Month: January 2018

On 2017

If I had to sum up 2017 in two words, the words that instantly come to mind are “Stewardship” and “Blessings.”

When I look back on this year, I cannot stop thinking, “There is simply no reason in all the world that I deserve what I have received.” Grace and mercy do not even begin to describe what the Lord has given us.

This time last year, Massimo and I stood together, arms over each other’s shoulders, looking ahead to the great grey abyss. We saw everything and nothing. We imagined what may lie beyond the fog, and feared for it and longed for it: the great mystery of the unknown. And we held each close and looked each other in the eye and said, “Let’s go.” We cannot do anything on our own, great or hard. We nodded to the Father and said, “Okay. What is there?”

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Eph. 3:20-21

2016 was a year of preparation. We grew and learned and planned for what would come next. It was not a wasted year by any means, but a year of little change and uncertainty in our own lives, while we saved and dreamed of 2017.

When 2017 started with a positive pregnancy test, we knew it would be a different sort of year. Blissfully overjoyed, we attempted to ignore the ever-mounting list of things over which we had no control, but needed figured out.

Would this baby be healthy?

How are we going to pay for health care?

How will we care for this baby?

Will I work? Will Massimo? How much time can we take for maternity and paternity leave?

What car will we drive?

Where will we live?

When will Massimo start his guitar business?

How on earth will we afford all of this?

After all the questions, came blessing after blessing. Maternity leave was determined with my ever-gracious boss. Health care was covered for the baby and I. I was perfectly healthy throughout the pregnancy, and for 75% of the time time, the baby was, too. A car was found and purchased. Our landlord allowed us to have a month-to-month lease as we searched for a house. And, last month, we shockingly moved into our very first home. (It is really, truly our’s and we can’t believe it.)

We even got cherries on top of it all. In May we learned my dear cousin and best friend was expecting her first child. Another dear friend from church welcomed her fourth child the same month, and my brother and sister in law not only had their first child, but came up to the United States for six months to let us enjoy their presence!

Despite all our many, many blessings, there were still ever-present uncertainties. Months where we didn’t know where the money would come from. Shocking news when we learned our unborn baby was not growing well and we would have to keep an extra-close eye on him. Having to pay out of our savings for an unexpected tax bill. Searching and wishing for the perfect house, but facing fruitless searches time after time.

Which is why the other word for 2017 is stewardship. Not a very popular topic, I know. It is not one we throw around often. “I hope you have a very healthy new year, and can be good stewards of your blessings!” No exactly.

But it was a theme we continued to return to time after time. When things got tight – time, money, emotions – we pledged that we would be ever-diligent in our stewardship over these resources. When resources are abundant, we are cursed with not considering that they are truly in limited supply. It is a gift to be required to consider the value of what we are using. We knew our needs, and we continuously asked God to direct our resources to meet our needs.

The good thing is, when there is little and his has to stretch far, you are forced to ask God where to put it and to make a feast out of a few loaves of bread and fish. Somehow, miraculously, truly, Massimo worked full-time all year. We went on a trip to Vermont to celebrate four amazing years of marriage. We spent days and weekends with our families and friends around camp fires, swimming pools, feasts, and birthday cakes. Massimo finished his second guitar. We bought a house and still have an emergency savings account. Despite the failure in our health insurance system leading to Massimo not having health insurance all year, his body was protected and he did not need it. We had full bellies and bursting closets and our tanks are on FULL.

I will end my reflection on this year with a small illustration of the themes of this year. Early in my pregnancy, before I even went to the doctor, the Lord revealed to me to be a good steward and celebrate the blessing of the small person presumably growing inside me. Early in a pregnancy, one is all-to aware of the high risk of miscarriage, and fears the worst. Most women even delay telling anyone about her pregnancy because there is such a high risk that it will end tragically.

While wrestling these fears, God revealed to me that there was no use in worrying, and that by pinning my hopes on passing a certain week of gestation without bad news, I would only be disappointed. He told me that even if my baby did not survive, I should celebrate its life now, while he or she is alive. That may be, after all, all I have with this unborn child. This lesson – to celebrate blessings in the moment and cast cares to another day – became even more valuable when, months later, we learned we had a high risk of losing our unborn child, despite being well past the first trimester “danger zone.”

Thanks to God working on my heart and gracefully teaching me a lesson I would need ever more months later, I was able to look over my pregnancy as a steward- a mother to this unborn baby despite the lack of control and uncertainty. Being a steward means caring for what you have for the benefit of someone else – in my case, our Heavenly Father. It doesn’t mean you have complete control over it; all it means is that you have to do the best with what you have, and leave it up to God to honor your obedience. Not does it mean everything will work out sunshine and roses. Obedience is, after all, a reward in and of itself.

D.E. Barbi Bee

 

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On breastfeeding

I never understood why some women choose to breastfeed their children until beyond the child’s learning to walk, talk, and – in some cases – read. But over the past several months of my own new hobby (nursing my son), I have started to appreciate where they are coming from.

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Massimo feeding newborn Theodore with a bottle of donor milk.

 

I always assumed the question of when to stop breastfeeding would be answered for me: when my body or my child stopped nursing. I had heard so many perils and stories of bodies not producing enough milk, or babies not being able to latch, that I went into it with a very, “If it works, it works,” attitude. I tried not to get my hopes up, and was advised to set small goals when starting out with nursing.

I decided I wanted to try, for many reasons, chiefly the health of the baby and myself and saving money. I decided I would at least try for as long as I was home with him, and then when it came to going back to work we would see.

When I gave birth to a 4 pound, 10 ounce baby boy via c-section, he was too small and weak to eat on his own. I did not get to hold him skin-to-skin and attempt nursing right away, as all the experts advised to do to help aid in milk production. I did not get to see him at all for thirteen hours after he was born, let alone hold him. (When I finally did hold him, skin-to-skin, it greatly helped his breathing rate improve, and my own mood, as well.)

