Monday, April 25, 2016

The Pope's instagram

"Old age is a time of grace, in which the Lord renews his call to us!"

Sometimes I am not sure if I should invest so much into this blog, reading other blogs, etc. Maybe I shouldn't invest so much in virtual relationships and expression, to invest more in real-life ones...
But then I find things like Pope Francis's instagram and my heart melts. How cool is it that the Pope has pictures of his daily life on instagram? I've put it on my sidebar. I especially like the picture above, and also the ones of him going to confession (himself!), in meetings and praying the rosary. Pope Benedict XVI started using Twitter, which this Pope continues, but I'm more of a picture person.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

It was farmers that made America

These are some "scenes" of country life when we spent Easter up north in the countryside. The outside dog and the cabbages. Both my husband and I identify more with the country mouse than the town mouse. We live in an apartment, but dream about having a yard someday. Moving out into the country is incompatible with his job, at least in Portugal, but a yard we hope to do one day.

One of our favorite things about visiting his family in this tiny village is seeing how different the kids are there from the majority of spoiled, overprotected, babyish city kids we know here. They are sweeter, more respectful. They are funnier and know how to play without toys. They are super autonomous and move cows from one field to another by themselves. We love seeing how responsible they are with our daughter. Even when she was a baby, my husband's uncle called the kids at his house and they all came running to entertain the baby so we could relax. There is more community.

I love country music and I think most of the lyrics reflect this country "spirit". I also loved reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy because of the country v. town theme. Especially this quote:

That night when they were going to the house with milk, Almanzo asked his Father:
"Father, how was it axes and plows that made this country? Didn't we fight England for it?"
"We fought for Independence, son," Father said. "But all the land our forefathers had was a little strip of country, here between the mountains and the ocean. All the way from here west was Indian country, and Spanish and French and English country. It was farmers that took all that country and made it America."
"How?" Almanzo asked.
"Well, son, the Spaniards were soldiers, and high-and-mighty gentlemen that only wanted gold. And the French were fur-traders, wanting to make quick money. And England was busy fighting wars. But we were farmers, son; we wanted the land. It was farmers that went over the mountains, and cleared the land, and settled it, and farmed it, and hung on to their farms.
"This country goes three thousand miles west, now. It goes 'way out beong Kansas, and beyond the Great American Desert, over mountains bigger than these mountains, and down to the Pacific Ocean. It's the biggest country in the world, and it was farmers who took all that country and made it America, son. Don't you ever Forget that."
- From Farmer Boy, "Independence Day" chapter

Monday, April 18, 2016

Because Caesareans are Birth Stories, too

    Writing birth stories is a big thing in the US, especially on blogs, but I never thought about writing one myself. I recently read a birth story on AKnottedLife called “Thomas Emil’s Birth story – or- C-Sections are Weird” and realized for the first time that I never wrote one because I thought I didn’t have a story. Not only was the experience of having the baby a million times more important than the actual birth, which I considered a minor bump in the road, but since it was a C-section I didn’t feel it was that special or even worth retelling. It was an operation, really, not a home birth or anything half as dreamy. After reading the birth story above, I realized I feel this way because it was such a passive event, something that happened to me, and not something I felt active in. I agree with Bonnie, C-sections are weird.

     With my second childbirth looming in the near future, I now realize how much impact my first birth story has had on my life and on my future possibilities of having more children. Very impactful. So writing it down suddenly seems important.

     My husband and I had a lot of expectations and were pretty confident about what was important to us in childbirth. However, throughout the course of our not-so-planned-but-very-very-welcomed-pregnancy, our confidence progressively waned, I would say. I had no idea pregnancy and childbirth would seem so much within my control, but be so much out of my control. It started right from the beginning with blood loss in the first trimester and rushing to the hospital, only for the doctor on call to tell us, “well, it’s fifty-fifty, could work out or not. Good luck!” We made decisions right away: to go through a private OB-GYN and not through the public system’s general practitioner, to get furniture for our house (we had just moved in!), etc. Then the baby only had one umbilical artery instead of two, was breech until last minute when we did an external cephalic version and she turned, etc.

     So by the time we got to the actual birth, I was already a little frazzled by the amount of things that could go wrong even though I eat healthy, exercise, am slightly “crunchy” and my husband knows so much about doctors, hospitals and medical procedures (he’s a doctor). There is a lot out of your control. For a person of faith, you know it’s in God’s control, but when you have very little faith (like me!) you feel a little helpless.

