Babies Are Blessings (And Other Lessons I Learned in 2016)

Alright! Here we are for the second round of “Lessons I Learned in 2016.” If you missed the first, which includes lesson numbers one and two, here it is. Now for number three:

3) Babies are blessings.

I mostly knew this one, in the sense that I’ve always loved babies, I’ve always wanted lots of them, and I’ve always fallen in love with the ones I’ve been given. But since becoming a mother, I’ve often felt unequal to the job. (Shocker, right?) And so I’ve often sunk into the gloom of thinking that I wasn’t cut out for this life, or that my kids were too much for me, or that I was foolish to think I could handle so many.

Fear. Underlying it all – especially during my pregnancy with my fourth child – was fear. Fear that I wasn’t enough, fear that we couldn’t handle the pressures that additional children would put on us, fear that another child would be bad for our family. Fear.

But something about baby #4 just broke through that fear. She’s a doll, to be sure. She’s adorable and sweet and easy to love. But beyond this individual baby’s attributes, there’s been something about having our fourth child that has made me realize how incredibly worth it babies really are.

Maybe I feel like I’m not enough. Oh well. Maybe I’m tired, overwhelmed, overworked, overstimulated. Oh well. Maybe my kids don’t get enough attention from me. Oh well. Maybe our family doesn’t get to do what other, smaller, more-easily-managed families do. Oh well!

At the end of the day, none of us are enough. All of us are tired. We’re all sometimes overwhelmed, overworked, overstimulated. We’re never able to devote as much attention as we’d like to all of the people and things we care about. That’s part of what it is to be human, to be in community, to be part of a family, to have a role in this world.

That’s life.

But this – this bright, beautiful, soft little pink thing who goes through about a million diapers and bottles a month? This is life too. This is the kind of life you can scoop up in your arms and squeeze and laugh with. None of those fears can compare to the joy we experience from having this life in ours.

These Walls - Babies Are Blessings - 1

If we ever have another child, I’m sure I’ll worry about logistics. I’m sure I’ll be concerned about my health and I’ll be fearful of childbirth. Who knows – I might be worried about something that I can’t yet anticipate. But I hope I’ll never fear bringing another baby into our family. I hope I’ll remember that more than anything else, babies are blessings.

4) I don’t care much about becoming thin.

Maybe this isn’t the most obvious follow-on to that sappy start. (And maybe this isn’t so much a lesson as a realization.) But here I am, eleven months post-partum, many pounds overweight, only recently out of maternity clothing and I . . . don’t care.

I don’t care.

I used to care. I used to walk through a shopping mall and see shame reflected back at me from all the pretty storefronts. I used to fantasize about how it would feel to wear fashionable clothing. I used to embark on unpleasant and inconvenient weight-loss schemes and feel like a fat, sloppy, loser-sloth for failing at them.

But somewhere along the way – the way of motherhood and friendship and pursuing my creative interests and realizing that my husband is still attracted to me – I stopped caring.

I still want to be healthy. I still know that I should adjust my diet somewhat and up my physical activity a little. I want to be energetic enough to chase around my kids and I want to feel comfortable in my clothing (goal: public presentability with a touch of elegance). But I just have no interest in pursuing any dramatic changes. No Whole 30 could be worth the joy that peanut-butter ice cream brings to my life. No 5am workout could compensate for the anger I’d feel at rousing at such an hour.

More walks, a little time on the treadmill? Yes, I should do that. Cut back on the desserts? Okay, I can deal. More vegetables, less cheese? Sure.

But I’m done pining for a body that I’ll never have. Unless you’re lucky enough to have inherited those precious stay-thin-no-matter-what genes, you generally have to really, really want that trim, lithe, slender, shimmery mirage to suffer through everythingitwouldtake to get it. And I . . . don’t.

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Okay. I’ll be back soon for at least one more of these “Lessons” posts. And I still owe you all a good photo dump. (Baby steps back to regular blogging.)

