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The Best Laid Plans :: On finding out the sex of our new baby

With our first three tinies, we have always waited until the day of the birth for the epic “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” announcement.

There are so few surprises left in our lives these days, right?I have always been quite content to wait for the big day’s announcement. It made it even more exciting. Plus I personally know two women who had been told they were having a boy, bonded quite thoroughly with that baby, and then came home with a baby girl – turns out that ultrasounds aren’t quite as reliable as we would like.

But with Tiny #4, we’ve decided we’ve had all the surprises we can handle. For the first time, we decided to find out the sex of our baby before he or she is born. It took a lot of discussion between us. Brian really wanted to find out this time and I was ambivalent, even leaning towards keeping with our little tradition of remaining in the dark. But in the end, after all that back-and-forth, since this much-beloved baby was a bit of a surprise to all of us, we decided that NOW is a good time to finally do a bit of planning.

And that “sneak peek” was today.

We did decide against doing any big “reveal party” or making a big fuss about it publicly. We think it would be too much for our tinies. So rather than get them all keyed up at a party with friends and family present, and then perhaps disappointing one or two of them in front of an audience, we decided to keep the announcement low-key, private, and family-centric at first in order to help them process both their elation or disappointment.

We’ve been setting the stage by talking a lot about how “God has given this baby to us” and “we’ll all be happy with our baby, no matter if it is a boy or a girl.” The tinies “get” that, but I know each of them has a preference deep down in their hearts, too. And that’s okay. We just want to help them navigate those feelings well if it doesn’t turn out as they desire.

We also decided to hold off on naming the baby even if we knew the sex, just in case there was an error. Plus, in our experience, in Joseph’s case, we had another boy name picked out entirely. But when he was born, we took one look at that beautiful boy and we just knew that the name we had picked was wrong for this kid. He was our Joe right from the start, and we wouldn’t have known that until we held him. But once we did, it was so clear. Even if we know the sex, we do want to leave a little room for surprises.

Once the baby is here all those preferences often disappear anyway, every one is just so happy at a little freshie finally safely earthside. We all know that our priority here is a healthy baby to term. Yet the novelty of finding out ahead of time if a tiny is a boy or a girl has become exciting and new for all of us.

Going into the appointment, I was excited but also a bit nervous. This is our mid-point appointment and we won’t have another ultrasound until very near the due date. So this was it – our chance to not only find out all the important things that actually matter like health and development but also to find out the sex of the baby. I drank my big glass of orange juice an hour ahead of time to hedge my bets for an active baby during the exam. Tinies at school, Evelynn with my mother, Brian met me at the ultrasound office – let’s do this.

After nearly forty minutes of scanning, we had a final verdict: inconclusive.

Yep. Inconclusive.

All that angst and discussion about whether or not to find out the sex of the baby and …. no answer.

The baby is growing perfectly and beautifully. There is nothing quite like being able to ‘see’ their profile and watch someone no bigger than an heirloom tomato peddling their feet and grabbing their own hands. Such a little person already! It was a wonderful appointment, complete with a strong heartbeat, a beautiful spine, and all other important development milestones being met. Check out this beauty:

Bessey 0003

But our Tiny #4 stubbornly kept his or her legs together and refused to budge, no matter what we did.

So that’s that. No answers. The mystery remains.

We had to laugh. Served us right.

Of course, then we promptly called a private ultrasound clinic right from the parking lot to set up an appointment within the next week to try again.

No shame in my game, people.

So now I’m curious: if you have had children, did you find out the sex of the baby ahead of time? Or did you wait?

 

If you subscribe to my e-newsletter, some portions of this news won’t come as a surprise – subscribers often find out announcements ahead of time.

Continue Reading · baby, family · 72

Guard Your Gates

Photography by Brian A. Petersen at www.brianapetersen.com

We have a few good phrases we say in our house a lot, little catchphrases or sentences that carry a lot of meaning in just a few words. They are the phrases that distill a lot of conversation into one sentence. For instance, we say “calm your heart” and “we use our words to love each other.”  This is another one: Guard your gates.

