Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Still Born, but Born Still

I heard a phrase once that stuck with me so much. "She was stillborn, but she was still born."

What an incredible reminder.

Lily was stillborn. Born still. Born sleeping. But she was born. I have had the opportunity and blessing to give birth to three other children besides Lily, and trust me when I say, Lily was born. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of having a stillborn baby is that their birth is forever overshadowed by their death. As mothers, we crave to tell the stories of our baby's arrival. We yearn to share the details of each contraction, each incredible moment, each tiny finger and each tiny toe. But when our babies die before they have had the chance to be born, we are forever robbed of the opportunity to tell our birth story, because no one wants to hear it.

I remember talking to someone once about epidurals. I mentioned that I did not get a good one when I had my twins, but I had an excellent one with Lily. The look on this person's face, the shock that I had mentioned one detail of my birth story with Lily, they thought I was insane. I could read it all over their face. What had previously been an easy going, light-hearted conversation about having babies halted immediately at the very mention of my stillbirth.

Here is what I would like the rest of the world to know: Yes, it was a stillbirth. But it was still a birth.

Yes, Lily died. But Lily was also born. I went through what all mothers go through when they give birth to their babies. I felt each contraction and savored each measly ice chip. I endured forced contractions for hours and hours because I wanted to feel every single ounce of pain this birth brought me, because it helped distract me from the pain they do not have any drugs to numb. I had amazing nurses and an amazing husband who coached me through the hardest day of my entire life. I allowed those amazing nurses and that amazing husband to encourage me into getting an epidural so I could sleep after twenty hours of labor. I sat on the end of my bed and sobbed while the anesthesiologist told me it would only hurt for a second, because I knew that wasn't true. I finally slept, until I was awoken by Lily, who had already died but still needed to be born. And I pushed that tiny little girl into this world, and listened as the only cries we heard were my own. I watched the nurses wrap her in a blanket she was far too small for, and smiled when they told me she was perfect. I felt like a new mommy when they had to teach me how to hold a baby so small, and my husband and I marveled over the daughter I had just given birth to.

There is a movie called "Return To Zero" in which the father of a stillborn baby boy mentions the irony of how his son's tombstone would have his date of death before his date of birth. Who has ever heard of such a thing?

We have.

Our babies died before they were born. But they were born. Don't you see? Our babies didn't just die! THEY WERE BORN TOO!!!!

If I could help anyone on the outside of this isolating bubble to understand one thing, it would be that. Thank you for grieving with us over the death of our child. But please do not forget that our child was also born. We have a story to tell. Albeit a very sad one, but we cannot control that. Do not shy away from listening to our very special story. Do not trivialize our baby's birth simply because they happened to die first. If you get the sense that we want to share our story, our pictures, our life changing experience of giving birth to a baby, please do not shut us down. Encourage us, listen to us, validate us.

I had two very distinct, very different, and equally impacting interactions in the weeks that followed Lily's birth. The first one is not uncommon, and I imagine many mothers of babies born still have had very similar experiences. I was talking to a small group of mothers who were telling their birth stories, and like mothers do, we were sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of having our babies. I talked about my twins, and had the absolute attention of everyone at that table. They asked questions, wanted me to elaborate, laughed at some parts and winced at others. And then I mentioned a small detail about my birth with Lily, something very unimportant like the food they allowed me to eat when I was in labor with her, and no one, not one person, knew what to say. As if the very mention of Lily's birth was totally against the rules and I had in one fell swoop ruined what had been a very interesting conversation. I wanted to say, "I'm sorry, I forgot I wasn't allowed to talk about the birth of my daughter because she had the audacity to die first." But I didn't. But one day, I just might.

The second one was not long after I had Lily. A friend was bringing us dinner, and while she was there, she noticed a small album on my coffee table that had Lily's name on it. She asked me, "Oh Karen, are those pictures of Lily's birth? Would you like to share those with me? I would love to see them."

This friend did so many things with that one interaction. She mentioned Lily's birth instead of referring only to her death. She noticed that I obviously cherished those photographs and memories because I very proudly displayed them where anyone could see them, and she took that as a cue to ask me to share. She gave me the opportunity to share my daughter with someone, and, as a mother, who wouldn't want that? She validated that Lily mattered, that her birth was significant, that she was worth sharing, and that I had every right to share her. She put whatever anxiety she may have had over looking at some very sad pictures aside and put my needs first.

A friend once reminded me that we must educate others with grace. I cannot expect people to know what to do or what to say about the birth and death of my daughter. But I can tell them. And I can show them grace when they fall short. So this is my attempt to educate with grace. If you take one thing away from reading this, please take away this:

The death of my daughter does not negate the birth of her. Her date of birth and her date of death were backwards, but they were. They happened. She died, yes, but she was also born. And that is something to be cherished.

If you ever want to see a mother, any mother, glow, ask her about her child. Compliment her on them. Use their name. Tell her she has such a special story and that her child is so blessed to have her as a mother, because no one would love them like she so obviously does. It doesn't matter if her child lived or died, because her child is still her child. When a child dies, our mothering of them does not. We continue to love them, to cherish their story, no matter how short it may be. Our memories of them do not disappear, and their existence is not erased simply because it has ceased here on earth.

We are still mothers. They were still born. We would be honored to share their story with you. And trust me when I say, you would be honored to hear it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Happy Birthday Jones (1st Birthday Letter)

Dear Jones,

I can't believe I am already writing your first birthday letter. How is my baby boy one already? It seems like you've done all your changing in just the last month! You started crawling, stopped nursing (which just broke my heart to pieces!), weaned from bottle to cup, started signing so much more, and go to bed all by yourself now (with just a little snuggling, but no bottle or nursing!). You have FINALLY started sleeping through the night, though we are still going in there a few times to help you when you lose your binky or have a bad dream!

You are becoming your own little person and we have really begun to see your personality develop and shine! I will be honest with you my little love, you have NOT been an easy baby. You are fussy, temperamental, and up until about a month or two ago, you were an absolutely horrible sleeper. We fondly nicknamed you the Robot Baby because you seemed to live on practically no sleep! It was exhausting, and I spent many nights weeping alongside you out of sheer exhaustion and frustration. But. Despite all of that, or maybe because of it, you make up for your faults with the sweetest, most adorable, squishy faced little personality. Everyone who meets you falls in love with you, and no one believes us about how truly awful you can sometimes be. ;)

At this particular moment in time, you are obsessed with puppies (so much so that we had that as your birthday party theme!), you LOVE to be outside, your favorite thing to do is throw and catch a ball, and if nothing else can make you happy, a walk in your stroller calms you instantly. Since you started crawling a few days ago, you now love to explore your boundaries and see what you can reach! I have pulled you out from under the table, stopped you from digging in the dog food dish, and rescued you when you got stuck trying to climb the entertainment center, and that was just today!

My precious Jones. I am so blessed to get to snuggle you before each nap and before I lay you down for the night. Whenever I do, I stroke your hair and play with the curls on the back of you neck, and I thank God that He gave you to me, even if that is the last time I ever get to hold you. It may sound somewhat morbid to think that way, but I am someone who has loved and lost so many of my babies, that I can't help but wonder if each time I hold you, it might be the last time. I'm honestly so blessed to think that way, because it makes me treasure those quiet moments with you so much more.

