Today I spent most of the day barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.
If you’ve lived in a cave most of your life, you probably haven’t heard this is a bad situation. Anyone else has probably heard this phrase used with scorn to describe a woman who’s supposedly downtrodden, miserable, and certainly not “living to her potential”.
I can honestly say I loved every minute of it. There was a time I thought I wasn’t going to get a chance to be in this position and I actually laughed aloud when I realized I could now accept that particular label.
I’m not sure when this job got such a bad rap. Cooking is one of my all-time favorite things to do. Being barefoot on a hot day is it’s own pleasure. And while being pregnant has it’s weird, startling, or yucky moments (this is definitely not the time to lose a good sense of humor!)…it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. I’ve never been called on to use so much foresight, energy, ingenuity, decision-making skills, or management capabilities as have been required of me these days, which means my “potential” is being tested in ways it never has before. I expect that bar to only get higher in the coming weeks and months as I become responsible for a young child and Grandma Lila continues to need increasing care.
And this is not a job I was press-ganged into. It was one I enthusiastically agreed to. Tough to be downtrodden under those circumstances.
Barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. And proud of it.
Our zucchini plants brought in their first good-sized zucchini two weeks ago. The plants were huge – the biggest I’d ever seen – and they were loaded with flowers. I was relieved we’d only planted the two; well, actually, I’d only planted one of the little seedling pots, but there were two sprouts in it that I couldn’t separate so I decided to just leave them be and end up with two plants instead of the one I’d intended. I didn’t think we could absorb more zucchini than that without having to resort to pawning them off on unsuspecting neighbors; and two weeks ago, looking at the crop of flowers starting to bloom, it looked like I was right.
Then something odd happened. The flowers were blooming fine, but rather than forming new baby zucchini…the blooms were just dropping off on the ground and leaving empty stalks.
Dad and I discussed the problem. “The plants look beautiful,” I said. “No wilting, no fungus, no yellow leaves, nothing. There doesn’t look to be anything wrong. Could the squirrels be nipping them off?”
“They do things like that,” Dad said. “Maybe we should net the plant.”
“That should work,” I agreed.
As a side note, sharing the garden with Dad has been terrific. I’m used to growing a garden where I do most of the gardening. Between Dad and Ben, I’ve barely pulled a weed this summer; and all I have to do is say, “yes, let’s net the zucchini” and the next thing you know, Dad’s out there with a roll of netting enclosing the plants. I’m going to get really lazy at this rate.
For the next week, I kept watching the flowers; but I made a big mistake at this point. I contented myself that we’d solved the problem with the squirrel hypothesis and I did not closely examine the plants. I also didn’t snip off the stalks from the flowers that had dropped, so I really had no way of knowing if the new flowers were dropping too.
Don’t ever do this with vegetables. They die or lose their crop way too quickly to get complacent.
A week ago, I finally had to face the facts that the new flowers were also dropping and we weren’t getting anymore zucchini. Something was wrong. I noticed one of the baby zucchinis was turning yellow on one end and some of the big leaves were definitely yellow, so my next hypothesis was some type of blossom end rot. I decided to un-net the plants and clear away all yellowing leaves and any weeds or other debris and maybe spray with calcium chloride because we’d had a whole lot of rain. But I decided this at dusk one day while out inspecting the garden.
I should also add that I’ve been feeling pretty consistently crummy all month and the thought of doing any work at all in the garden was a little daunting. Still, I knew I’d be feeling better in a few weeks and then I’d be kicking myself for not taking care of the crop when I had the chance.
Next morning, I came out to work on the plants. I pulled the netting off, pulled off the first dying leaf, and got my first clue that we had a really big problem. Right at the base of the leaf, the normally tough stem had been turned to mush…and in the middle of the mush was an ugly worm, sort of like a cross between a caterpillar and a giant maggot with a black head. Ew. I squashed it. But I was under no illusion that was the only one. Something was niggling at the back of my mind, something that had a phrase “zucchini cutworm” involved. I’d never seen a cutworm before. I had a feeling I’d just squashed my first acquaintance.
