Come Follow Me Family Home Evening for little ones- Feb 2019

Can you believe it is already time to start preparing for February?!?  How are you adapting to the new schedule and new curriculum?  I’m still kind of weirded out by the short schedule, granted I’ve still been at church at least 4 hours between choir practice and conducting Ministering Interviews, but at least it’s not 5!  At home the kids are doing pretty well with Family Home Evening, but admittedly our plant that we planted for the Sower lesson is already dead…  I’m not sure what happened, plenty of water, plenty of sun, maybe too much sun? maybe it froze over night?  I don’t know, luckily keeping plants alive is not a pre-requisite to Salvation because I would be burning in the bad place!

Thank you so much for the overwhelming response to last month’s post, and if you’re new this month then welcome.  I was shocked, amazed, humbled, over-joyed (basically had all the feels) when January’s FHE post hit 1,000 views in the first 24 hours, and about 3,500 views total.  So thanks for reading and sharing, but even more I’m so grateful and glad to know that we are in this together to help teach and inspire our kids.

If you’re looking for more ways to make February meaningful with your kids check out my Family-centered Valentine’s Activities.

But on to Family Home Evening!

Feb. 4-10 For the Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

Prep Materials: masking tape, preferred toys and treats, picture of Christ, picture of Sun, big prize or treat

Song: Choose The Right Way pg. 160

Create a path through your house- masking tape on the floor works well.  Review the story of Christ being tempted.  Tell the kids they need to stay on the path to get to the special prize at the end.  Place some of their favorite items or small treats just out of reach from the path.  Have one parent be the “Holy Ghost” reminding them to stay on the path and the other one try to get them to step off.  Have a picture of Jesus and a picture of the sun to represent the Celestial Kingdom at the end.  Explain that returning to live with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is the best gift we can receive, and then give them a prize or favorite treat.

 

Feb. 11-17 Ye Must Be Born Again

Prep Materials: pre-made Valentine with picture of Jesus, supplies to make Valentines (construction paper, glue, markers, etc.)

Song: As  I Have Loved You pg. 136  or God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son Hymn #187

Make a big Valentine card for your kids from Heavenly Father with a picture of Jesus in the middle.  Read John 3:16 together and explain to the kids that Heavenly Father showed his love to us by giving us Jesus.  Now have the kids make Valentines for Heavenly Father and Jesus.  I’ve made a simple printable with pictures they can glue on to Valentines, you could also encourage them to draw some of their own ideas.

Valentines for Heavenly Father

Feb. 18-24 Blessed Are Ye

Prep Materials: flashlights, candlestick (an actual one or made out of a paper towel roll or pvc pipe to fit the flashlights you will use), bushel (either a basket or a small box will work), pictures or objects to find

Song: I Am Like a Star Shining Brightly pg. 163

Pull out those flashlights from last month again!  Hide a few objects or pictures for them to find.  Read/ summarize Matthew 5:14-16.  Take the kids outside in the evening or in a dark room in the house.  Mom or dad should go first with the flashlight, turn it on and look around for a second and then place it under your “bushel” and keep trying to guide them.  Take turns being the light, give them the option to use a “candle stick” or a “bushel” as they guide the family to find things like a picture of Jesus, scriptures, a picture of Pres. Nelson, the temple, etc.

 

Feb 25-March 3 He Taught Them As One Having Authority

Prep Materials: containers (tupperware or casserole dishes), large rock, sand, small houses (you could just draw or print them on paper or make them out of legos), pitcher of water

Song: The Wise Man and the Foolish Man pg. 281

Using two large containers place a large rock in one and a pile of sand in the other.  Make two small houses.  Sing the song together and place the house on the rock, when you get to “the rains came down….” pour water around it.   Repeat for the sand.  Discuss what happened to the houses.  Read Helaman 5:12 together and talk about how you can build your house on the Rock of our Redeemer.

 

Combined Materials List:

masking tape

preferred toys and treats

picture of Christ

picture of Sun

big prize or treat

Valentine with picture of Jesus

supplies to make Valentines (construction paper, glue, markers, etc.)

flashlights

candlestick (paper towel roll/pvc pipe)

bushel (basket or a small box)

pictures or objects to find

containers (tupperware or casserole dishes)

large rock

sand

small houses

pitcher of water

Come Follow Me Family Home Evening for little ones- Jan 2019

Can I just say how excited I am for this Come Follow Me curriculum.  There’s a lot of reasons:

  • studying the same material across age groups
  • home focus- which goes right along with some of my feelings about deliberate parenting
  • multi-modal learning- it’s making my educator heart sing
  • lots of opportunities to use my laminator- also making my teacher heart happy 🙂
  • FHE whenever works best for your family (which relieved all of the guilt I have had about having community choir on Monday nights!)
  • Family Home Evening ideas!

I keep thinking I should film the craziness that is Family Home Evening at our house but my 4-year-old is typically in his underwear and I’m not going to put that out there for the internet.  It’s kind of a circus and I’ll admit that I have gotten to the point of yelling, and threatening, and time out.  I’ve been better recently about keeping my patience and the kids have been a tiny bit better about listening.  One of the things I noticed was that they could smell fear and lack of preparation; the weeks where we were just throwing something together went really badly.  The past few months we started just using the Behold Your Little Ones manual, and that’s when I noticed that things started getting better and I think it has everything to do with my husband and I having a plan and being organized.

With the new curriculum I want to get even more organized and I figure if I take a day and get everything prepped for the coming month then we can have super low stress family home evenings after church on Sundays.  And if I’m already doing the work, I figured I’d share with others and hopefully make things a little easier for you as well.  So I’ll give you ideas for how to take what’s in the curriculum and make it work with little ones, and at the end of the post there’s a combined materials list for the whole month.

Dec. 31- Jan 6  We are Responsible for Our Own Learning

Prep Materials: plant, rocks, thorns/weeds, pot for planting, print/ laminate sower game

Song: Faith pg. 96

Lesson: Review the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13:1-23.  If you are a super overachiever you could plant seeds ahead of time in rocks, among weeds or thorns, and in good ground and compare how they have grown.  I’m not so good at the growing things from seeds thing, so I’ll probably just fill a cup with rocks, show the kids the weeds in the front yard (maybe pull some while we’re at it!), and buy a plant already growing in good soil.  We’ll compare how things grow in different types of soil and talk about needing to listen well at home and at church so we can learn about Jesus really well.  Then we’ll  dig a hole (a favorite activity for my kids), put our new plant in, water it, and get it some sunshine (but not too much!).

Activity: Sower game

 

Jan 7- 13 Be it Unto Me According to Thy Word

Prep Materials: Christ’s lineage print outs, Pictures of ancestors, optional names and titles for game

Song:  Family History- I Am Doing It pg. 94 (or go to the Family History Section in topics, there’s a surprising amount of songs in this category)

Lesson: Christ’s lineage is laid out.  Below you will find an attachment with His ENTIRE lineage, do with it as you please depending on your kids’ reading and comprehension level.  Then there are pictures that just have His most famous Ancestors.  I plan to print those out, laminate them, and turn them into ornaments.  I will do the same with pictures from our own family tree.  I’m just going to go ahead and leave our Christmas tree up until we get to this activity, but you could make a tree out of paper, or just do the activity on the floor.  We’ll first talk about Christ’s lineage and then put our own family tree together.

Christ’s Lineage Pictures

Christ’s Lineage (this is the entire lineage given in Luke 3 as a list, if your kids can read and have a decent attention span you may want to put the names in a bigger font and print them to put together as well)

Activity: Let the kids play with the print outs.  I am going to print out 2 sets of our ancestor pictures and Christ’s lineage pictures and play a simple memory game.  If your kids can read you may want to have them match the picture with the name and title (great grandma, great-great grandpa, etc.)

 

Jan 14-20 We Have Come to Worship Him

Prep Materials: Kid friendly nativity set

Song: Picture a Christmas pg. 50 or Nativity Song pg. 52

Lesson: Hopefully they remember a lot from having just gone over the story, it’s like Christmas Eve round 2!  Use a kid friendly nativity set, if you don’t have one, you might be able to find one on clearance right now, or, I just have this little printable set.  Put the characters (yes even the animals) in a bag and have the kids pull them out at random then talk about that character’s contribution to the story.  Then have the kids tell the story the best they can (probably good to have the camera ready!!)

Activity: Just let them play with the nativity!

 

Jan 21-27 We Have Found the Messiah

Prep Materials: Flashlights (with pictures of Jesus if you want), Objects to find (could be church related, could just be for fun)

Song: Teach Me to Walk in the Light pg. 177

Lesson: Explain that Jesus is the Light of the World.  Either make a room in your house really dark or wait until it’s dark outside.  Give the kids a flashlight (you could tape a picture of Christ to it to help with the visual), then send them on a scavenger hunt.  You could do church related things like a picture of the Prophet, scriptures, church clothes, etc. or just fun items, or a mixture.  The final item could be some sort of Celestial treat!

 

Jan 28- Feb 3 Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

Prep Materials: two mason jars, food coloring, water, bleach AND/OR a tea bag (with a string), a cup with water, a lighter

Song: When I am Baptized pg. 103

Lesson: You could do either of these object lessons or both to teach about baptism

#1- super simple and guaranteed to work.  Fill a mason jar with water, the other one with some bleach.  Talk about mistakes that we make and drop food coloring into the water with each mistake.  Then explain that when we are baptized our sins are washed away- dump the bleach in and the water will return to clear.

#2- sorta complicated, and sometimes it doesn’t work quite right- you should definitely do a practice run!  We used to do this on the mission a lot and would turn it into kind of a story and get really into it- until our mission president told us we had to stop playing with fire, I’m sure he didn’t expect to have that conversation with a set of sisters, but it’s really cool.

Take a tea bag (it can be any kind of herbal tea but the bag needs to be the kind that is folded in on itself with a staple and a string (as opposed to sealed around the edges) and preferably individually wrapped)

Tell the kids that the bag wants to get to heaven but it can’t.  Toss it up in the air a few times to show that it can’t get there.  It will need to go through some steps to get there.

1- It needs to have faith so first off it’s gotta leave the comfort of it’s wrapper (or box if they aren’t individually wrapped).

2- Now it’s out but it still can’t get there, put your finger on the string to “weigh it down.”  Explain that it’s going to need to let go of the things holding it back by repenting.  Take off the string.

3-  Toss it up and down again, see that it’s doing better now but still can’t make it to heaven.  Even though it repented and let go of the weight it still has some things that need to be washed away.  Carefully take out the staple and empty the contents into a cup of water and explain that baptism washes everything away (but do NOT get the bag itself wet!)  Now you should have a tube, carefully stand it on one end.

4- Explain that now it’s standing taller, it’s getting closer, but it still needs one more thing, the gift of the Holy Ghost.  Sometimes the scriptures call this the baptism by fire because fire also purifies.  Light the top end of the tea bag tube on fire and as it burns it should suddenly float into the air “up to heaven!”

Activity: Set up a washing station in the sink or bathtub with toys that are dirty.

 

Full materials list for the month

plant

rocks, thorns/weeds

pot for planting

Sower game

Pictures of ancestors

Names and titles for ancestor matching (optional)

Christ’s Lineage Pictures

Kid Friendly Nativity Set

Flashlights (with pictures of Jesus if you want)

Scavenger Hunt objects

2 mason jars

food coloring

water

bleach

AND/OR a tea bag (with a string)

cup with water

lighter

 

 

#LightTheWorld Countdown for Little Children

I am so excited about this year’s light the world campaign and the opportunity to combine it with our annual tradition of having a Christ-centered advent calendar.  My kids call them circle activities because we use muffin tins to create our calendar so they take a circle off each day to find out what our activity is.  I have been doing them for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter the past couple of years (hoping to add Valentine’s day this year!) in order to keep our celebration meaningful, deliberate, and focused on the Savior.

