The sweetest of days

There is nothing like the newborn days, both in their sweetness and their exhaustion. We're seven weeks into being a family of five and everyone—including Owen (!)—has adjusted well. Luke is currently the favorite sibling at our house, receiving nonstop kisses and hugs from his big brother and sister. Both of them always want to know where he is in the house, when he'll wake up, and when they can hold him. To be honest, I'm more than shocked neither kid has exhibited any jealousy, especially the little boy who didn't let me put him down for the first 18 months of his life. 

I'm adjusting to this big change better than I have with past babies, although the lack of sleep and lack of schedule are always hard for me. (More on that in a minute...)

When people ask how I'm doing it feels good to say that I'm happy. Nothing about newborns are easy, but this has been our easiest postpartum transition. (It helps that he's super cute. You don't even want to know how many times per week I say to Jonathan, "Isn't he the most adorable baby you've possibly ever seen?" This is usually met by a smirk of agreement and an eye roll.) 

I still worry occasionally, and over analyze his nursing patterns, and ask God, "WHEN WILL THIS CHILD SLEEP BETTER?!?" but I'm not having crying hormonal meltdowns. For the most part I feel relaxed...like I can roll with the fact that he only naps 45 minutes at a time, and nurses every two hours. (Let's just say that I'm doing a lot of feeding in the minivan, and I'm getting really good at nursing standing up while children run circles around me at the park.) 

The best part is our overwhelming happiness that stems from knowing this baby completes our family; he's the missing piece of our puzzle and with him comes a joy and sadness realizing how the baby years of my motherhood story are in their closing chapters. 

I think the other thing that has made this adjustment easier is that I have an incredible man by my side who is very much my equal partner. We make an amazing team, and I'm humbled each day as I watch how he serves our family. He works long days at the office and then comes home and helps with dinner, puts the kids to sleep and goes to the grocery store. Without his hard work I'd be drowning. Instead, I've been able to get a shower everyday, sleep when I need it, and the ability to continue recording the C+C podcast. 

Speaking of the podcast—I'll end this post with a link to the our latest episodes. Thanks for reading (and listening!) It's been a joy to record these!

Pregnancy Perspectives // Living the Balanced Life // Growing a Family Through Foster Care

 

Welcoming Luke

On May 25 we joyfully welcomed Luke Sebek Miller—our third baby and the missing puzzle piece in our family.

As is customary with third children, or so I’ve been told, our sweet boy is already receiving less attention in the form of journaling and photo keeping. I’ve been so busy with our other two (plus podcasting and writing) that my nine months of pregnancy flew by without as much reflection as the other kids received. (Oh, but you know I’ll make up for it with oodles of newborn pictures on Instagram. I can’t help myself!)

I want to share Luke’s birth story, like I’ve done for our other kids, because there’s something beautiful about having a written record for him to read someday. I love reading other people’s birth stories and find myself amazed at how no story is the same just like no baby is the same.

My pregnancy with Luke was my favorite and easiest of all three children. For the most part, besides my month of terrible headaches, I felt really healthy and pain-free. The months flew by and I accepted my body’s changes with gratitude in a way that I hadn’t done with the other two. Perhaps this is because we are fairly certain this baby will be our last, and I found myself appreciating what my body could do rather than all the things it couldn’t.

During this pregnancy I also decided to be a little more lax on following all the rules. I had sushi a few times, and I enjoyed a few glasses of wine here and there. I also loved going to the Jacuzzi and getting in up to my lower waist. The night before Luke’s birth, I met Becca at our neighborhood pool so we could soak in the hot tub and chat. In retrospect it’s really fun that Becca is the last friend I spent time with before Luke’s birth because she is the first friend I saw after learning I was pregnant. I took Luke’s positive pregnancy test on a September day at 5:30am, saw the pink lines, and then dashed out the door to meet Becca for a run. It was so hard not to blurt out my news…but I figured I should tell Jonathan first!

I had a great night of sleep after our time in the hot tub, and I woke up the next morning at 6:00am to the sound of Owen’s little voice yelling, “I NEED TO GO POTTY!!” Jonathan jumped out of bed to deal with that situation, and I rolled over in an attempt to fall back to sleep. That’s when I realized something wasn’t quite right. In fact, the way I felt was oddly similar to when my water broke with Anna. I quickly got out of bed and made it to the bathroom before my suspicions were confirmed. Yes, my water was breaking and it was GO TIME!

