Thursday, November 14, 2013

How God Deals with Fear

A dark cloud. Heaviness. Oppression. Depression. Just couldn't shake the ominous, negative feeling I was having. It seemed to start when a woman in my Bible study admitted she had to have a very honest conversation with her six year old son. He asked about the reality of his deployed father coming home, and she told him there was no guarantee. This, of course, sparked further discussion and weeks of reassurances in their family. In my own heart, I began to seriously contemplate having this conversation with my daughter (when she is much older, of course), and I literally began to feel sick to my stomach. I honestly don't know if I can ever have that conversation. And perhaps, God wouldn't have it happen in quite that way in our family. Who knows.

The point is that I began to spiral downward fast. Over and over again I was hearing messages at church or Bible study, or reading in books that although God is good, there is no guarantee that our lives will be. Bad things happen to Christians just as often, if not more, than to unbelievers. This was not news to me, but it hit me much harder this time with all the repetition of this same message and my current life situation (i.e. deployment).

I began wondering if God was preparing me for something tragic to occur. Of course, I was totally missing the point. The point that I didn't need to fear those things because God would still be with me, He would see me through it. But rather than focusing on that, I chose to dwell on the negative, fearful things that could happen...maybe, possibly. The thing is I didn't feel like I was choosing it. I just felt miserable. Everything seemed to remind me of looming tragedy, from the songs we sang at church to TV shows I watched in an effort to escape my seemingly horrible reality.

As I began to analyze what was happening, I started to think of ways I could break free of the oppression. I couldn't stay like this.  I had to do something!  I started a praise devotional that encouraged me to listen to specific worship songs and journal details of how God was blessing me. The pages I read talked about worshiping God for who He is, in spite of the bad things in our lives.  Not as helpful as I hoped.  Then I started to throw my energy into making a really creative care package for DH. Doing things for others often helps me get out of a funk. Instead, a voice inside my head said, “you're doing all this work, but he may never even get it.” Matters were made worse when I skyped with him, and he told me he was going to be traveling. Fear seized my heart. My mind said, “this is it.”

In an effort to yet again escape these thoughts, which I knew were not of God, I called godly friends who encouraged me and prayed for me. It helped temporarily, but then my mind turned to a new direction – what if the tragedy God was seemingly preparing me for looked totally different. What if it was cancer or death of one of my close family members - my brother or parents? I began to envision horrible scenarios of heart-breaking phone calls. I prayed over and over, spent time in God's Word, took walks with DD, surrounded myself with people, and tried to eat more healthy, all in an effort to shake this. Yet nothing seemed to work. I began to think I may have to go back on anti-depressants because I surely could not live long-term like this.

It wasn't until the next Sunday when I heard yet another message of how God would be my shelter in the storm, that it finally clicked. I don't know what was specifically said, but I finally got it. The Lord broke through all of my pessimism, worry, and fear, shouting above the noise in my heart, that I didn't have to fear the storm. I didn't have to fear the war. He would always be with me. (We sang this song that summed it all perfectly). At that moment, peace flooded my heart and pushed out all the negative thoughts and feelings. I felt free. Free to live my life without fear of what might happen. Because it might actually never happen. And if it does, the Lord will carry me through the way He has helped me through everything else in my life, the way He has helped millions of others who experience tragedy daily.

This doesn't mean I won't pray my heart out  for protection of my family or won't every worry again. For example, DH never went on that trip, and I only just found out it was because the risk was so high, no one could leave the FOB. So when DH told me the next time he did have to travel, I worried. But God is faithful to remind me of this new lesson and teach me to trust Him afresh. He also continues to put this verse on my heart – Philippians 4:8 – and prods me to apply it diligently, even when I don't feel like it. It's a work in progress. I'm a work in progress, but I feel so much lighter and praise Him for His intimate involvement in my life. He sees me, and He sees you too.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Temporary Relief

During deployment, it is always helpful to have things to look forward to. For me, this usually involves a visit from family or close friends. In the past 3 months, DD and I have been blessed with 2 visits – one from my mom and the other from my college roommate and dear friend, who is really closer to a sister.

My mom's visit came first, not long after DD and I got over our sicknesses (see previous post). It was such a joy to have her here. She helped in so many ways. I cannot possibly describe them all, but I'll try so you can see how amazing she is. Not only did she clean up our messes, prepare our meals, play with DD, take us shopping, and give lots of hugs and kisses, she also spent quality time listening to my fears, worries, hopes, and goals. When my mom visits, I can let down. The weight of the world no longer hunches my shoulders. I can be calm and relaxed, not waiting for the other shoe to drop. I feel at peace and reassured. There is no feeling like it!

DD very happy to play with Grammy
The hard part comes when she has to go home. It takes several hours, sometimes several days, to readjust. I have a temporary panicky feeling that I can't do it. I can't do it by myself. It was so much easier with my mom here. But the Lord reminds me that He has not left me. Not only that, but this is the way it is supposed to be. I am an adult with a daughter of my own. My mom can't always be with me (though she is always there for me). She has raised me to be a strong, independent, capable woman. And I must make her proud. But how thankful I am for the relief her visits provide!

Not long after I readjusted and returned to my routine, my college bestie came to visit. The feelings were similar. It was a party every day! We laughed and cried, shared our hearts and our lives in ways you can't replicate over the telephone. She met DD for the first time, and they were fast friends. Her visit was therapy to my wearied soul.

