Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some Babies Come with a Loaf of Bread Under Their Arm....

Little Abigail Clare came with a Prius!

My sweet husband is such a model of St. Joseph. Praise be to God we got some of our student loan debt cleared away this Spring. My little Carmelite family was finally looking like it was going to have a normal grocery budget.

Our little newborn daughter arrived and my husband became extra sad about his commute. To get an affordable house in the DC Metro Area, my husband commutes 150 miles round trip on the MARC train. He gets up at 4:30 AM and comes home at 7 PM. Many nights he holds Tess (our 18 month old) less than 10 minutes before she crashes and has to go to bed. My husband said couldn't imagine doing that same routine with Little Abigail from birth.

So we prayed hard for a couple of days.

I kept thinking about St. Joseph buying the donkey so that Mary could make the journey to Bethlehem.

St. Joseph came through! (He's such a great Saint for us. St. Teresa of Avila used him for all her urgent prayer requests). Today, my husband bought a Prius. The bank gave us a loan at a decent interest rate, which they said was impossible when we bought from Carmax ten months again.

So now we are going to eat rice and beans for a while. As I told Jon "It's rice and beans and Daddy coming home for dinner at 5:45 PM!" Daddy is what makes dinner special at our house, not the food!

Update: Prayer works! Jon said that a father of four ran to meet him at the car dealership today. He saw the stickers of 5 kids on our van. The salesman helped Jon pick out the right car. Then the finance person "pulled a few strings" to get us a ridiculously low interest rate for our credit score because my husband looked like a nice guy. See kids really do come cheaper by the half dozen.

A Full House

So we are scandalizing some people by fitting five kids into a three bedroom cape cod house. I personally think my "crowded" morning nap room is adorable!
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Prayer Request

One of my friends from church had an emergency c-section on Monday. Her baby girl was born 8 weeks early. Mom and baby are doing well. However, the baby is in a NICU far from home for the next 2 to 3 weeks. Please pray for Mary and baby Fiona to heal quickly.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Multiple C-section: Physical Acts to Help Lessen the Pain of Surgery (Part III)

1. Being open about my panic attacks while waiting for surgery.

 I wish I had thought to talk about this with my OB before surgery. I found out only after I finished that one of my pain-reliever drugs post-hospital discharged was actually approved to take to "lessen the fear prior to surgery." I've always been reluctant to take drugs during pregnancy for fear of hurting my baby, but this seemed like an easy compromise. One drug a mere two hours early could have helped me in the past avoid an emotionally painful panic attack.

Because there was a chance my husband wouldn't attend my c-section, I had to mentally prepare to confide my anxiety condition to my pre-op nurse. I found just the act of being willing to talk about it, made my panic attacks disappear.

2. Treating the Anesthesiologist Like My Personal Caddy

In past surgeries, I've always focused on the doctor who is sewing up my womb. This time, I figured out that the Anesthesiologist is the only one in the room who is completely focused on me during the entire surgery. I made sure to tell him every time I started to get nauseous, instead of valiantly fighting these feelings on my own. Turns out vomiting is directly tied to low blood pressure. He gave me meds every time I felt sick. I ended up getting through the entire surgery without vomiting. As an extra plus, I did not start out my motherhood experience with Baby Abigail feeling like I just survived a week of the stomach flu. What a gift!

3. I tried to be "giving" during my surgery.

I don't think this would have worked if I tried to "fake it". However, I found that honestly caring about my team and praying for them, helped me come out of my shell during surgery. I didn't feel so scared waiting in the OR for my husband to appear. It also made the time pass faster as I waited for my little daughter to come out.

4. I asked for drugs during Post-Op Recovery

The two to three hour recovery from surgery is usually pretty rough on me. This time I wasn't shy about asking for Benedryll to control my 'itching" allergy symptoms from the anesthesia. Usually, I'm so in the "no meds" thing from pregnancy, that I also turn down Benedryll in the recovery room. This time I took it. It made life so much more bearable.

5. I gave myself a break from doing breastfeeding "perfectly" in the recovery room.

Thanks to Tessy's NICU stay, I'm now so much more relaxed about breastfeeding. I used to get myself so anxious because a c-section usually means you miss that "one hour perfect window" when an alert newborn is most easily taught how to breastfeed. This time breastfeeding at first was miserable. Baby Abigail couldn't get the concept of how to latch on. I had no mobility in my waist or legs. I also had to lay flat because of my low blood pressure. I literally couldn't get my body into a position for her to comfortably nurse for the first three hours. We flopped though our first breastfeeding dance awkwardly. I just kept telling myself that things are going to be okay. I knew she wouldn't starve. I knew that we'd have plenty of chances in the next 24 hours to get things moving along better. I'm so happy that I finally took this 'performance pressure" off of myself.

6. Follow Directions

I've grown in the understanding of the virtue of obedience this hospital stay. I was impatient to walk when I first got to my hospital room. However, the nurse said I was confined to a 12 hour bed rest. I followed the nurses directions carefully. Surprise, surprise! My recovery was even faster than before.

Multiple C-Sections: Spiritual Help (Part II)

Here are somethings that helped me spiritually.

1. Sacrament of The Sick

2. Adoration

3. Mediation on the Way of the Cross

4. Theologically Understanding The Concept of Redemptive Suffering (especially by reading the works of St. John of the Cross)

5. Asking for Prayers from Others

6. Wearing my Brown Scapular into Surgery

7. Carrying a St. Gerard Scarf into Surgery

8. Praying Morning Prayer the Morning of My Surgery

9. Enjoying my Routine of Motherhood before the enforced break of a hospital stay.

10. Reading about the importance of obedience (i.e. deciding in advance to cheerfully follow all requests of the nurses ahead of time) and sickness from the works of St. Teresa of Avila

11. Striving to be extra kind to my husband (Thank you, Danya)

12. Reading Tobit. Praying to the Archangel Raphael to guide the surgeon's hands

(other things that have worked for you, dear readers?)