These Walls - Babies Are Blessings

Thoughts From This Side of L&D

So here I am, just days (hours? please?) before welcoming baby boy #3, and – surprise, surprise – I have a bunch of pregnancy/labor/delivery things stewing in my mind. I’m scheduled to be induced this Friday, April 4. (Though you’re welcome to come sooner if you like, little guy!) And I feel like I’m on something of a precipice:

I’m coming off of this (really, quite good) pregnancy a little tired and uncomfortable and ready to move on, but also wistful, not knowing whether I’ll ever experience another. I’m trying to enjoy and appreciate my littlest boy’s movements while I still have them all to myself.

I’m also looking out onto the always-daunting prospects of labor and delivery, not to mention the readjustment to life with a newborn. That’s some scary stuff, there. I’m trying not to dwell on it. (Praying? Yes. Dwelling? No.) I give you, therefore, mostly lighter thoughts from this side of the Labor & Delivery unit:


It’s really funny to see what search terms people use to find my blog. The other day I had “enormous belly pic week,” “huge tummy pic week,” and “belly pic comparison bigger.” Umm… what are you trying to tell me, Mr. Search Engine?


38.5 weeks — probably the last belly pic for this pregnancy!



No, really, it’s okay. I know that a lot of women have issues with how their bodies change during pregnancy, but as I’m naturally pretty thick-waisted and round-bellied (can’t believe I’m admitting that on the internet), I’ve never found that I have much to mourn in the figure department when I’m pregnant. So really, bring on the belly. It’s just nice, for those nine months or so, to be able to toss out a happy little response when people ask me when I’m due, rather than wincing and squirming and trying to find a non-mortifying way of telling them I’m not pregnant.

All that is to say: my “bump” doesn’t bother me and I’m not particularly eager to get rid of it. Except for one annoying thing:


I tried to get my feet in the pic, but honestly — there was no way.


Please tell me that I’m not the only pregnant lady whose belly becomes a magnet for bits of food. And water – I’ve found it impossible to wash my face without soaking my belly, even though I’m standing on my tippy-toes trying to bend (my short-waisted, 5’3” frame) over far enough to reach the sink.


I haven’t registered any weight gain at all at my past two doctor’s appointments (though baby boy has) and thank goodness, because boy oh boy, have I had an appetite lately. I’ve been finding myself ready for a meal just about two hours after finishing my last one. At first I think, “Nah, you can’t really be hungry again.” And then soon enough I’m conceding, “Okay, okay! You are hungry! I get it!”

The other night I was hungry as I got ready for bed – in spite of having consumed my second dinner not long before – but figured I should just push through and go to sleep. So I woke in the middle of the night, famished. I pushed through again, and sure enough, I just about bounded out of bed the next morning to make a dash to the kitchen. I’ll be interested to see what I weigh at my appointment tomorrow. Could my body be burning that many calories right now, or is baby boy gouging himself on my caloric excesses and my reserves?


Speaking of which… if, at around lunchtime today, you happened to see some very strange, very sweaty, huge pregnant lady actually buy food from one vendor while in the line to buy food from another – yeah, that was totally me. I admit it. I was in the middle of a blood sugar crash, desperate to make it through the line at Subway without passing out, when – behold! – I noticed that the new soft pretzel counter was open! And there was even somebody working there! I ordered a cup of cinnamon pretzel bites while standing in the Subway line; I had devoured them by the time our sandwiches were complete. I have no shame.


Need I even point out that today is April Fool’s Day? Between this being my late grandfather’s birthday and exactly ten days before my due date (which is when my water broke with my last baby), and it being, I don’t know, a date that just seems… fitting, today’s the day I’ve had a hunch about all along. But, as we’re already more than 18 hours in and I’m not feeling anything suspicious… I think April 1 is a no-go for me. Boo…

(Though – Yay! One of my cousins had her baby today! Congratulations, Bibi and Kris! I was hoping the two babes would be born on the same day, but we’ll just have to content ourselves with the same week.)


This one has nothing to do with baby, but everything to do with the date: Each year on April Fool’s Day, a bunch of my silly cousins call our grandfather to inform him that the cows have gotten out. (As in, out of the field, through the fence, and into the road.) Granddad’s last cows were sold something like 15 years ago and his once-beautiful fields now grow nothing but houses. Jolly good sport that he is, however, Granddad always plays along. I love my family.


