It’s Autumn Again

IMG_5110

Autumn is the seasonal gala, when nature adorns herself in a flash of warm color before falling asleep under a blanket of winter.

IMG_5106

Ellie and I were both asleep last Autumn. She was too young to see the sunset of falling leaves, and I was too ill to go outside and revel in my favorite season.

IMG_4565

We take walks most days. We see turkey and deer and chipmunks. She points and grunts behind her binkie.

IMG_5103

She loves to be outside, to unearth the acorns half-buried in the driveway. She grabs sticks with leaves attached and shakes them like a wand covered in ribbons and bells.

IMG_5102

I pick up leaves from the cool pavement and dewed grass. I show her the varied colors and shapes. I hand her newts and caterpillars.

IMG_5104

IMG_5105

I’m not entirely accustomed to the rural feel of life out here, but I begin to see the draw when I’m standing beneath a canopy of mottled leaves, or marveling at the color and texture in one patch of moss.

IMG_5107

It’s breathtaking.

IMG_4580

all photographs © Rachel Svendsen 2018

Advertisements

A Quick Catch-up and the Coming Revamp

I know I’ve been absentee around here. It’s been super hard to get back into the flow of things while balancing life as a mother.

IMG_4549

She is 13 months old now, walking, and beyond precious. She loves books, and we spend a lot of our day together reading. She also loves to eat, play in the rain, and collect sticks while she’s running barefoot outside.

IMG_4434

I love her tremendously, and though I usually end my days physically and emotionally exhausted, I am so thankful to be watching her grow and learn and smile.

I’ve had little time to devote to writing, hence my lack of posts, but I’ve had plenty of time to keep up with my reading. I’m hoping to sit down in the coming weeks and whip out a bunch of book reviews.

Another thing I’ve been spending time on is planning a total revamp of my blog here. I’m looking for ways to make things more organized and professional.

I want to post more book reviews and possibly find some authors who are willing to let me interview them about their stories and the writing process. I think it would be so much fun to have more connections with other writers, especially since I’ve left school and feel cut off from the writing community. I have some people already in mind, and am really excited for anyone who is willing to join me in this.

So, hopefully, in January I will have everything around here all neat and tidy with a bunch of fun, new content to post.

Learning to balance my free time has been a challenge. I don’t want to miss out on her. My own childhood was so incredibly lonely, and I would hate to give her a similar experience. I do miss writing and blogging, but I know it will come back, it’s her childhood that I can’t put on hold. I won’t believe it was wrong to give her my full attention this past year. I want so badly to be the kind of Mother she needs. ❤

IMG_4420

Facebook Memories

Facebook memories are one of many garbage notifications I get on my phone. Why do I need to remember that article I posted a link to back in 2010, or one of three hundred book memes that I liked, shared and posted.

url

Over a week ago, a photo from 2015 popped up in the feed. It was my feet and the screen of my laptop in front of a window that looked down onto a snow covered lawn. The caption read, “Writing at the library.”

IMG_0729

Nostalgia choked me, not for this moment specifically, but for the time in my life it represented.

Our life on Young’s Drive is enshrined in my memory as ideal. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t compare my now life with life then and feel deprived of something beautiful. The apartment, the town, the pace of life. Those Friday nights, just Tim and I, curled up on the floor with paper plates covered in take out, a board game spread out between us. Evening walks, and hours spent reading and writing and sitting in my favorite library.

Every walk we take is not like the ones down Corcoran street. Every library I visit is not organized properly. Every meal we cook, every game we play, every day I live is not as lovely as…

I lowered my phone, letting the sunlight framed memories slide away and looked over at my sleeping daughter. Downstairs, I could hear my in-laws voices, indistinct but comforting, like the warm smell of a fireplace floating in the winter air. My husband was asleep next to me. The house began to settle and still around me until all I could hear was the sounds of my two love’s breathing and my fingers clicking softly as I typed.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been sick for so long, all these days I’ve spent depressed and disheartened, I’ve been reaching for what seemed a perfect time to erase all the pain and exhaustion of my current life, falling to a point so low that I actually look forward to seeing my daily Facebook Memories notification.