A Frank Discussion About How to Better Carry The Cross of Multiple C-Sections, Part One: Know Thy Enemy

(Note: In this series of posts, I'm creating a safe haven for women who carry the cross of multiple c-sections for Jesus Christ. If you leave a comment that's anti-c-section, or pro-V-BAC, I'm going to delete it. Holy and intelligent women already avoid entering into the trap of"unnecessary" second c-sections. In this small corner of the internet, I'm demanding respect for Christian women who carrying this specific cross.)

Know Thy Enemy

Child birth always involves a spiritual battle. In Genesis, the Lord ties the "pain in childbirth" directly to the salvation of a woman's soul. Sometimes when I  hurt after surgery, I sarcastically think "Thanks a bunch, Mama Eve!" However, the pain of a c-section is extremely honorable. My pain directly benefits another human being.  I have the chance to mirror, in my own humble way, the wonderful words of our Lord, "This is my body given up for you."

Because the Devil likes to screw up anything holy, there is a lot of hidden pride involved in childbirth. "I pushed for 20 hours without an epidural!" Yet a c-section is often a shameful and embarrassing thing. No one boasts "Hey, my body failed to eject my daughter before her heart-rate plummeted towards death." Or "Man, you should have seen me survive those itchy allergy waves from my withdraw of a morphine like substance."

All of this shame, invites the Devil to mess with our thoughts. Anxiety can rob us of joy. Anxiety robs us of Trust in Our Lord. At the most extreme end, anxiety can rob us of our future children. How many poor women without access to Mommy Mary end up on birth control (or even NFP) out of fear of having "too many" c-sections?

Here are some "enemies" that I've encountered in my childbirth travels.

The Earth Mother

I graduated from an all women's college. At age 18, before I'd even gone to second base with a guy, I KNEW the only proper way to have children. A girl on my college debate team had a Mother who was a midwife in Alaska. We actually spent long hours in the car on I-95 talking about how it was possible to give birth at home using only a bottle of purified oil to avoid vaginal tears. Real women pushed out babies in pools of water, or in their actual beds, or even in hospital parking lots assisted my EMTs.

Then I had Hannah.

After ten hours of labor with the crunchiest Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine that I could find, my little girl needed to exit quickly with an emergency c-section. In that moment, I realized that all of my theories about the ideal childbirth experience were just theories. When the moment of crisis came, I had peace with taking the "unhip" c-section surgery. I wanted my daughter out. I wanted my daughter safe.

For a long time, I felt like a failure because I didn't get a healthy, happy childbirth experience. Now I see in retrospect that I was true, spiritual Mother from the start. I chose to put aside my selfish "Earth Mother birth fantasy" when my daughter needed extra medical help to survive.

Fearful Experts

I live is a secular world that is completely anti-life. Even though I have individual doctors that I trust, the vast majority are pro-contraception and anti-large families. I've had physicians tell me to stop having babies with less concern than they would be to tell me to stop smoking. The Devil seems to know just when a "off the cuff" remark will keep me up at night.

My personal rule of survival is: "If you are lecturing me to stop having c-sections without looking at my personal medical chart, I don't have to listen to you."

Thankfully, every doctor who has actually reviewed my chart has always given me the green light to have more c-sections. I've promised myself that if I get to the point where a doctor I trust tells me to stop, that I at least owe it to myself to get a second opinion from a Catholic OB specialist.

I'm not trying to have c-sections against Medical Advice. I just want the medical advice to be based on the individual facts in my case and not a blanket belief that more than one c-section is bad.

Spiritual Envy

Because I didn't have the childbirth experiences of my dream, I had great attacks of spiritual envy. I'd read about someone having a beautiful home birth with their seventeenth kid and think "Why not me, God?" It was amazing, but the people who helped me most overcome this sin was all the wonderful Adoptive Mom blogs I read during my pregnancy. I stopped worrying that the hospital OR didn't have mood lighting! After all, what Ukrainian Orphanage offers "mood lighting." Orphanages and ORs are holy places because they are the first chance we have to meet our beloved sons and daughters face to face!

Dismissive Catholics

There are some Catholic women who seem genuinely shocked that a V-BAC is not a good option for each and every girl. I think it goes along with a larger phenomina of being "scandalized by the cross." It's really important to protect your mental health from this type of fruitless discussion. I have driven myself crazy second guessing my first and second c-sections YEARS afterward as a recrossed this territory with younger children.

The antidote to this type of second-guessing crazy is to strengthen my trust in Christ. I remind myself that I made these "decisions" while in grace and while actively trying to determine God's will in my life.

During pregnancy, it's common to feel persecuted by each of these three groups of people in my life. I need to remember to stay calm and focused. I also need to actively pray for these people. I need to remember that I'm fighting "Powers and Principalities" during this c-section journey and not get resentful of individual people.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Go Papa Go!

Except for the title this wonderful article on Papa's call for better teaching on the topic of chastity.

