Blueberry Mania


We bought our house in December of last year.  At the time, the landscaping was nothing to be thrilled about. The backyard was grey and wet, and trees were being scaled by vines. There was a row of blueberry bushes that did not look alive, let alone fruit-producing. We more or less ignored them, so as to not get our hopes up.

When spring came around, you can imagine our surprise when the blueberry bushes (all five of them) sprouted leaves, then blossoms, and then tiny berries! Every week – like magic, as nature always seems – since the beginning of July, we have been drowning in plump, sweet, sun-warmed blueberries!


Right now, I have about 3 pounds frozen in vacuum bags. I have another 5 pounds in the fridge as I write this. We have given away just as much as we have kept. And still more are coming! I estimate we have gotten at least 25 pounds so far this year.


Theodore is thrilled, as he suddenly has his favorite food in endless supply. He often lunges out of our arms to grasp as the blue pops in the bushes as we walk past.

After freezing, eating fresh, topping yogurt, filling pancakes, and everything else we could imagine, I finally admitted it was time to face my fear and settle into the reality: I had to make jam.


I love the idea of making jam: it is a cost-efficient way of storing the extra harvest for future months and years. But notwithstanding my desire to connect with the New Englanders and farmers of ages gone by, I was scared to death of this process and refused to bite the bullet.

I don’t know what scared me most. I had visions of exploding jars and molding sauces for some reason. It was built up in my head as an extremely delicate science experiment I was bound to foul up.

But this Sunday, with seven or so pounds of blueberries sitting on my counter and no idea of how else to make use of them, I spontaneously dove in.

My father-in-law Tony and sister-in-law Katie happened to be over our house that afternoon. Tony/Dad lent me all the expertise and confidence I needed. Katie wrestled Theodore so I could concentrate. Massimo cleared the counters.

I decided to start small – just a few jars – in case this went all wrong. I looked at this extremely un-intimidating recipe for guidance: a two-ingredient refrigerator jam. What could be easier simpler than that?

But my dear father-in-law, Tony, wouldn’t settle for refrigerator jam. It could go bad! Okay, so, a word on Tony: Tony hails from a little-known culinary hot spot called Italy, and happens to be a professional chef. He grew up with farmers and women who cooked bread every week and stoked a fire all day. His favorite things in the world are his family and talking about the food of his childhood: grape leaves dripping in natural syrup from the raisins stuffed inside; barrels of fresh fruit sunk in the rivers and lakes to keep fresh; stealing salami hanging from the rafters; rare treats of ice cream cones and sodas; and the “lazy summer meals” made of buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto. He has a wealth of knowledge that I am only beginning to absorb. As often as we can, Massimo and I love to cook with him or hear recipes from his childhood, to maintain the heritage and keep the memories alive for all of us.


Antonio Barbi and his first grandson, Theodore Antonio.

So on this particular day, in his passionate, fantastical way, Dad/Father-in-Law/Nonno/Tony made canning sound so easy. After all, his mother and Nonna would do it all the time, out of pure necessity. He stood there in the kitchen and told me, mouth slightly frowned, hand gesturing along, and bottom lip pushed forward, “Just put it in the pan, add some water, and sugar, and let it cook down. You put it in the jars, put on the lids, and heat them again. That’s it.”


[You have to hear this story with his hand acting out all the steps as he speaks. Sprinkle the sugar = delicately but decisively rubbing his fingers together and gesticulating them in a circle over the imaginary “pot.” Also he has a thick accent. For example, that afternoon we saw a small toad in the garden and I swore he was telling me the animal looked like he should be named “Todd.” (“It’s a Todd! It’s a Todd!”)]

Off I went. Recipe thrown out the window. Just following my gut and my father-in-law’s ancestral knowledge. Just a quick Google search to make sure I sanitize the jars long enough and that was all.

I dunked the small mason jars and lids (three, because I was advised by Dad the product will go down to about half it’s original volume), in a large pot of water and boiled them for five minutes. They were removed. “Lay them on a clean towel.” – Dad. Ok.


I poured two pounds of blueberries in the pot. I added one and a half cups of sugar in. (Haha, at this point I was still considering the recipe.)

Then – a moment. My instinct told me to improvise and I had to listen. Almost without thinking, my hand grabbed the cinnamon and sprinkled a light cover over the contents of the pot. What are you doing? I wanted to smell it together, that was all. I had to do it.

I cooked it on medium. I mashed it a little with a potato masher to help break the skins, and basically stirred constantly. Eventually I pulled up a stool to sit while I stirred my precious concoction. Easy!

After probably 45 minutes, the blueberries having completely broken down and unrecognizable from their original state, I gave up on it ever becoming “thick” and resolved at least I would have blueberry sauce.

(Dad would have given me the advice I needed,and told me it will thicken once it cools, but he had run down to the restaurant to get something. So I was flying blind now.)

