Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Our September + Giveaway

She is the babe you hold in your arms for an hour after she's gone to sleep. If you put her down in the crib, she might wake up changed and fly away. So instead you rock by the window, drinking the light from her skin, breathing her exhaled dreams. Your heart bays to the double crescent moons of closed lashes on her cheeks. She's the one you can't put down.
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Win $20 shop-credit to LillyBelleMarket, where I bought these matching headbands.
Contest at end of posting.

Ask any parent, and the will tell you that time passes far too quickly, especially when they're little. While I try to enjoy every day and remember everything I love about her, I can't freeze time. Documenting it in this type of digital scrapbook is the next best thing. There are just so many things about this age that I don't want to forget! Also, I'm doing a giveaway to one of my favorite Etsy shops, Lilly Belle Market, along with a Starbucks gift-card. Scroll down to the bottom to enter the contest!

Autumn turned 4 months on September 26th, so for the majority of the month, she was 3 months old. It was an exciting month of changes and milestones, with something new almost every week. The month started with Nathan going back to work, although he didn't have students until after labor day. On our evening walk that first night back, she started to notice and look at the planes that fly overhead for the first time. She also started to startle. She's most susceptible to this when she's falling asleep and there's a loud noise. For example, Nathan sneezing, Trevi barking. One day, it was her friend Olivia's excited squeal when we popped over for a visit. They live on the same street, and Olivia is 3 months older. They seemed to be communicating with each other, holding eye contact and babbling when Olivia smiled and became excited. Somehow, this startled Autumn and she just started bawling, with real tears. Another time, as she was drifting off to nap time in her pack and play, Trevi barked and Autumn cried so much she was trembling. She's quickly consoled though, and went down for a 2 hour nap.

On September 4th, I dressed her in her new Baby Legs legwarmers and snapped a few photos. I had her on the floor of the nursery, and left to check on the shepherds pie I was making. When I came back, she was on her stomach. I had to stop and ask myself if that was how I left her. No, I definitely left her on her back. She rolled over! When I brought her out to the living room, she did it again, and again, I missed it! As I write this at the end of September, she has yet to roll over again. But all month she has been doing little abdominal crunches. She lifts her legs off the ground, and lifts her head and part of her shoulders. It seems like she may sit up before she gets the hang of rolling over!

We had her baptism on September 13th, and she did so well with all of the activity and visitors. I still marvel at what an easy-going, happy baby she is, and this event was no exception. She's easily passed from one person to another, and usually gives a smile that shows her dimple. I was really surprised and impressed by the turn-out. So many family and friends came to witness and celebrate this special day for her.

We received a few days of rain, and Autumn was alert enough to notice it. We stood at her nursery doors and she looked around the back yard as it fell from the sky and the eves. It also misted a few times on our walks.

Mid-way through the month she started using her hands more. The day after her Baptism, she intentionally touched my face for the first time, exploring my mouth and nose with her hands. The following day, she grabbed Trevi's fur and did not let go. She has a very intent look when she does these things that is just so cute. She furrows her brow a bit and looks very serious. Around the 22nd of September, she started using her fingers more and it was so exciting to see her grasp and touch a toy placed in front of her.

Still sleeping through the night and still an excellent napper, I started posing her and creating her "nap-time adventures" series. I was inspired by this posting. I have a few more ideas, and hope to continue doing this as she grows.

On the 18th, we had our first trip to the library, and she started story-time there the following Monday at 11:15am. I thought she would be too young to benefit from it, but she is fascinated with all of the other kids. When the kids do interactive dances or act out parts of the books, Autumn sits in my lap and watches them. On the 28th, everyone held shakers for part of a song. I went and got one for her, so she wouldn't be left out but was planning to shake it myself. Much to my surprise, she took the shaker, held on to it and shook it a little! This was the first time she held and made noise with a rattle. She is starting to help me hold her bottle, but has yet to hold it on her own. She does seem to understand push-pull and will sometimes direct it toward her mouth, or push it away if she's had enough.

On the 22nd she had her 4 month appointment, which involved shots. I dread her getting shots, and look away while Nathan helps hold her. We asked first-time parent questions such as when can she start solids (6 months) and when can I run with her? (also 6 months). She is on track with milestones such as spontaneous babbling and holding her head up, and weighed 14.1 pounds which is in the 67th percentile and was 26 inches long, putting her in the 97th percentile for height. She now giggles, and laughs when we do silly things, like when Dad hold her away from him at arm's length. Who holds a baby like that? she wonders.

The first day of Autumn was September 23rd, but it has yet to come with cooler temperatures. On Saturday the 26th she turned 4 months old and we stayed at the St. Regis in Dana Point. It was a weekend of firsts for Autumn: first 5 star resort, first beach, first pool and first time being picked on. But that will be in my next blog posting, along with how we were fortunate enough to stay there for free.