But Young’s Drive wasn’t perfect. I was locked in a codependent relationship that sapped my marriage. I felt like an outcast in my church, and went to sleep every night feeling like something was missing from my life, something more than just the empty bedroom that was supposed to hold in it the baby we lost.

Now is different with blessings and pain all it’s own, but what I would miss out on most if I were to trade then for now is the wealth of personal and spiritual growth I’ve gone through to reach this place. And though this time of pain and sickness is not yet over, God never promised us comfort in this world.

But…

…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. …For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18-23 ESV)

Yesterday may be worth remembering, but it’s not worth sacrificing today’s blessings and even sufferings for it’s sake. I’m going to count my now blessings, and put aside then as well as my fears for tomorrow. For my hope is beyond all this and today is enough.

Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine with 10,000 beside.
Great is Thy Faithfulness, Great is Thy Faithfulness,
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

~ Thomas Chisholm

IMG_0731

Braxton Hiccup

It was around 6p.m. on August 7th, 2017. I was eating the chili I’d made, watching a soccer game with my husband, and the Braxton Hicks that I’ve been feeling all day are not going away with water and elevated feet. In fact, they were starting to hurt a little.

IMG_9235
Photo actually taken while I was in early labor. Pain level greatly exaggerated.

I looked at Tim. “Honey.”

He put a spoonful of chili in his mouth and mumbled a “Hmph?”

“Maybe we should start timing these. They’re hurting a little.” Then I added hurriedly, “Not a lot. Just a little. Like a dull far away ache.” I was still 38 weeks pregnant and in prime false alarm territory. The last thing I wanted was to be “that pregnant lady,” waddling into the hospital at zilch centimeters dilated. Though I suppose I wouldn’t have seen the maternity nurses shaking their heads derisively at me when I waddled my way back out.

Tim just nodded at me as he opened up the contraction app. He’d downloaded it over a week before and had already been playing with it when I had bouts of Braxton Hicks. But those went away when I drank water and put my feet up. These…

After about an hour he says, “They’re coming 6 to 10 minutes apart for about 30 seconds each.” We looked at each other for a minute.

“It’s probably nothing,” I said.

“Maybe,” he replied, his eyes beginning to brighten with anticipation.

I chewed my lip, and said slowly, “but still, maybe we should finish packing the hospital bag. You know, just in case.”

Tim nodded and we set to work. I stayed mostly seated with my feet up, telling him when the “not” contractions started. At around 8 o’clock, I was beginning to panic. I was texting the midwives, trying to sound calm, hoping they weren’t judging me, because clearly this was just a false alarm. Really! I mean, they were getting more painful, and closer together, but it wasn’t real. Statistics show that most first time mothers are at least a week late.

I called up my mother-in-law. My voice was shaking. “Hey Mom? How much longer are you going to be at Ikea?” An hour away. I felt like an idiot.

“We’re just finishing up. Why? What’s up?”

“Well…I…I mean it could be nothing. But we’re timing them and they’re pretty regular. And they kinda hurt. Just a little! Not a lot. Like a mild period cramp.”

“Oh Rachel!” I can hear the excitement in her voice and it turns my stomach. My fear unclenches a little when she assures me they’ll come right home. Even if it’s a false alarm, I’ll feel better if she’s in the house.

Two Benadryl and several hours later, I’m laying on the sofa downstairs in legit pain. Too much pain to sleep through pain. My mother-in-law and my husband are packing the car. I fall into a rhythm that only measures time in “how far apart are they now” increments. Then I’m getting down into the back seat of the car to start the ride I’ve been dreading.

