National Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day

IMG_3392As many of you now know our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage earlier this summer. Today, I would have been about twenty weeks pregnant. From the day we found out our baby didn’t have a heartbeat to the day the bleeding finally stopped, our miscarriage took about a month. It was not quick, nor was it painless. I will never forget what my body went through. The physical pain of childbirth is followed by the joy of holding your child. The physical pain of a miscarriage is followed only by sadness. It was the most traumatic experience of our lives to date. We will never forget the child that we lost.

Miscarriage and infant loss are hard to talk about. They make us uncomfortable and sad. We don’t know what to say to grieving parents. We hope it never happens to us or our loved ones. Sadly, it happens much more often than you would think. One in every four known pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Chances are, someone you know has lost a child. They may grieve in silence, or they may share their loss with you. As someone who has lost a baby, I want to share some advice for those faced with comforting grieving parents. These are my own thoughts on the subject. Please understand that others may feel differently.

Please don’t tell us that we can always try again.
I know that we’re young. I know we have plenty of time to have a family. I hope we can conceive again. But we wanted this child. We dreamed about holding, kissing, raising, and loving this baby. For parents who already have children and lose a later pregnancy/child, please don’t tell them they’re lucky to have other kids. Losing a baby truly does feel like you’re losing a piece of yourself, and a piece of your partner. If I cut off your right arm and said, “at least you still have the left”, would that make it okay? Absolutely not. The loss is still just as painful. Nothing can every replace the child that has been lost.

Please do not judge.
Please don’t make us feel guilty for continuing to grieve. It might seem like enough time has gone by to you, that we should be ‘over it’ by now. Every single person reacts differently to loss. It might take us days, weeks, months, years, or longer. For any future pregnancies, we will fear another loss. Every year on the anniversary of our miscarriage, we may be sad. As we approach our baby’s due date, we may be sad. Please don’t dismiss another person’s grief because it is different than your own.

Please just listen.
We don’t want you to try to rationalize things for us. We don’t want you to tell us that it will be different next time. We definitely don’t want you to tell us what you think caused the miscarriage. All we need from you is a shoulder to lean on. If we want to talk about it, please listen. If we just want to cry, please get the tissues. We don’t mind talking about our baby. We want everyone to know that he or she was real. We want our story to be heard. We know it’s hard to listen to someone talk about something so painful and ugly, but please be patient. Your love and understanding mean more than you know.

Please remember our babies.
Our babies in heaven are just as real to us as all the babies on earth. Our love for them runs just as deep. Losing them is devastating, regardless of how far along in the pregnancy we were at the time of loss. When you’re saying your prayers at night,  pray for them. When you know we’re having a hard time, offer a hug and let us know you understand. Don’t be afraid to mention them. By sweeping their existence under the rug, you’re only discrediting our grief.

If you know someone who has suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss, please reach out to them. Let them know you haven’t forgotten their baby. Tell them you’re praying for them and their child. Tonight at seven, please light a candle to honor and remember the little ones waiting for us in heaven.

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Trust the Process

Life has a funny way of working out. As I sit here, sipping my coffee with Milo sleeping at my feet, I can’t help but think of what had to happen in order for me to be here.

First, I withdrew from New York University back in 2011. I still look back on this and consider it one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Society has us all convinced that we’re supposed to know what we want to do of the rest of our lives by the time we graduate high school. If we don’t get it right on the first try, we’re labeled ‘drop outs’ and told that we’ll never have a satisfying career. I felt like the biggest failure. All my friends were loving life at their new schools, decorating their dorms, going to classes, and meeting new people. I was back at my parents’ house, unemployed and confused.

I immediately applied to every restaurant around my house. Out of all the places I applied, I happened to get a job at Applebee’s. I was working full-time for a semester until I figured out what I wanted to study at school. I worked a lot of shifts with a guy named Matt. We became really close friends, even after I enrolled at West Chester University. I was still working at Applebee’s after I started school, but only on weekends. Matt and I would go running during the week with a few other people on campus. At school, I became best friends with a girl named Heather.

One day, Matt enlisted in the Marine Corps. He went through boot camp and came out with a bunch of new friends. I went to visit him, along with a few friends from school. We were introduced to his boot camp buddies, which included Kyle. Originally, Matchmaker Matt was trying to set Kyle up with my friend Hannah and set me up with someone else. Lucky for me, Kyle and Hannah didn’t click. Kyle got my number from Matt and we started texting. My friend Heather met and started dating Matt’s other friend, Mike.

