daughter sleep. Out came the cold cloths to keep her awake for a "full" feeding. Then came the struggle to keep her awake for "play" time. And at the appointed time, I dropped her in her crib for a "nap" and felt very satisfied. This time I knew she was too tired to cry, she would have to give in and sleep. But I had seriously underestimated her.

She did cry herself to sleep: for about five minutes. Then she startled awake and picked right back up bellowing for the rest of her "nap". Again I nursed her, "played" with her, and put her down to scream. That night she just nursed and screamed: dusk 'till dawn, with two to five minute snatches of sleep here and there. We kept this up for an entire week. Finally, at the end of the week in Hades, with no one any closer to being on a "schedule" or learning to "soothe herself" to sleep, I came to my senses. I thought, "I don't know who this book was written for, but it wasn't written for my daughter!" I unearthed my heart, dusted off my maternal instincts, and cuddled my baby. I responded to her cries and comforted her the best way I knew how, and at least we got more rest than we had the week before.

From then on I cared for her like a unique human being instead of attempting to program her like a robot. I sought the source of her cries, and attempted to remedy them. I asked doctors, friends, and relatives for advice. I read books and articles. I eliminated foods from my diet and tried every foolish old wives tale out there from gas drops to bottles of formula with rice cereal in them. Nothing really helped, but at least my daughter was comforted in her mothers' arms throughout this ordeal.

When she was four months old, I found a book called "The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night" by Elizabeth Pantley. This wasn't a magic ticket to dreamland for us, but it did educate me more about babies and sleep, and it gave me some good tips on lessening my baby's dependency on my presence for sleep. When she was five months old I finally gave in to letting my daughter sleep beside me in bed, and after waking from a relatively decent night's sleep, I thought, "Why in the world didn't I do this five months ago?" At ten months of age, I was able to transition her to sleeping in her crib with a sippy cup of water in her crib available to her at night. This did involve some crying on her part, but there is a world of difference between allowing a ten month old with access to a water cup to cry with a loving parent in the room, and leaving a helpless six week old to scream alone in the dark for hours. We didn't exactly "sleep through the night," but we slept pretty well, with two or three wakings to refill the water cup and change her diaper.

Later, when she was three years old, we learned what I had long suspected, that my daughter had a rare kidney problem that included a total inability to concentrate her urine. This meant that her kidneys pumped out a maximum volume of urine whether or not she drank anything. If she didn't drink huge volumes of liquid to compensate, she would quickly become dehydrated. Going three hours without liquid during the day would be very uncomfortable for her, and expecting her to go all night without drinking was tantamount to torture for her, not to mention dangerous. When I learned this, I was more ashamed than ever that I had ever tried to schedule her feedings, but more proud than ever that I had eventually let my maternal instincts take over. We also learned that she had a host of neurological sensitivities, including extreme reactions to foods and drugs that were probably in my breast milk at the time, and oversensitivity to light, sound, smell, and touch. In the course of a day she had hundreds of things that would upset her and no ability at all to calm herself. She needed help, and that is what a mother is for.

Why isn't "Baby Wise" wise?
  • It does not allow for babies to be individuals with unique physical and emotional challenges. The book did not once address the possibility that a baby may physically need to be fed more often, or may have neurological sensitivities that would not allow her to calm herself through crying. The American Academy of Pediatrics denounces Baby Wise because countless babies have turned up at ERs dehydrated and failing to thrive from this program, yet after being indoctrinated against it, parents are unwilling to feed their baby more often even when advised by doctors to do so.
  • It does not allow for treating our babies with the same kindness with which we treat older children and adults. We serve donuts and coffee at church in between breakfast and lunch because even as adults we enjoy a snack, yet Baby Wise warns against the dangers of giving your baby snacks in between the rigidly scheduled full feedings. We comfort our preschoolers who come to us at night crying because they are afraid of the dark, yet Baby Wise doesn't allow us to comfort our babies at night who may be scared, confused, or lonely, because they might grow accustomed to being comforted and ask for it again the next time they are upset. If a toddler is fed, changed, and then locked in a dark closet by themselves for the night while they scream in fear we call it child abuse, but Baby Wise insists that good parents feed and change their babies and then leave them to scream in cribs by themselves.
  • It teaches parents to ignore every natural impulse and interferes with bonding. I visited a zoo once and saw a gorilla mother holding a three-week old baby to the breast. She looked tired, but she never set that baby down. She held him and nursed him and carried him in one arm when she moved. Something in her told her that was best for her baby, so she did it. Whether you believe in intelligent design or evolution, you have to admit that there is a reason that babies demand constant contact, it is best for them.
I do know families who have "successfully" used this program or one similar to it. I can allow that this may work well for the personalities of some parents and babies, but I wish that they would allow that Baby Wise may be insensitive and dangerous to other babies' unique personalities and physical needs. I wish that they would not look down on the exhausted parents who choose to respond to their baby's cries, or brag about how well their baby sleeps because they worked hard to train their baby. Can we please allow that our babies are people to be nurtured and not machines to be programmed?

