My 4th trimester:

The 4th trimester is the first 12 weeks after birth when mother + baby are both adjusting to baby’s life outside the womb. This is my experience!

April 24: Levi was born a little before 6am. I had less than two hours of sleep and just pushed a baby out of my body but I felt AMAZING. I was on a total adrenaline high. Throughout the day nurses asked about my pain level on a scale of 1-10 and I would respond with “um… 1, I guess?” because I didn’t really feel any pain. Just pure happiness. That day was a blur of visitors and baby snuggles and I would live it over and over again if I could. 

Then night came. 

The adrenaline faded and my body started crashing. I needed sleep. There were a few problems though…

1) I didn’t want to let myself fall asleep because I was terrified Levi would die from his swaddle blanket coming undone and covering his face (he was so tiny and helpless and the Internet does a good job scaring you about SIDS.)
2) I needed to feed him every 2-3 hours and had no idea what I was doing (neither did he…)
3) Nurses would come in every few hours to press on my stomach, check my bleeding, give me pills, etc etc. Their schedule was NOT synced with my feeding schedule so I was pretty much disturbed every hour. It felt like torture. 

April 25: I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I went from telling the nurses my pain level was a 1 to asking when I would get my next motrin. I went from welcoming all the visitors to feeling grateful no one was stopping by. Justin and I had originally considered leaving the hospital this day (because I felt amazing that first day so why stay??) but medical staff had encouraged me to stay another night. We ended up staying because Levi needed some extra care. I was so grateful to stay another day!

April 26: the first day home. After 3 days in the same tiny hospital room, the outside world felt like a scary and foreign place. I was happy to be home but also felt a little deserted, like my safety belt was gone. Levi and I went from being monitored by medical professionals 24/7 to being at home with no one but each other + Justin.

I cried that first night at home because I was overwhelmed. Also because it felt so strange to not be pregnant. I didn’t necessarily miss being pregnant but this sudden change from ‘pregnant’ to ‘not pregnant’ felt hard to process. The thing that triggered this was being in my bed and not needing to sleep with my pregnancy pillow anymore. In that moment I realized my entire way of thinking was different. I didn’t need to pee every 30 minutes. I could eat all the cold deli meat in the world. And so on and so forth.

That first night at home was HORRIBLE. Levi was cluster feeding, meaning he was eating every hour, and it drove me CRAZY as I had been mostly awake for 3 days straight (now going on 4 days…) Out of desperation, I ended up sleeping with him in my arms.

the morning after

The first week at home was a blur (really the entire 4th trimester has been a blur, but especially that first week.) I wore my breastfeeding nightgown 3 days in a row until Justin recommended I wash it. After that, I wore nothing but a nursing bra and underwear. Clothes were impractical as I was breastfeeding constantly. I would only put something on if I had to, aka if someone was coming over or if I was leaving the house. I stayed in bed until noon or 1pm every day, breastfeeding and sleeping when I could. At one point I cried to Justin because I dreaded going to bed at night. Waking up every 2 to 3 hours and staying up for 45 minutes each time will do that to you.

There were mornings I forgot to brush my teeth (something I never do!)

Six days after Levi was born I wrote in an email, “I limp when I walk, use a squirt bottle to wash my private parts (instead of wiping), have tired/achy muscles (from pushing during labor), feel constantly tired, and my breasts are SO SORE.”

icing the girls

More than once I thought, “I have to go through all this (pregnancy, labor, recovery, breastfeeding) AGAIN???” My pediatrician promised I would forget how hard it is and eventually want another kid. I wanted to believe her, but it was a bit too soon (it had only been 5 days at that point…)

By the end of the first week, I was hit with the baby blues. I would cry for no reason and was sensitive, irritable and overwhelmed. Justin was also exhausted and overwhelmed, so we snapped at each other a LOT. At one point I threatened to take Levi and run away because I didn’t want to see anyone ever again, not even Justin. I remember thinking ‘so this is why they say having kids puts a strain on your marriage…’

I jotted down the following notes on my phone days 8 and 10 postpartum:

Day 8: got out of the house for the first time since we came home from the hospital (with the exception of a pediatrician appt). Body feeling the best it has since delivery. Less blood, less pain, though I still limp. Emotionally, I’m crying over small things and getting upset with Justin. Came home from outing and collapsed on the couch bc it wore me out (no doubt bc I barely slept last night…) Went to bed early bc I couldn’t stay up. Really want to write my birth story blog but I just don’t know when… feels like there is no time or energy to do anything but sleep, breastfeed, and survive.

first time out of the house

Day 10: the best I’ve felt so far physically – very little pain overall. Little to no limp. Barely any blood. Still super tired (even makeup can’t hide it…) Emotionally, didn’t cry today (I don’t think I did yesterday either) but still feel easily annoyed with Justin and like I have no energy for anyone. All I want to do is lie on the couch and watch tv or sleep. Ended up going to Daniel Chantlos’ for dinner (instead of him bringing it here) and that was nice to get out of the house and chat on his porch. Probably the most normal I’ve felt since birth. P.S. cried after I wrote this…

In terms of physical pain and feeling emotionally fragile, those first 2 weeks were the worst. They were also the best. I felt incandescently happy, like being a mom to this baby boy was fulfilling in a way I didn’t know possible. Everyone says your child grows up so fast and I felt that very deeply – especially about the newborn stage. I couldn’t get enough baby snuggles!

