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Having a New Baby Is Hard: the Overflowing Toilet Version

I’ve had six babies, and every time I have a new one, there are days when I feel as if I’m on the verge of a panic attack all the time. It’s a good thing I have a blog that I can go back and read later, or I might mistakenly assume that I feel like this because something is terribly wrong, and not, as it turns out, that life is completely normal for someone with a new baby. Take, for instance, the post I wrote in 2009 about the time I tried to take a shower in a campground with my kindergartner, my toddler, and my three-week-old baby. That was a crazy day, almost as crazy as a day last week, which involved less embarrassment but more “number 2,” so it all evens out. And it’s also proof that they DO grow up. The potty training toddler from the 2009 post grew up to be the big girl who on my recent crazy day ran to tell me that “something is coming out of the toilet!”

The other thing, the really important thing, is that there is good in the craziness. Our small group at church has been talking about how our purpose in life is to glorify God. And I had just been saying to my husband the day before the great day in question that I had realized that I wasn’t just supposed to escape from the panic attack. I was supposed to glorify the Lord in the panic attack.

So I dedicate this post to all the new moms out there who might also be tempted to think that something is terribly wrong in the craziness, and also to myself, just in case a couple of years from now I am blessed with another baby and happen to forget that normal life with a new baby = really, really hard and a really, really good chance to meet the Lord in the storm.

I slept late that morning and heard my kids waking up before I was up and dressed with a hearty breakfast piping hot on the table. Having been a disciplined early riser most of my life, nothing says “failure” more to me than oversleeping. I dragged out of bed and started to get dressed. I made it through weighing myself (UP a pound–life isn’t fair, just sayin’), putting on clothes, and just barely starting on my hair before the pitiful wailing of my toddler began. He’d gotten up and couldn’t find me.

“Huggy. Up!” he said. I picked him up and hugged him and carried him to my bedroom. He pointed to his ear. “Hurt,” he said. He wanted to go on my back in the woven wrap, so as soon as I got my hair up, I went out to get the wrap. The baby was still chipper, but my toddler with the earache came following me down the hall, tears streaming down his red cheeks. I got him up in the wrap, just in time for the baby to get all done being chipper and want to nurse.

In case you’re keeping track, we had not had breakfast yet. Also, some of my big kids, who shall remain nameless, seemed to have forgotten since the day before that they are supposed to start school work in the morning. I’m thankful that I can nag and nurse at the same time. I can also usually make breakfast while nursing, but having the toddler on my back sort of threw off my groove because I was a little off balance. (You gotta lean slightly forward with a toddler on your back, but you gotta lean slightly back to use your hands while nursing.) Plus, I was trying to make whole wheat Belgian waffles with strawberries on top. (Just go ahead and laugh at me right now for trying to make that, but in my defense, I don’t really like cereal.) Anyway, step one is to slice up the strawberries so they can sit and get juicy. And, yeah, it’s hard not to get strawberry juice on the baby if you’re nursing while washing strawberries. I stood briefly at the sink with the two boys wondering what to do. But it didn’t matter because my toddler wanted down from the wrap. I tried to get him out one handed (while nursing) and dumped him unceremoniously on the couch. He was happy for 3.9 seconds before he started crying again that he wanted up. That wasn’t going to work because I couldn’t really hold him while nursing and making breakfast (and nagging!), so I tried to make him a snuggly spot on the rocking chair.

Around this time, the background chorus of “I’m hungry!” started to set in, like mood music at a restaurant. And then the juice started. I thought the toddler with the earache, who had slipped down from the rocking chair and was now getting out plates and saying, “Eat!” might like some orange juice to tide him over while I “whipped up” Belgian waffles, while nursing, and commenting on the older children’s good work on their German as well as nagging. But then, another child saw the toddler’s juice and wanted some. After I’d already put the concentrate away. I got it back out and made more juice. And put the concentrate away. Just in time for someone else to see the second child’s juice. We repeated this again but with a child old enough to make his own juice. Heh. I made him get it himself ’cause I’m mean that way.