Fast friends
3 happy girls
Yet again when she had to leave, there was a readjustment period. The house was quieter. Nights were lonely again. Reality didn't sink back in, it pummeled me. The end of each visit is another goodbye that serves to remind me of the goodbye I had to say to my husband. The pain comes rushing back until I acknowledge it and affirm that yes, this is a hard time, but it is not impossible. If it weren't so difficult, I wouldn't be able to fully enjoy the satisfying wholeness that these visits bring. So while when they end, I feel loss, I would not trade their restorative power for anything. Not only do they give me something to look forward to, they help me persevere. They are a glimpse of God's love for me, how He sustains me even in the midst.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Within the first 2 months of DH's deployment, many of the things I worried about happened. First, DD got sick, and not just a cold but croup. She couldn't sleep, and as a result, neither could I. The few minutes of sleep she could get required me to hold her in her room. I never seem to be able to sleep that way. If I tried putting her down, she would cry, which would kickstart a coughing fit. Then I'd have to pick her back up, take her into a steamy bathroom to get the cough to stop, and rock her once she was calm enough to go back to sleep. By day 3, I was exhausted. We'd already been to the doctor who gave DD a steroid, but improvement was not quick to follow. The less sleep I got, the worse I began to feel. Soon enough, I, too, was sick.

Trying to have fun while sick
I remembered thinking before DH even left, what am I going to do when I get sick and still have to take care of DD, especially if she too is sick? Well, about 6 weeks into the deployment, I found out! So what did I do? Honestly, I lived moment to moment, cried, prayed, took Dayquil 24/7, and held my daughter as often as she needed. Thankfully, and this was God's grace to me in the midst of a hard time, I was not so sick that I couldn't take care of DD. It was a cold, and I could manage a cold.

Finally, after about 8 very long days, the croup cough left, and I rejoiced. A few more days stuck inside to make sure she was truly symptom free, and we could finally leave our house again. That was the hardest part for me – not being around people. I was so isolated, and it was very challenging to keep my spirits up.

About a week and a half went by when we were able to engage in our usual activities again – Gymboree, MOPS, PWOC, play dates, etc. But then DD got a runny nose and another cough. Ugh! It felt like were never going to be well! And wouldn't you know it, just as we were starting to feel better, the dog got sick. His eyes rolled back into his head, he was shaking, and very, very lethargic. So an hour before bedtime on a Saturday night, I loaded DD and the dog into the car and headed to an emergency vet. After all this, I couldn't handle my dog dying on me – not this soon into the deployment.

So glad to be back at Gymboree!
Thankfully, the vet was gracious and didn't take too long to examine Calvin and decide his eyes were probably just inflamed. They sent us home with some eye drops and told us to return the next day to re-check his eyes, if they were still rolled back. By the following morning, praise God! His eyes were normal, and he was back to his energetic, hungry self.

About a week later, I decided to take Calvin to the groomer because bathing him was just another thing on my to-do list that never got checked off. While he was at the groomer, I planned for DD and I to go shop for a new laptop because in the midst of all this, not only my laptop but my desktop computer decided to break. Since that is how I communicate with DH, that had to be remedied quickly!

Well, I'm sure you know where this is going...

When I started the car, it wouldn't crank, and I noticed a warning light on the dash. I just wanted to throw my hands into the air and say, “what next, God?” So after I did that, I ran through all the options in my head for how to get this fixed. DD and I went inside, and I called the car dealership to schedule an appointment, trying to simultaneously be thankful that at least DH's car was working.

Love my car, but love it more when it's working
I was anxious about taking my car to get serviced (yet another thing I had worried about before DH left) because DD's new car seat was not the easiest to uninstall/install from car to car. But thankfully, she is still small enough to fit in her infant seat which is easy to install/uninstall so I was able to use that when we dropped off my car and took a shuttle home. So the huge deal I had made in my head was really not that big at all.

From sicknesses to vets to computers to cars, I just had to smile (after I cried). God knew my fears, and He wanted to show me, very early on in this deployment, that they were unwarranted. He was and is going to see me through each and every time. As the song says, He'll never let go, through every high and every low.

So now DD is cutting 3 molars all at one time and is very cranky. The dog throws up at least once a day, and the service engine light in DH's car is now on. I sigh, try not to cry, and thank God that He's got this one too. But most of all, He's got us. He's taking care of us, regardless of the circumstance. He is good. All the time. And all the time. He is good.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What a Difference a Week Makes

One of the hardest parts for me when first starting a deployment is getting used to the new normal.  All of my routines seem tarnished by the absence of my sweet husband.  While in theory it should only affect my night time and weekend routines, deployment actually affects every part of my day.  This is because from the moment we say goodbye, the weight of the world is on my shoulders.  Or so it feels.

My husband once told me about an article he read regarding decision-making and how with each decision we make, we become more and more apathetic.  Each choice we make requires so much brain power and energy that we are simply too exhausted by the end of the day to feel passionately enough to make yet another call.  I feel that this aptly sums up the life of a spouse with a deployed soldier, especially one who is also a mom.

While it's true that you want to keep your husband as involved as possible, it's not always easy when you have to make a split-second decision.  And at the beginning of a deployment, there is a lot of adjusting to this new pressure.  You can't just call or text and find out what he thinks.  It's all up to you.