Having Help

No I do not "have help" at home. Except, I do. I'm rapidly raising happy big brothers and big sisters. My husband is a gem. Today, I was snuggling with Baby Abigail and my four year old Mimi. Out of the blue, Mimi says "Jesus loves you Abigail! He's in my heart. He's going to be in your heart too after I tell you all about Him." I almost started crying! Can you believe I've already got help in raising Little Abigail to love her Catholic Faith?
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How Baby Tess Survived Mama's Hospital Stay

Some kids were interested in meeting their youngest sibling. Baby Tess however was all about the exploring the exciting electronic equiptment in Mama's hospital room. This is my future IT girl at work! (I also think she accidentally called the Nurses Station button at least 10 times during our two day stay)
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How Miss Chili Pepper Got Her Nickname

I couldn't see my daughter for the first 20 minutes of her life (b/c of my c-section) but I could hear her. The girl never stopped screaming. None of our other four kids had such a strong reaction to their entrance into the world. I was reassured that her lungs worked,  but I also thought "Oh dear, I pictured a mellow blonde to match the name of St. Clare of Assisi. We might consider a name change for this fiesty daughter!

Because Baby Abigail is so fair, when she gets mad her entire body changes to a vivid red color. The girl turns blood red on every diaper change. The first night I nicknamed this transformation "turning into a chili pepper". Hannah (my oldest) thought this wasn't girly enough. She thoughtful called her "turning red like a cherry." No whenever Abigail gets a little over-dramatic, my girls say "Oh, here comes our Cherry." I also like to joke that our youngest child is "the cherry on top" of our family!
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Our Experience at a Catholic Hospital, Part III

More than five professional staff members said "See you next year for number six!"
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Our Experience in a Catholic Hospital Part II

Had an energetic chat with Deacon in Training Patrick who brought us the Eucharist. He says the entire hospital maybe sold next year if the HHS mandate remains unchanged.
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Our Experience at a Catholic Hospital

The Crucifix torn off of each and every hospital room wall.
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Abigail & Abigail Clare

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First Picture with All Five Kids

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Baby Abigail Clare

Born March 21 9:39 AM
8 lbs 1 oz
20 1/2 inches
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Friday, March 23, 2012

St Joseph, Special Delivery- Part II

I did this c-section without my Mom and without my sister (who is working in Africa). My fellow Sisters in the Faith sent their love, emotional support, and sacramental scarfs. Yet somehow this child birth was all about me feeling beloved through the unexpected support of men.

Since I was all alone, St Joseph tied a strong net of men together to carry me over this fifth c-section.

My Father in Heaven
Prayer to our Father in Heaven works! I was my usual, frazzled self at 4 AM on Wednesday morning. Tons of worried, nervous thoughts clouded my head. I made myself sit still with the Bible for fifteen minutes in a hotel chair. It was a total act of obedience--and a short one at that. (My  daily Carmel prayer time is supposed to last at least 30 mins.) I didn't feel better. In fact, I felt worse!

Three hours later, I'm in pre-op happily chatting with all of our nurses and doctors. My husband is stunned. He's sat through four previous c-sections with me. He says "usually your eyes are these constricted dots and you have zero color in your cheeks. What is up?" I say "Um, I actually did my prayer time this morning--very imperfectly of course. Did I actually get more grace?"

My Dad
My father showed up for Abigail's birth! He cancelled a weeks worth of classes he was supposed to teach. He reserved two hotel rooms by my out-of-state hospital. He drove for 5 hours on a Tuesday night. He came to my baby's birth without his wife (my Mom). At 6:35, I had the shortest commute to pick up my children's babysitter. Grandpa came two hotel doors over to watch all four of my sleeping angels in a comfortable space, minutes from my hospital room. My father gave me the gift of my husband's presence during the birth.

My Husband
How can I even start to explain what my spouse means to me, especially before the birth of our child? From the Song of Songs "I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine." This time Jon's presence was extra special. I didn't act like it was my right to have him there. I didn't think he "owed" me because he got me pregnant in the first place. I simply felt so grateful to have my beloved next to me. I made a special sacrifice for all the military wives who have to give birth alone. God bless their sacrifice!

My Son
The night before my c-section, Jon took our four kids swimming in the hotel pool. He came back to the room with this wild tale. My seven year old son, Alex, suddenly stepped up to the plate and became a great babysitter to our eighteen month old. He was so gentle and kind to her, that he actually took over as her swimming instructor in the extreme shallow end of the pool. Jon said it was amazing. All week I've noticed this special relationship growing between the two of them. Its so beautiful that when Tessy's Mama is absent for the first time in her little wife, big brother has stepped up to give her special love and affection. Right now this usually wiggly seven year old happily sits for long periods of time on our living room couch holding his precious newborn sister Abigail.

The Shepherds
At 6:30 AM, I walked out of a impersonal city hotel. We were required to have valet parking, which is so ridiculous to use with our a dusty, silver mini-van. As we walked out I said happily "We're going to the hospital right now to have a baby." This Middle Eastern Man in a formal valet uniform gave me a huge smile and tossed opened his arms. I ran and hugged him. I got hugged by our valet! Suddenly, all these men where talking around me excitedly in Arabic. Jon got treated like a visiting Prince. There was such an unexpected outpouring of love and support on a lonely, foggy city street. Once I got inside the mini-van, I turned to Jon and said "Can you believe that? Those were our shepherds!"

Jesus, my brother
Once I got to the Catholic hospital, Jon and I went to the chapel. There was a 24 hour Adoration--a window to a brass cup holding His sacred presence. I said a special prayer in my heart. He heard me and gave me an affectionate "pat on the head." How I love my big brother in heaven!

I had special grace from doing a c-section during Lent. I was talking to another blogger recently that its almost scary how specifically a c-section lines up to the Way of the Cross. Even the surgery table looks like a crucifix on its side. (They pull open the table arms and sometimes strap you down on them). It really helped me get over my anxiety by tying the different types of pain to a specific scene in the Way of the Cross. The embarrassment of changing into an open backed hospital gown to Jesus being Stripped for example. When I had to lie still for the epi in my back, I mentally pictured getting nails in the hand. I'm no expert in mental prayer, but somehow picturing my Big Brother doing this first--made me feel calm. I felt like I was "consenting" to the c-section process rather than getting dragged along in an uncontrolled current of fearful events.