Things I don't want to forget about this month:
  • Her pursed lips when she makes her ooh and ahh sounds. 
  • The noise she makes when she yawns. When we thinks she's about to, we stop talking and wait.
  • How she explores my face with her hands.
  • That she has started to cling to me when I hold her.
  • How she zones out when she's tired.
  • How she loves bath time and how she first splashed in the pool.
  • When she grabbed Trevi's fur for the first time.
  • Soft sighs she makes while shes's sleeping
  • Cutting her tiny fingernails.
  • Watching her use her hands.
  • How her face lights up when she smiles.
  • How she falls back asleep on my chest every morning after her first feeding.
  • When she wakes up, she babbles and never cries.
  • The sounds she makes when she drinks from her bottle.
  • Seeing her playing with Peter Rabbit which is attached to her crib rail.
  • How she puts both arms out, stiff, when she's excited
  • Her little leg rolls
  • Her abdominal crunches
  • How much I miss her when she sleeps and how I am always excited to see her in the morning
  • That I've never felt closer to her Daddy
Routines we're establishing:
  • Listening to Pray as You Go every morning.
  • Listening to songs: Love Me Do (Beatles), What a Wonderful World (Louie Armstrong), Gold Digger (Kanye)
  • Singing: You Are My Sunshine, Que Serra, Amazing Grace
  • Reading daily, usually the book from my book club
  • Watering
  • Morning and evening walks
  • Crocheting
  • Skype calls with Uncle Glen - the only time she gets screen  time!

Okay, now - contest time!

One of my favorite Etsy shops, Lilly Belle Market, is giving away a $20 shop credit! This is where I ordered the matching headbands that Autumn and I are wearing in these photos! But that's not all they have. They carry a variety of things such as bows and skirts, all handcrafted with perfection. Enter below, and good luck!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Autumn's Baptism and My Journey Back to the Catholic Faith

After we stood before our friends and family and the baptismal water from the gold shell was poured three times over Autumn's head, the deacon officiating turned to Autumn and said "Now, make sure you bring your parents to church."

Autumn Mary was baptized on September 13th at St. John Neumann in Irvine, CA. This is the church where we were married almost two years ago, and where my Mom's funeral was held last October. My Mom saved my baptism gown for many years and through multiple moves, and this is what Autumn wore, along with a bonnet from London that Dad gave me last Christmas. She also wore my baptism booties, and I held saint cards and the blue rosary in our wedding pictures that was sent to my Mom form her favorite Aunt Annie (Bride) when she visited Lourdes.

It felt good to know that Autumn was wearing something that my Mom picked out, and it felt good to take this important first step into Autumn's faith. While I have struggled with my faith almost my whole life, I love the sense of tradition that the sacraments bring and knowing she was baptized like I was, my Mom was, her mother before her and her mother's mother, Mary Mangan. And I'm sure many more before them, as we come from a line of Irish Catholics on my Mom's side.

Baptism is the admission and adoption into our Catholic faith, a faith I hope Autumn embraces, but will never force on her. We plan to raise her in the church, but will be accepting and certainly understand if she questions her faith at times, or does not blindly subscribe to everything the church teaches. After all, if left up to the church, she would not be here now, as they (currently) do not support IVF. Even in cases, for example, where the husband has testicular cancer, and IVF is the only way to create a family. In my Mom's day, if she was curious about things such as evolution, she was told not to question. "Have faith, Paula." Now, almost all religions, including the Catholic faith, welcome questions and admit when they don't have the answers.

I have more faith now than I have ever had, yet I still have a long way to go and am not where I would like to be. I have to admit that I am a bit envious of those who have strong faith, and would like to increase mine. But even just my desire to believe is new, and a long way from where I used to be.

My parents raised me Catholic but I only attended church regularly until I made my first communion. In my catechism class, I remember thinking "this makes no sense" when they explained that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were one in the same. I was eight or nine years old when I started thinking 'this sounds like make believe' and stopped going. I also stopped believing. It would be almost two decades until I heard the water, vapor, ice analogy.

In high school, most of the popular kids were religious. They were also the same kids who did bad things to be rebellious. They were promiscuous and did drugs, all the while projecting this holier-than-thou image. Teachers loved them, and they thought they were pretty special. The hypocrisy was a huge turn off to me, not just with them, but also famous preachers in the media and I started saying "You don't need religion to be a good person." something I do still believe. They had an aire about them that annoyed me. One day, I gave a girl who was heavily involved with the campus crusade for Christ a scenario: There are two people. One is a man who murders and tortures many people but asks for God's forgiveness before he dies. The other is a man on a desert island who has never been given the opportunity to learn about God, but strives all of his life to be a good person. The first would be accepted into Heaven, she explained, and the second would go to Hell. "That is not right or fair" I said. "Well, that is why we do missionary work" she countered. I remember this being a turning point for me and all the "evidence" I needed at the time to be done with it. Too bad I thought she was an authority, and didn't seek out a second opinion, but my mind was made up. (Recently, at Mass, a similar scenario was presented and they stated that the second person would go to Heaven. I wish I had been told this back then, I thought.)

As a young adult I struggled with, and was fixated on, the details and basic tenants of most Christian faiths and the Bible that I didn't (and don't) agree with such as: the age of the earth, Adam and Eve, Noah's Arc, no evolution, etc., and again the hypocrisy of some of the followers. Then, I would learn about something like Indulgences or the Spanish Inquisition and it would serve to further distance me and lead me away from organized religion altogether. I lived away from religion for my adolescence and young adulthood, but I wasn't doing it to rebel, I was doing it because it didn't make sense and it didn't fit well with me. I tried to be a good person and do what was right. I worked on improving and bettering myself not because a doctrine was telling me I had to, but because I wanted to and I felt like it carried more weight and held more meaning. Although I was periodically invited by running friends to events such as the Harvest Crusade, I wasn't interested and turned them down without a second thought. I never believed it had a place in either my mind or in my heart. I was even known to ask guys on the first date if they believed and if the answer was yes, it was a deal-breaker for me. I can't be close to someone with such a different world view, I thought. They might as well believe in fairies or dragons.

