All my life I’ve heard mothers say that having children of makes you lose yourself, and boy let me tell you it turns out that concept is not an exaggeration.
“Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.”
All my life I’ve heard mothers say that having children of makes you lose yourself, and boy let me tell you it turns out that concept is not an exaggeration.
“Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I looked over my countertop near the end of a very long day at the wall leading to the back door and noticed a brownish-red, toddler-sized hand print had been left on the wall. It looked almost intentional. Like it had been a two-year-old’s science experiment. All five fingers were distinguishable. As were all five spices that had been used in whatever kind of sauce had been used as his medium. I sighed, added that task to my ever growing mental to-do list and then finished up the dishes, cleared the counters, swept the floor, picked up the four or five various toys that had been left in the kitchen under mysterious circumstances and then glanced around to double check my work. There it was still. The hand print. But having just spent 45 minutes cleaning, I made the conscious decision to leave it for the moment. The boys were getting restless and fighting in the background and we needed to start the bedtime routine.
The older boys had already showered and the two year old (who’s identity could be confirmed via spaghetti sauce finger prints to be found on the kitchen wall) had been scrubbed and dressed. Now it was just me and baby.
I love giving my babies their baths. Every single one of my boys have been head-over-heels for water. They splash and laugh and blow bubbles and do just about every single cute baby-in-water thing you could possibly imagine.
I sat on the bathroom floor and watched his chubby little 12-month-old body explore his watery environment. I’m sorry, but is there anything cuter than a fat, naked baby bottom?? I submit that there is not. He laughed and cooed and ‘talked’ to me. He dumped water on his head and tried to drink it (ew). He blew bubbles in the water and played with his toys. And I watched him with total joy. It was one of those mom moments when you think, “this is what they talk about when they say enjoy it. This is one of those times I need to slow down as I try and soak in every detail” So I did. I made a mental note of the way his long brown hair hung wet on his forehead and the way he was learning to manipulate objects as he put the wet washrag into his cup and how boisterous he was as he ‘swam’ from one end of the tub to the other, laughing the whole time.
He soaked; I soaked.
And I felt happy.
Later that night, after the boys were in bed, I walked back over to the wall and finally wiped the hand print off with a disinfectant wipe. It took a minute because I’m pretty sure the spaghetti sauce was also part plaster and it had hardened by then.
And I felt annoyed.
While I scrubbed, I thought of that story/adage/piece of advice that young moms hear all the time about how one day we will miss the tiny hand print smudges on windows and walls. Later that night, while I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, the image of scrubbing that hand print off the wall came back into my mind.
I love and honor the advice to slow down in my mothering; to savor and enjoy the moments that are mine right now. But I’ve always balked when I’m advised to let the chores go in favor of spending time with the children. “Sure. Easy for you to say living in your pristine house that gets clean and stays clean because the people you share your space with don’t come into a room you’re cleaning with five things in their hands, dump them where they stand and then run into the next room to find the next thing they can unceremoniously abandon in another completely random location” For a clearer idea of what my house would look like if I let the chores go in favor of spending time with my children, feel free to stop by any time with the understanding that I have not been following that advice and you’ll gain a pretty good insight into the potential horror I’m talking about.
But that night, that advice suddenly came to me in a different frame and so I bought it.
“Savor scrubbing the hand prints off”.
A light bulb went off and suddenly, that seemingly unachievable balance between finding joy in your children and also not drowning in dirty dishes made sense to me.
Smile and laugh at the finger prints; commit the saucy proof of children to memory…maybe even photograph it. As you’re cleaning, enjoy the types of chores you’re doing which serve as a reminder of the little people you enjoy so much. Your arms full of plastic army men, three nerf guns, two swords, five super hero costumes and as many Lego bricks as you can hold will soon be gone. They tell a story of four boys under seven, rambunctious and full of energy and creativity and too many fun ideas to be bothered with neatness. The super hero undies you’re folding, so small that you can’t believe an entire person fits in them, are symbols of your boy-mom status; reminding you how inherent their desire to protect and defend are. The crumbs, the sweeping 17 times a day, the play dough you stepped in, the bath toys you clear before showering; all of these messes are as fleeting as your children are. They aren’t to be ignored, or delayed, or put to the side; they are to be celebrated for what they represent. For who they represent. For the era they represent.
They are to be savored.
I have not always considered myself to be an over thinker. I was never one to analyze a decision for very long and tended to favor spontaneity and adventure to meticulous planning and thorough consideration. Case in point: on the day we were married, my husband and I had known each other for 5 months, 29 days. To quote Andy from Parks and Rec, ““I cannot emphasize how little we thought about this,” And yes, my family are all still breathing a collective sigh of relief with every passing year that sees us still happily married.