Directly inspired by my brother Jesus' example, I was determined "to give" during this whole c-section. (I mean, what foolish, fearful girl thinks about being less selfish during her surgery without a strong nudge from the Holy Spirit?) I didn't know what this would look like in practice. So I just tried some things out. Since I'm a social girl, I made myself chat with the doctors even when I didn't want to.

 I usually hate anesthesia the most during surgery, so I made myself give the anesthesiologist an extra huge Southern welcome. I made jokes. I smiled big smiles. What do you know, the guy responded. He took such great care of me all during the surgery and we ended up having this deep moment at the end. Incredible that you can start something so deep for God just by smiling at someone who is about to stick a needle in your back!

My Circle of Male Support on the Surgery Team
There were lots of women in my Operating Room, but somehow all the focus narrowed down to this trio of supportive men:  "Nate" my anesthesiologist, "Ted" my PA, and this nameless male nurse who appeared out of thin air when they started to stitch me up.

My husband is not allowed to be with me until I'm fully draped in the blue surgical cloth. (I affectionately call this "Mary's Blue Mantle.") In that past its been super hard for me to wait this period without him. I'm all alone, shivering and vulnerable immediately before surgery. I've gotten pretty phobic about patiently waiting for them to stick the epidural in my back. It makes no logical sense, but each time in the past I've been totally convinced that I'm going to screw up, jump involuntarily and end up paralyzed for life. Disordered anxiety thoughts stink!

This time it was completely different. I made small talk with the PA Ted just when I most wanted to curl up inside myself and faint from panic. It ended up being totally hilarious. We had the home-schooling talk! Right then, when I'm literally on the operating table shivering in my thin hospital gown. He asked me if I home-schooled my kids. I said "yes" with a smile. Then he got into this in depth discussion about how they really debated if they should home school their five year old daughter next year, but then they decided against it. Ready for the reason? Because "My wife is just not the home-schooling type. She'd go crazy if she was stuck at home all the time."

Oh my goodness. I just smiled and stayed silent.

Can you image my hilarious sense of irony. I'm not the home-schooling type. I'm the one who would go crazy staying at home full time. I'm so NOT qualified to be the mother of a large family. Yet here I am, literally about to go under the knife for baby number five. I couldn't even try to explain the amount of grace I have received as a Catholic mother. I just gave a beautiful smile and prayed for him instead.

A few minutes later, I felt this powerful form of protection. Ted didn't just rub my arm and tell me to stay still. Ted held me in this protective, brotherly embrace. He physically helped my body stay in perfect place for the epidural prick. Because of the concerns that my fifth c-section would run extra long, I had to get some sort of extra pump installed in my back. However, between Ted and Nate--this was still the easiest and calmest epi I've ever received.

I realized at that moment that my husband was praying a rosary outside the OR for me. Because he was barred from being with me, St. Joseph had personally knitted together a little male support net--just like a literal fishing net- for me to feel comfortable in his absence.

When my husband came into the OR, I greeting him with a warm smile. I was having a great time chatting with my new friends. He was shocked yet again. "This is the calmest you've ever been," he said. "This is NOT me," I kept saying in reply. You've been with me for four times in the past. This is all grace."


Don't think I can finish this story right now. Getting discharged from the hospital today. Not sure when I will get the time and energy to finish part three of the story. Just know that there were a lot of sweet moments to come. My husband and I were chatting calmly as the baby came out. Nate, leaned over and said "this is what makes me want to have a third child."  There was this long time on the end of the surgery, when I had to get stitched back together. My husband was with the baby. The female surgeon and all the female nurses had left. I was getting worked on by three men, three FATHERS, and they all had a lovely things to say about their children.

At one point, Nate leans over and has a deep conversation with me about why he's hesitating to have a third child. Life with a 4 and 2 year old is hard. He feels like "he's stretched so thin he couldn't give himself fairly to another child. It was wonderful readers, because I was completely silent. Somehow my silence was even more effective--or maybe it was staying quiet and letting my actions speak for themselves. I almost started laughing again as he talked so painfully about being "on the fence." I just kept thinking, you don't even know that you are confiding in a CARMELITE. I'm going to be praying to God that you have that third baby. Your rational intellect doesn't stand a chance! :-)

Another quick note, Jon and I were just chatting about a nurse at Children's Hospital. Our little male fan club jumped into the conversation and demanded all the details. They were so interested Nate said "Was that picture of Tessy's heart taken at this hospital? Do you mind if I look it up on the computer?" At the end of my c-section, he pulled up the scary pictures of the 16 inch PIC line that ended up in Tessy's heart. It was such this cool moment. It felt so joyful and so "of God." Later Jon and I were trying to figure out our feelings. I think it was so beautiful, because as we welcomed Little Abigail out into the world, there was this nod of the total miracle of her birth. It was amazing that she was here. We, her parents, had not had an easy time with her older sister's birth a mere 18 months ago. No one would have blamed us for packing it in--for saying we didn't want to risk such heart ache again. Yet, God is so good. He works wonders on the human heart. Thanks to supernatural trust, we were welcoming in a new daughter into our family in 2012!

Thanks for all of your prayers and all your support. Looks like I'll be going home today. Pray for me and baby to have a smooth transition despite the long drive home.

A St Joseph Delivery--Background (Part 1)

I did this last child birth without my Mom.

Intellectually, I knew her avoidance of a visit to the hospital or talk about the new baby were most likely due to the acute stress of mental illness. Emotionally, however, I was a mess the week before my c-section. My "mother wound" was throbbing in full force.