I’m by no means anti-Santa, I love Santa, we do Santa.  But, I have had to DO nothing in order for my 4 year old and 2 year old to learn about Santa. He’s everywhere- in fact he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…

However, I do have to be deliberate and intentional in making sure they learn the true meaning of this time of year.  It’s not all strictly “religious” but I make sure that we find ways to tie the “just for fun” things back to the Savior.

As I mentioned I love the #LightTheWorld campaign for this year especially.  This time it’s broken down by week:

1- Light the World (global focus)

2- Light your Community

3- Light your Family

4- Light your Faith

As I sat down to start brainstorming our calendar I struggled a little to figure out how we could make sure the kids were actually involved in and understanding global service.  I reached out to friends for help and got some great ideas to incorporate into our calendar.  A really cool idea that didn’t make it on the calendar is the Light the World vending machine.  There is one in Gilbert by the water tower (also one at Temple Square in Salt Lake, Manhattan, London, and Manila- and if you can’t get to any of those there is a way to donate online at that hyper link).  This is a vending machine for charities- you choose to donate a pair of glasses, or a chicken, or clean water, etc!

Additionally- we’ll be kicking off our celebration before the calendar actually starts, I could just add it but it would throw off the perfect 24 spaces on the calendar and that might make my slightly obsessive brain explode.  But, we’ll be attending a local Live Nativity on November 30th at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.  It runs the 30th-1st.  There is also the Walk through Bethlehem in Chandler that sounds amazing but as I looked at our crazy calendar for the month I realized I needed to pair down a little and the time and distance on that was going to be a little too much for us this year.  That one runs the 14th-16th.

I’ve had a lot of fun thinking through how to incorporate these ideas for my little ones, and I really hope this helps others find ways to serve and make this season meaningful no matter the ages of your children or if we belong to different faiths- together we can Light the World!

 

1- Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad!”- We’ll be attending a Christmas party- this is an example of how I incorporate a “just for fun” event and still make it meaningful.  This day has also been set aside as a Day of Service.  We will be bringing food and toy donations to the party as our service for the day.

Week 1- World

2- Jesus speaks to the world through His prophet- watch the Christmas Devotional

3- Missionaries are sent around the world to share the gospel- color pictures to mail to a missionary in a foreign country

4- Refugees have had to leave their homes in other parts of the world and come here to be safe.  Take a meal or other donations for refugee families.  If you’re in AZ then Gathering Humanity is an amazing organization!

5- Jesus created the world- Decorate the Christmas tree and talk about the days of the Creation

6- Jesus is the Light of the World- go to a light display (probably Glendale Glitters for us)

7- We believe in a God of miracles for the whole world.  Tell the Hanukkah story.  I’ve purchased this children’s book which tells the story and has beautiful illustrations.  I include Hanukkah each year for my kids because one of my best friends is Jewish and while we won’t be able to celebrate together this year, I have cherished memories of lighting the menorah with her growing up.  Also, I want my children to know and understand that God loves ALL of His children and provides them with miracles even if they believe differently than we do.  This also fits in so well with the global focus, no coincidence that Hanukkah lined up with week 1 this year, amIright??!

8- Asylum seekers come from different parts of the world and arrive here with nothing hoping to find safety.  Make and donate a backpack asylee kit.  We will have the kids pick the backpack and stuff it with the necessary items (my 2 year old LOVES backpacks right now so this will be a good way to get her involved).  We will be partnering with Gathering Humanity again for this one.  And special thanks to my cousin for guiding me to this idea!

Week 2- Community

9- Donate to the Humanitarian/ Fast offering fund.  We typically just do this online, but in order to get the kids involved we are going to go old school and use the paper slip and envelope and actual cash then have the kids hand it to the Bishop.

10- Angel craft

11- Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Make little ornaments and take them to our neighbors

12- Nativity Craft- I bought a cute little foam kit at Hobby Lobby.  They have a few different ones depending on your kids skill level (and your capability for handling messes!)

13- Take toy and clothes donations to Maggie’s Place.  One of our Thanksgiving activities was to clean up and clean out the playroom- this is where those will be going.

14- Jesus was born in a stable- go to a petting zoo to see the types of animals that might have been there.  We will be heading over to Superstition Farm.  This might seem silly, but we have done this a few years in a row now and the kids LOVE it.  Two years ago my son ran around the petting zoo yelling, “Jesus, where are you!”  Apparently when I told him we would see animals like the ones that were there when Jesus was born, he figured we would also see baby Jesus.  Last year we went after we saw The Star and they started calling all of the animals the names from the movie.

15- Jesus healed the sick- take treats to the NICU.  Our daughter was a NICU baby so we make sure and take treats to current NICU parents this time of year.  Be aware if you decide on a NICU for service it is best to call ahead and you really will just drop off the treats with the desk.  Small children will most likely not be allowed into the NICU.   We walk to the door together as a family and then my husband takes the kids to a nursery viewing window while I take the treats in to the actual NICU.

Week 3- Family

16- Jesus said, “Ye shall meet together oft.”  Church!  It might seem like cheating because we do this every week anyway, but I call it being creative with my resources.  Also, I think it’s good to periodically talk about WHY we go to church.

17- Light your family- Make little gifts for Grandparents

18- Cards for cousins

19- Jesus asked us to pray together as families- have family prayer and review how to pray

20- Gingerbread Stables

21- Family Movie Night- The Nativity (8 minutes- live action) Christmas Story videos (more very short videos telling the story) Joy to the World (about 45 min total), and we’ll probably do a VeggieTales or The Star

22- Make memories with Family- activity with extended family and open presents with them

Week 4- Light Your Faith

23- Sing Choirs of Angels- sing Christmas songs at church and with our opera singing relatives coming into town!  My husband’s brother is engaged and we will finally get to meet his fiancee this day!  Their common interest in opera brought them together!

24- Bethlehem dinner- I make lamb and other foods similar to what they would have eaten at that time in Bethlehem.  I’m hoping this year to eat it by light of a candle from that era as well.  Then we’ll read the story from Luke 2 and hopefully have the kids act it out!

 

Merry Christmas!!!  I hope this has given you some good ideas to incorporate in your own family’s celebration!

Come, Sweet Death

When I was about 5, shortly after my grandfather passed away, my Grandma had been going through and organizing old boxes (a favorite a past time of hers).  She pulled her wedding cake topper and gave it to me saying, “I probably won’t be around for your wedding so I want you to have this now.”  Well, she did make it to my wedding just shy of her 90th birthday, and proceeded to last another 6 years beyond that.

IMG_20180201_174120

On January 21, 2018, just two months shy of her 96th birthday, my Grandmother peacefully passed from this world.  In the days following, as is expected, people have offered their condolences, saying things like, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or remarking on the sadness of it.

Of course I appreciate everyone’s condolences and well wishes, but to be honest, and I hope this doesn’t make me sound uncaring or cold, I have not felt sadness or loss over her death.  I have felt only peace and joy at her passing.

Background

As I mentioned, my grandma was almost 96.  Her husband, my grandfather, passed away almost 25 years ago.  At that time she was living one street over from her older sister who was also a widow.  They were companions then and my grandma cared for her sister up until she passed about 16 years ago.  Living in St. George, which was basically a glorified retirement community, she still got together with “the girls” on a regular basis and busied herself with family history work.  But as the years went on, more friends passed, and she spent much of her time alone, she began to be plagued with paranoia, anxiety, and other health concerns.  About 10 years ago we thought we were going to lose her, but she bounced back and chose to move into semi-assisted living back in St. George as she had several friends living in the same community.  She “de”-aged after moving there, surrounded by people again.  Which was a huge testament to me of the need for human connection.  I was living in Provo and would visit roughly once a semester.  She would take me to the cafeteria to show me off to her friends and bring me to play cards with “the girls.”

On one of the card playing adventures the ladies began discussing other ladies in the community.  After making a comment about someone my grandma said, in a very plain and matter of fact tone, “She used to play cards at that table, [pointed to the next table over] but she died.”  Then a few minutes later the following conversation took place:

Friend: “Did you hear about Doris?”

Grandma: “Yes, her daughter came to help her move.”

Friend: “Well, she was going to move, but then she died.”

Grandma: “Oh, that’s nice.”

I was baffled and had no idea how to react.  These ladies were talking about people in their community dying as casually and almost as celebratory as my friends and I would discuss people getting married.  It began to occur to me that it was just the next step to them, just like my friends getting married or graduating.  They were happy for them.

Loss

Grandma lived in that community for about 6 years.  She continued to drive herself and her friends around past the age of 90 and took care of all of her own finances.  She walked slowly but without assistance.  While she ate most of her meals in the dining room with the other residents, she could still fix herself a simple meal as needed.  She kept her apartment impeccably clean and organized.

And then one day, about 4 years ago, she lost it all.

It’s unclear as to the exact order of events.  They aren’t sure if she suffered a minor stroke which caused a fall, or if she fell and hit her head causing a small stroke.  But however it happened at 92 she started her decline.  We moved her to Arizona, first to a care facility near my parents house, then into the mother-in-law suite attached to my parents’ house, where my mom’s mom was already living, and then finally a year ago, her care became too involved and she was moved into another care center where she died.

Perhaps the reason I have not felt sorrow or loss in her death is because I started the grieving process 4 years ago as I watched her body and her mind fail her.  She suffered a few falls, one that broke her hip, because she couldn’t remember that she couldn’t walk on her own.  She began to struggle with terrible panic attacks.  She lost the ability to keep any sort of conversation.  She could hardly follow a television program.  It got to the point where she wasn’t really living, she was mostly just existing.  She wasn’t really Grandma anymore, we lost her a long time ago.

There were sweet moments as well.  She began to have conversations with lost loved ones, or would ask about them.  My dad had been contacted by some distant cousins to help do the temple work for their Uncle’s second wife, Therle.  I had never heard anyone in the family mention her before this experience, and my dad had not said anything to Grandma about the plans.  But one day, a week or so before my dad was going to meet his cousins at the temple, out of nowhere Grandma asked, “And how’s Therle doing?”

The time she lived here in Arizona allowed her to spend time with her great-grandkids.  She would perk up a lot when they were around.

But the overarching question she constantly asked over those 4 years was, “When can I go home?”  And in all of hearts we started to ask the same question, when could she go home?

Sweet Death

The sadness I have felt in this experience has not been in her death, but for how long she lingered.  I don’t feel the need to seek understanding for why the Lord took her as so many do in situations of untimely deaths, the understanding I have been looking for is why she was made to linger so long.  It’s painful to wonder how much loneliness, pain, mental anguish, boredom, and complete lack of independence someone can endure, only to watch it get worse and worse, and feel so powerless to do anything meaningful about it.

The decision was finally made to discontinue some of the medications that were keeping her alive and just make her comfortable.  When my parents let me know that the decision had been made and hospice estimated it would only be a few more weeks, I felt very much at peace.  We made arrangements to get the family together to visit her and for my husband to assist my dad to give her a final Priesthood blessing.

Typically when we talk about Priesthood blessings, they are intended to seek healing.  This one was very different.  My dad, seeking prompting by the Spirit, blessed her that she would see her loved ones soon, and that she would not be afraid but would feel peace.  He blessed her to die.

She was asleep the whole time we were there, and was struggling to breathe.  As we sat there with her the words to this song came to my mind, and became almost like a prayer for her:

Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest!                                                                                    Come lead me to peace                                                                                                            because I am weary of the world,                                                                                                    O come! I wait for you,                                                                                                                  come soon and lead me,                                                                                                                  close my eyes.                                                                                                                                Come, blessed rest!

That idea of death being sweet and blessed was very real.  She was weary of the world in so many ways.  Her body was weary.  Her heart was weary as most everyone she had associated with in this life went before here.  Come soon.  I didn’t want to watch her suffer any more, I wanted it to come soon.  And it did.

