Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Camilla's Birth Story

Many people asked me during the pregnancy whether or not I was going to get an epidural with this birth. I had a great experience last time going without one. After Katie's birth, I wrote:

Would I birth this way again? Actually, I'm undecided. This birth was definitely different than my others, but I don't feel I missed out on anything with my epidural births. I don't regret a minute of them, just as I don't regret anything about this birth. I didn't feel that the experience without the epidural was more meaningful in a spiritual or emotional way. There is a wonderful physical satisfaction I feel from doing something hard, from finding the courage inside myself to face the pain and conquer it, but I won't feel a bit disappointed if I decide to get an epidural next time. In fact, to avoid that last thirty minutes and especially that excruciating ring of fire, I think it is probably worth the few hours of numbness after the birth -- and I had a quick, relatively easy delivery, with 2 hours of mild labor, 2 hours of fairly difficult pains, then 2 hours of intensity! I don't know how women do it who have to push for a long time or who labor for endless hours. I feel a great awe at what generations of women have done to bring children into the world, with none of the pain relief available today.
As I faced the decision this time, I felt undecided. Both an epidural and an unmedicated birth have advantages and I didn't feel strongly about it either way. However, one of the first things my husband asked me after I told him we were expecting again was, "You're going to get an epidural this time, right?" Since he had a preference and I really didn't, I figured the decision was made. That didn't keep me from teasing him about it along the way, though, including telling him I'd decided to do a home birth and invite all our children to watch and participate (no offense if that's what YOU want at your birth, but it's not for me).

But on to the exciting (and rather short and uneventful) birth story . . .

My due date was Friday, February 17th, but we chose Tuesday the 14th to be induced. I figured as long as this little girl is going to have to share birthday and Valentines gifts her entire life anyway, she might as well get the bragging rights of the actual date. Besides that, it was a convenient day for our family.

We were called into the hospital at 6 in the morning. DH took me over and helped me get admitted and settled, then went home to help get the kids off to school. Lillian stayed home from school to watch the little girls for us, since Katie does not do well with being left.

A little after 7, the nurses got the IV in (I hate that part) and started a low dose of pitocin. They increased the dose every thirty minutes depending on how things go. For the first hour, I had mild contractions about every ten to fifteen minutes. At 8:11, my doctor arrived to break my water and then things started happening. The contractions got harder and started coming every five minutes, then every three minutes. DH came back around 8:30. By 9:00, I decided I better ask for the epidural soon or it might be too late. My favorite anesthesiologist, Dr. L., was there. He's done 6 of my 7 epidurals now, and he does great work. My doctor has even scheduled her own deliveries around when he's on call; he's THAT good.

The contractions were pretty tough as I waited for the epidural to take effect, and things happened so quickly that I still felt a lot of the pain and intensity, though the epidural was enough to take the edge off and make it bearable. At 9:30, I was 6 cm and then at 9:45, I was complete and ready to push. We waited for my doctor to arrive. She did just after 10:00, and after pushing through four contractions (Cami's head was turned to the side, which made it a little longer), Camilla was born at 10:09. I had a slight tear at delivery, but otherwise, things went perfectly. Cami nursed well for me and I felt great. DH went home to take care of the kids and I enjoyed an hour or so with Cami before we went to the recovery room on the fourth floor.

As I held Camilla and marveled over the miracle of her little body and amazing spirit, I could almost picture the years ahead with her. I could see her growing up and felt that our relationship will be strong and our bond of friendship great. I could picture her as a teenager with a vivacious personality. I'm sure she's thrilled to be here and to the youngest of seven sisters and two brothers. What a great place to have in life.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Musings #3

Camilla will be two weeks old tomorrow. I'm feeling wonderful. It's so amazingly nice not to be pregnant anymore. The discomfort and discouragement of pregnancy are fast becoming a distant memory -- not so distant that I'm anxious to have another anytime soon, but distant enough that the prospect doesn't fill me with horror and dread. I'm anxious to start running again -- I haven't run since November -- and I'm feeling extra flabby. I can fit into some of my pants, but only with serious muffin tops going on. I lost 35 lbs last year, gained 30 this pregnancy and lost about 15 with the delivery. So I have 15 lbs to lose to get back to where I was last summer and 40 lbs to my goal weight. I'm hopeful that I can get started on that fairly soon, though if sleep-deprivation interferes, I may have to put off the goals and focus on the basics for a while. So far, I've gotten enough naps that Cami's waking at night hasn't been too tough to handle.

