Posts filed under Marriage

How the Love of Another Man Pushed Me Into My Husband's Arms

Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

The man stood alone among over 50 women, speaking to them about their own womanhood...

Imagine a weekend retreat with all those women women attending with only that one man, a priest, to dilute the beautiful conflagration of estrogen. I was there and it was awesome. The positive feminine energy was a wonderful balm for my soul. So many "little mothers" to nurture and support!  And oh yes, the healing tears flowed.

Yet as much as I acknowledge the unique role that women play for each other in life (indispensable, really), I also returned home with a renewed appreciation for the role of men in how we come to see ourselves as women... and how we learn to draw closer to Christ through their steady witness.

It doesn't seem like it should have worked out well at all; a lone man speaking about womanhood and motherhood to a bunch of women (mostly mothers) who have 100% more life experience as females than he! But Father's words were more powerful for me than those of any woman I have ever heard speak. They challenged and pierced and illuminated the treasure of my femininity in a new way. And there's a growing part of me (not the former strident feminist part) that marvels and wonders what it is about a man that has the unique power to do just that. 

This experience of masculine speaking to feminine about the feminine was marvelous and unlike some male Catholic speakers who try to understand the "feminine genius" through their masculine lens and misapplication of JPII's marvelous Theology of the Body

I have taken the whole experience apart in my mind a dozen times since I've been home. Without analyzing too much, here are a few points I've been pondering... 

  • The complementarity of man and woman goes well beyond the sexual and does not even need a sexual context or metaphor to be true and powerful. We have been given to each other in service by God and we have been made for each other. The sexual context is singular to the married vocation. I am only married to one man... and yet that complementarity with all other men still exists in a completely beautiful and non-sexual context. I am a bride. I am also physical and spiritual daughter, sister, and mother to many.
  • The priest is consecrated and celibate but still fully male. His masculine gifts put him in a position to lead woman but also to be upheld by her. It is why we kneel for a blessing before him and why he clings to Mary and is upheld by the Spiritual Motherhood which is so honored by the Church.

  • The authentic words of affirmation and confidence given by a man have a powerful impact on a woman... perhaps even more so than another woman can give. As Pope Saint John Paul II said so perfectly:

    "God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman." 

Father's priestly counsel pierced my feminine heart all weekend. I was impacted not only by his words through his priestly office, but also by who he was as a person.  And my appreciation grew, not as a fangirl but as a spiritual daughter/sister being led to greatness in Christ. When he looked at us women and told us that we were beautiful in who we are and within the context of our vocation, I believed him; but instead of being drawn to his side, my desire for home steadily ignited. 

Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography }

Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography}

That is what every man should do for every woman... Point her to vocation, to her greatness, to her spouse, to her Lord. That is what every woman should do for every man... Show him his capacity for greatness in Christ at home and in the world.

The nearer Father led us to Christ, the stronger that desire grew until it was a flame that became a blazing fire. I was enjoying the retreat and yet I longed to see my husband. To serve him. To be held by him. And a repeated daydream (that also became a dream during sleep) took hold of me there...

I imagined that my husband and I were holding hands and walking up the center aisle of the chapel toward our Eucharistic Lord exposed in the monstrance. And when we arrived in front of Jesus, we knelt together and received His blessing.

It was a physical longing and gripped me so tightly that it surprised me. 

Each time I heard my spiritual Father speak, that desire for my both my husband and my God increased. One man leading me closer to another man, my spouse... through Christ.

Many words have been written about the need in our Church for manly priests; men who not only understand their priestly identity but who understand it in the context of their masculine nature. It is not just an exercise in pastoral speculation... But a true need.

I not only reject the idea of women priests from a theological standpoint but also from a natural one. We need these men, these soul lovers who have taken up the cross of service for our salvation. We need not just what they do but who they are. Their masculinity is a gift that we cannot set aside as some random assignment of biological pieces. 

A woman needs men who will look into her eyes with their strong, confident, gentle love... and communicate to her the matter of her dignity. It is often said that culture will be restored by the heart, the woman. But...

Woman needs man to lead and to teach her through his words and love about her own dignity.
Man needs woman to support him as he carries his cross in the world.
He finds his own dignity and home in the heart of the feminine.
She finds her fortress and fire in the masculine.