I poured the sauce into the clean jars (over a plate, so as to not stain my towel too much). It turns out I should have done four small mason jars; that would have been perfect. But the last bit I simply put in a pyrex dish and said we would use it right away.

I filled the jars as high as I could. I was following my gut and it felt scary but exciting. There is something about not using a recipe. It makes cooking more of an act of creativity, rather than following instructions and procedure. It uses a different part of your brain and I thrive on it.


I secured the lids tightly and brought the pot of water back up to a boil. This was a perfect moment to taste some of this sweet delight. I let tiny drops cool and tasted – it was amazing! The spicy cinnamon balanced the sweet sugar and tart berries. It was summery and autumnal at the same time. Theodore licked the wooden spoon, as all children should do when their parent is baking. He was obsessed.

The portion in the pyrex dish was a really good “control”, because it allowed me to watch the texture change as it cooled. Much to my surprise and delight, over the next hour the jam cooled to an actual jelly-like consistency! I couldn’t believe it worked! My instinct, yet again, was right.

I cooked the jars, submerged in water, for about ten minutes (I forgot to start the timer, so I went long on this part), and removed them. Sure enough, POP! went the lids. My experiment continued to work out.


Dad came back and was extremely proud of my results. I was now disappointed I only made three jars, but it just means I get to make more again soon!

In a matter of a few hours I went from too many blueberries and an unnecessary fear of exploding glass in my kitchen, to three jars of jam and the specific brand of confidence that only comes from believing in your creativity.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

P.S. Shout-out to Michaela Pesce for suggesting this post! Readers, send me any suggestion you have for posts, I love it!



What is the music like in Heaven?

36759298_2138347296178730_4116625569376894976_n.jpgI took this picture on Monday, when I couldn’t stop thinking about Johnny for no apparent reason.

I left work early, and I almost didn’t stop. But then I did. I got out and walked around and yelled at the dirt and the sky.

I took these pictures to remember what this place looked like at this particular moment. We are working on finalizing his headstone, so this wooden cross won’t be here forever.

I looked at this picture over and over since, and that tree, to the left: it is so overwhelming. It is incredible to stand under, breathing in its sap. Johnny would have loved this tree, no doubt. That massive pine.

But then I looked at it again, and suddenly the third verse of “In Christ Alone” came to my mind:

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again.

How the disciples – how Mary – must have felt when Jesus’ body was in that grave for three days. They thought it was over. It was sealed. It was done. Cut down in his prime, at the height of his ministry. I now understand how they felt.

I love that song, “In Christ Alone.” It has the weight and subject matter of an old hymn. In fact, I often look for it when flipping through my antique hymnals. But it was written in 2001, though timeless as it already is.

That got me thinking about the music in Heaven. Do you think there are songs they sing in Heaven that we don’t know yet? Were they singing “In Christ Alone” in the presence of God before it was shared with us here on earth?

What is the music like in Heaven, anyway? I often pictured numerous languages and styles being played over each other, but are there even lyrics? Or melodies? Or is it so overwhelming, the love, that it just bursts out, incomprehensible? Or is it silent, with the sound of future, endless, eternal glory and magnificence ever-approaching, humming in the distance, but barely audible at all.

I have never had to consider Heaven the way I have in the last three months. I have never considered with this depth what happens to those who die and didn’t profess and believe in the name of Jesus; that was unspeakable.

But I think about it now. I think about how everything I think about Heaven is probably wrong. I think about what pop culture says of heaven: a field of puppies and endless ice cream without gaining weight. I think about how pathetic our versions of eternal Glory are.

To be honest, I’m frustrated by Heaven. I’m frustrated at how idolatrous humans are that we conceive the notion of paradise as completely revolving around ourselves. And every time I think I’ve figured something out, and feel a little connected to Johnny because of it, I instantly rebuke myself, knowing I am wrong.

Deborah, your mind is so small compared to God’s wonder. You can’t even imagine it.

I think I’m wrong right now. I think this is a huge stumbling block for me at the moment and the Deceiver is exploiting my curiosity. I know the Lord wants to draw us close to Himself, but my demand and desire for perfection first is getting in the way.

I know all of this, and yet, I still can’t stop thinking what the music is like in Heaven.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

Happy Birthday


Happy birthday to you.


Happy birthday to you.


Happy birthday, dear Johnny.


Happy birthday


to you.


Happy twenty-fifth birthday, my brother.

It would have been such a great birthday. Twenty-five is a good one.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 17

Thank you for the laugh lines

This summer, on June 30, Massimo and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. It feels like a big one. And I can’t believe it’s already been five years, but I can’t believe it’s only been five years.


Married for 30-ish minutes.

We have lived in different places, transitioned to multiple jobs and I graduated law school. We have a baby, for goodness sake! We have a whole new person in our lives because of our years together.