Then, of course, it was war.
I got a small stick and poked around the base of the plants. Nearly the entire stem of one had been chewed through and was yellow mush – and that plant was beginning to wilt as the sun was getting warmer. I hadn’t noticed wilting before. I found several entrance tunnels and ran my little stick up them. Worms started evacuating the plant. I got out the insecticide dust, coated the stem, coated the dirt, and began squashing worms. I think I killed about ten of them, big fat ugly things, and every time I thought I’d gotten them all I found another one. They had almost completely destroyed the trunks of both plants, but one was a whole lot worse than the other. I pretty much figured we’d lost one, but there was a chance to save the other. I poked more insecticide dust up into the newly-cleared channels, carted all the debris out to the garbage can (no paper bags for this stuff – I was taking no more chances!), scrupulously cleared everything from the base of the plants, and settled down for sentry duty. For three more days, I policed those plants, removing any dying leaves (debris is attractive to bugs), checking every day for worms I might’ve missed (found three more), and watching anxiously for the plant that wasn’t wilting to show signs of it.
The plants actually began to revive. Anyone ever tells you zucchini isn’t a tough vegetable, just laugh. I don’t know how these things are still talking to their roots, given the interruption in communication, but they’re still growing. And blooming.
And the blooms…aren’t dropping.
There’s a moral to this story. Pay attention to the little things that don’t seem quite right and don’t be content with having solved the problem until you’ve really solved it: until you’ve seen the problem stop. Don’t put off checking on a problem because you’ve decided you’ve fixed it. Be truthful rather than complacent. Because little worms end up chewing away at a lot of other things in life besides your vegetables.
The technician's diagnosis: "You're definitely pregnant."
With an acrobat, apparently. You would not believe the maneuvers we watched this peanut do. Flips, somersaults, and a lot of kicking and waving.
The age by measurement is about 10 weeks, 6 days. Technically, we're only at 10 weeks 3 days, so this is good news. There were no signs in the preliminary reading of anything unusual or abnormal. My bloodwork has all come back with excellent reports, we've picked up the baby's heartbeat three times, and now we have some nice black and white pictures.
We're being told repeatedly, "Looks like a nice normal pregnancy. Have a nice day!"
All of which means...the little weird things that happened were just little weird things and no indication this time of an impending miscarriage. God has not only blessed us with a strong little peanut, but given us overwhelming evidence to prove he has.
Hospital policy is to exclude everyone from the ultrasound room except the patient and that was making me pretty uneasy. I really didn't want to do the ultrasound without Ben there, but hospitals have a way of sticking to policies even when you beg. When they called me in and told Ben to stay behind, I broke from my usual meek habit of following the rules and said, "Isn't there any way he can come in too?"
"I'm sorry, that's the policy," the nurse said. "You can talk to the technician, but we don't let anyone in and for now you'll have to go wait in the other waiting room."
So there I sat, off in a little waiting room while Ben was left in the main room. I was pretty nervous by then (not a good combination with morning sickness and a stomach full of water...) and when I looked around for something to distract me, I was surprised and thrilled to discover and current copy of Cooking Light sitting on the table. Nothing distracts me quite as well as indulging my recipe habit. I found a few good ones and began copying them down on a piece of paper I found in my purse. As a distraction, it worked pretty well because I got a lot less nervous; something I was very thankful for a little while later when the imaging center's manager beckoned me out into the hall for a conversation.
"I hear you have some family you would really like to bring in for the ultrasound," he said. He was an older man, and he seemed kind of nervous to be talking to me.
"Yes - I was really hoping my husband could come in too," I said. "I've had some bad experiences with ultrasounds and I'd feel much better if he were there."
"Would it make any difference if he just sat outside?" he said. "Because we really don't like anyone else to be in the room while the technician is doing measurements."
"It would be better than nothing," I said. I kind of brightened up, because Ben sitting just outside the curtain was a lot better than Ben in a waiting room across the building. At least he'd be right there.