Every visit Heather and I made from that point on was to see Kyle and Mike. The rest is history. Kyle and I dated, we fell in love, we married, we adopted Milo, and we moved across the country. None of this would have ever happened if I had stayed at NYU, or if I got a job at a different restaurant, or if I never worked a shift with Matt, or if I never met Heather at WCU, or if Hannah and Kyle had started dating, or if Matt or Kyle had never enlisted. The list goes on. It took a lot of puzzle pieces coming together to bring me to where I am today.

When it feels like life is throwing you about a thousand curve balls and you can’t find your place in all of it, trust that God has a plan for you. I used to spend countless nights crying because I felt like I had failed somehow by not sticking it out at NYU.  Instead, I’m now happily married to an incredible man, living life in our little desert home with our sweet pup. I have made more friends on this crazy journey than I can count. I have experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows. I have learned to let go of all the what-if’s and enjoy what God has given me.

Thank you all for being a part of my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mister Milo Update

FullSizeRenderYesterday morning my poor little guy went under the knife and got snipped. Hearing his sad, scared little cries from the lobby at the vet as he came out of the anesthesia just broke my heart. The E-collar scared him too much, so they just handed it to me and off we went. Within ten minutes of being home, he passed out on the couch, curled up against me. That’s pretty much how we spent the rest of the day: curled up on the couch, one of us significantly drugged. When it was time for bed, I put the cone of shame on him. He then refused to move a single inch. I slept on the couch in case he woke up in pain over night. This morning, I found him in the exact same position I left him in last night. Today, he’s still a little sleepy. Other than that, he thinks he’s ready to go play with the neighbors’ German Shepherds. I don’t have the heart to tell him that while he was out of it, his pug buddy next door moved away. Hopefully we get new neighbors soon, and hopefully they have a doggie friend for Milo!

I have to try to keep him calm for a whole week — no jumping, excessive walking, rough playing, or licking the incision site. It’s going to be a long week. Praying for a speedy and uneventful recovery for our fur baby.

Keep Calm & Practice OPSEC

opsecIf you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a friend or family member of ours. Due to Kyle’s job, I want to make sure all of our loved ones understand how important it is that they abide by OPSEC regulations at all times.

Many of you may have heard of ‘OPSEC’, or Operations Security, but may be unclear as to what exactly it entails. As the name suggests, OPSEC protects any and all past, present, and future military operations. The safety of our troops depends on our ability to keep our military’s movements a secret. Maintaining the element of surprise is crucial to our success. What many may not realize is that terrorist groups, such as ISIS, do not only target the troops directly, but also aim to acquire information from their friends and families. You can and should guard yourself against these threats by being vigilant.

Be alert.
Do not accept friend requests or approve follow requests on social media from people you do not know personally. Terrorist organizations have been known to obtain sensitive information from profiles online. Keep your profiles private if possible. If you see any posts that violate OPSEC, please report them immediately and ask that they be removed. Don’t feel guilty about reporting a friend or family member’s post. If the wrong person sees it, Kyle and his friends may not make it home from future deployments.

Be careful.
Our loved ones may not always be able to tell us what they are up to. Information such as flight schedules, ship movements, temporary duty locations, deployment dates, and installation activities must be protected. Do not discuss this sensitive information over the phone, in a text, in an email, in video chat, or on any social media. Please do not ask me or Kyle for details concerning his deployments, training, etc. If I could tell you when he’s coming and going, I would. However, it’s more important to me that he comes home in one piece.

Follow the five W’s – don’t reveal who, what, where, when, or why. Our troops have sacrificed so much for our country. We all need to do our part to bring them home safely.

A Wise Girl’s Guide to Wedding Registries

I absolutely loved making our registries. As I pieced them together, I could see our first home coming together. I could see us using all the kitchen gadgets, side by side, in our tiny little apartment. I imagined what kind of art I would hang to make it feel homey. I lusted after a Pottery Barn duvet cover and dreamed of curtains, area rugs, and hand towels. I read many, many articles about ‘wedding registry must-haves’ and ‘wedding registry don’ts’. I read reviews on every single product I added. Here I’ve compiled what I’ve learned from it all.

