Category Archives: pregnancy

Detecting Those First Flickers of Life

baby in the womb in first few weeks of pregnancy
Those first flutters of movement in my womb are always so exciting and welcome, confirmation that a new life is growing. How many nights I’ve spent lying still in the darkness of the night, hand to my bulging tummy, awaiting and praying for those barely detectable twitches. Sometimes I’ve held my breath so as not to confuse my own bodily motions with that gentle stirring from my unborn child.
All those baby books outline the milestones to expect and when to expect them, but they can lead to unnecessary anxiety if we hold too fast to their promises. Like so many other blueprints for life, we need to keep in mind that as individuals we may not fit precisely into the documented specs.
Our Architect employs unlimited parameters, He draws from a knowledge and creativity far beyond our human capacity. I forget that too often and find myself frustrated when I’m not reaching the sixteen week mile marker for baby detection. You’d think after carrying more than a dozen souls, I’d learn to fully embrace that lesson, but unfortunately my stubbornness persists.
Those barely perceivable motions feel somewhat akin to a butterfly’s landing, soft and fleeting. Usually, I second-guess them, wondering if it was really baby or just some ill-timed, gas bubble. Most often my husband has to wait a while longer before he can share in my enthusiasm because those first flickers are too gentle for him to sense.
As those kicks and turns become more noticeable, they disturb me at times. Not that baby’s activity is no longer welcome, but it takes me by surprise and my brain needs a moment to process what is happening inside. It’s similar to a sudden discomfort, like when a random pain or abnormal twinge seizes our attention and our thoughts attempt to process the source. That is not to say, the tiny one’s stretches and internal pokes cause actually discomfort, but in the earliest phases I’m not yet familiar with the infrequent stirring so my brain instinctively sends out an alert. Sometimes my post-womb children can have this effect on me. One of them may unexpectedly grab on for a cuddle when I’m in the middle of washing the dishes or folding the laundry and my first reaction is to jump or brush their hand away. It takes my scattered brain a moment to understand their intentions.
Now that our expected one has grown for these last eight plus months, his/her kicks, pushes and twists garner my attention easily. A foot pokes out here and the long back presses there. Astonishing how he/she even reacts to Daddy’s pep talks or a sibling’s searching hands.
Just the other night I awoke abruptly from a sound slumber. The full weight and girth of this big baby belly is already preparing me for the night-time feedings to come as I rarely sleep for more than an hour at a clip in between bathroom pit stops, but this time felt different. From the depths of my quiet stillness, I suddenly opened my eyes to discover my tummy fully engaged in wild activity, like a full swing party was going on inside of me.
Lying there on my back, watching my taunt, stretched skin rise and fall like a rough tide, I thought about the Holy Spirit. The invocation, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your love,” sparked in my mind. How often I’ve invited Him into my life in recent years, offered Him my entire self. Now in this moment of motherly solitude, I glimpsed a correlation.
It was my complete openness and surrender that allowed the Creator to conceive life within me, but that life took on more than one form. Yes, there is the tangible, visible creature who will be delivered into my waiting arms within the next seven (or so) weeks, but there is also the mysterious Third Person Whose residence will continue to dwell inside of me.
Like those first baby flutters, I suppose my awareness to the movings of the Holy Spirit were equally elusive. My prayers, at times, seemed to go unanswered and I wondered if perhaps my offering of self was too deficient. Attempting to follow the advice of other faithful advocates, I may have caused my own frustration by forgetting that the Divine Plan is custom tailored, not a one size fits all design. If I try to mirror the steps of my favorite saints, I’m probably dooming myself to failure. Not because their example is unfit, but because my foot simply requires a different size.
Thinking back over the last few years, I doubt my husband could perceive the early changes either. My periodic depression and ready tears probably masked the smoldering flame of that Spirit. And than there was that ever present self-doubt battling to capture my attention and discourage my progress. Similar to that tiny life beginning to gain the strength to make him/herself known, the kindling had only started to catch hold.
Not unlike those internal movements that momentarily disturbed my peace, the Third Person stirred up unexpected changes. Things I once took for granted, He now calls me to reconsider. Recently, I’ve started a weekly thanksgiving list and it sure has helped me to reexamine my petitions list. It’s not so easy to beg for more “stuff” when I seriously reflect on all the blessings I’ve already received. Too many times to count, I’ve asked but forgotten to thank. Rather humbling to be reminded of my own selfishness when I am so ready to remind my children of theirs.
While the intentions of the Holy Spirit are certainly unquestioningly good, His admonitions and challenges can sear the heart. Thinking of St.Teresa of Avila, I can hardly imagine her transverberation or spiritual wounding of the heart. She describes the experience as “pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God.” I cannot claim such blessed torment and in truth it stirs up a bit of fear because I’m not sure that I could ever be so docile to or worthy of the Spirit’s full flaming charity.
But I suppose that’s why the Holy Spirit arrives as a small flame in need of fanning. Certainly as a mother, I can see the need for time to grow accustomed to and prepared for the joyful pain and sacrifice of birth. The thought of having to go through labor without first walking through the steps of pregnancy seems terrifying. It makes me think of trying to run a marathon without having taken the time to train.
Lying there on my bed watching all of that internal activity, I considered how the Third Person’s presence has become more apparent. Not that I’m His perfect steward by any measure, but I am more aware than ever before of His movements in my life. Hopefully, in due time I will succeed in helping to set this world aflame by delivering His Presence for all to see.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Employing Some Far-Sightedness: Stopping My Own Body Shaming