This was epitomized for me the day after DH left.  It was a Sunday, and I was already dreading going to church and sitting by myself. I remembered all too well what that felt like.  Well, DD decided not to take her morning nap that day, and I struggled with the decision of whether we should still go to church, knowing it would be hours (by the time we got home) since she'd slept.  Now, this may seem like a petty problem, but to me it was huge.  Not only that, but it was Sunday.  My husband should have been home to help me make the call.
Ready for church...nap or no nap
I ended up taking her to church, praying she would be ok in the nursery.  I nervously dropped her off, explained she hadn't napped, and told them to call me if she got too fussy.

Then I walked into the sanctuary and found a spot for solitary me.  Then wouldn't you know?  The first song we sang was "Your Grace is Enough."  I balled like a baby.  So much so that a woman came up to me to make sure I was ok.  I felt like such a fool.  Totally embarrassed!  I reassured her I was fine and tried to pull it together the rest of the service.  DD ended up making it through the whole time, and we went home.  I was exhausted, but we were ok.  I began to realize that the Lord was going to see me through this, even when I felt like I was making a "wrong" decision.

Over the next several days, I continued to strive for a new normal.  Since DH was still in transit, I had no idea when or if I'd hear from him so I began to have quite a close relationship with my cell phone, just in case.  He was faithful to cal or write and keep me updated.

Finally, he got to his destination and within a few days, we were able to Skype.  He was incredibly busy, and the time difference made it even harder.  But DH is so committed to us and does his best to connect with us in some way virtually every day, barring a power outage.

After about a week, we managed to find our rhythm.  By the next Sunday, going to church, I already felt as though we had established new routines and were settling into the new challenges we faced.  Although there were still a million decisions to be made, the pressure and weight of those choices seemed to dissipate.  God reminded me that even though I couldn't always ask my husband, I could always ask Him.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

When Scripture Invades Your Life

         DH deployed on a Saturday.  I’ll admit there was a huge part of us that was relieved this day had come.  Once we started, we could start counting down.  The hardest part would be over.  So that morning, we tried to keep as normal a routine as possible while finishing up last minute things (like recording DH reading for DD).  When it was time to drive to the drop-off location, I sat in the back with my daughter, thankful for her sweet smile as I tried to keep it together.

            When we arrived, I was unexpectedly overwhelmed with memories of past deployments.  I saw those infamous white buses and so many thoughts flooded my brain.  DH dropped off his bags.  A photographer snapped a quick picture of us, and we headed inside.  It was hotter in the building than it was outside.  One would have thought this was a special enough occasion to turn on the A/C.  Since we had an hour to wait (don’t you love the Army’s schedule?), we walked around mostly outside, giving DD a chance to run around.  I was grateful for the chance to be a little removed from the heaviness inside.

Last family photo for a while
            I did not know anyone there and felt the weight of this impending deployment all at once.  I knew it was going to hit hard because although I had been processing it weeks prior, I was still doing remarkably better than previous deployments.  And I was smart enough to know this wasn’t because I had just gotten better at dealing with them.  It was simply that it hadn’t hit yet.  I looked around at the other families and marveled that they were not crying.  While my tears would come and go in spurts, there was no doubt I was upset.  I always want to hold it together, to say what is most heavy on my heart – how much I appreciate his sacrifice, how desperately I will miss him, how I pray for his safe return – but every time I try to speak, tears prick my eyes and my throat swallows up the words.  I just have to trust that DH knows me and will hear these words when I can better express them.

            When it is time to draw weapons, we decide DD and I should go.  After this point, we would not get to see DH except to get on the bus.  I had watched that heartbreak in past deployments, and we all knew we couldn’t handle it now that we had a daughter.  Regardless, it was beyond difficult to tear ourselves apart.  Practicing a newly learned skill, DD waved bye-bye but had a bewildered look in her eye.  Clearly she didn’t understand why we were saying goodbye to Daddy in this strange place.  DH and I hugged and kissed, expressed our love, and DD and I walked back to the car.

            As we left, I felt every raw emotion imaginable and wondered how I was ever going to be able to do this.  But the words that reverberated in my ears were, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13).  To some, (and even to me, at times in my life), that verse has lost its meaning.  But that Saturday in July, it was not trite.  It gave me hope and strength.  I knew I only had to get through that day.  There was no need to look at the next 365 days.  I pulled DD closer and whispered in her ear that we were ok, we were going to do this with the Lord’s help, and that we were going to have fun this next year.  I buckled her into her car seat, and we drove home.