I heard Jonathan putting Owen back to bed and I yelled for him to come into the bathroom. I loved the look on his face when I announced that today was baby day. (The look: excitement, panic, terror, happiness.)

After cheering for the baby and myself (Yay! I get to miss out on the last 2.5 weeks of pregnancy!) I put on my responsible mom hat and began barking orders. Get me a towel. I need a shower. You need a shower. Is the baby moving? I need to feel the baby moving. Call your office. Call your mom. I’ll call my mom. Make sure the kids stay in their bedrooms for a little while longer. Let’s get Owen into preschool this morning. You need to pack your bag! I want scrambled eggs. Why are we rushing? We don’t need to rush! Grab our pillows please! Where is the Kindle? Should we bring the laptop? Don’t forget our camera. I’d really like to get our sheets into the washing machine. Yes, I’m planning to blow dry my hair…why wouldn’t I?

Although I wasn’t feeling any contractions, I knew they could start anytime. But I also figured that because my water broke spontaneously, and it was 2.5 weeks from my due date, I wasn’t likely dilated. Everything felt very similar to how it did during Anna’s labor, and so my hunch was that we had plenty of time to get ready for the hospital.

The kids got up at 7:00am and we told them their brother would be arriving soon. Anna’s eyes widened with excitement and joy. Owen? Owen was a different story. (“NOOOOO. Today is special Mommy and Owen time.” And, to his credit, we were supposed to spend the morning together. Poor guy, already getting the middle child shaft.)

Jonathan fed the kids breakfast while I finished getting dressed, and then we took a photo together in the backyard before they left for school. I waddled around the house with a towel between my legs doing random things like emptying the dishwasher and texting a housecleaner to see if she could come while were at the hospital. What can I say? I like things clean and tidy.  Plus, I knew it would be the last time I’d be by myself in our house for a long, long time. I soaked up every last moment of silence.

Jonathan arrived home at 9:30am with Blenders for both of us, and then we headed to the hospital. I turned on U2’s Beautiful Day and thought about our drive to the hospital with the other two children. It felt similar to the morning we drove to Sutter Roseville to meet Anna, and I was so happy to not be writhing pain like I’d been during our 2:00am drive to the hospital to meet Owen. We felt giddy and peaceful about the day ahead and couldn’t wait to meet our baby.

We arrived at Cottage around 10:00am and got checked-in quickly. I remember going into the bathroom to change into my hospital gown, stripping down to my bare body, and staring in the mirror for one last look at my round belly. I held it for awhile, amazed at all it’s done for me three separate times. Pregnancy, while uncomfortable and awkward at times, is a complete miracle. I wanted to soak up the last of it, and I did. Before I knew it the baby heart monitor got attached to my belly and we could hear the rhythmic sounds of our little boy.

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We were lucky to have a friend—Caitlin—as our nurse. She helped both of us to feel calm and cared for, and I loved knowing like I could ask her anything and she’d give me a straight answer. Eventually my doctor arrived to check me, and she broke the rest of my bag of water, which was extremely painful.  I got instructions to walk around the hospital for a while, and so we strolled the halls and watched the clock. I also hopped on the birth ball, which was key in getting things moving during Owen’s birth. We hoped that my contractions would pick up on their own, and they did, but not enough. By 3:00pm we started discussing Pitocin. I’d received Pitocin with Anna and my body responded well so we started the drug and hoped for the best.

The only “plans” that I’d made for this baby’s labor was to not miss my chance for an epidural, and to watch some great television. (After experiencing a natural labor with Owen I found myself an even stronger supporter of epidurals.) All the nurses were made aware of my desires and told me I could ask for pain meds at anytime. By 5:00pm my contractions were picking up and I could no longer concentrate on The Bachelorette. It seemed as good of a time as any to ask for the anesthesiologist.