I’ve always trusted my intuition. For better or for worse, my gut feeling was usually in charge of my decisions. I didn’t hem and haw or agonize over details, I just dove in head first and hoped for the best.
I lived on the edge, people. Sometimes it led to great things and sometimes it led to disaster, but overall, my gut led and my brain followed. (I say daily prayers of thanks that one of the times my gut feeling got it right was when I was choosing my husband. Terrifying. And also exhilarating. Hashtag no regrets.) However, that delicious spontaneity all came to a crashing halt seven years ago with the arrival of baby boy number one.
Suddenly life was a lot more serious because mine was not the only life on the line when I made choices. My gut could no longer be trusted because it was telling me one thing and the ‘experts’ were telling me another and my friends had an equally compelling take and my mom was saying something different altogether so my once easy-going brain, who was at one time just along for the ride, couldn’t take it anymore and committed mutiny against my intuition, taking over as captain and locking the intuitive impulses in the brig. Never to be heard from again.
It was then that I got in touch with my inner type “A”. Suddenly, pros and cons lists reigned supreme and I couldn’t make a single choice without consulting numerous hosts of people. And it’s only gotten worse as I’ve had more children; more people’s lives who are affected by every single choice I make. And to further complicate matters, once I’d figured it out for one kid, the other kids had the audacity to come out as completely different human beings and whatever I’d finally learned inevitably wouldn’t work for the next one. It was a mess.
I’m sorry to say, this inability to just go for it has bled into my personal life quite significantly. I’ve always been a dreamer; a planner; a schemer. Always a new idea for a business or a hobby or a novel. Always a new ambition or hope for my life. But now that I’m a mother and am dedicating so much of my life to the welfare of my children, I’ve had to put many of those dreams to bed for a time. The sacrifice has been well worth it, let me tell you, but at times it has been draining and has left me feeling like an empty shell of a person; out of touch with who I am besides Diaper-Changer Extraordinaire. I miss dreaming and planning and scheming. I miss working on the next big thing. And in light of my previous failure, I have been wary to jump right into the next big idea.
But here’s what I’m realizing: in the seven-years that I’ve been a meticulous planner; an over-thinker to the nth degree; an overly cautious namby-pamby, I have seen an equal number of failures and an equal number of successes as I did back when I let my gut feeling do the steering. Honest to goodness, it turns out that letting logic take the reigns didn’t even out my odds of seeing disaster as a result of a choice I’ve made. So here’s my last resolution made in January: less thinking; more doing. Fewer pros and cons lists; more stomach turning leaps into the abyss. Less light; more walks into darkness. Less logic; more dreaming.
I have a ‘next project’ in the works, you guys. And let me just tell you: it is a stomach turning leap into the abyss if ever there were one. I’m much more terrified to take this plunge in light of my last disappointing venture and so am riding this new wave into the unknown in a boat of abject terror and towering self-doubt. But hot dang, I’m riding the wave! I’m not going to look back…a whole lot more times…I’m moving forward. For better or for worse, it’s all you, Gut Feeling.
Join me, mamas! Throw caution to the wind and do all the things!
Or at least do some of the things.
“What if it doesn’t work out? Ah, but what if it does.”
I know this might come as a shock to you people, but growing up, I was a bona fide nerd. I know, I know. Hard to believe that this super classy, sophisticated, mature adult you now know and love at one time owned over 80 pieces of Harry Potter paraphernalia but I sure did.
I mean, I was in the chess club in middle school, you guys. And I placed second at the end of the year tournament. This is not a drill. So it should come as no surprise to you that my extracurricular activities of choice skewed more in the direction of the arts rather than in the world of sports and athletics. And so, I was in choir. I started school choir as early as they’d let me (which was seventh grade, I think) and fell in love with singing and performing.
In high school, choir became a defining part of my identity. I was in deep. Four out of seven of my class periods in junior year were held in the choir room. I loved that room. I ate lunch there (yes, with friends, why do you ask?). I met people there who are still my friends today. I learned a lot life lessons in that room as well. One that I’ll always remember was taught to me by our choir director who had a propensity towards teaching life lessons in connection with music. (Singing in a group is the best way to learn about life. I’ll die on that hill)
One of the choirs I belonged to was called Bel Canto; a small women’s choir that was made up of 30 or so female singers. I had the opportunity to part jump in that choir; I sang whatever was needed the most, so I had the chance to learn every part from first soprano down to second alto. It was a wonderful learning experience and my musicality grew exponentially that year. The choir director, Christopher Borges, spent a lot of time teaching us all to sing boldly. Many of the girls were shy or hesitant to sing, especially if they thought they might hit a wrong note. I was among them frequently. I didn’t want to sing something unless I knew it would come out right and so if I got to an unfamiliar part, I’d turn the volume down substantially until I’d mentally worked out the part. But Mr. Borges would stop us when he noticed that happening.