"Now, the reason we have the policy," he explained, "is because sometimes...when family is there...and the technician might make some kind of facial expression or the family member might not understand what's being measured or what's being looked at...things can get kind of unpleasant and people get scared and I would hate for you to have a worse experience than before."
It was funny, but right about then, I knew I could convince him to let Ben in. All I had to do was be very calm and very reasonable. So I looked him in the eye and said, "Well, what's happened before is I was present for an ultrasound where my youngest brother was found to have a genetic problem and it was thought at the time he might not even have a brain. Then with our last baby, we had two ultrasounds where we knew the baby was dead even though no one told us as much. We were together for those and we were okay for them, but it makes this ultrasound kind of hard for me to do."
He looked at me for a second and said, "I think in this case, we're going to make an exception from the policy."
I think I almost cried. I said, "Thank you so much. That is really, really kind of you and I appreciate it."
Later, Ben was waiting for me to use the bathroom (64 ounces of water at once?!! Yikes!!) and the manager came by. Ben said, "Thank you so much for letting me be there. It looks like everything is fine and the baby is healthy."
The manager shook his hand and said. "Good. God bless you."
I'm not sure which was the bigger blessing for the day: another diagnosis of "everything is fine" or meeting a man with enough kindness and common sense to let Ben stay with me through the ultrasound. I was very glad he was there.
And we tried two of the recipes for dinner. They were both 5-star-keep-in-the-recipe-book ones...though I should probably write them on something more permanent than a two-month-old shopping list.
A week ago, Ben and I ran across the possibility that we could purchase a fetal doppler monitor at 73% off. It was $35 and it was a little pocket model that didn't tend to work accurately until 12 weeks. We'd just gotten to nine, but we thought about it and said, "Well, we're not the only ones we know having babies right now. Other people might have a use for this sometime as well...and it sure would be nice if we could listen to the baby's heartbeat on our own."
So we bought it. Mom Turner said, "You know you're going to try it out anyway, whether it's too early or not."
"Yeah, we know," we said a little sheepishly. "But hey, it's a really neat little thing and if we know it's too early, it's not like we're going to be bothered if we don't hear anything."
The box came in the mail today.
Considering all our conversations of the past week, I'd already come to the point of saying, "If the baby's fine, then we just have to wait a few weeks and we'll get a good chance to hear the heartbeat then." But of course, when I opened the box and looked everything over, I thought, "Aw...give it a shot."
I heard nothing but what I suspected was the baby's placenta - sort of a whooshy thing that clearly has my heartbeat in it, but it's the only thing like that you can hear in my stomach so I figured that's what it was. Still, no baby heartbeat.
But then, Ben wasn't home.
I put the machine away and told Ben about it later. After dinner he said, "Hey, I'd like to take a look at this little thing we bought."
I got it back out and showed him the parts and explained what I'd read in the instructions about how it worked. "So what did you hear?" he wanted to know.
"Not much," I said. "Maybe the placenta, but then that's only to be expected."
"What's it sound like?" he said.
I tried to think how to describe it better than I already had. "Here, I'll just show you," I said. So I put the pieces together and got it all angled properly...and there was that whooshy sound again. I handed him one of the two earbuds and said, "Like this."
And then it happened.
Cutting right into my heartbeat was another much fainter sound. Fainter, but pretty unmistakable. I've heard it a hundred times over the years, multiple times with every one of my siblings.
"BEN!" I squeaked. "THAT'S THE BABY!"
Of course I was so excited that I moved the monitor and we totally lost the sound. I think the last time I was that excited was the day Ben asked me to marry him.
"Okay, now we're going to find it again," Ben said. "Just a minute."
He went and got the laptop and the line-in jack and hooked everything up. "I don't know," I said. "I think it was pretty much a miracle we found it once - I may not be able to do it again."
"Just try," he said.