this body was made to carry life

Standing in front of my bathroom mirror taking note of my late pregnancy body, I sigh. At the end of my maternity fashion choices, I find myself frustrated and disappointed when those wide-banded shorts won’t make their way over my protruding abdomen. Belly button gone, a varicose vein bulges in a twisted pathway the full course of my left leg. Leaning in closer, I spy the gray hairs that refuse to be disguised and the red blood vessel that tattoos my face.

Still staring at my myriad imperfections, it hits me that I’ve made this same self-deprecating evaluation before. Throughout most of these last seven and a half months of pregnancy, I’ve been unsatisfied with my body. Oh sure, I’ve smiled and said thank you to the compliments from friends, but all along internally balking. They were just being polite, of course. What’s really beautiful or glowing about swollen, rounding and stretched out body parts?
Now it occurs to me that my persistent dissatisfaction might really be a sign of ingratitude. Do I really believe that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? If I do, how can I abuse the facade God gave me? If I am made in the image of my Creator, how can I spend so much time grumbling over His portrayal?
One doesn’t have to look far to see where I’ve developed these distorted notions of beauty. Flip the pages of a modern woman’s magazine and you’ll find perfectly airbrushed, sleek bodies scantily clad in size-two frocks balancing on stiletto heels. Even in the average ob/gyn’s office you’ll likely find pictures of fresh-faced mothers with tight baby bumps that will never expand (by choice or force) more than twice. 
 
Hollywood seems a bit more interested in motherly tummies as of late, but alas the praise is generally reserved for cute little bumps. And the greater achievement is highlighted later on when Star Mama flaunts her return to pre-prego size just six weeks postpartum.



It certainly doesn’t help when well-meaning allies casually question whether I might be carrying twins or, oh so charitably, equate my size to that of a “house.”