“If you’re going to make a mistake, do it loudly! It’s only when we hear the mistake that we’ll know how to correct it. If I can’t hear you mess up, I won’t know what to rehearse,”
This made great logical sense, but my pubescent brain just could not be convinced to sing my mistakes loudly! How mortifying. I was a section leader, which meant that I was being counted on to know my part better or at least as well as others in my group so that I could help them when they struggled. I couldn’t ever let myself make a loud mistake.
Until a few days later, when I auditioned for a solo.
That day lives on in my memory as one of the most mortifying auditions I’ve ever experienced. I was so determined and felt confident(ish…I mean, how confident are slightly chubby 15-year-old girls on average?) and had been practicing. It’s the biggest irony of my life that I both adore and am terrified by singing in public. My heart was beating, my palms were sweating and I was sitting on the choir steps, waiting for my turn. My face was hot. I’d listened to several variations of the solo and had kind of made up my own (Mr. Borges suggested we try and make it ‘ours’) and then, it was my turn.
I stood up …and I butchered it. Badly.
The first line was okay, but then came the next line where I improvised an embellishment and I tripped all over myself vocally. I loudly and proudly belted out the worst set of notes you could possibly imagine and then it was over. I wanted to die. The air was thick with that kind of silence that happens when your peers are laughing internally and trying to be kind simultaneously because they’re grown up enough to know they shouldn’t be blatantly rude, but young enough that they really want to be. They clapped politely and some of them snickered. I sat down and put my head in my hands, forcing myself not to make it worse by crying in front of everyone.
Mr. Borges stopped the auditions.
Oh no. I’m kicked out of choir. This is the end of my singing career altogether.
I’d already internally promised myself to never audition for or sing a solo again, but now I was sure this was the end of my singing altogether. My title as section leader would be immediately revoked and I’d be put in the back row where the 6-foot-somethings would tower over me, hiding me away forever more.
But he didn’t do any of that. And what he did say, shocked me as much as it embarrassed me, “People! Did you notice what Alicia just did?”
Um. Yeah. We all noticed…she literally just made the worst sounds we’ve ever heard come out of a human body. Thanks, professor.
“She just took a risk!”
Yeah, fat lotta good that did. Way to drive the point home: never take risks or you’ll sound like a dying cat.
“She just sang that solo loud and proud and she messed up! But the important thing was that she tried something new. She wasn’t afraid to risk failing. She did it anyway! That is what I want from you guys; fearlessness, boldness, confidence, willingness to risk your pride or your reputation and go for it!”
And then. He gave me the solo.
Now, I’m coming at this from an adult perspective and realizing that I got that solo out of an attempt for that director to teach us a lesson. I clearly hadn’t sung well. I clearly didn’t deserve it on the merits of having succeeded vocally. But I had taken a risk. And he was rewarding that risk; that willingness to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new even when it meant I might crash and burn. He rewarded the failure by allowing me the chance to try again and succeed.
I credit that singular moment with my ability now to sing in front of audiences. Terrified though I am to do it, I physically can, and voluntarily do fairly regularly. If he had moved past that moment and not given me the solo (as he was well within reason to have done, let me just tell you) it’s very likely that I would have been mentally stuck there and might never have given myself a chance to do anything like that ever again.
That moment of failure gave way to many future failures; vocally, educationally, professionally, personally. I’ve attempted and failed many, many times at all kinds of things. But I keep trying! And I try really hard to remember that not trying doesn’t mean not failing, it just means never succeeding. Sometimes, you have to fail loud and proud for all the world to hear in order to really succeed later.
So here’s what happened: I had this idea a few months ago. This enormous, exciting, wonderful idea. This idea where you go, “Why doesn’t that exist yet??” and you really start thinking about it and researching it and you think, “We should make this into a thing,” and so you take the idea to your business-savvy husband and he is equally enthused, and you tell your close circle of family and friends and they are in full support because they want to buy it someday. And so you meet with professionals who point you in the right directions and give you sound advice about how to make this idea a reality, and you start working on protecting your idea with a patent and writing down a plan of action for bringing this thing to fruition and the excitement is building as you get closer and closer to maybe seeing this thing launch.
And you conduct some preliminary market research and hundreds of people take your survey (thank you SO MUCH for your help, everyone) and you find out that people are really annoyed by the same problem you were and that almost no one knows of any other way to handle the problem and that your idea is super marketable and potentially worth a lot of money and then…hundreds of survey participants later you find out: this idea? This wonderful, big, fantastic idea… It already exists. It’s a thing. Amazon sells it. Wanna see what I was going to create but someone already did?
Yep. Spray-on diaper rash ointment. You’d never heard of it? Me neither. And I didn’t find it in Walmart or in Target or in Smith’s or on a long list of patented diaper rash ointment products that I read through on the United States Patent site. But you guys. I never googled it. WHY?! Why didn’t I consider the fact that it might be online only and not in stores? Sigh.