To add another confusing element, all of my close female friends couldn't help watch my older children during my upcoming c-section for totally understandable reasons. Little Abigail's loving Godparents adopted their own special needs child a week before her birth. Another close friend was 8 months pregnant herself and lived far from the hospital. I tried to stay relax and "trust in God." Then last Sunday, my last hope wrote on Facebook "Hopefully, I'm the last one in my family to get this vomiting flu bug. It seems to be only a 12 hour thing, so I should be all clear to watch your four kids on Wednesday." It was so comical, I had to smile. I couldn't think of a worse thing that to try to survive my first week home with a new baby while a family of seven struggled with a nasty flu bug. I wrote her back a kind note saying "Please send me your prayers and not your flu germs! Your off the hook for babysitting."

Its hard to explain in words, but underneath all my confusing emotions I had this deep peace. Even though I had suffered from panic attacks during the tense two hour surgery prep period during some of my last c-sections, I knew that this time I could get through that hard time without the physically reassuring presence of my husband. If Jon and Hannah (my oldest) were stuck in the hospital waiting room, I felt certain that the rosary they would say together could be even more spiritually comforting to me. It didn't make logical sense for Jon to miss his daughter's death, but somehow it made spiritual sense. God was trying to heal some deep broken trust issues in me. God was showing me that line from my sacrament of the sick "Let Sister Abigail feel your support, even when she seems to be all alone."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Welcome Baby Abigail Clare

Oh my goodness! I'm still totally overwhelmed at all the grace that I received on Wednesday! My c-section was actually a holy, happy experience. Little Abigail Clare is here. Born 9:39 AM Wednesday, March 21. 20 inches long and 8.1 pounds. (Hopefully, my  husband can figure out how to post pictures of her pretty face to this blog soon). She's so funny. She's looks way more like me, than any of my tall, blonde older children. She's a full two pounds smaller than all of our other babies, the doctors were laughing that her parents counted 8 pounds as "small." She's so feisty, right out of the womb. Right away, we knew we had to change her name to match mine. She's totally a chip off the old block!

Her cool trick is to turn herself completely beet red at the slightest annoyance. The first night she earned the affectionate nickname "Chili Pepper". Needless to say, breastfeeding this precious daughter is a little interesting to say the least. So far she looks 100% healthy. They even did a special x-ray session to rule out the birth defect that older sister Tess suffered from last year.

Thank you so much for all of your prayers!!!! They really helped. Hope to write more of little Abigail's beautiful birth story when Miss Chili Pepper herself is napping.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Special Package

Yeah! A special package came in the mail from a fellow Catholic Smithee today . (I don't need to tell you that this is a rare combination). I got a special fourth class relic from St. Gerard Majella, patron saint of expectant mothers. I put my special handkerchief on my belly and Baby Clare immediately started jumping around! I'm going to take it in to the surgery with me (Jon offered to hold for me) along with my trusty Brown Scapular and plastic rosary beads. I'm super excited that I've got extra grace to heal faster from my c-section. Thanks so much C.H.!

Do any of my regular readers/in real life friends want to be in on the happy telephone calls after Clare's birth? I don't think I'm going to have internet access in the Hospital, which is a bummer. Still, I love going over all the amazing details on the phone with a new baby in my arms. I realized sadly as I was updating my contact list, other than her parents and four siblings, Miss Clare does not really have a very large excited fan club breathlessly awaiting her birth. Which is sort of sad because its even MORE miraculous that a fifth child is coming into the world, rather than a first or second. Oh well.

As her Mama, I'm excited about her birth. Thank you all dear readers much for all of your prayers and best wishes.

A Weird Type of Count-Down

Things are getting close. Almost Baby time!

I gave my neighbor my favorite potted plant to water while I'm in the hospital.

I completed my last trip to Target. (Incidentally Danya, I bought everyone in the family extra pairs of underwear today. I can't do stairs for at least 2 weeks after the c-section, especially our rickety basement stairs. That means I'm officially off laundry duty! Hurrah! But I'm a little cocky about my special skills managing the massive laundry mountain for seven people. Even though my husband is highly self-sufficient, I prepared for failure. I figure everyone can wear "dirty" clothes for a few days if their underwear is always clean).

I packed a ridiculous amount of snack food in my van. (And the only home-schooling I did today was a long lecture on price points for food and the advantage of a "captive audience." I made my kids promise not to eat room service -unless their Grandpa specifically wanted to--just out of general principal. I'm getting so frugal, I don't recognize my former spend-thrift self anymore.)

And I filled the mini-van gas tank up to the very top. $65.00! I almost fainted. (I usually run around town with a carefully budgeted amount). You used to be able to buy super cute shoes at that price.

Proof that Marriage is Dead in America

I just went through a ridiculous amount of red tape to pay off the co-pays on our health insurance tab before getting admitted to the hospital this week.

I am my husband's legal wife.

I am listed as his official spouse on our family's health insurance plan.

I called my health insurance company today with my individual health insurance plan number, our family's official account number and my husband's Social Security Number.

I was just trying to get transferred to the billing department so that I could pay down our joint co-pay account,--which by the way is mostly nine months of my personal OB charges.

The gate-keeper lady at the call center refused to let me through because I was not "Mr. Jon Benjamin",

I just kept saying, "No Ma'am. I'm MRS. Jon Benjamin. This is our family's health care account and I'm just trying to pay our joint bill."

Oh man, sometimes you just have to laugh at your pointless suffering.

St. Joseph, pray for all sacramental marriage today. May someday it not be so rare for a wife and a husband to be peacefully sharing domestic chores instead of the current state of "every man out for himself."