At 22, I sought out counseling at my university because I was interested in it as a career, and because of my fear of death, something that had bothered me since I was 16 or younger. It wasn't the process of dying that scared me, but just the nothingness and finality of it all. I was fearful of loosing my parents, and not existing myself. Even if I knew I was going to die at 109, in my sleep, I couldn't wrap my mind around that just being it. It didn't sit well with me. "Have you ever thought about Christianity?" the therapist asked me. "No, I'm agnostic. I don't believe." I explained. "Well, maybe you should ask for a sign." she said. Not yet in my master's program, and not yet realizing this specific, biased suggestion was unethical, I took it as a very serious assignment. I left her office to walk to my Developmental Psychology class and whispered aloud to the universe "Okay. If there is a God, prove it. Give me a sign."

I sat down in the large lecture hall in the Jack Brown building among the 200+ students and waited. Class ended and as I was gathering my things, the professor, Dr. Hoffman, called me up to the front of the class. He suddenly took an interest in me and started telling me about the honors program. Apparently, he had been impressed with a paper I had written, and the fact I was one of the few to turn in an extra credit assignment. "Come with me to my office" he directed, as he told me I was going to join the year-long program and conduct research with him. I didn't know it yet, but I would present a poster session at the WPA conference in Maui the very next year, all expenses paid.

I left his office and walked to my car, floating on air. "That must be the sign!" I thought, but the feeling quickly dissipated. That's just a coincidence and would have happened anyway, I reasoned. It's time to get down to business. I need to be more specific. I sat in my car, keys in hand and thought aloud in my mind: "I want the song on the radio, right now when I turn it on to be a sign." I only listened to rock at the time. As I inserted my keys into the ignition, the radio came on. "I'm not afraid of dying, because I'm going to Heaven and it's going to be alright" was the chorus. I sat there, dumbfounded. Well, that proves it! I remember driving home to my parent's house, elated that there was indeed a God. They may have been a little concerned about me when I burst through the door, professing my new-found faith and "proof." It lasted about 24 hours. For reasons I can't explain, I chalked it up to a coincidence and moved on.

I have always had doubt in things and I have always wanted proof. I'm not sure if that's why I chose psychology as my major, or if that major brought it out even moreso in me. But I remember being 7 years old and wanting proof of Santa. So instead of asking for a toy that I really wanted, I gave him a test. I wanted a bear, with a green tie that had a snowman sticker on it and purple boots. Surely those weren't found in stores, and only St. Nick could produce one. I got my bear and and my belief was sustained for awhile.

Life in college moved on, and after two years off, I applied and was accepted into graduate school. While I would tell people I was agnostic and "didn't know if there was a God or not" others actually saw me as anti-religious. I was working in a museum at Cal State when one of my coworkers pointed this out. "You know, you actually come across as being against people who believe in God. You seem anti-religious." Until this point, I thought I just didn't believe and had no idea that I came across this way. I'm just as bad as a religious person who looks down on someone for their lack of faith, I thought. Or, someone who thinks their religion is the right one and all the others are wrong. I don't want to be that way I said, and made a mental note to tone it down. I also started doing some self-examination to question why and how I had come to this viewpoint.

That examination and questioning lasted a few years, as I moved away from the Inland Empire and settled into my career as a counselor in Orange County. I recognized how helpful religion was to some, and realized that my "anti" feelings came, in part, from frustration with my own inability to believe in what 84% of the world's population believed. By that time, my friend group was pretty wide and diverse and I had to admit that many of my friends of faith were intelligent and I both respected and admired them. I became curious and started asking some of them why they believed what they did.

Somewhere around my 30th birthday I began to search for more. The few remaining embers that were left in me involving religion began to glow brighter. I can't believe that song came on when I asked for a sign and I discounted it, I thought, remembering the event like it was yesterday. Why wasn't that good enough for me? I questioned. I still wanted so badly to believe that there was something - anything - after this life. There was something in me curious for more, yet I was still was leery of organized religion. I decided to broaden my horizons and attend a Unitarian Universalist church. I liked the services and the point of reflection each week which felt like hitting the rest button. But the lack of a belief system and believe-what-you-want message still didn't do it for me. Sure, they weren't judgmental, but what did they believe in aside from doing good? A colleague even laughed at me, saying it was not a "real" church, and I quit going.

More time passed, and I met Nathan, who would become my husband. The topic of religion came up on one of our first dates and he dropped the "C" word. Instead of cringing, I was a bit intrigued by this man who called himself a Catholic. Here was someone who had been brought up the same as me. But my mind was flooded with ideas that he would be dogmatic, religiously strict and judgmental. He was none of these things, and I began to realize that not all Catholics fit this mold that I had made and stuffed them into. It reminded me of a story I always heard about my maternal grandmother, Lily Sheehan, who used to have the local priest over on a regular basis for cards, drinks and smokes. After having six children, she was done and famously told the priest "If the Pope wants me to continue having children, tell him to give me one of his rings so I can afford to pay for them all." She obviously did not believe all of what the church taught, yet still considered herself Catholic and still attended mass. Just like Nathan.