My epidural was fantastic once it got placed but it took almost 45 minutes and four separate pokes to get it right, and I started worrying it might not work. By the end of the 45 minutes I was in a lot of pain, which helped confirm my decision to ask for the meds when I did. Fortunately they kicked-in quickly and I laid back and enjoyed the miracle of modern medicine. :) I got checked again at 6:00pm and was only 4.5 cm dilated. I felt discouraged and started worrying that it might be a long night. This labor felt so similar to Anna's, and she came at 4:00am, so I assumed we might be many, many hours from delivery. 

Around this time I also started shaking uncontrollably, which also made me feel anxious even though Caitlin assured me it was very normal. I remembered shaking during the last several hours of labor with Owen, and looking back, the shaking was probably a sign that my body and baby were progressing quickly. The best and worst part about this third baby's delivery is that I could compare everything to my other labors, which was both helpful and also (maybe?) harmful. I couldn't stop analyzing! 

My friend Annemarie arrived around 6:00pm, and it was so nice to have her around as another encourager. I’d asked her to be our birth photographer, but I also knew that her experience with three homebirths would make her a sweet companion during labor. During this hour the nurses dropped by a few times and expressed concern that the baby’s heart rate was falling with each contraction. They decided to turn off the Pitocin to see if it might help the baby relax, and I started worrying that I was headed for a long night, or, worse, a C-section. Caitlin's shift ended and our new nurse, Annie, arrived. 

I chatted with Annemarie and Jonathan for about an hour before my shaking felt too distracting and so I asked to dim the lights and rest. Annemarie prayed for me and then retreated to a corner to read, and Jonathan took a walk. I closed my eyes but couldn’t sleep. My mind went to dark places as I worried about our baby. I prayed over him and over his birth, and asked God to quiet my heart and ease my anxieties. Then, around 7:45pm, I started feeling pressure and pain. I buzzed Annie, and asked if I could turn up the epidural. She said she’d come check me first.

A few minutes later she confirmed that I’d progressed to a 10 and was ready to push. (Somewhere during this time Annemarie texted Jonathan, thank goodness!) The nurses also called my doctor and assured me that she’d arrive within 15 minutes. I did some “practice pushing” through two contractions until the nurses said the baby was too close to keep pushing, so I breathed through two more contractions until the doctor arrived. I was really happy that my epidural covered the pain but still gave me normal, healthy sensations to know when to push.

Dr. Ramos rushed in at 9:05pm, quickly suited up, and then instructed me to push. I had my eyes closed, concentrating, when everyone started telling me open them. At 9:09pm, Luke Sebek Miller entered the world—and I cried immediately as they handed him to me. He was tinier than the other two kids, and so blonde, and I couldn’t believe God would bless me…bless us…with such a gift. Annemarie got some really sweet photos of Luke exiting the womb, but for modesty's sake I'm going to just post this one...after he's out. 

Luke lay on my chest and cried for quite awhile as we comforted him and studied his sweet face. The doctor delivered my placenta and then let Jonathan cut the umbilical cord about 10 minutes after his birth. By 9:30pm I was sitting up and able to nurse, and Luke latched on immediately and nursed for a long time. He’s a natural when it comes to breastfeeding and I’m very grateful for that!

There’s something so special about the first few hours of a baby’s life, and I’ve always been surprised at how fast the delivery room can fill up with nurses, doctors and lights only to very quickly become quiet again after the birth. There is something sacred and peaceful about that hour after a child’s arrival, when the lights are low again. The baby sucks contentedly, and we marvel at his newness, and nothing matters besides the love of family.

Jonathan was able to hold Luke about an hour after he was born, and I love this photo of him meeting his son.

At 10:30pm we moved down the hall to a postpartum room, and Jonathan accompanied Luke to the nursery where he was weighed and measured: 6 pounds, 8 ounces and 19 ½ inches—by far our tiniest baby. We hadn’t even bought newborn diapers or clothes because I figured he’d be in the 9 pound range like his brother!

