Monday, April 7, 2014

My Kids' Cakes

So before I had kids I had never really tried to make a fancy cake.  I didn't really make much of any cakes to tell you the truth, but somehow once the birthdays started, I would find an idea for a cake and just go for it.    

                                                In the beginning, there was just a regular cake.
Isabel's First Birthday.

She wasn't too impressed as you can tell ;)
Her birthday celebration also coincided with nap time.  Rookie  parent mistake!

Second Birthday cake was also unimpressive....she had growing issues and was on a gluten-free diet at the time, so she had her own mini cake.

Third Birthday cake!  My first try at fondant.  I made my own and for my first attempt at making a "cute" cake, I thought it was fantastic!

It was a bug themed party.

Fourth Birthday she was really into Hello Kitty.  I loved this cake too!  So much fun!

Then we had her 5th Birthday and I had just had she got this cake.
All I can say is that with a new baby, she's lucky she got a homemade cake.  Her favorite color is purple, so that was impressive to her ;)

Ian's 1st Birthday was right around Easter, so this was an obvious choice!  I thought this cake also turned out great!  The only thing that could have made it better is if I could have devised a basket handle.

For Isabel's 6th Birthday we had a party at a park.  We invited friends and every single one of them came.  I couldn't believe it!   So I had to make a big cake to feed a lot of people.  I thought a giant "I" for "Isabel" would be fairly easy and get the job done.

Ian's 2nd Birthday I was in the hospital delivering Caroline.  (Remember, their birthdays are one day apart?)  So there is no cake. 
Isabel's 7th Birthday at the end of the same month got a store-bought cake.  3 kids and one of them a newborn?  Could not handle making a cake!

But this year with the baby turning 1, Ian turning 3 and Isabel about to be 8, I had a lot of help and had the time to be able to make a cake again.
Caroline's cake turned out floppy.  No literally.  I took the cake layers and put them in the freezer and they froze on an uneven surface leaving me with a lumpy cake.  It was ridiculous.  I hesitate to put it on here, but I mean all the other cakes are here and it IS her first birthday cake, so here ya go.
So it was a double layer vanilla cake.  Isabel helped make little roses and she decorated the top with one of those edible markers....lumpy cake with some cracking fondant, hahahah..... who will remember those details other than me? ;)

Cake not so cute....but Caroline on her birthday?  Ummm....I'll take a second serving of her!  She was a doll.

And she loved her cake. 

I mean really loved it.  She was covered and smothered by the end.

And then, there was Ian's 3rd Birthday cake.
I searched pinterest for train cakes and came up with a lot of great ideas.  And basically just convinced myself I could do this ;)  And then I did.
It was really beautiful.  I had to set my ego aside because as soon as Isabel saw that fondant was really just edible modeling clay, she could not resist helping.  She is sooooo into making little figures with modeling clay; she just had a blast helping with the cake.
So it's a three layer cake.  2 chocolate layers and vanilla in the middle from scratch.  Buttercream icing from scratch, and marshmallow fondant.  Now the recipe said to use high quality marshmallows, but I cheated and used the store brand.  I saved a small bit of the buttercream to puff out the clouds.  It was stinkin' adorable. 


It tasted alright too. ;)


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ignited by Truth 2014

So I got a chance to attend this really wonderful conference again this year, this time with my wonderful husband.  Ignited by Truth is an annual conference that seeks to bring to light the teachings of the Catholic Church and ignite in the hearts of the attendees a love of their faith.  Here is a little bit of background on IBT:

I was so excited about the conference for a few reasons....the first is that I hadn't been since 2009 when we were in the very midst of finding out about Mary Grace.  The second is that it had an amazing list of speakers including Dr. Patrick Fagan, Dr. Scott Hahn, Kimberly Hahn and Jennifer Fulwiler, among others. 

Personally, I could have listened to Jennifer Fulwiler and both the Hahns give talks for days!!  They were such captivating and engaging speakers. 

The third reason I was excited about IBT is that I got to attend with my husband!  We were originally planning on just going together for a "date night" on the free Friday evening part of the conference, but God worked it out that Rob was able to attend all day Saturday with me as well!  As an aside, it is funny how far we have come with date nights!  I remember, pre-children when date nights consisted of meeting friends at the pool hall and having a ridiculous number of drinks and then feeling miserable the next morning when it was time to head into work.  That didn't last long once children entered our world, and now I'd have to say that I enjoyed this date night to hear these speakers talk about their faith in God with such joy and love far more than some of the crazy nights out we had a decade ago.  Ahhhh how time changes things ;)

There were 50 people at any given time in line for confession during the 2nd half of Saturday.  It was just beautiful to see so many people living their faith, excited about loving Jesus, and appreciating the fullness of truth that we have as a Catholic community.

