Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Infant Reflux or Colic or a High Needs Baby?

Baby Abigail's going through major crying jags. Not sure yet if she's got a infant reflux, colic, or she's just a high needs baby who gets tired of the swaddling trick. (Didn't she READ her copy of the "Happiest Baby on the Block?)

As penance for the horrible Obama care, my poor health insurance company is total in disarray. As some sort of cost saving measure, the administrative staff is newly centralized and cut to the bone. I spent over 15 hours on hold during the past three weeks trying to get Baby Abigail added to our health insurance plan. Monday when I called in desperation for a doctor appointment for my crying newborn, I was told that she was now listed as "inactive". (Happy 30th day of life outside the womb, sweetheart!). Supposedly this minor glitch will be ironed out by Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, I keep threatening to record Baby Abigail's crying jags and replay them in excruciatingly loud volume for the phone operators who keep telling me "Its only a 96 hour delay, Mrs. Benjamin. What's the big deal?"

So, I'm up on the New Motherhood Cross for a while. Feel free to put your prayer intention. I'm not promising any profound insights since my prayer life right now consists of saying repeatedly "Really, God, really?" Yet it always helps to know that I'm not alone in suffering.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Prayer Requests

Happy updates on so many of my NICU friends. Baby Skylar now has cochlear implants in both ears. She can hear! Hurrah! Baby Addison just celebrated her first year--no signs of heart trouble at all after her birth AND her Mama is expecting a new sibling. Beautiful!  Baby Dylan has no signs of needing surgery as a complication of his Down Syndrome. He slept through my daughter's baptism and he is totally yummy in every way.

Prayer works!

Here is a new slate of babies who urgently need prayers. Baby Benjamin is in Children's Hospital recovery from surgery. Please pray this sweet kid (a relative of heart miracle guy Baby Joey) can avoid needing a liver transplant.  Baby Fiona is a preemie who hopefully can get home to her family this week.  Infant Henry just got released after a long stay at Children's Hospital in Philly. He's got bad ear infections and all types of trouble. Mr. Henry needs a clean, easy week so he can sleep, heal, and gain weight.

Ms Leila from "The Catholic Bubble" has all kinds of international orphans on her mind so lets just give her a blanket prayer for all of her "motherless chicks."

Finally, my dear son Alex has his First Confession tomorrow. Please pray for him.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rich Girls Don't Scream

So one of the beautiful things about this intense season of mothering a newborn, is that it brings up all of your deeply buried emotional hang-ups to the surface.

Since the addition of number five, I've realized that I have trouble asking calmly for things that I really want.

As in, I can calmly ask my husband "please pass me the sugar" while we're having a relaxed coffee on the side porch on a beautiful Spring Saturday. But that is all a facade of meekness and emotional maturity because
a) I don't really need sugar in my coffee and
b) I could easily reach over and grab the sugar myself.

Now, if it's 11 PM, and my toddler starts screaming in her bed from a combo of teething pain and allergy congestion, I do not meekly put my hand on my husband's shoulder and whisper "I'm so wore out after juggling crying Abigail all day, can we just skip the whole teaching Tess to sleep in her own bed tonight, please?"

No, like a crazy person I start immediately screaming "This was a stupid idea of yours! Make it stop! Make it stop!"

Its sort of embarrassing to be a crazy person. I've really tried my whole life to cover over my flaws with an Anne Taylor suit and an impressive about of notes on a legal pad. But I know that God is very kind, because he points out my flaws to me.

My new prayer mantra (which probably doesn't make sense to anyone else) is: Rich girls don't scream.

I picture this rich girl who grew up with attentive servants around her and she doesn't need to scream. She trusts that she will be heard. She knows she's got power. She's got influence. She's got authority. So she lets her wishes be know with a quiet confidence.

That's what I'm aiming for in both my prayer life and my marriage.

My God and my husband love me. They love me deep down to the marrow of my bones. Both God and my husband WANT to make me happy. They want what I want. And if God or Jon ever voice disagreement with me, its always due to my own best interest. For example, my husband pushes horrible tasting iron vitamin pills on me because I've just given birth to his child. Meanwhile, God forces suffering on me because He wants me to skip Purgatory and come join Him faster with an express ticket to heaven.


That's what I'm working on this season of my life.

I can ask for what I want both in prayer and in person, without resorting to screaming fits. (Yes, me and my toddler Tess are exactly at the same spiritual place. How is that for humility!)