You are so loved Jonesy! Jake and Eisley dote on you, your daddy and I can't get enough of you, and you have grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles that love you to pieces. Most importantly though, my littlest love, you are adored by your Father in heaven. He created you and treasures you and wants the very best for your life. I hope that one day you will choose to love Him and serve Him in your life, and we will do our best to teach you all about Him until you can make that decision for yourself. If I could wish one thing for you, it is that you will know the limitless love of your God. Wishing this for you means that your life will not be perfect, it will have deep sorrows and cutting wounds. And while every mother wishes she could protect her child from pain, I have experienced incredible pains in my life, and each one has brought me closer to the Lord and allowed me to see a side of Him that I wouldn't have if I had been spared those heartaches. I hope that just once you are able to know that incredible comfort and peace the Lord offers, even if it will break my mommy heart to watch you hurt.

I love you little one, and I cannot wait to see who you become and how you bless the world around you. I am so proud of you already, and all you can do is crawl and sign "puppy"! ;) You are so precious, and I am so incredibly blessed to call you mine.



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One year later

I cannot believe we are approaching Jones' first birthday. In some ways, it has been an incredibly long year (especially during those months and months with no sleep!), and in others, time has flown by so quickly I feel I can barely catch my breath.

My sweet baby, my last baby, at least the last one I will ever give birth to or nurse or carry inside me, is rapidly growing up. That is hard for any mother to accept, and I have definitely had my moments of grieving the fact that this stage of my life is ending. But with that also comes exciting new things, and watching Jones grow and learn and change and become his own little person is such a huge blessing to us, a blessing that at one time, we thought we would never get.

Two years ago, we were waiting to get that monumental phone call telling us we had been chosen to adopt someone's baby. We didn't wait long, and very shortly after we were chosen for Miss Ember Rose (who would later become Clara!). You all know how that story played out, and what an incredible journey it was for all of us. But when Ember moved on to her forever family, and our family was left grieving heavily and living in fear and denial over the little one we were unexpectedly expecting, we had no idea what the Lord had in store for us. In my heart of hearts, I did not accept or believe that we would be taking the little one growing inside me home. I very much anticipated to lose Jones, to grieve another child, and to continue on the adoption path when we were ready to do so. So, we held onto our adoption fund, tucked it away, and "knew" we would need to use it down the road.

The day Jones was born, I remember looking into his little face and having to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I kept thinking, "I am going to wake up, and realize that he died and I am only dreaming this wonderful dream. Please don't let me wake up for awhile..."

But I didn't wake up...he was ours, he was healthy, and he was coming home.

Josh and I knew that at that point, we needed to make some decisions about our future and the plans God had for our family. After losing Ember and bringing Jones home, Josh and I felt a door close in our hearts that we knew would not re-open. We didn't want to pursue another infant adoption. We had been down that road, and had our hearts broken in a way that wouldn't allow us to go down that path again. Plus, in all honesty, we had Jones, and did not feel that urge to adopt a newborn baby anymore. But, we thought, maybe that's just because we have a little baby. Maybe we would feel differently in a year? So we decided to wait a year. One year. We would pray about it and think about it and search our hearts over the whole thing. And when Jones turned one, we would decide what we would do with that adoption money.

During the course of this year, God brought different people and experiences into our lives that definitely influenced our desires for the future. Josh and I have talked about fostering, and a few months ago we met with a case worker to talk about preparing our home and family for foster care. We feel pretty strongly that foster care is in our future, but once again, we felt God calling us to wait on it a bit, until Jones was older and we were settled in our new home. We don't know if or when God will tell us to go forward with that, but we do know we are open to whatever God may ask us to do down the road. We also thank sweet Ember for softening our hearts toward foster care, and are so thankful that God allowed that experience into our lives for that reason.

As we approached Jones' first birthday, Josh and I sat down and talked about how we were feeling. Did we still feel called to adopt? Did we have any inkling about what God wanted us to do with the money that was so generously given for our adoption? How could we be good stewards of that gift?

One more story before I tell you what we concluded. Awhile back, my sweet cousin Lisa, who was the very person to help us raise money for our own adoption by hosting a photo fundraiser, told me about a little boy named "Shawn" who she had come across on Reece's Rainbow. She sent me a picture of him and we talked about how he looked exactly like her biological son. She told me about him and how desperately he needed a family, but it couldn't possibly be them, because they already have six children, two of which were adopted, and wouldn't everyone think they were crazy if they went for it again? Every couple of months the subject of Shawn would come up in our messages to each other. She told her husband about him, she kept thinking about him, could God possibly be calling them to bring him home?

In the very back of my mind, I wondered if God would allow us to be a small part of the story that was unfolding. Wouldn't it be just like Him to tug on Lisa's heart to help us raise funds for our own adoption that He knew would never happen, only to help Lisa with the adoption of her own son that at the time, she didn't even know existed? Yes. That would be just like him.

A few weeks ago, Lisa and her husband Scott officially committed to their son Shawn. You can learn more about him here, and follow Lisa's blog here. When Lisa messaged me to tell me they had officially committed to him, I turned to Josh and said, "This is it. This is what we should do with that money."

Because it is you all who gave so generously and you all who gave so that a child could be given a forever family, we wanted to share this with you so that you can know what your generosity has done, and so that you can see how your gifts created a ripple effect that not only blessed us immensely, but will bless this family as well.

Some of the money in our adoption fund was used during the process to get on the waiting list and complete a home study and prepare to bring Ember home. That wasn't able to be returned to us, and that's okay, because it was a small price to pay for such an extraordinary experience of holding and loving Ember for those two weeks and loving on her mother and getting to be a small part of her amazing story. The money Josh and I saved and worked overtime for and pulled from retirement funds and sold furniture and cleaned houses for, we used so that I could spend a few wonderful weeks at home with Jones, bonding with him and thanking God that He chose to bless us so incredibly after such a long road of heartache and waiting.

The rest, the money that was given to us and raised on our behalf and generously sacrificed by all of you, the ones who have been a part of our story from the beginning, the ones who entrusted us with such a wonderful gift and prayed for our family every step of the way, that money has been prayerfully donated to the Warren family, so that this little boy may know what it is like to be loved by a mother and a father and brothers and sisters and a God who has had a perfect plan for him ever since the beginning of time. I am sharing this with you because if it were me, I would want to know how my gift was being used.

We hope that you will be as supportive of the Warren's adoption journey as you were with ours. Though it went in a direction we never anticipated, God has weaved blessings throughout the entire experience, and we are so grateful He brought us down this path.

Please consider following Lisa's blog and supporting them through prayer. They have a long and scary journey ahead of them, but one I have no doubt will bless so many people. Thank you so much for supporting our family throughout these few years. We know God has more in store for us, and we hope you will continue to be a part of that journey!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to Do Disney with Kids and Not Hate Your Life

This is kind of a random entry after such a long blog silence, but it has been sitting half finished for months and I finally got the chance to finish and post it! Hope you enjoy!!!


I love Disneyland. Like...I love it.

