Introducing . . .

Apr 26, 2017

Ian Scott Johnson
Born Friday, April 21, 2017, at 4:31 pm
8 lbs. 8 oz., 21 inches long

It was a peaceful, joyous birth. I keep replaying the details of it over and over again in my mind, and I think I become more grateful each time.

This sweet baby has captured our hearts. Everyone adores him. As for myself, I seem incapable of putting him down. He sleeps a lot, and I just spend the time staring at his perfect face, breathing in his sweet scent, and letting his tiny fingers curl around mine. I do try to share him with the rest of the family on occasion, but mostly, I'm just living in the moment and cherishing these fleeting newborn days.

The Gift of Giving Life by Felice Austin and other contributors

Apr 15, 2017

One of my reading goals for 2017 was to read two books about childbirth--a goal that was prompted by the forthcoming birth of our fifth boy (which hasn't happened yet but is literally down to the wire now). The first book I read was Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent, and upon finishing it, I declared it, "the most interesting, entertaining, and . . . helpful book on childbirth" I'd ever read.

I'll stand by that exuberant praise, but I'm now going to add this book right alongside it. It's different-- so different, amazingly different--from Baby Catcher, but it touched my heart in the profoundest of ways. Where Baby Catcher was entertaining and down-to-earth and at times even bizarre, The Gift of Giving Life was spiritual and reverent and breathtakingly tender. I definitely read these two books in the correct order: Baby Catcher pumped me up, and this one calmed me back down, and I feel like with those two opposite types of adrenaline coursing through me, I'm now ready to journey down this childbirth path again . . . and maybe do things a little differently this time.

Before I go any further, I should mention that this book is a compilation of essays and birth stories written by women of my faith, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and because of that, doctrines, beliefs, and spiritual truths specifically related to my faith are interwoven throughout the whole book. As such, it will not be for everyone, but it was definitely for me. I've never read a birthing book that combined the physical, tangible act of birth with the sacred, spiritual side of it, and it felt good and right.

Maybe it was especially good for me because I've struggled so much during this pregnancy with deciding if I should change course with this birth and get my very first epidural or stick with what has worked in the past and decline pain medication. Although this book definitely leaned toward natural labors and deliveries, the ultimate message was to trust your own instincts and the guidance and direction you receive, and with every story, I felt more empowered to do just that.

As I already mentioned, the book is a collection of essays and birth stories written by various women, and at first I thought I was just going to endure reading the essays in order to get back to what I really wanted--the birth stories (give me all the birth stories). But soon I came to really appreciate the essays; it's true, they lacked the drama and emotional intensity of some of the birth stories but were full of philosophical questions and observations instead that really made me think. However, I will say that one of the first essays, about Heavenly Mother, walked a little too close to the speculation line for my tastes, which I think was part of the reason for my initial lack of enthusiasm, but most of the essays were well-grounded in doctrinal truths and provided new insights for my personal growth. There were two essays in particular, "Two Veils" and "Birth in Remembrance of Him,"  that I loved so much, I'm planning to copy them before I return the book to the library.

In my faith, we believe receiving an earthly, physical body is a beautiful, wonderful thing and an essential part of our spiritual progression. But even though I've always believed that, it wasn't until I read this book that I really grasped the magnitude of my role in this vital part of the plan of salvation: As a mother, I'm the one who creates these bodies for my children. I sacrifice my own comfort and health in order to provide something that is absolutely necessary for them if they want to return to Heavenly Father.

