Out of the Valley

This is a little article I was suddenly inspired to write last night as I was going to sleep.  It just sort of flowed out this morning, even while having a little munchkin distracting me (and then edited for blog-o-land). :)

I want to tell you about how I survived my walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  When I was closer to the beginning of my journey with recurrent miscarriages and infertility, I was in what felt like the darkest time.  I was completely broken and struggling to find the way to keep moving forward.  Then one Sunday the sermon was about Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…”  That was the turning point in my journey through the dark tunnel I felt like I was in.

I had been visualizing my emotional place as trapped in darkness, trying to focus on the tiny speck of light that I knew was ahead of me.  I was trying so hard to move towards it on my own.  I learned all I could about my physiology and how to influence it and try to make my body do what it was supposed to do.  I learned a lot about how my body worked, but it wasn’t getting me out of that tunnel.

I felt so depressed, disappointed, confused, and anxious.  I’d had one miscarriage before having our son, then another one when he was 14 months old, and then month after month of my body’s painfully long cycles and heartbreaking negative tests as we were trying to have another child.  It seemed like everyone around me was easily and happily having babies, and I had to start avoiding friends, family, and Facebook because it was just too painful for me to handle.

When our pastor described the Shadow of the Valley of Death, I knew that’s where I was.  But the point was to let us know that as dark and hard as the walk through that valley is, God is walking along with us the entire way.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

I had never abandoned God, nor did I feel angry with Him at that point, but it hadn’t clicked yet that He was walking beside me.  When I realized that, I felt Him closer to me rather than looming above me, and I could feel the strength that His shoulder lent as we were walking.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.

I still had a long and hard journey to go before I got to the light at the end of the valley.  Every time I had a glimmer of hope in a new doctor, a new medication, a new cycle, a new pregnancy, it was crushed and dashed back against the jagged rocks in that valley.  But now I knew God was picking me back up and helping me to keep slowly moving forward.  He gave me comforts where I could find them, in my son and in learning how to find even the simplest bright spot in every day.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

And then finally, after over three and a half years, four consecutive miscarriages, 13 cycles of injecting myself with hormones, more blood draws and ultrasounds than I can count, and IVF, our perfect little girl was born.  It was blinding coming out of the dark valley I’d been in for so long.  I was very tentative to enjoy the light.  It took months for me to adjust to it, and to fully do so I’ve needed an antidepressant.

Our daughter is 15 months old now, and I’m finally feeling like I’ve healed enough from the journey through that darkness that I can appreciate this light that was on the other side of that tunnel.  Because of God I survived my walk, even though I have lots of scars.  And even though I’m out of that valley, I now know that God is always beside me, leading me, through even the lesser difficulties and hardships in life.

Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Answered Prayers

I’ve had the draft of this post sitting around for a long time, and want to finally get it out there!  I’m awed by all the ways God answered prayers about M-related things.  I’d been meaning for awhile to make a list and share them, even before I wrote this draft.  Some were specific prayers, and some were things that weren’t that important in the scheme of things so I only occasionally prayed them as an “if” or just held them in my heart, knowing God knows the desires of our hearts anyway.  So, the list:

  • M is a girl
  • I had a full night’s sleep before labor started, so was well-rested which made a huge difference.
  • My active labor was fast (4 hours).  I had only prayed for 10 or less (after B’s 21 hours), I didn’t dare imagine it could be that short!  It’s even marked as “precipitious” in my medical record.
  • I had the unmedicated birth I wanted… even at the point I was only at 6cm and suddenly felt like I was going to die and caved and asked for an epidural, within 1 contraction I was at 9-10cm so it was too late.  God rushed things along for me!
  • I was terrified of the pushing part after the trauma of B’s, but M came out in 2-3 pushes, even though she was also posterior like him.
  • From the second she was born M wouldn’t sleep unless I was holding her, so I’ve been able to have lots and lots of M snuggles these last 15 1/2 months!
  • Speaking of snuggles, B has never been a snuggler, even as a baby.  Never wanted to come sit on my lap or anything.  M grabs a toy or two and comes to sit on my lap frequently.
  • The first few months M was such a distractable eater and didn’t comfort nurse like B always had, so I began to have lots of anxiety that it would cause me to get my period back much sooner than I hoped and that she’d wean herself much earlier than I hoped.  But then one day in the midst of that it all stopped and she started to need and want the comfort aspect, so both of those worries are gone.  And I still don’t have my period back, but I’m now in a place where I feel like when I do have to start dealing with that again, I can handle it and not feel so anxious and afraid.
  • Her personality is so perfect after all we went through!  She’s so upbeat, joyous, and entertaining.  She smiles and laughs often and easily, and it’s just the happiest thing you’ve ever seen or heard.  After how easy-going of a baby B was, I figured we’d have a high-needs baby next… but in some ways M has been even easier!  (In others, not, but still not hard!)
  • Also about her personality–M does not run around like a crazy kid.  She can sit still sometimes, and she’s a watcher–like I think we’ll actually be able to take her to the zoo or fair and she’ll LOOK at the animals.