There is just something about the Happiest Place on Earth that makes me...well...happy! I love the feeling of walking down Main Street and knowing I am about to make some unforgettable and wonderful memories. I love the atmosphere, I love how clean and pristine it is, I love the rides, the music, the photo opps and the food. I just love the entire experience, and I would encourage any of you who have never been, to plan a trip in the near future!

I have done Disneyland dozens of times. I have done Disneyland as a child growing up, as an adult going with friends, I even went to Disneyland on my honeymoon! But when I had children of my own, Disneyland became a whole new place to me.

Not only did I get to enjoy it in a whole new way, through the eyes of my sweet babies, I also realized that Disneyland has the potential to quickly turn into a mother's worst nightmare, if not prepared for properly.

I love Disneyland even MORE now that I have children, but I have also learned that you simply cannot have a successful and stress free trip to the Happiest Place on Earth without doing your homework and packing accordingly. People that do Disneyland in a haphazard and careless way literally make me cringe. When I see Facebook posts that say, "It's 3 pm and we're finally rolling out of bed and heading to Disneyland," I want to scream at them for wasting not only HUNDREDS of dollars, but an enormous amount of time and FUN!!!

I have seen parents in line for Dumbo looking as if they are contemplating the consequences of abandoning their children right then and there, while sweet little Susie and Sam wail at them because they're hungry and hot and tired and sad because their parents didn't do their Disney homework.

Think of it this way. Disneyland is an amazing experience. As is standing at the top of Mt. Everest. But you do not show up to climb Mt. Everest with a water bottle, flip flops, and an ipod. If you did, you would fail. Probably also you would die. And while you can show up at Disneyland with a water bottle, flip flops, and an ipod, you probably won't die. But you might wish you were dead about five hours in.

I get that preparation isn't for everyone. I get that some people enjoy not having any kind of plan, and that's fine. Unless you're going to Disneyland with children. Then you're just being an idiot, and trust me, you WILL pay for it. Whether you pay for it in tantrums, tears, missed rides, sore feet, screaming babies, or crappy seats for the parade, I can't tell you. But you will pay. And then you will write me a nice little note apologizing for not taking my advice more seriously.

So, here you will find the best advice I have to offer on taking a trip to Disneyland with your little munchkins, and how to do it without hating your life. While I do not consider myself an expert by any means, I have collected quite a few tips and ideas through the years, so hopefully they will benefit your family as well!

Plan Ahead. Like, Way Ahead

Last minute trips to Disneyland can be so exciting! Unless you have children. Then, as stated above, you're just being an idiot. A trip to Disney with kids takes extra time and planning, and if you want to have the best experience possible, I suggest planning ahead. Why? Because by doing this, you can actually plan your trip on the "low crowd" days, which is the single most influential thing you can do to make your trip a success.

I once went to Disneyland with my parents and family on the busiest day of the entire year (somewhere between Christmas and New Year's. While we are on the subject, NEVER plan a trip to Disney during this time frame unless you are completely out of options. And out of your mind.). It. Was. A. Nightmare. Yes, Disneyland on its worst day is still a pretty awesome day, but when you are waiting in lines that are over two hours long and standing like packed sardines to catch a glimpse of the fireworks, that's no one's idea of a good time.

Use a site like Is It Packed or subscribe to Touring Plans to get access to its very accurate crowd predictor. Aim for the least crowded days! It means shorter lines, fewer crowds, and an overall superior experience. I have been known to pull my kids out of school so we could take our vacation during the off season. This is harder to do as your kids get older and are involved in more stuff, but when they are young (as mine still are), it's not a big deal. And since I plan waaaaay ahead, they are able to make up their work before they even leave. Go ahead and judge me if you want. But I can't hear you, because I'm in Disneyland waiting five minutes to walk on Space Mountain.

I will note here that going on the least crowded days can sometimes mean putting up with one or two ride closures because this is when they schedule maintenance, but again, it is so worth it to not have to put up with the masses. And on that note, you can easily check which rides are scheduled to be closed during your planned trip by visiting Disney's website or Touring Plan's list of scheduled ride closures.

My second most important tip for planning way ahead (like, way ahead), is choosing the right hotel. This will depend a lot upon your family, your budget, and your vacationing style, but there are a few things I will tell you to look for when considering your children.

1. Get Close

Make sure your hotel is within walking distance to the parks. No one, and I mean no one, enjoys lugging strollers, diaper bags, and exhausted children on and off trams. Being within walking distance allows you to get there when you want to get there without waiting for the tram to pick you up, and at the end of the night, you are a stone's throw from your comfy bed, and you can silently mock the exhausted fools who are waiting at the bus stops praying it will be here in the next five minutes.

I have my own favorite places to stay that are literally right across the entrance from Disneyland, and I will tell you those, but there are plenty of options available. My advice is to make sure that when a hotel advertises that it is "within walking distance," they mean "you can easily walk to and from the park with small children and not die" and not "Technically you could walk to the entrance if you are an experienced marathon runner and leave two hours early".

Take a look at an actual map of where your hotel is in relation to the entrance. Some hotels advertise being close, but if you look at the actual pedestrian entrance, it may not be close at all! Keep in mind that you will have spent the ENTIRE day on your feet, and what looks like a short walk while you sit on your bum in the comfort of your living room, may feel like a ten mile hike after a long day at the parks. As a general rule: Get as CLOSE as you can. You and your feet will thank me later.

Walking to the Park a few years back 

My favorite budget friendly hotel is the Park Vue Inn. It is literally as close as you can get to the pedestrian entrance, which is the best selling feature, but it is also clean, has good service, and you can request rooms with a queen and a set of bunk beds, which my kids absolutely adored. As the kids get older, sharing a bed can become more of a hassle than it's worth, so this is a great option. I honestly don't know if they were more excited about Disneyland or their sweet bunk beds.

Another great, less expensive option is the Ramada Maingate. Also budget friendly, but close to the entrance and clean, which for my family, is all we really look for in Disney hotels.

Now, of course, if our budgets allowed it, we would be all about the Disneyland Resort Hotels, because, well, that's just an experience like none other. And if your budget allows it, I'd highly recommend you splurge! But for our family, we gotta go the cheaper route so we can, you know, eat one or two meals while we are there.

I've also stayed at the Carousal Inn, and the Camelot Inn, and both were perfectly adequate. Remember that you get what you pay for, and for us, we like to be as close to the entrance as possible and that's about it.

2. Get the Continental

You are going to be bleeding money the entire time you are there, so why not save yourself the time and cash for one meal a day and stay somewhere that offers free breakfast? This is one reason we LOVE Park Vue Inn, because it offers a delicious continental breakfast every morning with fresh waffles! Literally, they are so fresh you have to make them yourself, but it's actually kind of fun.

They also have a little balcony you can eat your breakfast on and enjoy the fireworks at night if you so desire, and that made for some fun memories for our family. You will not regret having this free meal built into your trip, it is one less thing to pack, worry about, and pay for.