One of the mothers in this book took this selfless act to an even deeper level and used pregnancy and childbirth as a type and symbol of the Savior's Atonement. She said:
"I think the most profound parallel to the Atonement that impressed itself upon me was not just suffering, but suffering for the sake of another. When I finally said, 'I will drink this bitter cup. I recognize that it cannot pass from me, and I will drink it to the dregs,' embedded in that comment was the realization that the purpose of this suffering had nothing to do with me. I knew that there was no benefit (beyond insight) that I could possibly derive from this experience. It would not make me healthier, it would not give me any skills, it would not lastingly affect my body in any positive way. But there was one entirely other person that would derive lasting and eternal benefit from my suffering: my child, . . . who was anxiously waiting to receive a body and come into this world. Someone had to do this so that he could receive a body, and he could not do it for himself."
Perhaps it seems a little presumptuous to draw comparisons between pregnancy/childbirth and Jesus Christ's perfect and eternal sacrifice, but it actually made the opposite impression on me. The Old Testament is full of symbols of the Atonement. In fact, the law of Moses was anchored in rituals that helped the Israelites turn their hearts to Jehovah and gradually increased their comprehension of what He would do for them, and it makes sense that we have the same privilege of deepening our understanding through our own experiences today.

Each of my children's births have been amazing, and I honestly have never felt closer to heaven than in those moments immediately after being handed my sweet little ones for the first time. And those moments have definitely provided my own unique insights into the sacrifices of my Savior on my behalf. But this book deepened my appreciation for other aspects of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood that I've never before considered, and that's why I said at the beginning that it profoundly changed me.

Another mom said,
"I always felt like I was in the Lord's hands as I labored. I never felt so close to Him as when I was depending on him for every breath I drew to maintain my breathing and focus on my laboring. As the miraculous moment arrived when the baby was born, I always felt like the Lord had mercy on his handmaid, and I basked in the glow of that moment when eternity and mortality are one."
It's so easy to complain during pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood (and believe me, I do more than my fair share of it), but the truths in this book allowed me to take a step back and look at my life through an eternal lens--one that made all of these sacrifices look small and easy to forgive compared to the life-changing blessings that are the eventual result. I'm not trying to downplay the sacrifices because I am seriously blown away by some of the things mothers endure for their children, but I think it's impossible to read this book and not come away feeling a little more grateful for the privilege of going through something (or, let's be honest, many things) for the sake of another. And then, if you let it, your thoughts will naturally turn to the One who made the most incomprehensible sacrifice of all and loves you and your child with the most perfect kind of love.

Who knew a book about childbirth would be the most beautiful and appropriate thing to read over Easter weekend?

A Little of This and That in March

Apr 6, 2017

Spring is in full swing over here, and I couldn't be happier. Of course, with the green grass and tulips and new leaves comes the rain (or snow!), allergies, and wind, but I'll take it. And did I mention the longer light? That might be my favorite part. I love it. March found us . . . 

Kicking . . . off the month with a brand-new seven-year-old. Maxwell had a great birthday: two parties with families, a few fun presents (including soccer goals), and a BYU cake. And so far, seven has been MUCH better than six. It's like a flip was switched, and all of a sudden Max is kind, helpful, cooperative, and rational. I'll keep him!

Reading . . . the Percy Jackson series (Aaron), the A-Z Mysteries (Maxwell), the Captain Awesome series (Bradley), The Gift of Giving Life (me), and The Great Brain (all of us).

Knitting . . . an adorable little hoodie for our new baby and a pair of mittens for my sister. In case you were wondering, the obsession has not stopped. In fact, I bought enough yarn during the month for four more projects: a baby blanket, which I've already started, a couple of hats, and a necktie.

Taking . . . Pi(e) Day up to the next level. For the third year in a row, we celebrated the arrival of spring, honored the number 3.14(etc.), and commemorated our anniversary in our house by serving pie to friends, family, and neighbors. And, as usual, Mike made all the pies, and my only contribution was to stir one of the pie fillings for fifteen seconds. I was feeling a little guilty about not helping, but one look at Mike's beaming face during the 36-hour marathon and it was obvious he was having the time of his life. He made 41 pies (all from scratch) and nine different kinds (chocolate, key lime, strawberry, pumpkin, cherry, coconut cream, lemon meringue, pecan, and apple). We had great weather and a great turnout and only five pies left at the end, so it was a win all around.