            Walking through the doors of our house, I was immediately overwhelmed with thankfulness.  I had my daughter with me and things I had to do to take care of her.  That kept me from breaking down.  Even when she napped and I had the time to dwell on my circumstance, I knew I could not get too upset else I’d get a headache and struggle to take care of her.  The Lord was so gracious to give her to me and remind me of my job to make this the best 2nd year of her life.  To do that, I couldn’t put pressure on her.  I just had to relish the joy she brings.  Even when she points to DH’s picture and lifts her hands to ask where he is, though I want to cry, I instead scoop her up and tell her he’s on a trip but loves us very much.  This is enough for her, and we go about our day, missing him terribly but determined to enjoy what God has given us, even in the midst of pain.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Third Time's a Charm...Not When it Comes to Deployment

        Not long after life got back to “normal” with all of DD’s reflux and sleeping issues, we got the news that my DH would most definitely be deploying…for a year, 9 months, who knows.  The whole past year it was always on the table so it did not come as a surprise.  I was just so busy trying to be a mom that I could not even think about a deployment.  DH had done a few TDY trips while DD was a young infant, and we survived them.  But of course, deployment is a whole other story.  The closer to the departure date we got, the more of a mess I became.  Thankfully, my daughter kept my focus on her most of the day but nights were hard.  I started to think about the reality of my husband being gone.  Yes, we had done it twice before, but this time was going to be very different because now we are parents.  Not only that but because of moving here just a few weeks before DD was born and the crazy ride of her first year of life, I did not have much of a support system.  It’s very hard to start off a deployment feeling like that.  Here’s an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote a few days before he left to give you some insight into just what I was feeling.

            10(ish) days until DH deploys for the 3rd time.  Trying to stay positive, make the most of the time, and set goals for the year apart.  I don’t want to wish away DD’s life so I’m determined she and I will make some good memories and not stop enjoying life.  I am hopeful this deployment will go faster and be slightly easier (in some ways) now that I have my sweet daughter to take care of.  There is no doubt she is a joy!  Any day now she’s going to start talking.  Likely first words are star, bird, dog.  But of course, the possibilities are endless!  Can’t wait to find out!
This time just before DH leaves is so tough.  
You want to keep some sort of a routine.
You want time to stop and speed ahead all at the same time. 
You stop yourself from saying, “This is the last _________________.” 
You take mental pictures and you try not to argue. 
You count down to the big countdown. 
You make all his favorite meals, and try to give him his “me” time when all you want to do is never leave his side. 
You begin planning care packages and menus for one. 
You try to make holiday plans before the tears overwhelm you. 
You try not to cry but also not live in denial. 
You try to keep things in perspective but fail repeatedly. 
You try to live one day at a time and think of the only way to eat an elephant…
But in the end, deployment is coming…ready or not.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Acid Reflux...1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back

         Many babies, if not all, have reflux to some extent.  However, when DD was around 5 weeks old, I noticed long bouts of crying after eating, arching her back, thrusting her tongue, and swallowing after burping.  She was not one to throw up everything she ate every time she ate.  She was more of a silent spitter, although there were times when she would seem to expel anything in her tiny stomach.
             Since I had a friend (my former battle buddy) with a daughter who was almost a year older than mine who experienced horrendous consequences as a result of GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease), I was very concerned this was happening to us.  Although, it was confusing because my DD wasn’t throwing up everything every meal as my friend’s daughter had done.  But I typed her symptoms into YouTube and saw babies acting the same way as my sweet girl.  In the comments, reflux or GERD was diagnosed. So I booked an appointment with a pediatrician and explained DD’s symptoms.  The doctor agreed it sounded like reflux and prescribed Zantac.  She also advised me to add rice cereal to the bottles to thicken the milk.

            I noticed a slight improvement over the first few weeks, but my DD continued to act uncomfortable and had slow weight gain.  She would go hours without eating anything, and I didn’t know what to do. 

            I was still dealing with the effects of not being able to breastfeed, and now I couldn’t even get my daughter to eat.  Not only that but her sleep was drastically interrupted day and night by what I could only assume was the acid in her stomach.  I found, however, that if I put her in her car seat attached to the stroller, and rocked her, I could get her to sleep.  So this is how we got her to sleep for naps for the first 8 months of her life.  These naps would often only last 30 minutes, and then it seemed she was just too uncomfortable to sleep any more.

            I was exhausted and begged God to help us.  I stopped going to Bible study because it was too hard to get DD to sleep, and I could barely function on the little sleep I got.  I prayed over and over that God would mature DD’s sphincter muscle or whatever was causing her such pain, but it seemed no relief was in sight.  I tried going off dairy, convincing myself that something was bad in my milk, but we didn’t notice a difference.

            I went back to the pediatrician who graciously referred us to a pediatric gastroenterologist and a feeding clinic.  I called both immediately but neither could see us for 2 months.  It was a long wait!  I did not have much faith that a feeding clinic could help us but I figured the GI could do something.  In the meantime, they switched my daughter to Nexium where I again saw a small improvement.

            The feeding clinic appointment happened first, and I was pleasantly surprised by the suggestions and feedback I received.  It was a gift from God!   They encouraged me that I was a good mom and was taking excellent care of my daughter, even though I broke down in tears, feeling as though I failed at every turn.  The words of this pediatrician, orthopedic therapist, speech therapist, and nutritionist did bolster my confidence.  I began implementing their suggestions right away.  They said if within two weeks, I saw no improvement, to call back and they would begin seeing us weekly.

            Well, 2 weeks later, I thought there was some improvement.  There was.  Some.  I was beginning to find out, we were in a cycle. Things would improve just enough that I’d regain hope and think we’d found a solution only to be slapped in the face a month later with the realization that things were still not as they should be.  DD hated the bottle and it was a challenge just to get her to take 3 ounces!