3. Stay Awhile

In my opinion, you need a full three days at Disneyland if you have children and want to see both parks. Trying to pack everything there is to do and see at each park into only one day a piece is just too stressful and quite frankly, impossible. Give yourself that third day so you can take things at your leisure, don't feel rushed, and can even double up on your favorite things! Obviously not everyone has the time or money to spend three days there, but if you do, you won't regret it. Heck, throw in a fourth day if you're able. Then you might actually get a nap or two during your stay.

This is especially true if you are taking very young children. Those of us who have vacationed with little ones know that sometimes you have to just sit and eat an ice cream cone while your little one naps in the stroller for a half hour so your entire day goes a lot better. You have to take it easy with little ones, and spreading your vacation out a bit will make it a much nicer trip for all!

4. Buy Your Tickets Legit

There was a time when you could get discounted Disneyland tickets on the sly through Craigslist or other vendors because people who lived or worked there could easily sell their visitor passes, or more commonly, split a five day pass into two fewer day passes. Disneyland has cracked down on this and now takes photos of each ticket holder as they walk in the gates. Don't try and buy your tickets from a questionable source, because the last thing you want to be doing is standing outside the gates with your children unable to get in because your tickets don't work. Buy legit. Save yourself the risk.

This is not to say that you can't get discounted tickets or a special offer through certain places. Mouse Savers always has a detailed list of ongoing deals and discounts, so before you buy, check there! My family was able to buy our tickets through Expedia on our last vacation and we got a fourth day absolutely free!

A nice benefit of multi-day tickets is the "Magic Morning" that Disneyland offers. This allows you one day of early entry into the parks, which is a great time to get on a couple of those popular rides with hardly any wait.

5. Wait for the Ideal Age

If you are asking my opinion, and I think you are, since you are reading this, I would recommend waiting until your child is at an age when they can fully appreciate the experience before shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars on this vacation. What is that age? I'd say somewhere between 3-5.

Now, that being said, it is not always possible or realistic to wait until all your children are at an ideal age! I have twins who are eight years old, and at an age where they LOVE everything Disneyland. But I also have a baby.  We want the twins to enjoy Disneyland while they are young, and we didn't feel that leaving the baby behind was a good option, so it is what it is. And guess what, we had a great time!

So, like I said, while there is something to be said for waiting until your child is a bit older and can enjoy it more (as will you), you can ABSOLUTELY take a baby to Disneyland and have a wonderful time!!! Yes, it requires more preparation, more packing, more stuff, and a whole lot more patience, but we still had so much fun watching Jones' face light up during rides and parades, and there is something to be said for that golden Child Swap Pass, which I will cover shortly.

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Then Prepare

Alright. You've decided you want to take your kids to Disneyland (Go you! You're the best parent ever!). You've checked the crowd calendar, used it to book your budget-friendly hotel right across the entrance, you bought your tickets on the up and up and even scored yourself a discount because you did your homework. Now you are ready to hit the parks! Right?


You are on the right track, and I'm very proud of you. But if you want to have a successful Disneyland trip with those sweet little sweetums, you need to prepare. Then prepare. Then prepare some more. Sound like a lot of work? Well, it is. But I have to tell you, preparing for our Disneyland vacations is almost as fun for me as actually going! What can I say? I'm a mom.

1. Count it Down

This is one of my kids' favorite things we do when preparing for a Disneyland trip. Just like waiting for Christmas, building up that excitement is half the fun!!! You can think of your own fun way to announce to your children that you're taking them to Disneyland, but make a big deal out of it! You're spending a lot of money and you want to milk your kids' anticipation for all it's worth. Go ahead. You deserve it.

One thing we like to do is make a Disney paper chain. The kids use red and black paper and make as many links as there are days until Disneyland. I would suggest doing this about a month out, so they don't have to wait TOO long. My kids loved ripping one more link off the chain every day and seeing how close we were to our trip!

Another really fun thing you can do that will actually make your trip that much more fun is having Disney Movie Nights every week leading up to your trip! Watch movies that have rides to go along with them at the parks, it will make those rides really come alive for your kiddos! I was surprised that my kids had never even heard of Dumbo on their first trip to Disney, so the next time around I made sure to include some of the classics like Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. Then when they got to go on those rides at Disneyland, they recognized all the characters and were much more excited than if they had never heard of them!

Another thing you can do is order a free Disneyland Vacation Planning DVD and watch it together. It's free, it gets your kids excited, and it helps them understand what to expect if they've never been.

2. Buy Now, Save Later

Disneyland is expensive. This is no secret. And it seems to have special powers over children who see these things and believe that their life happiness is dependent upon that particular souvenir. And somehow it has a power over you as a parent to want to buy your child that $900 stuffed Mickey because they just want it so badly. And it's Disneyland! When will you be back here again?? And you're on vacation! And who wants to be a Debbie Downer at Disneyland!?!

Take it from me, you need to nip this in the bud before it even begins. My family has found some really fun ways to get unique and fun souvenirs for little to no cost, so I will share those here with you! I would also recommend that you set a limit on souvenir spending before walking into the parks, and sticking to it! It's easy to get caught up in the "magic" and forget that $900 for a stuffed monkey is actually quite insane.

The first and most important secret tip that has saved our family so much money and begging is this...did you know that there are actually other stores in the universe that sell Disney products??? I KNOW!!! It's crazy. But when I discovered this, I took full advantage of it.

In the weeks leading up to our Disney trips, I look for cheap Disney items that will undoubtedly sell for ten times the price inside the parks. I buy them, I pack them, I stick them in the stroller before we go in. Throughout the day, I say, "It's time for a souvenir!!!" The kids get insanely excited, I whip out my little stuffed Mickey's that I bought for $3 in the bargain bin at Big Lots, they squeal with excitement, and I come out the hero. That's a good day for everybody.

The Dollar Store has a surprising amount of Disney knick knacks at any given time, including stickers, cups, keychains, and the like, so I suggest starting there. While you're at it, stock up on surprises for the car, which I will cover shortly.

If you are taking younger children, a WONDERFUL souvenir and activity to do inside the park is collecting character signatures in an autograph book! This is a popular thing to do in the parks, and characters routinely have lines of children waiting for them to sign their books. Kids love it, it is completely free (minus the cost of the book and pen) and it makes for some really cute pictures.



You can purchase autograph books in the park, but why purchase what you can make for much less?? I made my kids' books by buying small, plain notebooks, and decorating them with Disney Stickers. While we are on the subject, make sure to bring your own markers!!! Those characters have really big hands and have a hard time manipulating human pens, so I would suggest bringing some standard markers and packing them with the autograph books.

Another fun and cheap souvenir idea is to collect the pressed pennies from the machines all over the park. It usually costs fifty cents to a dollar to press a penny, and the machines only take quarters, so this requires planning ahead. I usually bring a bag filled with quarters and shiny pennies (new ones press so much prettier) and have it easily accessible for when we spot a penny press machine! The kids LOVE doing this, and we have a lot of fun finding the machines and collecting the different pennies!

If you have older school age children, my absolute FAVORITE souvenir idea is for you!!! I got the kids into Pin Trading before our last trip, and it was by far the most fun souvenir out there!!!