You would never know it by the piles of unfolded baby clothes all over the nursery or the disassembled basinet and car seat pieces strewn across its floor, but I think this is the most prepared we’ve been for any of our babies. All the furniture is in the right room, a few things are even hung on the walls, most of the baby clothes are washed, and though not all the gear is assembled, most of it is clean. What a relief. As much as I was hoping that today would be The Day, it will be nice if we can get our few loose ends tied up in the next couple of days so we can bring baby home to a completed nursery.


Why, oh why can’t I experience that most amazing of phenomena: nesting? Everybody I talk to and read about lists off a litany of tasks they’ve completed and obscure places they’ve cleaned before having their babies. Me? I’ve never had a late-pregnancy energy spurt. I drag myself through a task, rest for a while, and then maybe attempt another.

Besides the aforementioned nursery stuff, I have several dirty floors and bathrooms that could use my attention before this baby is born. Hello… Nesting? Nesting, are you out there? How about you come by to pay me a visit?


Yesterday afternoon my mother-in-law asked me what I plan to do if I go into labor while Brennan’s at work. I replied something like, “I don’t know… call him to come home?” (He works 40 minutes away.) She made a funny face and said, “This is your third baby – what if your labor goes quickly?” Again, I stumbled. “Umm… I’ll just have to see who’s available?”

How could I not have given more thought to this scenario?

The honest truth is that I think I’ve always assumed that this pregnancy would end in another induction. It seems to be the only way my contractions will start. (Even when my water broke on its own last time, I needed Pitocin to start the contractions.)

And I guess I’ve also had in the back of my mind that if I needed help quickly, I’d probably just put out a plea on Facebook. I figure that would do as good a job as anything else of filtering out local folks who are available to help. And in the absence of any other game plan, that’s as good as I’ve got. Local friends and family: please be on notice.

(And yes, if I were absolutely desperate, my mother-in-law could drive me to the hospital. Though with her new to our roads and not a city driver, heaven help us if she has to get us through the Beltway while I’m in labor.)


To end on a more sober note, I’m going to just admit that I’ve been a complete and total sap when it comes to my boys this week. I look at them and think on how much I love them and how desperately I want to see them grow… and my throat catches.

Labor and delivery are scary things. Though I have no expectation that anything will go wrong – I’m in good health, I’ll be in a good hospital, I’ll have good medical professionals assisting me – you never know what will happen. I don’t forget that childbirth has always been dangerous for women and babies. And that sometimes it still is.

In my middle-class, 21st-Century, semi-rural, American life, bearing a child is one of the most dangerous things I will ever do. I’m not so worried about the pain – I like to get an epidural if it’s possible; if for some reason it’s not, I know the pain is something I can get through. But, safety, health – those are what I worry about.

Not terribly – I don’t work myself up over it. The worry lingers at the back of my mind, rearing up a bit when I gaze sappily at those beautiful boys. I’m sure I’ll shed a few tears on Friday morning when I kiss their (probably sleeping) faces before I leave for the hospital. But then I’ll say some more prayers, grit my teeth, and get on with it all.

And, God-willing, some hours later my baby and I will be safely through his birth. I’ll hold him in my arms and know that every discomfort, every pain, every worry was completely worth it. Until that moment, I’d appreciate if you could send a prayer or two heavenward on our behalf.

Thank you.


7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 10)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

Maybe I should call this “7QT: Uncomfortable Revelations Edition.” Or how about “7QT: Grumbling Introspection Edition”? Or maybe I shouldn’t classify it as a Quick Takes anyway, because it’s anything but quick. (And by the way, I’m still embracing the Friday in the title, because even though I’m posting on Saturday, 90% of the post was written Friday. So it totally counts.)

Whatever you want to call it (or not call it), this week’s 7QT is a departure from my usual peppy jumble of household goings-on and NPR recommendations. I’m simply not feeling them this week. That said, to perk up this otherwise serious post a bit, I’m throwing in some wholly unrelated, happy pictures from the week. So if you’re not in the mood for discomfort and grumbling, just take a quick glance at the cute kids and move on to greener blog pastures.