The ride itself was not that bad. My contractions were still around 5 minutes apart, which means that for a 45 minute ride, I only had to deal with 9 of them. It was the mental part that plagued me. I was still terrified it was a false alarm (a ridiculous fear at that point based on all available evidence). Or worse, that it wasn’t, but I’d show up there and the midwives would tell me that I was only 1 cm dilated despite my increasing pain level.

This was all I could think about as they checked me in. This was all I could think about as I waited for the midwives to come and assess me. It sent my blood pressure through the roof and lessened my chance of coming off the monitors for a water birth. The exhaustion of already being without sleep since 5 am the previous morning was taking its toll too. These two things combined made me ask for an epidural and decline a room with a birth tub. I didn’t have the energy to “ride the waves” much longer.

After being assessed, I was told I was in active labor. No one told me how far dilated I was, probably because I’d told them I was afraid of not being dilated enough. I later discovered I was 4 almost 5 cm. By the time the anesthesiologist came in I was nearly 7.

Once the epidural was in place, I dozed through the rest of labor, but didn’t really sleep. It was hard to drop off when I knew that soon I’d be meeting my baby. I’d predicted that all those music playlists people insisted I’d want during labor would go unused. I wanted one of the two things I always knew I’d want. So Tim set up a soccer game, and we waited to the music of whistled off-sides and the faint cursing of spectators picked up by the cameramen.

At about 2:23 pm they handed me my screaming baby girl.

IMG_9391

I don’t remember what I said when they gave her to me. I think I may have told her I loved her. I know I tried to sing to her, but I was crying too much. I do remember thinking how shocked I was that her head was lovely and round. I had been warned that vaginal births often gave way to alien shaped heads. I remember thinking that she was massive and I couldn’t believe this huge, tiny person had been inside me until a moment ago.

And I remember noticing her hair. It was blonde. Very blonde. Platinum blonde. Everyone who saw her in the hospital remarked on it. Don’t ask me how, because I wasn’t aware I had any blonde genes. My husband has them, sure, but we’re all brunettes in my family, and more dark brown than light. Only time will tell how much it will change and darken, but right now it’s a remarkable mystery to me.

As they wheeled me from the birthing room to our recovery room, I passed the desk with the check-in nurses. They smiled at me. I lifted the baby a little and said in a tired voice, “Well, it wasn’t a false alarm.”

IMG_9078
My favorite blonde ❤

It’s the Third Trimester, Little Baby!

And hip hip HURRAY for that!

IMG_8568
Us at 28 weeks

On the whole, I’m still not in love with this pregnancy thing. I have fatigue issues, mood swings, and a weird stress induced on and off again appetite. Though oddly enough, I have this wacky feeling I had all of those issues BEFORE I got pregnant. *tilts head and squints thoughtfully* 

On the positive side, she’s a healthy little monster, if her constant kicks and squiggles are any indicator. Timothy and I call her Squirmy Wormy. I love her so much it makes my whole heart ache.

After losing Little Baby number one, it was initially difficult to let myself love her the way I wanted to. At times I just would try not to think about her. I was afraid to hope that she’d stay. I was afraid to repeat what happened before, that my still childless arms would just forever dream of holding my baby. I would choke up with every attempt to sing her a lullaby, scared that I’d mar another song in my memory, so that every time it plays all I can think of is the little angel forever out of my reach.

This lessened after our 9 week ultrasound. After I saw Little Baby dancing on the screen, I let my heart go, but slowly, like a kite testing the currents in the wind. Once it caught the updraft, I began to soar and tears became part of the flight, along with a daily prayer of God please let me keep this one.

“I love her so much,” I say to Tim.

“I know you do. I do too.”

“Do you ever feel like there’s no more room? Like, I’m afraid when I see her, that I’ll just shatter.”

“You won’t,” he says. “You’ll just get bigger.”

On the days when the fear is bigger than the hope, I’ll hold onto Tim and cry.