As the weeks went on I was less emotionally fragile but continued to have zero emotional energy for anyone but Levi. Having guests over or leaving the house left me completely wiped.

By week 3 Justin was back at work. I started going for daily walks in the afternoon – up to two miles a day. A new bubble tea place opened in Gainesville, so I would get a bubble tea and go to my favorite park with Levi. It was during these walks I reconnected with God. The physical and emotional had dominated those first few weeks. Finally, I was finding my center again.

I swear he loved our walks…

Throughout the weeks I found myself obsessed with all things baby related (pregnancy and postpartum Instagram accounts, birth stories, baby registries, Call the Midwife on Netflix, and so on.) For a hot minute, I wondered if I wanted to be a midwife because of how much I loved my birth experience. 

At 5 weeks postpartum I wrote, “This week has been a lot better (literally every day/week just keeps getting better so YAY.) Justin and I feel more in sync again.” 

Then June came. 

June meant my maternity leave would soon be over (my first day back in the office was July 1st.) The idea of going back to work brought me an alarming amount of anxiety. I was sick to my stomach over it. Losing sleep over it. Wanting to run away over it. I Googled “postpartum anxiety” and took an online quiz to see if I had it. Everything I read about postpartum anxiety had to do with worrying about your baby. I wasn’t worried about my baby. I was worried about going back to work. I couldn’t fathom the thought of being separated or distracted from Levi while he was still so young and breastfeeding all the time. It felt like the most unnatural thing in the world. This anxiety made everything else in life seem daunting – even the good things!

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postpartum tears

I started making daily gratitude lists (aka focusing on what I did have instead of what I felt like was going to be taken from me) but that didn’t work. I emailed my mom (a retired psychiatrist) and asked what my options would be in terms of natural supplements or medication while breastfeeding to help with my anxiety because I felt like I couldn’t control it. 

My friend Betty came over one night in the middle of June and I sobbed and sobbed to her. I told her July 1st felt like a tornado I could see in the distance and with each passing day it got closer and closer to taking me out.

On top of that, my cat was missing and someone I know had a full-term stillborn baby. My cat added to my anxiety and the stillborn baby grieved me to my core. Life felt scary and out-of-control.

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tissues from that night

My anxiety brought me tears, but so did God’s grace. The same night I sobbed to Betty about going back to work I also sobbed to her about how God made Levi come a week early because He knew I would struggle and wanted to give me more time (July 1st was my first day back at the office no matter when Levi was born.)

On June 27 (four days before I started back at the office), I realized that in addition to postpartum hormones, my anxiety was tied to a lack of trust in God. I started meditating on Psalm 121, which talks about how God loves watching over us. I loveeee watching my son sleep (I’ll just stare at the monitor like I’m watching a movie or something) so I thought about how God must love watching over me and how “he won’t let my foot slip” (also from Psalm 121.) From that point on, when I felt my anxiety rise I would recite that line over and over again, “He won’t let my foot slip. He won’t let my foot slip. He won’t let my foot slip.”

The next day I wrote, “just felt a wave of something akin to hope.”

The day after that: “This morning I had more anxiety about going back to work. But I also had a burst of hope that it would all work out and be OK. Which has to be from the Lord.”

July 1st came. I was 9 weeks and 5 days postpartum. A friend sent me a back-to-work Starbucks gift card. My team got me welcome back flowers. The day flew by. It wasn’t as bad as I feared. In fact, I actually found myself liking it. Being a mom fulfilled me in ways I didn’t know possible, but having a purpose beyond Levi also felt fulfilling. 

On July 2nd I wrote: “Being back at work feels ‘right’ (which is obviously amazing considering my anxiety), though the last two days have left me WIPED. Like want-to-go-to-bed-at-5:30 wiped (…but I can’t because I have to breastfeed, of course.) I don’t know how working mamas do it. I am working from home tomorrow and I couldn’t be happier!!”

My first 3 weeks back at the office were full force, aka the preparation and execution of my biggest event of the year, Gap Year Training Camp (over 200 participants showing up on campus!) Long days, no weekends off. I strapped Levi to me in the afternoons and went on with my business. 

just another day on the job

One time a coworker and I got into it about things that were going wrong. We raised our voices at each other as I bounced Levi to keep him asleep, which is a pretty funny image to me now. Because of turnover, behind-the-scenes details were crumbling. I did my best to manage but one day, toward the end of camp, I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. Pre-baby, I would have cried and then composed myself and moved on. But I could tell my hormones were affecting me and I couldn’t quite get it together. Thankfully, eventually, I did. It’s a strange feeling though, having hormones affect you and not being able to manage them because it’s not something you can just ‘will’ your way out of. 

My 4th trimester ended shortly after camp did. 12 weeks. I made it. 

It’s been almost a month since then, and I’m glad to say I continue to feel more and more like myself. I’ve started reading again. Working out at the gym. Being intimate with my husband. Writing blogs at coffee shops (my current status…)

Sometimes my anxiety still gets triggered. When that happens I make a gratitude list and remind myself “He won’t let my foot slip…”

Writing this blog brought tears to my eyes as I remembered how hard the hard days were and how real my anxiety felt. At the same time, I will always remember the unexpected, all-consuming, extraordinary bliss I experienced those first 12 weeks.