I am different. He is different. I was very, very thin when I got married. Not unhealthy, I was just twenty-three and I was thin. I was younger. I didn’t have these lines around my eyes and mouth. I didn’t have acne scars from my pregnancy hormones, nor did I have this extra fat and stretch marks, let alone the five-inch scar above my womb from giving birth.

I am different. He is different. He is thinner and more fit now than when we married. And his hair is shorter. And he has some gray hairs peeking out. He looks older. He was twenty-one when we got married, so he should look older. He is more confident, more refined. He knows more about who he is and doesn’t worry so much. He has bags under his eyes from getting up every night to get Theodore back to sleep. Even his wardrobe has changed from when we got married.

Every time he points out another sign of his aging, another gray hair or something, he says it like it a bad thing. And for a moment – just a moment – I am sad, too. Not because he will become less handsome or lovely, but because I know our time is short. People say they don’t want to marry young, but I look back and I am disappointed I had to wait until I was twenty-three! I know that was the right timing for us, and God’s plan needed us to do more individual work before we got together, but I couldn’t wait to have all the time I could with this man. I love our team. I love our family, and knowing we are aging reminds me it will not last forever. We have a short time together. And that makes me sad.

But then, after the moment, I am met with pride and honor. Pride I get to watch this man grow older. Honor to stand by his side and count his gray hairs. The fine lines on my face are from all the smiles and laughter he brings out of me. The stretch marks and scar on my stomach are from the child we brought forth together. The weight changes and wardrobe adjustments are from the many season we have endured together.

The truth is, I want to watch all his hairs go gray. I want to watch him wear out his jeans, and buy new shoes. I want to have photos of us every year, each year with slightly more wrinkles and slightly more mature eyes. No one is entitled to grow old with his or her spouse. No one has a right to die before their children. No one has the unalienable opportunity to outlive her mortgage and reach retirement age. Every single day is an undeserved blessing. Every wrinkle and scar that comes with it are the keepsakes, the tick mark on the wall to count how long we have been given this gift.


Thank you, my Lord. Thank you for the perfect, vacation-like days when we have napped in the sunshine or soaked in the rest and peace. Thank you for the days of hard work, when we went to bed exhausted and dirty, proud of a long day of productivity. Thank you for the every morning, when we wake up thrilled at the sight of each other.

Thank you for the days we couldn’t wait to be over, when we anticipated some relief around the corner. Thank you for the battles. Thank you for the scars. Thank you for the fights. Thank you for our flaws. Thank you for the fire. Thank you for the days I wish I could take away, to ease our pain. Oh, how I wish I could make them go away. But thank you any way.

And most of all, thank you for the laugh lines.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

It is IUGR Awareness Day!


Eight months ago, I had never heard of IUGR. In fact, when my sister-in-law had to be induced before her due date because of a failing placenta, I am ashamed to say I thought the doctors were wrong. “Why would you take a baby early who isn’t growing well? Shouldn’t she stay in longer?”

Well, things have changed – a lot! I have learned about as much as I, a layperson and mom of an IUGR baby, can learn in the past eight months, ever since Theodore was diagnosed with Intrauterine Growth Restriction. In honor of this day, to celebrate these strong babies and remember those who we have lost, here are ten things you should know about IUGR:

  1. IUGR refers to a condition in which an unborn baby is smaller than it should be because it is not growing at a normal rate inside the womb. A baby who is “just small” is called Small for Gestation Age (SGA). The difference is an IUGR baby should have been bigger, but something intervened (infection, injury, genetic condition, bad placenta, poor nutrition from mom, etc.). An SGA baby is just a small baby. Both are usually smaller than ninety percent of babies their age. (More on the confusion over these terms here. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, but they are not the same.)
  2. IUGR is common for twins, and mothers with certain health conditions or lifestyles. However, there are TONS of possible causes and most moms never know what caused their baby’s IUGR. Sometimes, nature just fails and the placenta wasn’t healthy; importantly: it is no one’s fault.
  3. For those of us who do not know what caused our IUGR, we worry a lot about whether this will happen if and when we have more babies. There is a lot of conflicting data on it, but it certainly can happen. Which is scary.
  4. Many of us find out about IUGR during pregnancy, by going to all our regular prenatal appointments and through ultrasounds. Some of us do not find out until delivery. Which is why it is super important to go to all your doctor’s appointments when you are pregnant. Important.
  5. If you know someone who may have IUGR, please be supportive and helpful. It is not helpful to try to convince the person there is no problem, the doctor’s do not know what they are talking about, and the ultrasound was probably wrong. These could be true, but when you hear there could be something wrong with your baby, you have to be extremely cautious and careful. Supportive and helpful things are assisting the person in getting the nursery ready early, supplying preemie size diapers and clothes, coming with her to her many doctor’s appointments, and lending her food and help if she on bedrest.