We registered at Crate and Barrel (awesome kitchen stuff), Pottery Barn (gorgeous bedding, towels, and fun stuff), and Target (everything else). I tried to pick stores I knew offered good incentives – like 10%-15% off the registry for the six after the wedding. I also had to take into account the distance for Kyle’s family – so I tried to pick stores that offered free shipping on registry items. While I love Target, their registry system needs a serious overhaul. The website was glitchy eight out of ten times and the scanner in the store never seemed to work. I can’t speak for C&B and PB’s in-store registry scanners because I completed those registries online; however, their websites were very user-friendly.

Must Have Items

Our kitchen is definitely the best-stocked room of the house, thanks to our wedding registries. My ‘must have’s’ are all from the kitchen.

Wusthof Gourmet 12-Piece Knife Set $199.95
This knife set is awesome. It comes with the knife block, kitchen shears, a chef’s knife, a bread knife, a utility knife, two paring knives, four steak knives, and sharpening steel. I use these to prepare almost every single meal. We’ve been using them since about June and have yet to sharpen them. So far, they’re holding up beautifully. I will say that hand-washing is highly recommended by the company. I only hand wash our knives for this reason. I don’t know how they would hold up in the dishwasher.

All-Clad Stainless Steel 8-Piece Cookware Set $599.99
I did a good deal of research concerning which type of pots and pans would hold up in the long run. I did not want to be buying another set a few years into our marriage. I had also read about how non-stick pans can lead to health problems down the road, as the polytetrafluoroethylene in the coating wears away over time and ends up in food. I knew I wanted stainless steel, for the even heat distribution, durability, and practicality. I had originally registered for individual All-Clad pots and pans at Crate and Barrel. However, after the wedding, Kyle and I had a 20% off coupon for Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We were able to find an All-Clad set of pots and pans there. After cooking in non-stick pans for my entire life, it has taken a little bit of adjusting. What I love about these pots and pans is that I can give them a quick rinse, and toss them in the dishwasher. I can also get a really nice sear on meats, unlike with non-stick pans. I would seriously recommend getting a nice stainless steel set!

Lodge Cast Iron Grill Pan $39.95
I was terrified to cook in cast iron anything for the longest time. I thought I would, without a doubt, burn whatever I was trying to cook. Then I met Kyle’s mom, Miss Gwen. Miss Gwen uses cast iron for almost everything. Having grown up around it, Kyle is much more comfortable using it. I have revoked his right to season any of our cast iron cookware. Let me tell you why. Flash back a year or two. I was at my parents’ in the kitchen, with Kyle on FaceTime. I wanted to cook my first jambalaya in my brand new cast iron dutch oven. First, I had to season the pot. Kyle directed me to place the pot on the stove and turn the heat up very high. He told me to let the pot get nice and hot, then add my oil. MISTAKE. Immediate flames, shooting up the side of my parents’ kitchen cabinets. Luckily my dad was home, heard my scream, ran in and saved the day. Since then, I don’t trust Kyle’s kitchen advice and my parents have repainted the cabinets. Martha Stewart has a much safer, easier way to season cast iron. I would recommend adding cast iron to your cookware collection. We use our dutch oven for frying things and our grill pan to make perfect steaks. I like the Lodge pots and pans a lot. You can buy them almost anywhere – Target, Crate and Barrel, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, etc.

You Don’t Need…

A pizza cutter. This is the most pointless kitchen gadget of them all. If you have a good knife set, that should work just fine. Kyle has only asked me where the pizza cutter is once, realized we don’t have one, and he’s used a knife ever since. Problem solved.

A million place settings. We registered for eight of everything. We plan to primarily use about six sets at dinner parties because that’s about how many people can comfortably fit at our table. That leaves us with two extras in case of any accidents. We also opted for very simple, white dinnerware. This way, we can add fun, colored plates to supplement later on if needed.

Highly specialized appliances, like a Panini press, ice-cream maker, bread maker, quesadilla maker, or fondue set. It will only take up space in your kitchen cabinets, or sit collecting dust in the attic. The same goes for special serving dishes, like cupcakes stands, egg plates, wooden bowls, etc. If you aren’t using it now, chances are you never will. Don’t waste precious registry space on these items.

Fancy, special occasion china and crystal. I did not foresee us needing fancy place settings any time in our near future, so I omitted them from our registry. I also knew we would be moving around a lot within the first few years of our marriage thanks to the military, so I didn’t want to be responsible for hundreds of dollars worth of dishes. This is a collection Kyle and I have discussed building up over time by buying a place setting as an anniversary gift, a Christmas gift, a birthday gift, etc. Eventually I would like to have a full set, something to be passed down to our children and their children’s children. For now, our Crate & Barrel dishes will do just fine.