You can read up on the way Pin Trading works here.  But to give you the quick lowdown, basically you start your kids off with a lanyard and a few pins. When they get to the parks, they can trade any of their pins with any Cast Member wearing pins. If a child asks to trade a pin with a Cast Member, they have to do it! Pin Trading has become a very popular hobby even with adults, but my kids just enjoyed the experience and care very little about the value of individual pins.

What I love about this is that pins are relatively inexpensive, but a child can walk into a park with ten pins and walk out with ten totally different ones without spending a dime! You can buy starter sets in the parks for a good chunk of change, but my advice is to buy your child a lanyard and ten or so pins off of Ebay before your trip. You can do this for as little as $20, and trust me, that $20 will take your child a LONG way in terms of having a wonderful experience. Some of our best memories from our last trip were watching the kids walk up to cast members and ask to trade! They took it so seriously and made it their mission to find Cast Members wearing pins! Even Josh and I got pretty into it! Here are some pics of my kids trading their pins with Cast Members all through the park!



Going through their pins after a great day of trading!

There are also a few "Pin Boards" throughout the park behind the register that you can ask to see. This is fun because the kids get to see a lot of pins all at once. I know for sure there is one in the Town Hall in Disneyland, but you'll have to do a little research on where the other ones are located. One more note on pin trading, I HIGHLY recommend you replace the black rubber backs your pins come with with the gold locking ones you can get at craft stores. When walking around and doing rides all day, those can easily slip off and you will lose a lot of pins. Don't throw the backs away, but use the locking ones during your vacation. When you go to trade, just tell the Cast Member you'd like to trade "backless". They will just trade you the pin so you can keep your locking back. Happy Hunting!

A completely free but really fun "souvenir" can be found by visiting Town Hall on Main Street. Is it your child's birthday? First trip to Disney? Your anniversary? Ask for a pin! They are free and a great little keepsake. While you're there, ask if your child can call Mickey! Again, totally free and they will get a kick out of it!!!


One more thing I would suggest purchasing at home and packing are glow sticks. There is nothing quite as magical as Disneyland at night, and as soon as the sun goes down, the Glow Booths come out. The parks sell all kinds of glow-in-the-dark merchandise for your little ones to enjoy at night time, but guess what? So does the dollar store. Buy it here, pack it in the stroller, pull it out at night, and be everyone's hero again.

Speaking of being a hero, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you to making your trip a success is remembering to prepare for that loooong car ride with the kids. This particular tip I inherited from my mother-in-law, so I will give her the credit, but I will never again travel without it because it made such a difference in our trips.

In the weeks leading up to our vacation, I buy a few little toys and surprises and activities for the kids to enjoy in the car. It might be a book, a Mad Libs, some candy, whatever. I then wrap these items up like a present. It doesn't matter if it is a single fruit snack pack. Wrap it up. Put all your wrapped goodies in a bag in the front seat, and every hour or so, give your kids a present to open. My kids go CRAZY for this, they absolutely love it, look forward to it, and it makes our long drives go amazingly well. Every time I sense the kids getting a little antsy, I know it is time for a present. Kids love opening stuff, and after they do, they either have a snack to eat, a book to read, or a toy to play with for the next hour or so. I cannot tell you the magic this little trick is capable of. I have been known to wrap small crayon boxes, a set of stickers, a juice box, and "notes" from Mickey. You don't have to spend a lot to make this work. Trust me, it will be worth it!!!!

3. The Necessities 

Babies and kids require a lot of stuff. They just do. Don't try and fight it and get by on the bare bones during a Disneyland trip. Go with it, pack what you know you will need to make your kids happy and comfortable, and the whole trip will go a lot smoother. Don't get completely crazy, but if you think you might need it, pack it.

The following is a list of a few things I think are necessities when doing Disneyland with little ones. You'll want to tweak it accordingly for your little family, but trust me when I say I speak from experience.

Identity Tags for the Kids
I put this first because it is SO important to remember the safety comes first!!! Disneyland is crowded and kids can easily get separated from mom and dad. First and foremost, talk to your kids if they are old enough. Tell them what to do if they get lost, and come up with a plan. There is a Lost Child pick up in the Baby Care Center, and when I was nursing Jones, I saw THREE children get dropped off by Cast Members and soon picked up by frantic parents. It happens a LOT.

Because many children get shy any scared when lost, I cannot recommend enough labeling your kiddo. I went to the pet store and had simple dog tags made with my child's name, my name, and my cell phone number. They wear them on their lanyards the entire time at the park, and I've instructed them since they were three to find a worker or a mommy and show them their tag.

I also recommend taking a picture of your child each morning before you leave for the park, in the clothes they will be wearing all day. This way, if you happen to get separated, you can show the employees exactly what your child looks like and is wearing that day.


A Good Stroller
Do Not. And I repeat. Do. NOT skimp on the stroller. Do not rent from Disney. Do not bring your rinky dink umbrella stroller. Do not think "My three year old is fine without one" and skip it altogether. Bring the stroller, and bring a good one. My family will never again travel through Disneyland without a stroller, even when my kids are teenagers, simply because they act as free, portable lockers that you can take with you all over the park. We put our cooler, our backpacks, our blankets, jackets, ponchos, and diaper bag in that thing, and it goes where we go.

If you aren't familiar with the Highly Revered but Unspoken Stroller Code at Disneyland, you will see for yourself. People don't mess with other people's strollers. Thieves do not pay $300 a ticket so they can go in and steal your diaper bag. If you leave your stroller in a designated stroller area, it will stay there, and it will not be messed with. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes Cast Members need to repark strollers a bit when there is a parade or something, but it won't have gone far, so don't freak out if it isn't EXACTLY where you left it.

On that note, there are millions of strollers in Disneyland, and when you are searching for yours after stepping off of Pirates, it is nice to spot it quickly. I suggest tying a brightly colored scarf or ribbon around the handle to make it easy to spot.

Comfortable Shoes
There is no better place for good running shoes than at Disneyland. This is not the time to look fashionable, and definitely not the time to break in a new pair of shoes. You and your kids will be walking for miles and stepping in and out of rides all day. Wear comfy tennis shoes, and make sure your kids' shoes fit nicely before leaving for your trip.

A Sling or Carrier
Strollers are necessary, but if you have a very little one, so is a carrier. I do a lot of babywearing, and that served us nicely when we went to Disneyland. Holding them when you're in a long line can get pretty tiring, and you will both be a lot happier if you pack that carrier! I suggest bringing a soft sling or carrier like a Baby K'tan, because it packs easier and the Cast Members will allow you to keep baby in a soft carrier on many of the rides. Ergo's are wonderful, but they are bulky, and space is an issue when you're packing light. I also had a few Cast Members tell me I needed to take Jones out of the Ergo to get on the ride, which was annoying.

Wearing Jones in the sling during Mickey's Halloween Party

Nursing Cover
If you are breastfeeding, you will be thrilled with how nursing friendly Disneyland is. Moms nurse here, there, and everywhere. Many use covers, many do not. When I went with Jones, we were still mastering covert nursing, so I was glad to have my cover, but if I went today I wouldn't even bother with it. But if it makes you more comfortable, bring it!

On that note, Disneyland has lots of great places to nurse your baby. I like to people watch while I nurse, so I scoped out a few good spots while we were there, but for the more private nursing moms, Disneyland has AMAZING Baby Care Centers that offer comfortable and private nursing areas. More on those later.