— 1 —

First, the set-up: Wednesday evening I came home from a long, tiring day out with the boys and I wanted to just sit still for a few minutes in front of my computer. I was hoping that a few of my favorite bloggers had posted something new so I’d have fresh material to read. But when I discovered that a bunch of them had, was I happy? Nope. Not a bit. All I could think was: “Look at all those bloggers posting new material. They’re busier than I am, they have more kids than I do, and they were able to get something posted mid-week. Why couldn’t I?” Mope, mope, whine.

Nevermind that I had just spent 7.5 hours at the county fair with two toddlers. That I had risen and left the house a good two hours earlier than usual. That I’d wrangled my boys into (mostly) quiet behavior for hours while we (er, I) watched my cousins show their pigs. That for the second time that week, I’d caught my younger son’s vomit in my hands because on-the-fly fair eating (that is, not bothering to cut everything up into teeny tiny bits) doesn’t agree with him. That by the time we came home, we were sweaty, sticky, thirsty, dusty, muddy, and (dare I say it?) smelling of manure. And that – despite or because of it all – we’d had a great day together.


I was coming off all that busyness and stress and fun, and I allowed myself to be plunged into the doldrums because bloggers I like had actually, you know, blogged. Because people I admired were doing something I admired. Because it wasn’t me.

Enter: Julie’s latest round of introspection. (They come frequently.) Between my observation of the aforementioned situation and the content of a few of the blog posts that I (reluctantly) read that evening, I began to think in earnest about how this (still new to me) blogging thing is affecting my mood, outlook, etc. Grumbling and thinking about it all in the most haphazard of fashions, I had the following uncomfortable revelations:

— 2 —

My old, familiar insecurities live on in my blogging, just as they do in the rest of my life.

Surprising, isn’t it? I don’t know why I hadn’t expected this. I guess I thought of starting the blog as turning a new page – a bright, shiny, open-horizon kind of page. Just like I once thought that becoming a stay-at-home-mother would cause me to shed my old work-related hang-ups. But of course, we are who we are. We have backgrounds and inclinations and personalities that affect how we act and how we interpret what happens around us. They don’t go away when we take on something new.


To touch on a few of my insecurities (because they should add meaning to the rest of this post), let me just admit the following:

I often feel inadequate, particularly when it comes to matters of the mind. I compare myself to those whom I admire and I tend to feel like no matter how hard I try, I’ll never fit in with the truly intelligent and articulate. Or the holy.

I am unhappy with my appearance, especially insofar as it relates to my weight. This unhappiness is not a reaction to my age or to having borne children, nor is it simply some perception thing. I have been actually, technically, officially overweight for much of the past 20 years.

If it seems to me that someone easily masters those things which I find particularly challenging (see above), I’m likely to be jealous of them. I work on this one, I really do. But it lurks.

These are really unique insecurities, aren’t they? I mean, nobody else has feelings of inadequacy or jealousy or unhappiness with their appearance, right?


— 3 —

People don’t simply have different tastes, they react with astounding difference to the same innocently-conceived material, based on their own struggles and hang-ups.

Let me point you to the following three blog posts:

Pretty, Gritty, Real: How to Read Blogs, by Simcha Fisher

Glimpses of Momentary Victory, by Hallie Lord

5 Favs (Fav # 5), by Jenny Uebbing

I feel like this is like a Russian doll version of blog suggestions: Hallie’s post is a focus of Simcha’s post, which is a focus of Jenny’s post. (And if you’re going to read only one, go with Simcha’s, which is the most thorough.) The moral that I took away from reading all three is something like this: People write blogs for different reasons; they read blogs for different reasons. Something that appeals to one person may agitate another. As a reader, you should know yourself and avoid the blogs that make you “want to punch somebody” as Simcha and Jenny put it. As a blogger – not that you should sweat the divergence in tastes too much – you should be thoughtful about how you present your life in your writing, because even innocent stories/remarks have the potential to cause pain for your readers.


As far as taste is concerned, I like a pretty decent variety of Catholic mommy blogs. I like a few of the “gritty” ones, which share stories of messes and meltdowns and parental failures. They make me laugh and take myself a little less seriously. I like a few of the sentimental, pretty blogs, which cause me to daydream of loveliness and which inspire me to try harder to make the home and traditions I want my boys to grow up with. I love the blogs that jump into deeper subjects and challenge me to adjust my thinking and to live more fully/thoughtfully/prayerfully/generously, etc.