When I had my second daughter I was blessed with another baby who wanted to be near her mommy. One day I was cuddling her to sleep in a sling at a women's Bible study when an older mom looked at me with sad eyes. "She looks so happy in there," the woman said, "She always looks so happy...I taught my babies to sleep in cribs with Baby Wise, and they did learn to sleep well...but I don't have one single memory like that. Not one memory of rocking or cuddling my baby to sleep." I didn't know how to comfort her. It seems that even for families who "successfully" use Baby Wise, there is a high price to pay.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Only Five

I am used to the stares of strangers as I parade my five children in public. I am used to hearing, "Are they all yours?" "My you have your hands full!" and "I could never do that, I'm going out of my mind with two kids." But Monday morning I heard a response I never imagined I'd hear.

Matt needed to have his wisdom teeth removed Monday morning. The oral surgeon's office required that an adult wait in the waiting room during the entire process, and while Matt's grandfather was able to drive him home, he couldn't wait the whole two hours at the office. So I woke early, got all the kids loaded into the van, and we waited in the waiting room until Matt's grandpa could arrive. I passed out dry Chex for breakfast, laid out coloring books and crayons, and shuttled Toby to the potty twice. I was bouncing Elijah up and down, hoping he'd drift to sleep when an Amish woman entered with a teenage son and a toddler. She was 40-something, in a traditional black dress, with her straight brown hair smoothed back into a bun under her white bonnet. Her sons wore black pants and black suspenders over white shirts. Their bowl-cut hair looked a few decades out of place.

Sometimes the Amish respond to my smiles with disdain, as if to say, "Stop gawking." Sometimes I see an air of superiority in their reply, and I have to question if my outfit was not modest or plain enough for their approval. But this lady smiled back at me warmly, knowingly. She cuddled her toddler close and smoothed his long, blond hair as she talked her teenage son through some paperwork. From a corner of her eye she watched as I fumbled to settle an argument between my daughters, coach my son to pick up the cereal he'd dropped, and soothe my sleepy baby.

After a few minutes she spoke, "Five children?" she asked with a mild German accent.

"Yeah," I smiled, patting Elijah's bottom and moving to drop some of Toby's fallen Chex in a near-by garbage can.

"And is that all you have?" she asked.

Somehow with her accent and the incredibly unusual nature of her response, I was sure I had mis-heard her. "Yes, they're all mine," I answered as I had a thousand times before.

"No," she replied, "I mean do you have any other children?"

"No," I laughed, "five is quite enough!" She looked so kindly into my eyes that she melted this well-programmed, socially acceptable response. I felt safe with her, and so I opened up a little farther, "At least for now...we'll see how many God gives us." A corner of her mouth turned up a little and her eyes sparkled at me as her head gave the slightest nod. "How many children do you have?" I probed.

"We have nine in all, from sixteen years to two," she said proudly, and somehow humbly at the same time.

"That's wonderful, but a challenge too," I replied, searching for her secret to easy mothering.

"Yes, it is," she answered, and waited for me to respond.

"I feel like five is all I can handle," I offered.

"I did too, when five was all I had," she empathized, "but they do grow older, and they begin to help. It does get easier."

She had read me perfectly. I wanted to plop down beside her with a cup of coffee and mine the depths of her maternal wisdom. I wanted to ask her if she had ever questioned the wisdom of having so many kids, if she had ever felt like a bad mother because her attention was so divided, if she had never wished that she could have spent her youngest and healthiest days doing something beside changing diapers (and probably hand-washing them!) from dawn 'till dusk. I wanted to hear her tell me that there was nothing better that I could pour out my life doing, that I would never regret the sacrifice when I was gray-haired. I wanted to soak in the warmth of her comforting approval.

But Matt's grandfather arrived, and Elijah was fussing, and Toby was jumping from chair to chair leaving a trail of Chex behind him. So I packed away our supplies, and strapped Elijah into his car-seat. I lined my troops up by the door and waved good-bye to the quiet blond-haired toddler and his calm, bonnetted mother. I wished all the way home that I had had the courage to ask her address, to ask if I could visit and learn from her. But maybe, in those short minutes, I had already learned what I was supposed to.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Health Update: Spontaneous Shunt?