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We held Theodore skin-to-skin as much as we could, wrapped in warmed blankets. We always had to get him back to his crib soon, though, because being moved and held was exhausting for our tiny warrior.

From my room, what felt like miles from my son, within hours after he was born I was hand-expressing milk for my boy. My husband rushed every exhausting vile of milk to the NICU to be fed to Theodore. At first, he was fed exclusively via nasogastric intubation. For the first few feedings, the doctors had to act so quickly he was fed formula. When they were able to consult with me, we signed up for donor milk to be given to him while I worked to get my own milk to come in. He was given just 15 mL of milk every three hours, which increased by 5 mL every day. Every three hours, the doctors woke him up by taking his temperature, changing his diaper, checking his bilirubin level, blood sugar, and pulling a syringe up through his NG tube to make sure it was still in his stomach and measure how much food from his last feed was still left un-digested.

The feedings started with my milk, then donor milk to complete the total amount needed. They started by giving him a bottle, but when he fell asleep and was impossible to wake up again, whatever was left in the bottle was fed through his NG tube. The feedings couldn’t take longer than thirty minutes, or else he would be burning more calories trying to eat than he was getting with the food he consumed.

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After his bottle feeds, whatever he could not finish was fed through his NG tube. We called him our “foie gras baby” because we felt like we were force feeding him. But it helped him maintain his blood sugar and not lose too much weight.

For my part, I was on a race against the clock to get my milk to come in before the donor milk program ended. The milk was only intended as a bridge – just three or four days to get us through to my milk supply meeting his needs. Hot wash-clothes, massages, and brutal work earned me a few drops – literally – at every feeding for the first day. Many times I did not see single drop. I was extremely discouraged and hurt. I knew it wasn’t the end of the world to give him formula, but I worried about his little body having to work any harder than it needed to, and knew formula was harder to break down. I was determined to make this work.

I was set up with a pump and ran the pump for ten minutes every three hours – day and night. During the day, Massimo and I went to the NICU to change Theo’s diapers and feed him. After his feeding was done, we held him for some time before letting him get back to his crib to sleep. Then I would pump. The first time I actually had any measurable amount of milk pumped was when I was holding him during my pumping session. It was an extremely difficult maneuver, but it paid off! Just a half a day before we would be cut off from donor milk, I finally was pumping enough milk to meet his feeding requirements! I was indescribably relieved and overjoyed. For the first time in days I felt like something was actually working.

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This corner of the NICU was our home for what felt like forever. The nurses gave us tons of space to spread out and leave things there. You can’t see him, but Theo is tucked under that blanket on Massimo’s chest.

By the time we left the hospital, I was pumping more than twice what Theodore was eating. He was not yet breastfeeding, so we were in an exhausting bottle feed-then-pump cycle. It was not until he was three weeks old that we could finally stop reheating bottles of milk and he was officially nursing full-time!

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At five months, Theodore weighed about 14 pounds and smiles like crazy! He is a far cry from the warrior in the NICU.

Fast forward to Theodore being five months old: I still nurse him four or five times while I am at home, and he has two bottles of pumped milk while I am at work. I pump twice a day while at work, and have a freezer at home with more than 1,100 ounces of milk to prove it! (It is absurd to remember that we used to measure his feeds in milliliters and now measure them in ounces!) I estimate the value of all that milk to be approximately $700 dollars! His feedings take less than 15 minutes now.

It is impossible to appreciate how far this little boy has come in just five months – and how much things have changed in my life. At first, there were several days I was sure this breastfeeding thing was going to fail. He needed food, and I didn’t have it. I was trying to come to terms with it but I stubbornly couldn’t let it go.

Around 3 months old, I was afraid his nursing days were over. Theodore did not have much of an appetite and people told me he could be rejecting nursing in favor of the easier bottles. The doctors told me not to worry, but I could feel the weight of this thing being taken from me. I know it will end, some time soon, in fact. But I was not yet ready for it to be taken, ended on terms other than my own.

But he bounced back and now, although easily distracted, Theodore seems perfectly content to switch between bottles and nursing without missing a beat.

So now I am in this awkward predicament of having to chose where to take us next. When will I cut back how many pumping sessions I have a day? It would certainly free up my time and make court less stressful if I had to pump only once instead of twice. I would not be sad to say good-bye to pumping in my car in the corners of parking lots and washing countless bottles daily. When will I cut back pumping entirely? When will I stop nursing entirely?

As I said in the outset of this now lengthy post, I now appreciate where women are coming from when they breastfeed for four or five years. I am not interested in doing that myself, but it does take away the awkward, difficult decision of when to stop. You get so comfortable, so resigned and conformed to breastfeeding, that it becomes hard to remember not breastfeeding. My clothes are nursing-friendly. My schedule revolves around Theodore’s, as well as my diet. You get so comfortable, in fact, that it becomes strangely scary to go back to your old world; the previously solely-known becomes somehow unknown.

For now, I know only two things for sure: 1. I cannot pass judgment on any women who chooses to or not to breastfeed, on any woman who nurses, pumps, formula feeds, or any mix of them, nor for how long she decides or is forced to decide to do any of these things. And 2. I am extremely grateful that, like most elements of my journey into motherhood, I have had the burden of choice when it comes to breastfeeding. It is a burden I did not expect, but one I accept with honor.

I anticipate continuing to slowly transition out of breastfeeding, much less abruptly than over more time than I transitioned into it. I have a special privilege in this circumstance. And to all the other mothers out there who faced their own expectations to try to do the very best for her children, please be kind to yourself and to the other mothers who are trying to do the exact same thing.

D. E. Barbi Bee