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That first night at home I cried because I was overwhelmed, the second night I cried because I was so grateful. There were countless nights I spent 20 minutes scrolling through pictures of Levi on my phone even though he was two feet away in his bassinet. I would often stay up after breastfeeding in the middle of the night to stare at him in my arms, happy tears dripping down my face. By the time I weaned him off his last middle of the night feeding, I found myself sad to no longer have those sacred moments with him. 


It’s been a wild ride of ups and downs since April 24. I find myself viewing my life as B.C. (before childbirth) and after. Having this little one changed everything – my body, my emotions, my time, my priorities. It hasn’t always been easy but I would do it over and over and over and over again.

Who knew such a little person could bring me so much joy.

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my birth story:

Levi’s due date was May 2. I knew that date was really a benchmark – he could come anywhere from 2 weeks early to 2 weeks late. I also knew that as a first time mom I was likely to be late (though I hoped he would come early!)

Justin and I did our last minute baby preparations the weekend of April 19-21. We installed the car seat, washed baby clothes, watched a sleep training course, and packed most of our hospital bag. By the end of that weekend I felt mostly ready for Levi to arrive. I went to bed Sunday and Monday night feeling like it was Christmas Eve – what if tonight was the night?! I woke up in the morning still pregnant and slightly disappointed. I couldn’t wait to meet my son!

On Tuesday, April 23, I came home from work and lounged on the couch, deciding whether or not I had enough energy to go to the gym. I decided to stay on the couch and feel my baby kick, as he usually wasn’t active at this time of the day (also I just didn’t want to go to the gym…)

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Justin was supposed to cook dinner that night (per usual) but ran out of time and wasn’t able to, leaving me to a bowl of packaged ramen noodle soup instead. I joked with him about how mad I would be if I went into labor that night and only had a bowl of crappy ramen noodle soup to sustain me. Little did I know…

Around 10:30pm my pregnancy heartburn started flaring up. It was already past Justin’s bedtime but he offered to get me more Alka-Seltzer (I had recently run out.) He ran to the store, I took the Alka-Seltzer, and we both went to sleep. (I use the term “sleep” loosely because at 38 weeks pregnant you don’t really sleep… instead I tossed and turned from side to side in a half slumbered state.)

At 1:06am I woke up feeling like I had just peed my pants, though I knew for a fact I didn’t pee my pants. I got up and checked the sheets to see if anything got on the bed. The sheets were dry, though my underwear needed to be changed. While I was in the bathroom taking care of things I Googled, “how do I know if my water broke.” I didn’t receive any clear answers. I assumed my water didn’t break because when my friend’s water broke it soaked the bed. I went back to bed, feeling what I assumed was a Braxton Hicks contraction (false contractions.) I knew real contractions are consistent in timing and get worse as they go on, so I decided to write down the time just to see if there was any consistency. The first one I wrote down was at 1:11am.

10 minutes later I got up to use the bathroom again (because 38 weeks pregnant…) but when I looked down I saw a stream of blood. Thankfully, I knew this was a normal pre-labor sign. I Googled “mucus plug” and “bloody show” to try to determine which one it was. Again, I didn’t find any clear answers. (Turns out it was the bloody show if anyone is wondering…)

I went back to bed, feeling more Braxton Hicks contractions. After timing my contractions at 1:11, 1:19, 1:29, and 1:37, I Googled “contractions” and sent a friend (who was sleeping) a text that said, “might be starting labor” followed by “I know this is so silly but if this really ends up being it – I haven’t washed my hair since Sunday!! lol.”

I had another contraction at 1:47 – this one felt more painful. Justin woke up around this time. I told him I might be in labor, that my contractions were around 10 minutes apart, and asked him to download a contraction timing app so he could time them for me. He timed the next one and said, “that one was only 5 minutes apart” which was confusing to both of us because how did it suddenly jump from 10 minutes to 5??

I’ve heard you know when you’re having contractions and by the next contraction I KNEW. I started gripping the bedsheets and saying ‘OW OW OW OW OW OWWWW!’ At the same time, Justin was doing his own Googling about contractions and said to me in a studious voice, “It says irregular contractions are a sign of false labor.”

I was like THIS IS NOT FALSE LABOR.

My contractions continued to worsen, leaving me writhing on the bed with tears streaming down my cheeks. I thought I must be weak because I was crying. My ‘ow’ turned into a curse word. Each time I had a contraction more fluid gushed into my underwear, which was annoying on top of the pain.

Soon after that I vomited all over the bedroom floor. (This is when Justin was like oh dang… I guess this really isn’t false labor!)

The next 30 minutes were a blur of contractions that barely gave me a break as Justin and I scrambled to get dressed, throw last-minute items in the hospital bag and get out the door. I still made sure to put on earrings and grab lipstick from my work bag, which I think is hilarious considering the amount of pain I was in (priorities, am I right?) After grabbing the lipstick I dropped to my knees and banged my fist on the hardwood floor as I practically screamed through a contraction. I was grateful we didn’t live in our townhouse anymore because our neighbors (who we shared a wall with) would have been like ‘what the heck is going on over there???’ I wondered about the possibility of our current neighbors hearing me from their house.

I thought about how I had wanted to post Instagram when I was heading to the hospital. What a joke that was to think about now! That list of friends Justin was supposed to text when I went into labor? Also a joke.