Early on, Nathan explained that in his view, no one "owned" Catholicism, and he could choose to believe what he wanted, and still identify as, and call himself, Catholic. For example, he is pro-choice, in some situations. "Good" Catholics may look down their nose on this type of Cafeteria Catholic (looking down on others, also not supported by the church), but it was so refreshing to me. Blindly accepting all of the teachings of any religion scares me. Nathan's viewpoint made the whole dogma more palatable. After meeting him, for the first time, I was open to believing in a higher power and returning to my Catholic roots. In part, this was because of his approach and his viewpoint. After just one month of dating, I suggested we attend a midnight mass on Christmas eve. It was a bit romantic, with the late hour, candles and frankincense and myrrh. And it felt familiar, like coming home. My Mom told me "Oh, I always loved going to midnight mass." and I liked that we were following in her footsteps.

What first started out as a connection to my past turned into something more. I officially returned to the Catholic church when Nathan and I began dating. In part, it was because doing so was required to be married in the Catholic church, and both of our parents had. There was tradition there, and we both liked that. But there was something more than that, something not tangible that I can't quite articulate. For the first time, I genuinely had desire to believe in a higher power. Naively, I hoped it was more like an on-off switch and that once we attended all the classes and made our confirmation, something would change inside me and I would officially believe. To my disappointment, faith exists more on continuum and instead of automatically believing, I slid a half and inch to the right.

Since getting married and hoping kids were in the future, the pull continued, and I started asking Nathan to go to mass more. For those of you who don't know, Nathan treasures his naps and loves nothing more than to not do anything on the weekends, so we compromised and attended a 5pm Saturday night vigil here and there. When Mom was diagnosed with cancer and I lost her 14 months later, I surprisingly did not get upset with God, and instead my faith increased more. Now I  had more motivation than ever to believe in something after this life.

Then, after becoming pregnant with our little miracle Autumn, the pull became even stronger. We heard, and saw, her heartbeat for the first time at only 6 weeks, the day before Mom died. Reading about her development each week from the time she was transferred having only eight cells through to her delivery was incredible. If there wasn't a God up there keeping score and orchestrating things, at the very least intelligent design had to be behind it, I thought. Suddenly, new life seemed too complex and amazing to all just be random. Now, the idea that all the beauty and pain that exist in the world just happened without something behind it, or at the very least, setting it in motion, started to seem about as likely to me as fairies or dragons. I had done a 180 degree turn without realizing it.

I've heard people say religion is a crutch. Maybe I've even said that before. But if that is the case, is that such a bad thing? I want Autumn to have the foundation and rituals there and if they comfort her in a time of need, that's a good thing. I want her to be able to pray to the saints that my Mom did and have something in her tool box to bring her comfort when she needs it most. To that end, my Dad gave her a plaster (not resin, as many modern statues) statue made in Italy of St. Martin. This was a saint that my Mom chose when she won a religious contest back in grade school. "Did you know he is black?" they asked her, before traveling all the way to London to obtain one once she stated that Yes, she still wanted a statue of him.

I haven't asked for a sign since that sunny day back in college, but I would say signs have presented themselves. Nathan means "gift from God" and meeting him right before Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer really was a gift from God, as I have no idea how I would have faired alone. There was the timing of it all, including Autumn, who came to bring me absolute joy during the darkest days I have ever experienced. There was also the sudden change to our babymoon plans. We set off that morning for Venice, Italy and instead, ended up reconnecting with my Mom's family outside of London and retracing all her steps as a young adult (read about that in my blog post Kismet: London, Not Venice). I never used to believe that old adage Everything happens for a reason. Now, I'm starting to.

On our evening walks which we rarely miss, I try to pick Nathan's brain, hoping he will tell me something that will increase my faith. One of the best things he has given me is the dog in the library analogy. A dog in a library can look and see all of the books, but has no way of comprehending the knowledge contained within them. Maybe, that's how we are and our invention of different religions is an attempt to explain things with our limited reasoning and limited senses. Heck, even some animals have senses that we do not. And again, he reiterates that the Bible does not need to be taken literally, and that some of the stories may never have actually happened, but are a way to get different points across or teach us things.

One other thing that has helped me is the idea that we all seem to have a moral compass and know what is right or wrong, across time and across culture. Where does that come from? And maybe, the fact that there are different religions isn't evidence that there is nothing, like I once previously thought, but instead, that there is something and most of us in some way, at some point, search for it or at the very least, question it. That is where I am now. I still cannot believe that Noah took all the animals two-by-two into an arc because the world was flooded, and I still have trouble picturing a white guy in a beard but maybe, there is something. And it could be something that no one can comprehend or has articulated or experienced just yet. And so I keep praying, reading and going to Mass, hoping that my faith will increase even more.

For generations, my Mom's side of the family has been Catholic and attended Mass. Now that I have a little one, doing as they did and bringing her up in the church with a belief in something greater than herself and some guidelines for doing right by others is appealing to me. I know that if we don't attend regularly and lead by example, including prayers before meals and bedtime, she won't have faith and I will be breaking tradition. We now go (almost) every weekend, and I like the pause and point of reflection a good homily brings. I also feel closer to Mom when I am there. I like knowing that the readings are very similar to the readings that my Mom and grandparents would have heard and I want Autumn to have that, too. 