It seems like after every birth, I have to trek a newborn to the hospital lab for bilirubin tests. I've gotten numerous tests in the past, but this was the first time we were low enough that Cami needed lights. A home health company delivered them and we were supposed to keep her on them as much as possible. Luckily, her levels had gone down enough that we were able to take her off them the next day.
Trekking Cami to and from the lab meant I had the following conversation about four times with different strangers:
"Your baby is adorable. How old?"
"Five Days"
"Oh, is she your first?" (this is the part where I start smiling to myself)
"No, actually, she's our ninth."
"Wow, really? You don't look old enough to have nine kids."
"Well, I'm thirty-four."
"How old is your oldest?"
"Oh wow . . ." (stranger starts calculating in their head)
"We have one set of twins and the others are between eighteen months and two years apart."

The rest of the conversation concerns how crazy it must be at our house, how unusual it is to have that many kids nowadays, or centers around the ratio of girls to boys.

I have felt very humbled these past few weeks as I've realized how amazingly blessed I have been. My good friend told me I'm "living the dream" and while I'm sure nine kids would be a nightmare to some, to me, it truly is a good dream. I'm not naive -- I know how many things can and do go wrong with birth and children -- so I am extra-aware of the blessing of avoiding all of that.

I've never had a miscarriage. I've never had any pregnancy complications. I've never been on bedrest or had premature delivery.

I've had eight wonderful, relatively-easy deliveries. I've never had labor last longer than six hours. I've never had a C-section. I've never had to push for more than fifteen minutes. And while I've torn nearly every time, it's been fairly easy to heal.

I've never had a colicky or even extra-fussy baby. All of my babies have been pleasant souls easy to soothe. I've seen how frustrating and exhausting it is to have a baby cry for hours at a time, and I'm mindful that once again, I've been blessed.

I've been able to nurse all of my babies with no problems -- I did have mastitis very painfully once and I've dealt with cracked and bleeding nipples a couple of times (especially with the twins), but I've never had latching issues or allergy problems. I've always been able to eat anything I want without it affecting the baby.

I've always bounced back really well from delivery. The last months of pregnancy are so hard on me that by contrast, being a little bit sore and waking at night with a baby is hardly worth groaning about.

I have nine healthy, amazingly perfect children. All of them have the requisite number of fingers and toes and perfectly adorable features. We've never even had a broken arm.

Having said that, however, I should point out that I have experienced plenty of life's problems. I feel miserable for about five months of every pregnancy, three months at the beginning and two months at the end. I've had post-partum depression. We experienced very tight finances for many years. We've been stretched with more to do than time to do it in. None of my babies has slept through the night until they are nine months old, so I've had my share of sleep-deprivation, including that really tough year when my eighth child was born and then didn't sleep for four hours at a time until she was six months old (luckily, I'm not holding it against her). I've had devastating health problems unrelated to childbirth.

But still, I know it is a huge blessing how many problems I haven't experienced, and I'm humbled by it.
I'm getting better as a photographer. I was so thrilled how these pictures turned out this week:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Our Valentine News

Just posting a quick update from the hospital -- I gave my husband an amazing Valentine gift yesterday morning with the birth of our seventh girl.

Camilla Eowyn was born at 10:09 via a scheduled induction (I figure if you're going to have to forever share birthday and Valentines gifts anyway, you might as well get the bragging rights of the actual day.). The IV and pitocin was started at around 7 a.m. and contractions for the first hour were pretty mellow, every ten to fifteen minutes. Things started moving more quickly after my water was broken at 8:00. My favorite anesthesiologist, Dr. Lind, gave me a wonderful epidural that took effect just as the contractions got very painful and intense, around 9:30, then Cami was born at 10:09. She's a pleasant little soul who doesn't cry much (so far). She kept me up a ton last night, so she's a typical Bartholomew baby -- not a sleeper, but a keeper!