When we were in the car I didn’t buckle my seatbelt because the contractions were so intense. When Justin pulled up to the hospital parking lot I almost asked him to stop driving because every added movement hurt. We pulled up to the ER (where you’re supposed to go in the middle of the night) and I waddled in with tears streaming down my cheeks. A handful of bored-looking ER workers were sitting around. “Labor?” they said nonchalantly. “That way,” they pointed down a hallway. I started painfully waddling that way when one of the workers jumped up and gave me a wheelchair. GOD BLESS HIM.

I was wheeled to a desk where a man held a phone out to me and asked if I could talk on the phone. I was in the middle of a contraction and Justin was standing right next to me – I was so confused. Why was the person in the wheelchair being asked to talk on the phone? I wondered if this was a test because I read that not being able to talk through a contraction means you’re truly in labor. Welp, I passed that test. I waved my hand at him like NO, SIR, I CAN’T TALK ON THE PHONE RIGHT NOW. (Was this his first day on the job?) Justin took the call, which I later learned was a conversation with the labor and delivery nurse.

We made it to the triage room where I was told to put on a hospital gown in the bathroom. While I was changing a contraction made me drop to the floor. I clung to the handicap bar for support. After that, I got on the examination table and a nurse, Lisa, stuck her hand ALL THE WAY UP ME. I was already in pain from contractions and this just made it worse. I was writhing like a wild animal on the table – at one point I cried out, “I don’t like this!!!!” I honestly don’t know how Lisa was able to keep doing what she was doing and remain so steady. Mad props, Lisa.

I’ll never forget the tone of her voice when she said, “do you feel like you need to push?” Her tone was full of surprise, as if she was truly caught off guard. “I don’t know,” I responded. “You’re 9.5 centimeters dilated.” she said. “This baby is coming soon!”

She pushed me in the wheelchair to the delivery room. I asked her about an epidural. To my horror, she told me it was too late.

I got on the bed and someone hooked me up to an IV (my first time having one.) When I had a contraction I would lean over the left side of the bed to the point where I was almost falling off. I remember thinking, “I don’t know why I’m doing this but I can’t stop.” I was glad no one advised me not to do that – they just let me do my thing. With each contraction I said something along the lines of, “Jesus please help me. Please Jesus!!! Pleaseeeeee.” I was also squeezing Justin’s hand HARD. In between contractions I saw him shake his hand out but I didn’t even care.

Lisa offered me some kind of pain-relieving gas which I gladly accepted – only to discover it did nothing for me. I was supposed to breathe it in during a contraction but I ended just gripping the nozzle instead.

My hair had been in a ponytail but somehow it kept coming loose and falling out (was I pulling at my hair? I didn’t even know.) I thought about my friend who pulled out some of her hair during labor. I asked Justin to redo my ponytail for me. I also asked him for my chapstick. Many times. (All that heavy breathing + dry hospital air make for chapped lips.)

It wasn’t long before I felt like I needed to push. I tried pushing in the position I was in but didn’t like that so I asked Lisa if I could turn around and lean over the back of the bed (the bed was propped up.) I always knew if I couldn’t get an epidural this was the position I wanted to push in. I frantically scrambled around to my knees and leaned over the back of the bed.

I had become less and less vocal during my contractions – now I was grunting through gritted teeth. The contractions weren’t as sharp or all-consuming anymore (the worst ones were at my house) but I still really really didn’t like the feel of them. Now they felt like immense pressure where the baby was in my birth canal and pain through my lower back. I asked about an epidural a few more times but Lisa kept telling me it was too late, that the baby would be here before I could get one. I finally told myself, “Don’t ask again. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

I kept hearing God say “it’s going to be okay,” the same thing He said to me a few weeks prior when I thought my cat had died/run away. He was right, everything turned out to be okay in that situation. That sentence was on repeat in my head. “It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay…”

I wondered if God was trying to teach me a lesson about pain, about how it’s worth it and I can do hard things and yadda yadda.

I was also thinking about how I felt like this whole experience wasn’t really happening, as if I was in a movie or having an out of body experience even though I could very much feel what was going on in my body.

At one point I thought, “I’m so tired, I need a nap. How can I take a nap? All I want is a nap RIGHT NOW.”

I also heard myself say, “I can’t do this,” which felt incredibly cliché. (It seems like every woman in labor has a moment like this.)

Justin was handing me ice chips and told me I was doing a great job. “Don’t say anything!” I snapped at him. When Lisa asked if there had been a birth plan, Justin responded by saying “the epidural was the birth plan…” followed by a dry laugh. “Stop laughing!” I snapped again. He remained quiet from there on out.

Lisa, meanwhile, was trying to help me breathe through my pushing – which apparently means to NOT breathe when you push. You’re supposed to hold your breath and use that force to push all the energy down into your body. But I kept accidentally breathing out instead of holding my breath. Lisa was also telling me to lean back while I pushed which felt really awkward to me.

Finally, the clouds lifted, the heavens parted, and Lisa said I could get an epidural. Apparently, my poor pushing skills and how tense my body was slowed the baby coming out, leaving time for an epidural after all. (Lisa also said she felt bad for me when I was crying out to Jesus…)

I never saw the anesthesiologist’s face, but I don’t doubt she was an angel. I could tell she was working quickly, carefully and thoroughly. After the epidural was inserted I leaned back on the bed and waited for the drugs to kick in (around 20-30 minutes – this is when Justin says the evil spirit left me.)

Lisa asked if an intern could watch me give birth (it would be her first time watching a birth.) I was like sure!