I drove the three girls and Elijah down to the children's hospital again today for their six-month GI doctor check-ups on liver and celiac diseases. My sister-in-law added Toby to her family today, so I had a little less stress.

The sun-rise was absolutely gorgeous on our drive down. The enormous neon sun glowed over the fog-patched fields and the delicate blossom-covered bushes and trees. Elijah slept peacefully most of the way, until he was fed-up with his car-seat the last 20 minutes. With two stretches of road construction there wasn't time to spare, but we arrived just on time.

The GI doctor was mildly concerned at Hannah's slow growth rate--after gaining 2 lbs in the last 15 months, she now weighs in at 38 lbs for a six-year old. Hannah's blood draw included seven tubes of blood to check various vitamin levels as well as thyroid, which is often deficient in people with auto-immune diseases like celiac. I was also told to feed her more fatty foods like hot dogs and ice cream, something Hannah found absolutely hilarious to hear a doctor say. Emma checked out well with no evidence of liver disease progression or growth problems. She had a couple tubes of blood drawn to check the basics.

Naomi's spleen had been slowly enlarging and her white cells slowly dropping as a result of the increasing pressure in her portal vein from her liver fibrosis. In October her spleen was felt 6 cms below the rib cage. To her amazement, the doctor could not feel Naomi's spleen at all today. It is apparently no longer enlarged. "I wonder if she's formed a spontaneous shunt, " the doctor remarked.

I had heard of spontaneous shunting before, but it is relatively rare. It is where a body with portal-hypertension (high blood pressure in the portal vein, which feeds the liver, because the blood has trouble flowing freely through the liver--in Naomi's case, due to the fibrosis) suddenly re-routes some blood another direction to relieve the pressure in the portal vein. I need to look into it more (I also posted a question to an online group of ARPKD/CHF parents) to find out exactly what this might be, but it looks like there are several different types of shunts that can develop and they come with benefits and risks. Sometimes it is an aneurysm that develops from pressure in one vein and lets blood leak into another nearby-vein. In any case, it isn't nature's first choice for blood-flow and can cause issues, but it can also solve a lot of problems, including improving Naomi's white cell counts and lowering her risk of having life-threatening internal bleeding from a ruptured vessel.

I am waiting for word on Naomi's blood work today to see if her platelets and white cell counts have risen, and also waiting to hear from other parents who might have experience with this to let me know how I should feel about this. I think I am happy, even amazed that God may have remedied a major problem Naomi was facing, without medical intervention at all! Praise God (I think) for this development. I will post again when I get further word.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Sometimes on earth we catch glimpses of heaven. This afternoon I caught one, driving home from church. It was nothing extraordinary, just that the ordinary was warmer, purer, and brighter than usual today.

The breeze was warm and sweet. The tiny, baby leaves of April shimmered a fresh green on every branch as I drove the county roads. I passed a yard where an Amish couple sat in a porch swing, watching two picturesque little girls romp in the grass. Another mile down the way, horses and buggies were lined up beside a make-shift baseball diamond. Ladies in dresses and bonnets, and bearded men cheered and ran and clapped as the batter hit the ball. Two houses down a hand-painted sign was posted that read, "Old Hen For Sale." This is where I laughed. "Old Hen For Sale?" Who posts that in their yard?

From that point on, every lilac bush, every spirited horse, every dandelion-covered yard felt like a window to God's throne room. Maybe it's just because my kids were all strapped down and my mind wasn't pulled in fifteen directions; maybe because I knew I'd be dropping my kids at my in-laws' house tonight and going on a date with my husband for the first time in forever; but for a moment the whole world was bright and pure and right.

The glow lasted a moment longer as my girls stopped to pick dandelion bouquets in our front yard, but quickly faded when I pryed a sweaty, sleeping Toby from his car-seat, and carried the screaming, delirious child into the house. Then the chaos of snack-time and diaper changing swallowed me again, but for a moment today I caught a glimpse. Maybe you will too, if you keep your eyes open.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Photo Album: Homeschooling and Easter 2012

Elijah enjoys hanging with his sisters at school time now,

but school is really exhausting.

Recently a neighbor stopped by with an old box of unwanted construction paper. My girls thought they had won the lottery. They set to work cutting and taping and stayed at it for hours. It never ceases to amaze me what they come up with.