29103580_10205023656706854_5369735055075877304_n6.  So an IUGR baby is small – so what? Like just about all health conditions, the outcomes for IUGR babies cover a broad range. Some babies are born perfectly healthy and go home right away with no problem. Some babies are lost to the condition. Some babies have some catching up to do in the size department, but are otherwise perfectly healthy. Some babies have on-going complications and require medications, hormones, or therapy to help them grow and overcome other issues.

7.  We are pretty sensitive about our IUGR baby’s size, because he or she can be small for several months to several years. So if you ever see a baby and are shocked at his or her size, please don’t ask if the mom feeds her baby. Please don’t joke that she must be wrong about the baby’s age. Just say how cute he or she is. We don’t mind hearing that, ever.

8.  IUGR babies are usually delivered earlier than their due date. Some because there is an emergency. Some go into labor early on their own. But some of us have to be induced a few weeks early because the statistical risk of still birth increases after 37 weeks for IUGR babies. Basically, our baby is probably starving inside our bodies, and at 37 weeks he or she is healthy enough to probably be fine outside (with medical help, usually), and will even thrive because he can get lots of clean oxygen and nutrients outside. On the other hand, leaving the baby inside until the due date or later could cause significant injury to the baby, or loss.

9.  Many of us have c-sections. Again, either because of an emergency or because the baby is too small to handle labor. Not all of us, but many of us. Personally, I do not see my induction and c-section as a failure or that I’m not “woman enough.” I am incredibly proud of what God allowed me to do: bring my son into this world. It is not my fault my baby was tiny. It was not my fault his little body could not tolerate labor. I am truly grateful that my baby is safe and healthy and I am, too. Was it my first choice? No. But every mom, whether unconscious during delivery or having a medication-free birth, does the same thing in labor: she is doing everything she can to get her baby here safe and sound.

10.  Finally, though they are small, IUGR babies are tough. They are tiny warriors that do incredible things. They may not all make it, but they are all fighters, through and through. And we are crazy proud of them.

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


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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!


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

But I’m okay, really.

This morning, Theodore threw up on me, twice.

Plus when he spit up last night, that’s three times in less than twelve hours. That is a new record for him. I don’t know if he is sick, or if it’s just a coincidence, but I will henceforth be carrying a change of clothes with me because “Baby Puke” is, shockingly, *not* the new Chanel No. 5.

I was slightly later to work than usual. My leg is damp with the 2 ounces of Tide To Go I scrubbed into my black pants. That baby’s biological scent just lingers in my hair and sweater. And on top of it all, I am worried about my baby. I’m at the office, but my heart wishes I was snuggling my baby and making sure he is not uncomfortable. I know he will get sick, eventually, but I would not mind putting it off as long as possible.

That was my morning. But I’m okay, really. Because I have my son. And he is well. And we are well.

In Ohio right now there is a mother and father facing the first morning after their five day-old daughter died.

One of the surprising by-products of receiving the diagnosis of Intrauterine Growth Restriction during my pregnancy with Theodore was joining a Facebook group with other IUGR parents. Before the diagnosis, I had never heard of IUGR, let alone what life could look like due to this condition.

In the group, parents ask questions and tell their stories. I learned of the myriad of outcomes from IUGR, and that no two babies are the same. I learned why it is often safest to remove a baby slightly early from the womb, and how incredibly strong tiny babies can be. I learned how incredibly strong parents can be, even in the most difficult circumstances. We pray for each other, suggest questions to ask our doctors and tests that should be requested, tell each other to hope for the best and be patient, and cry for each other when it’s just too much.

I have also seen pictures and heard stories of babies so small and fragile, they should not be here. Intrauterine growth restriction causes a baby to not reach his or her growth potential. So instead of just being “a small baby” or, “an early baby,” they are developmentally and physically retarded behind their gestational age.

The effect of this condition is that by looking at these babies, it is like taking a look inside the womb, to a place we never or rarely otherwise would be.

My son was born three weeks early. Not technically a “preemie” (at 37 weeks, he is called “early term”), so people are generally surprised at his size and complications. I tell them that although he was only three weeks early, he was the size of a baby six weeks early.

In the IUGR Facebook group, there are mothers whose children were born two weeks early, but the size of a baby eight weeks early. Five days ago, a mother gave birth to a beautiful baby girl ten weeks early, but the size of a baby fifteen weeks early.

She was beautiful.

She was like nothing I had ever seen before.

The lines on the palms of her hands.

She had dark hair.

I imagined all the babies who go full-term and whose mothers never see their baby so small and early in his development. I imagined all the mothers who see a line on the pregnancy test, or the blurry gray shapes on the ultrasound machine and never see the skin and eyes and fingers and toes.

But we have seen them. IUGR and preemie moms have to wait longer to have their cute, pudgy babies so many people crave. We have to wait a little longer to see smiles and strength and visual tracking and rolls.