We had figured it would still take a few days for her medications to leave her system.  However, the very next day my dad received a call from hospice telling him they believed it was going to happen that day and that he should probably come.  My mom sent me a text message shortly after I got home from church relaying the news but said that it might be several hours.  I wavered for a minute on whether or not I should head over then or wait, but since it was Sunday and my husband was home to take care of the kids, I decided I should just go ahead and go.

Shortly after getting on the road for my 40 minute trip across town, my mom sent another message that said it would be soon.  I was full of nervous energy wanting to be there, but also a little bit afraid to be there as she passed.  I can’t really explain it, but the idea of being with someone as they pass has always sounded odd to me, but I hoped that this might help me work through some of those anxieties.  When I was about halfway there I had this sudden peace come over me, and had the thought that she was gone.  I immediately second guessed myself and the nervousness came back only to followed by peace again and a voice that said, “You’re not going to make it in time.”  About three minutes later my mom sent another message that she was gone.

As I pulled up to her care center, knowing she had already passed, but wanting to see her, I got this distinct impression, I could almost see it, that she was with my grandpa, and they were so happy, almost giddy.  It was beautiful.  Her death was sweet.

Final Acts of Service

About a year ago, knowing that his mother’s death was more imminent than not, my dad began designing a casket.  I think my dad’s love language is building things.  Some might call this gift giving or acts of service, but it’s not just any gift or any act of service, it’s designing and building very customized items.  The design for her casket was based on her old Singer sewing machine that had been her mother’s.  It is now over 100 years old and has been a prized possession.  About a week before her passing, he showed her pictures of the almost completed casket, she was able to whisper that it was beautiful.  Below is the sewing machine to the left (sorry I should have gotten a better picture of the front), and the completed casket to the right.

 

 

It was not quite complete before her passing.  I began helping to stain it before we went to see her the last time then continued that evening and after she passed.  My 3 year old had taken quite an interest into what Grampses (that’s what he calls my dad) was doing in the garage.  We explained to him that it was a casket, that Great-Grandma Ramsey’s body would go in the casket when she died, but that her spirit would go to Heaven.  We got him set up inside with some blocks so we could work in the garage, but he came running up to me with the blocks and excitedly exclaimed, “Let’s build a casket!!”  He proceeded to build a casket out of blocks then showed it to me and explained, “This one’s for her spirit.”  It sounds a little creepy out of context, and I made sure to warn his preschool teacher the following week that he might build a casket out of blocks.  But it was so sweet and innocent and I hope that he can keep that perspective of service for the dying.  One of the hard parts of watching someone go, is not being sure what to do about it.  Should you sit there and just watch?  I don’t know, and the answer is probably different for everyone, but it felt right to be honoring her by helping my dad finish his final tribute to her.

Additionally I had the beautiful and sacred experience to assist in preparing her body for burial.  It is customary for endowed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be buried in their temple clothing.  When possible, this is traditionally done by other endowed family members of the same gender.  For those who are unfamiliar with the temple, there is a beautiful and short video that briefly explains this clothing and it’s importance.  In the temple we receive instruction and make covenants in endowment rooms, which includes putting on this special clothing, also referred to as the robes of the Holy Priesthood.  Temple worship service culminates by entering the Celestial Room which “[symbolizes] heaven, where we may live forever with our family in the presence of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.” (See reference and more information here.)

Honestly, when I first got the news that they were just making her comfortable and realized that this service of dressing her would fall to my mom and me, I felt anxious.  As I mentioned before the thought of being with someone when they died was a bit frightening to me.  The thought of touching a dead body, was very disturbing.  I can’t really explain exactly why, but it made me queasy.  I asked around for advice from others who had done this for their own relatives and received a lot of wonderful responses.  One of the responses that helped me work through my concerns was a reminder of the women who prepared Christ’s body for burial.  That was a beautiful way to think of it, so I carried that with me, and while it was still difficult at first to touch her, I was able to do it.  I felt the need to take extra care to make sure everything was straight and tied beautifully.  My mom and I chuckled a little together as my grandma had been incredibly neat and tidy, maybe to the point of being a bit obsessive compulsive about it.

I reflected on that desire to be neat after we finished and left her in the funeral home.  I thought about my first time going to the temple.  I was living in Provo at the time, my parents in Arizona, which made St. George (her home) a good meeting spot.  At that time she was having a difficult time sitting anywhere besides her own chair at home for long periods of time which would make attending the temple difficult.  I spoke to her and let her know what the plan was, that I would love it if she could be there, but would understand if her physical limitations would not allow it.  Her response was that she would, “take an extra pill if needed.”  I don’t know what those pills were, but apparently they worked, and she was able to come.  I remember her fussing over me a little to make sure everything was straight and neat.  As I was reflecting on this, the beautiful thought came to me, that she had helped me to be prepared to enter the Celestial Room of the temple nearly 10 years ago, but now I had symbolically prepared her to enter the presence of the Lord in the Celestial Kingdom.

To picture her finally fulfilling her desire of going home, to her eternal home, reinforced in my heart and soul that her death was sweet.

 

 

Judge Not- a how (not) to guide

Matthew 7:1 is one of those scriptural phrases that people like to quote pretty regularly.  I daresay even most people from non-Christian backgrounds are familiar with the phrase.  It goes a little something like this:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

It’s like the perfect trump card in every argument right?  If you are trying to tell me I’m doing something wrong then I just whip out the whole “stop judging me” phrase and SHUT DOWN.  Except it rarely works that way, and then it just turns more into a defensive argument back and forth about who is judging who and why and then the internet explodes!

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Now for a little clarification, at least from an LDS perspective.  We believe that through the years and many different translations of Biblical writings, some information was, well, literally lost in translation, or just plain and simply lost.  As such, we also believe that through the guidance of God, Joseph Smith was directed to translate certain portions to restore them to their accurate form.  One such notable passage happens to be Matthew 7:1-2, which states:

Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people.

Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.

So then the commandment isn’t to do absolutely no judging, but to judge righteously.  So now we can quibble about what exactly a righteous judgment is.

Righteous and Necessary Judges

In our society we accept certain types of judgment as necessary.

An obvious example is that within the legal system there are judges, and if you find yourself needing to stand before one, he or she will most definitely and openly judge you.  If you were to look at the judge and say, “Hey, judge not!” I somehow doubt that it would go over well for you.  But if you try please do report back.

Math teachers have it pretty easy, either you got the answer right or you got it wrong, so they can just grade you based on those answers pretty easily.  But those English teachers, man, they have to read and judge before they can grade.

Another notable judge from my life has been adjudicators for auditions.  I am a singer/pianist/clarinetist.  I’ve been auditioning for things since elementary school.  Some poor person had to sit there and listen to a bunch of elementary students play their instruments semi-proficiently and decide which ones were best so they could go to elementary honor band.  For the record, I did make it into Elementary honor band, and yes, I am that big of a band nerd.  However, several years later during my senior year of high school I was not so lucky with my All-State band audition.  I had practiced so much, and not to toot my own horn, or buzz my own reed as it were, but I was doing really well.  My clarinet teacher had been an adjudicator for previous years and she was confident I would make it.  In my warm-up I played the pieces PERFECTLY, my best friend was there, she can attest.  I went into the audition and I played so horribly it was outright embarrassing.  My clarinet teacher was in the hallway listening and when I came out she asked if that had actually been me playing and let me know that that was the worst she had ever heard me play.  (Thanks- I really needed that.)  Now there was a miracle that came out of that bad audition, but that’s a story for a different day.  But anyway, telling them they couldn’t judge me based on one performance wasn’t going to help.

In all of these situations the people doing the judging are in a position to judge because they are experts in their field.  They have done all the studying, know all the procedures, and as a society we accept that they are able to “judge righteous judgments” because they know what they are talking about.

What they should not do is be judgmental about things outside of the scope of the situation with which they are presented.

In the following examples think of righteous judgment on a broader scope than the typical “churchy” idea of righteous, think moral, correct, and fair.

I showed up at my court date once after receiving a speeding ticket and got to stand before the judge, who judged me as guilty, because I was in fact speeding.  Now in that instance I was speeding on a down hill trying to catch a light because it was a ridiculously long wait if you missed it and I was running late for work (again).  But, the fact of the matter is that I did indeed knowingly break the law and was caught doing it.  He decided that I did in fact need to pay the ticket which was a “righteous judgment.”  However, if the judge went on to decide that I was a terrible person and an unfit teacher because I was not responsible enough to leave on time so that I didn’t feel the need to speed, that would be over the top, would not be taking into account the rest of the picture, and would be an “unrighteous judgment.”

If an English teacher comes across a paper that is full of spelling and grammatical errors, lacks focus, and does not meet the objectives of the assignment and gives the student a bad grade, that is a “righteous judgment.”  If the teacher goes on to assume that the student is lazy, didn’t even try, and will never amount to anything that becomes “unrighteous judgment.”

And finally, those adjudicators who deemed me unfit for All-State judged righteously based on what they heard from me during the audition.  However, if they had gone on to assume that I was the worst clarinetist in the state, hadn’t bothered to practice, and wasted their time, that would be incorrect and “unrighteous judgment.”

Judging- what it is and what it isn’t

So, how does this apply to us lay people?

I regularly see people on the internet accusing other people of judging when no judging was happening.  That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of judgment that does happen, but let’s just make sure we understand the difference.

Here’s some items that are not judging:

  1. Facts and Statistics-  When you ask a question and someone shares a factually based answer, this is not judgmental.  They are the facts.
    • As a subset of this, stating a procedure, rule, or specific doctrine is also not judgmental, it’s a fact.  This is what the procedure is, this is what the doctrine states.
    • You can decide whether or not to believe the fact or doctrine, you can decide that the statistics or procedures don’t apply to you, but if someone simply states what they are, they are not judging you, they are informing you.
    • If someone does not ask and you take it upon yourself to inform them, it may or may not qualify as being judgmental, but it’s almost definitely rude.  But if you do ask a question and someone gives you the information you requested, even if you don’t like it, it’s not judgmental.
  2. Opinions based on facts, etc.- this can get tricky because there is a fine line that often gets crossed, but simply stating your opinion is not judgmental especially if someone has asked for opinions or advice.
  3. Disagreeing- this is another item that has a fine line before it can turn into judging, but simply and respectfully disagreeing with someone is not the same as judging.

 

Here’s some things that are judgmental, and not of the righteous variety:

  1. Assuming intentions
  2. Questioning intelligence, level of commitment, moral caliber, or quality of love
  3. Insinuating that you are better than the other person or a group of people

Examples:

I’m going to give examples from different types of arguments I regularly see online.

Mommy Wars!

Car seats.  Oy please don’t ask car seat questions on online forums, just google the information, it just turns into a fight.  You could substitute a variety of mom topics in here- safe sleep, breastfeeding, introducing solids, screen time, etc. etc.

Possible question: Is it ok to move an 18 month old to forward facing because their feet are jammed against the seat and they are getting fussy?

Non-judgmental factual response:  It is statistically safer in a collision if small children are rear facing.  Most recommend at least 2 years, but even up to 4 years.

  • Simply stated a statistic- not judgmental

Non-judgmental factual response:  In Arizona, state law requires children to be rear facing until age 1, and have met the height and weight requirements on their car seat.  So if they are over 1 but are smaller than the specific car seat requirements the law says keep them rear, if they are under 1 but meet height and weight requirements they should still be rear facing.

  • Simply stated a law- not judgmental

Non-judgmental opinionated response:  Because of the statistics that show that children are safer when rear facing, I feel that it is important to keep them rear facing and have chosen to keep mine rear facing even if they fuss about it.  There are extenders you can get to help them have more room for their feet.