Bending . . . over. Not that there's anything particularly newsworthy in that, but usually bending over doesn't leave me angry and close to tears. But being eight months pregnant has changed all that. Now I just glare at the offending socks or shoes or Legos or alphabet magnets . . . and then call for someone else to pick them up.

Listening . . . to knitting podcasts. It's a problem, I'm telling you. This is one of the main reasons my audiobook count is slowly dropping. My favorites are Very Pink, Fruity Knitting, and Woolful. Maybe it's because I don't have very many friends in real life who knit, so listening to other people talk about knitting makes me feel like I'm interacting with other knitters in some way, even if it's virtually. So if you knit, you should really leave a comment and let me know so I have someone I can talk to about my projects!

Enjoying . . . Clark's imagination. He is at the most delightful age. He spends all day talking to himself, making up stories and games, becoming different people or animals, and roping all of us into the fun. I know this type of play is not uncommon for an almost three-year-old, but, to be quite honest, none of my other kids have been very imaginative, so this is really new for us, and we all love it. Plus, he's just so affectionate and friendly and sweet. My dad says the best word to describe him is "endearing," and I'm inclined to agree. I'd be tempted to keep him at this age forever if I could.

Remodeling . . . the basement bedroom. With the new baby due to arrive soon, it's time for a little bedroom shuffle. Right now, all of us sleep upstairs, but we have a bedroom downstairs we've been using as a guest room. So a couple of weeks ago, Mike reconfigured the closet (giving half of it to the boys and keeping the other half for general storage), painted, and built a new set of bunk beds. We just have to finish up a few other things, and then Aaron and Bradley can take up residence in their new room. 

Celebrating . . . St. Patrick's Day--if you can call a box of Lucky Charms and green milk "celebrating." My kids seem to think it is though, and far be it from me to tell them otherwise.

Taking . . . a little trip down to southern Utah for spring break. Our main reason for the trip was to visit Mike's grandma, who hasn't been feeling very well, but we did lots of other fun things too, many of which are mentioned below. 

Feeling . . . spoiled by all the relatives on our recent trip down south: Aunt Laurie made the most delectable cream puffs (and I'm usually not even much of a cream puff fan), Aunt Stephanie made a to-die-for coconut cream cake (if you can't tell, Mike's aunts express their love through desserts), Uncle Barry treated us to lunch at his cafe (and gave arrowheads to the boys), Uncle Reid kept Clark laughing with his Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck impersonations, and Grandma gave out a constant stream of hugs (and let Clark give her a roller coaster of a ride in her electric recliner). Basically, we just felt so welcomed and loved. Mike has such an amazing family.

Hiking . . . in Arches National Park. I'll admit, I actually didn't do this because hiking just didn't sound overly fun to me. Instead, I stayed with Mike's grandma and aunt and spent most of the day knitting and reading and chatting (a much better choice!), but Mike and the boys had a wonderful time. They did five different hikes, and scaling rocks all day left all of them feeling quite happy. (And, I should mention, on our last day, they wanted to do one of the hikes again, and I did it, too, so go me!)

Collecting . . . rocks. While we were visiting the Bluff fort in southern Utah, the tour guides sent the boys on a little scavenger hunt. At each cabin or building, they had to look for something and answer a question. When they were all done, they got to pick out two polished rocks as a prize. They loved those little rocks so much that they then begged to visit the rock shop in Moab where they spent a little of their own money to feed their new obsession with more rocks. And I have to say, that rock shop was legit. Basically, it didn't matter what kind of rock you were looking for--they had it.

Walking . . . among the dinosaurs. The last thing we did on our spring break trip was visit the dinosaur museum outside of Moab. It was fantastic. There was a half-mile loop with life-size replicas of dozens of different dinosaurs. Many dinosaurs have been found in southern Utah, so it was pretty fun seeing them in their natural habitat. ;-)

Spending . . . some time with Mike's parents. They came home from Germany for a short visit for General Conference, and, as usual, we tried to squeeze in as much time with them as possible. The days always pass too quickly for us!

What were the highlights of YOUR March?
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