I do have to say that I felt a little bit guilty.  Attending IBT this year was very different than attending in 2009.  I knew many people there this year!  Whereas in 2009, even though we had been in the Raleigh area for almost 6 years, I recognized no one that I knew at the conference.  But this year, we have become so entwined with the homeschooling community....and guess what?  They were all there.  And they were all volunteers!  And that is where my guilt comes in, because other than praying for the conference, I did not volunteer this  year!  My other bit of guilt came from getting to sit in the very front row on Friday night and in the second row on Saturday....I mean, the seats were empty, it just seemed like it was too good to be true to get a seat in the second row of 2000 people just 10 minutes before the conference began!

And my really exciting news was that Kimberly Hahn came and sat down next to me on Friday night since I was right there in the front row while her husband gave the 2nd talk of the evening.  How neat is that???  I had the thought to ask if we could take a selfie together, and then I quickly had the second thought that that would be pretty of course I just sat there and internally diaglogued with myself about asking her if she was really Mrs. Hahn....but then that of course would mean she would know that I knew who she was...and maybe she liked just sitting next to someone who she thought didn't know who she was....oh yeah.  Total awkwardness in my head, so I just sat there and pretended like I didn't know her from Adam.  In the end we had a brief conversation and she recommended two of her husband's books to me. ;)

In addition to hearing blogger Jennifer Fulwiler speak, I also met Tracy from A Slice of Smith Life, and saw my friend Tara from Blessings in Brelinskyville. 

But the conference was so encouraging and uplifting.  It is just great to be inspired by others who are so in love with Jesus and trying to live that life of faith daily. 

April starts our busy month!  I have my weekly HCG draw tomorrow (I'm expecting it to be about 15)....still trying to get it down to less than 5.  The end of the week brings both Caroline's First Birthday and Ian's 3rd Birthday....just cannot believe a year has gone by since Caroline joined our family!  It's too fast, and at the same time it seems she's been a part of our family forever.  And please send up a prayer for seems we have turned a corner, but she has had a fever all weekend which has been very difficult to break even with motrin and Tylenol.  Thank you!  Anyway, then there is something every week, and the end of April brings Isabel's 8th Birthday, and then a week later her First Holy Communion!  What a beautiful time in our lives, just as spring is really starting to pop here in the Carolinas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Birth Control After Baby?

We use Natural Family Planning during the times that we need to abstain from having a baby.  I have talked about why we use the Sympto-Thermal Method in this post from way back in the day.  Once we understood what our church taught about God's design and purpose for the sexual union within the context of marriage, it made perfect sense to us and we have been happy to use NFP.

So it came as a huge shock to myself (and to Rob) when I started questioning whether we should use birth control after Francis Marie.  I was at the hospital and I had already read up on molar and partial molar pregnancies and knew that the doctors would recommend a long wait before we could try to conceive again.  This is because the doctors monitor HCG levels after you have a molar pregnancy and if they start to rise or stop declining, it is because the tissue is re-growing and you are at risk of a type of cancer called choriocarcinoma.  If you get pregnant while they are monitoring your HCG levels, your levels will also rise due to the pregnancy, so the problem is that they do not know if your HCG levels are rising because of cancer or because of a new pregnancy.  Choriocarcinoma from what I understand is a quick-growing cancer, so if I were to become pregnant it would not be so great to have to "wait around to see if this is a new pregnancy". 

The one doctor (the one who I feel was concerned for my health, but was pushing for me to have a D&C early on) came in to talk to me right before my D&C to let me know that I would need to be on some form of birth control and that she could easily place a nuva ring or something else (my mind started spinning trying to think of what I would say to her) after she did the D&C.  The only thing I could sputter out of my mouth was, "No, no nuva ring...I would rather do pills."  Thinking full well at that moment that this was not what I would do either....I would simply go back to NFP as we had always done. 

But after that conversation, I just felt like there was so much pressure not to get pregnant.  Every doctor was reiterating the seriousness of not getting pregnant.  I started doubting myself, doubting NFP, doubting whether God really understands the seriousness of our situation.