The day was off to a stellar start, but we finally did eat breakfast. Around noon. Or a little after. But at least we had food in our stomachs because things were about to get hectic.

First, the toddler, who has started potty training himself (yay!) asked to sit on his froggy potty. The baby was sleeping on my chest in the stretchy wrap, and I was trying to help the five-year-old with her piano lesson, when the toddler came back to ask me to put his diaper back on. I was a bit distracted with using my best negotiation skills to convince the five-year-old that if she could play all four measures individually, it would be EASY to put them all together. And what does a half-naked toddler do while he waits for a diaper? He empties the pencil sharpener everywhere and dances in the shavings and graphite dust, of course! (You thought I was going to say that he went potty on the floor, didn’t you? Ha! When does that ever happen?)

I started cleaning up the pencil mess when one of the bigger kids knocked an entire ream of computer paper all over the floor. And with a roughly 400 square-foot great room, can you guess where the paper wound up? That’s right, in the fifteen square feet that were covered with graphite dust and pencil shavings.

Right after I swept up the pencil shavings and carried the slightly bedraggled paper away (and snuck some chocolate from my secret stash, which had NOTHING to do with emotional eating and also nothing to do with my having been up a pound that morning), the children called me over to the computer to see how the four-year-old was doing on her first attempt at Rosetta Stone. The toddler walked up, and I immediately smelled something. That’s funny, I thought. He can’t be dirty. He’s not wearing a diaper. Right. He’s not wearing a diaper. I dared to look down. There was . . . mess all down his legs. I turned around . . . mess all over the floor by the table, stepped in, and tracked all the way over to the computer.

I picked up the toddler and held him at arms length so he wouldn’t bump the baby still sleeping on my chest and carried him to the bathroom, only to be reminded that one of the older kids had thrown up the other night, and her bedding was still in the bathtub. Unfortunately, the toddler turned on the water. Now I had soaking wet throw-up bedding in the bathtub that I needed to carry at arms’ length while it dripped all the way down the stairs to the laundry room in the basement. I got the toddler in the bathtub, and went to clean up the living room floor (squatting so as not to flip the baby upside down).

It was right around the time that I was throwing away my bag of yuckiness from the floor that my five-year-old came rushing in. “Hurry! Quick! Something is coming out of the toilet, so I ran out and shut the door!” My nine-year-old calmly translated. “The toilet overflowed.”

I went to see. It was spectacular. So. Much. Water. This called for really big rags. I went to get the old rag bedsheets I had just washed, when my five-year-old delivered her next exciting news bulletin. “It’s coming out of the ceiling downstairs!” Sure enough, there it was, pouring out of the access panel in the basement ceiling. One big rag went on the basement floor. One went up in our bathroom. But before I could get all the water sopped up, the nine-year-old came to tell me that she was so sorry (isn’t she a sweetheart?) but the water was coming through the wall into the guest bathroom. I went to see. Oh wow, it really was. Amazing. Right through the wall.

So maybe you’re wondering, on a day like this, where’s the glory? How does getting juice four times and wiping number 2 off the floor glorify the Lord? It does because on this crazy day, He gave me a miracle. You might have noticed that something is missing from this story. Something that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God. What’s missing is the part where I scream at the kids, discipline in anger, or just break down crying. It isn’t there because it didn’t happen. I know that’s a miracle because I know what kind of mother my flesh is, and it sure isn’t the kind who finds a three-room toilet leak remotely tolerable. But God met me that day and answered a very simple prayer offered up somewhat desperately from the panicked trenches, Help me glorify You.

Sometimes we have to be brought to the end of our emotional strength in order to reach out for the Lord’s grace and find that miraculous ability just to smile and stay calm. And there are many, many, many ways God brings us to the end of ourselves, but here’s the message for me and other moms out there: Having a new baby is certainly one of them. Crazy hard. But a chance to see glory.