  • Stated their opinion based on statistics and their personal choice, offered an idea for help- not judgmental

Non-judgmental opinionated response: I had a similar issue with my child becoming extremely upset about being rear-facing.  As she met the legal height, weight, and age requirements I chose to go ahead and switch her forward facing as I felt that the trauma being caused by forcing her rear-facing outweighed the smaller chance of getting in an accident with a collision forceful enough to hurt her.  I also felt that the anxiety and distraction that her screaming was causing me was increasing my risk of getting in an accident.

  • Stated their opinion and personal choice despite the statistics- not judgmental

Judgmental response: How is this even a question for people?  I mean seriously.  Of course you keep your kid rear facing even if they fuss.  Wouldn’t you rather your kid be alive and fussing?  If you really love your kid then you wouldn’t even wonder if it was ok to turn them around.  I love my kids so I am keeping them rear facing until age 4.

  • Questioned intelligence by wondering how they could ask the question, questioned the quality of parents’ love who do turn their kids around, insinuated that she was better and loved her children more than other people- highly judgmental

 

Other examples of judgmental responses to other issues:

  • People with messy houses are lazy
  • When I see people allow their doctor to put Ilotcyn in their baby’s eyes, I know they are either uninformed or too spineless to stand up to their doctor
  • I’m not going to give that chemical crap (formula) to MY baby

 

Living your Religion

I am most familiar with LDS standards of living, which are fairly unique compared to the general public, and can cause a lot of room for questions on how strict people are etc.   I’m sure other groups face similar squabbles within their membership.  Unfortunately sometimes people forget the standards for kindness as they hash out the details, which begins to fall under the next part of the judgment scripture: “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

I’ve been seeing a lot of questions about tattoos coming up in some LDS mom groups I follow so that’s the example I’ll use, but you could substitute a variety of topics- what’s ok to do on Sunday, when it’s ok to not wear garments, specifics for the Word of Wisdom, piercings, media, etc.

Possible question:  I recently lost a loved one and want to do something big to memorialize them, something I will see regularly so I can remember them.  I’m thinking about getting a tattoo, do you think that would be ok?

Non-judgmental factual response- Several times Prophets and Apostles have counseled against getting tattoos.

  • cited specific counsel- not judgmental

Non-judgmental factual response- While we are counseled against receiving tattoos, it will not affect your church standing as far as receiving a temple recommend or serving in most standard callings.  However, on a case by case basis, potential missionaries will be asked to keep their tattoos covered at all times or may not be able to serve.  Also some higher level callings (as in regional level as opposed to congregational) will also be asked to make sure tattoos are covered or may not be extended the calling.

  • explained policies- not judgmental

Non-judgmental opinionated response- As we’ve been counseled against it, I personally have chosen not to get tattoos.  Perhaps you could find a different meaningful way to remember them like a special necklace or ring and/or a piece of art hanging in a prominent place in your home.

  • simply stated their opinion based on counsel and offered an idea that might help- not judgmental

Non-judgmental opinionated response:  Yes we’re counseled against it, but it won’t affect your church standing, I might do the same thing in your position.

  • simply stated their opinion despite counsel- not judgmental

Judgmental response- I don’t understand how anyone could think this is ok.  Counsel is a commandment, and people need to be listening better.  If you really had a testimony this wouldn’t even be a question.  I follow everything the Prophet says so I definitely don’t have any tattoos.

  • questions intelligence, commitment, and testimony.  Assumes the other person’s intentions are to be disobedient.  Insinuates that they are better.  (And apparently forgot to listen when we were counseled to be kind- mote vs. beam)- highly judgmental

 

Politics

Quick, everyone run for the hills!  Just kidding.  This is definitely one of the trickiest categories for having civil discussions.  And I think that Thumper’s mom was definitely inspired when she came out with the old adage, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”  But, you can find nice, tactful, and respectful ways to disagree without being disagreeable, rude, and judgmental.

We’ll use birth control coverage as the example here, but again, substitute in whatever topic you can think of.  Sorry, I didn’t take the time to look up specific stats, etc, and those aren’t the point here anyway, the point is how to put together responses, I’ll let you do your own homework to find the stats. 🙂

Possible post:  Call your representatives to make sure that birth control continues to be covered with no out of pocket costs.

Non- judgmental response:  Insert facts and statistics about birth control use and it’s benefits to women.

  • citing statistics- not judgmental

Non-judgmental response:  Insert statistic about how much it costs to provide at no out of pocket cost.

  • citing statistics- not judgmental

Non-judgmental opinionated response:  We need to make sure that we continue to provide this benefit for women’s over all health, prevention of unwanted pregnancy, etc, etc.

  • simply stating an opinion- not judgmental, someone may disagree but you have not attacked them or their position

Non-judgmental opinionated response:  I am concerned about the cost of this benefit on an already overstretched National budget, and the increase in insurance premiums for the already overstretched household budgets of many Americans.  I wonder if there are other ways we could help, or if there are higher priority items that also require budgeting.

  • Simply stating an opinion/ concern, offering the possibility for compromise, did not attack the other position- not judgmental

Judgmental response:  If you aren’t pro- free birth control then you are anti-women.

  • Assuming people’s intentions- judgmental

Judgmental response: People that want free birth control just don’t want to take responsibility for their finances and choices.  Just keep your legs closed if you can’t afford it.

  • Assuming people’s intentions, and questioning their morals, and just rude/crude- judgmental

 

Other examples of politically judgmental responses/ statements:

  • anything that assumes or insinuates that the other side is stupid or uninformed.  I know a lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum of varied education levels, and who do a varied amount of research.  Just because someone came to a different viewpoint based on the information received does not make them stupid, it’s also a sure fire way to shut down discussion.
  • All they care about is…..
  • If you don’t support [insert platform] then you hate [insert group]

Righteous Judgment in our Daily Lives

Essentially every decision we make involves some amount of judgment, we judge styles, media, appropriate activities for our children, etc., but this gets trickier as it involves our lifestyles and the people with whom we choose to associate.

If there is a person in your life who is making decisions that may affect you or your family in a negative way, it is not only within your rights, but your responsibility to righteously (think fairly, morally, and correctly) judge if their behavior is dangerous and whether or not you should continue associating with them or to what degree you will continue to have them in your life.

Looking beyond the scope of how their behavior effects you and judging the circumstances that led them there would no longer be righteous judgment.  Assuming that they don’t want to change is also unrighteous judgment.  Deciding they are a lost cause or what type of Eternal rewards they will or will not receive is most definitely outside of your place to righteously judge.

Final Judgment

The last type of judgment I mentioned, the lost cause or Eternal rewards type, this would fall under the jurisdiction of Final Judgment.

I do believe that someday we will stand before God and our Savior and be judged of all our works, actions, intentions, thoughts, and desires.  They are the only ones qualified to judge us not only righteously, but perfectly and finally because only they know our WHOLE story.  For us to attempt to pass that kind of judgment is unfair and completely unrighteous.

Our job is to hope for, love, and assist others, not to judge their worth or their Eternal standing with God.  I think we will be pleasantly surprised by how merciful His judgments will be.  So when righteous judgment does become necessary in this life, be fair and careful, but do your best to lean on the side of mercy.

 

 

 

Christ-centered Christmas Advent Activities

Last year as we were coming into the Christmas season I had a few strong impressions from the spirit which lead to some resolutions.  One that I needed to be a more deliberate mother, that we needed more structure in our lives.  The other that I needed to focus on keeping this holiday about Christ.  With absolutely no deliberate action on my part, my children will learn about Santa.  Santa is everywhere.  Shows, decorations, songs, EVERYWHERE.  Let me be clear that I am by no means anti-Santa, and he does visit our house.  BUT, because everywhere else we get inundated with Santa and commercialization, I felt very strongly that I needed to come up with meaningful and fun activities to make sure my kids understand that this holiday is about Jesus.

If you look at my Thanksgiving advent post I explain a little bit of how I put together these activities.  But for a quick recap, I keep it simple, there’s candy involved, and I use dollar store muffin tins with circles of construction paper to make the calendar.  I don’t have December’s put together yet, but here’s a picture of November’s for reference- just imagine red and green paper instead.IMG_20161031_151857448

Some of my activities are based on the #LightTheWorld campaign from mormon.org, but I struggled to come up with activities for a 3 year old and 1 year old that fit with each scripture.  I also did not go in the order of their calendar at all just because certain activities would work better for us on different days of the week.

You’ll notice that I included a day to celebrate Hannukah, I did this for a few reasons:

  1.  One of my very best friends is Jewish and she has inspired me to want to teach my children to love and respect other cultures.  Also she’ll be visiting right after Hannukah ends, so we’ll get together and have a belated Hannukah bash!
  2. My thought for that day is that we believe in a God of miracles.  The story of Hannukah contains a beautiful miracle and it’s fairly simple for children to understand.
  3. I want my children to understand that God loves and gives miracles to EVERYONE, even those that believe differently than we do.

In addition to the activities listed below we also have Nativity picture books, one from Usborne and the others I think I just grabbed from Toys R Us, and I found some Nativity printables on Pinterest and turned them into magnets for the magnet board in the play room.

I don’t have all the dates set in stone, but here’s my list of thoughts and activities.  Activities based on Light the World have a little star.

  1. Jesus created the world and all of nature.  Decorate the Tree.
  2. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.* Attend the Southwest Family Christmas Party (my mother in law works for Southwest and you should all be jealous because their family party is so much fun!  But I felt like this Light the World activity should definitely be matched up with a party, so if you already have a holiday party to attend, just pair it with this scripture!)
  3. Jesus speaks through His Prophet and Apostles.  Watch the Christmas Devotional.
  4. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.* Make ornaments to take to neighbors (I’m using foam and felt snowflakes that I got from Target last year because they are super easy and low mess, but substitute whatever craft floats your boat.)
  5. Nativity sticker scene, again, I picked up a pack of stickers last year at Target.
  6. I was in prison and ye visited me.* Take treats to a police station.
  7. Make gingerbread stables for Family Home Evening.
  8. Jesus is the light of the world.  Go to Glendale Glitters. Here’s an example of doing something fun, but still keeping it Christ-centered by linking the lights back to Him.
  9. I was sick and ye visited me.* Take treats to the NICU.  If you want the long story for why we pick the NICU you can read that post here.  Short story, my daughter was in the NICU for 10 days.  We took treats last year, and I plan on continuing the tradition as the kids grow up.  If you want to do a NICU near you just know it’s best to call ahead and you really will just drop the treats off, young children will most likely not be allowed in.  But, being there even for the short time we were, was lonely and stressful, I can’t imagine being there during the holidays, so NICU parents are definitely a group that could use some cheer.  You could pick any group of ailing individuals, visit someone who recently had surgery, etc.
  10. Jesus gave us temples.  Got to the Mesa Temple Lights.
  11. Family Home Evening, movie night with Nativity movies.  Bible Videos-Nativity, Collection of short Christmas videos, Joy to the World
  12. I was naked and ye clothed me.* Drop off donations to Maggie’s Place.
  13. We believe in a God of Miracles.  Tell the Hannukah story, light candles, play dreidels, etc.
  14. Jesus gave us families.  Make ornaments for grandparents.
  15. Visit a Live Nativity.  There’s a few I’m considering but need to figure out some dates.  Here’s some links to help you out.  Walk through Bethlehem, Grace Glendale
  16. Because of Jesus, our family can be together forever.  Make wreaths (circles have no end.)
  17. Ye shall meet together oft.* Go to church.
  18. Make more ornaments for friends and family.
  19. Family Home Evening- Caroling
  20. For I was an hungered and ye gave me meat.* Donate food, either to a food drive or take a meal to someone who is sick, or a refugee family.
  21. Wisemen still seek Him.  Do a wisemen craft.
  22. Jesus was born in a stable with animals around.  Visit a petting zoo.
  23. Go to see The Star in theaters.  We aren’t huge movie goers, and part of me is wondering if I’m crazy to take a 1 year old and a 3 year old to a legit movie theater,  but I feel like it’s important to support this film so that more like it can be made!  Also, my friend’s son is one of the animators so that’s pretty cool!
  24. Bethlehem dinner.  Last year we started this tradition, and it definitely went over my son’s head, and I think he was sick and didn’t eat anyway, but by golly we are going to stick with it.  We’ve decided to do Christmas Eve on our own as just our little family.  For dinner we eat the type of food that was eaten in Bethlehem.  We had lamb with pita bread which I bought from a Middle Eastern market (you should find one, it was a really neat experience).  We had goat cheese, I cheated on this and bought the stuff wrapped in cranberries from Costco, so maybe less authentic, but sooo good.  Then we read the Christmas story and used our Nativity magnets to help act it out, as the kids get older we’ll have them do the acting, but for now we just use the pictures.