She's beautiful, with a bit of light brown hair, and our biggest baby so far at 7 lbs 13 ounces. I'll post pictures when I get home later in the week.

Little Girls' Hair (Wordless Wednesday)

Back when we had one girl and two boys, my husband and I made a deal: he'd get the boys in our family ready for Church, while I'd help the girls.

Seemed like a pretty good deal at the time.

Well, since that deal was made, we've had six more girls join our family.

Which means that there's quite an assembly line of hair to do come Sunday morning.

On Sunday, I did Sarah's hair first. All the other girls liked it so much they wanted to match.

Monday, February 13, 2012

From the archives: Life with your hands full

Last May, I guest-posted on another blog about life in a large family. Here's the interview for you to read and enjoy while I head off to the hospital tomorrow to welcome our newest miracle.

What is hard about having a large family? But even more, what do you *love* about it?

I think the three most challenging difficulties for me are:

1. Coming to peace with “good enough.” With eight kids, a busy husband, a large house, a fairly-large piece of property, hobbies and interests to develop, plus Church responsibilities and friends and neighbors to love, it seems that there is always more to do than can be done with my finite capabilities and my limited time. Choosing one area of my life to improve always means that another corner gets neglected. Sometimes things fall through the cracks on accident, and often, I have to let things slide on purpose, reminding myself that I am focusing on what’s most important to do at this time in my life. Sometimes when I make the tough choices to cut out things of lesser worth, it feels like I’m cutting off one of my own limbs and I wonder why it is that I always have to put things aside that I love so dearly. I really don’t want it all, but I do always want more!

But at the same time, when I am truly in tune with what the Lord wants for me and my life, I can see the amazing gifts I have been given. When I count my blessings, I never get to the end. The choices I’ve made to welcome and accept children into my home, even at the sacrifice of other things I love, have refined me and are helping me to become more than I could be otherwise.
2. Fighting exhaustion. As I’ve gotten older, there are more and more commitments that I can’t put aside when I’m tired. There are times in my life – especially the first few months of pregnancy and the first six to eight months with a new baby – when I wish the world would go away for a few hours (or even a few minutes!) so I could just get some sleep. This is a challenge fresh in my mind because my eighth child was my worst sleeper. I didn’t sleep for more than four hours at a time until she was about seven months old, and then she didn’t sleep through the night consistently until eleven months old. I often felt like a drowning woman trying desperately to come up for air, during those long, excruciating months. But much as I wished to give up and take a break from my other responsibilities, I couldn’t do it – there were nine people depending on me! No matter how many times Katie kept me up at night, I got up at 6:45 for scriptures with my family and to help get the kids off to school. I still had three preschoolers to care for and when the kids came home from school, I had to help first-graders with reading and math and the other kids with their chores and responsibilities plus shuttle kids to events and activities. I had shopping to do, meals to make, and a house to keep in order. I cut everything out that I could cut out – including staying home from our family vacation and still felt the waves of responsibility might engulf me and drag me down.

But while life at times like that has been exhausting, there are so many blessings that have come from it. For one thing, I don’t take for granted the times when I do feel rested. For another, when you pay a price for something, you appreciate it more. Katie is an incredible treasure and the Spirit has whispered to me hints of the special soul she is, and those spiritual experiences have come in the midst of my hardest times. I’ve also seen the Lord helping me and lifting my burdens and allowing me strength and patience beyond my own. He has truly carried me and made me equal – though sometimes just barely – to my tasks. My testimony has been strengthened and I feel myself developing greater charity and compassion. I’ve also found that life for everyone has its times of trouble, the dark nights when we feel lost and alone, but that if we hang on with faith, we find ourselves in the light of the morning again, thrilled with the possibilities of a new day.