With nips and tucks, botox and Spanx, the female form is cast and there’s no room on the red carpet for a Botticelli girl. There’s a cream, treatment, procedure or prescription guaranteed to improve your odds of attaining post-Renaissance perfection. And there’s contraception to insure our fertility doesn’t leave us vulnerable to too many motherly expansions.
Blessed with two lovely daughters, I must reconsider my personal evaluation lest they adopt my lowly opinions of physical maternity. Truth be told, when in the company of other women, I’m inspired by their beauty. The difference is that I see them, the “whole” them not some deconstructed parts, and they are each and every one beautiful. So, too, I want my children to see, themselves and others, with genuine clarity not through the cloudy lens of our sterile, sexualized culture.
Taking another look, a deeper view, I consider those gray hairs represent my years of experience and the wisdom accumulated during a life well-lived. My blood vessel tattoo reminds me of my first home birth when after 25 hours I pushed my sweet son, Jude, into the wide world. The lines around my eyes came from so many smiles erupting at the sight of my children’s achievements. Rounded hips have made ample resting places for transporting toddlers.
My sagging breasts invoke memories of hours spent gazing down at little ones as they satiated their hunger. Well-worn tummy muscles provide a safe and comfy home for growing life. And that lost belly button was sacrificed in trade for the joy of watching tiny parts stretch and kick from my inside out. Stretch marks are the badge of my vocation and swollen varicose veins signify my body’s task of providing for two.
So much more than these visual parts, I am a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I’m a volunteer, a teacher, a writer and a helpmate. Every appendage and organ serves a purpose, like the architecture of a temple, but what use is a temple if it stands as an empty facade? The Holy Spirit has work to accomplish, so this temple of mine was never meant to remain pristine.
Indeed there is value in accentuating the positives and nurturing a healthy, strong body, but wishing away the marks of time is pointless. If God made this body, then this body is good. So, from now on when I pass a mirror, I am going to try my best to step back and employ some far-sightedness. Vanity may be a sin, but right perspective has the potential to inspire appreciation for the gift of this temple that I call me.

The Courage To Be Joyful

This passed weekend I had the privilege of speaking to a group of wonderful women at a retreat. My topic was “Finding Streams of Living Water in the Desert” and I was incredibly humbled by the myriad of ways we saw and felt God’s presence throughout our time together.

Shortly after we’d arrived on Friday night, gathered around in a circle, we had the task of asking for a particular grace we hoped to gain from our time away. Each in turn, we introduced ourselves and we shared our heart’s desire. Patience was top on the list of many women, but I know better than to pray for that grace, because God has given me AMPLE opportunities to exercise that virtue (starting about five minutes after my eyes open most mornings).


Well, as my turn grew closer, I scrambled in my brain to think of what grace I wanted or more properly needed. Patience? Humility? Purity? Charity? Courage! That’s what I needed, courage. I needed the courage to stand up before those holy women and deliver my talk without my knees knocking together, without tears blinding my eyes, without choking on the words I’d written. So, when my turn came, I told them who I was, where I came from and announced that courage was my goal.

At 10:00am the next morning, I stood up before that room of women, ignoring the lump of fear that had whelmed up in my chest, and I spoke. I shared my testimony, my desert story and I did so without a tear (okay one tried to escape early on). Success, you might conclude. Less than twenty-four hours after my arrival, my prayer had been successfully answered.

Who Knows Better Than God?

But than that good God of ours, that all knowing, all loving, all wise Father knows me far better than I even know myself. While I just scrape the surface of my heart, He reads the very depths.

My speaking hour over, I was able to really relax, to fully enter into retreat. I enjoyed listening to the other women, gained lots of inspiration and laughed along the way. I rested my body and soaked in the excitement of so much time among grown-ups.

My pregnant belly fully exposing my “condition,” I got to share news of our expected little one: the due date, the names we’re contemplating, the fact that we’re not finding out the sex, etc. With a handful of nursing couples (mama and baby) in attendance, I got to cuddle a few tiny bodies and nuzzle a few soft cheeks when a spare pair of arms was needed now and again. Those privileged moments led me to dream about the day when my own sweet-smelling newborn will be suckling at my breast.

A friend passed on a borrowed infant car seat that her daughter has out-grown and we chatted about what other baby supplies might be missing from my mama arsenal. Would I sling or wrap? Would a single or double stroller fit the bill?