I took all this to confession the following weekend, and the priest so simply said, "You know what the church teaches, you must do this.  And you need the support of your husband."  Luckily, I already had my husband's full support with NFP.  And when I came out of confession it was totally clear that of course I couldn't use birth control...not even along with NFP.   It was just such a strange situation that I had had this time of doubting whether NFP would really be effective enough, and of doubting whether I could stand up to the pressure of the doctors who want me to use birth control.  I remember the priest in confession said point blank...."It is your body.  Not the doctors'."   Yeah, it is.  They can't tell me what to do.  They can make recommendations and counsel me on my health choices...that's it.

So I came out of confession with this renewed trust in God's design.  In fact, it seemed absolutely ludicrous and unthinkable to me that I had had that period of could I doubt using something to which I had already been committed (using NFP)?  How could I have fought hard in the hospital for my values, for what was right, for the dignity and sacredness of life and then turn around and reject my values and use contraception?  It was like I had been overcome by this massive fog and everything became cloudy....lines became gray and blurred.  And then after confession the fog just cleared and I realized what was true and right again.

Then I got this confirmation from the 2/16 Laudate app's reflection on the Mass are some of the excerpts:

"Jesus teaches that righteousness involves responding to every situation in life in a way that fulfill's God's law, not just externally but internally as well."

"Jesus sets the high ideal of the married state before those who are willing to accept his commands. Jesus gives the grace and power of his Holy Spirit to those who seek to follow his way of holiness in their state of life – whether married or single."

"Reverence and respect for God’s commandments teach us the way of love – love of God and love of neighbor. What is impossible to men and women is possible to God and those who have faith in God."

Doctors think that NFP is impossible.  Not good enough.

 It is possible with God's help.

I say all this not to open up a debate on birth control, but just to mesh out all the back and forth feelings I was recognize that spiritual fog can roll in when you are least expecting it, and that sacramental grace can give you renewed clarity.  That God does pour out consolations and confirmations of His plans for you and for me. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

An update on me, since the partial molar pregnancy.

Well physically I am doing great.  The first day or two after being released from the hospital I felt pretty terrible:  exhausted, still shaky, racing heart, etc.  But every day for the next week, I felt my strength coming back and was feeling better and better (probably thanks to the iron pills!).  The 2nd week I started feeling tired again, but after my thyroid levels came back at a normal level I started to feel much better (maybe it was psychological?).

My HCG levels have been falling quickly! 

Upon admission to the hospital HCG was 650,000+
Upon discharge HCG was 150,000+
10 days later HCG = 1,351
1 week after that HCG = 317
*edited to add* 1 week after that HCG = 135
                          1 week after that HCG = 70
                          1 week after that HCG = 42
                          1 week after that HCG = 27
                          1 week after that HCG = 19

I have to continue to have my HCG checked weekly until it has reached a negative level (depends on the doctor, this can be <5 3="" a="" and="" at="" check="" checks="" consecutive="" continue="" for="" has="" it="" level="" monthly.="" nbsp="" negative="" or="" p="" then="" they="" to="" weekly="" will="">
Tomorrow is already 3 weeks since losing the baby.  And the day after tomorrow is our 5 year anniversary of losing Mary Grace.  It's just so surreal.  I would have never thought after losing 4 babies back to back and then having 2 more healthy children that we would have lost another.  Of course it makes me think what the future might bring.  I'm not getting any younger, but I do turn 34 this year and then of course the next year I become....duh duh duh....."of advanced maternal age".  Normally that wouldn't really phase me except that I kind of tend to already have complicated pregnancies.

Emotionally, this loss has been very different for me.  This time I just haven't really been releasing many emotions until they just can no longer be contained and I explode.  After the explosion with Ian which I wrote about last time, I went to confession and really made a resolution to control myself better....or at least try to be conscious of the times when I am getting upset, so that I can decompress before it gets to a nuclear level!  And for the most part I thought I had been doing a pretty good job.  But Isabel has been expressing some concerns, so I need to do better.  I see weekly confession in my future for awhile just to help me to stay on track!  I need that sacramental grace!!!

Emotionally, so far it has also been easier to have a lot of pregnant women around me (aside for that first HCG check at my doctor's office).  I have 5 good friends who are currently expecting babies this spring and summer!!  And thankfully by God's grace He is really helping to spare me from feelings of jealousy that I have had in the past after a loss.

So we are doing pretty good overall.  Spring and summer are obviously very busy for us with the garden, and that has already started to serve as a good distraction and even a way to heal.  Yesterday Isabel and I started our indoor seeds of peppers (hot and sweet), onions, basil and tomatoes (4 different varieties).  Those little seedlings are a fun project ...watching them sprout and grow, tending to them with water and light...setting them outside to harden them off to the elements when they get big enough. 