Then I did a practice push. Lisa was holding my right leg, Justin was holding my left. After my practice push, they both gasped.

“What? What is it?” I asked.
“He has a lot of hair!!”
“He does?” I said excitedly. I really wanted a baby with hair but expected him to be bald.
“Yeah… a LOT.”

Then I was worried he had too much hair and would look like a troll.

After my practice push the midwife on call, Jack, came in for the delivery. I was happy it was Jack – I had been hoping to have him or Sally. I pushed through three contractions with all my might. I could feel everything that was happening – when a contraction would come, his head coming out, his body coming out – but there was no pain. It was amazing. During my final push to get his head out, Jack, Lisa, and Justin were cheering me on as if I was a marathon runner about to cross the finish line. Their encouragement made me feel motivated and empowered.

As soon as Levi came out they put him on my chest. My first thought when I saw him was, “Oh my gosh, he’s cute!!”

And then I wept.

The moment was surreal. From trying to get pregnant to the morning I saw that faint pink line to getting in a car accident a few hours later to the fear of miscarrying to my first anniversary trip being ruined by morning sickness to the first time I heard his heartbeat to crying when I found out I was a cystic fibrosis carrier to telling my family I’m pregnant over Thanksgiving to announcing the news online to feeling that first kick to thinking he was a girl and finding out he’s a boy to peeing all the time to feeling insecure about my body to feeling loved at my baby shower to being out of breath all the time to barely sleeping at night to my maternity photo shoot to mood swings to weekly bump pictures to contractions that made me pound my fist on the floor to pushing him out of my body to this very moment when I was holding this living, breathing, beautiful baby boy on my chest.

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It’s a moment I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

While Levi was on my chest Jack pushed the placenta out of my body, let Justin cut the umbilical cord, and stitched me up down there. Again, I could feel everything but it didn’t hurt. (I was grateful to have Levi as a distraction…)

Lisa’s shift ended so she introduced me to the new nurse attending me and said goodbye – I was sad to see her go. We had been through so much together.

The next hour or so consisted of breastfeeding, the nurses weighing and measuring Levi (6 pounds, 7 ounces, 19 inches long) and me going to the bathroom for the first time. All I saw was blood.

After that they brought me breakfast – I didn’t even feel hungry but I scarfed down the food like I hadn’t eaten for days. French toast, eggs, sausage, fruit, and orange juice. It was hospital food but I felt like I was in heaven.

When I was done eating they took me in the wheelchair from the delivery room to my hospital room. I held Levi in my arms and beamed proudly whenever we passed someone.

From the time I woke to my water breaking to the time I pushed Levi out was less than 5 hours (4 hours and 50 minutes to be exact.) More than one nurse made a joke about how I needed to be careful or I’d have the next baby in the car or on the side of the road!

The entire time I was pregnant I had open hands when it came to giving birth – I knew anything could happen from an emergency C-section to 40 hours of labor to a labor so fast I couldn’t get an epidural. I always said I would prefer the latter — turns out I got the best of both worlds, a quick labor with an epidural right before he came out. For this I’m extremely grateful 🙂

Now I just need to make sure I don’t have high expectations for my next delivery…

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2018: a goodbye letter

Dear 2018,

We met at a beautiful ranch in the middle of nowhere, Texas, surrounded by a group of amazing people. There was an abundance of food, love, and noisemakers.

I felt hopeful about our relationship. I had goals about flossing and reading and working out. I had dreams about going to Spain and getting pregnant.

On January 9 I wrote in my diary, “For the first time in my life I have baby fever. I can’t wait for the day I find out I’m pregnant.” In February I wrote, “I’m so excited to be a mom. I feel ready!” followed by, “Rozy thinks Justin and I are having a boy first.” (10 months later, I would learn she was right.)

We weren’t going to start trying until late spring, so I spent the first half of the year praying for the ability to get pregnant.

Amidst dreaming and praying for a baby, I also grieved the sacrifices having a baby would require (mainly, the ability to travel with ease and as often as I’d like.) There were nights I cried to Justin about this.

Rozy and I went to Guatemala to spend time with a Gap Year squad at the end of February. It was my first time traveling for work in a year. It was a productive work trip.

On March 1, I surprised Justin with a trip to Harry Potter World for his birthday. I told him we were going to Atlanta for dinner with friends – little did he know I was actually driving to the airport. I had booked plane tickets, lodging, rental car, and theme park tickets all without him knowing. I was so nervous leading up to the reveal I felt like I was proposing.

When we were at Harry Potter World I made him wear one of those “It’s My Birthday!” buttons the park provides for free. All day people wished him a happy birthday. I loved it. (He pretended he didn’t.)

The weather was perfect (warm, not hot) and we never waited in line more than 30 minutes. In the afternoon we sat on the curb, eating PB&J sandwiches and Cheez-Its. Later, we drank butterbeer.  I couldn’t believe how good it actually was.

This trip is one of my favorite memories from the entire year.

Overall, the first half of the year was slow. Justin and I spent our weeknights cooking and writing thank you cards for wedding gifts. On weekends we read, walked to our local coffee shop, and ate pizza on Friday nights. We attended a few weddings and a gender reveal party. I watched my goddaughter get baptized. We visited family North Carolina and Ohio. We played in a pickup volleyball tournament and attended the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. I choreographed and performed an Easter dance with some friends.

The slower pace was strange, but nice.