The weekend passed too quickly, as does most time spent in the company of friends.

Taking Inventory Of Our Answered Prayers

As the retreat wound down, we circled around again and took an inventory of sorts. This time we were to reflect on whether or not the grace we’d prayed for had been made manifest during our withdrawal from our busy lives.

Now I stated early on that I’d been graced with the courage to deliver my talk without much faltering or weeping, but as my turn approached that answer seemed too shallow. Rarely at a loss for words, I took a pass and said I still needed time to reflect.

Listening to each woman share her grace, something began to stir up inside of me like a neat pile of settled leaves gets churned up by a strong wind.

For the last 18 weeks of this pregnancy, I’d been cautious, calculated in my thoughts, my dreams, my emotions (oh well, except for that overwhelming anxiety). Scarred by previous losses, I was afraid to feel joy, to completely embrace the excitement of planning, to dare to dream about our future. It felt safer to hold back, like it might hurt less if I steeled my heart for the worst.

To give credit to my husband, he’d gently admonished me to savor this pregnancy, to soak in the memories being made each day. Of course, that was easier said than done.

Peeling Away The Scales

But as each beautiful woman took her turn, the Spirit peeled away my scales. Like a zap from an electrical shock, my acquired grace jolted my mind. Indeed, I had been blessed with courage, but the courage extended far beyond my Saturday morning discourse. God had given me the courage to feel joy, unrestrained, unmeasured joy! He broke through the protective barrier I’d set up around my heart and, with that wall breeched, a flood of pure joy poured in.

And Monday’s readings spoke directly to me, reaffirmed His Presence, His work in my heart. Psalm 30 instructs: Yahweh, my God, I cried to you for help and you healed me. Make music for Yahweh, all you who are faithful to him, praise his unforgettable holiness. His angerlasts but a moment, his favour through life; In the evening come tears, but with dawn cries of joy. Carefree, I used to think, ‘Nothing can ever shake me!’ You have turned my mourning into dancing, you have stripped off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. So my heart willsing to you unceasingly, Yahweh, my God, I shall praise you for ever.

We all spend time camped in the desert, but let’s not allow those times of trial to harden our hearts. For the Lord hears our cries, He knows our need and He provides. Keep your hearts soft and take courage, joy is on the way!

Considering Your Perspective

“How are you feeling today?” reads the text message that’s just come in. Contemplating the nearly unabated nausea that already began shortly after I opened my eyes to the morning’s light, I type back one word, “Nauseous.”


“Cool, glad to hear it, honey. Have a good day!” is the response from my sweetheart of a husband a moment later.


Now before you write my spouse off as some cruel barbarian caveman, who drags me around by my tresses, you should consider a different perspective.



Over the last few years, our family has suffered the loss of several miscarried children and we’d begun to think that our days of childbearing were coming to a close.
 

Yes, many of us, from our first grader to our older children were praying persistently for the blessing of just one more sweet newborn head to kiss, but we understood that not all prayers are answered in the manner we expect.


So, one year after our last eternal soul was carried up to her heavenly home, we were overjoyed to accept the gift of a new life in the womb. Of course, along with the joy came that nausea and a number of other unpleasant physical challenges. But rather than pray for the removal of these daily crosses, we understood that they are positive signs of a life continuing and a chance to offer thanksgiving to God.

Relishing Each Day

Oh, to be honest I do complain now and again, but then I gently tell myself, or that wise spouse of mine reminds me, that each day is an opportunity is relish the time I have with this baby. Truly, our earthly time together may be limited to days, weeks, months or years. So, rather than waste a single moment, I try to embrace the sacrifices needed to grow and protect this child and trust that this offering of my very body is worth it no matter the final result. Because even if we are called to relinquish this little one before we are ready, he or she was created for eternity and that’s an awesome perspective.