So many hours spent in research and collaboration with Shem. So much excitement. So many dreams for the future success of our business.
And it’s. Already. A thing.
So I mean, first of all, how have I gotten through four children in diapers without ever having known this exists?? And second of all, why in the world are they not in stores??
And the worst part of it all is that now I’ve had hundreds of people take the survey who are now curious about what we’re concocting. People I’ll probably never be able to contact or explain it to. It’s like I set a flag out on our front yard, advertising a titillating secret project and then had to randomly remove the flag so that now when cars pass by, they’ll go, “Wait. Where’s the flag? Why was it there in the first place? WHAT IS THE SECRET? I think the people that live there might be cray-cray,”
Or maybe people just won’t care that much. One can hope. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling embarrassed. It’s like I’m in high school, auditioning for that solo all over again and sitting down on the choir steps, defeated and embarrassed at having been witnessed in my defeat. And this time, there’s no benevolent third party who’ll give us the ‘solo’ because the solo has already been taken. Stupid Boogie Bottoms! Why’d your name have to be so darn perfect, too? We’re fighting… but I’m straight up buying some.
And so, on I go to the next project. The next idea. Potentially the next failure. I’m driven from failure to failure in the faith that I’m learning and gaining experience and am determined that one day the next attempt will stick. And the things we’ve learned this time will be relevant and important in our next venture.
So go forth, friends! Go forth and fail! And make room for other people’s failure and congratulate their attempts. Be supportive of your friends successes and failures in equal measure. Let’s do our best to create the type of society my choir director dreamed of; one in which risk is rewarded and failures are not endings.
Be bold. Sing loud. Miss notes. Fail spectacularly.
It had been a rough last week of pregnancy.
I experience prodromal labor for days before active labor begins and let me just tell you, there is nothing more frustrating in the last few days of pregnancy than thinking it’s finally time because you’ve been breathing through some pretty intense contractions for hours only to have them completely stop and leave you pregnant for another who-knows-how-long. And then it happens again the next day and for hours you wonder if this is it and then it isn’t. It’s like a psychotic, water torture-esque cycle of madness that makes you feel like an actual crazy person. No wonder so many women check into hospitals too early. Pro-tip: when people tell you “you’ll just know when you’re in labor, trust me” …don’t trust them.
I’d been trying to convince myself that these early stages of labor were a good sign! That they must be moving things along and pushing me close to getting that baby boy here, but I was starting to panic a little. My mom only had so much time to spend in town with us, and I wasn’t a good candidate for going too far past my due date since this birth was going to be my second VBAC. My doctor was a little gun-shy and had already hinted that we might need to do a C-section if we went much longer without going into labor. I was adamantly against that plan given the traumatic circumstances surrounding my first C-section. A repeat cesarean was my nightmare. Or so I thought.
I woke up early the morning of the 16th. It was my mom’s birthday and I
decided to take her to breakfast to celebrate. The contractions of the days before had completely dissipated and I wasn’t even feeling a twinge. Disappointing. That day, a new first presidency (church leadership) was being called after our last prophet, Thomas S. Monson, had passed away a few days prior. I remember what a special experience it was to listen to the press release with my mom as the new first presidency made their statements and bore their testimonies. “What a wonderful day it would be for a birthday,” I thought kind of aggressively at my uterus.
Turned out, my uterus finally listened! A handful of hours later, contractions began in earnest. I wasn’t convinced; however. These contractions felt just like the ones had the day before and the day before that and the day before that. I never rush to the hospital. First of all, I’m looking for some solid proof it’s the real thing before I go in because I refuse to be sent home without a baby (consider that statement to be ominous foreshadowing), and second of all, I prefer laboring at home for as long as I can before entering into the more restricted world of the hospital (no hate, hospitals, I heart your drugs). So I waited. And labored. And sent texts to the hubby to keep him posted. Finally, I sent him THE text. “Come home. This is real!”
My nieces had graciously offered to come and help my mom with the boys while Shem and I went to the hospital and my nephew had graciously offered to drive them down. While we waited for them to arrive, I went to take a bath. Laboring in a tub is just the best and I like to be clean going into the hospital because trust. that’s the last moment you’ll get to feel super clean for a long while to come. That was the first moment I noticed something odd. Not realizing what it might indicate, I just took a mental note and thought “that’s more blood than I normally see at this stage,”. In retrospect, of course, I know it’s because things were falling apart inside of me, but at the time I felt excited to know that things were real!