At the end of May, after an annoying amount of paperwork, online tests, and fingerprints, Julia and I began volunteering at the local juvenile delinquent center. I had attempted to volunteer for the last few years (this was my 3rd attempt), but it never worked out for one reason or another. This time I was determined to make it happen. It helped to have a friend go through the process with me.

The first time we showed up was during family visiting hours. As we waited for the youth to be brought in, families loaded up with their kid’s favorite snacks and drinks from the vending machine. This small act of love made me choke up. These parents loved their kids so much.

Julia and I were only able to meet with our individual girls a few times before summer got hectic with work and weekend trips.

On May 29, the day before my 32nd birthday, I wrote in my diary:

“How have I changed in the last year? More fulfilled than ever before! Coming back alive to the injustice in the world and wanting to do something about it (aka feeling 21 all over again.) Finally found my footing at work — feeling more passionate and capable than ever before. Actually excited and expectant to be a mom + to create a family with Justin! Getting better and better at managing my ‘7’ tendency for going too fast + doing too much. Feeling more and more secure in my friendships. Wow, God. Thank you for such an incredible year. You were right when you said “the best is yet to come” back in 2011! I can only imagine what you have in store (babies??)”

The next day (my birthday), Justin and I drove to Atlanta for brunch at a restaurant called Homegrown, followed by coffee/chai at Joe’s Coffee Shop. I talked to Justin about why foster care was so important to me and asked him to attend a foster care orientation that was being offered in June. He agreed (happy birthday to me!) After that we picked up my sister Melody and her husband Mike at the airport – they came to visit for my birthday. For dinner, we ate at a delicious Sushi/Asian fusion restaurant with Joe and Talia.

My birthday celebration continued that weekend at Julia’s lakehouse in South Carolina. It was the perfect weekend – filled with friends, food, and a boat (!!) One of my top 3 fav memories from the year.

The rest of June brought me to Orlando with Melody and Charlotte to see Wong family. My brother Paul came to visit, followed by my parents. Justin and I went to the foster care orientation. I spent the month preparing for Gap Year Training Camp in July.

The first three weeks in July were focused entirely on Gap Year camp. July marked three years since I’d been put in charge of Gap Year and two years since I’d been responsible for camp. At the end of camp I wrote:

“I’m proud of how well Training Camp went. The sessions, the flow, the speakers, the worship. I created the schedule – took a few risks – and it all played out so well. I’m also proud of myself for the ways I showed up physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Such a contrast to last year when I had too much on my plate (Passport) and was burning out. I did a good job and it feels good!”

At the end of July/beginning of August, Justin and I went on our first family vacations as a married couple – starting with the Mendolas, then the Wongs. I loved every minute of it.

Later in August, I found out I was pregnant and got into a car accident on the same day. A week and a half later, I was hit with nausea/vomiting/exhaustion from pregnancy that left me disoriented for all of September and October. I traveled to some beautiful places (Europe! San Diego! Thailand!) and saw amazing people during those months, but I mostly felt like I was stuck in a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from. I’ll always remember sobbing that last night in Paris.

November brought relief – I felt like myself again. I started exercising after 3 months of surviving. Julia and I began volunteering at juvy again. I choreographed another dance with friends. Justin and I announced my pregnancy to our families and bought/decorated our first Christmas tree.

December was a whirlwind of Christmas festivities, my best friend’s wedding, driving to Ohio and North Carolina, and finding out the sex of our baby. I ended the year at Julia’s lakehouse, surrounded once again by lots of food, love, and noisemakers.

2018, you were good to me. There were a few bumps in the road (car accident, feeling like crap for months…) but overall you were kind. Together we journeyed through my first calendar year of marriage and the first half of my pregnancy. I’m ending this year with a full heart (and belly!) I’ll always remember you fondly…

Thanks for the ride.

Love,
Hope.

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on my first trimester:

The first time I felt “morning” sickness was at three in the afternoon. I was kind of excited because apart from missing my period, it was the first physical pregnancy sign I had.

That excitement soon faded as I found myself hovering over a trash can on my bedroom floor, trying to be grateful I was pregnant but hating the way it made me feel.

I threw up at work. At home. In the car. In a hotel room before speaking in front of 250 college-age students. On the grass at a friend’s birthday party. All over the dirty dishes in my kitchen sink.

One night I fell asleep in the hallway next to the trash can because I didn’t want to wake Justin up with my vomiting. There were days I couldn’t go to work because I couldn’t stop throwing up – I was worried I would have to quit my job or get fired because of it. Justin and I seriously considered canceling our first anniversary trip to Europe. I couldn’t imagine getting out of bed (or off the floor), let alone on a plane across the Atlantic.

I was miserable. I couldn’t keep food down no matter what I tried – jello, dry toast, ginger, saltines, “preggy pops” – I even tried sniffing lemon because I read that was supposed to help. All my guilty pleasures became my biggest aversions – Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, ice cream (gasp!)

I was 6 weeks pregnant (but had only known about it for 2 weeks) when Justin called my OBGYN office and asked if there was ANYTHING that could be done to help.

They prescribed something and on the way to pick it up I threw up an entire bowl of chicken and stars. It was still warm.

I found myself yelling at small children through the car window, “Do you even KNOW what your mother went through for you???” and texting my mom friends for sympathy (special shoutout to Katie, Erin, Talia, and Grace ❤️)

I decided I didn’t want three kids anyone – this one was enough!