The readings at Mass this weekend focused on the Visitation, when our Blessed Mother, carrying the newly conceived Word Incarnate, traveled to the home of her cousin Elizabeth. Mary was in her teen years, having not even been with a man, when the Holy Spirit sparked life in her womb. Elizabeth was close to giving birth in her old age. While today 40 is labeled “elderly” in the obstetrical world, Elizabeth is considered to have been far beyond that age. Counseling women friends through our Natural Family Planning ministry, I’ve rarely heard a woman say she’d consider a teen-aged or a senior-aged pregnancy a welcome blessing.


When we view these circumstances from a proper historical distance though, our eyes are opened to the reality. Mary said yes to God’s plan even though it may have made no sense to her at the time and placed her in very vulnerable position; however, her example of supernatural surrender and heroic trust opened the door for salvation for every human person to follow. Elizabeth, who suffered the cross of infertility and carried the label of barren for so many years, was now about to give birth to St. John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said, “…among those born of women there has been none greater…” I imagine these joyful mothers scarcely considered the minor inconveniences of motherhood too much to bear.

Arriving At Knee-Jerk Conclusions

How simple it is for us today to arrive at knee-jerk conclusions, to offer our opinion based on erroneous ideas. Our culture fuels a plethora of misconceptions and false opinions around which many form their consciences. 


Consider how we mourn as a nation over the devastating loss of life in Newton, CT. The innocent children, who were gunned down, are rightly upheld as precious, lost lives. The women, who selflessly donated their lives to protect their students, are honored as they should be. Our president was moved to tears as he addressed the shocked nation, referencing his own cherished fatherhood.


On the very same day in our country, we allowed an abortionist to dismember an innocent, unborn child and called that a reasonable choice that his/her parents were entitled to make. Rather than offer support and encouragement to brave mothers, who unexpectedly conceive, we encourage the opposing message that strong, free women place themselves first even if it is to the detriment of another life. The president, who contemplated the faces of his own beloved daughters, has forgotten that they were once unprotected, living persons developing in their mother’s womb.


What if one of the teachers, who gave her life so readily for her students, had been pregnant? Would we count an unborn child among the dead? Would the church bells have rung 27 times? What would have been our perspective of an innocent, unborn child slain by Lanza while still within his mother?


Of course, this unthinkable tragedy may lead others to hold their children a little tighter this holiday season. Perhaps, the parents, who were focused on purchasing presents, will instead take their children to church for the first time and refocus on the true meaning of Christmas this year. Maybe, a frightened unwed mother saw her unborn child in the faces of those sweet, Newton students and found the resolve to embrace her motherhood.

Basing Our Perspective On Truth

Basing our perspective on truth is necessary if we are to rightly judge the circumstances we encounter as we live out each day. If God creates all persons and if He creates all persons in His image, then each person is worthy and valuable.


Spending a little time thinking about the real life characters documented in the Bible, we meet a diverse bunch through whom the Creator chose to make manifest His plan of salvation. It is than that we gain a clearer perspective. Greedy tax collectors, weak-kneed Apostles, adulterous women, stubborn prophets and unborn babies were His ministers to carry out His work on earth. Of course, those who were living in sin were called out and they ultimately chose the better part, a life for Christ and in Christ.


My family’s openness to life and our surrender to the possibility of suffering allowed Our Creator to reach down from the heights of the universe and form a perfect, unrepeatable person, made in His image. We hope to hold the result of our openness, to stare deeply into the eyes of this expected child at the appointed time. Irregardless, though, we stand firm on the truth that our sacrifices will not be in vain because abandoning oneself to the Divine Plan always has an eternal reward.


Nibbling another salt cracker in an attempt to keep my nausea to a tolerable level, I offer this simple prayer, “Lord, thank You for this day, for the chance to cradle this baby in my womb. Thank You for allowing me the privilege to sacrifice myself for another. And thank You for shaping my perspective by way of Your cross.”