Stay on Target

I read all of these mystical Carmelite writings, but when God really wants to communicate a deep spiritual truth to my heart during prayer, He uses Star Wars metaphors. (I've mentioned before that I'm a Carmelite with a very little brain, right? And a child of the 1980s? )

My big insight this Lent is that the best way to fight the Devil is to "Stay on Target!" Satan can do very little to directly harm us. His big weapon is distraction. For the next few weeks of Lent, whenever I'm feeling emotionally crummy, instead of withdrawing and stewing in my emotions, I try to force myself to do something very practical and physical for my vocation as a wife and mother.

I try to be the focused Luke, determined to finish his mission to blow up the Death Star, rather than the easily distracted extra who gets killed by Darth Vader.

My little mantra for this shift is "Stay on Target."

Pretty nifty how this whole "growing in holiness" thing works out in everyday life!

Star Wars. Episode 4. A new hope. Short trench version.

Stay on Target!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Weathering the Storm

72 hours until my c-section. I went over some sort of mental "trip wire" when I hit the one week mark before the baby's birth day. There was a lot of grief and sadness. I'm not sure why. I was so hopeful that I might go into labor on my own with this baby--even if that still meant another c-section, the element of "surprise" or "naturalness" lessened my anxiety.

Now it looks pretty clear that Wednesday, March 21 at 9:15 AM is the time.

I've got waves of anxiety coming over me.

The clear pictures of my beautiful, supernaturally healed womb are a huge comfort to me. I'm not walking around dreading that I'm going to die on the operating table, or that my baby is going to end up in the NICU. (Considering my past history over 4 c-sections this is a vast improvement!)

It's more like this pouting, sulking feeling.

I just don't want to do it.

I don't want to go into the hospital. I don't want to deal with the grouchy nurses. I don't want all the pokes in the arm, or the scary feelings in the OR or the embarrassment of peeing in a catheter.

I wish somehow they could just hand me my daughter, wrapped up in a swaddling cloth, and let us go home.

But... I'm trying to wrap my head around this concept of accepting my suffering.

I know that we are at a time of real crisis over contraception, the female sex, and the Catholic Church. And in my heart of hearts, I've got to admit that the feminist critics are not crazy for wanting to avoid having a fifth child. It's totally supernatural to be open to life. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Right now I'm battling very natural fears over child-birth, breast-feeding, having a potential sick or disabled newborn and just the fear in general of "biting off more than I can chew" by having 5 kids under age 10 in my house. It's only God who can transport me from my natural fears to trust in His supernatural grace.

I could spend hours arguing about "pro-life issues" on my blog. Or posting petitions on Facebook. Or staying up all hours at Adoration to make Reparation for Sinners.

Or I could have a daughter.

A fourth daughter.

Another "useless" girl that China and India are busy aborting in mass. Or America is busy contracepting or "morning after pill taking" out of existence.

I've got 72 hours to keep myself calm while the Devil does his best to rattle my cage.

It's a good thing my dear Benjamin babies are so cute.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Plea for Compassion and Obedience

The story of a priest being suspended for denying the Eucharist to a self-admitted practicing lesbian at her mother's Funeral Mass has made national headlines. This story happened a few miles from my old house in Maryland. I'm not linking to any of the stories, because outside of my local Catholic paper, I have yet to see an online story (Catholic or secular) that is completely unbiased.

I'm pleading with my Catholic friends and readers--we can not judge. We can not judge the priest. We can not judge Cardinal Wurel (the Archbishop who has suspended his right to practice priestly duties in Washington D.C.)

It's very hard to stay little, and fight our innate curiosity. But it is not up to us to decide this matter from random press clippings. This is a matter for our Catholic leadership to decide with wisdom of the Holy Spirit. It is totally possible that this priest is totally innocent. He could be suffering unjust persecution, as a special "gift" from God. (Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name.) If that is true, God will protect him. All of his suffering is winning him great praise and glory in heaven.

It's also important to understand that this story was plastered on the front page of the Washington Post the same week that the Catholic Church lost her battle to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal in the State of Maryland. There is a vital fight to get Maryland voters to overturn legalize gay marriage at the ballot box this November. The Catholic Church again will be in the fore-front of protecting the traditional definition of marriage. There is a bigger picture behind the scene. Who knows what other threats or problems Cardinal Wurel can see, that we on the ground can not. God bless our bishops, who often have to make unpopular decisions.

I know as a Carmelite I sound like a broken record, but the very best thing we can do is pray. Don't get mad. Don't argue opinions. Don't make up Facebook petitions.

Just pray that this poor priest (who is actually a priest on loan from Moscow, so he's very alone in his sufferings on foreign soil) feels the special consoling love of Our Blessed Mother during this cross. Pray that the Bishop is filled with the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit as he investigates this matter. And please pray for all gays and lesbians in Maryland. It's really hard to understand that Our Mother, the Catholic Church loves her children so much--that she does NOT say that it's okay to do whatever you want in your private sex life and still receive the Eucharist. Our Church is a real Mother. She says "get yourself cleaned up, get out of the fake pleasure of mortal sin, and come start enjoying the true joy that comes with being an obedient child of God."

May the State of Maryland become "Mary's Land" once again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Random Lenten Thoughts

I'm eating Dove Milk Chocolate "Promises" and sighing over the inane, supposed-to-be-deep comments printed on the inside wrappers.

"I wonder if we could get some deep St. John of the Cross quotes on these chocolate bites instead?", I think. "What about getting his poetry on those "conversation starters" Starbucks' coffee cups, too."

Then I start to laugh. In real life, Mr. St. John of the Cross would tell me--"Abby, stop eating chocolate! Stop drinking Starbucks! Especially stop eating chocolate during LENT!!!"