Thankfully, I got some pills that stopped the vomiting (for the most part), but I was still on the verge of almost throwing up for a maddening amount of time. I learned to carry a plastic bag with me wherever I went.

I’ll never forget the time Justin was at our kitchen counter, cutting my pills in half so I could swallow them without gagging. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more in love with him.

Justin and I ended up going to Europe. We had some good moments, but the trip was mostly tainted by my pregnancy symptoms. I was so exhausted I could barely get out of bed (one day I didn’t get up until 1pm and was back in bed by 7pm.) Walking around left me winded. I was constantly looking for places to throw up. I could barely eat anything – I watched Justin eat our anniversary dinner. I couldn’t stop burping (…yes, a pregnancy symptom. talk about romantic!)

I bawled during our last night in Paris because I didn’t get to eat a macaroon and because I couldn’t imagine being this sick for the rest of our trip, let alone the next two months.

Europe wasn’t what I hoped it would be, but I’ll always have fond memories of Justin taking care of me – carrying my luggage, walking as slow as a grandma with me, sprinting to get me fresh orange juice when we learned that helped, and never once complaining or getting annoyed with me (even though was annoyed with me…)

I had my first baby appointment a few days after getting back from Europe. Justin was traveling for work, so I took my friend Betty with me. When I checked in I was told this wasn’t technically a maternity appointment because my pregnancy hadn’t been confirmed yet. I was slightly offended – what about everything I had just been through???

As soon as I saw my gummy-bear sized baby on the ultrasound screen I started crying (just thinking about it now makes me tear up!) Apart from a pink line and missed period four weeks earlier, this was the first happy pregnancy sign I had. There was a baby inside me. I could see it. In that moment, the fear I had about miscarrying was gone and all physical pain I had suffered was worth it. The technician handed me a Kleenex.

Then, unexpected to me, the heartbeat was played. My own heart stopped in my chest as I heard the thumping noises of another heartbeat inside me.

I will never forget the moment I heard my child’s heartbeat for the first time.

A few days later, I took off for San Diego for a reunion, followed by Thailand for work and a weekend getaway with Justin (all planned before we knew I was pregnant and almost canceled a couple of times due to my pregnancy symptoms.)

There were many times I gagged over a barf bag while flying. One time the guy next to me was like, “are you okay?” I told him I was pregnant and he offered me a piece of Big Red gum, which I thought was sweet. There was the time I nearly threw up in front of hundreds of Taiwanese people before boarding our plane. (Thankfully, I ended up belching over a trashcan instead.)

Miraculously, during Justin and my weekend getaway in Thailand, I felt almost normal. I could eat. I wasn’t completely zonked. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.

The day we left, I was sick again. I truly think God gave me those two days as a gift and I am forever grateful.

Toward the end of my first trimester, I kept crossing my fingers that my nausea/vomiting was done with, only to be hit with it once again. It was so discouraging and would leave me in tears.

It wasn’t until a few weeks into my second trimester (the beginning/middle of November) that I started feeling like myself again. Not only could I eat, I WANTED TO. I stopped burping as much (!!) and had more energy. I finally reached the ‘honeymoon stage’ of pregnancy I heard about, but always seemed so far away. I don’t know what the third trimester will bring, but right now I’m soaking up all the second trimester has to offer.

If there’s one thing I learned during my first trimester, it’s that women are even stronger and more amazing than I thought (and I’m a feminist!)

I have a whole new respect for my sex…

Women are HEROES.

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on finding out i’m pregnant:

In August, a few days after ovulating, I had a dream I was nursing a healthy newborn baby. I woke up and immediately wrote down the dream on my phone, ending with, “I was happy. It felt so real.”

I had no doubt the dream was from God, but I knew it didn’t necessarily mean I was pregnant right now. It could mean I’d have a baby one day.

Still, I wondered.

A week later, I texted Justin, “Pre-period cramps are starting ☹️”

I wasn’t pregnant.

I was at a house show and tried to pay attention to the musician, but I was distracted by my disappointment. I would have to wait a whole month to find out if I was pregnant the next time.

The following day, I felt a little off, but chocked it up to stress from work and not getting enough sleep. Even so, I wrote down the symptoms I was experiencing… because maybe, just maybe I was pregnant after all.

I decided I wouldn’t say anything to Justin because the chance was so slim.

The next morning I woke up and the first thing Justin said to me was, “Are you sure you’re not pregnant?”

“Why did you say that??” I asked him, surprised.

“Because you don’t seem to have your usual PMS symptoms,” he said. “I think you should take a pregnancy test.”

I jumped out of bed and took a test.

We waited 3 minutes and saw the faintest pink line you ever saw – like maybe it wasn’t even there – but I still thought I saw it. Justin claimed it was the lighting (I later found out he was lying because he didn’t want to get my hopes up.)

My hopes were already up, but we had to wait 24 hours to take another test. I felt crazy the rest of the day – was I pregnant or not???

On Monday, August 20, we took another test. The line was still faint, but it was there.

I was pregnant.

I’ll never forget holding that tiny stick in my hand, knowing my entire life would be different but at the moment feeling exactly the same.

Later that day I was in a car accident that totaled my car and sent the other driver to the hospital in an ambulance. I stumbled out of my car in shock, tears streaming down my cheeks, worried about the tiny, vulnerable baby inside me. The first people I told I was pregnant were the police officers who showed up at the scene.

