Thursday, January 09, 2014

Learning to Say "No" and a book review

So, December 2013 was supposed to be perfect. You know, the house beautifully decorated right after American Thanksgiving, Advent activities and learning in place for the boys, birthday invitations made and sent, Christmas cards sent, homemade Christmas presents finished and wrapped, lots of Christmas baking, and the perfect last couple of weeks of school filled with exciting activities that highlighted Christmas traditions around the world. But, that was not how December turned out at all. In fact, when I look at that list, I just have to laugh! I don't think I've ever managed to pull off a Christmas season like that. Still, that was my plan.

My reality was far from my dream.

The Christmas tree was dragged up from the basement early in December, and there it sat. The poor tree is a pre-lit tree, but most of the lights no longer work. I needed my husband's help to get strings of lights wrapped around it. But day after day went by without us able to get the time to do any decorating. Finally, on December 20, we were down to the wire, either we take it down that night, or we decorate it, because there was no way I was going to have a birthday party just before Christmas with an undecorated tree in the middle of the room. So, instead of the beautiful fully decorated house, we got a tree decorated in about 30 minutes. It certainly is not perfect, but the kids enjoyed it. (We also still had a couple of pumpkins sitting in our living room from our Canadian Thanksgiving decorations.)

At the end of November, when I should have been finalizing my Advent plans, we had a little surprise. Or rather a big surprise. We learned that I was pregnant with baby #4! Thankfully, I have never been one to get really sick, but I still get quite tired. And I also needed to quickly start making plans and appointments and a multitude of other things. I didn't have the energy to decorate. I didn't have the energy to get an elaborate Advent calendar set up. And as I looked at the time until Christmas, I realized that I would not be able to follow through with it either. So, before it even started, I said "no" to that activity. Instead, each night in December, we talked about the Christmas story and what it means to us today, and learned a new Christmas carol. And lo and behold, the boys loved it. And I was glad to do something no-fuss.

The biggest curveball that life threw at me in December was a nasty virus that knocked me down for a whole week! And that virus pretty much knocked off the rest of the wonderful plans for Christmas. I still managed to read a couple of books to the boys about Christmas in other countries, but that was about it.

Was I miserable in December, though? Actually, no. See, I had read a book (I was privileged to receive an advance copy and to be part of the launch team for this book) in November and taken part in a 7-day challenge that changed my perspective on things. I realized that I could be happy, without having to do it all. That's not to say that I didn't experience stress last month. You can be sure that the day before my daughter's birthday party I was extremely stressed over the undecorated tree and the all the other unfinished things. But, even in the stressful situations, I still remembered to cut out the non-essentials and to focus on the best. And I tried really hard to not beat myself up over not having it together yet again. And in the end, we had a fabulous birthday party. And we even had a Christmas that was not completely over-run by expectations. But that will have to come in a different post!

In Say Goodbye to Survival Mode, the very first thing that Crystal Paine of encourages readers to do is to stop trying to do it all. She says, "Time doesn't just expand limitlessly. When I say yes to one thing, I must say no to something else." This really helped me to keep my life in perspective during the hectic weeks leading up to birthdays and Christmas in my house. The book is full of practical advice and tools on how to stop the constant struggle to keep up. She tackles priorities, goals, time-management, discipline, finances, self-care and so much more. And she coats it with grace, reminding us in the final pages to treat ourselves with kindness.

I seriously loved reading the book. As soon as I finished it, I was anxious to re-read it and start implementing even more of the tools described. But, here I stopped myself before I got carried away. I knew that I would be setting myself up for more stress and probable failure if I tried to tackle everything at once, especially with the Christmas season coming up. I gave myself permission to put it on the back burner until Christmas was over, before I even looked at it again. So, here I am now. In the past week, I have taken time to think about my priorities and goals. I have been evaluating my situation, but I know that there is more tweaking for me to do before I am ready to reveal it to the world. The best thing that I realized as I prepared for this new year was that there is nothing magical about the date of January 1. I do not have to have my lists haphazardly made up by 12am on January 1 to make change happen. Instead, it is best for me to carefully, and prayerfully consider my life and make small incremental changes as I go along. I am excited by the possibility and potential for change. And now, more than ever, I need to take these steps!

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode

Saturday, December 14, 2013

On Healing

It's been a long year. It's been a hard year. But I feel like I have gotten over the worst of my grief and am starting to move forward in a positive direction. I will admit that I was at my lowest at the end of September and beginning of October. That was my mom's favorite time of year. And that was when my parents' anniversary was. I was struggling in a pretty big way - missing my mom, wanting to talk to someone (or alternately not wanting to talk or see anyone at all), unable to really talk with anyone, feeling overwhelmed with all my responsibilities, suffering from lack of sleep, unable to cook or clean, having nothing to give to my children or my husband, struggling to breathe deeply, as well as feeling very insecure and uncomfortable in my clothes. But through the support of my husband and the peace that comes from depending on God, I've been able to start the process towards healing.
The turning point for me came in early October. I was very depressed at that time and really struggling to try to keep our homeschool going and to just provide the very basics for life to my children. And I knew that I could not continue much longer. I took one of my husband's days off and left the children with him while I went out for the day. I took a little time to shop for some clothes that flattered me and then I went to the one place that I knew I would be completely alone for the rest of the day - the place where I could meet with God and really face my loss and search for healing. I went to our church. That afternoon, I poured my heart out. I wrote and I cried. I prayed and I cried. I asked questions and I cried. I read my bible and I cried. And by the time I left the church that evening, I felt loved and heard. I had finally found my words again, and what a difference that made.
I  know that there still will be difficult days ahead. There are still many more firsts to go through. However, I am not tearing up every time I think of my mom and that is huge! I am able to breathe deeply. I can share my joys and struggles with my husband or friends. I am finding it a little easier to manage in my home. (Although today, after a week of dealing with a nasty virus, it looks worse than ever. At least I have a plan of attack on shaping up my home.) I'm still trying to get back on track with providing meals to my family. More often than not, my husband comes home in the evening and has to prepare dinner. But that is happening a little less frequently now. Most importantly, I know that God is walking with me and that I can face each new challenge with courage because He is with me.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy Upon Us)