Prayer: St John of the Cross, help this spoiled American girl practice better detachment!

Naaman and Elisha

Yesterday's Mass Reading (2 Kings 5: 1-15) is really important to me.

The first time Jon and I attended church together, back on St. Valentine's weekend of February 2000, this was the reading. (To show you how far I've recovered from my Protestant roots. I invited Jon to come to my student lead church service because I was the one giving the sermon that week!)

This whole Scripture passage is so deep. To provide the background, Naaman is warrior of a powerful foreign king who suffers from leprosy. He comes to the famous prophet of Israel, Elisha, to be cured.

2 Kings 5: 9-14

So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messanger to him saying "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.

But Naaman became angry and went away, saying "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be well? He turned and went away in a rage.

But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, "Wash and be clean?" 

So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean."

What does this deep passage mean to you?

Monday, March 12, 2012

What Excuse NOT to Love are You Going to Stop Using This Lent

Advice from the Franciscan Friars at Friday Mass last week. That quote hit me in the heart. I'm going to stop saying "I''m 37 weeks pregnant!" I'm actually trying my best to keep up on all my mothering tasks despite having a huge belly. Shockingly I'm a) in a better mood and b) have more energy then when I used my pregnancy as an excuse to retreat to the couch the second my husband walked in the door.

From the Files--2004

The nesting instinct has encouraged me to thin out my old writing files. I found this funny gem from when I was just starting back to creative writing again at age 30.

"Writing Fears

(a huge bunch of fears numbered 1 to 10)

11. I'm really, really trite. All I can write about is God and stuff."

(That fear made me laugh out loud today!)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Heartbreaker--The MovieGoer

Great date night movie from the "instant Netflix" line. This is a hilarious French romantic comedy. Jon and I said we haven't enjoyed a movie like this in so long. Adorable main character, funny situations, and plot twists that keep you hooked until the very end.

My New Love Song for Unborn Baby Clare

The Hidden Fights of a Home-schooling Mother

Life is crazy. I suffered a massive anxiety attack about my upcoming fifth c-section all last week. Pity my husband and my children who took the brunt of my resulting stressful, angry outbursts. It was ugly time at the Benjamin house.

At 7 AM on Saturday, I woke up crying because "my life sucks." I made everyone in my house miserable at breakfast with my ugly mood. At 9:30 AM, I plunked myself down in my little blue canvas chair at a local school gym (because my overly pregnant body can't handle sitting down normally on a wood floor). I watched my 4 year old practice her soccer drills. I was totally multi-tasking. I helped my daughter figure out how to keep a soccer ball in bounds, while reading the long "to do list" inside my son's new Cub Scout Handbook. (My son and husband happily joined the Cub Scouts in March and there are many assignments for him to finish by the Tiger Cub graduation ceremony in May).

I was working hard when suddenly, this supernatural answer to the struggle I was experiencing over my upcoming hospital stay came to me. The peace I felt was sudden and dramatic. I felt like Mommy Mary actually released a tense knot in my heart.

I felt good for about seven hours.

Then the Devil changed tactics. I couldn't believe it! The same day I finally got straight about my over-the-top c-section fear, the Evil One leans into my other Achilles heel--homeschooling.

I went to Best Buy on Saturday Night because we are having on going issues with our old computer. (Which is probably God's way of telling me "Get the kids off the computer for Lent". But of course, I'm too thick headed to stop actively work on fixing this problem, because how am I supposed to survive the last 10 days of pregnancy without the free babysitting services of computer games and Netflix videos?)

In the Geek Squad line, I run into another Homeschooling Mom fighting a computer virus. I'm relaxed with this stranger. We're chatting. I'm asking questions because this is my first time doing the "status review" in the State of West Virginia. Before I know it, Home Schooling Mom has me locked in a eyeball to eyeball battle telling me one fearful fact after another about the home-school review process in my new home-town. If you were a bystander, you couldn't tell that our conversation had suddenly turned hostile. But trust me, I recognized it right away.

Have you ever found yourself suddenly plunged into a conversation so emotionally painful you think "an actual knife fight would be easier to deal with than this?"

I came out of Best Buy shaking in my tiny black flats.

Shoot. Prior to this scary conversation, I had calmly and rationally decided that this March we are taking  a break from major home-schooling work. I need to concentrate on having a new baby. We're going to trust that we have plenty of time to iron out any remaining knowledge gaps before my review process in late June. It seems pretty clear that when you are ten days away from child-birth it needs to be "baby first, home-schooling and all other daily family responsibility things a distant second."

But the Devil doesn't want me to be calm. He wants me to be scared and worried. He wants me to think that this sweet unborn baby is sucking necessary education experiences from my older children, leaving them in a permanently harmed by my lack of hyper-focus on their home-schooling experience.

So here is my attack plan for getting this fear-provoking home-schooling conversation out of my head tonight.

1. Trust Jesus

Home-schooling was NOT my idea. Having five children in less than 9 years was NOT my idea. This is all "His plan" for my life. So far, following His plan for my life, rather than my own vain ambitions have worked out pretty well. I might not know exactly how breast-feeding a newborn while teaching two kids how to read better is going to work out in practice--but there is no reason to doubt that things could be fine. Jesus has done too many wonderful things in my life to suddenly doubt that He'd drop me now over the more mundane parts of my motherhood vocation.

2. Seizing Control Doesn't Work

I have run into too many Moms that are way to "hyper" about home-schooling. I don't blame them, but I don't need to follow their example, either. For me personally, home-schooling is an important part of my vocation as a wife and mother--but it's not the "only thing" and it's not even the most important thing. Right now, my focus is on growing Baby Clare, getting a genuine smile on my lips to greet my husband when he comes home from work, keeping a toddler out of physical danger, and attempting to get some type of meal regularly in my young children's bodies.