So in that respect, Autumn really is bringing us to church. as the deacon asked. Having her to raise adds another level of meaning to all that we do, including our belief system. I hope to grow in my faith by helping her learn it, and seeing it through her eyes. Hopefully one day I can look back on this blog posting and recognize even more growth and progress along the continuum of belief.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Adding Images and Text to Candles

It's really easy to add a personal touch to plain white candles and customize them for any event. I'm sometimes wary of projects I find on Pinterest because they are often a lot harder and more expensive than they appear. There's a reason there's a whole website devoted to Pinterest fails. Not these! Follow these simple instructions and you'll have candles that look a lot more fancy than plain, white candles. And the total cost for me was zero.

I'm getting ready for Autumn's Baptism on September 13th, and wanted to add something to the white candles that I was going to put in a candle holder that my Mom bought. More accurately, I wanted to buy fall colored candles, but didn't want to spend the money, so I searched for a way to upcycle them.

Step 1
Chose an image or wording. I chose both,, so they weren't all the same.

Step 2
Cut white tissue paper to fit the paper in your printer and tape it, glossy side down, to the paper. Make sure the matte side of the tissue paper is facing up, to be printed on.

Step 3
Print image on paper and cut it out.

Step 4
Wrap wax paper around candle and use your blow dryer to heat it up until it brightens. The image will be fused to the candle at this time. One reason you don't have to worry about this project being a pinterest fail is because it takes more heat than you realize, and you can always go over it again if it still seems to be on top of the candle instead of fused to it. 

Step 5
That's it! They would also make great gifts.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Autumn's Three Month Update

I am convinced that Autumn has inherited my Mom's easy-going, happy, demeanor. She is such a delightful baby; an absolute joy. Other than a few times which I can count on one hand, she never cries for more than 5 minutes. When she does get a little fussy, it means something. Usually, that she is hungry or tired. She sleeps through the night and when she wakes up, she starts babbling and makes cooing noises.

Last month, we took her on her first vacation, to spend three weeks with her paternal grandparents in Oregon. We had some great times. Autumn is pure joy and things like seeing her on a pony for the first time were so amazing. But the loss of Mom is ever-present, looming. I can't shake the feeling that life would be ideal now if I just had Mom. It's painful to see mother-daughter relationships that are strained or stressful. When I think of how great Mom was and try to hold those qualities close, well...I miss her even more. "We wouldn't be like that" I think, and it pains me. 

I don't believe in the idea of catharsis. Not just because I can't stand Freud, but because intentionally trying to upset yourself so that you can heal and move past something is just silly. And in a therapeutic setting, it can be downright detrimental. However, there may be something to at least the idea of allowing yourself to be sad because I didn't "let" myself get too upset while pregnant for fear of hurting the baby. And now here it is, stronger than its been in awhile.

My Dad points out that I'm Mom now, and I don't want to be this way for Autumn. I want to be how my Mom was for me: energetic, happy, kind, patient, fun and 100% in my world. I'm doing what I can in the wake of the greatest loss I have ever experienced, and will report on some of the work I'm doing with a therapist in one future blog post instead of in every blog post. This posting is starting to seem too much like the last. 

I don't want the loss to be the focus, just as I don't want this sadness to prevent me from enjoying this precious time with Autumn. She is such a blessing to us, and I consider her quite a miracle. I have the feeling time with her is fleeting even while in the midst of it, just like I did on outings last summer with Mom. Enjoy it, soak it up I tell myself as I take in the smallness of her and study her smile. Her eyes smile when she does and I feel a warmth that's almost tangible. 

Bye Autumn, have fun!
And so in that spirit, I am going to try to focus on what we do have, not what we don't, at least for the purposes of this blog. And I'm going to try and update a little more frequently so I don't ever forget what this special time was like.

Her involuntary movements are slowing and she's more in control of her arms and legs. She's just starting to reach for things, but doesn't quite have control, she's mostly batting at them. She's on the verge of being able to giggle but hasn't just yet. She's sleeping through the night and has been ever since Nathan left for Oregon two days ahead of me. It was my first night alone with her, and she fell asleep at 9pm. I waited up to feed her, but when she didn't wake, I moved her from her cradle in the living room to her co-sleeper in our bedroom. I figured she would wake me up soon after I fell asleep, but woke up at 5am in a panic. I checked on her and was relieved to see the rise and fall of her chest. I fell back to sleep, and she woke me up after 6am. Turns out, Nate's nighttime "baby duty" had consisted of him rousing her for one feeding a night for quite some time. 

Some things about this age that I never want to forget:
  • When we wake up in the morning around 7:30 and she falls back asleep on my chest after a feeding for a few more hours.
  • The sounds she makes when she's drinking out of her bottle.
  • That she loves looking at trees on our walks, and the moon.
  • Just how big her smile is.
  • How she furrows her brow.
  • Feeling her fall asleep on me while I'm in the recliner/rocker.
  • Her cooing - lots of oohs and ahhs, and how she moves her mouth.
  • When she gets sleepy, she sucks her thumb, and plays with her hair with her other hand.
  • How happy and content she is, and how she delights in small things.

Routines we're establishing:
  • Singing. I sing You are my Sunshine to her multiple times a day, but we save Amazing Grace for bedtime (I'm still learning the words).
  • Play. Morning play time under her gym.
  • Outside. I spread a blanket or put her in her snug-a-puppy bouncer and she watches me water our newly-planted garden (a little late, I know), planes or birds.
  • Talking. I talk to her all the time, even when changing her diaper.
  • Baths. Every three days so her skin doesn't dry out. She seems to enjoy them and has just started "touching" the water.
  • Reading. I just joined a book club and read her my books, for now.
  • Prayers. I grew up with: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. I'm changing the second verse to the more common May angels watch me through the night and wake me with the morning light.
  • Crafting. She's not much help just yet, but I think she likes watching or being close to me while I hold her in her Ergo 360.
  • Walks. We walk 3 miles every night and she has never once fussed.