Hmmm....kind of like raising a garden of children! 


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Third Gift of Prayer: taking the baby home.

As soon as I had been admitted to the hospital I had a gut feeling that things were not going to end well in this pregnancy.  And I began to have thoughts regarding what we would do with the baby's remains if the worst should in fact happen.

For some reason I could not bring myself to ask the doctors about taking the baby's body home, even though I was given multiple opportunities.  A doctor would come in to brief me on my condition and always asked, "Do you have any questions about anything?".  I guess I thought it was such a bizarre request- wanting to take home a tiny 3-4 inch baby.  I could barely even fathom discussing it with my own husband for fear he would think me super weird.

But while I was in the hospital I happened to read this blog post at All You Who Hope.   It had been posted over 2 weeks before this time, but God led me to read it in His time and in this place.   And then I understood that taking my baby's remains was exactly what I needed to do.  So I gingerly approached Rob and he was in complete agreement (I honestly don't know why I had been so hesitant to approach him before)- and then I got up the nerve to ask a doctor if this would be possible.  They assured me it could be done and that they would work through the paperwork and legalities to make it happen.  Along the way however, it became apparent that there was a newer hospital policy that had been put into place that remains could not leave the hospital with a patient but must go through a funeral home.  The doctors and nurses frankly told me they disagreed with this policy and they even tried to find some loophole, but in the end, there was none and the rules were the rules.

So we began to look for a funeral home that would be able to pick up the remains from the hospital and bring them to the funeral home and then release the remains to us.  The "big" funeral homes were not able to meet this request due to more red tape.

By the time we learned this, I had been released from the hospital after leaving Francis Marie's body in the care of my nurse who assumed personal responsibility for it.  This nurse's name was Kim and I am so grateful for her compassion and willingness to look after the body to make sure it got to where it needed to go.

At this point we called our pastor who was very gracious to make a call for us and found a funeral home that would help us.

This was the third gift.  After getting the doctors to agree to an induction, after delivering at the critical moment before a D&C would have taken place, and then being able to bring the remains of the baby home- these are all gifts the Lord has given us.

Doors that He opened at just the right moment so that it was neither too soon, nor too late for the gift to be given, but the perfect moment for the gift to be received. 

Isabel made a Valentine to be buried with Francis Marie.  It is both beautiful and heartbreaking.


It reads:
Little Baby up in Heven
Pray for our family since you had to die to save mom
So plese pray for our family
And plese tell Lord Jesus Christe to send blessings to help our family
not to be sad
Happy Valintines Day
So sweet, so sad, yet such a gift.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Raw Emotions of Losing a Baby.

The night I came home from the hospital was initially full of joy and hugs and little ones happy to try to return to normalcy with Mommy home.  But that didn't last long.

I was so grateful that we had been blessed with a meal that night because I was too weak and exhausted to really even stand for very long.  As we sat down to eat, that's when Isabel just starts pouring emotion from her seven year old little heart.  "Why would God give us the joy of a baby only to take it away!?"  From her tiny little frame came this desperate voice, almost shaking her fist at God as she threw her arms up in the air.  I held her close and tried to explain that we can't understand some things this side of heaven, but we can think about Jesus' suffering and do our best to unite our suffering with His. 

My little Isabel,....way too experienced at losing siblings.

That night as I sat on the couch with the kids watching a children's show before bed, Rob walks in from locking up the chickens in their coop and hands me a note.

Something killed Wynona and I can't find Dora.

Our baby chickens...

My mind started reeling, but I sat perfectly still.  I couldn't say anything.  We couldn't tell Isabel yet.
It was too much.  Too much loss for one day.

The next morning I got up early and went out to look around the coop for signs.  I saw the black and white explosion of feathers near the tractor shed that had come from Wynona.  I half-hoped to see Dora come flying down from a tree, waiting to be let in with the other chickens....until I looked out into the field and saw the mass of reddish-brown feathers that had been Dora's.  I stumbled back inside, numb, angry, sick to my stomach.  And I sat on our garage steps and cried like a baby. 

I cried for two stupid chickens.  And for our dead baby.

I had held it together very well at the hospital and I was literally full of wonder and awe at the delivery- I cried with joy and relief at answered prayers then.  But on my garage steps I sobbed for the loss of it all.  The loss of another baby we will not get to know.  The loss of sibling joy over a new addition to the family.  Memories unmade and already lost.  It was cruel to lose a baby.  I went inside and told Isabel what had happened.