I got out of the bath, got ready to go, grabbed the hospital bags, and after Shem gave me a blessing of comfort and strength, we were off! Once we got to the hospital, things started moving really quickly. I was checked and admitted and simultaneously, my labor started to get really hard. I told the nurse that I thought my water might have broken because I’d been having some really odd bleeding. She told me to buckle up. Laboring without your waters in tact tends to be a lot more intense. And boy howdy, was this some intense labor. Suddenly, contractions were fast and furious and one right on top of the other. I was hooked up to monitors and the nurse was pretty impressed with the rigorous and frequent contractions, remarking that I wasn’t even getting a break in between. I told her I was worried I was hitting transition and needed my epidural. I was terrified that I was about to miss the window for an epidural and was on my way to experiencing a natural birth. Which. Has never been on my mommy bucket-list, let me just tell you.
The nurse hurried as quickly as she could to get the anesthesiologist to the hospital and into my room to administer the epidural. Her hustle is one of the most loving gestures I can remember experiencing in. my. life. Because I was dying. This was the hardest labor I’d ever known and never had I yearned for a humongous needle to be inserted into my spinal chord more than I did in that moment. While we were waiting for the epidural, a change of shift took place and my compassionate first nurse introduced me to her equally loving replacement and debriefed her on my situation, “she thinks her water broke and she’s laboring really hard. The epidural is on it’s way and she is ready for it,”
I told the new nurse (buckle up, ya’ll birth ain’t pretty) that I felt like I was gushing fluid and was experiencing a lot of pressure. At this point, I was feeling a sense of dread. I thought for sure I had miraculously progressed so much as a result of my insane labor that I was ready to push…sans epidural. Panic. The nurse checked me. Turns out, what I thought was gushing fluid actually turned out to be blood. This, understandably, worried the nurse. She hooked baby boy up to an internal fetal monitor. She called my doctor and mentioned off-hand to a physician who was in the room at the time that because she’d just transferred in from the NICU, she tended to see red lights and danger everywhere. But she thought it might just be paranoia.
At last, my favorite person in the hospital (sorry, Shem, but for the moment you were bested) arrived with a cart full of magical stuff to make me temporarily numb from the waist down and I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty positive I heard actual singing angels as that expert rolled his cart into my room. My sister-in-law who is a labor and delivery nurse by trade, arrived at some point during all of this action and Shem debriefed her.
And then, it was all a blur. The fetal monitor was picking up distress. Baby’s heart rate had slowed dramatically. As the epidural kicked in, the room filled with people (never a great sign during labor) and they tried turning me onto my side and gave me oxygen. The doctor checked me and confirmed; there was too much blood; baby was in distress. They called the surgeon. As the surgeon explained what was happening, I began to cry and told him that I’d had a C-section once before and it had been a traumatic experience. He was so kind and careful as he reassured me that I would be in good hands. He glanced at the monitors, “But I think we need to get this baby out. Now,” I knew he was right, “Me too,”
A sense of urgency filled me. Everyone sprang into action and we moved so quickly, I barely had time to think about what was happening. They transferred me into a surgical bed and ran me down the hallway. I would find out later that only 7 minutes transpired between the moment they called for the C-Section and the moment he was out. Those seven minutes felt like eternity for me. No one explicitly told me that the baby was in trouble; no one wanted to burden me with the knowledge that they were all concerned, but I could feel it. They knew something had gone wrong.
Someone stayed with Shem to help him get scrubbed in as quickly as possible in the hopes that he would be there in time for the birth. I think he made it just after Thomas was officially born. And then there was silence. That silence that all new parents fear; that moment when baby is out, but there isn’t a cry. The silence that is also filled with noise and rushing and people communicating with each other; counting; giving direction; using words and language that the layman doesn’t understand.
I hadn’t seen him yet. When they pulled him out, they told me, “it’s a little boy!” and immediately handed him over to the specialists waiting to save his life. I still didn’t understand; didn’t realize the severity of the situation. But I knew it wasn’t good.
“If you decide to have another one, it’ll have to be a scheduled cesarean,” the surgeon mentioned.
I strained to hear my baby, “We’re not having anymore. You might as well tie me up while you’re in there,”
“Well. You can decide that later,”
In retrospect, a wonderful policy, dear hospital, because I’d be devastated if that option had been taken from me during that moment of panic.
Shem was standing by my head, smoothing my hair and telling me what a wonderful job I’d done while we both waited for those cries, but only heard the sounds of the nurses counting repeatedly to five. The surgeons were explaining to him what had happened, “The placenta is completely detached from the wall of her uterus. The connection is gone. We have no way of knowing how long he’d been in there without it,”
I kept asking Shem if the baby was okay and my poor, sweet husband who was undoubtedly feeling enormous pressure to be my source of strength while simultaneously feeling devastated and confused and facing great unknowns himself, had the presence of mind to keep repeating, “they’re taking really good care of him, love. Everyone has a job to do and they’re all working together beautifully,” despite the fact that he, unlike me, had seen our baby’s purple, lifeless body and knew how bad it looked.