The only classification of mommy blog that I avoid entirely is the fashion blog. Because if I’m not feeling great about my weight, why would I want to look at pretty clothes and the prettier women wearing them? So on this count, I plan to keep on taking Simcha’s advice:

You can just stop reading, you know.  Or just read something else.  It’s in your control.

Take a good look at what happens to your state of mind if you check out this blog or that website or so-and-so’s Facebook or Twitter or Instagram persona.  Is something having a bad effect on you?  Every time you read a certain author, does it make you feel inadequate or self-righteous, discouraged or contemptuous?  Do you spend the rest of the afternoon criticizing yourself or other people?   Then just skip it — or look elsewhere…

Know thyself!  Take control!  It’s a big world, and one of the few parts you can actually do something about is deciding where to spend your time.


— 4 —

Though I flatter myself as someone who is easily able to see different sides of a political issue, I’m often unable or unwilling to understand where people are coming from on personal issues that are particularly touchy for me.

With that one (fashion) exception, I don’t exclude whole classes of blogs because of my personal hang-ups. But I consistently come across material – single posts, single phrases, even – from my favorite bloggers that really push my buttons. Here are the primary examples:

Skinny bloggers who complain that they’re not skinny enough.

  • During their pregnancies, they say things like “Look at this picture of my HUGE baby bump! Strangers keep asking if I’m going to pop!” when they look all perky and thin with a lovely, smallish round belly – way smaller at 9 months than mine ever was at 5 months.
  • Post-pregnancy, it’s “I still can’t fit into my pre-baby jeans and s/he is FOUR months old!” Sorry, lady – no sympathy. Your stomach is flatter after three babies than mine was in high school.
  • And of course they always seem to be going on about their diets/exercise regimens and how they’re going to hell-in-a-handbasket because they indulged in one full-sugar soda. Excuse me while I throw a pillow or something.

The following also get to me, albeit in more of an eye-rolling, huffing kind of way:

  • Extreme purgers. I understand needing to declutter because your home is actually cluttered. I do not understand tossing 90% of your possessions because you get some kind of high out of it.
  • Romantic home/natural birthers. For one, I’m just not interested in birth stories. For another, I simply don’t understand some women’s need to have a spiritual/meaningful/transcendent birth “experience”. The only things that matter to me about giving birth are ending up with a healthy baby and mommy at the end. Pump me with drugs; brighten the lights; bring a half-dozen medical students through my room; I don’t care. Just give me a healthy baby and a healthy me.


I realize that much of that was rather uncharitable. But it was the “before.” Here’s the “after” – the charity that this week’s revelations inspired:

Those skinny ladies? Reading between the lines, I sense that some of them have really struggled with their self-image. Maybe they’ve suffered through actual eating disorders. Maybe they’ve dealt with less severe, but still unsettling issues with food, exercise, and weight. You don’t have to reach a certain number on the scales to feel insecure about how you look.

And me? Even though I’ve been technically, medically overweight for most of the past 20 years and even though my weight always has and still does bother me, I am crazy blessed that I never had any inclination to confuse my appearance with my worth. For that reason, I escaped so many of the issues other women struggled through. I am so. incredibly. grateful.

And pregnancy? Pregnancy makes every woman bigger. No wonder that every woman feels bigger. Whether you wear a size 0 or a size 20, pregnancy changes and grows your body into a form that’s likely to feel uncomfortable and strange. I need to just go ahead and give the pregnant skinnies a break.

The purging thing? Even though part of me (I always say I have a bit of the Great Depression in me) cringes at the idea of throwing away objects that are still useful, that’s me. That’s my preference. Who am I to peg it on someone else? Maybe for some people it’s not so much that purging gives them a high, but rather that being surrounded by things makes them feel low.

The birthing thing? The home birthing trend will always bother me, because I think that every mother has a duty to do what she can to ensure a safe outcome for herself and her child. And removing oneself from the medical care available in a hospital just doesn’t make any sense to me. (Think of how many women in impoverished parts of the world would love to have the luxury of giving birth in a hospital!) And whether we like to think of it or not, women and babies still die in childbirth. We are not immune simply because we live in a wealthy country.