Is it just me, or is she getting cuter with each passing month?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Two Months Postpartum

Autumn is almost two months old. So far, it has been much easier than I was expecting. She's such a happy, content baby. Until a week or two ago, she was sleeping close to 23 hours a day, and its only in the last few days that she's had periods where she is awake more and fussy. I'm still learning what she needs when she cries and haven't yet learned to tell the difference between when she is bored, overstimulated, or tired. 

I imagined myself sleep-deprived and frazzled, with barely enough time to return texts or emails, let alone shower. Instead, I have had a lot of time on my hands, which I'm not used to. Nathan took two weeks of paternity leave and then went back to work for two weeks until his summer break started at the end of June. While he was working I felt a little lonely and...dare I say, bored. 

Now that he's off for summer it's better because I have company, but still an adjustment. We have been watching her in shifts. He stays up with her until 5 am, and I go to bed around midnight. This allows me almost 7 hours of sleep. Plus, then I go back to sleep after I feed her, and finally get out of bed around 10am. Now, before you start feeling bad for Nathan, I will say that it is less of a sacrifice than it sounds. He loves staying up late during summer anyway, and is able to play his PS4 while she sleeps for 3-4 hours at a stretch. He plays Call of Duty while on baby duty. Of course I'm grateful nonetheless, six or seven hours of uninterrupted sleep is something most new Moms only dream of.

Still, my pace of life has slowed considerably. I've gone from working, socializing and trying to find time to work out to just staying home almost all the time. Not being allowed to work out those first six weeks was incredibly tough. When you keep yourself really busy, there's a lot you don't have time for. Mainly, thinking too much. 

In these quiet moments of reflection as a new Mom, I'm missing my Mom more than ever. This is something I didn't really deal with during all the build up and excitement that comes with pregnancy. There's so much I wish I could ask her. So much that I wish I could share with her. Although I'm thankful for this parenting interview I did with her after my first failed IVF embryo transfer, I've thought of a thousand questions since then. Why didn't I make it longer and ask her more? 

And then there's the guilt. I know we did a lot to make the most of the 14 months she lived after her diagnosis, but every day, some type of guilt creeps in. It usually strikes when I'm trying to fall asleep at night, or when I'm feeding Autumn. Learning that the cancer was likely growing for a decade prior to her diagnosis, I ask myself why I didn't have her get a scan back then and wonder if it would have helped. Yes, it would have. They always say catching it early is key. 

I know guilt is something a lot of people go through, yet knowing that doesn't change how I feel. I have a master's in counseling, but it's different when you try to apply things to yourself. I've been trying to counter it and re-frame it and still, it remains.

Thinking about Mom has also caused me to think about my own mortality more than usual, and leaving Autumn like Mom left me. How will she cope? A little silly to think about since it seems so far off, yet I do. And this naturally leads into spending a lot of time thinking about my faith, or lack thereof. I want to believe, I really do, but it does not come easy to me. Never has...I've always been a skeptic. Now, more than ever, I am motivated to believe in God and heaven so that I know Mom is somewhere and that I'll be reunited with her. 

But I still struggle to believe in something I can't see, hear or feel in a concrete way. I go to mass every week, pray, and read to try and cultivate my faith. Nathan and I have discussions, which help me because while he may not agree with all the teachings of the Catholic church, he does believe in intelligent design. It helps me to think that while an older white man sitting up in a throne judging us may not seem plausible to me right now, neither does the idea that all this beauty and life is completely random and just happened. Intelligent design really does seem to be at work. The complexity of life, even just the formation of Autumn, is pretty incredible. How can all that be just put into existence by chance? Plus, there do seem to be things that are inherently right or wrong. Moral laws that just seem to exist, not just because our society says so. How to account for this? These are concepts I've never believed before and can now buy into. I guess I have made progress, even if I'm not where I want to be.

Autumn and I leave for our first flight Thursday to spend three weeks in Oregon at his parent's home on a small lake. Nathan left today, to make the 14 hour drive with our two dogs, suitcases and baby accouterments and I already miss him. I'm thankful to have the change of scenery and company; it couldn't come at a better time. It's going to be a full house. I'm excited that his brother from DC and new wife will meet Autumn for the first time, as well as his uncle Don who is 83 years young and flying in from Pennsylvania. His twin sister, husband, and Autumn's two cousins will also be there, JP who is 2 1/2 and MK who will turn one in September. Oregon is a place we plan to return to twice a year for the rest of our lives, and I can't wait to get pictures of her around the property which someday, she will own part of.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Emails to Autumn

I am ten years older than when my Mom had me. While Mom's life was cut too short and I hope to live longer, there's a chance Autumn could loose me when she's around my age, even if I do live a decade longer than Mom did. Right now, anything that has Mom's writing on it is at a premium to me. I treasure my baby book, a paper (below) describing what I could say and do as a 1 year old, and any birthday and Christmas cards I saved with her writing. But that's all I have. What will Autumn have? I've been filling out her baby book and a first year calendar and of course taking a ton of pictures. While we are being really good about backing everything up since we finally have cloud storage, a babybook or journal could get lost or destroyed in a fire. It's also something that only I contribute to.