It was Halloween and we were at my parents’ house helping to hand out candy. We aren’t really into Halloween and so we hadn’t made a big deal out of it. At the time, Anne was barely two and Joe was only a month old so the idea of trick-or-treating was more daunting than delightful. So we stayed inside and handed out candy with my parents. Anne was off and about, playing here and there but she happened to wander past the front door right at the moment that I opened up the door to a gaggle of teenagers decked out as zombies and witches. We can talk about whether or not teenagers with beards should be trick-or-treating another time perhaps but I’ll tell you this: Anne was terrified of them. She didn’t even scream and cry, she just froze in absolute fear, her eyes swallowing her face as the colour drained.

My mother saw her reaction and quickly scooped her up and away from the door. After I finished with the teens and shut the door, Anne was perched on my mother’s lap. I was privileged to overhear my mother helping my daughter learn how to deal with fear. As best I can remember it – it’s been six years and more babies since then – this is what she said:

“Annie, that was scary, wasn’t it?” Anne nodded, her mouth quivering. “Well, you know what? You don’t have to let that fear into your mind and into your heart, sweetheart. Just because there are scary things, it doesn’t mean you need to invite them. Let’s pretend your heart and your mind have a gate, okay? And we can either open the gate to scary things or things that make us bad or do bad things. Or we can shut that gate. Sometimes we still see things over a gate, right? But we don’t have to open the door and invite them to come in and set up forever. If scary things come into your mind and heart, it’s hard to get rid of them. Your eyes and your ears are your gates, Annie. So if you ever see something that makes you feel really scared or makes you want to do bad things, you just shut your ears and your eyes to it. You need to guard your gates, baby. If you guard your gates, then nothing will come into your mind and heart that you don’t want in there.

You want to open your gate up to the good things, sweetheart. You open your heart and your mind up to the things that make you laugh or make you good or make you think.

Annie got it. Since then, all of the tinies have gotten it. In her childlike trust, she believed my mother and the thing is, I did, too. Tinies are so sensitive, so easily influenced, so perceptive. Of course I wanted to guard her gates and teach her how to do the same thing. We are careful about what we allow the tinies to watch and experience and listen to – we know that it can become part of their very selves.

In a way, it’s become a bit of a family joke. If we’re watching Hockey Night in Canada and a commercial for a horror film comes on (seriously, HNIC, why do you do this? you know kids are watching), someone – often one of the tinies themselves – will holler “GUARD YOUR GATES” and then the tinies clap their hands over their ears and screw their eyes shut. They know that if they see that terrified girl or that blood dripping down an arm, it will become part of their mind and their heart, haunting their dreams.

I’m sure that when the tinies are all grown up, they’ll laugh themselves silly over how we used to holler “guard your gates!” during the commercial breaks of Chopped on the Food Network because an ad for a primetime show came on. Whatever. What’s parenting for if not to give them a few ways to laugh at you later on?

Confession time though: I still guard my gates. I’ve admitted at long last that I’m not immune either. I’ve learned to guard what I watch or listen to even in movies and television and music. Not because I have some weird legalistic thing about it, but because I’ve finally admitted what most everyone who loves me has known for a lot longer: I’m very sensitive. The tinies come by their sensitivities quite honestly. I take these things into my mind and heart and they latch on. I’d rather not open the doors of my heart wide to fear or lust or violence, for instance. If I believe those things are antithetical to life in Christ, then why am I flinging wide my own gates to them?

It’s funny how much I’ve tried to pretend that I’m beyond being influenced. Like I’m supposed to be so past it, so over it, that it doesn’t bother me or impact me. Like what I listen to or watch doesn’t affect what I think and how I speak and how I move through my life, how I view humanity and violence, sex and God.

Brian and I tried to watch a show recently that everyone was raving about. We made it through two episodes before we realised we were both sitting there with a cringe-y look on our faces. “It’s just not us to watch this stuff, is it?” he said. “It makes my soul feel sad,” I admitted. So we turned it off. Maybe we can’t keep up with 99% of pop culture references but I’m okay with that. Lesson learned. And yet I watch my fair share of crap, too – I can’t figure it out either. Somethings just make me a worse version of myself. I can admit that now.