It is my fervent prayer that the men of the Church will learn the significance of that role and take it up. Oh, how they could change the world! They are inclined to take it by might and sheer effort but do not know their own potential as soul-lovers.

I left the retreat a little early and went home late Saturday night, missing the two remaining hours on Sunday morning. I wanted to stay and continue to drink deeply from the retreat experience but I also wanted to be able to go to Mass with my family, to be able to sleep a little more deeply (even a quiet retreat stretched my physical limits during this pregnancy), and to hold my littlest girl who was missing her mommy. But mostly...

I wanted to see my husband.

He texted me a response to my invitation saying: "Whatever you want to do is fine. Stay as long as you like. If you want me to come early, I will." I replied:

"Come and get me!"

... and I felt like a school girl while I waited. I also felt a little like a young bride waiting to see my groom before our our nuptial Mass. My eyes filled with tears when he walked through the door. He got bonus points for the roses that he brought me (husbands, take note!) but I would have rejoiced regardless.

After we arrived home, we imprudently but joyfully stayed up with the children until 1:00 am just being together before family prayers. My toddler fell asleep curled up on my lap and I fell asleep on the couch so quickly that I didn't even kiss my spouse goodnight.

It's not a story of glamorous romance. We are messy, we are weak, and we are broken... And we fall asleep when we don't mean to.

But the more attentive I am to my Lord, the more my heart is drawn to my home. And sometimes, it takes another man to remind me that to be fully who I am in Christ means to draw closer, not to the activity of my vocation, but to the souls with whom I have been entrusted.

The last time I went on retreat (over 11 years ago), I came home ready to change my husband... to form him more perfectly to my (stunted) vision of holy. That was partially (or largely) my immaturity and partially the questionable direction from the priest who essentially told me that my apostolic work was more important than the heart of my husband. And... it was kind of a disaster. I disrespected the treasure that my faithful, prayerful, hard-working, generous, amazing man that my husband always has been. I don't know if he was nervous about my return home this time (he was nothing but encouraging) but he would certainly have been justified! This time however, Father said something (among many things of value) that helped me correct that former error:

Jesus doesn't need new ministries, He needs lovers.

Instead of coming home with an agenda, I came home with a gentle fire. Instead of coming home to make changes to my family members, I came home to love them. Instead of coming home with a list and a massive plan, I came home with the courage to just begin again in steady charity. I also came home with a dozen red roses and a renewed appreciation for the irreplaceable role of the masculine presence in the feminine life. 

To any men reading...

Please lead the women in your life to Christ. Love them, give them courage by your own example, forgive them, make sure they have what they need to be well, and help them see their own beauty and dignity. 

To the women...

Let them. And then serve them with faithfulness, confidence, mercy, and joy. For those who suffer in that holy work, I share a few more of Father's words:

“When your heart is pierced, when your tears flow... Blessed be God! There aren’t enough tears in the world.”

To my husband...

I have no words for the gift that you have always been and continue to be in my life. You married a bratty teenager and you've loved and nurtured her into the woman that I am. Full of weakness and holes and sinfulness, yes... but also so happy. You have poured yourself out to give me life, hope, joy, and Jesus. You have tempered my wayward estrogen with the gentle strength. You have served even when there was no obvious return on the investment. Twenty years ago, you were the one who answered my questions about Christ and then set about to show me... and you are still leading. What all that means to me is inexpressible and touches an intimate part of my soul that knows no adequate expression. But I thank you. And I renew my commitment to our Christ-centered eternal love. 

Thanks be to God!

“Allow yourselves to hunger... Fall in love with Jesus.” {Fr. Nathan Cromly}
We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

Retreat jewelry craft led by artist  Andrea Singarella . Roses from my husband. Name tag from the  Arise retreat.

Retreat jewelry craft led by artist Andrea Singarella. Roses from my husband. Name tag from the Arise retreat.

Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. { Photo courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography } My deepest gratitude to  Brooke Taylor  for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography} My deepest gratitude to Brooke Taylor for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography

Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography

Posted on March 16, 2016 and filed under Faith, Marriage, Spiritual Life, Womanhood.