I stared at the ceiling, frustrated that I didn’t know more; frustrated that I couldn’t see more; frustrated that I couldn’t do more. I was stuck in every capacity. There was nothing I could do for my precious boy and so I turned to the One who could. “Father, please don’t take my baby. Please, please let him stay here with me,” the florescent lights were dim and made the room feel sterile. I stared into the light, “Please, Father, let him stay here,” and then, in a moment of silence and counting and hushed voices I heard, “It will all be okay,” I knew that didn’t mean my baby would stay. But peace washed over me and my entire body relaxed. My prayer changed, “Father, if you need to take this boy, it will be okay. I know that you will make it okay. I will let go of him if that is what you ask of me. He isn’t mine, but yours. Please, give me peace in your will,”
I cried and I let go and peace came. A few moments passed and then the nurse said, “we got him” and finally, finally they brought him over to show me. He was blue and limp and intubated and for the first time the full weight of it all hit me. He was beautiful and I loved him. My need for him grew and the peace I’d felt left and all I wanted was for him to live. I cried and stroked his arm and told him how much I loved him and that it would all be okay. “They’re going to take good care of you, baby. Mama loves you. I love you so much, little boy,” and I hoped he was hearing me and would somehow remember my voice if, God willing, he was able to hear it again soon. He’d never been away from my voice. In all of his existence, my voice had always been near and now it wouldn’t be. How would he feel safe with nothing familiar nearby to comfort him? All I had to give him was that voice; that comfort, but at the moment, I couldn’t even give him that. I was helpless.
They took him to the NICU and me to recovery. I was in shock and needed warm blankets as I shivered violently. The next few hours passed in an exhausted blur as we filled family in on the eventful birth. Nurses and doctors came in to explain in more detail what had happened. My mom showed up at the hospital. We waited. I began to take the steps necessary to recover. I was informed that it was a miracle that I hadn’t needed a blood transfusion; in fact, my blood platelets looked exceptionally good for after any birth, let alone one with complications. A prayer for my boy was streaming through my mind constantly during those hours until at last, NICU personnel streamed in to update me on Thomas’ condition and let me know when I could come and see him.
“He is stable for now. He experienced prolonged blood and oxygen deprivation and so is going to need to be treated on a cooling table in order to mitigate any brain damage he may have sustained,” They explained the procedure which would put my boy into a state of medically-induced hypothermia and told me it was already underway, “Because our NICU staff is fully trained in this relatively new procedure, the nurses tending to baby already knew he’d need the treatment as soon as possible and started preparing it for him even as we were resuscitating him. We see great success rates with this treatment when it’s administered within an hour of birth,”
I was so grateful we’d given birth at a hospital equipped with this state-of-the art NICU and was already feeling overwhelmed with the miracles we’d seen. But for now, I was just excited that I’d get to go and see my boy. It was late. And I’d been up since 6 that morning. I was exhausted and had just undergone major surgery, but my every, single cell needed to get to that baby. And I am so grateful we were able to. When they wheeled me into his room, his little body was covered in wires and tubes and he was fast asleep (lots of good drugs in his system to keep him under) but because of the two and a half blood transfusions they’d given him, he was pink! Beautifully, wonderfully pink. The only piece of him that didn’t have color yet were his tiny toes. I felt a sense of relief that I hadn’t felt since the birth. And now, I was finally certain he would live.
There were still so many unanswered questions and so much to think about, but for now, I stared down and this boy I didn’t know yet and loved fiercely and thanked my Father in Heaven for his life over and over and over while I held his swollen but tiny hand. I stayed for as long as I could, but eventually the pain of my incisions couldn’t wait anymore and I needed to sleep.
The following days and weeks would prove to be some of the most mentally and physically demanding days of my life. The driving home from the hospital with an empty car seat, the NICU visits, the pumping around the clock, the dividing myself into enough pieces to keep my family going, the loving a baby so far away, the pain of recovery. The list was extensive and exhausting. But the miracles we saw during those weeks of his recovery were absolutely some of the most profound experiences of my life. I think of a quote that I love by a Mormon pioneer named Francis Webster who said of his company’s harrowing experience crossing the plains, “…every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.”
These were my extremities. And I became acquainted with God to a jaw-dropping degree because of them.
It’s now a year later and that little boy has grown into a chubby, smiley, joy-filled one-year-old; toddling through the house in search of the next great adventure (aka: thing to destroy). Not a day has gone by during this year when I don’t thank my Father for the blessing of Thomas’ life or for the miracles we saw while he recovered. He is meeting all of his milestones. His MRI came back clear; no discernible brain damage. He started walking at 10 months. He babbles and smiles and cuddles and dances. He fills my heart with absolute joy and gratitude. He is my daily reminder of God’s love and grace and goodness.