But we have seen things other mothers have never seen. We have seen life before the laws recognize life. We have seen breath when others see a “lump of cells.” We have literally watched our babies develop in the harsh, heavy world to learn what other babies get to do inside. We have seen incredible things the animations on pregnancy apps cannot show.

Heartbroken, this beautiful little girl suffered brain bleeds in her short life and there was no hope for her. Her parents held her in their arms and watched the angels take her away last night.

This is a gift. There is a reason. But I’m sobbing for them all the same.

My son, my hefty, happy son is two and half months old. Every once in a while I forget how we could have lost him, how small he was, how hard it was. But then I remember and I look at him and just thank God.

This morning, Theodore threw up on me, twice. Plus last night. The smell is there, I was late to work.

But I’m okay, really.

To Remember

Family in NICU

Read through the early books of the Bible and take note of every time God commands Israel to remember what he has done for it: he even goes so far as to establish holidays, laws, and physical markers to help His people remember what the Lord has done and how he provided for and protected his nation.

We, too, ought to remember and share what the Lord has done for us.

The purpose of this post is not so much to tell a narrative of how my son, Theodore, came into this world. Rather, it is to provide a list for me to remember – and for my readers to also remember – what the Lord has done for my family in the most difficult week of my life.

When I was 31 weeks and 2 days pregnant with our son, the first gift we received in this unexpected scenario was the gift of information: while undergoing a level two ultrasound for a kidney issue we had found with our unborn baby, we happen to discover that the baby was not growing well. He was measuring about three weeks behind where he should have been, and his estimated size was in the 5th percentile. We were diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction and I officially had a high-risk pregnancy. We found out about his diagnosis purely by God’s grace – we were not looking for it, and I do not believe we would have found it until he was  born or until there was an emergency had we not gone in for that ultrasound that day.

[Intrauterine growth restriction (“IUGR”, for short) is a very rare (about 3% of all pregnancies) and potentially very dangerous condition in which an unborn baby is not attaining its growth potential for some unknown reason. It is found when a baby is measuring less than 10th percentile for its gestational age. There are literally hundreds of possible causes, but a common cause is an issue with the placenta and how it is providing nutrients to the baby.]

With our gift of information, we also received the gift of preparedness – not that we could anticipate exactly what would happen, but we were given the gift of being told to expect the unexpected. For example, when we received the diagnosis, I asked the doctor if they were just being overly cautious, or if I needed to get the nursery ready early. She told me to get the nursery ready early; which was excellent advice because I literally finished it the day before going to the hospital. It was extremely stressful not knowing if, at any one of my twice weekly appointments, I would be sent to the hospital to deliver my baby immediately, but it did help me get ready for the day when I got sent to the hospital 24 hours before we expected, and when I did not have a chance to go back to the office to wrap anything up, but went straight to the hospital from the courthouse instead.

Similarly, although I doubt there is any such thing as a “normal” birth, Theodore’s unusual delivery was covered by the gift of safety. Induction was painful, labor was long and exhausting, the monitors were itchy and tight, and the c-section recovery was deliriously difficult. But those 22 hours from when the induction was started Monday night, to when we met our son safely Tuesday evening were filled with an incredible medical team who did everything they could to keep he and I from harm. When we started labor, the nurses and doctors asked us if had a birth plan. I told them all that my birth plan was to get my baby here safely, and to keep me safe as well. Maybe they wanted more direction than that, but it was how I had always imagined I would handle labor, and particularly after being branded with a “high-risk”label. We prayed our doctors would know what to do, and that we could trust them every step of the way. When we were told the baby would not handle labor going on much longer, and that he could face serious danger if I didn’t have a c-section, we knew we were in the best hands and that God would keep us safe. And that is exactly what he did.

When I learned that our baby would come early and be small, I was afraid at how he would look. I was afraid he would be so small and scrawny that I would not find him beautiful or lovable, and that I would be scared to touch or hold him. When he was born, at only 4 pounds, 10 ounces, I was given the gift of love. Although I look back now and see how thin and small he was, at the time I felt no fear, and instead was filled with love for what I saw as the most beautiful boy in the world. Holding him was not frightening (although difficult) – but lovely and warm. I loved him from the moment I saw him, and was shocked at how beautiful he was.

Upon his birth, we learned that Theodore was given the surprising gift of “the good IUGR.” At all our growth scans since being diagnosed, we were told he had symmetrical IUGR – that is, his head, torso, arms, and femurs were all measuring at roughly the same percentile. There are two kinds of IUGR: asymmetrical and symmetrical, each with their own typical causes. With symmetrical, it is more likely there is a chromosomal abnormality or infection; asymmetrical means it is more likely a placenta issue, and the fetus kicks into “survival mode”, and concentrates development and nutrients to the brain because that is most essential. Before he was born, although I knew it was unlikely, I feared that he would have a long-term disability from whatever was causing his growth restriction. I even feared we would lose him to a trisomy abnormality. I prayed he would not have any such complication. The doctors were prepared to test him for several viruses when he was born to try to determine what caused his growth restriction, but when they measured him they found he has asymmetrical IUGR instead! Although his length was only 15th percentile, and weight was only 3rd percentile, his head was measuring at 45th percentile, which means while his body was small, God had protected his brain and had developed it well. It also meant they did not even have to test for the viruses because they new it was probably a placenta issue.