This is Me Trusting You: The Birth of Gabriel John Parunak, Part 2

Part 1, in which we find a church just in time to lose our kitchen, can be read here.

Please, Lord, please let me go into labor, I prayed as I drove out on an early morning errand run before my family was up. At 38 1/2 weeks pregnant, I was ready, officially full term, weepy and emotional on my end-of-pregnancy hormone trip, and eager, so eager to meet my baby. And I just wanted to go early. By my sixth baby, surely it made sense for me to go early, right? My body knew what to do. I should just pop this baby out like nobody’s business.

It’s hard to describe the feeling at the end, when every day is an eternity and every contraction brings a rush of hope. Each new square on the calendar could be enshrined forever as a birthday . . . or not. The pins-and-needles waiting engulfs my whole world in a frenetic buzz of weary excitement. My baby’s a month old now, and it all sounds very melodramatic. I think, Seriously? you were THAT impatient? After describing finding a new church after thirteen years and having half your house ripped out down to the concrete, you’re going to write a blog post about how you were impatient for labor? Yeah, seriously, I was that impatient.

So there I was on a fresh, chilly morning, praying for labor, and kind of expecting God to rend the heavens and come down, to give me a contraction right then and there, and another, and another, and another. Or maybe He’d wait a little, like until I got home from my errand, but I was NOT expecting Him to do what He actually did: lay His hand on me and stop the buzz. Instead of the wave of a contraction, I felt a wave of calm and the overwhelming conviction that I should be thankful, that there were dozens of mothers of premies in NICU’s right then who would love to trade places with me.

The calm lasted nearly a week. I even signed up to bring dinner to a friend at our new church who’d just had a baby because I was so certain that I had a while yet to go. I delivered her taco soup less than a week before my due date.

Then the contractions started.

It was a Tuesday afternoon when they set in. And they seemed different, as though maybe they were the kind that would actually bring the baby. By evening, I was almost sure that this was it and I went to bed hopeful. It was March 5th. My last two had had single-digit, odd-numbered birthdays, so the 5th would make a great birthday. Or, the 6th. Because I love even numbers in general. . . .

In the morning, I woke up. To calm. I had slept all night. My contractions had stopped. This was not my baby’s birthday. Or was it? That afternoon, the heavy feeling was almost unbearable, and my contractions started up again. It felt like my legs were going to detach from my hips. I shuffled miserably to Bible study and melted into my chair with contractions every time I got up. I was worn out. But so happy. This was it. I was certain.

Until I woke up the next morning. To calm.

It went on like this, maybe not quite every day, but several days I’d have afternoon contractions that fizzled overnight. Forty weeks came and went. Was this my baby’s birthday? Or this? I fussed excitedly over dates until I had to get a hold of myself. What are you? Some kind of ancient pagan that your baby has to come on an auspicious day? It doesn’t matter what the birthday is, I told myself firmly. But still, I was thankful not to have many contractions too early on the 13th because other people might tease my baby, especially on the years his or her birthday fell on a Friday.

That night, my husband took the kids to Bible study alone to give me some time to myself. I took a hot shower, put on some worship music, and started walking a loop through our newly remodeled great room, thinking surely, surely contractions will kick in now. I prayed. I cried. I committed the birth to the Lord. And strangely, I felt my prayers turn to life in general and bigger things than going into labor right NOW. Today would not be the day. I went to my room to check Facebook.

Friday was the 15th. Late that afternoon, it happened again. Good contractions. This might really be it, I thought. Once again, I went to bed hopeful. And overnight, I had a handful of contractions that I was vaguely aware of in my sleep. The next morning, I woke up. To contractions.

I got up at 6:00 and timed contractions while my husband slept. They were five minutes apart. Today was the day. I woke my husband up at 8:00 and told him that his job was to bring me a chocolate croissant and get the house cleaned up for the birth. Then I got the kids up. We bustled around for a bit and that’s when I noticed it. Contractions had stopped. My sweet husband went out for doughnuts anyway, and when he got back, I took rueful stock.