“You really believe we’ll meet her,” I ask.

“Yes, I do.”

“How can you be sure though? Weren’t you sure with our first one? God took him anyway.”

He said, “I don’t doubt the sun will rise every morning. It’s the natural order of things. It’s the natural order for her to come out and meet us. That’s what I believe will happen.”

So I sing to her. Every day, at least one song. I try to wait until I feel her moving, hoping that she’s awake to hear. Sometimes she rolls to the sound, like she’s dancing along. Other times, she goes still, and I’ll wonder if she’s asleep. But as soon as I stop she’ll give me a few good thumps. Applause? Or maybe she’s learned that the music starts up again once she moves.

I like to think she likes listening to me sing. I like to think she’ll remember the sound in August when they finally lay her against my skin and I sing to her softly. I like to think she’ll stop crying, that she’ll know the sound of my heartbeat, and in that moment she’ll understand what I mean when I say, “I love you, Peanut.”

IMG_8406.jpg

Being Brave and Letting Go

Brave art is beautiful art.

My husband reminded me of this after I bemoaned the increasing number personal elements that seem to be creeping their way into the short story I’m handing in for my Fiction Writing class. About an hour ago, I finished my third draft and had so much of my own self and struggles leaking through my fingers into the keyboard that I literally started to cry.

IMG_8131

No, I screamed at me in my head. No, you can’t do this. You know why? Because what if they hate it? What if they say, “people don’t really do that” or “this scenario is so unrealistic”  or “why is she so upset about something so minor?” You know you’ll just run from the room sobbing. You could barely control your emotions BEFORE pregnancy. Now? Now you cry when Han Solo says, “I know.”

I know.

It’s like when that quiet girl from the back of the classroom stumbles in late to Intro to Creative Writing with a tearstained copy of her latest poem:

It’s Over

Weep, weep, weep
Weep on my unrelenting river of tears
Stream that red, red, red
from the bloody bleeding heart he left behind.
We’re done.
I’m undone.
My bosom is heavy with an empty chasm for a heart
Tears, tears, tears
I’m such a miserable fool.

Suck or not, who has the heart to tell her to trash it when you can barely hear her read it over her piteous wails. I mean, look at her bloodshot eyes! Do you really think she slept last night? *The moon shakes it’s head, for it has born witness to her lonely howling.*

Granted, my story isn’t so overt, and thank God I’ve not been told I must read it aloud, but I’m in there. I’m screaming through the characters mouths. I’m laying curled up beside the abandoned child, grasping and clutching at that empty pocket of warmth left behind in the blankets. And it’s scary to be so seen in such an unseen way. No one in my class knows me. No one will see me there in those words. Nothing will hold back their “this sucks” or “what the *&%$ is this #$%@?” That’s good in a way. I mean, the truth needs to be told to me, or I’ll never improve as a writer. But even as healthy as the truth is, it can also be terrifying and humiliating.

Maybe that’s why I hated this story so much when I started, because I always knew it would turn into something more.

Come Friday I’ll have to let it go; I’ll have to watch it fall from my fingers into the hands of 15 strangers who will be reading between the lines of my life armed with a red pen.

This is terror. This is bravery. This, I guess, is art.

Perfect Timing

While my pregnancy was a planned pregnancy, it was still a shock to me. I just figured it wouldn’t happen when it did, and while it’s still overwhelming at times, it’s become just another one of those times in my life where I can see how perfect God’s plans are when we submit to his will.

IMG_8115
17 weeks

First: My Crazy First Trimester

I mean, I was sick for my first pregnancy, but all these people kept saying to me that what I was feeling “wasn’t normal.” Since they never specified what part of it was so abnormal, I guess I just assumed that a heathy baby would be less horrible to carry. As wrong as I was, the miracle of it all was the impeccable timing of my bedridden stage. My morning sickness began the week of finals, but most of my finals were papers I’d already drafted and merely needed to hand in. After that I had the entirety of winter break to do nothing but rest and vomit.