Terminology, People

I hate to be a Negative Nancy and post something else like this twice in a row (these days), but I need to vent!

When people are talking about their pregnancy with their third child, for example, they’ll just say “my third pregnancy.”  I can’t stand that.  Sorry.  I know I’m just sensitive to it because of my experiences and it’s probably a perfectly normal thing to say.  It’s just that to me pregnancy does not equal living baby you’re raising right now.  My third pregnancy is certainly not my third child.  My seventh pregnancy is my “second” child.  Why can’t people say “my pregnancy with my third child?!”  That makes a world of difference to me.  For crying out loud.

It Still Hurts

Sometimes I’m amazed at how well I can do with the whole conception and pregnancy issue.  The other day I certainly took notice when I message my address to a friend because I said I’d want to attend her baby shower.  Then I felt a little strange that I was able to do that.  It wasn’t forced at the moment, I was actually able to seperate having babies from pain and grief and something that’s happy and easy for other people but not for me.

But then sometimes, like just now, I see people announce pregnancies, and it hurts.  It’s not that kick in the stomach and flood of tears like it used to be, but it still causes a little hollow feeling.  I think it’s worse now when it’s their 3rd, 4th, etc. kid because I know I can’t and won’t have that.  It still hurts when I see or hear people having conversations that take conception and pregnancy lightly, like it’s some easily achievable and plannable or unplannable thing in their life.  Because for them it is.  I feel trapped by this sometimes; I still feel like I’m alone on the outside of everyone else.

At least it’s not every day.  Just some of them.  I know I’ve said it before, but I wonder how long this will go on.  Forever?  Until all of my friends are past baby-having time?  I wish I could find a community of post-issue.  I have some friends who are there, but we don’t discuss feelings about it for some reason.  It makes me feel alone in this.  Maybe they’re not having these problems still.

Sigh.  I suppose it’s just a melancholy sort of afternoon!  I could have more to say on this subject too, but I have a toddler “mama!” -ing at me. :)

Favorite Recipes

It took me a good 5-6 years probably of being married/a stay-at-home mom to feel like I had a good handle on this meal-planning, low-budget-ing, whole-food-eating, semi-vegetarian-ing (because I just don’t really like meat, and it’s too expensive), WIC-centered, making-from-scratch-ing thing.  Both by necessity and by what I feel is healthiest and a good example/atmosphere for our family.  Pinterest has been a HUGE help in finding recipes we like and work for us, since I’m just starting to feel more able to throw decent crap together out of what we have without a plan (with ADD, this is not the way I like to function)!

Here are some of my favorite regulars:

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie - Who would’ve thought you could make mashed sweet potatoes with cream cheese instead of cinnamon and brown sugar?  But it’s soooo good.

Veggie Enchilada Casserole - I don’t normally use this sauce recipe though.  Instead, I use the one in the next recipe:

Black Bean Spinach Enchiladas

Brown Rice Vegetable Casserole - I’ll totally make this two days in a row because it’s so tasty.  And easy!  I just use a bag of frozen veggies (the cauliflower/carrot/broccoli? whatever ones).

One Pot Cheeseburger Casserole - Just made this last night.  So good with pickles on it.  Oh, and also I don’t use ground beef, I use ground turkey.  All the time, instead of beef.  Ever since I was pg with Michael I haven’t been able to do ground beef!

Quinoa Black Bean Burgers - We top them with miracle whip, lettuce, tomato, and sometimes avocado.  YUM.  Also I generally make sweet potato fries with them.  YUM again.

Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken with Fried Rice - It takes a little work, but it’s worth the effort!

Red Curry Lentils - For when I’m alone for dinner because N isn’t a big Indian food fan.  Pssh.  I eat it with rice and naan and I don’t use red curry, just regular.  Or red lentils… never seen anything but green lentils!

Artichoke Spinach Alfredo Pizza - Sometimes I make my own pizza crust, which is way easy, but sometimes I buy the frozen dough because I feel $1-$2 is worth it to not make my own that day.

Spanish Rice - B LOVES when I make this and refried beans and stick them in a shell with some cheese.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing - This is a “fancy” dinner, cost a little more to make.  But GOOD.

Stuff!

I hate to be excited about “stuff” since “stuff” isn’t important, but when you never get to buy “stuff” then it’s pretty darn exciting.  We’ve spent the last 4 years or so where our splurge when we have a little extra cash is not getting the dollar menu on Sunday after church, but getting things that are more than a dollar.  Or maybe on rare occasion even go to a sit down restaurant but get water so it’s cheaper.  And in the clothes department, we’re as bare as we can be pretty much.  I don’t like to have too many choices, so it works out.  But I’m all like… I have one pair of pants, I don’t need another.  B has 4 shirts, that’s enough for a week.  My shoes aren’t falling off my feet, so I don’t need new ones.  I did bring myself to buy a second pair of pants once because they were on clearance at Target for $8.  It made me feel anxious!