3. Finding contentment in the hustle-bustle here and now. I think this is a struggle felt universally by all mothers. I believe that Satan’s strongest attack on mothers is two-fold: first, he tells us that what we’re doing isn’t important – that being “just a mother” is a waste of a life. And second, he tells us that we’re not doing it well enough. The irony of those two attacks on motherhood is striking: “You’re not doing good enough at a job that doesn’t even matter!”

I think we all have to fight to hear our Father’s voice in the midst of the loud voices degrading motherhood. We fight to remember and know that this is important work, that the worth of the little souls who enter our lives is great, and that devoting our efforts to the small and simple acts daily that have the potential to nurture these children into amazing individuals is the best work in the world.

And then, once we have come to recognize the importance of motherhood and to feel its divinity, then we have to fight to feel content with our efforts.

In this world of blogs, Facebook, and constant connectedness, I think the second fight is becoming more difficult. We are bombarded with pictures of other people’s perfect lives – the trips they take, the cute things they make, their clean and orderly homes, their adoring husbands, and their perfectly adorable children whose accomplishments must mean they never misbehave like our own kids do. Most people don’t blog or scrapbook (for good reason!) their short-comings and failures, so we mostly get to hear the best of everyone else’s life. My sister-in-law calls it “the never-ending Christmas letter,” and on challenging days, it’s easy to feel as if our own lives are falling short. While it is good to be connected and cheer each other on, too many times women are left wondering why they can’t have what everyone else seems to enjoy.

I believe that one reason the commandment not to covet is one of the ten basic commandments is that coveting destroys your own contentment. I think a modern-day version of it for women could read, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, nor thy neighbor’s well-tended flowerbeds, nor thy neighbor’s perfect husband, nor thy neighbor’s sticky-sweet perfectly-polite children, nor thy neighbor’s trip to Hawaii, nor thy neighbor’s Etsy shop, nor thy neighbor’s leisure time, nor thy neighbor’s talents, wealth, or abilities.”

I personally have to be really careful not to compare myself with others. My choices and my life are very different from most of those around me. Many of my friends who started having children when I did are now done with that stage in life. While I’m still having babies, getting up at night, and potty-training, some of them are sending their last kid off to school, finding more time for hobbies and volunteer work, and meeting their husbands for lunch. I have to remind myself that this is the life I chose. My time for more rest and leisure pursuits will come, and in the meantime, I get to be the most important person to eight amazing little people. When I am prayerful and in tune with the Spirit, it’s easier to find that contentment.

It’s important to find the joy in the journey. If I wait until my house is clean, my children always do the right thing, and my life is running smoothly to find contentment, then I would miss those wonderful moments every day that bring me joy.

As for what I love about having a large family, here are the eight best things about being a mother to a large family:
  1. Lillian
  2. Joseph
  3. Michael
  4. Allison
  5. Sarah
  6. Eliza
  7. Harmony
  8. Katie
These aren’t just names to me – they are unique and precious individuals. Having kids is not like collecting dolls or books. It’s creating an eternal relationship with a unique, amazing, precious individual. I feel so privileged to know and nurture each of these souls, to come to know them and watch them develop their talents and grow. One of my greatest joys is when my children love and serve each other. I love watching the relationships between my children develop. The moments when they serve each other and really care about each other are my happiest.

We’re a little unbalanced in gender in our family.

Yep, just a little, but it’s delightful to have life filled with such great people. My oldest daughter is a talented violinist, scholar, and a creative cook. My two boys are 18 months apart and just a year apart in school. They are often the best of friends, creating elaborate Lego creations together, fighting pirate battles, and supporting one another whole-heartedly. My youngest five girls were born in the span of six years. It is a delight to watch these little ones grow up together and to consider on the wonderful friendships they will enjoy for the rest of their lives and beyond. I’m part of something much larger than myself and I love it.

Are you able to make time for just the two of you? How does a large family affect your marriage?