When the Giver is Changed by the Gift {Catholic Bedroom Makeover}

I never thought I would invite you into my bedroom. It really isn't my way. Something about publicly sharing the space that veils the sacred beauty of my vocation causes me to pause reflexively. Not out of prudery, but out of reverence. I changed my mind only because I want to share a story of blessing - when I risked a little to give a gift and discovered that I had neglected more than just my bedroom decor... but also the joy of having a beautiful space that my husband and I can truly call our own.

It began during a texting blitz with my dear friend, Lena (from Joyfilled Family). I confessed to being in a bit of a funk, a bit oppressed by my own failures... and by an ego that was reluctant to handle even one more apology and humble admission. Write down, she said, something that you would like to accomplish just for yourself. That one was easy. I have a lot of those. But there was one that stood out above the rest: I want a clean and beautiful home. A tall order. Okay, she said. Pick one room. That was easy, too. My bedroom. My ugly bedroom that looked the same as the day we moved in several years ago. My bedroom that looked more like a sterile bachelor pad than a woman's domain. 

I know nothing about interior decorating. We have lived simply and frugally and in a state of transition for many years due to house moves and construction. As I pondered the possibilities, I began to see the truth: the state of my room had far less to do with frugality than it did with my failure to "hold the space" for my husband and myself. "Hold the space" is doula language... always popping up randomly in my mind when I feel protective, defensive... but it fits. Even with babies sharing our beds, I should have held that space against the encroaching noise and clutter and crazy. It is my domain... and my husband deserves peace. 

So I began to plan. I would make it a Christmas surprise and use a fortuitous overnight trip planned by my husband to conquer my room and take it back for him. I've never surprised him before and I was nervous as Lena mentored me through the world of color and bedding. Create a new Pinterest board, she said. Twist my arm! I said. And I began.

Part of the way into my planning, I had a grace-filled conversation with Jennifer Buckley of Graceful Living {at Home} in which she told me about her decorating services and edesign consulting services. I already love her website and her vision for a Christ-centered home. When she offered to work with me, I was giddy... and also terrified. My budget was tiny as far as decorating goes. My timeframe would be even tinier. I told her that it would be a bit like a reality show in which we have neither enough time nor enough resources to bring a plan together. But she said, let's do it. And we did. The photo above was taken at the time of our Skype consultation. 

I want to offer a disclaimer here: Jen offered me many wonderful suggestions and counsels that I was unable to implement either because of financial or time constraints. She is a master of repurposing but I still had to purchase paint and all new bedding which ate up my budget pretty quickly. She promised me that if I followed 85% of everything she suggested, that I would have a knockout room. I'm not sure that I hit that 85% but I tried... and anything you might think is goofy or wrongly considered? It's all me. Jen is a master. If you are looking for help, I can't recommend her highly enough. Check out her stunning blog at Graceful Living {at Home}

Because this was a surprise, it was pretty challenging to secretly purchase and stash a bedroom full of stuff. The picture below is some of what I showed to Jen during our consultation before I had to stash it all away in nooks and crannies to hide again. She nixed the gray pillows, suggesting a "pop of color" instead and we made our way through the rest of the items and space together.

Below is a "before" shot. The walls were green-ish/tan-ish.... I never could decide which and just described them to myself as drab. When I first sent these photos to Jen, I was pretty embarrassed as I realized the extent of my neglect. For almost twenty years, I have used frugality as an excuse to neglect our space. I embraced the moment with what humility I could muster and just began.

Please pardon my poor quality photos. They were taken with an ipad (no flash) at different times of different days during a dreary and dim Ohio Winter with terrible room lighting. I hope you can glean some of the affect from what I have here...

And after...
I've since moved the photo frame from the candle shelf. I preferred the simple shining 8-day candle to more clutter...

I had removed my obnoxiously large dresser mirror a month prior and pulled this unused mirror from storage. I assumed it would go horizontally but Jen immediately had me turn it upright. I told her about my plan for my wedding photos and she sent me a photo from Pinterest showing how to arrange them symmetrically. 