This blog has been very silent for a number of months. We've lived through a lot of upheaval and change during those months. About half of that time, we have been away from home. In fact, we just returned home in the wee hours of Friday morning after spending a few days with my family around my Grampa's funeral. Traveling really takes it's toll on a person.

I have been silent because I have had no words to share. My mind and energy was consumed with caring for my family while at the same time trying to process the immanent loss of my mother. I tried to squeeze as much time with her out of her last few months. This was made very difficult as the cancer advanced in her brain because it started changing how she interacted with her family and others around her. She went to sleep in Jesus on May 27, 2013. Her loss is huge and we are still slowly trying to figure out what life is like without her.

To compound the loss of my mom, two weeks ago we also lost her father. My Grampa's loss brought a new level of loss and hurt out in our family. We are still reeling with heavy emotions and trying to sort it all out while remaining supportive and connected as a family. It is going to take a lot of time.

Although I am really anxious to start writing and blogging again, I think it will still be awhile before I am able to sort us out and get back into a routine that will include it. We are starting a new season of homeschooling in our lives. Plus, somehow, I need to catch up on everything that has been left to slide while life has taken us elsewhere. In the meantime, I'd like to share a piece with you that captures some of the emotions and tensions that are swirling in my heart -- Constaninople by Christos Hatzis and performed by the Gryphon Trio.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Taleja's First Couple of Weeks

As mentioned in my last post, Taleja was induced on December 18 because her peak systolic blood flow had reached 1.5 MoMs (multiples of median.) Above 1.5 MoMs, a baby typically has anemia. At or below it, the baby may or may not have anemia. The doctor, resident, and ultrasound tech spent a long time double and triple checking to make sure that the readings were as accurate as possible. And of course, we always had to wait on Taleja to stop moving or practice breathing, because that changed the blood flow a lot. The one thing that I thought was awesome about that last ultrasound was that their prediction for her weight was exactly what she weighed when born.

I will tell you, I was scared that Taleja had anemia. And I was concerned about her being born early. I was scared that I wouldn't get to hold her before she was taken to NICU. And I worried about how well she could tolerate labour. But, she did beautifully! And most importantly, she did not have anemia.

Still, she was in the NICU for one week. Like many late preterm babies, she had trouble regulating her blood sugars, so she was put on IV fluids for four days to help her keep her sugars up. They couldn't actually start an IV in her hands, so they decided to put a line in through her umbilical cord. (Poor girl has veins like her mama: they disappear as soon as they are poked.) Within a couple of hours, she was proactively set up on a light bed, surrounded by intense photo-therapy. She was under the lights for five days. These lights kept her bilirubin levels under control. They never even reached the point where light therapy is typically started in Calgary.

While she was under the lights, we were not able to hold her or cuddle her very much - just for short periods of time while feeding her. Those were special times for us. Also, I was really happy that the grandparents and siblings of babies in the NICU were able to visit in the NICU. The hardest day for me was Christmas day. I had really had my heart set on bringing her home on Christmas day and being together as a family. But, it did not happen. I shed some tears, and then worked hard to enjoy the rest of the day with my family, both in the hospital and at my parents.

Taleja was discharged from the hospital on December 26. She had already surpassed her birth weight. Her bilirubin levels were checked every two days for the next week and had peaked and begun to decrease by the time she was 12 days old. And she hasn't needed to see a doctor since then.

One thing that I was not anticipating was our journey towards successful breast feeding. Initially, she was too weak to actually get anything while breast feeding. A preterm baby needs to get a certain amount of milk or formula in within a 30 minute window, otherwise she is using more energy to eat then she is getting from the food she is eating. Also, preterm babies tend to be quite sleepy and do not recognize hunger cues. To remember to feed her, we had to set alarms for every three hours. Also, Dave and I needed to learn the special technique required to feed her. Fortunately, she was a very efficient bottle-feeder.

But, those two weeks after her discharge were extremely difficult for me. Pumping took a very long time, feeding took a long time, and every night, we ended up missing a feeding because we were just to exhausted to even respond to the most obnoxious alarms. It was so discouraging. Also, my basic medela electric pump that I'd gotten 4 1/2 years before started to malfunction and I really disliked how it worked. After some research, I decided to upgrade to a Medela swing pump. I found a used one online and Dave went to buy it for me. Let me just say that as much as I dislike pumping, I love my "new" breast pump and highly recommend it. I found that a double pump is impractical for me. Also, the mechanism the swing pump uses is very similar to the hospital grade pumps, which I find gentler and more effective and efficient.

When she turned three weeks old (or age adjusted to 38 weeks), she was able to breast feed efficiently within the specified time limit. And she was satisfied. She also was able to cue us for her next meal. That turned a chapter in our lives. I was able to stop the pumping/feeding cycle and turn off the alarms!

We are still working on some challenges to breast feeding. She is quite lazy when latching on - more of a slurper or sipper than opening her mouth wide. This has caused a lot of pain for me. But, we have persevered and things are getting much better now.
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