I’ll admit it – we’re stretched very thin sometimes. We feel stress and we bicker and get annoyed with each other more than we should. But it’s hard to know how much stress on our marriage is because we have lots of kids and how much would be there anyway because we’re two different people with different priorities, ideas, and – shall we say – “management styles.”

We are both Type-A, ambitious individuals and if we didn’t have lots of children, it’s very likely we’d fill our time with other pursuits that would keep us just as stretched, just in different ways. My husband works in a very stressful and demanding profession and that would be a challenge no matter how many kids we had. Last fall, when I stayed home from a family trip with just three of my children, I found myself thinking, “Wow, my life would be so easy with just three kids to take care of!” But almost immediately, I realized it wouldn’t be true. If I didn’t have eight kids, I’d likely be on the PTO, volunteering in the community, probably have a more time-consuming church calling, and would definitely be doing more writing and photography work.

But while the demands of our large family put stress on our marriage, in many ways our marriage is stronger because of it. We are both committed to doing hard things together. We work really well as a team and we depend on each other greatly. And I fall in love with my husband all over again when I see his love and dedication to his children. He loves them each and makes time for them, including my favorite time of year: Daddy Trip Time! Each summer when he takes all the kids ages three and up on a ten-day-long camping, hiking, and exploring trip. The gratitude I feel for the chance to collect my thoughts, reflect on our lives (I work on our family scrapbooks while he’s gone), and enjoy some rest from my regular responsibilities, make up for a multitude of bickering. And really, when you have a husband whose greatest joys are his kids, it’s hard not to adore him.

We have had to be very organized with our time together because of all the other demands on us. There was a time when we weren’t able to do regular dates. We lived in an area for several years that had no young women who could babysit. Since we had no family around, we were simply unable to leave our kids much. But there’s this amazing thing about kids – they grow up. My oldest two are both responsible enough now to be left with their younger siblings, and we have taken full advantage of that. Seriously, you young moms, it changes your life when you have a child old enough to babysit! Friday night for the last few years is date night. We usually go out to dinner and talk at length. Other times, we enjoy the theater or other community events together.

Another tradition we have is that Sunday evening we enjoy a “Master Planning Meeting” with just the two of us. I created an agenda so that we don’t miss anything. We meet, discuss our calendar, plan our family home evenings, discuss our children individually and coordinate our parenting. We are the CEO’s of this crazy family, and this executive meeting has been essential for us to be able to coordinate and work together.

How do you fit in your own pursuits?

I think sometimes that I’m a jack of all trades and a master of none. I love reading, photography, art, Photoshop design, scrapbooking, and writing and I wish I had time to develop each one of those talents to its fullest potential – but I guess that’s what eternity is for, right?
There are several things I do to balance my own needs and to find my time for renewal. The first is that I have created space in my routines for my own pursuits. I love what Julie B. Beck said once about shifts:
In order to prioritize time wisely, I learned something from my father-in-law years ago. He was a steel-worker and spent his life working three different shifts. He either worked the day shift, the afternoon shift, or the night shift. As a young mother I realized one time that I was working all three shifts, and that’s why I was so tired. We can’t do all things all at once, and we have to be careful and safeguard our shifts.”
She goes on to suggest that we need to plan effectively so that we are fresh and ready for the most important shifts.
I have learned that a good woman with the help of the Lord can usually work two to two and a half shifts. However, no one can work all three shifts. You have to prioritize where you are going to spend your energy.
One way I prepare for my most important shift – the afternoon and evening “swing shift” is that I almost never schedule anything during the afternoons. My younger kids take naps and my older preschoolers have a “quiet time.” If I’m pregnant or up at night, that is my time to try to sleep. If I can’t sleep or in those seasons when I don’t need to, then I can use that time for other things that are important to me. I almost never do housework during that time and I don’t run errands. I like to write for my blog or read a book, work on my photography, or catch up on reading other people’s blogs. The time to focus during those quiet hours helps me be ready for the chaos of the afternoon and evening.