So we did. I went to the same place and listened for my heartbeat and realized it was pretty far over to my right, so I slid the monitor to the left just a touch...and there it was again. So strong and clear and unmistakable that the monitor flashed the little sign that it'd found a fetal heart rate and the numbers started climbing. I couldn't see them, but Ben was saying, "It's 100...no, 110...no 150...no, 170. It's 170!"
The baby obliged us by lying there calmly for a whole minute and thirty seconds before moving. One minute and thirty seconds of a strong little heartbeat chugging away at 170 - 173 beats per minute. Right perfectly on target for a baby this age. I think I must've held my breath half the time. I know - lack of oxygen is bad for babies. But I was afraid if I breathed I might jostle everything around and we wouldn't be able to hear any more.
Almost best of all, we have a recording.
We called up my family and Ben's and played it over the phone for them. We played it over the big speakers for Grandma and her mouth dropped open and she said, "That's the baby's heartbeat?!! That's absolutely marvelous! How did you do that?!"
I don't think Grandma's ever heard a baby heartbeat before. They weren't using monitors like that when Mom was born.
Thing is, being able to hear the baby's heart on a little pocket monitor at just barely 10 weeks old is no small feat. It wasn't a coincidence. It was a very, very precious gift. Jenny asked me why I thought we could hear the baby so early and I said, "Because God just gave us a very special gift."
And he did.
Click the play button if you want to hear our blessing of the year so far!
If someone were to ask me seven or eight months ago if I was afraid of death, I would've said no. Death is not something to be afraid of. God is bigger than death and it's a lot better to save that kind of respect for the one in charge, not the underling.
Then Joshua died and I discovered something about myself: I'm not afraid of dying myself...but I am very afraid of death when it comes for the people I love. Especially, as it turns out, my children.
I didn't realize quite how afraid I was until this week when I saw a few mildly abnormal pregnancy symptoms. Before I tell the rest of the story, the week has gone by and we've figured out that we're not dealing with another miscarriage but something only annoyingly problematic on my end. In other words, it doesn't appear anything is wrong with the baby or threatening him. (Or HER, as Anna firmly states. She has a good track record. She's making me doubt my usual all-babies-are-boys-until-proven-otherwise mindset.)
Over the course of this week, though, I've had a lot of reason to think about what it means to be afraid and what needs to be done to conquer fear. At first I thought I needed to talk myself out of it. Turns out that doesn't work. For one thing, I wasn't exactly sure what I was afraid of at first; and for another, when you find one thing to focus on that's positive, you can find negative things that send you right back to being afraid again.
Ben watched me failing to be unafraid and began stepping in pretty quickly. He reasoned with me several different ways before he eventually said, "You know, there's a reason we're told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And 'fear' is different from 'terror'. When you fear God first, you respect his power and authority over everything else more than you respect anything else. When you really know and fear God, you can't be afraid of death, because God controls death. The closer you are to him, the more you should have fear of him and the less you should be afraid of anything else at all."
It seems like through the course of my life, the lesson I've needed to learn most is how out of control I really am. I can't control my own life, let alone anyone else's - even those I love and want to protect most, like the tiny baby it feels like I'm so responsible for protecting right now. As much as I want to do it - even as much as I try to do it - I'm still not in control. There are so many other things and people stronger and more in control than I am: and the controller of all of these is God. What's amazing is how quick I am to focus on something like death and fear it rather than focusing on the Controller of Death and fearing him!
The thing about fearing God is that it only leads to wisdom if you believe that God is Good. Lots of people are afraid of God because they think he's arbitrarily cruel or doesn't care what happens to us or just allows bad things because he feels like it or he's ineffectual at preventing it. That's not the kind of fear that takes away other fears. It's a whole other ballgame to fear God while wholeheartedly believing he is wholly and completely Good without change or fail.
It's this reminder that finally broke through the fear I couldn't shake myself from. I feel like a little kid who lost her mother in the store only to realize she'd been standing right behind her the whole time. Ever have a moment of relief like that?
It feels pretty wonderful.
Happy 10-week anniversary, Peanut. I can't wait to hear your heartbeat.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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