By 11:00pm the baby returned to our room where we anointed his head with oil and prayed over his life. We didn’t do this for our other two kids but this time around I wanted nothing more than a time to intentionally bless his body and ask for God’s wisdom in raising him. This is our prayer for Luke:

That he would understand love—both the love his family has for him but also his Father’s love, and as a result, we pray that he loves Jesus from a young age and then lets his light shine to others so that they may know God because of him. 
Anointed means chosen one, and we pray Luke will be used by God for a special purpose.
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
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We’ve been home over a week and are soaking in every cuddle, every cry, and every diaper change. So far Luke sleeps about 22 hours of the day and cries minimally. I sure hope his sweet demeanor sticks around, but if it doesn't I'm convinced that his older brother prepared us for whatever fussiness may come.  We certainly have perspective this time around—knowing the days and weeks go by quickly—and that babies do in fact grow up. Luke's sweet sister will head to kindergarten this year. When did she turn from baby to little girl?!

The kids love their brother and are welcoming him without much drama or jealousy, which I also hope lasts in the weeks to come. 

Luke Miller, welcome to our family. We are so thankful you’re here.

Thank you to my sweet friend Annemarie Bollman for these birth photos which we'll cherish always! 

Lately, at our house

I didn't intend to take two full months off blogging, but such is this busy season of life. Forgive me?

Instead of blogging, I've been doing all kinds of other important things—including but not limited to—growing a baby, turning 34, buying and assembling kid rooms, lots of weekend trips, watching The Bachelor, a day trip Disneyland, reading this book and this one and this one, and hosting our sweet cousins last weekend. 

As for work stuff, I'm officially hosting a brand new podcast with Coffee + Crumbs! Some of you may know that I co-hosted a radio show in college (which lasted about two months) and I was a recent guest on the Extraordinary Moms podcast. I've always found the audible medium really fun and also very intimidating. Podcasting is an entirely new hobby for me, and it's huge learning curve but really exciting. I hope you'll consider listening to our first few episodes and please subscribe on iTunes and/or leave a rating. These first few weeks are crucial in gaining momentum so your subscription and rating is super helpful. Thank you for the love!

I also have a few essays up at Coffee + Crumbs too: Preparing to Jump and Finding a Seat at the Table. In even MORE exciting news, Ashlee signed a Coffee + Crumbs book deal with Zondervan and all of us regular writers are contributing essays to the book which releases May 2017! Lots of writing to get done between now and baby's due date! Cue: excitement. Cue: panic.

And for something entirely different, as if podcasting isn't different enough, I've had fun helping my grandpa (he's 90!) launch his first blog. We've added bits and pieces since last fall and there is a lot of interesting content related to his dental research. Most of it is over my head, but fascinating nonetheless. 

I promise to not leave this place empty again for long stretches but some of that's dependent on how good of a sleeper our new guy proves to be. 11 weeks until his due date and we are so anxious to see his sweet face. Can't wait to share him with you soon.

 

How I helped a Pakistani woman obtain her citizenship (and an arranged marriage)

A few years ago I helped a Muslim woman from Pakistan become an American citizen. It was 2008, and my church needed volunteer tutors for people in our city who wanted to learn English for life skills. I remember an older woman standing up during the announcement portion of our church service to share why such a ministry existed. “There are women who can’t help their children with homework or even go grocery shopping,” she said. “Imagine how their life might change if they knew English.”

I’d spent a few summers tutoring kids and figured the volunteer commitment wouldn’t be difficult. A few weeks after my Saturday training they matched me with two Pakistani women—sisters-in-law. They lived together in a lower income neighborhood less than two miles from my own. What I didn’t realize is that several streets within the neighborhood consisted of mostly Muslim families.

On the first day, several little boys in traditional white shalwar kameez clothing greeted my car and led me to the house where I’d tutor. The man of the house spoke English and worked a full time city government job. He’d been the one to call for a tutor, and I found him formal but friendly. If anything, he didn’t fit my stereotypes. He wanted his wife and sister to receive an education, and this seemed counter to what I thought I knew about devout Muslims from Pakistan.  

Over the course of a year, I spent several hours each week with Sajida and Khalida. We’d sit in a small, sparse room seated on each side of a card table, and I’d point at flash cards and workbooks. Children filtered in and out of the room, and the women took turns tending to them. They’d often sent me home with steaming plates of spicy foods.

Eventually, the man of the house asked me to stop tutoring his wife and focus all my time with his sister, Khalida. Her English was still very weak, but she was making faster progress than his wife, so he wanted her to receive more of my attention. He also asked me to spend less time on conversational English and focus on studying for the U.S. citizenship test instead. Khalida had taken it before and failed, but he believed with a little more studying she could pass.