Merry Christmas!

To Tremble Because of Pain

I introduced this idea in my post about my birth stories, but wanted to develop it further.

If you’re into birth stories then give it a read, but if you would like to be spared all of the TMI here’s the pertinent part of the story in a nutshell.

With my second pregnancy I developed symphysis pubis dysfunction at 10 weeks.  Which basically meant that I was in debilitating pain for the last 30 weeks (plus the 2 days overdue) of my pregnancy.  It was horrible and my doctor didn’t care/ wouldn’t listen.

The pain was sometimes mild and manageable but frequently jumped to excruciating, by the end it was mostly always excruciating.  But no matter what, it was constant.

I had a doctor’s appointment on my due date, which was a Monday and my doctor agreed to set an induction date.  He initially said Wednesday then changed his mind and suggested Friday.  I piped in, “Or Wednesday!”  “No, Friday will be better schedule wise.”  “Or we could do Wednesday.”  “Why Wednesday, what’s two more days?”

Anyone who would suggest that it’s just two more days has clearly never experienced chronic debilitating pain.  I mean he might as well have said, “What’s two more days in Hell?”  It’s 4 MORE days in Hell, is what it is, because Wednesday is 2 more days.

He settled on Friday, I felt powerless to argue, so that was the plan.  That’s not what ended up happening, but that starts getting way off topic.  She did end up coming on her own on Wednesday.

The thought of having to be in pain longer caused me to reflect deeply on a favorite passage of scripture.  This comes from the Doctrine and Covenants and is a revelation given to Joseph Smith in which Christ explains and details His life and mission.  He explains His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to being crucified:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”

That phrase, “to tremble because of pain” has always struck me, but now it was striking with more meaning.  I felt like my pain was being disregarded, that I was being treated as weak or foolish for expressing that I was in pain, and yet the Savior, even God, TREMBLED because of pain.  I by no means want to compare my pain to what He must have gone through in that time, and yet, it was validating to realize that He was admitting to trembling in pain.  I realized on a very personal level that He understood what I was going through which made me feel closer to Him.

The biggest thing it did was make me thing about how we, “mere mortals,” react to pain in ourselves and to others.

No one will get through this life without experiencing some form of debilitating pain, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, or really any combination of the above, because really they are all connected.  These painful trials can become a stepping stone that allows us to draw closer to our Savior making them sacred experiences.  But what about when you are in the middle of it, or someone around you is in the middle of it, too often we try to just make it go away or make it seem less awful than it is, I feel that this can take away from the sacred nature of pain, and unfortunately can make the situation harder in the moment.

I want to take a look at some of the mistakes we make when dealing with pain both our own and others.  Like I’ve said in other posts, if you realize that this is something you have done to me or others, know that I am not upset, or holding a grudge.  I know that people are for the most part well meaning.  My hope is that we can learn together from these mistakes so that we can be more helpful to others in the future.

What not to do:

Putting things in perspective

Having an Eternal perspective is so important when dealing with trials.  Knowing that God is there and on your side and that “all these things shall give thee experience and work for thy good,” can be the only thing that keeps you going sometimes.  I feel like developing an Eternal perspective is something that you should be working on constantly, especially during the “down time” when you aren’t in the middle of a crisis so it’s there to get you through the crisis.  When the crisis comes, the Eternal perspective becomes a very personal relationship with God through mighty prayer and faith.

Sometimes people say things, well meaning of course, to try and spin the Eternal perspective, or put things in perspective during the crisis.  Things like, “Well it could always be worse….you could have….”  or “Well at least you have….”

Yeah, because when you’re in pain you definitely want to think about how things could be worse, that’s a pretty hopeful place to go.

I really can’t picture anyone saying to Christ in the Garden, it could always be worse, I mean you could have gotten YOUR ear cut off, or your disciples could have gone home to sleep instead of falling asleep in an uncomfortable garden.  You wouldn’t say that to Him.  And the only person I can see coming up with a “Well at least…” statement is Satan.  “Well at least you HAVE body.”

Those kinds of statements invalidate the experience.  And OF COURSE it could be worse, and people have gone through harder things.  I mean ultimately Christ experienced it ALL.  But I can’t for a moment picture Him coming and saying it could be worse, or at least you didn’t have to go through what he went through.  No.  He validates our pain because He experienced it.  He sends the Comforter to help us through.

I feel like in Mormon culture we don’t want to let things be bad.  And maybe that’s because we believe that ultimately we will be led to pure joy.  Or we have this idea that in order to be Christ-like we can’t admit to the struggle because He was perfect and somehow we think that being perfect means not having human emotions, reactions, or struggles.  And yet, he said, “Father if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.”

Was he showing a lack of Eternal perspective in that moment?  Was it sinful to show weakness?  No, but He was expressing His emotions and His pain freely to His Father.  Sometimes things are just hard, really hard and awful, and the cup can’t just be removed.  He had to experience it in order to fulfill His most sacred responsibility.  Likewise we have to allow ourselves and others to experience pain in order to fulfill our sacred potential and join the fellowship of Christ.  To try and remove it, or make seem not as bad would hold us back from being able to “overcome all things,” which is a characteristic of those who will inherit the Celestial Kingdom.

Find the deeper meaning or give an explanation

“He’s in a better place.”

“God must have needed her more on the other side.”

“Think of all the lives he’s touching.”

“If it’s God’s will….”

“I’m sure it will all be ok”

These platitudes, plain and simple, are not helpful.

As individuals deal with pain, grief, and loss and turn towards God, sometimes they receive answers that give meaning to what they have experienced.  Sometimes the personal revelation they receive sounds like some of the lines I wrote above.  HOWEVER, those answers are deeply personal, need to come from God, and need to come when they are ready to receive it.  While it may turn out to be true, to try and offer meaning or give an explanation is an attempt to receive personal revelation for the other person.

Also, don’t give assurances that it will be ok.  Again, that’s as if you have received personal revelation for someone else’s experience.  When I was 16 my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  For the 2 weeks between diagnosis and hysterectomy I lived with constant weight and fear of the unknown.  When I told people they frequently said to me, “It’s alright, your mom’s going to be fine,” “Everything is going to be ok!”  It was really frustrating because didn’t know if everything was going to be ok, I hadn’t received that answer from God.  The prognosis was good, but there was still the lingering fear of what could come, not to mention that even if they could get everything out with the surgery and no follow up needed, my mom was still undergoing major surgery and would be healing for several weeks.  (For the record, everything did turn out ok.  In fact, after the surgery they came back and said it wasn’t actually cancer, just cysts, and now 15 years down the road there have been no continuing concerns.)

When baptized in the LDS faith we covenant to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.  Our job is to bear, mourn, and comfort, not to explain or reveal meaning, that is God’s job.

Comparisons

Don’t compare your pain.  Don’t compare anything for the matter, but really, don’t compare your pain and your trials.

As a missionary I started out with a chip on my shoulder.  I had myself convinced that I had sacrificed more than most of the other missionaries, so I really had a reason to struggle and have down days.  I did sacrifice a lot to be there, and I certainly had my fair share of literal blood, sweat, and tears.  But one day I was humbled with the seemingly obvious realization that at some point everyone would go through the hardest thing they have ever gone through.  That would be different for everyone and tailor made for them to grow and develop as needed.  I realized that I needed to allow other people to struggle, because while they weren’t going through the same thing I was, what they were going through was hard.

I had to learn this same concept but flipped when I went through my second pregnancy.  I was surrounded by people who were going through very very difficult trials.  A few friends experienced infant loss while I was pregnant, another friend was struggling with infertility (prayers for her recently implanted baby!).  And then there was me, carrying a healthy baby, and yet struggling so much.  Let me be clear that none of them did or said anything to make me feel guilty, I placed the burden of guilt on myself.

How dare I feel depressed when there were so many people around me going through something much harder.  Never would I ever wish to trade places with them.  So I tried to tell myself that I should just suck it up, and I should be so happy.  And of course I WAS happy to be carrying a healthy baby, that wasn’t what I was depressed about, but that’s what makes it depression.  I wasn’t really sad about anything, I was sad about EVERYTHING, and being in constant physical pain made it so much worse.

I finally realized, that yes, while other people were going through things that were harder than what I was experiencing, that didn’t mean that what I was going through wasn’t hard.  While I found joy in the hope that I would have a healthy and happy baby at the end (which isn’t quite how it went what with the NICU stay and all, but that’s a different story), it didn’t mean that I had to pretend to be enjoying my present circumstance.  I needed to validate my own pain and stop comparing it to others.

Another comparison we need to avoid is an attempt at an empathetic comparison.

A dear friend of mine lost her Father to a very long battle with cancer when she was only 19 years old.  I was her visiting teacher at the time and I’m sure I said some well meaning, but stupid things to her, but did my best to comfort while validating her pain.  At one point I started to say to her, “I know how you feel.”  Then corrected myself, and said, “Actually, I have no idea how you feel.”  She thanked me for saying that and told me that she found it a little frustrating when people said, “I know how you feel.”  And then a lot of them would follow it up with something like, “My grandpa died.”  Not to take away from the pain and sadness of losing a grandparent, but losing your parent especially at such a young age, is a very different experience.

On the flip side of that, the “I could never do that” response is another form of comparison.  Again it’s well meaning, and perhaps trying to highlight a strength that you see in the person.  Unfortunately it can feel like a wall being put up that makes them different.  The implications of the phrase, while in most cases not meant to be malicious can hurt the person who is doing their best to get through something difficult.  Often people experiencing loss (especially in extreme cases such as the loss of a child or untimely death of a spouse) feel guilt when they realize that their life is moving forward, especially in the moments when they realize they “forgot to miss them” or “forgot to be sad.”  Somehow they do have to continue with their life without letting loss consume them.  Comments like, “I could never do that” or “I would just fall apart” can increase that feeling of guilt, as if moving forward means that they didn’t love the person enough.  That’s of course not the case, but in the middle of loss our brains are not exactly known for being entirely logical and rational.

 

An empathetic response is wonderful, however an attempt at an empathetic comparison may leave the person experiencing the trial actually feeling less understood and less validated in their pain which can unfortunately end up causing more pain.

What TO do:

501px-gethsemane_carl_bloch

I feel like this painting really illustrates it perfectly.  Allow people to go through the experience, to grieve, to cry, to express themselves, and mostly just be there holding them, listening, and loving.

The angel isn’t saying to Him, “It’s gonna be ok.”  Because she knows it’s not, His trial and pain were going to continue and get worse.  I picture her simply saying, “I’m here, I love you, your Father loves you, I’m sorry you have to go through this,” and then crying along with Him.

In my experience, and from what I’ve observed with other people’s experiences is that in the middle of the trial they need people to just be there, to allow them to express the reality of their pain, to let them ugly cry when needed, and to just know that you are a safe person to vent to.