If it had gone badly; if we had left that hospital without our baby and the knowledge that it was permanent; if I had taken my broken body home and continued a life-long longing for that boy, never to have that need filled, I know that it all would have been okay. I know that we would have come to know God in those extremities as well. I know that our faith in His grace and goodness and love would have grown. I was reassured of that during my pleadings in the hospital. “It’ll be okay,” and it would have. And it is. And it will be. Hurting; grieving; losing; suffering, it can all be made okay through Christ.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”
Happy birthday, precious boy.
And thank you, God, for his life.
Once upon a time, two fish; one older and one younger, passed each other in opposite directions while swimming in a lake. By way of greeting, the older fish nodded and said “How’s the water, today, friend?” The younger fish, looking baffled, whispered under his breath as he passed, “What is water?”
Remember in history class when we learned about the Industrial Revolution and found out that the working conditions back then were utterly horrific? People would lose limbs regularly and children would often become physically deformed because of the laborious tasks they were performing and their lack of exposure to sunlight. Men working in chemical factories would often work under such dangerous conditions that fingers would literally melt off and they would be forced to stop working. But don’t worry, they would instantly be replaced by one of the other thousands of desperate people in need of employment until their fingers would melt off and the grotesque cycle would continue. If you’re having a hard time believing that human beings lived like this, you’re not alone. I was struggling to wrap my mind around the idea when my sister said, very profoundly, “those were the waters they swam in,” aka: that was life; that was all they knew; they didn’t know any other way.
I wake up an average of four times a night. Sometimes more, sometimes less, always for a varied duration of time depending on where we are in the sick/well cycle of winter and the teething/night training cycles of my babies. I’ve been doing this on and off (mostly on) for the last seven years of my life. The water I swim in is sleepy. It’s heavy and tired. It’s foggy and murky and makes me forget really obvious things so that I have to do things like set a reminder on my phone that it’s my son’s birthday on Wednesday lest I forget. But the funny thing is that because it’s become the water I swim in, I often forget that I’m more tired than I would be under different circumstances. So I’ll say things like, “I don’t know why I’m so out of it today,” forgetting that it’s because I’m not sleeping. This sleepy water has become my normal. I don’t think about it most days (unless the night before saw me rocking a baby for an hour or longer at 3am) and just go about my business on less sleep than any health magazine would ever recommend an adult human should have.
Because it is my normal right now to be constantly a little sleepy, because I don’t know any other way, I sometimes get frustrated with myself because ‘pre-babies’ Alicia would have always, or would have never, or friends of mine always or never, or my mom always or never, and on and on it goes and I see my life as failing through the lens of a comparison that doesn’t account for a) the waters I’m swimming in or b) the waters of the people I’m comparing myself to. Because, frankly, I just can’t see them.
When we compare ourselves to others, we’re telling ourselves lies. Lies we can’t even comprehend because the makeup of each, individual persons’ waters are so infinitely nuanced that we can never truly have the full picture. Let’s face it, we struggle to see the full picture of our own lives, let alone our neighbor’s. We compare ourselves to the friend with the tidy house and don’t consider the fact that her children are older and in school all day long while ours are toddlers who’d just as soon rip a chore chart into tiny shreds and flush them down the toilet as to put stickers on one. We compare ourselves to our healthy, fit, size 2 sister without considering the fact that we’ve had four kids in as many years and can barely feed ourselves their leftovers, let alone get down the solid nutrition we’d need in order to be able to workout 6 times a week. And we can’t take into account how much sleep they are getting, or who they got into a fight with this morning, or how their marriage is doing, or any of the other billions of circumstances that enter into the complex equation of their lives and change the pH balance of the water they swim in.
But here’s the thing! Our water isn’t a) stagnate or b) all bad. The great thing about the Industrial Revolution is that because the working conditions were so egregious, the people gradually became aware of the ‘waters’ they were swimming in and noticed that they needed to be changed in order for the people to live longer, happier, healthier lives. This led to the forming of Labor Unions and Child Labor Laws which drastically improved the living conditions of people and changed the makeup of their waters to become slightly more temperate and comfortable. Those changes have lasted generations until finally in our time, we can’t even comprehend swimming in anything like that.
Discovering the components of what we are currently swimming in might end up being among the most empowering realizations of our lives. It might mean that we need to add some things: get more sleep; exercise regularly; eat more veggies; read more books; get more organized; etc., but it also might mean letting go of some things because our waters are, for the time being, sleepy; or heavy with grief; or overwhelmed with the raising of tiny humans; or dealing with a recurring health concern; or mentoring a wayward child.