     Even with this progressive waning of confidence, we still had a lot of expectations for the birth. I didn’t want to get an epidural, I wanted to wait at home as long as possible before going to the hospital, and we were both decidedly, adamantly, assuredly against having a C-section. In fact, when the option of doing a cephalic external version was open for us, since Adelaide was defiantly breech, we didn’t hesitate for a moment. We picked the hospital where my husband had studied, which he thought was the best in Portugal and where he felt he knew the staff and his way around.

     The weeks leading up to delivery were the worst for me during the entire pregnancy. I was so nervous about whether it would go well or not and I didn’t want to be induced. I did everything I knew could help induce labor: taking stairs instead of elevators, taking very long walks (in which I exaggerated so much that I could barely walk afterwards!), etc. The 40-week due date passed, a date to be induced was scheduled and each passing day was torture. One Friday night we had a date at home. My husband organized it (he’s the best). We dressed up as if we were going out and danced. I thought I was feeling contractions, but wasn’t sure. (They say when you relax, labor happens!)

     I woke up around 1am and my water had broken and with light contractions. We went to the hospital right away. It was 3am and I was led into a dim room with another woman in labor with a curtain partition. Before the nurse left I asked to use the bathroom and she looked surprised. “No, now you can’t get up anymore. You can use this potty chair,” and she placed it under me. I felt a little panicked.

     My husband came and joined me and we spend the next 15 hours doing our best in what seemed like an impossibly long period of waiting. My contractions were getting progressively worse. The nurses kept on asking on a scale of 1-10 how my pain was and I wanted to act tough (so they wouldn’t suggest an epidural) so I would answer conservatively. But the truth was I was in a lot of pain and it was getting worse. I assumed that meant the baby was almost coming out, so I “kept my secret” from the nurses.

     I had been admitted to the hospital with one or two cm of dilation and in those 15 hours it never increased. The pain and contractions kept on increasing, though. I just laid there or sat there, trying to breathe and hoping it would progress.

     At around 3pm or so, I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I had never felt so terrible about myself or so much like a wimp. I had imagined myself in the hospital, insisting with the nurses that I didn’t want an epidural and that I could take it. Now what was happening was the nurses weren’t offering me anything, because they assumed that with only two cm of dilation I wasn’t having enough pain. I went back and forth with my husband, wondering if I should ask for an epidural. I really didn’t want to, but the pain during contractions was so intense I couldn’t take it. I was disappointed in myself.

     Finally, I asked for an epidural. What hurt my ego even more was that the nurses seemed surprised. “Are you sure?” In the time that it took the anaesthesiologist to get there, I felt like I wanted to be knocked unconscious instantly… instead of having an epidural. After the epidural, the pain somewhat subsided, but I was scared that now it would all go wrong.

     When the doctor said at around six pm that labor wasn’t progressing, the baby might not be okay and that we would go for a c-section, it felt like a punch in the stomach. That was the one thing we didn’t want. I had already gotten an epidural, we had tried so hard not to be induced and had the external cephalic version to avoid a c-section. I begged the doctor not to. He said he was the last person who would rush into c-sections. I started crying. And although I tried to hide it from the doctors, they noticed. He tried to comfort me, saying it wasn’t that big of a deal. I tried to hold it together, but I was heartbroken.

     The nurses during the c-section were very caring and kind, unlike some others in the hospital. They tried to make jokes, along with the anaesthesiologist, to cheer me up. They asked if I knew any jokes and I said I really couldn’t think of any. They asked me about myself and about the United States, but I didn’t feel like talking. My husband was able to be presente at the c-section and he really was my only comfort. I feel terrible for people who do c-sections without their husbands, especially to pick up the baby when it comes out. Here in Portugal they usually don’t let husbands watch, but since mine is a doctor he could. He was totally relaxed and almost… happy, especially when the baby came out. I felt ice-cold and was just grinding my teeth to get it over with.

     The worst part of the operation was not the fear I would feel the cut, although that was scary. It wasn’t the constant conversation between doctor and intern, about what they would do later, soccer, my organs, whether she was doing things right (during the operation and sewing me up) or not. I’d lived in Portugal for 10 years so I was used to unprofessionalism, or that kind of candid conversation.