I wanted wedding photos. I wanted a reminder of that young, reckless love that says I do give everything and more forever and ever. And as I cropped, printed, and transferred the pictures onto wood frames, I fell into that teenage love again. My heart began to expand. And I wept more than once at the stale, drab neglect that had begun to crowd in with the random toys and clutter.

My dresser has always said a lot about me. Always full of stuff. Random and scattered. Some of it meaningful, much of it wasteful. The books I have read and reread and intended to read. The spot where the varnish had been eaten through by a broken glow stick that a child had bit into...

... now transformed into a different angle of my heart - the one I gave naively to my husband 18 years ago and have been working on giving more completely and deeply ever since.... 

Of course Blessed Mother should be there. We walked into a Catholic gift shop in South Bend, Indiana on our first wedding anniversary and the Chief bought me this statue of the Bavarian Madonna. It was an extravagant purchase at a time when Weaver chicken patties on buns was our "meat" meal of the week. I remember that it was $50 and how nervous I was that I would drop it accidentally! is one of the few possessions I think I would cry over if it were broken. It was in our room at the beginning... and now it is back.

There are many holy cards and devotions that I cherish. For some reason, this particular "Special Act of Sorrow" is among them. I once saw a gentleman at church handing one to Father and I peeked over his shoulder to see what it was. When I saw that he had a stack of them, I asked him if I could have one. On the surface, it seems sobering and I suppose it is. But it also draws my heart to a place of humility which is where I most easily meet my God of mercy and JOY. When I hold nothing back - no sorrow or regret - I embrace the sweetness of my vocation with a happiness that is beyond description. The mystery of the Cross, I suppose. The prayer is a refinement I offer for my husband and I decided to bring it out of hiding... right next to the rosary he bought me several years ago. The pretty one with roses he saw me admiring in the case and surprised me with later...

First time craft projects don't always go my way but this one went just fine. I bought wood canvases, printed out black and white inkjet photos, used gel medium to transfer the image and a matte Mod Podge finish. I used the instructions here. I enjoyed the project and because I found a sale, was able to put each one together for about $10 a piece. The runner was leftover fabric from the curtains.

I always thought a pretty bed was simply a nice blanket spread over some relatively soft pillows. I'm either easy to please or just uneducated in the finer points of nice decor. Lena and Jen introduced me to the world of throw pillows, and in spite of my tendency to just get all matchy matchy with the neutrals... I bought a little color.

My 13-year old son can't fathom the idea of having pillows on the bed that aren't going to be used and kept asking why, why, why?? I was stumped. Until it dawned on me that they certainly can be used! Just not all at the same time. Which brought me to a perplexing question: What does one do with decorative pillows when one is sleeping? I bought a basket from target and it works just fine...

Does my husband care about the many man hours I put into picking out just the right duvet cover that looked like the one I coveted from Pottery Barn but cost half as much? I'm sure he would consider it a waste. I struggled with it myself and felt irritated with the seemingly endless search for... stuff. But those hours transformed me. Forced me to examine my original purpose and see that, yes, I am building a sanctuary. That is my domain and I claim it in love.

The blank wall behind the bed perplexed me. I had no idea what to put there. My original idea called for a shelf with pictures but Jen nixed it. No, she said. The bed is the focal point and the decoration behind it should accent, not overtake it. She suggested something round-ish or some beautiful words. She had a vision but I remained lost, caught between the pretty round wall hangings at Target and my desire to have that space filled with someone more purposeful. More Christ-focused...

I went to three stores searching, feeling a bit frantic to finish the planning. I spent another large chunk of time online wading through all the religious wall art I could find. And I found the Sacred Heart in iron. I thought it a little too Mexican for my tastes but I bought it anyway. When it arrived, it looked terrible on my ugly drab wall... but I kept it anyway. What a difference a gray makes. We think it's perfect...

The following photo was taken just three minutes before my husband walked in the door. I had worked for 11 straight hours and couldn't imagine what he would think of it. (Apparently, he couldn't imagine either because I really did manage to surprise him.) I was not as concerned about what he would think of the details as I was if he would understand my heart. I put a letter in his Christmas stocking and waited...