Things I Wish We Had Registered For

A nice camera. Looking back, it would have been nice to have a decent digital camera on our honeymoon. All the photographs we have of our married life so far are on our phones. Before any children come along, we will definitely be buying a camera.

Some basic power tools and outdoor tools. Even in a small home, it’s nice to have a drill. We have since purchased a Rigid cordless drill and skill saw. Still could use a push broom, a shovel, a rake, etc.

More lamps. I constantly find myself sitting a dimly lit room, wishing for a floor lamp. It’s something I don’t want to spend money on because it’s not really necessary. We have some lamps, just not quite enough.

Holiday decor. Living so far away from home during the holiday season may not be so bad if our home felt just as festive as our childhood homes. Just simple things like Christmas stockings, a tree skirt, an Advent calendar, and ornaments would make all the difference. My parents did give us a beautiful nativity set, for which we are very grateful.

Storage bins. I’m constantly finding more junk that needs somewhere to go. If we had a set of about six totes, we would be in the clear. Cardboard harbors roaches, so you can imagine how badly I want to get rid of those moving boxes…

My final piece of advice regarding registries: have fun with them! Don’t hesitate to add some artwork or fun accessories. Close your eyes and imagine your first home with your spouse. What you see is what you should register for.

My Dearest Husband…

kyle

I would like to wish a very happy (and slightly belated) birthday to the most incredible man in my life. I am beyond proud of you, my love. I had hoped that once we were married, we would be together for birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. Unfortunately, you’re in Yuma, AZ for a bit longer. The celebration will just have to wait until you return. However, I want to thank you for a few things.

Thank you for serving our country and providing for our family. I am so proud of you and your dedication to your work. You wake up before dawn, take part in exhausting training, sacrifice home-cooked meals in exchange for gross MRE’s, go months without seeing your family (or mine), and even participate in night training before you finally get to close your eyes. You’ve been outside in the elements 24/7 since you left for this particular training stretch, and still have a few weeks to go. You rarely complain, even when it’s been ages since you’ve enjoyed air conditioning, a bed, or a beer. You never fail to check in with me and ask how I’m feeling. You constantly put others before yourself without a second thought. For all these reasons and more, you make me proud to call you mine.

Thank you for loving me so fiercely. I still feel like we’re dating. You make every day feel exciting and new. I still get butterflies when I see your name on my caller ID. I could still talk to you for hours on the phone every night, just like when we first met. I miss you just as much today as I did after and every one of those ‘goodbyes’ in Virginia at the start of our relationship. I’m just as excited to hug you close and welcome you back home.

Thank you for being so patient with me. You understand that I’m still having a hard time coping with our loss. You listen quietly while I cry about seeing pregnant women all over this base, Instagram, and Facebook. You hold my hand and tell me that you miss our baby, too. You reassure me that next time it will be different. You help me not to be afraid.

I love you so much, sweetheart. I can’t wait to cook you a big, delicious meal when you come home. Milo still wanders around the house every day looking for you, toy hanging from his mouth, whining incessantly. We miss you more than I can put into words. Hurry home, birthday boy!

Isn’t that just the rhythm method?

For those of you who don’t know, my husband and I are Catholic. That means that we do not believe in the use of contraceptives for religious reasons. Part of our vows included being open to any and all children from God. Any use of condoms, hormonal birth control, IUDs, or any method that involves someone or something actively preventing conception from occurring is a violation of those vows. That being said, the Catholic church does endorse something that they call natural family planning (NFP). God understands that it’s not always possible to raise a child at a given time or in a given situation. Money might be an issue, or you’re just not ready. NFP is permitted because there are no barriers in place. If God truly wanted you to conceive a child, you could. The rest of the world calls this method the fertility awareness method (FAM). Let me be very clear right now: this is not the rhythm method.

How does one practice FAM?
First, get yourself a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility (TCOYF). I am still working my way through the depth of knowledge presented in this book. Also, get yourself a basal body thermometer and a fertility tracking app. The app I use is called Kindara, but there are plenty of other options. Every morning around the same time, you’re going to take your temperature. This needs to be done before you get out of bed. You should also try to get at least three consecutive hours of sleep before temping. But Amanda, you say, I have small children that wake me up randomly or a husband that snores or insomnia. Be not afraid — temping is not the only thing you’ll be doing. Once a day around the same time, you also need to track your cervical fluid, cervical position, whether your cervix is hard or soft, and whether your cervix is open or closed. It sounds like a lot, but I promise you it’s easy. I won’t go into details here in this post. You can find all the information regarding tracking these symptoms in TCOYF, as well as the knowledge base within the Kindara app.