“Well, should I just go grocery shopping? I’m not in labor.”

But wise Mr. Parunak had a different plan. He sent me to my room. Alone. He figured out that I just needed space, like a mother cat sneaking off to hide under the guest bed when it’s time to have kittens. I sat on our little bedroom love seat and opened up Facebook. “Happy 3:16,” said a post near the top. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” I started sobbing. That’s the coolest date ever! And I thought that was going to be my baby’s birthday.

I moved on to Pinterest. Less heavy. After a while, I thought I should try walking, and the contractions slipped quietly back in right where they’d left off hours before. I would walk awhile, pin a few clever DIY baby items and organizing tips, and then walk some more. Position changes seemed to always give me a contraction, but I still wasn’t sure if this was really real labor yet since I seemed to be driving it by what I did.

Sometime around 3:00, after pinning an Angry Bird pizza and multiple owl cakes, I realized that I didn’t have any good shots of myself pregnant with this baby, so I snuck out of the bedroom and had my husband do a quick photo shoot before I retreated back to my nest again.

By 5:00, I was strangely sleepy and lay down in bed, still having contractions and still not sure if I was actually in labor, but I had reached the point of wanting company in a sort of fragile, panicky way. I didn’t want to move, so I texted my husband. (What did women do before cell phones? They might have had to yell or something.) He came to see me, and we decided to call the midwives and our dear friend who was going to watch our kids. I had had way too many false starts to want to declare myself officially in labor yet, but I felt so emotional, I just wanted them to come.

At 6:00, the first midwife arrived. I was feeling pretty serious about breathing through my contractions, but I was almost apologetic because I had no idea how far along I was. The midwife checked me. I was at 7, the official start of transition. Well, well. This might be it after all.

Things got down to business at that point, normal transition, “this is so hard” kind of business. I got in the shower, and that was nice (as nice as anything is from 7cm to 10cm, which isn’t very nice at all). In between contractions, I remarked to my husband that we still didn’t have a middle name picked for a boy. He said we’d have to pray about it more, but I already had an inkling of what I wanted.

Pushing was hard. My baby was big and posterior, and I couldn’t really tell if I was making progress. And random things irritated me. A bit of lint on the sheet of the bed I was leaning on, the vacuum cleaner (where it belonged, actually), the ironing board on the back of the door. But then, suddenly, just after 8:00, twelve hours after my contractions had stopped that morning, my baby was crowning, and after a pause and the next contraction, the midwives were passing a wet, wiggly, crying baby up into my arms. It was a boy. Before I even got into bed, I asked my husband, “Gabriel John? Can we please call him Gabriel John?”

John. For John 3:16.

After nearly a year of learning to trust God through big things, He showed himself most sweetly in a little, seemingly insignificant thing. As I struggled for faith and peace in waiting and tried to convince myself that birthdays didn’t matter, God let my baby be born on “the coolest date ever,” not because it mattered really, but just because it mattered to me. And God isn’t always like that. Sometimes He lets our dishwashers ruin our kitchens two months before our due dates. And sometimes He lets labor start and stop for a week and a half. And sometimes much, much harder things happen to test our faith and teach us to trust. But every once in a while, He surprises us with something lavishly kind just because He loves us and He wants us to remember that He had it all planned out all along for our good and that He is worthy of being trusted.

This is Me Trusting You: The Birth of Gabriel John Parunak, Part 1

Okay, I said to God. This is me trusting You. And so began my sixth pregnancy. I had been afraid, afraid I couldn’t handle the stress and grueling busyness of life, the pain of complicated relationships, and the inevitable crippling nausea that loomed ominous on my horizon. But in a world that was out of my control, I surrendered and accepted vulnerability as an act of faith for the simple reason that either God is God, or He is not.