Love Is Like Algebra, Someone Has to Show You How to Do It

I had that quote from the Children's Defense Fund on my wall as a poverty law attorney.  I didn't understand what it meant until Baby Abigail, however. I'm amazed at what an impact a new sibling has on a family. All my kids really understand how to love a newborn now. Even 19 month old Tess is practicing giving gentle kisses on Baby Abigail's head. My kids watch Jon and I shower love on a little newborn and then they know how to do it too.

Even my younger brother, who as the youngest and a boy had zero babysitting experiences as kid, is totally comfortable holding a newborn now. He'll come for a visit and pick up Baby Abigail with confidence. She'll sleep peacefully in his arms and he says "This doesn't look so hard!" My little brother has held five of my babies  now. I love that as a single guy in his twenties, he's well broken in. Fatherhood doesn't seem so scary.

I love this quote so much more now. I feel like I learn how to love from Jesus and Mary. Then I tutor my children and my family members how to love in this special, extraordinary way.

Random Notes from the Field

1. We went to our first family outing as a family of seven last night- to our county's "Scout Night." It was wild! Jon had Baby Abigail in the infant carrier and Tess in his arms. We had six paper plates lined up in the buffet line. The best part was that we're such a young family! There are quite a few big families in our area, but everyone has their older kids in middle school or high school. (Meanwhile, my oldest just turned nine three weeks ago.) It was nice feeling like the "young kids" on the block just as my husband is about to turn 40.

2. Have I told you now much I adore the Boy Scouts! My son joined up three months ago and its been nothing but great times. I feel like the Boy Scouts is "home-schooling heaven." Everything so supports our goals for raising a strong Catholic man. I just say "hmmm, there is a badge for pet care! Perhaps you can walk the dog without arguing for a week, and you can earn your badge!" They hand out badges for computers, art and math! Not to mention "knife skills" and "religion." Equally fun times for Dad and son.

3. Pray for us! I've got to find something equally as great for my girls. It seems a little confusing choosing between the imperfect Girl Scouts and the untested "American Heritage Girls". I might even start my own troop at my church.

4. I think Baby Abigail has reflux. This would be kid number three with infant reflux for me. I'm ready to try some meds for her next week. The poor kid is so uncomfortable and exhausted. Otherwise, she's just a perfect baby in every way.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Advice on Handling Irish Twins

I've got a newborn and an eighteen month old for the first time in nine years. I'm doing fine when we're at home. Yet just trying to get my newly expanded crew through Target now feels totally crazy.

Does anyone have any special tricks for handling a needy newborn and a crazy toddler in public?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thoughts From a Reluctant Stay-At-Home Mother

Seven years ago, I quit my job at a law firm. God was very gentle with me. I was pretty broken and very scared. God took a good 2 1/2 years before I realized I was actually getting handed the "Full Time Stay-at-Home Mother for Life Job." Before that moment, I was taking my non-working status on a trial month by month basis.

Eight years ago, I was the poster child for the "I could never stay home full time with my children." I lacked patience. I lacked skills. I lacked a spiritual vision of the real contributions of my vocation as a married woman. I thought I needed "intellectual stimulation". I thought I owed it to the world to take my specialized legal skill set to "make a impact on my community." I seriously doubted that my artistic husband would ever be able to find a decent paying job with health insurance.

I was wrong.

In truth, I only wanted to work for the twin reasons of fame and money. I wanted to be a big shot in the world.  I was also extremely afraid of poverty.

Ironically, God handed me a job assignment specifically targeted to my spiritual weak points. The two paybacks I will never earn as a Stay At Home Mommy is fame or money.

As an unworthy sinner, I've screwed up my job often as a stay-at-home mother. I've screamed at my kids. I've spanked them. I've burned the meat loaf. I've forgotten dinner, or messed up dinner so badly we needed to make an emergency Pizza delivery. I've read novels instead of tending to my toddlers. I've wished the kids could play outside in subzero temperatures. I've been bored. I've cried out of frustration at the sheer impossibility of taking many children with many books through the library check-out line without a mishap.

Through all these mistakes and "mishaps", often the very things I feared while I was still childless, I've never, ever doubted that I was doing the right thing by staying home full time. Instead, there has been this steady increase of gratitude.

I'm grateful that I get to pray every day. I'm grateful that I have a chance to serve. I'm grateful that my role is so clear. That the stakes are so high. That I make our whole crumbling society better just by getting out of bed with a smile each day.

It's an honor to serve the child Jesus. It's a honor to follow so closely in the hidden, human footsteps of Mommy Mary.

My payment comes from doing the job God assigned for me for Him alone. It doesn't even come from doing my job well. Sometimes, my husband has a warm, healthy dinner waiting for him on the table after work. Sometimes he has to call for a cheese pizza himself. Sometimes the kids have all their shoes lined up in the closet cubby. Sometimes the poor things lack clean underwear.