            The next appointment was with the GI who suggested it could be an allergy.  He told me I could go on an elimination diet (since I was still pumping) or try a hypoallergenic formula.  All the emotions of my failure to breastfeed came rushing back.  I was adamant that I didn’t want to give DD formula.  If I couldn’t breastfeed, at least I could give her breast milk.  I had given up dairy months prior, and it was tough.  I wasn’t sure I could do a complete elimination diet.  Of course, I could do anything for my daughter, but would it really help?  It would take weeks to find out.  I began researching and begging God for wisdom and discernment.  Again, I needed to lay aside what I wanted and do what was best for my daughter.

            God began dealing with me and exposing yet again my performance-based attitudes and judgmental tendencies (ok, they were more than tendencies, but I was trying to give myself grace).  Not a day went by that I didn’t collapse in tears, overcome by failure.  The Lord was gracious to me in the midst of all this and put wise family and friends around me.  I eventually decided to try the hypoallergenic formula so I could sustain my energy level to take care of my sweet girl in the only way I knew how.

            Every time I gave her formula, I wanted to cry.  In my heart I just felt it wasn’t right, but if this was going to help her, I’d do anything.  Of course, she hated the taste so I had to puree banana to add to it.  It seemed to work, but the cycle continued.  For the first few days, improvement seemed evident.  But after about 2 weeks, we were back to square one.  So the GI told us to try another formula.  Again, slight improvement, and then back to all the previous symptoms.  We tried five different formulas, all with the same results.  It was definitely not an allergy.  Back to breast milk we went.

            Thankfully, as DD got older, we were able to introduce more and more solids.  She was hooked!  A much bigger fan of the spoon than the bottle, and I praised God!

Trying "solids" for the first time
            Through all the formula changes, we began going to the feeding clinic weekly.  We had an amazing therapist who, every week, provided encouragement and new suggestions.  She helped not just with feeding but with sleeping, separation anxiety, development, and socialization.  I have no doubt that the Lord strategically placed her in our lives.  We would not have been able to get through that time without her!

            Another blessing from the Lord during this time was my former battle buddy who was faithful to call and text with me whenever I had questions about this reflux journey we seemed to be on.  Although our girls differed in some of their symptoms, much of their behaviors were identical.  I remember texting this friend numerous times to ask how I could get my daughter to sleep better, what strategy to try when introducing solids but still trying to get her to drink milk, and whether we should try a hypoallergenic formula, request an endoscopy, etc.  She will probably never know how much she helped me during that time.  Her understanding and experience provided comfort when nothing else seemed to help.  The Lord is so faithful, in the midst of hard times, to provide us with glimpses of hope, and to ultimately bring us out of that difficult season.

            Finally, when DD was about 10 months old, eating table food and sleeping better, we began to relax.  The Lord was slowly bringing us out of this craziness, and life started to regain its groove.  There was no doubt this was the most challenging season I had ever endured (beyond Ranger School, beyond deployments).  I constantly felt like I was just barely keeping my head above water.  Yet through it all, the Lord never left me.  He was faithful even when I was not.  All the setbacks, all the pain and turmoil, would serve a purpose.  I’m still not sure what that purpose is, but I am confident that the Lord who redeems my soul will also redeem my failures and disappointments.

            Joy comes in the morning…

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tiny newborns have big opinions

         Once home with our newborn daughter, we were eager to show her all her new things.  Of course, for about the first 3 weeks of her life, she was content to sleep, not interested in much else, not even driven by hunger.  We continued trying to breastfeed, visiting a lactation consultant weekly for 6 weeks.  I was desperate to make this work.  Plenty of friends had told me it wasn’t easy and not for the faint of heart, but I was determined.  Unfortunately, as Dear Daughter (henceforth, DD) began losing weight, the lactation consultant recommended we try a bottle (despite my protestations) in order for her to get enough calories to be awake and alert enough to breastfeed.

Doing what she did best
            As soon as we gave her the bottle, she gulped the expressed milk.  We couldn’t believe it!  I continued offering her the breast and trying all the different strategies, but it became clear after a month or so that she only wanted the bottle.  I couldn’t believe such a tiny baby could be so opinionated.  She didn’t want to have to work for her food, nor did she want to be swaddled or held cradled in your arms.  She wanted to be upright and free to use her arms and legs.  She did not want a pacifier, and she hated the car.  All these things I could accept, but it was very hard to believe she didn’t want to breastfeed.  It felt like she didn’t want me.   Breastfeeding was supposed to be natural, how God created us.  Was there something wrong with me?  With all the lactation help I was receiving, they encouraged me that nothing was wrong anatomically.  Yes, DD had a high arch, but with all these different strategies we were trying, something should’ve worked.  The only explanation they could give me was that some babies just prefer the bottle.  They kept saying it wasn’t my fault.