The room is small so it's a bit tough to get a good shot of everything. And the ipad made it tough to get a good shot of anything. One aspect of the project that I never completed was the lighting. Jen made some wonderful recommendations but when it came down to it, my budget was blown. So it's a very dim room... for now. The Chief and I will get to it eventually.

I was really stumped for curtains because I wanted a pretty sheer but also something that blocked light in a non-ugly way. Jen recommended burlap to match other items in the room. I hate sewing burlap so I found a burlap-like tablecloth, added light blocking panels behind and hemmed. 

Jen also suggested taking the curtain rod close to the ceiling and beyond the sides of the window to give the impression of greater size... and using a single panel swept to the more open side of the wall. I love the affect... and I totally love the feminine sheers...

There was a consensus among my female mentors (co-conspirators) that the cherry wood paper organizer on the top of the Chief's dresser had to go since it was a less than attractive focal point. I took it away but I wasn't sure how that would go over. I replaced it with a file box on the floor which I have yet to fill. Presumably, he doesn't mind since he hasn't said anything. Or perhaps I should just presume that he loves me. Lots.

Another dark shot taken shortly before he came home....

I don't know if I mentioned yet that I worked for 11 straight hours on this room from start to finish and ate while standing up. And perhaps it goes without saying how grateful I am to my Dad without whom I couldn't have done it and who stuck it out the whole day. And maybe I didn't mention that I was so sore the next day that I could hardly move. But... this...

I had the best motivation for following through. A gift of love to my husband. A Christmas love letter. Delivered imperfectly but with my whole heart. In reparation for all of the big and small hurts that I have caused over the years. For withholding the best of myself in selfishness. Eighteen years is a lot of time to live with someone... a lot of time to hurt. And a lot of time to bless and be blessed. I worked intentionally, offering it up in reparation and in gratitude for every moment of growth and absolute bliss...

This is a picture of the old wood waiting to be covered with three coats of white paint that still didn't cover all the way. The garage sale Amish cabinet that I looked at constantly in the preceding weeks wondering if he would really mind if I painted everything white as snow...

Another shot of the waiting below. I called in an early Christmas gift (because some dads will do things like that when you need them) and took a risk on a wall fireplace heater. The kids and I saw one on HGTV once and we wondered... if we would hate it or love it. Crash was determined to make it happen, called Grandpa, and we eventually fired it up. The cabinet above was painted, reassembled and the punched tin vegetables covered in leftover fabric from the curtains...

The heater has been a blessing in our cold Ohio Winter. And the fireplace affect inviting and pretty. No regrets. There are many little details that I could not finish because of time or budget constraints. Like brass doorknobs and closet knobs that didn't quite fit when I tried to replace them. And paint that needs touching up because we did the whole room in 11 hours. And the switch plates that we just replaced last week. And the white shadowbox shelves that didn't get installed above his dresser. No matching tables and lamps. A few displaced items.

One little surprise was finding this lion on top of the cabinet. It was from the Chief's childhood and the kids absconded with it many years ago. But one of them apparently remembered that this was Dad's lion... and they returned it, not even knowing that it had been in our room at the very beginning, before they were a twinkle in Daddy's eye...

I don't know whether Lena or Jen would like my corner shelf. But I painted it and insisted on it. Once upon a time, we had a single blessed candle burning perpetually in our home under our living room crucifix. Those were simpler times when children didn't break things daily or hit volleyballs against the walls. I wanted that candle back. And it is now in our room where no chaos is permitted...

When I was a younger mother, I did not see how I had made an idol out of my motherhood. How my children had become the barometer of my happiness. Now that I am older and I am feeling the sting of the many little rejections that children eventually will deliver straight to the heart, I am brought abruptly back to reality: I have given my heart to this man. And when my kids leave and make me proud and break my heart and continue to turn my hair gray, this man will remain my own. For better or for worse. And I pray that I will always be able to offer him a sanctuary. So I have made a little light for our room...

And I'll close with that. Pulling the veil back over the holy place where we find peace and consolation in the midst of a life of great big suffering joy.

Posted on February 19, 2015 and filed under Christmas, Family Life, Home, Marriage, Womanhood.

Spacing Children Without NFP

The average space between our children is a little over two years. This fact often inspires random strangers to comment about how nicely planned our family is. The "perfect" spacing they say. 