What my husband and my children always have is ME---undistracted by urgent phones call from my boss, or an awards dinner invites, or stimulating creative projects.  Oh, the Devil still finds plenty of ways to get me off track, make no mistake. Yet walking away from the biggest food source to my selfish ego--the urgent need impress strangers as a "contributor" in the world of paid employment--that was a grace God handed me at my baptism.

Embracing my role as a stay-at-home mother was a "game changer" moment between me and God.

Unsung Heroes of Breastfeeding--The Dads

My husband changed Baby Abigail's diaper last night and started cooing "She doesn't have skinny bird legs anymore! Look at the heft coming into these thighs! Good job, Mom!"

"Oh," I signed dejectedly. "You know I'm not very good at breastfeeding. Things didn't go well with us today."

"Get over here," he said. "Take a look at our girl's new double chin. This is all thanks to you!"

My husband is my biggest breastfeeding supporter. He's calm during any feeding crisis. He's appreciative when things are going well. He's my cheerleader.

It's funny. Breastfeeding seems to be something totally exclusive of men--a mother/baby dance from the beginning of time. Yet I know personally, I would not have persevered in learning how to nurse each of my five child without the warm support of my husband.

Lets hear it for the Dads!


Its ironic that while I'm in my pjs in my bed at noon recovering after a hard night of nursing a newborn, calling my husband on the phone to update him after I balanced our checkbook online, that my 18 month old can walk in and hand me a raw stick of butter and a bag of smashed bread--right over my rather recently cleaned sheets.

And I respond to this messy demand for lunch by laughing to my husband "And they say Ann Romney never worked a day in her life as the mother of five sons!"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Breastfeeding Advice ?

So little Abigail is doing great. She's gaining weight, nursing well, etc.

The trouble I'm having is that there is no "off switch."

You know when you get to the sleepy "milk coma", the little baby relaxes when she's full and falls asleep? Abigail doesn't seem to do that. If I get her to sleep, she'll sleep very well 3 to 5 hours straight. However, sometimes if we start nursing it can go on for over 90 minutes. Sometimes at night we can hit a bad patch and she'll want to nurse for almost 3 hours straight.

Has this happened to anyone else? A completely normal nursing pattern, plenty of wet diapers, etc but a kid who either sleeps sounds for hours or wants to snack for hours?

Why Its Fun To Have A lot of Kids

So my eighteen month old Tess continues to have a lot of hilarious drama attached to herself. One of the things that I've posted about before, is that for more than a year I've been totally freaked out that she might be deaf. Tess had some meds in the NICU where hearing loss as a possible side effect. At eight months old, her audiologist told me that any hearing loss would show up as a speech delay, so I needed run back to the doctor as soon as I had any suspicions that Tess was falling behind.

For the next year, Tess BARELY skimmed by all of her speech milestones. I was watching her like a hawk and kept feeling totally confused by her behavior.  At her last hearing exam, Tess finally got the "all clear." Her doctor said any problems from here on out are clearly a speech problem, not a hearing problem. She gave me some kind of magic number of words for Tess to say by 18 months.

I can't remember now if we needed to add 3 words or 6 words in the next six weeks. Anyway, I came home from the doctor visit determined to "home-school" Tess. I told all my kids, "We are getting Tessy's vocab up to code by March 1st!"

The next six weeks were hilarious. Jon, Hannah and I turned ourselves blue trying to get Tess to talk. We were trying to teach her the word "drink" by holding the milk bottle in front of Tessy's face until she screamed herself into a purple rage. We made those cute baby sign hand gestured. We made up little songs with little dances.


Tess would continue to silently point to exactly what she wanted or needed in life. If you didn't get it to her quickly enough she immediately started shrieking louder than a fire alarm.

Meanwhile, big brother Alex had a totally different result. Alex (age 7) would calmly sit down next to her during a car trip and say "Tess, an owl goes Hoot, Hoot". ONCE. Tess would emerge from her car seat saying Hoot Hoot.

Other times Alex would hold up a stuffed reindeer and say "Reindeer." My darling girl who does not know the words drink, eat, up, or a dozen other useful English phrases, including her two older Sister's names, would cheerfully say reindeer.

It's hilarious right now. My 18 month old is speaking a list of vocabulary words solely taught to her by a seven year old male. There is a long list of animal names. There is "dog". "Meow meow" for our cat. I'm pretty sure we have a reliably accurate "buffalo" and "bald eagle" in the mix. "Shoes", "hat" and "lego."