            But I couldn’t hear that.  I kept thinking if I just tried a little harder, used a different method, or begged God, it would work.  I felt rejected by my own daughter and a flat-out failure.  I can’t even begin to describe the emotional wreck I became during those first few months.  I could not comprehend why giving up on breastfeeding was such a huge issue for me.  It was just this deep-seeded feeling that this is how I would take care of my daughter, but she wouldn’t let me.  It didn’t seem right.  It didn’t seem fair.  God had given me an overabundance of milk, to the point where I had to pump every 2 hours.  When I didn’t, I got mastitis.  So I continued pumping, knowing that at least I could still give my sweet girl breast milk, just not with the usual method of delivery.  So I pumped and I pumped for 10 straight months, freezing what she did not eat.  After about 8 weeks, I stopped offering the breast and just gave the expressed milk in a bottle, feeling like the very first test as a mom, I had failed.  Where I was going to go from here?
Cuddle bug
            My quiet times became more infrequent and less meaningful.  I was exhausted emotionally and physically.  Yet God never left me.  He used those months, those gut-wrenching emotions, to show me I still had perfectionist tendencies buried deep inside.  I thought I had moved past a performance-based life, but my reactions to this breastfeeding setback clearly showed otherwise.  The Lord used my sweet, cuddly 8 week old to teach me things I hadn’t been able to learn in my 27 years.  In the first few months of her life, He taught me that it was no longer all about me and what I wanted.  It was about what was best for her, no matter how painful or confusing or exhausting it was for me.

            That’s what He does for us as our Parent.  He does what is best for us.  And yes, we have BIG opinions, especially about how He intervenes in our lives, but He sees the big picture.  He knows that in the grand scheme of things, whether I breastfed or bottle-fed didn’t matter.   What did matter is that I surrendered myself and my child to Him (my expectations, my fears, my rights), and allowed myself to be teachable.  God used this to turn my world upside down and show me how much He loves me, as my Parent.  That’s one life lesson I hope to never forget!

Monday, July 29, 2013

When a military wife becomes a mom

           Well, not many weeks after the good news that Calvin would be okay, I got up to walk him very early one Saturday morning in October.  Just before the walk, I had the suspicion I should take a pregnancy test.  So I let it sit while I walked Calvin and all the while pondered whether I could truly be pregnant.  It had only been 2 months since I went off the pill.

            I was so excited walking back to the house, hoping the test would be positive.  Matt was still asleep, but I knew if it was positive, it’d be a good way for him to wake up.  Sure enough, I had some happy news to share!  We were both in shock, but Matt held me tight and immediately prayed, thanking God for this baby and asking for protection over him/her.  I, of course, went online immediately to calculate my due date and cross reference my symptoms.

            It was such an exciting time!  We agreed to hold the secret for a little bit, not even telling our parents.  But we couldn’t wait longer than a week before telling both sets they were going to have a grandchild.  We Skyped with Matt’s family, as they live overseas, and I called my mom with my dad listening nearby.  It was pretty fun to see and hear the reactions!
Matt's FA 24 graduation...barely pregnant
            As my 1st trimester began, I was filled with worry.  (This seems to be a running theme in my writing, I know.)  I was so concerned I would miscarry or something else would go wrong.  It was such a weird feeling to know I had absolutely no control, even though it was my body.  I just had to wait and see (and as you know by now, I stink at waiting!)  I finally was able to get an appointment, and since my due date fell after we would move, they put me in the OB department instead of Family Practice like most people.  I saw a nurse practitioner who was able to do an ultrasound on the spot.  I was so surprised because I was only expecting a routine appointment.  Matt wasn’t even there!  But she printed pictures for me to take home, and I was able to hear the heartbeat.  It was so surreal!  At that point, I wasn’t having many symptoms so I didn’t feel that different.  Yet a lot was happening!

1st glimpse
            Those first several weeks were so hard emotionally and mentally.  Any symptom or lack of symptom sent me rushing to my computer to find out if this was normal.  Of course, as you probably already know, it’s all normal!  You can have any symptom under the sun or none at all, and the baby can still be perfectly healthy.  That drove me nuts!  Again, fear of the unknown, the lack of control…God was teaching me so much before my baby was even born!

             As the 1st trimester gave way to the 2nd I began feeling more and more excited and less worried.  Over Christmas, we traveled to Matt’s family in Washington where the sweet women in his family gave me a shower before we even knew the gender.  They gave such thoughtful gifts, including sewn blankets and bibs.  It was so special!  We finally began telling other people (besides family) in my fourth month, and I was overwhelmed with the reception.  As I stated previously, we were in a very temporary place at Ft. Gordon, but the amazing people at our church and PWOC gifted us beautifully with things for our baby.  And once we found out we were having a girl, my mom especially was over the moon and threw me the most elegant and special baby shower.  Friends I had known from high school and various Army posts, as well as family members from out-of-state all came to celebrate with us.  Those months were so special as people literally showered me with such amazing and generous gifts.

Shower that Mom threw me

Wonderful church shower
            Time dwindled, and I got bigger.  Before we knew it, it was time to move to Ft. Carson, Colorado.  Six weeks before my due date we were set to leave.  Once again, our families helped way beyond the call of duty.  Matt’s mom came and helped me clean the house and supervise the movers as Matt finished his remaining class days.  Then we met my parents in Nashville, where they took over driving my car out to Colorado so I could relax and ride with Matt.

            We had begun looking for houses while still in GA but really wanted to live on post.  I had done all the legwork, faxing in Matt’s orders, LES, and housing application to get us on the waiting list.  I checked weekly but didn’t see much progress.  A few weeks before we actually moved, I called the housing office in Colorado and was delighted when they told me we could have a house in one of the neighborhoods on post!  We set up an appointment for the Monday after we arrived, not knowing if we would actually take the house but very hopeful we would.