But as the tinies grow up, the simplicity of that instruction has shifted. As we deal with friends and challenges and new influences, we’ve had more conversations about what it means to guard your gates beyond just slapping your hands over your ears.

Guard your gates now means that we get to decide who influences us – how we think, how we feel, what we do.

As in most things to do with parenting, I find I’m learning right along with the tinies.

One of the tinies recently asked to listen to some quiet reinterpretations of old hymns after our bedtime prayers. “It feels like someone is still praying over me as I go to sleep, it keeps the gate open to good things,” they said. Another time, we had to have long talks about the influences of certain friends and how these friendships had opened up the gates to some unacceptable behaviours and habits. It was time to practice guarding the gates against those influences while still being kind and friendly.

When we have the agency or choice (which we don’t always have), we want to be careful about who and what takes up residence in our minds and our hearts.

I think this is the hard thing about parenting – okay, who am I kidding? one of many hard things –  this whole “finding a way to help lead and teach and model nuance and wisdom” thing. When the tinies were toddlers, it was as simple as “shut your eyes and shut your ears” to scary things. Done and done.

But now that they are getting older, guarding one’s gates has to become an act of Holy Spirit lead discernment. 

Because there are times in our lives when we damn well better open our minds and our hearts to things that make us uncomfortable. In fact, I think sometimes that a lot of good Christians take the toddler approach to “guard your gates” – they just don’t listen to or hear anything that might be difficult or complex or heart-breaking. They go through life with their fingers in their ears and their eyes screwed up tight against anything that might challenge them.

Indeed, I have been thinking a lot lately about the importance of listening to the stories that make us uncomfortable and challenge our peace. Just because something is terrible to learn, it doesn’t mean that I need to guard my gates against it. As Christians, I think it’s our responsibility to carry each other’s burdens and be a part of restoring justice for one another. Sometimes that means being able to carry truly terrible truths without letting it bury us whole. We grow in these places of challenge and hardship. Guarding my gates doesn’t mean shutting out the cries of our brothers and sisters.

Sometimes the most holy work we can do is listen to each other’s stories and take their suffering into our hearts, carrying each other’s burdens and wounds to Christ.

So, no, I don’t guard my gates against simply terrible or scary things anymore. Instead, I want to guard my gates against what diminishes wholeness and holiness in me.

I guard against the influences that make me the worst version of myself, the influences that feed my natural tendencies towards sin and bitterness, rage and cynicism, seeing the worst of people and being quick to offence.

This is a hard thing to write about without sounding like this is an exercise in boundary-marking and legalism. I’m not really into policing anyone else’s standards. I tend to trust the Holy Spirit in you. But it’s also a good bit of common sense to me now.

Sometimes it is this simple: is this influence – whether it’s a book or a movie or a friendship or a Facebook page – bringing life and wholeness and the fruit of the Spirit to me and others? Is it challenging me to be fully alive, to be more compassionate and human, to be more wise and loving?

It doesn’t have to be pleasant, oh, no sometimes the things that bring compassion and wisdom and wholeness into our lives are the very things that break our hearts or make us angry or challenge us.

Even in the face of terrible and terrifying things, I want to open my gates to the influences that will help make me whole and holy. I want to grieve and lament, push back against evil and darkness, challenge injustice while still, as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8-9,”filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

And I want to open wide the gates of my heart and my mind to the influences that bring life and light, goodness and holiness to me.

I want to fill my heart with those things because then when I encounter the terrible and the terrifying, my true life will brim over into true words and deeds that bring life (Luke 6:44).

I have no idea if this makes any sense.

 

 

Continue Reading · faith, family, parenting · 89

173 beats a minute: On one surprising little baby and the possibility of tiny miracles

FiveFamilyPlusOne

It was an early summer morning when I realized that we might need a pregnancy test. This was hilarious to me.  I mentioned it to my husband and we laughed about it – of course, it wouldn’t be positive, of course.