No, the worst was the feeling of vulnerability. Going through labor and it being out of my control was already vulnerable. People say the hospital gowns and having to have an IV stuck in your arm makes you feel vulnerable. But I never felt so vulnerable as when I had to lay down on that table, they tied my arms out to the side, I couldn’t stop shaking from the side-effect of the anaesthesia and I knew my abdomen was wide open and my organs exposed. I couldn’t stop thinking about my organs beings exposed to light, to dust, to the doctor’s latex gloves. I couldn’t stop thinking about how my grandma and my husband’s grandma had abdominal operations in their youth that didn’t go so well and then both of those have been associated to cancer in their old age. With my hands out to the side, I felt as if for sure that was a little bit of what Jesus felt on the cross.

Halfway through the operation I threw up and the nurse caught it in a plastic bag. The anaesthesiologist adjusted the medication so I wouldn’t feel sick. At that moment I thought I was going to die and I never thought I would fear death so much.

When Adelaide came out, she cried a healthy cry and they showed her to me. I could tell she was beautiful, but I didn’t care to know what color eyes or hair she had or any of the things that I couldn’t wait to see before. My husband and the nurses put her on my chest and I gave her a little kiss, but I was almost insensitive to it all. My husband wanted me to try breastfeeding and I couldn’t believe he would suggest such a thing. I just wanted them to sew me up. I asked him to take her and from then until the time I was finally sewn up seemed like eternity. I kept asking the doctors, “Is it almost done?” over and over.

When it was finally over and I was wheeled into a private room where my husband and baby were waiting, I felt like all my suffering was over. I was so relieved. I had been scared that she would come out screaming and not stop screaming ever.  Instead, she was wrapped in blankets and a cute blue and pink striped hat, and was calmly quiet in her father’s lap. He looked overjoyed, and that filled me up with joy inside too. He said, “Look, she’s trying to suckle on the blanket!” I was so thrilled that she seemed calm, that she had been okay with her father during that time, and that she was healthy enough to suckle on the blanket, looking for food!

From then on, there were hard parts such as the painful month-long recovery (in which I felt I would never bodily feel the same again… but then I did) and the adaptation to breastfeeding. Even so, the joy of Adelaide being so beautiful and my husband and I being so united in her care was a miracle.

I feel like saying I hope my next birth story is better than this one. Because it was traumatic. Because there were a lot of things that could have gone better, and we probably could’ve even avoided the dreaded c-section if we had been more informed and had some better help. However, it was the way it was and I think I’ve made peace with that. Life isn’t supposed to be perfect and you’re not supposed to do everything perfectly, especially the first time around. We did a birth course with a doula a couple months ago and she said, your first birth prepares you for your second. I would add, your second birth prepares you for your third and so on because life is a journey and all of it is stepping stones.

     Thank you for reading Adelaide’s birth story… it was long! And please say a prayer for our second birth story (if it hasn’t already happened).

Friday, April 15, 2016

My creative outlet

I recently read a post called "You're Not a Big Deal and That's Okay", which is about blogging, and it helped me a lot. This is a very little blog, but it is very important to me. It is my creative outlet.

Bonnie says in her post:
"The truth is, the only thing you've failed at is appreciating what you have. And you have a lot of good things:
- a creative outlet
- a way to improve and showcase your photography / graphic design / computer / writing skills
- a virtual scrapbook your loved ones can appreciate years later - the things you loved, thought, felt, did at a specific time in your life in a specific moment in history
- a way to connect with like-minded people"

For me, blogging is all this. I have learned SO MUCH from other blogs, especially the ones I follow regularly. It is HARD to find like-minded people here in Portugal and it is so much easier to find inspiration for my vocation as a wife and mother through blogs. Plus, I've met one real-life person through this blog (hello Joana!).

Writing is a gift in my talent-set... I still have my first diary from second grade. So writing on my blog and having a place to link the articles I write for other Catholic sites makes me a little happier and helps me express my ideas.

Of course, blogging is also a good way to keep in touch with people far away (hello Harrisons! hi mom!). And I so appreciate the fact that anyone even reads this.

My creativity is appreciated by my husband and Addie, but being able to post it on here motivates me. It helps me be more intentional about what I'm doing and the lifestyle we're having. The pictures above are my Alleluia letters, which I had been dreaming about for some time. I found these little wooden letters at the chinese shop (a dollar store equivalent here) and painted them with some gold glitter glue I found there too. Maybe one day I will add to this Easter centerpiece, but for now I like it just like this. It's resting on top of something my grandmother made.

Thank you for letting me share my creative outlet with you!