Second: Returning to school

The oncoming spring semester was looming in the background like the malevolent flaming eye of Sauron. Every day that I spent laying in bed, incapable of anything more than watching Shawn the Sheep, the soft voice of anxiety whispered, “And how do you think you’re going to manage that?”

My early religious education emphasized the idea that once you’re a wife or mother the Bible allows for you to be nothing else. I’ve come to believe this as not accurate Biblical teaching, but I wrestled with what I was supposed to do next. Was God trying to tell me through illness that being a wife and mother was all he wanted from me?

No longer wishing to blindly follow the teaching from my youth, I prayed that God would make it clear what he wanted from me: finish my degree or quit for the baby. Maybe he’d let me finish my degree later, who knew? Only Him, and I just needed to know clearly what step to take next, one semester at a time.

There were so many times when I was leaning over the toilet bowl with Tim rubbing my back when I’d gasp out the words, “I think I should drop all my classes.” Tim, ever patient, ever wise, always said, “Just wait and see. There’s still time. Just wait.”

I waited. I saw. God provided me just the right amount of miraculous strength I needed to get to every class. Even the week before my first day I was too sick to go, but despite the fact I was still throwing up to and from school, and napping on a foam mattress between my classes, I have remained on my 15 credit class schedule.

16804432_10154364311257963_7296798254203709164_o

And Tim? Well, who could expect him to be anything but my guardian angel. He walked me to all my classes, carried my books, and for several weeks sat right outside the door to my class in case I needed any help, even though it made his butt fall asleep. Speaking of blessings from God, let’s not forget the man I wake up next to every morning. Him. Always. ❤

Third: The Due Date

The baby is due August 18, 2017. Even if I go late, I will still give birth this summer, before classes can start for next semester.

Fourth: Online Classes

One night, just out of curiosity, I looked over my degree evaluation at WPU to see what else I needed to graduate on time. The idea of returning to school with a two week old infant in tow is daunting, even if your husband doesn’t mind looking after him while you’re in class. I worried if it would even be healthy for the little one.

As I looked through what I needed to graduate, I saw a lot of online courses being offered. I grabbed a notepad and began to jot down courses. Soon, I had over 7 online course options I could take in the fall, all of which were perfect for keeping me on track to graduate Spring of 2018. I now fully believe that God will allow me to take most if not all of my courses online for my first semester after giving birth. My heart nearly burst with thanksgiving for this.

Fifth: Our Living Situation

I’ve never really been in close contact to infants before, except for bits of exposure during my time working the nursery at church. Basically, I’m terrified, and given my penchant for panic attacks and overreacting due to my struggle with anxiety disorder, I know that I’ll be as neurotic as any three new mothers locked in a dark tight space for 48 hours.

First on the emergency contact list will (of course) be my dear husband, eldest of 7 and widely recognized “baby hog.” His relatives know that when they bring their little one into the room, my husband will make puppy eyes at whomever is holding the baby until somebody lets him settle down with the little one so he can snuggle and play with it.

12186445_10153241784467963_1077299851735320503_o
Timmy with our nephew Emmett

But if even he should fail to calm me and the infant (both of us probably screaming), we will still be living with his mother, grandmother of my child and veteran parent of 7 children. Honestly, watching my husband’s parents raise the two little ones at home (6yrs and 10yrs) has grown me tremendously. Their grace and patience is something I pray I’ll have in my parenting, and it is truly a privilege to watch. If I could be half the mother Mrs. Svendsen is, my children will never suffer for love and acceptance, the two things I found most lacking in my own childhood.

I will have one full year under her roof, blessed by her wisdom and tutelage before my husband and I pack up and move across the country for him to complete his seminary training.

There is too much perfection in all the timing of this baby for me not to step back, look up and say, “Thank you Lord. Thank you so much.” ❤

blog post picture