And the trust that God gave me at the beginning of my baby’s life became the theme of my entire pregnancy. Three trimesters. Three trials. Plus a bonus for the birth at the end.

First, there was the nausea and exhaustion, hardly a surprise, but still it was entirely un-fun having as my main daily goals “avoid throwing up on family members” and “keep one eye open enough to notice if toddler sets house on fire.” And I had to trust the Lord day by day that He knew I would feel like this and that He would get me through.

Then, at the end of September, just when it looked like I might not die after all, my whole world spun off its axis. There were earthquakes and thunders, then the fresh and terrifying stillness of a world wiped clean: We left our church. The church my husband grew up in, the church we’d been in together through twelve years of marriage, people who loved us, people we loved so much we almost said “no” to God when He told us we had to go because we didn’t want to hurt them. There’s never a good time to leave your church, but it’s especially rough when you are pregnant and vulnerable and leaving means abandoning the spiritual “nest” you thought your baby would be born into.

I went to the midwives and sewed my baby a new car-seat blanket and nursing cover. I took my vitamins and drank my milk and wondered if my little family would welcome this child into a “different place each week” church hunt. I answered the smiling questions at all the churches we visited, “This is number six! I’m due March 10th.” And sometimes I added, “I’m really having to trust the Lord because I don’t know if we’ll have a church by then.” And a couple of times, right there amongst the small talk, I cried.

But there was also peace. Never before had the timing of a pregnancy been so clearly an act of God. And I knew that He knew all along that we’d leave our church, and He already had a plan for everything, including where our baby’s first church experiences would be.

And then, in January, through some unlikely connections and a friend of a friend, we felt God telling us, “This is the place. Pitch your family’s tent here.” And just like that, as I cruised into my third trimester, we were settled in a church. The only trial this time had been the worry. God was only asking me to trust Him. The details were all accounted for. And I could put my uncertainty behind me . . . just in time to lose half my house.

It all started with the carpet. After ten years of pet accidents, spilled drinks with carcinogenic levels of food dye, and scores of muddy boots finding their way off the three-foot-square of entry tile, what was once a nice soft cream color was seventeen shades of nasty. And then my husband found a sale on laminate.

It was supposed to be a frugal, weekend project, a little pre-baby house upgrade, just replacing the flooring in our living room/kitchen/dining area–until my husband and our neighbor pulled out the stove. Behind it was a puddle . . . and rot . . . and mold. Our dishwasher had been leaking for who knows how long. The bottom cabinets were ruined and mold was growing up the drywall behind them. We had been talking about replacing our kitchen for years, but the fantasy always took place in the summertime when we could cook outside or in our RV, not in the dead of winter when the RV’s pipes were full of anti-freeze and the grill was blanketed with snow. There’s never a good time to replace your kitchen, but it’s really rough when you’re seven months pregnant and tired and wondering how you’ll feed your family, wash your dishes, and nest in the bedroom half of your house while your kitchen/living room/eating area has been gutted down to the concrete.

By this point, it was sort of a comedy. Yes, of course, God knew this would happen right now all the way back in June when I surrendered and He placed this little life in my womb. Friends figured I must be going crazy, and I should have been, but it was so clear that God was handling all of this, and He even let us wait to discover the mold (even though it was surely already there) until after we’d found a church.

So, I got up early to get McDonald’s for breakfast before my husband left for work. I made peanut butter sandwiches on my bathroom counter. And my husband came home at night with take-out we ate on tray tables next to the girls’ bunk bed. We put the welcome mat in the hall to scrape the construction dust off our feet on as we pulled back the plastic tarp that was the “front door” of the livable half of the house. We washed our dishes in the bathtub. And I asked my friends on Facebook, “What do you think we’ll have first, a new kitchen, or a new baby?”

My husband worked weekends and evenings with the help of friends, and as my due date neared, our beautiful new great room started to emerge from the rubble, and the Lord gave me another chance to trust Him.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which, Lord willing, we’ll actually get to the part of the birth story that involves the birth. :-)