Check in with yourself, friend. See what your waters are looking like right now and then change them as they need to be changed. But always allow yourself the grace you deserve when measuring the successes and failures of your life. Always allow for the unseen, environmental circumstances that contribute to what your ‘best’ looks like today. And stop comparing that output with anybody’s else’s. Because who knows? Maybe their water is just a little less sleepy than yours.
I love New Year’s. The whole thing; I love resolutions, I love setting goals, I love the promise of new beginnings and a ‘fresh start’, and I love evaluating my dreams and fantasizing about where I hope they’ll take me in a year. Also I love staying up late and eating a lot of fattening but delicious snacks. 2018 was a big year for dream chasing and I can officially and happily report that a lot of my goals for the year came to be. The beginning of 2019 finds me:
-Not Pregnant (!!!)
-At my goal weight (ish. Because. Christmas. I’m working on it.)
-Exploring new hobbies (Yoga! Twitter! Lettering!)
-Re-discovering old hobbies (Writing! Painting! Singing!)
-Less anxious (thanks to my side piece)
-More organized (thank you, Summer Purge)
Not too bad for a year’s work, I must say. Lots of things I wrote on my resolution list last year came to fruition and I’m pretty happy with my progress. This year; however, I’m going to take things one step further with something called “Stretch Goals” and here’s why you should, too.
I learned about Stretch Goals while reading Charles Duhigg’s “Smarter Faster Better: The Secret of Being Productive in Life and Business” just in time for the setting of New Year’s resolutions. While considering what I’d like to include in my extensive list of goals for 2019, I’ve read some articles that advocate for the setting of smaller, more achievable goals. I completely understand the mentality behind that idea and have even seen success in goal-meeting while implementing that strategy, but this idea of “Stretch Goals” has added an even deeper level to the smaller, more achievable goal setting I’ve been engaging in up to this point.
Stretch Goals are just what they sound like: goals that stretch you past your perceived limits and put you into uncharted, sometimes nerve-wracking territory. They’re dream-goals. They’re the Porsche of the goal world. They’re the pie-in-the-sky hopes for your future. They’re that thing you’ve maybe wanted for years, but are too afraid/limited/inexperienced/insecure to actually say out loud or write down or commit to. They are what will stretch you in 2019.
Of course, Stretch Goals can’t do it alone. For example, if you’ve always dreamed of running a marathon, but you currently live a somewhat sedentary life and get winded going up and down the stairs (raises hand awkwardly), and you write “Run Marathon” down as your stretch goal, chances are your brain will make a fart noise and you’ll never think about it again. Or maybe you’ll go for a run the next day that makes your lungs burn so badly you immediately drop all pretenses and return to bingeing old episodes of House Hunters. Stretch Goals, on their own, should be so daunting that your brain will try and immediately reject them on principal. So how do we harness the power of our Stretch Goals and make our pie-in-the-sky fantasies a reality?
According to Charles Duhigg, we pair them with SMART goals. I know, I know. But hang in there. Trust me.
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound (see what he did there?) SMART goals take your Stretch Goals and break them down into smaller, more realistic, bite size pieces. What a perfect way to start out 2019! So you sit down and think, “By the end of 2019, I will (fill in the blank with the dreamy goal you’ve been too afraid to commit to up unto this point)” and then you pull out your calendar and divide the year into bite-size goals that will get you to that end result you’ve maybe not-so-secretly always wanted.
So let’s take a look at our couch potato marathon runner scenario. Couch Potato says “I want to run a marathon by the end of this year” Couch Potato’s brain says “Fllllrtttpp” (which is how you spell a fart noise) Couch Potato says “No, really I want to” and pulls a calendar over. Month 1: will walk 5 miles every week. Month 2: will jog half of my miles. Month 3: will jog 5 miles a week. And so on. (Disclaimer: Clearly I have never run a marathon and have less than negative eleventy percent idea how to actually train for one. So. Don’t do what I just outlined if your goal is to actually run a marathon by the end of the year)
But you guys! Think of the possibilities! I mean, they’re literally endless. Dream vacation to Disneyworld? Bam! Stretch that goal, girl! Lose 100 pounds? STRETCH it, mama! Learn Spanish? Streeeetch, friend. Read 50 books? Stetch, Queen! You name it, you do it. Write it down. TONIGHT, friends. Tonight, sit down with the fabulous New Years Resolution lists you’ve already created (I see you, Insta friends!) and add one stretch goal and then break it down into the achievable steps it’ll take to get you there.
The hubby and I have a Stretch Goal we’re working on currently and it. scares. the pants off me. I’m not even lying. When I think about it, I get scared, flippy butterfly tummy which is equal parts terror and excitement, but HOT DANG are we gonna stretch it. We have a date on Thursday night to sit down and carve out all the SMART goals that are going to get us there and get there we will. I can’t wait to share more about it with you all! Stay tuned. 2019 is going to be our year, people!
Happy New Year and happy stretching.