The day continued without much incident from there until just before dinner time.  Ian came into the house grumpy and I thought I had gotten him settled down until I saw him intentionally smash the exersaucer down  on Caroline's hands.  All of the emotions that had been building inside me exploded out of me; directed in deep, deep anger and rage at this little three year old.  He was in tears and I cried and apologized to my shocked husband.  My heart was pounding out of my chest and my pulse was 125bpm.  I excused myself to calm down.  Then I apologized to Ian and of course, he looked up with his giant blue eyes and forgave me.

I was lying in bed that night trying to figure out how to accept this cross better.  Surely all these emotions come with grief and loss, but I'm not carrying my cross well if I am sinning by screaming at my 3 year old.  I begged God to help me do better.  What can I offer up if I keep making a mess of the cross You've given me??  I have to keep looking for the gifts, the blessings in this thick muddy mess of loss.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A letter to our friends.

A letter to our friends. 
The following was written to be shared with anyone who has been praying for our situation over the last few days.  And for those who may not have access to Facebook or Blogger. 
It is meant for you.  Thank you.  You have been such a blessing to our family.

Dear Friends in Christ,

It is the deepest thanksgiving that we wish to extend to you for all the prayers, thoughts, meals, help with childcare, hospital visits and support during the last few days.

On Wednesday, my wife Angela was admitted to UNC Women's Hospital at 13 weeks 3 days into her pregnancy due to a partial molar pregnancy which was causing ever-increasing blood pressures and extremely high thyroid hormone levels.  Her situation was serious enough that her regular OB-GYN in Raleigh felt it was safer for her care to be managed at that point in a hospital with more specialized and experienced doctors.

The doctors immediately wanted us to end the pregnancy due to the potential for life-threatening emergencies such as pulmonary edema, seizures, stroke and thyroid storm.  But at this point Angela was stable so we contacted the National Catholic Bioethics Center for some ethical choices to this situation.  Wednesday night Angela's blood pressure became stable, but Thursday it was back up again and we received the test results that our baby had a fatal diagnosis, also caused by the partial molar pregnancy.  It was decided that we could begin an induction at that time- this was our first major prayer victory as the doctors were initially unwilling to perform anything but a D&C.  A D&C performed with our live baby in the womb would have been akin to an abortion and we could not allow that. 

After speaking with the NCBC we learned that an induction to remove the source of the pathology (Angela's molar placenta) would be morally licit, although the unintended consequence would be the death of our baby.  Because our baby would be delivered whole and intact with an induction, it would preserve it's dignity as a human made in the image of God.

The induction began at 1:30pm Thursday.  By 2:30pm Angela was already experiencing cramping and bleeding, even though the doctors informed us it could take 24 or more hours to complete the process.  By 6:15pm I, Robert, was able to join Angela at the hospital, but I would have to leave by 10:00pm to relieve the family who was watching our other children at home.  Angela soon began to pass some large blood clots and her bleeding picked up so much that around 7:30pm, the doctor was very worried and recommending an immediate D&C.  We asked her to consult with a more experienced doctor who came in and told Angela to push.  By God's extreme grace, she delivered the molar placenta first, and then our tiny little baby; whole, intact, and beautifully and wonderfully made.  This was our second tremendous prayer victory that we know was only possible because of the prayers you offered up to our Holy God for us.  When this doctor delivered the baby, she spoke with such sweetness and joy in her voice, as if Angela had just delivered a live full-term infant!  It was such a blessing, and though we were sad for our loss, there was a sense of rejoicing and awe at the awesomeness of our God to allow our tiniest baby such a dignified entry into this world and passing into the next. 

After delivery, Angela had to have the D&C procedure to remove any leftover molar tissue (which of course, at that point was without ethical dilemma).  She was released on Friday afternoon.

If you are still reading, I apologize for the length of this note, but wanted each of you to know how through your prayers and kindness we experienced graces and blessings even during this tough time.  We are not strangers to pregnancy loss.  This was our 8th pregnancy.  We have 3 beautiful live children:  Isabel (almost 8), Ian (almost 3), and Caroline (almost 1). 

Because our newest baby in heaven was so young, we do not know it's gender.  We decided to choose a boy's name and a girl's name:  Francis Marie.

St. Francis de Sales wrote the following:

The everlasting God in His wisdom has foreseen from all eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart.  This cross He now sends you has been considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with loving arms and weighed with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you.  He has blessed it with His holy Name, anointed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God.

Thank you so much for all that you have done for us.  We are so very blessed.

In Christ's love,
Robert and Angela Holmes