As for me, my favorite places to plunk down and feed Jones were as follows...

The benches in front of the Matterhorn. These were comfortable, shaded, great for people watching, and a good place to nurse while you wait for the rest of your party to ride the Matterhorn.

The Disneyland Train. You can ride this baby around the park as many times as you want without getting off. This is a great option when you all need some time to sit and rest but the kids still get to enjoy the fun of a ride while you and baby get your feed on.

It's a Small World. This ride is almost twenty minutes long, dark, cool, and entertaining. I nursed Jones on this ride each time we rode it, and because it was so dark, no one was the wiser!

The Bench inside Sleeping Beauty's Castle. There is a little bench next to a statue right through the Castle and next to Bibbity Bobbity Boutique. This was a great place to nurse, people watch, and BONUS, it is right next to the exit where the characters come out. If you sit there for any period of time, you are almost guaranteed to spot a few characters coming out into the park!!! Here is a picture of me nursing in this spot, right before the entire cast from Alice in Wonderland walked by us!!

Ponchos, Blankets, and Layers
Sometimes it rains at Disneyland. Check the weather before you go, and if there is any chance of rain, go to the store and buy ponchos to pack. They will sell them in the park for WAY more, so it is nice to have them on hand. The park clears out when it rains, so if you are prepared, you can benefit from shorter lines while still staying dry! My family has invested in the nicer, durable ponchos because we go that often and have realized that ponchos are great to throw on right before Splash Mountain or the Grizzly River Run. Stay dry and stay happy my friends.

I suggest packing at least one large blanket so you can spread out, save a seat, and watch parades and fireworks comfortably. You might not use it, but we always do.

I also suggest dressing in layers. The park can be sweltering at two in the afternoon and freezing by ten, so bring layers to throw on the kids and take off if needed (this is when you'll be glad to have that portable locker).

On that note, please remember a change of clothes for your little ones, and a change of socks for everyone!!! Accidents happen, especially when you can't always get to a bathroom right away. And you'll be glad to have those extra socks after one trip down Splash Mountain. It sure beats sloshing through the parks in wet socks the rest of the day!

Disneyland allows you to bring soft sided coolers with food and drinks (no alcohol though). We take FULL advantage of this on our trips, and I pack the whole family a nice little lunch to keep in our soft cooler in our stroller. I usually pack sandwiches, fruit, Capri Suns, lots of cold water bottles, fruit snacks, and granola bars. We have an entire backpack devoted to snacks and water, and we never regret it. Bring things that don't crush easily (Pringles are great for this), and can be eaten in line with little mess. Food at the park is expensive, and packing a lunch means you can find a quiet spot to hunker down and eat while everyone else waits in line to pay a hundred bucks for a sandwich. 

Our favorite spot to eat our sack lunches and take a break is at the Hungry Bear Restaurant across from Splash Mountain. You can grab a table right on the river and watch the boats and ducks go by. It's shaded, it's quiet, and it's the perfect spot for a break! They also have good food if you are in the mood to buy something. ;) Here is a pic of me and Jones relaxing at the Hungry Bear while we wait for everyone to ride Splash Mountain!

There are a few treats at the park that I would HIGHLY recommend you try if you're able, and if you save money by eating a continental breakfast and packing a lunch, you can splurge a little on dinners! My top choices are as follows:

Monte Cristo at Cafe Orleans
This is hands down the best sandwich in the history of In the history of food. If you think it sounds gross, you are right, but it is literally the best thing I've ever eaten, worth every penny, and if you want to treat yourself to only one thing on this trip, treat yourself to this sandwich. 

Waiting for my Monte Cristo while Jones gets in a nursing sesh!

Bread Bowl in New Orleans Square
This fairly inexpensive meal is a delicious treat and very filling meal. I love the Clam Chowder, but I believe they also serve gumbo. It is not to be missed!!!

Corn Dog at the Corn Dog Truck
Think you've had a good corn dog? You haven't. Not until you've tried the ones on the Corn Dog Truck on Main Street! It is located just outside the Baby Care Center and just before Tomorrowland. So moms, when you have to break from the crowd to go to the Baby Care Center, treat yourself to a little corn dog on the way out!

Dole Whip outside of Enchanted Tiki Room
Now, I am not much for mixing ice cream with soda, much less pineapple juice, but these delicious Dole Whips are the perfect treat on a hot day! My kids LOVE them, and everyone should try it at least once. :)

4. Get There Early
Nothing annoys me more than getting to the park late. If you are smart, you will plan to get to the park and be in line at the turn styles thirty minutes before the park opens. Why? Because you just spent a couple grand on this vacation, and you need to milk it for all it's worth. Being among the first few hundred people to walk in the park allows you to get on a few of the more popular rides before huge lines form. I would suggest having hubby grab fast passes for Space Mountain or Star Tours while you and the kiddies get in line at Peter Pan. Dad can come join you after he's done. Peter Pan's Flight does not offer fast passes, and the line can get really, really long. So my advice it to knock it (or another ride that doesn't offer fast passes) out first when the line is low, and then you won't feel pressured to get in an insanely long line for it later in the day. Plus when you guys get off, your fast passes will be active! 
In line for Peter Pan

Take Advantage of the Advantages

Disneyland has a lot of wonderful features for those of us traveling with small children (as they should!). Know what they are, and take full advantage of them!!! You're taking children to Disneyland. You deserve a few perks!!!

Baby Care Centers
If the Baby Care Center at Disneyland was a ride, it would be my favorite.

The one located inside of Disneyland park is just at the end of Main Street, next to the first aid center and just before entering Tomorrowland. It is set up like something from the early 1900's, with sweet little old ladies working there to boot! When you walk in, they are there to greet you and tend to your every need. Need a clean place to change a diaper? They've got it! Need a diaper? They've got it! Need to nurse your baby in a quiet, private setting? They will set you up! Need a high chair, a place to pump, or a packet of formula because you forgot it? No problem!!! They've got it covered. You can learn more about the Baby Care Centers here (there is also one inside California Adventure). I took a couple of pictures when I was in nursing Jones on our last trip, but the clicky above has some much better pics!

Fast Passes
If you don't know about Fast Passes, please do not visit the parks until you do. It literally pains me to overhear families say to each other "What are those special passes they have to cut in line? They must have cost a ton of money."

Fast passes do NOT cost money, and when used properly, can save you a TON of time and waiting in line!!! When used in conjunction with the Child Swap passes and after doing a little research on the best way to use your passes, you can pretty much make out like a ride bandit. Rather than going into the details of how fast passes work and how to get the most out of them, I will direct you to a site that explains it much better than I could. Click here to read it. 

Child Swap Passes
This little known perk of traveling with babies is one of the best ideas Disneyland ever had. Worried that one of you will be stuck with the baby while your significant other has all the fun? Worry no more! On all rides that have a height requirement, Disney offers the option to get a Child Swap Pass. All you need to do is go up to the first Cast Member you see working at a particular ride, flash your cute little baby in their face, and ask for a Child Swap Pass. They will give you a pass good for you and one or two other guests. Then, you and your little sweetums do some people watching or shopping while your better half takes the older kids on the ride (hopefully using a fast pass so they don't have to wait long, and neither do you). As soon as they exit the ride, you hand baby off to the adult who just rode, take yourself and one or two of your kids back to the line, flash your pass, and they let you in through the Fast Pass entrance.