            My dad had already flown back after driving my car out west, but my mom stayed another week to help me because Matt had to go to Michigan for a few days to be the best man at his brother’s wedding.  I was desperate to get settled quickly so we would be fully prepared when our baby girl arrived.  Before our move, we had not even bought the nursery furniture, and my nesting instincts were in high gear.  It was time to get busy!

Taking in some sights before the big day
            The Lord was so gracious to give us that housing appointment.  We met with the leasing agent who was ready for us to sign the lease before we even saw the house.  But we did not feel confident enough to do that since we’d only seen it from the outside.  They agreed to give us the keys and let us see it on our own time.  I’ll admit the neighborhood looked very cramped with 4 townhouses in a row and only 1 car garages.  This was not the neighborhood we should have been assigned to according to rank, but it still fit under the qualifications.  The “right” neighborhood would not have a house opening until after my due date, and I was in no frame of mind to wait that long!

            When we got to the house, it was literally filled with dead moths.  Colorado was in the midst of a great Miller Moth migration, and it was evident everywhere you went.  Being a true Army brat and now spouse, this didn’t phase me…much.  When we got to our quarters at Ft. Stewart, it had dead cockroaches.  Moths were much better!

            The house was smaller than what we had in Augusta, but we couldn’t beat the location.  We could see the hospital from our backyard, and Matt wouldn’t have a long commute to work.  It was ideal from that respect.  Not only that, but the movers called the same afternoon and would be able to deliver our household goods the next day – a huge answer to prayer!  Had we not gotten our house, our things would have had to go into storage.  So we signed the papers, vacuumed up the moths, and waited for our furniture.  Matt had to leave 2 days later for the wedding.  My mom was a huge help!  Being 35 weeks pregnant and with the altitude, my ankles began to swell, and I was not able to do as much as I wanted.  My mom unpacked boxes and boxes, refusing to quit.  By the time Matt came back, we only had to hang curtains and pictures.  It was amazing! 

New house
            In every step of this pregnancy and move, God was smoothing the way.  I would not have believed it if I didn’t live it.  When He says that He will supply all of your needs, He is telling the truth.  I have pages worth of evidence to that fact!

            The truly fun part of this move, however, was setting up the nursery.  It took a few weeks because as I said, we didn’t even get the furniture for it until we arrived in Colorado.  But thanks to all our showers, we had plenty of stuff like the bedding, towels, toys, clothes, etc. to begin the process!  Another huge answer to prayer in this process was the graciousness of Matt’s new boss to allow him not only permissive TDY to set up the house but also time to spend with me before our baby girl arrived.  Matt had never worked for so gracious of a boss, and we were realizing this choice to become an FA 24 was no mistake!  While Matt was home on leave, he put together the crib, dresser, and nightstand and painted shelves “ballet slipper” pink.  It was a delight to my heart just to go in that room!  I was so excited! 
Girly and pink...perfect!
            The hospital here in Colorado was great to get me seen right away since I was so far along in the pregnancy.  I saw 3 different midwives in 3 weeks before I found one I liked and could request her for the remainder.  Since I was measuring small, they ordered an ultrasound to check my fluid levels and the measurements of our daughter.  All was fine, and it was so neat to see her so well developed and to hear she had hair!

            I was certain I would be late as my mother had been with both me and my brother.  So I began asking about the induction policy and preparing myself to go past my due date.  The midwife reassured me I wouldn’t go too many days past 41 weeks.  Seeing as how I felt no different – no contractions, no dropping, etc., I was prepared for the long haul.  But at my appointment 2 days before my due date, they checked me, and I was already 3 cm dilated.  They stripped my membranes, and from that point on, I began feeling cramps.  They sent me home with the guidelines on when to go to Labor and Delivery.  By that night, I couldn’t sleep I was so uncomfortable with the contractions.  They weren’t evenly spaced nor were the durations easy to measure.  But that combined with the excitement and worry over what was about to happen precluded me from sleeping.  Matt took me to the hospital that night, but I hadn’t progressed any so they sent me home with some Ambien.  The meds helped me fall asleep, but I couldn’t stay asleep.  The next day was more of the same with the cramps turning more into contractions.  I tried to sleep again that night but to no avail, despite the Ambien.  We went back to the hospital, where they checked me and told me I had progressed a centimeter.  Ugh!  I was very discouraged, but they told me to walk around the hospital for an hour and come back.  So we did, walking very slowly and stopping often. 

            When we went back, I still had not progressed enough to be admitted so they told me to walk for 2 hours and come back.  It was about 4 or 5 in the morning at this point, but we obeyed, even going home and walking Calvin, knowing it might be a long day.  When we came back, they checked me again and said my contractions were still too far apart but they would keep monitoring me.  They wanted me to walk more, but I told them going on almost 48 hours with no sleep, I just couldn’t do it.  So they kept me in a triage room and told me to keep moving around in the bed.  Finally a few hours later they said they would start my blood work and work on getting me a room.  This took several more hours as all of the L&D rooms were full.  I was desperate to get the epidural so I could rest. 
Gotta love Army hospitals!
            Eventually they got me in a room, and I had a great nurse who explained everything and worked so hard to get the anesthesiologist in so I could finally rest before show time.  I was beginning to shake with the pain and exhaustion and was nervous about moving during the epidural.  But I had a great anesthesiologist who did a wonderful job.  Once it took effect, my contractions began to speed up (not the normal effect, I know).  The nurse and midwife were very encouraged by that but allowed me to rest as my body did the work.  I was so glad.  Matt, too, was able to sleep some in the chair by my bed.  By 5 that night, they said it was time to start pushing.  Since the epidural was working so beautifully, I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t feel ready, but they reassured me they would walk me through it.