Some days I get to teaching "formal" school activities. Some days I don't.

This process of "doing my best" each day, is unnerving. I wish I had a reassuring check-a-box plan. I wish I had reassurance from outside experts that my kids were all progressing "normally." I wish the day wasn't mostly about life-long discipline issues such as "in this house we do not hit our sisters whenever they become annoying" or "in this house we brush our teeth each and every day." I wish there was more uncluttered time to listen to my eight year old read the Box Car children without a crabby baby waking up from her nap early  from teething pain.

Yet spending hours coming up with a fake "I'm in charge home-schooling plan" for the next month is totally useless. Whatever plan I come up with is getting tossed out the window when a newborn enters into our house. I need to save my strength to do something important--like getting the new infant car seat installed in our minivan!

3. Practice Detachment

In the end, I don't have total control over the results of this home-schooling year. My kids might do outstanding on the reviews. Or the reviewer might decide that something I thought was a minor omission is critical and must be completely rectified by September.

I need to remember that the effort I put into home-schooling is for God alone. It's an act of charity. One of the beautiful hymns at my Carmelite Investiture Ceremony went "When I was little, you taught me to read."

Man, let me tell you it is hard work to teach some little kids how to read! Kissing lepers sometimes seems easy in comparison!

As long as I'm doing my daily work as a wife and mother "in Him, with Him, and through Him." I do not need to obsess over RESULTS!

Thanks for reading the rants of a pregnant lady!

Prayer: Jesus, I trust in you!

Sacrament of the Sick

Hurrah! I received the Sacrament of the Sick at my local parish this morning.  Every time I receive this Sacrament new things jump out for me. Today the meaningful words were:

When our Sister is afraid,
Give her Courage

When she is afflicted
Give her Patience

When she feels alone,
Assure her of your support.

Unborn Baby Clare got a special blessing today too! Father P really stressed "health" for Clare, over and over again.  I wasn't sure if this was a real formal prayer that was written down, or after hearing about big Sister's dramatic stay in the NICU, that Father P wanted to make sure to give the Lord a clear request for a healthy newborn this time around.

I just though it was humorous. We'll happily welcome Baby Clare "in sickness OR in health." But it can't hurt to strongly request that she comes to us in perfect health!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Random Round-up

Forgive me, I've got pregnancy brain. I've got 19 days until my scheduled c-section. Not sure I could come up with a coherent post if I tried. Blogging will probably be a little spotty from here on out.

1. I'm having an interesting Lent. Rather than take on any big spiritual tasks, I'm trying to do a better job of living my daily life "with Him." Being in God's presence, conscious that every small task, taking a shower, finding a child's lost shoes, changing a diaper, staying gracious while suffering pregnancy pain--everything thing is from him, for him, and with him.

I'm failing totally miserably, like 99% of the time. But the slight 1% of the time that I do something new "for God" is mind bendingly awesome!

2. I'm fighting to stay away from "spiritual pride." I had a bad, bad dose of spiritual pride as a Methodist. I'm not sure that I blame my former Protestant faith so much as humility and hiddeness were NOT on my radar. I used to boast in my Lenten fasts like "look what awesome things I'm doing for God in these 40 days."

Now, as a Carmelite I'm trying to be quieter. God doesn't need my fasts, or my prayers, or my alms. I don't need to go looking for crosses. God's merciful plan for my daily life is to send me plenty of crosses AND plenty of chances to do small acts of charity (plus moments for fasting, praying and alms-giving.) I'm doing myself a disservice if I just concentrate on the "big" charity things and miss out on the daily grind stuff. I really believe that handling my "daily grind" with prayer, hope and supernatural cheerfulness is what is going to get me into heaven.

3. Because I'm working on this in my own life "check-a-box" Catholics are driving me crazy. I really hate it when people are like "I'm good to go because I already checked off my God box today." I'm running into it all the time. 'Oh I went to Daily Mass", or "I visited a nursing home this week" or "I put money in the poor box."

It feels like nails on a chalk board to me when I run into this situation. So pray for me, because I've really got to stop being so judgmental!!!!! I'm working myself into a extra round of purgatory, if not the actual pit of hell. Just because I'm working on this issue does not mean that the rest of the world needs to conquer it with me.

4. We're discovering that we were really sent to West Virginia to be "missionaries." I live in an extremely Christian State, but only 5% of the population is Catholic. There's a lot of bias against Catholics--so I've found the Catholics here are somewhat "confused." Like they don't talk about Mary, even on her feast days.
So we end up in a lot of situations that are weird and confusing. I'm trying to just stay calm and be content to let our family's Catholic light shine quietly. (Neither my husband or I are any good at appolgetics. We keep joking "We're Carmelites, not Dominicans. We'll leave the preaching to them and stick to praying ourselves!)

5. After 3 years in Carmel, I'm finally making peace with the idea that  "I'm a beginner!" I might very well die a total beginner! (I mean, all progress in the spiritual road is His alone to great right?) I used to stress out so much about "what room of the Interior Castle I was in" or how quickly I could move up into a higher state of prayer.

Now it's just so calming to think "I'm just a little beginner." Its so nice because the stuff "little beginners do" pray, try to follow the 10 commandments, attempt to cultivate the naturally 'hard' virtues in my soul--those are the same things that the Saints do at a higher level. Plus, I told my husband I no longer have any fear about conversing with someone who is super advanced on the spiritual plane. Everyone thinks the pre-school CCD class is so cute when they lisp "Jesus loves Me, this I know" in Sunday Mass. That's all I am, a spiritual three year old! With humility, I could comfortably chat with the Pope right now!