So when a friend in Canada (hi Lindi!) told me they created an email for their newborn as a way of preserving memories, it was right up my alley. This way, family and close friends can send emails to her over the years with their thoughts, pictures or memories. I would love to have something like that right now from my Mom because I wonder almost daily what being a new Mom was like for her. What was it like for her on my first day of kindergarten? My 16th birthday?

While I have not read any of Autumn's emails, I was happy to find two emails to her, one from Andrea with the subject line Happy First 4th of July and one from my friend Sandy The First Day I Met You.  She has one from me too. Below is my first email to her.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Megan Swanek <>
Date: Sun, Jun 28, 2015 at 2:17 PM
Subject: Today is Nana Paula's Birthday

My Dear Autumn,
I'm sitting here at the computer wearing you in a baby wrap. You're snuggled tightly to my chest, and fast asleep. I can hear you softly breathing. Daddy is still asleep; it's just the two of us. 

This is the first year that my Mom hasn't been here for her birthday and it's a tough one. She was my very best friend, just like you and I will be one day. She loved you so, even before you were born. You see, it was always a given that I would have children and I would talk about it with my Mom. We would talk about you, imagine what you would be like and I always thought she would be a part of raising you. She loves you still, from Heaven, and through me...because every part of me that is nurturing and good and kind comes from her. So even though she won't be babysitting you as you get older, she is still very much a part of raising you, because she raised me. She was the very best Mom and I hope you will say that about me someday.

Although this first year without her is a sad one, it won't always be that way. That's not how she would want it. You see, she was the happiest person I have ever known. Your grandma Paula was never in a bad mood, even when circumstances may have warranted it. She never complained. She loved to laugh and be silly. She was very hardworking, but you would never know it, because she made everything she did look easy. Many sacrifices were made by her, for her family and she was happy to do it because to her, family was the most important thing in the world. She was the best listener and never put people down or made fun of them; she saw the good in every person and in every situation. She was a selfless optimist.

This June 28th, we are starting a tradition of honoring her on her birthday by doing what she would love. Soon, Dad and I are taking you to The Olde Ship, a British pub that I went to with her. Together, over the years, we will always remember and honor her on this day. We will go for tea, explore thrift shops, get a pedicure, have fish and chips, do some gardening, attend a play, learn to crochet or cook together or maybe even go to the casino. When you're older, I hope to take you to London and where she grew up, in Reading. Celebrating her birthday is a tradition that I hope you will keep after I'm gone with your children. She would love that, and so would I.

Paula Mary DeWitt (Mangan)
June 28, 1951 ~ October 8, 2014


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Birth Story & First 2 Weeks

Our Autumn Mary Swanek was born via csection on Tuesday, May 26th at 1:03 pm weighing 8 pounds, 4 ounces and measuring 20 1/2 inches long. 

Three days old and ... a dimple!?

We checked in at Hoag at 10:30am and waited in a room. A nurse came in and started an IV, we met the anesthesiologist, and changed into our gowns. I didn't know if Nathan would be able to stay with me for her birth because he feels nauseous and faint when medical procedures are involved. About a year ago, during an IVF informational seminar, Nathan left the room and was gone for quite awhile. Thinking he had been gone too long for the bathroom, I went to check on him and found him sitting outside, feeling like he was going to pass out. He has also passed out giving blood before, in front of a young girl who will probably always remember that day and what smelling salts do. 
 While I hoped he would be able to stay for her birth, I didn't have my hopes up too high because of this. As 12:30pm approached, they took me into the operating room to give me my epidural while he waited outside the room. I've heard that needle is really long, but fortunately cannot confirm or deny this. It was pretty quick and painless. As my legs were starting to feel warm and go numb, I heard someone say "Let's bring the Dad in early, to see how he does." We had warned them of his condition, and if they were going to be picking up his passed-out body, I suppose they wanted to do it sooner rather than later.

They didn't have anything to worry about. He remained by my side the entire time, reassuring me. In what felt like no time at all, someone from beyond the blue sheet said "You're going to feel some pressure" just like his sister told me they would when it was time for the baby to come out. But, it seemed too soon for baby. I turned to Nathan and asked that can't be it, can it? And then we heard her cry. A strong, beautiful, healthy cry which was so reassuring to hear. That's her! That's our baby Autumn! Nathan left my side to take pictures, and before I knew it, a nurse asked if I wanted to hold her, and she was placed on me, skin to skin. 

Nothing can prepare you for how holding your child for the first time feels. No amount of dreaming and imagining it over the past 10 months or even a lifetime prepared me. And no words can do it justice either. Anything I try to come up with to describe how I felt seems beyond inadequate. Suffice to say, holding her was the moment my world changed and life finally felt complete. This is all I need; all I will ever need, I thought.

So much of our lives are spent on reaching goals. And once we reach a goal - graduation from high school, for example, we move the goal post a little farther back and set our sights on a new one. For the first part of our lives, high school graduation and officially becoming an adult seems the end-all-be-all. But no sooner do we switch our tassel from right to left and we have a new goal: graduating from college. Once that is complete and our degree is in hand, we realize we need to attend graduate school. Then, we want a job in our chosen career and oh yeah, on to finding a husband.