Rather than trying to give a positive spin or a comparison say things like:

  • I’m so sorry this is happening
  • That sounds so hard
  • I can only imagine

Don’t just tell them that God loves them, SHOW them by being an extension of His love.  Let them know that you will be there and help with whatever they need, give them ideas of what that means.  Tell them if they need to talk about it then your ears are open, if they need a distraction to get their mind off of it then you would love to get out of the house with them and not talk about it.  Offer specific service- can I bring a meal, do some laundry, mow your lawn, watch kids, donate to a fund, etc.

I feel like this quote from Spencer W. Kimball really sums this up:

“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs… So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds!”

Pray, and let them know you’re praying, but be aware that it can seem trite when someone says they are praying but doesn’t follow up with any action or dismisses what the hurting person is saying.

Send notes and text messages to let them know that they are on your mind.

Most of all just love and be loving.

To Those Experiencing Pain and Trials

I’m sorry, I hope you are able to find comfort.

Please keep in mind that people are trying to be nice so when they do make one of the mistakes from above, forgive them.  When appropriate you may want to find ways to calmly explain what types of responses are helpful vs. hurtful.

Let people serve you!  While on my mission, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland did a mission conference for us and something that he said has really stuck with me.  He explained that while on our missions we had a very specific and important focus and we ought not to let Terrestrial, or worldly, cares get in the way of our higher calling.  That’s why they encourage members to feed missionaries, and ask missionaries to have simple wardrobes etc. so we don’t have to use too much of our precious time taking care of those earthly needs.  I feel like this applies to us when we are experiencing significant trials as well.  When in the middle of the trial you have much more pressing needs to take care of so let people around you take care of your Terrestrial needs as much as they can.

Most of all take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.  Surround yourself with positive influences and don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted people.

And if you do need some good perspective, remember that this too shall pass.  It might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

 

Birth Stories

We celebrated my baby girl’s first birthday recently.  I’ve gone back and forth about posting her (and my son’s) birth story for a lot of reasons.  It’s pretty personal and there’s a lot of TMI that goes into birthing.  My births have been a bit traumatizing.  A few months ago my cousin and I were discussing our traumatizing birth stories in front of her daughter who is twelve now and the daughter chimed in that she felt bad and a little guilty about what her mom went through.  I’ve reflected on that, I don’t want my kids to feel any amount of guilt or feel bad because of how things happened.  In the end, I would do it over again to have them in my life.  But, I hope by sharing my stories that maybe someone else can be better prepared or avoid some of the issues I had.

My stories are by no means the worst or hardest out there.  I have two happy, healthy children and I’m alive and (mostly) well to tell the stories.  However, of the “normal” births out there, I have some kind of extreme stories.  So if you are a hopeful or soon-to-be mom, please realize that my situations are certainly on the fringes.

My son

While it’s my daughter’s first birthday coming up, and her birth is the one that was in many ways more traumatic for me, you have to understand his story to understand the context for hers.

To add more context, my son is named after my “angel baby” brother.  As well as having several miscarriages, my mom also carried a baby to 38 weeks before he passed in the womb most likely due to complications following a version (the manual turning of a fetus in the uterus).  I was only 2 1/2 when he passed so I don’t remember much from the actual time period, but he has been an important part of our family.  And as such, I grew up knowing that unfortunately things can go tragically wrong with an otherwise normal pregnancy.

That’s a fear I have carried with me through both of my pregnancies (and mom, that is not your fault- you never told me I should be afraid, it’s just an unfortunate fact that is part of our family story).  It makes it hard for me to bond to my pregnancies because I have this constant nagging fear that one morning I’ll wake up and the baby will be gone.  This has lingered well past what most people consider the “safe zone” and actually gets worse the longer I go.  Which in the case of my son was a really long time.

My pregnancy with my son was fine.  I wanted to puke all the time from about 6 weeks to 10 weeks (never actually did, just always wanted to).  Smells were especially bad, something about the smell when I walked into the office building I worked in was especially offensive.  I would gag 3 times between the front door until I made it into our suite.  And don’t even get me started on the bathroom in the building, heaven forbid someone actually did lay a stinky.  But otherwise I was fine, I don’t remember being overly tired.  I definitely had some brain fog, a really hard time recalling words which made for some really difficult IEP meetings when I couldn’t remember the word, cognitive.  I was uncomfortable, and big, really big, but overall I was ok until about 36 weeks.  At that point my pelvis started to separate.  I told people my hip was starting to hurt, but that wasn’t a very accurate description.  It was up in the hip socket, in the crotch, not like on the outside of your hip.  But that’s kind of awkward to describe to people.  I couldn’t lift my foot more than about an inch off the floor which made basically everything really difficult especially getting dressed.  My husband pretty much had to get me dressed.  The only time I felt ok and could move was in the swimming pool so I guess lucky for me it was summer and we lived in an apartment complex with ready access to a pool.

Since this pain started at 36 weeks I figured ok, I can handle this, less than a month to go right???  Wrong.  I tried a bunch of the old wives tales (within reason and safely) to get things moving.  Nothing.  My due date came and went and the days just kept dragging on.  People would say things like, “keep him in there as long as you can- you won’t sleep a wink once he’s out,”  “just be patient, babies come on their own time.”  And they were so sweet, and I wanted to punch them all in the face.  I was huge, I was in pain, and I couldn’t sleep.  And I was anxious, really anxious.  Everyday he was inside was another day that I couldn’t see and make sure he was still alive.  That nagging fear just sat there.

Finally at 1 week past due I woke up at about 3 am on a Tuesday morning realizing that something was about to come out of me.  I made it to the bathroom in time, I thought maybe it was my water breaking but it was just the mucus plug.  Contractions started, spaced apart and not too painful.  I got to about 5 before I woke up my husband.  We timed them for a few hours and about 8 am we headed to hospital to be sent home with some tylenol and an ambien and told to come back later but it looked like today would be the day.  I went home and slept a little, went to the chiropractor to get adjusted and got a prenatal massage.  About 8 that evening the contractions were close together again and much more painful than they had been in the morning.  That drive back to the hospital was so miserable and whoever thought that speed bumps were a good idea at hospitals on the way to the maternity ward was a jerk.  Each bump was awful.

I got into triage and they started reading through my birth plan, “So it says you are considering natural?”  My response, “I wanted to see how for I could get naturally, I’m there, I’m done, epdiural now please!”  But I was only up to a 3.5, I wasn’t even far enough to get admitted yet.  At the thought of going home again I got panicked and told them no, I absolutely couldn’t go home again.  They had me walk to hall for eternity, I mean an hour, a very painful hour with fire coming out of my eyes at anyone who dared smile.  After that I was far enough along to be admitted but they wouldn’t let me get an epidural yet because I was progressing too slowly and they were worried it would slow me down more.  It was close to 10 pm, they got me into a room and into a labor tub.  That felt really nice, for a little while but eventually the pain was too intense for the tub to help.  I got out and they gave me some morphine because I was still too slow for the epidural.

That was a long night.  My husband fell asleep but I couldn’t really sleep because of contractions.  So I turned on the TV to try and pass the time.  The only thing I could find was King of the Hill.  So far giving birth was not going anything like I pictured, King of the Hill was definitely not in my birth plan.

About 5 am on Wednesday my water broke for reals.  Being beta strep positive, they started me on antibiotics, and having made some progress they finally let me have an epidural.  Yay!  They excitedly told me it should only be a few more hours and then my baby would finally be here.

The passage of time over the next several hours is sketchy at best.  The midwife visited several times checking in on contractions and told me when I felt like I was going to poop myself then it would be time.  At some point in the late afternoon I felt it and the monitors caught it and my midwife and nurse came in and let me know it was time to start pushing.

So I pushed, and I pushed, and he started coming on down.  But then a weird thing happened.  My contractions, while very strong, went down to 8 minutes apart.  So I’d push and push and push and he would come down and crown and then in the 8 minutes between he would just slide right back up.  I had requested intervention be kept as a last resort and the practice I had chosen as well as the hospital had low intervention policies.

I pushed for 5 hours and nothing.  At that point hospital policies said I had to be seen by a doctor and receive some sort of intervention.  Also, as you can imagine after 5 hours of pushing, which was like 36 hours after everyone had been put on alert that I was in labor, family members started to freak out.

I had wanted everyone to wait and come to the hospital a few hours after he was born.  I only wanted my husband in the delivery room.  So when he told me both sets of parents were coming I was very upset and told him no, they couldn’t come.  He explained that everyone was very worried, and they were coming.  At that point I hadn’t realized how long it was but as the amount of time that had passed settled in I agreed that they could come and give me a blessing.

This started the next round of waiting around and nothing happening.  I needed clearance from the doctor to start pitocin but every time the doctor was about to come in someone else would start pushing and she would have to run and catch a baby.  So another 2 or 3 hours later she came in and talked me through my options and we agreed to go ahead and try the pitocin before resorting to a c-section.

After finally hearing from the doctor, my in-laws went home because they had to work the next day but my parents decided to hang around.  My mom sat with me as the pitocin did it’s thing over the next 2 hours.  I was so exhausted at this point that I would fall asleep in the 2 minutes between contractions and then wake up again.  In one of my moments between being asleep and awake I remember thinking, “I’m just going to be pregnant for the rest of my life, I’ll just die pregnant.”  Not that I thought I was dying in that moment, but just I really thought that my pregnancy would never end because it certainly hadn’t been going anywhere fast.

With the upheaval and my entire birth plan having been thrown out with the bath water, I was at least still planning to have my parents step out once it was time to actually push.  But suddenly, at 5 am on Thursday- 50 hours after labor had first started- the midwife and nurse came in, announced it was time, my husband barely had time to get up out of his chair and wasn’t really awake yet when they had my legs up in the air ready to go.  With my dad sitting there not sure where to look.

What took 5 hours to NOT do earlier took less than 5 minutes with the pitocin.  However, having been so used to them trying to get me to push as much as I could I pushed a little too hard and a little too fast and ripped myself a new one.  Level 3 tear.  But he was out and I wasn’t pregnant anymore.  I got to hold him and finally see him and see that he was fine.  It was all so relieving.

The recovery was horrible.  I was physically so exhausted from laboring for so long, then pushing for so long- my legs felt like I had run a marathon, or at least I would assume that’s what they would feel like if I did run a marathon because I don’t run marathons.  And that tear, oh my word.  Lots of TMI here.  For about 8 weeks it literally felt like at any moment my hoo-haa would rip in half.  Standing and walking were the worst, sitting wasn’t much better, lying down kind of helped.  It hurt so bad.

I had no idea that wasn’t normal.  When I saw women out and about after a few weeks I thought they must be crazy.  I was down and out for a long time.  I forced myself out for the store and social gatherings for the sake of sanity, but I wasn’t great company and struggled being there because I was in so much pain.  Also I peed myself constantly for a few months.

A lot of people have criticized the medical staff for how that birth played out.  I don’t know how different it would have been if I had asked for intervention sooner, not pushed like a crazy person in the end, or if a c-section would have been easier on my body. What I do know is that they respected my wishes until it reached a point where it was medically necessary to intervene, my son is here and healthy, and I did heal.  At no point did I ever feel endangered or out of control.  I knew the whole time that they had my best wishes in mind.

My daughter

When my son was almost 18 months I got pregnant again right as we bought a house and moved.  I don’t know if it was because of the different gender, or the thyroid disorder I developed after my son was born, or the move, but looking back things were a little harder from the get go.  I started struggling with depression pretty quickly, I tried to wave it off due to the stress of the move, which was definitely a contributing factor, but it turned into a bad cycle that plagued me throughout the pregnancy.  I had the same “morning sickness” issues (hate that term because it’s not a morning thing for me- it’s all day).  I also had zero energy, like could barely get off the couch kind of lack of energy.  My doctor…didn’t care.  My thyroid levels came back normal so obviously I was just fine.