Now, the pass usually says it is good for up to two people, but I never had a single Cast Member turn one of my twins away when we walked up together, so if you are paying attention, you realize that basically the older kids got to ride everything twice in a row, without waiting (because we always used our fast passes correctly!!!). They had a blast!!!

If you use your fast passes and child swaps together the right way, you may never need to wait in a regular line the entire time you're there. I know we didn't.

Height Requirements
Do yourself and your kids a favor and check the height requirements for each ride before your trip. This way there are no tears at the end of the line when Junior can't get on. Do NOT be one of those parents who stuffs their kids' shoes and spikes their hair in hopes of sneaking them through. The rules are there to keep your babies safe. Skip it this time, use your Child Swap pass, and look forward to doing it the next time you're there!

Make a Plan, and Be Prepared to Throw it Out

Now, we have covered a LOT of stuff! I hope that my little insights and tips make your trip more enjoyable and less stressful, but remember, while it is important to make a plan and prepare accordingly, keep in mind that your little ones need to set the pace. Be flexible, go with the flow, take lots of breaks, and remember to breathe. Roll with the punches and you will have a much better time than trying to micromanage every minute of your trip!

Last but not least, take lots of pictures!!! There are so many wonderful places to get great pictures of your family, and your child will never smile like they do at Disneyland! Take advantage of it!!!

I hope your family enjoys Disneylad as much as we always do! Have a wonderful time, and if you have more useful tips, leave me a comment! I'd love to hear it!

Monday, January 6, 2014

We Remember You Conference

We Remember You
(click for info)

I am so excited to finally get this info out to you! In less than two weeks, Forget Me Not Ministries will be hosting a small conference for women who have struggled with infertility and/or pregnancy loss. This event has been in the works for months, and we have poured our hearts into planning it!

It will be the first event we've ever hosted, and really the first of its kind in this area that I'm aware of, so we have no idea how people will respond or what to expect really, but I am just so excited at the thought of getting these women together to honor and remember their journey, to talk with one another, to be encouraged, validated, and prayed for.

I hope so much that you will consider attending, and inviting a friend. If you yourself have not struggled in this area, but simply desire to learn more about how to be a supportive friend and how to minister to hurting women, this event is also for you! We will have something for everyone. If you'd like to read more about what workshops will be offered and how the event will be set up, please click the link below. It will take you to Forget Me Not Ministry's website and blog entry with lots of details about We Remember You.

We Remember You Event Details

If you would like to invite a friend (or a few friends), fliers will be available at our table in the foyer this Sunday, or you can contact me and I will send you one you can email or print out.

We'd also LOVE if you shared this event on social media. If you are wondering who might benefit from attending, we are reaching out to women who...

have struggled to conceive, whether they have been diagnosed with infertility or not
have suffered from pregnancy loss of any kind, including miscarriage, stillbirth, and even early infant death
have had an abortion or abortions, and are looking for comfort and healing
have a friend or family member who has walked any of these paths

Whether your struggle is recent or fifty years ago, we hope you will consider attending. There really will be something for everyone, and if nothing else, we would love to have you just so you can help us love on women who are hurting and need some encouragement.

We would also love it if you could pray for us! Specifically, that God would get the women that need to be there to the event, that each and every detail will be ironed out, that God will be with each speaker as they prepare what they want to say, and that there will be healing and encouragement for the women that attend.

Once again, here is the event flier!!!

We Remember You Event Flier

Thank you so much for your support!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Parenting After Loss

We didn't visit Lily's grave this Christmas. Let me tell you why.

I forgot.

There. I said it. If you think you can make me feel any more guilty than I already do, you're welcome to try.

What kind of mother doesn't visit her child's grave on Christmas? What kind of mother forgets something like that? A year ago, I would be shocked at my own behavior. A year ago, I left Lily a little Christmas tree, and a stocking, and we took pictures with her special ornament and I spent time there, kneeling in all my pregnant glory, and I missed her. I felt her absence. I realized how different Christmas would be had she lived. How we would be scrambling to get her a nap so she wouldn't be grumpy and how she'd be crying to take off her uncomfortable Christmas tights with the ruffles on the bum.

I remember stroking my belly and wondering if next Christmas, we would finally, finally, finally have a baby to fuss over that wasn't buried in the ground next to my grandmother. I remember being so sure the baby inside me would never come home with me, that I actually checked to see if there would be room to put another tiny casket next to Lily's. I remember thinking that if I had to hang one more sad little dead baby ornament on my tree instead of a cute and happy "Baby's First Christmas" one, I would break into a million tiny pieces. I prayed I would never again have to hang another ornament that made me cry and ache for the giggles that were so blatantly absent from those moments of decorating our tree. As I sat by Lily's grave last Christmas, I hoped with all my heart that next Christmas would be different.

And then it was.

Jones has changed everything in my entire life. I love him more than I ever imagined I could ever love another child. I truly thought for awhile that I'd have to learn to accept this new baby. That the baby growing inside me would be kept at arm's length until I slowly and carefully let them in and learned to love them without the constant, debilitating fear of losing them. But then Jones was born. And I was wrecked for life.

He is the most gorgeous, most adorable, most make-you-want-to-bite-your-own-arm-off-he's-so-stinking-cute baby in the entire world, and you cannot be around him for five seconds without actually feeling your heart melt inside your chest (He's that cute. Seriously.).

But in all his adorable-ness, he has brought with him a chaotic state of life that I never anticipated. Of course I knew our lives would be different, but how hard could one baby possibly be? I mean, I've had twins. Two babies at once! Certainly having one baby now, with two live-in Mother's Helpers as a bonus, would be a piece of cake. That, coupled with the fact that Jones was so wanted, so prayed for, so desperately appreciated, that I could not imagine myself ever feeling the least bit stressed out or resentful of his presence.

Surely I would awaken every morning to his precious cries, no matter how tired I was, and jump at the opportunity to snuggle my sweet blessing that I had waited so many years for. Surely his glass-shattering screams at 2:30 a.m. would sound like music to my ears, because for so many years I prayed to hear those cries, to have the chance to comfort my baby. Surely, if this baby lived, everything would be rainbows and unicorns and glitter for all eternity, because I will have gotten my wish, and people who have their wishes granted would never dream of being unhappy ever again. Ever.

What I failed to recognize is...that's a load of crap.

Jones slept seven hours one night when he was about a week old. Since that night, he hasn't slept a combined total of seven hours, and he will be nine months old next week. I had no idea a human body could function on the amount of sleep Jones and I have gotten over this past year. I have never, ever, not even once since Jones was ripped from my loins, slept all night. And when I say all night, I mean three hours in a row.

I have been breastfeeding for nine months, and have had mastitis seven times. If you don't know what mastitis is, it is hell in the form of a breast infection. I love breastfeeding. I really do. I do not love writhing in pain and feverish shivers for hours on end while my baby screams for something I know will cause me immense pain to give him. And I'm exhausted. Oh. My. Gosh. I am exhausted.