We were done having babies. We had made the decision to move into a new season of life more than two years ago – after a lot of prayer and conversation and waiting. The reasons for our decision were our own but we knew we had made the right decision. We were a “five-family,” as the tinies called us, and I was content. I was even learning to make peace with The Ache. I loved the baby season of our life and I will always miss it. But I loved our new season of life, too, and we had begun to orient our life to school-age kids. I began to “lean in” to my own vocation as a writer and even an occasional preacher with joy.

So when I picked up that early-result test really it was just to put my mind at ease. I couldn’t be pregnant, no way.

***

One early Saturday morning in June, Brian sat on our bed waiting for me to emerge with the expected news. Instead, I walked out of that washroom and simply looked him dead in the eye. “No way,” he said, “no. way.”

And we began to laugh – a little hysterically, I admit.

We laughed every time we looked at each other for the next three weeks.

***

We told the tinies that very day. We made the tactical error of taking them out to dinner at a non-kid-friendly establishment. Evelynn had not had a nap that day and she was ferocious in her exhaustion. I ended up spending most of the meal walking her out of the restaurant for her behaviour. When Brian finally blurted into a brief quiet moment that we were having a new baby, I was feeling frazzled and exhausted, Evelynn was still on the brink of a melt-down, the other two tinies were starving, and we looked like a three-ring circus to everyone else within range.

The serving girl looked overwhelmed for us when we told her why we were there “to celebrate! a new baby!” And then the tinies cheered and I cried because I was nonsensically happy with my circus. And then Evelynn and Joe got into a yelling match about whether the baby would be a boy or a girl and I decided to pull the plug on the dinner. For pity’s sake, let’s just go home, I like all of you people better when we’re at home and properly rested.

A new baby, of course, Lord, because life isn’t crazy enough already.

***

We told our families and closest friends that day, too. I think we needed the moral support. I think we needed someone to say, “it’s okay, you’re going to do great, you can totally do this.”

Because in those early days, all I could think about was how my life was being completely reoriented and I hadn’t planned for this and my life was going to have to run to catch up to this news.

I felt scared and overwhelmed, grateful and disoriented.

And yet I was so happy.

***

We told the tinies not to tell anyone. We made a great show on the Sunday morning about keeping secrets. But the very first thing that the tinies did when they walked in to church was to inform everyone: “Mummy’s having a BABY!”

PSA: Tinies are crap at keeping secrets. We only managed to keep this pregnancy a secret from Facebook. Everyone in our real life found out within 2 minutes of running into the tinies.

***

But it didn’t take long for the fear to set in. This is my eighth pregnancy even though I only have three children. We seem to be able to get pregnant easily – it’s holding onto the babies that is the trouble. And now I am considered “an older mother” – my risk factors in early pregnancy are high.

And so my primary job in early pregnancy seems to be fighting the fear and the anxiety, trying to choose hope and faith on a near daily basis.

With every baby I have lost, I have had zero pregnancy “symptoms” – no morning sickness, nothing. But with my three tinies that we have earthside, I was sick as a dog and grateful for it. Perhaps the only women who rejoice over morning sickness are those of us who have experienced the pain of miscarriage and early/mid pregnancy loss. Every bout of sickness, every day of exhaustion, every ache, it all testifies that someone is still there, still growing. It’s when your body goes quietly “back to normal” that you start to fear.

But with this pregnancy, I have not been sick. I have not been overly tired, nothing.

I go through my days and there isn’t a single indicator that I’m pregnant. And that has terrified me.

***

Finally I went to have the initial checks. And it only seemed to confirm my worst fears: there was no heartbeat.

I drove home from my doctor, numb. I pulled over on the side of the road to call people. I called Brian, I called my mum, I called my sister, I called my dad. And I called a couple of friend who I know are prayer warriors.

I wasn’t ready go give up. Not yet. I was still hopeful. For that day, anyway.

***

We went to our regular midwife a few days later. This was the one that was supposed to find out the truth once and for all.

Again, no heartbeat.

And I think that was the point when I gave up. Brian still continued to hope and pray, he agreed with our midwife that there could be any number of reasons why the heartbeat wasn’t showing up. I wasn’t there anymore.