            Sparing you the gory details, my little girl was finally born at 9:51 that night.  I had spiked a fever during delivery so they had to start us both on antibiotics right away, which meant she had to go to the nursery for several hours to receive the IV.  I only got a few minutes with her and didn’t know what to do while she was gone.  It felt so strange!  I just wanted my baby!

This is what no sleep looks like
            Soon after I was taken to the Mother Baby Unit though, they brought her in and we attempted breastfeeding for the 2nd time.  It didn’t go very well because my sweet girl just wanted to sleep, and apparently on my chest was just as good a place as any.  The nurse was somewhat brusque and attempted to help with various suggestions but nothing really took.  Since I didn’t really know what I was doing either, we tried what we could until the next time, 2 hours later.  This began a very long, arduous attempt to breastfeed (more on that later).  As the nurses changed shifts, I got new suggestions and tips but nothing worked.  I started to feel desperate and begged to see a lactation consultant.  She finally came and encouraged me to pump frequently so my milk would come in faster and hopefully would encourage my girl to drink.  By the time we were discharged from the hospital we had had only minor success, but we were so in love with our girl, we knew we’d figure it out. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

If you've ever loved a dog...

          During our time at Ft. Gordon, Matt and I were enjoying every minute of being together.  Still coming off 2 deployments, we were so relieved to have a normal life.  We didn’t even feel like he was in the Army because his schedule consisted of such great hours.  The whole assignment felt surreal because we lived off post and didn’t have much connection to Army life, aside from a few friends who were also in the military.  It was such a nice break from the harsh lifestyle of rapid deployments.

Waiting to see Wicked in Ft. Lauderdale, FL
            However, just as we were starting to make future plans, our dog, Calvin, got very sick.  It’s not unusual for him to throw up or have an upset stomach because he gets into the trash and eats all sorts of things he’s not supposed to.  It was one of those times when he’d somehow gotten into the bathroom trash.  He threw up in the morning then several times that afternoon and evening.  Matt became concerned when he saw Calvin was throwing up undigested food.  We searched online for an emergency vet clinic and found one that seemed reputable.  Of course, it was late at night so that was our only option.

Amazing vet
            When we got there, they X-rayed Calvin believing he had some sort of blockage based on our description of what was happening.  When the results came back, they could not discern exactly what was going on but believed emergency surgery would be the best option.  We agreed and were anxious for him to be ok.  Unfortunately they wanted us to go home but promised to call when the surgery was over.  I had such a hard time leaving him there.  Without children of my own yet, he was my baby. 

            Back at home, I couldn’t sleep.  I have found when I’m really stressed I have to keep my hands busy so I clean.  Eventually though, exhaustion won out, and I went to bed, making sure the phone was right beside me.

            Very early the next morning, the vet called to say Calvin did have a blockage which they were able to remove, but they also found a hematoma on his spleen.  They had to remove his entire spleen on the spot.  The doctor said they were sending it off to pathology, but that in many cases it is cancerous.  If that was the case, she said Calvin would only have a few months to live.  That’s all I heard.

So sad
            I couldn’t stop crying and begged God to spare Calvin’s life.  I had been so worried they were going to find something worse than the blockage, and now they probably had.  Not only that, but it was going to take a week to 10 days to find out, and Calvin would have to stay at the hospital for 2 days.

So hard to watch him suffer
            Thankfully, I was able to visit him.  He was such a sad sight, all hooked up to monitors and an IV.  He was very out of it.  I had never seen him like that.  I cried and just sat with him for several hours.  The vet on call that day encouraged me not to worry before I knew and that he himself was hopeful.  This helped me to just try to focus on the present and not worry about what might not be true.  If you know me at all, this is very hard for me!

            Finally Calvin was able to eat and drink on his own again, and we were able to take him home.  He had several staples so we had to monitor him closely.  He would still whimper in pain for a few days afterward, despite being on pain meds.  It broke my heart.  Not only was it hard to watch him suffer, but there was still the fear of the unknown.

            During that week or two, I stayed close to home, nursing Calvin back to health.  When the phone call finally came, I took a deep breath steeling myself for the worst.  But praise God!  Calvin did not have cancer and would be just fine.  I was so relieved!  I don’t think I’ve ever hugged that dog so hard in my life.  Soon the staples were removed, and he was back to his happy, hungry self.  I knew I couldn’t take him for granted again though.

            Calvin has been a tremendous blessing in my life.  We adopted him 2 months after we were married, and he has been a great source of comfort and company to me, especially during Ranger School and two deployments.  I truly believe the Lord uses Calvin in my life to show me unconditional love.

A few weeks post surgery...Halloween
            If you don’t have a dog or pet that you feel this strongly about, it probably seems strange that I would spend this long writing about my dog.  But as I said, he was my baby.  Much of my daily routines revolved around his walks and feeding times, especially when I wasn’t working.  That probably seems pathetic to some of you, but I believe the Lord gives us these animals to care for, knowing they will actually care for us.  There is no mistake to their presence in our lives.