During our week in the hospital, we were given the unexpected gift of togetherness. Even though Theodore had to stay in the special care nursery and could not stay in our room with us, I prayed to God before he was born that we would not have to leave him in the hospital while we were sent home. I could not stand the thought of being even a 15 minute drive from my son – I needed to be with him as much as I could and prayed that God would give us that mercy. Sure enough, to our surprise, the hospital let us stay as boarders in a room just next to the nursery after I was discharged. We got to stay there as long as Theodore was a patient, at no cost to us. We were given a place that we could sleep, and shower, and a mini fridge to keep our food. And we were given the opportunity to go and see our son for every feeding, and to give him my milk for every meal. I was most thankful that I did not have to go home to an empty bassinet.

Since coming home with our 4 pound, 6 ounce warrior, Theo has been given the gift of growth. We have prayed and prayed that he would grow and thrive outside the womb, where the environment meant to protect him and help him develop instead progressively failed him. In his first week home, he grew to an astonishing 5 pounds, 3 ounces. One more week home – where we challenged him further by transitioning him from bottle-feeding to nursing – and he grew another 11 ounces. At one day past his due date, he was nearly 6 pounds. The doctor was practically speechless, and what was going to be a stressful schedule of weekly weigh-ins and adjustments as we watched for every ounce of gain instantly turned into, “Forget all of that – just come for his regular appointments! He is thriving.”

As Theodore grows and Massimo and I tell him over and over the story of the miracle of his birth and homecoming, I want him to know that none of it would have been possible without our gracious community. From my and my husband’s bosses, who, as small business owners did not have to even give us time off to welcome our child, but instead gave us both paid time off to care for each other and focus on our family; to the best nurses in the world, who loved and cared for our baby tirelessly while we could not be with him, but also never let him forget who his parents were, and supported us like their own family by making two clueless, sleepless first-time parents feel like every decision they made was the perfect choice; to our friends from near and far, especially the other compassionate NICU moms and those from our churches and town, who answered our questions, prayed for us, cheered us on, provided meals and funds to fill our bellies so we could focus on filling Theo’s; to our parents and siblings, who cleaned and stocked our home, brought us food, washed our laundry, clothed and diapered our little man, and wrapped our family with loving, joyful arms.

I do not want to leave the impression that these weeks have been full of nothing but sunshine and roses – other details of becoming parents include plenty of tears, desperate prayers, and throwing our arms up in confusion and frustration. But what could have torn us apart, what could have broken us and beaten us down to have to be built back up has instead brought us one of the richest times in our marriage. I look back on what we have already been through, and I can’t believe what we have had to plow up to sow new seeds. Delirious, the one thing I know is that must have worked extremely hard – though often unconsciously so – because we three are stronger than ever, and overflowing with gratitude as we remember how God made us this way.

-D. E. Barbi Bee

It’s complicated

Actually, the technical term is “High Risk,” as in this mom just joined the honorable ranks of having a high risk pregnancy. It’s a title I have no interest in earning.

I am the fourth of eight children, so I have spent a fair share on my life around pregnant women, and women sharing their epic tales of bringing these little miracles into the world. For my mother and the majority of her family (a large sample size, encompassing some thirty-odd grandchildren), babies came late and babies were hefty. “Bos babies” we called them – usually in the 9-10 pound range. And generally healthy, which we always acknowledged as a blessing from the Lord.

My pregnancy began very normal and very healthy. Baby has always been measuring well, and apart from a small concern over dilated kidneys, everything was going swimmingly. I felt amazing (still do), and wondered what all the fuss was about over how awful pregnancy can be. I never got sick my whole pregnancy, and sleep was harder for my husband than for me.

Given how things were going, and my family history, I fully expected a huge, late baby, just like my mom had. I was just shy of 10 pounds at birth, and my husband was just over 8. My biggest concern was whether or not the doctors would let me go beyond 41 weeks and wait for spontaneous labor. I registered for larger clothes, assuming the baby would never even squeeze in newborn clothes and would fly through to 3-month outfits. I completely ignored my due date and just assumed I would go well beyond, attempting to prepare myself for that “home stretch” I had always been warned about.