Hope was too hard for me. 

My family and my friends decided that since I could not hope that they would hope for me, they would have faith for me.

We were scheduled for a final ultrasound check. I began to make my plans for how to handle this. As in times of great sorrow in my life, I went very deeply within myself. I stopped talking and completely withdrew. My family all knows this about me and they gave me the space I needed, my soul felt like it was in survival, shut down to just the basic functions.

How could we be here again? I felt like I could not bear this loss. We had done this so many times already – this was part of the reason why we decided to stop with our three. I felt like I should be grateful for the little ones we have in our home and that it was too much to expect more. And sure enough, here we were again. I began to make plans, figure out schedules for medical procedures.

My sister had bought the new baby a little white and grey sleeper in soft cotton the day after she heard our news. But on that day, I stood in my bedroom, looking at that hopeful little sleeper hanging in the closet, and I folded it up and put it away mechanically.

On the morning of the final ultrasound check, I went to the coffee shop and I wrote an entire blog post telling the world about how we had lost another baby and how the sorrow was swallowing me whole this time. I scheduled it to post the next morning. Then I drove to the doctor’s office to meet my husband.

***

I lay on the table, numb. And we explained why we were there and so thankfully no one was happy or excited, wounding us further with their blind hope.

Our tech quietly went about her business and the minutes passed, so slowly. Then in a tone of complete shock she said, “173 beats a minute.”

“What?” my entire body woke up. What? What? What? What?

“173 beats a minute!” she crowed. “There’s one little baby here and … it’s alive!”

Brian started to cry and I started to laugh, this is what we do when babies come to us. He broke all the rules and texted from the room: “173 beats a minute! We are having a baby!” over and over and over again. Little arms and legs were moving, a heart was beating, life!

I called my friends and they almost couldn’t believe it. Sometimes we get so used to our prayers feeling unanswered that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when the miracle happens. This baby has a lot of people longing for his or her life now.

Later that night, I went to my blog dashboard and sat looking at that post I had written just a few hours ago. My great act of faith was to not only unschedule it, to not only put it back into Drafts, but to entirely and irrevocably delete it.

***

I still don’t know if that was a miracle or not. It feels like one. It’s entirely possible that the doctor and the midwife simply didn’t get the heartbeat for whatever reason. But all I know is that there was no heartbeat and then there was – 173 beats a minute of a little heart still hanging in there.

There was nothing there and now there is precious life.

***

“This one might be your desire-of-the-heart baby,” Brian told me one day this summer.

He said that because, even though I made my peace with The Ache, even though I was in complete agreement that we were done with our three, even though I was ready for this new season of life without any babies in my arms, there was still that part of me that longed for one more. Perhaps it was the desire of my heart broke through all the expectations and plans somehow.

I don’t know why Tiny #4 came to being – even that part feels like a miracle, to be honest. But I know that Tiny #4 was so longed for, deep in my heart far from articulation.

***

I’d be lying if I said that was the end of my fear, that since then I have walked in total assurance. It has still felt like a roller coaster all summer. I go through days when I feel sure we’re destined for sorrow still.  Even now, I don’t “feel” pregnant which makes it hard to keep the fear at bay.

It is still my daily battle: faith over fear, hope over despair, over and over and over again.

(I certainly look pregnant though – hello, fourth baby, my abdomen muscles have given up any pretence.)

I had another appointment just last week with our midwife and again, trouble finding the heartbeat. Finally on the third check – 160 beats a minute, so faint but unmistakably there. Still there.

Now we have crossed 14 weeks and I have decided to be hopeful anyway. Every day that passes feels like a victory somehow.

I bought a baby name book this week.

 

 

photos by michelle cervo

Continue Reading · baby, family · 140

Surprise!

Remember how I mentioned that there were a few reasons why I needed to take the summer off from blogging? Well…..I’m just going to go ahead and leave these family pictures here and then walk away whistling with a grin, okay?

Anne

JosephEvelynn

FiveFamilyPlusOne

(I have a story to tell you, believe me. This is might just be our miracle baby.)

photos by michelle cervo

Continue Reading · baby, family · 126