To be honest, at the time, I didn’t give much thought to all of his requests. I didn’t know anything about the immigration process, and how long many people wait for an opportunity to become citizens. I didn’t wonder why this family, this woman, was being given a chance to receive her citizenship when other families with more education and US work experience had been waiting years. If anything, I jumped at the chance to be part of, what I believed, was giving someone a better life. A citizen?! I could help her become a citizen?! How cool is that?

And so we spent weeks and weeks memorizing and cramming for Khalida’s citizenship test. We could barely have any type of basic conversation beyond “Hello” and “How are you” and “My name is Khalida” but she could memorize and recite how many stripes are on the American flag and who signed the constitution, and everything about all the branches of the government. On an early spring day, Khalida’s brother picked me up from work in their run-down minivan and drove me to the citizenship office where she’d take the test, and pass.

When they dropped me back off at work, it would be the last time I saw her. She wasn’t sticking around for the big, official swearing-in ceremony. Instead, she’d be heading back to Pakistan, where her brother informed me that her citizenship would make her a very eligible bride. I thought he wanted her to receive an education, when really he wanted to marry her off. Eventually, she’d return to the United States with an arranged husband and a life spent at home. A citizen with freedoms, but not enough English to even grocery shop by herself. Needless to say, I felt defeated.

So when I read more about the San Bernardino husband-wife shooting, and marriage-for-visa rackets, my ears burned a little bit. When I read commentaries about the need to strengthen our borders and reconsider who can enter this country, I feel conflicted. I now have first-hand observations that our system is probably flawed, and while I won’t jump to conclusions that thousands of criminally minded men and women are entering our country through shoddy marriages, I can also understand the concern.

To be honest, I often don’t know what to believe or how our President should act when it comes to immigration laws.

But there are a few things I do know.

This is America—that a Muslim family had the ability to call a local church for tutoring services, and that church didn’t turn them away despite very different beliefs.

This is America—that the church did not ask me to do anything besides teach with love. No formal preaching. No formal discipleship, simply praying for opportunities to show them Jesus through my actions and consistency and love.

This is America—where I, an unaccompanied Christian woman not wearing a headscarf, could go into a Muslim home and use my education to teach other women, who in many Muslim countries are not allowed access to such privileges.  

This is America—where I am welcomed by a Muslim family with smiles and conversation, sent home with warm plates of spicy foods, and treated with respect despite our very different beliefs.

And this is America—that I was able to help a non-English speaking woman receive her citizenship so that she could return to Pakistan, a highly valued potential bride, who in theory was able to bring her new husband back to the land of the free and the brave.

Without a doubt, our current immigration system isn’t working correctly. But, despite a broken system, when I read about hateful, fear-based rhetoric about Muslims in our country, I can’t help but think I’m living in a different America than the one I believe in so strongly.

Border control, to me, starts by getting to know our neighbors. It begins by literally leaving our homes and going into theirs, eating their food, and offering our gifts to each other despite sometimes very different religious and political viewpoints. When I went into the home of two lovely and kind Muslim women, I saw our commonalities. They are no longer “those Muslims” but Khalida and Sajida. I picture their faces when people like Jerry Falwell Jr. stand up to give a public charge to arm ourselves, and I worry about them when I hear of people targeting Muslims with hate language or violence.

I wonder, all these years later, if Sajida and Khalida are safe and well. I wonder if they’ve learned English. I wonder about Khalida’s new husband and if he was allowed to cross our borders, and if so, should he have been allowed to do so? I hope he came here for opportunity and peace; not to cause destruction or harm.

I also wonder when we’ll stop throwing love out first? Could we make less sweeping generalizations? Could we commit to getting to know Muslims in our community before speculating what religious codes they do or don’t follow? Could we possibly start by pursuing friendships, while also civilly discussing reasonable laws and safeguards?

Yes, our system is broken, and I’d like to see it fixed. It will take more than dialogue and tutoring and warm plates of food. But what would our America look like if more people started by opening their doors and kitchens and hearts rather than closing them so tightly?