For that reason, when 31 weeks rolled around, I presumed I had ten weeks left – at least. I saved all the baby prepping for the very end, assuming I would have tons of time on my hands waiting around and would need something to occupy myself. I had no baby stuff, no baby furniture, the car isn’t ready, I’ve taken no classes, and the bag isn’t packed. I had time, and I was pacing myself. My baby shower was anticipated to be late in August, three weeks before my due date – later than usual, but August was a busy time for my family and it was most convenient.

Thursday, July 13, all that changed dramatically.

By the grace of God alone, we happened to schedule a Level II ultrasound for July 13. As I mentioned, the baby’s kidneys had been very *slightly* dilated consistently since our 19-week anatomy scan. At that time, the doctor said that dilation could have been a marker for down’s syndrome, but thought it was unlikely. After prayer and consideration, we decided the test for down’s syndrome was too risky, and it wouldn’t change anything for us. We decided to put off any special testing and just monitor it.

We had gotten a number of follow-up ultrasounds, and the dilation remained consistent. The doctor recommended at that point it was more likely to be a slight blockage, and suggested we simply take a closer to look to determine if we should consult with a pediatric urologist about care after birth. Worst case (and least likely) scenario, there was some kind of blockage and the baby would have to have surgery to relieve it.

At that point, we felt like we were not acting out of fear, and rather felt clear-headed going in to get the Level II ultrasound. We felt that it would be wise to meet the specialist now, so we could see if we are comfortable with him or her in the event the baby needed treatment.

The truth is, God had been guiding us and leading us ever since the 19 week scan to get to this appointment, because what we learned there was a total coincidence and we would not have found it if we got the Level II after the initial 19 week scan, or if we had taken any different course of action.

On July 13, we sat down and the doctor took all her measurements: kidneys, heart, spine, umbilical chord, blood flow, amniotic fluid levels, head, torso, femur, arms – everything. We came into her office and sat down for her report.

The good news is, the kidneys are very very slightly dilated, and it is something she is not worried about. It is a very common occurrence, and will simply be checked on again once the baby is born; they usually clear themselves up. She didn’t even find it necessary to refer to us a specialist because she found the possibility of requiring surgery was so remote. We were relieved, and it was what we expected. We we still relieved.

But then the meeting wasn’t over. She informed us the baby was measuring smaller than she would like. She double-checked that I had my due date correct: September 12. She informed us that the head, femur, and torso size were all measuring in the 5th percentile for its gestational age (I was 31 weeks, 2 days; baby was measuring at about 29 weeks, 4 days). She advised us that any time the baby measures less than the 10th percentile, that’s a red flag. And this is a problem.

It could indicate the baby is not getting sufficient nutrients from the placenta, so the baby needs to be watched very closely from here on out because a placenta problem increases the risk of stillbirth. Her recommendation is daily fetal kick monitoring, and twice-weekly nonstress tests, along with weekly ultrasounds.

Needless to say, we were overwhelmed.

I had my regular doctor’s appointment scheduled for the very next afternoon, and wanted to make sure she got the report in time to discuss this all with me then. When I went in to meet with her, I was very much hoping for advise along the lines of “This is a precaution/ it’s very common/we could be wrong/we are just being careful.” That is not what happened.

She told me my baby has been diagnosed with symmetrical intrauterine growth restriction: in layman’s terms, the baby is not growing well and they don’t know why. (My cousin Hannah – RN extraordinaire – says, “You have a crappy placenta and a small baby.”) It’s very rare and very serious.

I asked my questions and got my answers:

  1. Why is this happening? What can I do to help? Answer: We don’t know and there is nothing you can do because you didn’t do anything wrong. You eat right, moderately exercise, don’t smoke or do drugs. Not even bedrest or changing your diet would do anything. You have gained 30 pounds already this pregnancy – you are not malnourished! It’s just not getting where it needs to go.
  2. Could you just have my due date wrong? Answer: I’m confident with the due date. The first two measurements at 10 weeks and 19 weeks are the most accurate calculation of that due date, and the baby was measuring within just a few days of what we set then based on your last cycle. The due date is not off, and certainly not by this much. Similarly, although there is always a margin of error in ultrasounds, a margin this significant is not the culprit. There is something going on.
  3. Are we just being careful here, or do I need to make sure the nursery is ready early? Answer: You need to make sure the nursery is ready early. And you should move up that baby shower.

That afternoon, we decided to start steroid injections to encourage lung development in the event I would have to deliver early. I walked across the street to the hospital and monitored the baby with a nonstress test and took my first shot. The next shot was administered 24 hours later. I got my aggressive schedule of appointments, scheduled all the way through September 8, but my being pregnant still on September 8 was a long shot at best.

In a matter of 24 hours, my whole life had gotten turned upside-down. I hardly knew how to feel, but I felt everything. I still do.