But now that I have Autumn, I don't need anything else. It seems my whole life has been spent working toward this one moment. So much time and effort spent achieving my own goals, finding the perfect man to be a husband and father, creating her, and now, finally, holding this new life in my arms. And all of the potential and hopes and dreams and possibilities that she represents and has laid out before her. Life could stand still forever now and that would be just fine with me. Seeing Nathan holding her after leaving the operating room melted my heart. He was staring at her and when I asked him to look up for a picture, absolutely beaming.

I could have been a Mom long ago, but not with the right person. Not with a person who would be the right kind of father: the kind of father she needs and deserves. Someone who is kind and patient and loving and funny. Someone stable, who is already planning for her future, giving her the house we live in now and half of the property in Oregon. Someone who treasures her. Finding him was worth the wait, and so was she.

After a short time in recovery, we were taken to my room where I would stay for the next three nights. When we were back in my room, Nathan gave me my "push present" a recent invention probably brought to you by the same women behind babymoon. I unwrapped a beautiful diamond and emerald necklace (our birthstone, since we're both born in May) to be passed on to Autumn when she's older. I love how sentimental he is, and Autumn will too someday.

Autumn was still sleeping on me skin-to-skin when we started receiving visitors and I just couldn't give her up until they had to take her to weigh and swaddle her. Nathan's Mom was there, my Dad and brother visited, his sister Brittany stopped by as did my friends Delia and Ann-Marie. Some people limit visitors the first day, even family - but they love Autumn just like we do, and were a part of the journey. 

Starting in the hospital, Nathan was a huge help and a lot more hands-on than I expected. Even when a nurse was there to help, he took charge changing and swaddling her. They gave us the option of sending her to the nursery, and Nathan declined. She was a complete doll and only became fussy on day three because she was not getting enough nutrition from me. As soon as we started supplementing, she started seeping like, well, a baby.

We stayed in the hospital four days and three nights and it was so exciting coming home that Friday afternoon. On the ride home, I sat in the back with her, so I could watch her. We went for a walk that night, just around the block, with Nathan holding her in his arms. The first of many. We have walked with her in the stroller every day with the exception of the day I had a fever of 101 from mastitis. 
First walk

Nathan continued helping that first week home, and even took many of the night shifts, staying up until 4am with her and bringing her to me when it was time to feed and changing her afterwards. I was prepared to be completely sleep deprived and stressed out. I imagined us taking turns pacing around the house at all hours trying to console our crying baby with only our limited knowledge from a 15 minute Happiest Baby on the Block video we watched. "Shushing" her loudly, swaddling her tightly and getting out the vacuum cleaner or blow-dryer for the white noise. I wondered if we would have time to shower, eat or even talk to each other.

But, it has been amazing and I have to say, pretty darn easy compared to what I was bracing myself for. This further credits my theory that low expectations are the key to happiness. I thought we would be searching for ways to console her and instead, we have a perfect angel that has to be woken up half the time to be feed! Not to say those times won't come, but as for now, she is sleeping over 20 hours a day and only cries when she's hungry. Then, she's right back to sleep.  

The only struggle we had was breastfeeding, which I really wanted to do. I threw in the towel after my second failed lactation consultation at Hoag during which she only received 4cc of milk, when she has been consuming 3-4 ounces. My production was super low in spite of pumping every 3 hours around the clock and I had scabs. Yes, scabs. They said redheads are much more sensitive and I was truly in pain with every attempt. What was supposed to be a bonding experience was torture for both of us, with her becoming frustrated as I tried to get her to latch deeper by pushing her tiny, crying face to me. As soon as I let go of the emotional this is what's best for her and I have to do it part, things have been much better. Nathan is able to stay up with her and I'm able to sleep more. She sleeps more soundly because she is satiated. 

We treasure the times when she is awake, because they are so few and far between. We talk to her and tell her about all the adventures she has ahead of her while she holds amazing eye contact with her furrowed brows. We love singing "You are my Sunshine" to her and earlier this week, she has began responding to our voice. While on a walk the other night, I said her name and she moved her eyes to look at me. We love watching her fall asleep, how she sometimes sleeps with her tiny fists both up by her ears and how she stretches when she wakes up. Sometimes, she dreams, and makes the cutest sounds and movements. We wonder what she is dreaming about since her experiences are so limited. I love the sounds she makes when she's drinking the bottle, and how her little hands wander up to her face, but grip your finger tightly instead when offered to her.

I know this newborn phase will pass far too quickly, and so I am trying to soak in every moment and commit every little thing she does to memory, or at least social media. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Selfie + Bump = Bumpie

We all know what a selfie is. A bumpie is just like it sounds: a selfie of your growing bump. Obnoxious though it may be, I worked very hard to be able to join in on this annoying trend. Finally in the club, I did my best to document the growth every week, starting at 11 weeks, when I felt like it was too soon to tell. At 15 weeks, I remember being very proud of what I finally saw as a bump and captioned it on instagram: My bump is out in full force today. Not compared to what was coming! From week 30 on, I just didn't think I could get any bigger, and sure enough every week, I did.

This will be my last posting until baby Autumn arrives! I am scheduled for a csection Tuesday, May 26th at noon. Check in time is at 10am. We could not be more excited to meet her! I can't wait to see what she looks like, what color her hair will be, and what her cry will sound like. Most of all, I can't wait finally to hold her.

Baby Autumn arrives in 2 days!