So anyway, then whenever we’ve gotten our income tax return the last few years we’ve had to spend it on non “stuff.”  Like IVF, a second/dependable car, and a root canal.  Recently we received some estate-ish money, and while we did pay off a few small things with it, we took 75% of it and bought a new TV, a tablet, and some much needed clothes!

And I’m excited!  Especially because we got like $440 worth of clothes for $192.  (So still have enough left over I think we can get a new printer we need if I’m going to get my etsy shop up… more on that later.)  Outlet mall for the win!  Especially Columbia, we made out like bandits at that place.  And while I was unable to find any wintery shoes I liked/were my size, I got a fleece jacket and 2 shirts that I love and that aren’t too short like almost every shirt ever created!  I got a winter hat too since I’ve otherwise had the same one since I was 13, some new jeans, and some yoga pants.  Jeans and shirt for N, shirt for B (that says “Serious Dude” because he is), and 2 pairs of tights and some bigger jammies for M.  And the other day I ordered her a Matilda Jane dress that was 70% off, which is the only way I’d ever fork over that money, and I keep remembering it will come in the mail someday and I get excited all over again!

Yay stuff!  It was so nice to be able to treat ourselves for once.  I try not to compare, but sometimes it is hard when our stuff is all shabby, outdated, and/or we just don’t have things it seems like everyone else has.  It’s just frustrating sometimes because that could be us, but N got paid crap while teaching, now he’s not teaching but making the same, and we’ve yet to get to a settled place where he’s in a career he’s happy with and that we can live on more securely and comfortably.  But don’t worry, I don’t ever dwell or feel that badly about it.  And I do feel very grateful for what we do have; it’s been so amazing how God has provided for us at just the right time, so many times now in the last 4 years.  I know our time will come!  And for now I’m very happy to get to enjoy my stuff for a bit. :)

Epiphany Epiphany?

This year it suddenly sort of hit me that it makes so much sense to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas up to Epiphany.  I think it sort of stemmed initially from reading a great kids’ sermon a friend wrote that aligned the end of Mary’s pregnancy with Advent, using that waiting time before birth as an analogy for the quiet waiting of Advent until Jesus’s birth at Christmas.  So I just sort of thought… then that’s it?  We did this beautiful Christmas season of waiting for Christ to be born, then we celebrate for one day?  It suddenly made more sense to me that we would have a long and awesome celebration for such a monumentous occasion, and I don’t know why we don’t.  I feel like this is something I should start doing with my family.

Back in the day when everyone was Catholic (or maybe if you still are?  I’m not, so not sure.) people did celebrate for 12 days following Christmas (like the song, yo).  Apparently it’s called “Christmastide.”  How cool is that?!  Then it ends with Twelfth Night and there’s The Feast of Epiphany after that, on January 6th, which I believe is the day the Wisemen showed up to see baby Jesus.  (“Oh, thanks for the gold and frankinsence, but don’t worry too much about the myrrh next time.”  Couldn’t help myself.)

Here’s some stuff from Wikipedia:

The traditions of the Twelve Days of Christmas have been largely forgotten in the United States. Contributing factors include the popularity of stories by Charles Dickens in nineteenth-century America (with their emphasis on generous gift-giving), introduction of more secular traditions over the past two centuries (such as the American Santa Claus), and the rise in popularity of New Year’s Eve parties. The first day of Christmas actually terminates the Christmas marketing season for merchants, as shown by the number of “after-Christmas sales” that launch on 26 December. The commercial calendar has encouraged an erroneous assumption that the Twelve Days end on Christmas Day and must therefore begin on 14 December.

Celebrants observing the Twelve Days may give gifts on each of them, with each day of the Twelve Days representing a wish for a corresponding month of the new year. They feast and otherwise celebrate the entire time through Epiphany morning. Lighting a candle for each day has become a modern tradition in the U.S. and of course singing the appropriate verses of the famous song each day is also an important and fun part of the American celebrations. Some also light a Yule Log on the first night (Christmas) and let it burn some each of the twelve nights. Some Americans have their own traditional foods to serve each night.

For some, Twelfth Night remains the biggest night for parties and gift-giving. Some households exchange gifts on the first (25 December) and last (5 January) days of the season. As in olden days, Twelfth Night to Epiphany morning is then the traditional time to take down the Christmas tree and decorations.

So starting next year I think I might try something with this.  I’m thinking sort of how we might do an Advent Calendar and we have the Advent Candles, maybe one little thing a day for Christmastide.  Like… a Christmastide Calendar.  With little treats and scripture!  Yeah.

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