Pause for a minute on my doctor.  We had just moved a half hour north of where we had been living, my midwives were 20 minutes south of where we had been living.  Going back to them was not a feasible option, especially considering that during high traffic times that drive can easily turn into an hour and a half to two hours.  I wasn’t super familiar with the area and didn’t know anyone well enough to feel comfortable asking around like, “Hey, no reason in particular but…anyone know a good OB?”  So I went with online ratings.  My doctor had really high ratings, everyone appeared to just love him.  He had been in practice for like forever, even my Pediatrician that I found had used him for her babies and they were now in college.  She told me after we made the connection at an appointment for my son that I “would have the most beautiful birth in his care.”

That was not my experience, in fact, finally in the last few months I have stopped having nightmares where he is the bad guy.

At about 10 weeks I woke up one morning and I didn’t feel sick, I was so grateful to be past that phase.  Except the very next morning I woke up and that horrible pain that had started with my son at 36 weeks was there.  I freaked out a little because how on earth could I survive that for 30 weeks instead of just 5 weeks.  Also my depression was getting worse.  Multiple times a week I would sit on my bed and cry for mostly no reason, sometimes there was an identifiable trigger, but nothing big enough to warrant hours of crying.

At my doctor’s appointment around 15 weeks I brought up the issues with the pain.  He shrugged it off, basically like, yep, you’re pregnant.  I told him about my issues with depression.  He told me that they don’t treat women for depression while pregnant so just go for a walk.  But I couldn’t walk, I was in excruciating pain.  He told me I should wear a belly band, I told him I had tried that and it wasn’t helping the pain much but was really uncomfortable in other ways.  He looked at me like I was an idiot.  I cried the whole way home from the appointment.

I thought about changing doctors at that point, but how was I supposed to find anyone better, I mean this guy had really high ratings so I decided to just stick it through.

By 24 weeks there was no relief in sight for the pain.  I had finally seen something on Facebook about SPD, symphysis pubis dysfunction.  I looked it up and suddenly realized that was what was happening, and why I had such a hard time explaining to people what I was experiencing, because I just hadn’t had the medical terminology to describe it.  I would tell people I was having ligament pain, and they would pat their round ligaments and say, “Oh yeah I had that too, everyone gets that.”  And I was like, no that’s not where it hurts, but it’s not exactly in a place you can point to in polite company.  But I’m all about TMI on this post so basically imagine someone stabbing you with a dagger in your crotch right between your leg and your vagina up into the hip socket.  That’s a pretty accurate description of what it felt like, all the time.  Sometimes it hurt so much that I lost joint stability.  Standing was the worst, walking was horrible but for some reason not as bad as standing, sitting didn’t continuously irritate it, but didn’t make it go away.  Rolling over in bed frequently made me cry out in pain.  Being in pain ALL THE TIME is really bad when you’re already struggling with depression.  I wasn’t ok.  I tried to explain this to my doctor at my appointment at 24 weeks.  He shrugged it off again and told me there really wasn’t anything they could do, I’d be fine.  I told him that I would need a handicap placard then, again I got the “you’re an idiot” look but he signed the paperwork.

For the record, if you experience these kinds of symptoms, there IS something you can do.  Unfortunately I didn’t find out until my baby was 6 months old and I was finally in physical therapy because the pain didn’t resolve itself.  But, you can and should see a physical therapist who specializes in obstetrics.  Why didn’t my OB suggest that, I wish I knew.

My only consolation in all of this was that in my early appointments, when we went over my history and the craziness of my son’s birth, my OB told me a few times that he definitely wouldn’t let me go over.  He didn’t want me to have another big baby and risk tearing again.  So at least I knew that before August 29th I would no longer be in pain.

At the end of July around 35 weeks I started having Braxton Hick’s contractions almost constantly.  And even though I know that 35 weeks is not full term and has some risks involved, the risks are low at that point and a big part of me hoped that it would just go ahead and happen.  My OB was in Africa for the month so I was seeing his nurse practitioner, she did put me on modified bed rest for a week to make sure I got to 36 weeks, and she figured baby would come early.

But over the next few weeks I kept showing up for appointments with baby girl still inside.  And the doctor changed his mind about sending me in early, she wasn’t as big as he had worried so no reason.

At 39 weeks I asked about getting my membranes stripped to trigger labor.  He explained that if you’re not ready it doesn’t trigger labor, it just makes you bleed so he didn’t do it.  I asked if we could go ahead and schedule an induction then.  Nope, low priority, I would just get bumped.  I looked him in the eye and told him I was in excruciating pain and needed to be done.  Nope, nothing, didn’t seem to care how much pain I was in, just another pregnant lady whining about being uncomfortable at the end.

I was physically and mentally coming apart.  The thought of putting up with that for one more week was devastating.  This wasn’t just me being uncomfortable and wanting to be done, I wasn’t ok, and he didn’t care.

That was a Monday, that Thursday as I was going to bed I felt a little more than a trickle of fluid leak.  Being beta strep positive again I knew that if you had a slow leak you needed to get in to be on antibiotics.  We called triage and they said I should probably come get checked.  I wasn’t contracting so I knew I wasn’t really in labor and if I was leaking and needing an induction it would be several hours, so I just went ahead and drove myself, but we put my parents on alert in case they needed to come get my son.

I got in and answered the nurse’s millions of questions in triage.  I went over my allergy to bananas and melons like 10 times (which is not a medical issue, if I get some I just get itchy, and I just won’t order them from the kitchen).  I told them that yes it had been a “normal” pregnancy.  And I’m sitting there like, why did I pre-register if you are going to ask me all of these questions again.

It was a false alarm.  They condescendingly patted my arm and told me not to come back until my water had broken or my contractions were less than 4 minutes apart, preferably both.  Again, I felt like I was being treated like an idiot pregnant lady.

40 weeks.  Doctor’s appointment.  No sign of labor.  We finally started discussing induction dates.  The appointment was on a Monday.  He said, “Maybe Wednesday…hmmm… no Friday, we’ll do Friday.”  I chimed in, “Or Wednesday!”  He asked why Wednesday mattered.  “I just want the baby out, I’m in horrible pain and I need to be done.”  “Well what’s two more days?”

Anyone who would say something like that has clearly never had chronic debilitating pain.  I almost jumped down his throat and said, “If I have to be in pain for 5 more minutes I’m not going be ok! That’s why 2 more days matters!!”

I didn’t yell at him.  I agreed to Friday.  He proceeded to check me and said I had made some progress from the week before so he went a head and “swept” my membranes.  I have no idea if there’s a technical difference between sweeping and stripping aside from sweeping sounds nicer.

The next morning I woke up crying about having to face another day in pain by myself with a 2 year old.  I knew I needed to not be alone but I also didn’t really want to be around people so  I headed to my parents’ house because my older brother spent the days there as caretakers for my grandmothers.  They were people and could help with my son, if I needed to talk they could listen, and if I needed to sit there in silence or cry, they were family so it would be fine.

Here’s where we start getting into a lot of TMI.  I was crampy and I started passing a decent amount of mucus and some blood vaginally.  It was gross, but I realized it would be expected following the membrane sweeping.  I had also been told not to go in until my water actually broke and my contractions were less than 4 minutes apart, because the membrane sweeping can cause some false labor.  No reason for alarm.

In the afternoon I started getting some chills and feeling a little sick to my stomach, almost flu like.  Again, no alarms going off in my head because I was overdue and pregnant, I hadn’t felt great for over 9 months.

My parents live 45 minutes away unless it’s high traffic, then it’s as long as an hour and a half.  That traffic starts to build up around 2 in the afternoon and doesn’t resolve until about 7.  If you don’t leave before 2 it’s best to just stay for dinner.  My husband had a meeting at church that evening anyway so I decided to stick around til after dinner and left their house about 7 pm.  No signs of labor, just generally feeling blah, passing mucus, and still in pain.  Always in pain.

A scripture started running through my mind on the way home.  Doctrine and Covenants 19:18-19.  This a revelation that Joseph Smith received in which Christ essentially details His mission.  As He explains what He went through in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross he says:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”

The raw and very intimate explanation of his pain really hit me.  That a God trembled because of pain was validating to me that my experience with pain was not an idiotic weakness like my doctor was treating me.  It was a real trial and it was ok to not want to go through it.  Christ didn’t say, “yeah, it hurt, but it’s ok, I just dealt with it.”  He TREMBLED.  He didn’t WANT to drink it.  And I can’t imagine anyone patting Him on the arm and condescendingly telling Him, “you’ll be fine”  “What’s 2 more days?”  “Now don’t bother us again until it’s really happening.”  So why then were medical staff and others so condescending about my physical and mental pain?  I’m sure if any of us were there with Him (and I believe that we were there watching), we would have wept with Him.  While there was nothing we could do to ease the pain, we wouldn’t have discounted it or ignored it.  We would have reverenced it, because His pain was sacred.  Our own pains are sacred and we shouldn’t wave them away or discount them.  That doesn’t mean we go looking for pain, but when it’s there it needs to be given it’s due respect and reverence.

About 20 minutes from home I had one kinda strong contraction.  Nothing crazy, still able to drive, but definitely a contraction.

We put our son to bed and sat down to watch a show.  The contractions were a little painful and a little more regular so I started timing them about 8 pm.  By 9, they were definitely painful and I thought I should get in the bath to help keep me relaxed.  While in labor with my son, one of the midwives had told me that tensing up slows you down and I definitely didn’t want to be in labor for 50 hours again.  As I was about to get into the tub I suddenly got the chills really bad.  That hadn’t happened before so I had my husband Google it.  Chills can just be a normal occurrence in labor due to hormonal shifts.  No alarms going off in my head so I got in a nice warm bath and made my husband track contractions.

I started a lot of self talk through the contractions, “If you can deal with this pain now there won’t be pain later.”  I did my best to relax through the contractions rather than tensing hoping that it would help me progress faster.  After about an hour in the tub I got suddenly too hot so I got out.

With contractions coming pretty strong and regularly I climbed into bed and took a tylenol PM to help me rest in between.  I would squeeze my husband’s hand to let him know another started and then let him know when it stopped and drift off before the next one.  After a while I asked him how far apart they were- 4 minutes.  I sat up a little and asked how long they had been at 4 minutes- an hour.  I told him we needed to call my parents and get ready to go then.  His response, “I don’t know, I mean they don’t seem that bad yet.”

He was thinking about last time, I was not so calm with the contractions before.  Also, keep in mind 50 hours of that.  My thought was, “Gosh, I guess I’ll start complaining more.”

My next contraction I hammed up the moaning a little more so he realized it was more painful than I had been letting on and then on the next contraction my water broke.  Luckily I was lying on a towel, but still, fluid everywhere.  Then he believed me that it was for real.  This was a little after 1 am.

I went into the bathroom to clean up and then the contraction pain went up another notch, a little past my breathe through it place.  He called my mom so they could come get our son.  I heard him on the phone, “No, she definitely can’t drive herself this time.”  I started shouting, “Get in the car, get in the car NOW!  Why isn’t she just in the car yet?”

He called triage to see if I needed to come straight in or if it was ok to wait the 45 minutes until my parents could get there.  They weren’t concerned about the 45 minutes even with me being beta strep positive.  So initially we decided to wait the 45 minutes, I thought maybe I could just continue to breathe through the contractions.  There was a big mess to clean up anyway.

Maybe 10 minutes later I think I turned into the spawn of Satan or something.  Everything got way more painful than I remembered it ever being when I was in labor with my son.  I suddenly went from the ok, let’s wait 45 minutes to, get me to the hospital NOW, no THEN!  I need the epidural NOW!!!!  Right now.  Stop putting things in the washer and let’s go NOW!!!!

My husband asked if we should call one of our back ups on our side of town to drop our son off with them and then my parents would grab him there.  No, I didn’t wan’t to take the time to call, then stop, then pull out a car seat.  I wanted to teleport to the hospital.  Moving was next to impossible.  Just getting to the car from my bed I had to stop at the couch.