"Oh! Three boys and four girls! How Peeerfect! How did you manage that?"

To which I reply...

Thank you very much for your enthusiasm. But I didn't have anything to do with it. God planned it all. Really.

And that's the full truth. I'm going to make an intimate confession here and reveal that we don't know a thing about NFP. Well, we know some things and own a bunch of books about it -- but it's been, oh, about 19 years since our class and since we haven't used it really at all, well, we've forgotten some things. (We are not anti-NFP. We simply haven't used it.)

But in those years we've also learned a lot about the nitty gritty of life-giving love and the physiology of fertility and motherhood. We were also given a gift when our oldest was several months old that became one of the greatest blessings of my motherhood. The book Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing is not just a technical how-to for postponing fertility through breastfeeding, but a way of life... of beautiful, natural, sacrificial love. It's less a manual for family planning and more an encouragement to surrender wholly to the vocation God has blessed us with.

There's no charting, no temp taking, no lengthy abstinence. But there is a reason that it is not a more popular method, and that is because it requires a total lifestyle commitment to breastfeeding on demand. Over the years, I have come to realize that this sacrificial way of life is actually one of the most beautiful and consoling aspects of my motherhood. God has allowed me the ability to perfectly nourish and nurture my youngest children... and the icing on the cake is that refreshing pause in fertility.

How does it work?

It's rather simple, actually.

God designed the act of breastfeeding to suppress the hormones that cause a return to fertility

. So, a lifestyle of nursing on demand very naturally allows some space. To maximize that space, certain basic "rules" need to be followed. As I said, this is not particularly restrictive for me because it has become a way of life. The blessings far outweigh the discomfort. But it is definitely more challenging in our "freedom" and gadget-loving culture which seeks constantly to separate mother and child and frowns upon lengthy nursing.

My average return to fertility is between 13 and 21 months postpartum and I generally nurse my children for two years. The following are the "rules" (I hate to even use that term) that we follow  but it all boils down to frequency of nursing and physical contact with the baby.

~ Nothing but breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

Period. Barring any medical contraindications, nothing else is needed. Even during the hot Summer months when hydration is extra important, frequent nursing is sufficient.

~ No bottles or pacifiers

Mamas are designed to pacify and babies are designed with a strong need to be pacified. God created us that way and a plastic pacifier is a only weak substitute for His original design.  Babies will nurse when they are hungry (which is designed to be frequent) but also because it comforts them, makes them happy, and reduces pain. (Incidentally, if you've never nursed a baby through a vaccination, insist on it next time. The baby will be happier and the staff astonished at how quiet your child is.)

We have briefly used pacifiers to calm screaming infants on car trips but have always considered it to be an emergency measure and not the norm for comforting a child. As they get older, our ecologically breastfed babies have all rejected the pacifier (much to my astonishment), even in the car.

~ Frequent night feeding/co-sleeping

Night feeding is a critical element in hormone suppression because estrogen levels tend to rise at night. If you follow the other elements of ecological breastfeeding but sleep apart from your baby at night, you will likely experience an earlier return to fertility. And I can tell you from firsthand experience, that getting out of bed 3 to 5 times per night is practically unsustainable.

I know the objections so I don't need to be lectured. There are many safe ways to be next to baby at night. It takes creativity and a little sacrifice but the balance for me has been overwhelmingly positive. I am a terrible sleeper so night feeding is a definitely a sacrifice . The upside is that I am able to remain in the comfort of my own bed and have the most beautiful bonding during the shortest developmental period of my child's life!

A note about safety: It is easy and intuitive to make a safe sleeping space that you can share with your child. Certain things do increase safety risk, such as morbid obesity and big blankets. I don't ever put a child next to my husband who sleeps extremely heavily. Common sense stuff that is certainly variable according to individual circumstances.

Sleeping close to my infants has actually allowed me to keep my children safer. In one case, I was able to save the life of my son thanks to my poor sleeping habits and close physical proximity. He was struggling to breathe. Completely silent. Nothing that would have been heard on a monitor. His small movements awakened me and as I admired my sleeping beauty, I became aware of his barely noticeable distress. Thanks be to God. In his own room, he would have quietly died. In my household, co-sleeping has reduced the incidents of SIDS.