You know when you've been up all night long and you feel like all your emotions are hyper-sensitive and anything at all can make you cry or laugh or laugh til you cry or cry til you laugh? Well I've been up for 270 nights. So.

I saw this commercial for something the other day. I think it was for a phone, or a banana, I don't remember. But it showed this teenage boy arriving with his family for Christmas at Grandma's house. And all his whole entire family was there, and he was just on his phone, acting all teenagery. He's got his headphones in while uncles and cousins talk to him, and he's acting all mopey and he's texting or watching videos or whatever, and I sat there watching it going, "This is awful. Teenagers are the worst." And then, at the very end, the teenager plugs his phone into the big TV in the living room while his whole family is gathered around singing Christmas carols or something, and he proceeds to show them all a video he had been making. Of their family. Talking and laughing and hugging and playing at Christmas. And it turns out, Mopey McCellphone was actually the sweetest kid of all time. And in the commercial, the whole family cried. But me?

I freaking bawled my eyes out.

I mean, I have attended the funeral of my own baby, and I have never cried so hard in my entire life as I did watching that commercial. Which is when I realized...

I've officially lost my mind.

Jones has pushed me to the brink of clinical insanity. And all this guilt I'm carrying? Guilt over crying, guilt over feeling exhausted, guilt over wanting a break now and then, guilt over forgetting to move that damn Elf on the Shelf, guilt because I work, guilt because I didn't go to work, guilt because I didn't visit Lily's grave on Christmas day, guilt because I can't be everything to everybody every moment of every's crap.

Do I miss Lily any less since I have Jones now? No. I wish that were true. The reality of parenting after loss is that I am constantly trying to strike a balance between parenting the babies I am raising and parenting the ones I've lost. The busyness of having three children constantly needing something from me every moment of every day is simply a short-term distraction from the pain of missing the daughter who will never need anything from me ever again.

No, I did not visit her grave on Christmas this year. But on Christmas Eve, I sat in the front seat of the car, while the kids jabbered in the backseat over how excited they were, and I stared out the window and cried. Not exhausted, emotional, losing my mind kind of tears, but soft, real, I miss my baby girl so much tears. And Josh held my hand, and he knew, and he felt it too. And we just missed her together for awhile, while we had the chance to do so.

And then someone in the backseat hit someone else in the backseat, and I was ripped back into my reality. The reality where I have three children to raise, a job, a husband, a home, a ministry, friends, and a million responsibilities that are constantly demanding my attention. And I love that life. And I'm so thankful for that life.

But it doesn't mean I'm not exhausted at times. And I have learned that it is perfectly okay for me to cry for the babies I've lost while at the very same time cry because my dream come true baby boy absolutely sucks at sleeping. Because that's my reality! I'm not apologizing for that, and I am trying so hard to overcome that trap of guilt that keeps getting set for me. I am no less grateful for my miracles because they drain every ounce of life from me at times. And I am no less heartbroken for the children I've lost because I don't have the time and space to dwell on their absence the way I used to. I miss them in the quiet moments, and this past year, I've had very, very few of those.

It is a balancing act I'm not sure I will ever perfect, parenting after loss. But it is one I will have lots of practice at. For I will never again be a mommy who has never lost. Everything I do as a parent is tinged with the loss I've experienced. And I know it makes me a better mom.

But it will never make me a perfect one.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Forget Me Not

Well, I have been eluding to some exciting news and I finally have some time to share it with you all! After years of praying and a LOT of work, God has opened the door for a new ministry that I believe is much needed in the church right now. 

Let me start with a little background. Last Mother's Day I was talking to a dear friend of mine, Becky. She was experiencing yet another heartbreaking pregnancy loss, and I was doing my best to walk with her through it. While there is something to be said for finding comfort in numbers, every time one of my friends walks over to this side of the fence, where there is loss and grieving and dashed hopes and your rose colored glasses are taken from you and shattered forever, it brings me to tears. I can't imagine going through any of my losses without the sisterhood of baby loss mamas, but at the same time I would give anything to keep all of my friends on the other side of the fence.

I shared with Becky that one day, I would love to begin a ministry that provides that sisterhood of support to women like us. One that offers hope and healing and resources and encouragement to women facing pregnancy loss and infertility. I shared with her my vision for such a ministry. How I'd love to host an event gathering all of these women together and provide them with tangible support and words of wisdom from those who have walked this road and have come out the other side with some important lessons learned. Becky and I talked and talked about what a ministry like that might look like, what we'd be able to provide in terms of support, what events we could host, what people we could bring on board, what our mission and goals would be, and so much more.

There was healing in talking about it. In dreaming about it out loud with another person. I remember how I had been waiting for God to provide me with the perfect partner to do this with, and when I got off the phone that night, I realized that He had done just that. It broke my heart that God knew the perfect person, that He knew the loss she was going to experience, and He needed to wait until just the right time to bring us together, but I was so glad He did. She brings everything to the table that I lack, and has such a passion for this ministry and the women it will touch.

So we began. We met at a Paradise Bakery and we hashed out our visions together. We set goals and we began talking with the Powers That Be. A few months later we we sitting in a meeting with church leadership at Palmcroft Baptist Church and were given the green light to pursue this, and that we did!

At one of our planning meetings, Becky was talking about these beautiful glass Forget Me Nots that her sister-in-law makes by hand. She was giving a fifth Forget Me Not to our "spiritual mom" and mentor, who had just lost her fifth grandbaby to miscarriage. Becky mentioned how Forget Me Nots grew in pink, blue, and yellow. We all just kind of looked at each other and it clicked. Forget Me Not Ministries. How perfect is that? And that's how the name was born.

We worked with the church to create a logo, order supplies, and put together fliers. We spoke with different groups on items we'd need donated and asked for their support. We began putting together plans for a comfort box ministry, where women who had experienced miscarriage or other pregnancy loss could be given a box including small comfort items like tissues and a candle, but also a devotional on baby loss, a card with encouraging scriptures, and resources for further support if the woman is interested in counseling or simply getting connected with another person who's been there.

We began plans for an event where we would bring women together who have experienced pregnancy loss, infertility, or who have a loved one who has. We would have speakers and breakout sessions and give each woman a chance to honor her journey. We would talk about what Scripture says about these topics and listen to the hope Christ gives. We would come together, and realize we aren't alone.

That event is now in the works for January, and will be called "We Remember You." I am so excited about this and cannot wait to see what the Lord does through it. This week was really exciting, because we filmed our short promotional video for the event. It was pretty powerful stuff seeing these women hold mementos of their journey with pregnancy loss and infertility, and I know that it will resonate with a lot of people.

More information will be coming soon, but I just wanted to share this huge project we are working on and ask for your continued prayers for it! We can't do this alone, and so far God has brought on board some pretty amazing people to make this dream a reality. I can't wait to share all that He does through this, and we are praying that a lot of women are encouraged and given some hope during a very dark time.

If you would like to hear more or are interested in helping with this ministry in any way, please let me know! I will keep you all posted and can't wait to share the finished video with you all!

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.