family

THREE and FIVE, My Oh My

 The kids' donut hole cake, lovingly put together AT THE PARTY but ONE OF THE GUESTS because I just couldn't quite do it all, you know? 

The kids' donut hole cake, lovingly put together AT THE PARTY but ONE OF THE GUESTS because I just couldn't quite do it all, you know? 

Birthday month is officially coming to an end at our house. We now have a big five year old and a big three year old, and I can hardly believe I've been a mama so long. 

I love birthdays and find pure joy in making our children feel spoiled on their special day. There were lots of presents, lots of balloons, lots of gifts, lots of visitors and a donut birthday party thrown in the mix. With the kids birthdays only five days apart, and the party smack dab in the middle, it felt like a very FULL week. At one point (9:30pm on Sunday night as I tended to a crying baby and Jonathan was baking a strawberry birthday cake for Anna) I questioned why we didn't tone it down a bit. But, truly, I love celebrating them and they love the attention...and so it's worth it. 

Thanks to my mama, we are now carrying on the YOU ARE SPECIAL red plate tradition which both kids loved. I let Owen have ice cream for breakfast on his big day and that will likely become a tradition. Anna, ever the responsible one, said no thank you to ice cream; she prefers oatmeal pancakes. That I can do. 

Below are some photos from their party that Jen Yau took (thank goodness she took some because I was distracted and didn't get any good ones of their party deco.) Plus Anna's five year old video and Owen's three year old video.

 The kids lining up for the piñata. They came in their PJs, decorated donuts, ran around the park, and left high on sugar. (Oops.)  I love Anna's little knee pop in this photo.

The kids lining up for the piñata. They came in their PJs, decorated donuts, ran around the park, and left high on sugar. (Oops.)  I love Anna's little knee pop in this photo.

This year, Anna officially dropped her nap, completed her second year of preschool, went skiing for the first time, developed a deep love for water, and became a big sister again. Anna's favorite things at age four: tortellini, pizza, hot dogs, pancakes and oatmeal, her scooter, Jana Alayra, playing with Legos and her science kit, reading books, watching Dinosaur Train, playing doctor, dressing up, spending alone time with mommy, and reading. A few things she said this year that made us laugh: "If Jesus live in my heart, how does he live in all of your hearts too?" and "I'm going to biblecation school" and "Mommy, I fell asleep all curled up like a tiny little bug!" and "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!" 

And the past year was also HUGE for Owen's development. He started preschool, learned to talk, learned to ride a scooter, moved to a big boy bed, potty trained and continued to steal our hearts with his snuggles. Owen's favorite things at age two: hot dogs, oat-a-more (oatmeal), Trader Joe's strawberry yogurt, fruit, turtles, looking at "cool cars," music class, singing in the car, the zoo, reading books, visiting the "old library," playing baby birds and doctor with Anna, being called puppy by his sister. I never want to forget the way he says "OTAY" instead of Ok, and who-see-um instead of museum, and "No thank you please" if he'd prefer not to do something. 

They say the days are long but the years go quickly...and isn't that ever true? 

 

 

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! 

The not-so-perfect engagement ring

The not-so-perfect engagement ring (a story about what I've learned after 10 years of marriage.)

My engagement ring has been making a strange rattling sound for a few months so I stopped into a jewelry store yesterday on the way to the beach. The kids and I were lathered in sunscreen and they rubbed their greasy fingers all over the glass display cases while I explained my concerns to the owner. "I think it's loose," I say in one breath, while lecturing the kids in my next. "Use your eyes, not your hands."  

I'd been meaning to do this boring errand for weeks, but taking two kids into a jewelry store is fairly high up on my List of Things I Would Rather Not Do, Ever.

The owner examines the ring while I play defense with the kids. After a few minutes he hands it back.

"You know there's a chip in one of the stone's corners, right?" he says. I nod. The chip, an accident, isn't noticeable to the naked eye but it's causing one of the prongs not to hold as well. "Do you remember how it happened?" he asks with some surprise and curiosity. Diamonds are known to be extremely strong stones, after all. "Maybe you knocked it against a kitchen counter or another hard surface?" he suggests.

I smile with amusement. I'm in a season of life where I'm using my hands a lot. There is cooking and cleaning and scrubbing and moving and lifting and pushing carts and all sorts of other little tasks to keep a family alive. So when he asks if I can remember such an incident, I can't help but wonder, which one?

The jeweler adjusts the prong and quickly cleans the ring before sending us on our way. It shines confidently in the morning light and I remember when I admired it for the first time.

It's been almost 11 years since my sweet man slipped the stone on my finger in front of hundreds of gawking holiday tourists in Rockefeller Center. I was so excited—shocked, really—that I didn't take a close look until a few hours later. I remember staring at its brilliance while the waiter at a fancy restaurant in the West Village poured champagne. ("Are they old enough to drink?" he was probably thinking.)

We hadn't gone ring shopping together, so my engagement ring was the first and only one I tried on. I let it catch the chandelier's light and scatter brilliance over the restaurant while Jonathan explained how he chose just the right one. Clarity and cut and size all meant nothing to me, but for a man who'd just maxed out his credit card, they meant a lot. He talked carats and letters, lengths and widths. Later that night I'd wake up from a deep sleep and reach for my left hand, making sure this valuable symbol of his affection wasn't just a dream. I even went into the bathroom, turning on the light for a peak at it's beauty before falling back asleep.

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Today is our ten year wedding anniversary. That engagement ring still sits on my left hand, as brilliant to the eye as when I first received it, but as the jeweler reminded me yesterday it's no longer in perfect form. When I first learned of the diamond's chip a few years ago I was sad about the news. Even though the diamond still looks the same, I didn't like knowing it is probably less valuable now.

And yet as I reflect back on the last ten years, there is something about the diamond's chip that feels like an honest reflection of the union between husband and wife.

On our wedding day, our marriage didn't yet carry a single flaw. The day was a grand affair on the water with passed appetizers, a big tiered cake, and one of those candy stations because I had to have a candy station. My dad found a party-till-the-late-hours cover band, and my mom made sure all the napkins matched with the invitations, and other such details I'd overlook. The day itself was glittery, and expensive, and flawless...just like my ring.

And then, as marriage should go and did go, we jumped into real life. The everyday. The confusion about our dreams and how to chase them. The waiting for acceptance letters. The we-have-no-money moments. The law school loans. The job losses. The job acceptances! The graduation. The offer, the escrow, the remodel. The positive pregnancy tests. The terrible CT scan. The surgeries. Moving. Moving again, and again, and again. The holidays with friends, the vacations with family. The infant who won't stop crying. The wife who barely showered for awhile. The husband without eyebrows. The constantly smelly sink and the never ending pile of laundry, and the mostly funny debates about which butter to buy, and why is football on the television again, and do you really have to fart under the sheets?

Ten years later, I know the beautifully hard work of marriage. Many days, most days, my lovely ring is caked with with soap scum and diaper ointment and play dough. Underneath it all is a little crack that doesn't signify a marriage falling apart, but holding strong despite the circumstances of normal, give-and-take life.  It'd be easy to feel disappointed that something that once seemed perfect is no longer so, but that chip was earned. It's a mark of all that's right, not all that's wrong. Unlike a wedding or a ring, a healthy and happy marriage isn't something that can be bought. It's a constant work in progress. I wouldn't have it any other way.