~ Frequent holding/ allowing baby to fall asleep at the breast

I know. I know. Totally opposite to what grandma keeps telling you. I can't tell you how many times in life well-meaning maternally oriented people have told me to "put that baby down." All I gotta say is... No. My kids are all extremely social, confident people. And I "spoiled" them all rotten in my arms when they were babies. Holding a baby is not spoiling but rather meeting a strong, God-given need to be physically nurtured. Yes, they do get used to being held and rocked to sleep. Yes, they do eventually sleep fine on their own. This time is brief. Embracing these small sacrifices allows us to enjoy the incredible blessing of the moment.

~ No schedules.

This is hard for moms, particularly for those of us who have other children to care for, but breastfeeding is not designed to work with a schedule. Breast milk is quickly digested and babies needs are constantly, constantly changing. During periods of tremendous growth in infancy, there are days when a breastfeeding mother thinks that she does nothing but nurse, and it's almost literally true. Those are the days when mama has to figure out how to brush her teeth or make lunch with a crying baby in her arms.  New mothers often lose confidence and feel like they are "not making enough milk" or that they have a particularly difficult baby. I have learned that ALL babies are "high need" and some just express it more loudly. It is challenging but the baby is only following God's design of supply and demand for nursing. They want to grow. They are not ready to be independent. It is a gift we give... and we can't give it well only on our terms. We must surrender.

A personal note about schedules: My firstborn had severe reflux as an infant, losing every single feeding all over me, the floor, the bed, whatever was in the way. He did this as a toddler and threw up almost all of his meals.  As a baby, he nursed constantly, for nourishment and comfort, and I was exhausted all of the time. A well-meaning family friend gave me a book on how to structure the feeding of infants and, in desperation,  I began to follow it, to the detriment of my malnourished and suffering son. He cried even more and was not thriving. A couple weeks into the experiment, another friend mailed me a copy of Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing. I read it in an  afternoon, scooped up my baby boy, and didn't put him down for 3 years.

SACRIFICIAL!! It was hard. I nursed that boy 24/7. He'd spit up, I'd clean up, and nurse him again. He clung to me fiercely for three years but he grew in stature and love. And then, he let go. Today, he's preparing his college applications... and I have no regrets.

~ No restrictions.

Stay away from any practice that restricts nursing or keeps you away from your baby. Yes, for a brief window in his life, you will be your baby's everything. You will take him to adult functions (or stay home) and find super creative ways to spend time with your spouse. There will be times when you just want to run away and be free... there will be other times when you will find brief glimpses of the perfection of your vocation from the rocking chair in your living room.

In these "rules," I have, more or less, summed up the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing promoted by Sheila Kippley. Her original book changed my life. I do not live out attachment parenting exactly as she prescribes it but her words have challenged me to give more than I ever considered giving. I honestly have no regrets. I have had to make many sacrifices to live this way but it is a beautiful way to live.

For those of you who do not wish to live this lifestyle. I'm not judging you and I expect that there are preferences and exceptions and challenges that make your lifestyle different from mine. I am writing only to publicly share a largely unknown treasure for those who have never heard of it or who just need a little encouragement to explore it.

This method is not perfect by worldly standards because, by it's very nature, it requires flexibility and openness. There are many variables that cannot be perfectly controlled. Again, it is less of a method than a natural lifestyle. Before pacifiers, before bottles, before bouncy seats and swings... there were mamas arms. Thanks be to God for the gift of technology, especially for those with medical needs! But all things being equal, God's original design is perfect.

One final note:

I have met many women over the years for whom this method does not work. They are often telling me this while their babies drink from a bottle or suck on a pacifier. Or it is revealed later that they have frequent babysitting or do not co-sleep or do not let the baby fall asleep at the breast. But there are also those women whose fertility returns in spite of all their efforts. Or who have personal reasons for not ecologically breastfeeding. I get that and honor it.

Peace, sisters.

For more information on the nitty gritty of the amazing, God-gifted method of spacing babies naturally through breastfeeding, please refer to the following resources:

Posted on July 28, 2014 and filed under Womanhood, Marriage, Family Life.