Sometimes we head to the park for a little physical education. I'm trying to educate Toby on the use of pedals, but he's not very open to instruction.

All of Matt's family was together this year for Easter, including his sister's family and my newest nephew who was born 11 days after Elijah.

Good thing the weather was nice!

 Nineteen people in the family now...

including ten kids, ages seven and under! (I take responsibility for half of that.)

Happy Chaos... er, I mean Easter!

Elijah Laughs

I started singing "If You're Happy and You Know It," and Elijah started laughing for the first time ever. So I grabbed the camera.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mothers Are...

Active, Awake day and night

Bed-time tucker-inners, Battery-replacers (and your two-year old will notice if you fail here), Beautiful

Coffee adicted, Cuddlers, Creative

Discipline-exacters, Doctor-office frequenters

Exhausted, Emergency Room regulars

Fever-soothers, Frazzled, Frustrated, Flexible, Finance-stretchers

Going to Go on a date with that Guy they least someday...maybe

Hair-combers, Homework-inspectors


Justice-servers, Just-venting so Just listen

Kiss-givers, not really

Multi-tasking, Meal-prepping Magicians (no, actually it's hard work), Monster-scarers

Nose-wipers, Nurses, Night-mare calmers

Over-stretched, On-the-go, Olympians (in a "Go Mom!" sort-of way, like when they jump fences in a single leap to save a toddler from the road, you know what I mean)

Peace-keepers, Probably Poop-covered

Quitting tomorrow, this job is too hard, anyone want to apply?

Reading in their free, I mean Re-washing the laundry that just got peed on

Sleep-deprived, Schedule coordinators...these two often do not mix well, just so you know

Tired, Troubled, Trash-Taker-outers...or, on better days, Teachers, Temperature-Takers

Un-alarmed by the screams in the next room, they'll work it out, really. Under-appreciated

Vomit-washers...and, I might add, Volitile while doing this, so offer help or back-away, there is a limit to the multi-tasking ability

Weary, Worried, Washing her favorite shirt for the third time, because she is going to wear that when she leaves the house tonight, no matter how hard her baby tries to defile it

X Okay, nothing really starts with X, but if you permit creative spelling she is: X-uberant, X-traordinary, X-asperated, X-illerating, X-citing, X-ceptional, and her DNA carries two XX chromosomes
Yearning for acknowledgement

Zainy, that's why they write alphabetical lists of mothering traits to keep themselves entertained

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Response to "The Right Not to Know" From One Mother to Another

I was saddened as I read Carolyn Jones detail her devastating experience of choosing to abort her unborn son because of a serious and irreversible birth defect in the article "'We Have No Choice': One Woman's Ordeal with Texas' New Sonogram Law" published in the Texas Observer on March 15th 2012. She argues passionately that a new Texas law which requires a woman to have a sonogram, hear a description of her child's development, and wait 24 hours before having an abortion added a "superfluous layer of torment piled upon an already horrific day.” On March 23rd Time Magazine picked up the story and published, "Requiring Ultrasounds Before Abortion: One Mother’s Personal Tragedy," in which the author clearly agrees with Jones' opinion.

I want to speak here because I feel so many other Americans will never be allowed the platform to answer Jones. I have endured two heart-breaking sonograms in which I heard that two of my children were afflicted with a genetic disorder of the kidneys and liver for which there is no cure. I was told they may not live to term and that their prognosis after that was uncertain, ranging from neonatal death to a childhood filled with sickness, pain, hospitalizations, kidney and liver transplants, and early death. I too was offered termination of pregnancies. I understand, as well as anyone can, the pain that Jones felt that day. Yet I disagree, not only with her choice to terminate the pregnancy, but also with her argument that the sonogram and 24 hour wait period required before the abortion only heaps more agony on grieving parents.

Jones did not want her child to die, yet she did not want him to live a life of suffering, and so she chose, "the one that seemed slightly less cruel." Her own words highlight the dangerously thin line we walk when decide who might and might not be glad to be brought into this world. Can she be certain that her son would have grown up, looked her in the eye one day, and expressed that he wished he'd never been born? Do children who suffer through frequent hospitalizations, painful test and treatments, and have a shortened life expectancy really feel this way? Maybe some do, but I know my daughters don't. They are glad for the life they have.