I’ve also learned that I can really only focus on one hobby at a time. I can do a tiny bit of lots of things (reading, blogging, photography, etc), but I if I try to intensely work on more than one thing at a time, I’m left feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. So I’ve learned to make goals for the different seasons of my life and I’ve learned to be patient with small and simple efforts that add up over time. Last year, for example, I had this new fancy camera but no idea of how to use it. So I set aside an hour each week to do a photo shoot, I began to read tons of books on the subject and after a year, I got quite good at it. I really enjoy it, and though I have lots more to learn, it’s satisfying to know enough to capture great family memories in my own family and the lives of my friends. In the process of focusing more on photography, many of my other hobbies were mostly put aside.

I often have to evaluate and make changes in the different seasons of my life. Last fall was my season to simplify and cut out almost everything extra. But with my eighth child finally sleeping through the night, I’m at a period right now of more abundant energy and time. My kids are doing more outside activities, including track and horseback riding, and I’ve mostly put aside photography and other things to give all I’ve got to getting my fitness and health back in order. I’m training for two half-marathons this summer (Because if you run 2 halfs, it equals a full, right?) and I’m constantly amazed at what my body is learning to do. I’ve lost a third of the weight I need to, and I’m thrilled at the progress I’m making. Up until two years ago, I hadn’t ever run a mile in my life, so this is new and challenging. I feel a great sense of urgency to improve my fitness so I can be strong and available for all my children as they get older, as well as be strong for the children yet to join our family.

What advice would you give to another mom who feels overwhelmed by her responsibilities, whether with a large or small family?

I think the key to finding joy and contentment in life is developing a strong relationship with the Father of us all. Coming to know him and understanding His will for us helps us deal with the pressures that come from every side. For me, that relationship is developed through daily scripture study, regular prayers, and quiet moments to ponder. With God’s help, we can receive the help and strength we need to do whatever is necessary (though not everything we often think is needed) to fulfill our responsibilities. With His help, we can understand our children and better meet their needs. He loves us and wants us to succeed.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Are Mormons just naive and out of touch with the "real world?" (Friday Favorites)

With the recent press coverage of Mormonism, given Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy, has come some pretty interesting attacks on my faith. One recent column asserted that we are all just out of touch with the "real" world.

This blog post was a beautiful response to that:

Whose world is "realer?"

I loved the entire piece, but particularly these excerpts:

I get it, Ian. Your world is not my world. Fine. Your world is cooler than my world. OK. I'm not bothered by that.

But you seem to think that your world is the real world, and that the real world is something I'm impossibly distanced from. You say that missionaries, in particular, are immune to reality. "Mormons see the world," you say, "but they don't get it."

And that's when I get mad.

You know the world, I would guess, far better from how it looks on paper than from how it looks up close.

Because of my church, I've seen it up close. I've helped struggling people in two continents move out of apartments due to all sorts of crises, from crooked landlords to persistent gunshots at night to serious vandalism by drug-addicted friends. I've eaten in homes where the first language has been Spanish, Navajo, Telegu. Where it's been German, Turkish, Portuguese, Russian, Marathi, Farsi, French.

And no, I wasn't following the news when I was a missionary in the former East Germany, and I never went out clubbing or whatever people do in your world to get to know the locals on a European trip. But I've sat in an old woman's apartment and listened to her struggle to make sense of what she remembers feeling when she saw Hitler at a rally in her youth. "He was like a god to us then," she said, "like a god." And I've been cooked meals by women who served in that war, and who can never forget the hunger they felt as the war dragged on and ended with near chaos in its wake, some of whom walked for hundreds of miles from confiscated homes toward uncertain futures. I've learned by experience how to recognize someone who won't feel right unless you eat every last scrap on the plate. And learned deep respect for the endurance of the old.
Now go read the whole post.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Winter Snapshots (Wordless Wednesday)

The simple moments are the best.

Like working on crafts together with your sisters.

or clearing the snow before Church.

or building awesome creations with magnetic toys.

Or decorating for Grandpa's birthday party.

Or watching your youngest suck her ring finger.

or creating a bunk bed out of shelves and filling it full of sisters.

and thoroughly enjoying the rare days we've had snow this winter.


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