There is nothing practical like "cup", "milk", "drink", "bottle"--nothing that my Tess can use to calmly communicate to me that she's hungry, thirsty, sleepy or sick.

Instead, my darling toddler constantly informs me where our dog is sleeping or where baby Abigail dropped her hat. However, Tessy's real passion is preparing to go "biiiirrrd" watching. " Mom, a wood thrush!" could easily be Miss Tessy's first clear sentence.

It's so fun to have a lot of kids because honestly, the more I have, the less I know about what is going on inside their heads!

Why I Love My Husband, Part X

Because he's my Peeta!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Abigail Clare's Baptism Day

Wow! We had the holiest Baptism day for little Abigail Clare. Our priest had her baptism directly after Easter Morning Mass. This is my family along with Abigail's Godparents, and two of their 11 kids. Our tiny church has at five families with more than five kids each. These friends all stayed for our daughter's baptism. The ceremony was so loving! And a little choatic! So much joy and so much love.
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What Happens When You Wait Too Long to Baptize Your Newborn...

You get a "Lord, make me holy but not yet" (St.Augustine like) hand gesture. :-)
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Four Pretty Maids All In A Row

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Building His Church

I'm so sentimental right now that this picture actually makes me cry. (That's allowed up to a year after childbirth, right?) Our humble church in West Virginia has meet in an abandoned resturant for the past twenty years. In 2011, we broke ground for a real sacturary. It's been such a blessing to watch a real church building grow up at the same time that I'm physically growing my own domestic church. Here's Jon holding Baby Abigail on her baptism day. The church is almost done! We hope that its finished in time for our son's First Communion in May.

It's so humbling to realize that our role as parents is to build a spiritual structure for the Holy Spirit to work--a domestic church. I didn't really get my role in my kid's baptism for the first four times. I thought I was merely promising to bring them to Mass on Sunday and teach them a few cool facts about Mr. Jesus, my slight acquaintence.

This time, I really focused on the magnitude of my promise to raise Baby Abigail in our Catholic Faith. This is not about teaching her the Hail Mary or throwing some religious parties on the Holy Days. It's all about my heart. It's about being a daily witness to the power of God.

Our priest spent his homily on Easter Mass talking about our Abigail's baptism. He said that we parents are "saving souls". We are the "first missionaries to our children." I hadn't thought about that part of my role before.  As my priest said, "I can get up here and preach all day long. If parent's hearts are not with God, my words are useless to their children."

Happy Easter to all the Mommies and Daddies out there!
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Saturday, April 7, 2012

He Is Risen!

Happy Easter, everyone! Off to get my baby baptized tomorrow!

When Life Imitates Art, Part I

It's been a little tough in the Benjamin house this week. Jon went back to work. I attempted to keep the peace at home. (Here's a picture of Miss Chili Pepper objecting to being strapped to her car seat. Did I mention that we hoped Number Five would be mellow? :-)
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When Life Imitates Art, Part II

Turns out Miss Chili Pepper isn't even the hardest thing my life. While my husband was still at home on paternity leave our neighbors called the police on Maria, my four year old daughter, for riding her trike in the street by their house. The side walk ends 10 feet from the corner on our block, so it's a problem. Yet we live on a quiet street with little traffic in West Virginia, so its not like our Maria faces an "instant risk of death" due to her negligence.

My solution was to call my kid out of the street, make her do three push-ups as punishment, and then demonstrate how she's supposed to pull her trike safely across the grass.

Our neighbor didn't come out of her house to tell us directly that she disagreed with my parenting approach. Instead, she called the local police to complain about Maria--for a third time!

 After the third call, a policeman came to my house and asked to interview "the girl with the curly hair and the jean skirt". He gave Maria a bicycle safety lecture. Then the officer kindly admitted to my husband that this whole exercise was fruitless because "four year olds don't listen to anything!"

I tried to talk to the neighbors directly after this incident but they wouldn't answer the door bell. So now they just scowl every time they drive by our house. Meanwhile, I lock all the doors before I take an afternoon nap and try to keep better count of all five of my children. (I also mentally sing Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" every time Maria asks to ride her tricycle.)

Long story short, when there was a loud knock on the front door at 11 AM on Saturday morning, Jon and I woke up with a start from napping after a hard night. We were sleeping in our crowded bedroom with Baby Abigail and Miss Tess. "Where's Maria?" we both asked. "She's still upstairs, right?" "I'll go deal with it," Jon said, grimly expecting to open the front door to either irate neighbors or the police.