Got the hospital about 2 am.  They wheeled me in to triage while my husband parked.  They asked me to get on the scale, nope not going to happen.  They asked me to pee in a cup, totally missed the cup.  They asked me if I was sure my water had broken, I wanted to punch them all in the face.  They checked me and told me I was only at a 4, and for a second I freaked out that they might not admit me.  Then someone checked my temperature and asked me if I had been sick.  I said no, I didn’t think so.  Then remembered earlier in the day when I had an upset stomach and the chills.  They told me I had a fever, and I remembered the really bad chills before getting in the tub and the overheating.  Then they got a monitor on and baby’s heart rate was too high, she was in distress.  They put an oxygen mask on me and told me if they couldn’t get her heart rate down I would have to go in for a c-section.  My response about a c-section- “Whatever gets me the epidural faster!”

My husband came in, with the 2 year old who was very much not asleep and making plenty of noise.  So now I’m lying there, begging for an epidural, answering their million asinine questions again because they couldn’t save them the first time, and they can’t really understand me because I have an oxygen mask on, and there’s a toddler in the room.  Something had to give so I sent my husband out with our son to wait for my dad to come.

Here let’s insert my dad’s story.  He got ready and left the house after the call with me screaming from the toilet.  He realized he was out of gas, but my parents’ nearest gas station is a few miles away.  He got to the gas station and realized he didn’t have his wallet, so he had to turn around and went home.  Upon getting home and grabbing his wallet, rather than switching cars he stayed in his and went back to the gas station.  Because, remember last time, there would be plenty of time.  He got to the hospital about 2:15, he met my husband and they got the car seat traded and the kid in the car.  And as he was about to leave my husband said, “Well, we’ll probably have a baby sometime tomorrow.”

It’s a really good thing we didn’t wait at home for my dad and his gas station escapades because….

My husband got back in the triage room just as the nurses finished all of their questions and told me they could finally go put in the orders for my epidural and my antibiotics.  I reiterated how urgently I wanted the epidural.  She sent me another one of those condescending smiles and left.

I turned to my husband pretty frantic, I felt like I couldn’t breathe with the oxygen mask on and in the craziness getting out the door I had forgotten to put my hair up and it was everywhere and making me extra hot.  Here’s a little tender mercy, he looked down and found a hair tie on the floor, and while maybe that’s gross to use a hair tie from the triage floor, I didn’t care.  I also couldn’t get it in my hair by myself because of all the monitors so he did the best he could being a man who does not do hair and me thrashing about in pain from a contraction and the feeling of claustrophobia brought on by the oxygen mask.

On my next contraction I suddenly felt the urge to push.  I ripped the mask off and told him I had to push.  He didn’t know what to do, the nurses were out.  I yelled, “Go find the nurses, I have to push!”  He ran out in the hallway and a few seconds later they all came running back in.  I was up to a 9, going from 4 to 9 in about 20 minutes.

I knew that once you hit 9 you don’t get an epidural, but as they were yelling for people to get things prepped in case I delivered in triage I asked if there was something they could give me for the pain.  She said no, it would be dangerous for the baby.  My eyes got wide and I asked for morphine or anything, again no.  My mind started racing- I mean could I get hit over the head, a leather strap to bite on, a stiff drink maybe??  I took to gripping the sides of the bed which they kept having to tell me not to do because the doorways they were rolling me through were too narrow.  Also they ran me into a wall, which was excessively painful when in the middle of a contraction.

At this point I started panicking.  I had not signed on for natural childbirth.  If someone had asked me if I wanted an epidural the day after I found out I was pregnant the answer was yes.  After being in constant pain for 30 weeks straight I had absolutely no interest in being in pain for a second longer.  And this was more painful than I ever could have imagined.  With every contraction I was sure my body would just rip in half.  And for all I knew this could go on for 5 hours because that’s what happened the first time around.

I had signed consent forms for an epidural, not for natural birth.  I struggle with feeling out of control.  I am most definitely not an adrenaline junky- skiing, sledding, ziplines, etc. are not my thing.  I don’t like feeling like my body is out of my control and suddenly it was completely out of my control.

They got me into a delivery room but then everything they asked me to do my answer was no.  “Can you get yourself over to this other bed?”  “NOPE!”  I mean really, I could barely roll over in bed before I was in labor, now you’re asking me to transfer beds while contracting, with an oxygen mask on?  After the next contraction I did manage to like flop myself over to the other bed but in completely the wrong position and I made them scoot me around somehow.

“Can you scoot your bum down?”  NO!  Tried a little but then announced I was pushing, too which they told me not to.  Ummmm….this is not a voluntary action!  So then I just started pooping everywhere.  Which wasn’t so much embarrassing because I know it happens to a lot of people while giving birth, it just added to the alarming feeling of being completely out of control.

I kept telling them I was pushing and they kept telling me to stop because there wasn’t a doctor there yet, which was incredibly aggravating.  Finally a doctor comes stumbling in the room and asks, “What’s going on?”  I’m pretty sure I yelled, “I’m having a baby, what did you think was happening?”  But I might have just said it in my head- it’s hard to remember what actually came out of my mouth aside from screaming.

There were so many people rushing around, it felt like complete chaos.  I finally looked at my husband who was crying from watching me be so panicked and not able to do anything.  I finally closed my eyes and began to pray, “Please just make it stop hurting….not my will but thine…….nope, I’m not there yet, please just make it stop hurting.”

And then they finally told me it was time to push.  The doctor was concerned that I would tear along my original scarring so she went ahead and started cutting- which I could feel.  And then blessedly baby girl was out in only 2 pushes.

They didn’t really tell me what was going on, they didn’t show her to me, the only thing that let me know she was actually out was them bringing my husband around to cut the cord and then I heard her cry.  But they immediately took her across the room.  She was born with a fever and her heart rate was really high.

Friends that have delivered naturally (whether intentionally or accidentally like me) have talked about the rush they got afterwards.  The amazement and empowerment that they were able to do it, and the joy.  I didn’t get that, and maybe part of it is because I went through all of that and then didn’t even get to hold my baby.  All I felt was confusion and trauma about what had just happened.

They started to stitch me up which, despite the fact that they did start giving me some kind of pain reliever, I could feel.  Then they finally brought her over and handed her to me, but I was shaking so badly and wincing with every stitch so I couldn’t really hold her and they had to whisk her off to the NICU anyway.

They got me cleaned up and let me rest for a little while still in the delivery room then wheeled me down to the NICU to see her.  Her blood sugar had been dangerously low so they had given her a bottle immediately and had already gotten an IV in and started her on antibiotics because of exposure to Beta Strep.

They got me to my room and I met my nurse.  She explained that I would be on an IV antibiotic because I had an infection in my uterus.  She told me that I must have been leaking fluid throughout the day which introduced the infection, my labor had gone so quickly because my body was trying to flush out the infection.

Then it really all came together.  My doctor had swept my membranes.  I was passing mucus and blood, so I didn’t notice that there was also fluid leaking.  I felt sick, because I was sick.  The chills before getting in the tub was not a normal part of labor, it was a warning sign that I was about to spike a fever.  Getting into a warm bathtub was the WORST thing I could have done because it allowed the bacteria to proliferate.  And then my body did what it had to do to get it out fast.

My doctor never warned me of the risk of introducing bacteria with membrane stripping.  With how desperate I was to be done, whether or not we would have decided to move forward with it, if I had known that if I showed any signs of illness it could be a sign that there was a problem I would have gone in several hours earlier and gotten antibiotics.

Instead I faced an incredibly traumatizing birth and my daughter stayed in the NICU for 10 days receiving IV antibiotics.  Her blood cultures came back positive which meant she also had to have a spinal tap to be sure it did not get into her spinal fluid as well.  The first time they attempted the spinal tap they failed, she was bigger than they were used to dealing with in the NICU and she wiggled too much.  They had to give her a dose of morphine to sedate her so they could get it done.

When I got released my parents brought our son back home.  We had been doing our best to prep him for the new baby.  I had put her rock and play next to our bed a few weeks ahead of time and kept showing it to him and explaining to him that it was Baby’s bed.  When he got home he ran to our room to see her in her bed.  My heart broke.  There wasn’t a book for explaining that baby had to stay in the hospital.

My husband and I traded off going to the NICU and did our best to time our visits so we could be there for feedings while the other stayed home with our son.  It was definitely not the sweet time we had imagined having home together as a family while he had paternity leave.

The most difficult part of the NICU for me was having to relearn the “rules” for my baby depending on which nurse was there.  Most of the nurses were AMAZING, but there were a few that I just did not get along with well.  One day, before I was discharged, I was holding baby and started drifting off with her in my arms- like most new mothers do while holding a sleeping baby in a recliner.  The nurse barked at me, “If you’re going to sleep go back to your room!”  I looked at her a little shocked, thinking maybe she was being sarcastic about not sleeping in front of her because she couldn’t sleep.  But then she added, “You might drop her.”  Excuse me, I was sitting in a recliner, if my arm went slack the worst that would happen would be that she would land on my stomach, there was no way she could get hurt.  The other nurses we had didn’t mind us napping with the baby in our arms so it was shocking to be yelled at for it.  There were other smaller things that changed between nurses, but that was the most upsetting.  It was stressful to feel like I was not the one in charge of MY child.  Like I said, most of them were wonderful and I’m so grateful for them, but I was also very grateful when it was time to leave and take her home with us.

Physically I recovered much faster from her birth.  The pain from the episiotomy went away after about a week as opposed to the 8 weeks of pain I went through from tearing.  When people say it’s better to tear, it heals better, I kinda want to smack them.  I went through both, the cutting healed so much faster and better, maybe that’s not the way it is for everyone, but it most certainly was for me.  I also was significantly less exhausted, probably because I didn’t labor for 50 hours and push for 5 on limited nutrients.

The emotional and mental healing has been harder.  Way harder.  I found a new primary care doctor a few months after baby girl was born, she diagnosed me with post traumatic stress.  Being in constant pain for 30 weeks followed by a delivery that felt out of control followed by having to leave my baby behind in a hospital broke something inside of me.  As opposed to my son’s birth I DID feel endangered and completely out of control and I did NOT feel that my OB had my best wishes in mind at any point in the pregnancy, delivery, or post-partum.  Like I mentioned before, I began having nightmares, sometimes about the birth, sometimes just in general, but my OB would show up as the “bad guy.”  I would wake up frantic and sweating.  I could tell the story of her birth to people, but when I was alone and really thought about it I would get anxiety attacks.

It’s been a year and we’re doing really well.  Little girl has had no lasting effects, she’s reached her milestones on track or ahead of schedule.  She’s happy and healthy and simply adorable.  My nightmares have stopped, and I can think through the birth without having an anxiety attack, although it is most definitely a painful memory and something I hope I never have to experience again.

Here’s the things I’ve taken away from my experiences combined:

  1.  Maybe c-sections aren’t as bad as the internet mom crowd make them out to be, I’ve had friends heal faster physically from a c-section than I did from my tear with my first, and with my second I would have avoided an incredibly traumatic birth and resulting NICU stay.
  2. Doctors need to fully explain the risks involved with procedures so that women can make INFORMED decisions, and then know what to watch for if there is a problem.
  3. If you have ANY reason to be worried go in and get checked.  Let the nurses roll their eyes at you (but also nurses, please stop treating women so condescendingly), it’s better than ending up in the NICU.
  4. The right way to give birth is one where mom and baby are safe and preferably not traumatized at the end.  If that means an elective c-section or in a tub in your living room then good for you.
  5. Women’s mental health and physical well being needs to be considered in greater detail when determining what is best practice for BOTH mom and baby.
  6. Listen to women, take them seriously.

As I said before, I love my children, and in the end these experiences were worth it to have them here in my arms.  I just hope that these stories will help others to avoid some of these issues, or at the very least know that they are not alone and find some empowerment in that.