We frequent the offices of our girls' pediatrician, ear-nose throat specialist, nephrologist, gastroenterologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist, and neurosurgeon. Blood draws, MRI's, ultrasounds, and ER visits are a way of life. But do you know what? My girls also pick dandelions; they pretend they are horses; they stand in awe of the beauty of a crescent moon on a starry night. My girls hum songs; they make up jokes; they play with friends; and at night they pray and thank God for something good he has given them that day. My girls are more mature, more compassionate, more grateful than so many other children their age because of the suffering they have endured. They are an inspiration to countless others who are weary with the inevitable hardships of life. Why do we believe so strongly that a life that includes suffering is not a life worth living?

Is it possible that parents who choose to abort sick unborn children are also trying to shield themselves from the suffering they will endure while raising these children? Yes, it is a sinking, helpless, agony to watch them suffer and not be able to help them. It is an ever-present cloud to know that they will not have the life that other children will; to know that I will almost certainly see the day that I bury my beautiful daughters. But for me, it seems far worse to have never known them. I've been blessed to hear their newborn cries, to witness their first toddling steps with leg braces on and a physical therapist cheering, to hear the beautiful poetry they write, to remember the pure joy on their faces as they learned to pump their own swing, to hear them express thankfulness for medical treatments that caused pain. If I had spared myself the suffering of raising them I would have robbed myself of the most beautiful moments of my life. To deny a child life on the grounds that their life will cause sorrow is to quite literally throw the baby out with the bathwater.

But even if I did agree with Jones that aborting the pregnancy was the most loving thing she could have done for her son, I would still disagree with her rage against the sonogram and 24 hour wait period required before the abortion. In the fog of shock that Jones endured that day when her whole world shattered, she made a decision and she wanted it to be over with as quickly as possible. She wanted to stop feeling pain, to be able to heal, and to move on with her life. She thought that thinking as little about her son as possible and being on the other side of surgery as quickly as possible would limit her pain and speed her healing. I think she is wrong.

Pain, suffering, and death had invaded her world. It would not leave that easily. When a baby dies in the womb of natural causes and is stillborn the baby is treated with the utmost respect. In a hushed room the medical staff carefully clean and wrap the baby and hand it to the parents, who are encouraged to hold their baby, to name their baby, and to take pictures of their baby. Why do they do this? Aren't they prolonging the pain of these poor, grief stricken parents? No, they are acknowledging that the fastest road to healing is not to ignore the pain, but to allow one's self to grieve.

While I understand the very human response of Jones to close her eyes and attempt not to think about her son who would die, I cannot understand her argument that it is wrong to bring these sad thoughts to the mind of a mother making this decision. Jones is adamant that she does not regret her choice to abort. Why not then take the chance to look at her son one last time and tell him that she loved him and was doing this for his own good? This is her last chance to see her son, to admire his tiny fingers and his baby profile. This is a time let the tears flow, to feel the pain, to think her decisions through once more, and, if she so chooses, to say goodbye. Even if you believed that Jones made the right decision to abort, the sonogram law only provided her with a last chance to consider her choice and begin the grieving process. The sonogram she received no more harmed her emotionally than a doctor encouraging a mother to hold her stillborn baby.

As for waiting 24 hours, we are talking about ending the life of a child, or at the very least (as some would argue) preventing the potential life of a fetus. Why is it wrong to require a mother to take one day to consider her decision? When I was young my father wisely advised me not to make any major decision in my life without sleeping on it, whether choosing a college, accepting a job, or buying a house. Why? Because overwhelming emotions can skew our judgement, because those quiet hours on our pillow at night allow us to reflect more carefully, because sometimes things look different in the morning. For the mother of a seriously ill child, the emotional pain will not disappear on the other side of surgery. Rushing to have the abortion the same afternoon as the diagnosis will not speed emotional healing, and a law that requires her to wait until the following day to abort does not slow her recovery. If anything, the mother might at least take comfort in the future in knowing she took the time to be absolutely sure of her decision.

Instead of attempting to hide from the emotional pain, some mothers will face it , and use those required 24 hours to reconsider. They will get on the Internet and research their baby's condition. They will find support groups of other parents who have been in their place, or information the doctor wasn't aware of. They will search their hearts in the dark of night and ask if maybe a life with a disabled child might not be worth living. Some children will be thankful that someone asked their mother to wait a day before deciding, even if, at the time, it caused her distress.

Carolyn Jones endured a horrible day. The sonogram law only asked her to look into the face of the life she was choosing to end and to take a night to think it through. I am sorry that she felt it caused her more pain. Someday I hope she has the privilege of meeting a child who was given life because their mother saw them and reconsidered that night. Maybe her extra pain wouldn't seem so great in the face of that smiling child.