When Life Imitates Art, Part III

Instead of censure, we got a gift! The door knock was a package delivery! Our Catholic friends sent us an "edible arrangement" of fruit to celebrate  Baby Abigail Clare's baptism tomorrow. Just like when Katniss from the Hunger Games was down on her luck and received an uplifting gift from her "sponsors", we credit the Holy Spirit for knowing exactly when our family needed to be reminded that we are NOT doing this hard walk alone. Thank you S. Family! God Bless You and your newest addition! Happy Easter!
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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An End to Lent

Lent is already over for me. I remember this feeling from having Hannah three weeks before Easter. It feels almost impossible to rewind, and patiently retread the sorrowful mysteries during Good Friday, when you have a newborn in the house. Every part of me is singing. It's like baby Abigail's birthday brought us Easter morning early.

So while my heart is anything but in tune with the church calendar, I'm trying to better imprint the necessity of suffering into my soul.

I'm a weak girl. I tend to give up six inches from the finish line.

Since I'm a weak Carmelite "with a very little brain," God tends to put the dots pretty close together for me. I saw His hand on me during my latest c-section. I could see that by going through this extra suffering, by giving birth in such a public way--with so much medical attention--that other people benefited from my sacrifice.

Baby Abigail is the finale to Tessy's NICU experience, just like my Maria was the end to her older brother's second trimester miscarriage. Sometimes it's hard to say YES to God. Yet my YES means more when I know fully how much pain can be on the line.

When my son, Francisco died, my heart learned that just sometimes God's will meant that my precious babies would never draw a breath in this world.

When Tess got sick in the NICU, my heart learned that sometimes first birthdays come with incredibly painful medical conditions. Breathing can hurt. Heartbeats are irregular. Sometimes little newborns suffering a million pinpricks of IV needles before their souls pass through to heaven, like my little son Francisco.

It's harder to say YES to more babies after a painful experience with a sick child. That suffering, however, is what makes the YES more valuable.

Last Year's Lent

On the last day of Jon's paternity leave, we lingered at the breakfast table and reviewed what a crazy year it's been. Last year during Lent, we got evicted for "having too many children." After Tessy's near miss in the NICU, my husband and my commitment to be "open to life" became extra precious.

At the time of my frantic housing search last Lent, I had no idea if we were ever going to have more children (Tess came after a 3 year drought of unexplained secondary infertility), but I wasn't going to let some mean regulations about the "proper number of people per bedroom" dictate my family size. That decision was God's alone.

For almost three months, we had no idea where my family would live starting June 6th. The clock was counting down. Our options were so limited, they felt non-existent.

Yet, God had a plan!

A new house, in a new state, with three bedrooms, a safe sidewalk with room to draw chalk pictures on, and space for a garden out back.

Unbelievably, as a bonus for staying open to life, we got a new house AND Baby Abigail. She got conceived during the hectic moving week.

God's plans are not our own. They are far better!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

First Week Home with Baby

Some random notes from our first week home.

1. Tess (our 18 month old) looks at her little sister and laughs. She's got the sweetest laugh and the cutest smile. It's totally consistent. Every single time she takes a look at that cute little baby she starts to laugh. I have no idea what's she thinking--maybe "How can God make someone this tiny?" It's adorable.

2. The older kids fight over who gets to hold Baby Abigail. Since she's usually eating, or just fallen asleep after eating, they don't get to hold her very much. This gets loud complaints. I always think about this whenever people ask "are they jealous of the baby?"

3. I'm amazed that the baby fits into our life so easily. In the weeks before she came, I kept worrying "how will I handle five?" It's sort of cool how pregnancy really prepares you to handle new life when it suddenly appears in a pink car seat.

4. Allergy season hit has hit us hard. (Of course, the same week that the outdoor soccer season started.) I'm taking allergy meds this Spring with the blessing of Abigail's doctor. None of the little girls are sleeping well because of allergies. Last night, Tess, Maria and Abigail were all in our bed at 4 AM in the morning. It's times like this that I joke "Might as well add a newborn, since no one is sleeping through the night in my house anyway!"

Palm Sunday

Today was the first time that we took Baby Abigail Clare to Mass!

This Palm Sunday was also the 800th Anniversary of the day St. Clare left her house in secret to become a nun. How cool is that?

The Poor Clares of Adoration in Washington D.C. have been praying for my family for many years. They sent us the nicest "baby welcoming package" for little Abigail Clare. There is a wonderful article about the importance of this anniversary written by one of the Sisters. Hopefully, I'll find time to get some juicy bits posted on this blog soon.

I'm the Mother of an 11 day old newborn, however, so that might not be a realistic goal!

Happy Holy Week, everyone!