I went from fully expecting a late, fat baby to hoping I get a live baby. The doctor set a target date for me to keep the baby inside until I can hit 37 weeks – August 22. The first milestone before that is 34 weeks – the date at which I can still deliver at my local hospital instead of UCONN. But even before that, every day, and every hour, the baby is inside, presumably growing but certainly moving – is a miracle and I am grateful for every one. Every kick, I tell the baby it’s doing a great job and encourage it. I have no idea if this is sane or not but it’s all I have.

In a matter of a couple of days, my family has already come together with helping hands to prepare for this baby which apparently could make an appearance at any time. My mother and sister-in-law – a new mother herself – cleaned and prepared the dresser for the baby and gathered up the smallest clothes they have (my niece Luciana – a little miracle, too – has already outgrown some things!). My father and brother worked on my new car to get it ready. My other sisters took me out to dinner, and then went and bought newborn clothes for our little miracle. I had nothing small enough for an early, small baby.

My boss has also been insanely supportive. Word-for-word his email to me after I gave him latest update was “You and the baby come first, no exceptions.” I have friends and family praying for us and offering us any support we need. Can God bless us anymore?

My goals at this point are to focus on gratitude, balance, and taking things one day at a time. Every day the baby is in there, we are doing better. I am two days shy of 32 weeks. We are already SO much farther than SO many premature babies who end up doing SO well. We live in an area with some of the best medical facilities in the world, and in a time when babies born well before this point are brought up healthy and well. We have amazing doctors in whom I have great confidence; the OB who discovered the problem and my regular OB were calling and texting each other all day to make a plan for me and discuss my test results. It is very reassuring to have a team on my side.

Then there is the miracle and God’s timing in all of this, and the fact we discovered it at all. Normally, we would not have had a growth ultrasound at this point. The only reason we were there that day is because of what turned out to be an inconsequential kidney question, which we did not address earlier. If we hadn’t learned about this problem now, we would not have nearly as many options as we do at this point and who knows what emergencies we would find ourselves in. God has already been guiding us and leading us to this place, and he is still in control now. We get to check the baby all the time, and get to hopefully see problems before they get out of hand.

The other good news is that I am perfectly healthy. I have no signs of pre-eclampsia (something that could accompany or cause IUGR), and no diabetes. There is no immediate risk to me, and that means time is on our side. Until the baby starts showing signs of distress, or the growth drops off, the baby is safe in there and I am in no danger. That is fantastic.

I woke up at 3:00 am this morning and couldn’t sleep until after 4:30. I wait to feel every kick and every squirm. I had heartburn and was grateful for it: hopefully it means the baby is growing enough to interfere with my digestion! I am probably one of the few pregnant women who wishes she had more stretch marks, and longs for the scale to rise. The irony is, whenever I told people my September due date,  they would always sigh and say, “Oh you have to make it through the SUMMER! That’s rough.” Now, I wish I had it rough. I am completely serious. This pregnancy has been so easy on me and I am so small; I am not swollen or uncomfortable. Other than the anxiety this is causing me, sleep is not a problem at all. At first I thought everyone was just being very negative and it bothered me; now I find myself hoping they are right.

It is very strange what a few hours and a few doctors appointments do to your perspective.

The last piece of my mental strategy is balance. It is very easy to go to extremes with a “high risk” label and news such as this. On the one hand, I could be cavalier and just deny there is anything to be worried about. But every medical professional I have consulted with advises me I am not going to carry to m, and the steps we are taking are responsible and reasonable and the best things to do. I don’t want to take the shots, turn my house and my job upside down to try to get ready for this baby early, and spend hours upon hours in doctors appointments. I don’t want an early induction or c-section. I wanted a totally different situation, but that will not be best for the baby and there are reasonable things to do in response to this news.

On the other hand, I could become obsessed. I find myself already shutting down the search browsers to hunt for more information. I cannot dwell. It does no good and I need balance. It is no good for my marriage and it is no good for my health. I want to maintain – for now – as much normalcy as possible. I asked Massimo that we not give up the other hobbies, appointments, and events we have already scheduled, out of a hyper-focus on the “what if” in our heads all the time. We are going to go to work Monday morning, and leave in the evening. He is at a hunting course today to work towards getting certification for his first bow hunting season this fall. He finished his guitar Friday. I am going to plan on going to my friend’s bridal shower next weekend. I am going to make grocery shopping lists and go on dates and try to maintain my sanity as long as I can. The unknown is the hardest part, but clearing my schedule won’t change that.

At this point, I am emotional and worried. But trying to stick with my plan: gratitude, balance, taking things step by step. I appreciate prayers, and offering this little one to God is all I have. The more I consider the miracles of his timing, and his creation inside me, the more my heart is overwhelmed by his mercy. I am mostly telling this story to ask for prayer, and to explain if I seem out of it. Also, to explain why I might suddenly drop off the face of the planet. It is not personal, and the network of prayer and love the Internet provides will be greatly appreciated every step of this journey.

Keep Baby Barbi in prayer. Thank you.