I have been learning about this method for just over a year now. It is my honest opinion that all women, whether they are Catholic or not, should practice FAM. Let me tell you why.

It works, without any risks.
Next to abstinence, it is one of the most effective methods of birth control when practiced correctly. While using the symptothermal method, only 0.4% of women experienced an unexpected pregnancy within the first year of use. The best part of this method? There are absolutely no crazy side effects or risks. No increased chances of cancer, ectopic pregnancy, weight gain, acne, or unforeseen complications. Personally, I know two people who conceived while taking the pill. I know one person you conceived with an IUD in place, and unfortunately miscarried because of that IUD. Her doctor informed her that this happens fairly frequently with IUDs. Most women are never aware that they were pregnant, even if monthly bleeding begins later than expected. There’s a book I want to get my hands on called Sweetening the Pill. I think it’s amazing that women are realizing that being controlled with synthetic hormones is NOT empowering in any way. Learning to read the signs your body gives you every month is empowering. We don’t need to be controlled, so much as we need to be taught about our own reproductive health.

You will learn so much about your own body and reproductive health.
With every new cycle you track, you’ll start to see a pattern emerge. You’ll start to know how long your overall cycle is, how long your follicular phase is, when you typically ovulate, and how long your luteal phase it. For example, I now know that I have a 24 day cycle, not the standard 28. Did you know that if you have a short follicular phase or a short luteal phase, it could be indicative of a dietary deficiency or even an undiagnosed condition? You’ll know if your body doesn’t ovulate every month because you’ll be watching all the signs. If you have something like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), FAM can help you to conceive if & when you’re ready. Knowing what I do now, I cannot imagine using any other method.

The community of women involved with this method is fantastic. 
Anytime you struggle with something, just ask. There’s a community on Kindara where you can post your chart or any questions you may have. There are multiple Facebook groups, not only for FAM in general, but also for those trying to conceive (TTC) using FAM and those trying to avoid (TTA) pregnancy using FAM. Most of the women in these groups have been successfully practicing this method for years. Many of them have stories of their past use of other forms of birth control, some scarier and sadder than others. FAM cannot cause you to miscarry. It cannot cause cysts on your ovaries. It cannot lead to cancer. Sadly, some women learn these things too late. Listen to their stories and learn from their mistakes. If you’re truly interested in learning about FAM, please message me on Facebook and I will invite you to join the private groups I mentioned above.

It’s not just for Catholics.
Anyone can practice FAM. It has been scientifically proven to work. It is so much more than just the rhythm method. If you’re practicing for religious reasons and you’re TTA, then you would abstain for the time during your cycle when you’re most fertile (you’ll know exactly when this is based on all those symptoms you’ve been tracking). If you’re not practicing for religious reasons, this is when you would use another form of birth control (condom, withdraw, etc).

I sincerely wish that this method was taught in schools as young girls are learning about their own bodies. How many cases of endometriosis or PCOS would be diagnosed years sooner? So many women can benefit from this method. Any doctor will tell you that with the use of hormonal birth control for any extended period of time (5+ years), the risk of breast, cervical, and liver cancer increases. The good news is, studies have shown that when women stop taking the pill, their risk for these cancers decreases over time, eventually returning to pre-pill odds.

I will be teaching my future daughters how to interpret the signs their bodies give them every month. I will never encourage them to pump themselves full of synthetic hormones or to use something like an IUD. Our bodies are incredible pieces of machinery capable of so much more than we realize.

Love your bodies, ladies. Listen to them.

DISCLAIMER: I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that there are women out there who cannot strictly rely on FAM for medical reasons. Risk of ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer has been shown to decrease with the use of oral contraceptives. Painful and dangerous monthly ovarian cysts can be avoided with hormonal birth control. Women suffering from endometriosis may take the pill to stop unnecessary tissue growth. I am not a medical professional, nor have I ever claimed to be. I have relied on research-backed articles written by medical professionals when writing about my beliefs. I would encourage women to educate themselves and look at all the options available to them, not merely those presented by one doctor.  In the end, only a doctor can help you find the best course of treatment for your body. I am very lucky that I do not suffer from any hereditary cancer risks or other unfortunate medical conditions — for that I am beyond grateful. I will continue to pray for the women who live with these conditions on a daily basis.