But the rest of it? The high value on having a certain birth “experience”? Why should I care if a woman wants to birth naturally, with low lights and scented oils? Maybe this is how she’s dealing with her fear. Because we might not want to talk about it, but we women are afraid when we head into childbirth: Of the pain. Of the lack of control we have over our own bodies. Of how our lives are about to change. Of something going wrong.

I need to remember these things when I come across blog material that bugs me. I need to be better about giving people the benefit of the doubt. And I need to be better about clicking away from something that bugs me, without taking any annoyed or self-righteous baggage with me when I go.


They’re in a boat, surrounded by big, blue waves. Can’t you tell?

— 5 —

We often don’t see the hard work behind someone else’s attractive life.

It’s not just the sadness and hardship we miss when we look longingly at something that seems to come easily to another – we miss the hard work, too. In my single days, I saw the love and companionship in my friends’ marriages; I didn’t see the compromise and the tolerance and the putting someone else first. Before I had my own children, I saw the dimples and the curls and the sweet little dresses. I didn’t see the many hours my friends spent on their feet, the crumbs they swept off the floor, the vomit they caught with their bare hands.

Lately, a few kind souls have complimented me on my boys’ good behavior in public. I should be gracious enough to simply smile and say thank-you. But on the harder days, I’ve grumbled out an, “It’s hard work!” Because for all they know, I’ve been blessed with two amazingly compliant little cutie pies. But I’ve actually been blessed with two very real little boys – two very dramatic, energetic, independent little boys. They behave well in public because their father and I have worked our butts off in an untold number of small, tedious ways, teaching them to listen, to respond, to sit still when we need them to.

Recently I had a little “aha” moment when I realized that all those skinny ladies – the ones who are more attractive and fashionable than I think I’m capable of ever being – the ones who complain about their diets and workouts – those ladies work hard to be that way. Exercise is hard work. Eating right is hard work. Doing both while mothering a bunch of little kids is really hard work. I may look at their figures and clothes and see ease, but they most certainly do not.


— 6 —

My own blog – this little thing that hardly anybody reads – can cause pain even when I’m careful.

Before reading Simcha’s post, this hadn’t really occurred to me. I knew I had to be careful about how I dealt with touchy political subjects. I had a sense that I should present my life as fairly and realistically as possible – beauty and warts. And I knew that I had a fair chance of annoying somebody with any given post. But I didn’t think about how my thoughts, my ideas, my ways of parenting, my home, my marriage, and heck, an untold number of things I can’t even think of right now could actually cause pain to someone who’s been nice enough to stop by to see what I have to say. It’s a weighty thing and there’s not exactly a solution to it. I suppose it’s just something I need to remember.


— 7 —

As much as I aim to write things that other people will want to read, at the end of the day, I have to write this blog for me.

Yes, there is this and this. Yes, I’d love to attract readers and get some interesting back-and-forth going in the comment sections. Yes, I love hearing that something I’ve written has amused or touched someone. Yes, I’d like to avoid hurting or even annoying people with my writing. But These Walls is really for me. It gives me an avenue to work through my thoughts and ideas and it allows me to feel like I’ve said my piece on subjects that matter to me.

I also write this blog for my boys. Hopefully I’ll live a long life and I’ll always have strong relationships with them both. But you never know. One of my worst fears is that something should happen to prevent me from raising my sons. And almost as bad is the idea that something should happen to estrange us in their adulthood. Unfounded as those fears are, I am comforted by the idea that should they (heaven forbid) ever materialize, the words I write here give me another shot at reaching out to my boys. I like to think they would give my boys a sense of my love for them, of the way I see the world, and the values I hope to impart to them.


Besides, These Walls has got to be for me (and my boys). There’s no possible way I can please or even interest everyone else. And there’s no way I can wholly avoid annoying/offending/hurting every single person who stops by this blog. All I can ever do is write posts that I like and that I can confidently stand behind. That’s it.


Now, go on over to Jen’s and check out all the other Quick (much quicker than mine, I’m sure) Takes!