Miraculously, I was fine besides bumps, bruises, and an incredibly sore body.

The emotions I experienced the next few days were a blur of happiness about my pregnancy, grief about my car wreck, and shock about both events. It was a strange, confusing week.

A week and a half after that fateful day, Justin and I were on our way to see a used car when my first wave of nausea hit me. I knew pregnant women should eat when they’re nauseous, so I grabbed some hummus I had in my car and ate it.

Unfortunately, the hummus had been out for a couple of hours and gave me food poisoning, nearly landing me in urgent care the next day.

Getting a foodborne illness while pregnant can be dangerous (even fatal) to the baby’s health. It’s why women are told to avoid a variety of food – to limit the chance of getting salmonella or listeria (etcetera.)

Again, I feared for my baby’s wellbeing.

After recovering from food poisoning, I sat at my kitchen table and cried. Less than 2 weeks in and I had already failed as a mom. I wrote in my diary, “I’m worried about the baby to the point of tears. All I can do is trust God. God, please protect this baby. My trying isn’t enough – I still got sick and in a car accident.”

God’s response to me, “Why do you think I gave you that dream?”

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on being married 1 year (and the journey to get there…)

When I was in my early/mid 20s I bought a piece of art from an Andy Warhol exhibit. The piece said, “the idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting.”

That became my anthem as I waited for my husband to come into the picture. Waiting meant anticipation and excitement. Waiting meant I would appreciate the very thing I had been waiting for more than people who didn’t have to wait as long.

Waiting became less exciting the older I became.

Soon after turning 27, I had a breakdown in a Ugandan hut with more snot and tears than tissues could keep up with. I bawled to my mentor Rozy about how I felt let down by God (I thought He said my husband was coming but where was he); I also hated that I cared so much about being married when people around the world were suffering. “It’s selfish and small-minded,” I said with tears pouring down my cheeks. “I want to care about bigger things.”

Rozy rebuked me and said it wasn’t small minded to desire marriage, noting that often times couples can accomplish more together.

Six months later I was crying again, this in my counselor’s office. The ache for marriage was overwhelming, all-consuming, a thorn in my side. I dated guys but none of them felt right. My counselor said she thought I was a little depressed but also assured me it was normal, biological even, to desire a mate. She told me I would know when he was the one. (My response? “Fairy tales aren’t real.”)

The same day I was crying to my counselor about being single, my future husband was on a plane to Zambia. We had met 3 months prior. This fact continues to blow my mind. I already knew him!

Six months after my tear-filled counseling session, Justin asked me out. What followed was 2.5 years of on again, off again as we figured out the nuances of our relationship. Early on he was overcoming addiction. Later, I was paralyzed by fear.

Nevertheless, there was something about him that captivated me.

6 or 7 months into dating (the third time), Justin would scoop me in his arms and declare, “I’m going to marry you!” with a big smile on his face. “Oh really?” I would respond. “How can you be so sure when I don’t know if I want to marry you?”

I knew I loved him. I didn’t know if I wanted to marry him. Where was that feeling of ‘knowing’ my counselor promised?

At the end of December 2016, when I was 30 years old, I decided to stop waiting for that feeling to come and instead make a choice. I would marry him.

Cue the BEST DECISION I HAVE EVER MADE (apart from following Jesus.)

Marriage is everything I hoped, cried, prayed, and dreamed it would be. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep at night because I’m so happy. I milked my single years for what they were worth, but at the end of the day, I was made to do life with a partner.

Everything is better with Justin by my side. Grocery shopping, going to movies, traveling, lazy Saturdays, falling asleep at night, sitting in coffee shops, driving, dancing at weddings, making decisions, dreaming about the future, and all the other high, low, or in between moments life has to offer.

I’ve loved finding our rhythm together as one. Fighting doesn’t feel like fighting anymore because it’s no longer a jolt that disrupts everything; instead our fights weave in and out with ease.

Life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, of course. The last few weeks brought some low moments – I got into a car crash, leaving my car totaled and my body bruised, followed by a bout of food poisoning that had me crying (and puking) into a trash can.

Justin was there every step of the way — showing up at the scene of the wreck, dealing with insurance, searching for another car, changing trash bags, rubbing my back, bringing me dry toast and lemon water.

In good times and bad, Justin is always there and I am forever grateful.

When I was in my early/mid 20s I thought the longer I had to wait for marriage, the more I would appreciate it.

Turns out I was right after all.

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dreaming at 21:

I graduated from college 10 years ago today. 10 years!!

It’s amazing to look back on all I’ve experienced since then – missions, travel, friendships, falling in love (to name a few.)

In some ways I feel like I’m still 22, in other ways… not so much (aka it’s no longer fun to stay up all night “just because.”)

I wrote the following essay for one of my writing classes a few weeks before graduation. I love seeing the dreams I’ve fulfilled in the last decade and I’m excited for the ones I have yet to accomplish…

Enjoy!
________

My biggest fear is to settle for a mediocre life. I don’t want to work nine-to-five. I don’t want a husband and 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. I don’t want to retire when I’m 65 and move to Florida. I want more.

I want to travel. I’ve heard Broadway is best in New York, and lobster tastes best in Maine. Montana has good mountains, Arizona has the Grand Canyon, and Portland, Oregon has the best beer (though I don’t drink beer). For years I’ve desired to visit Mark Twain’s house in Connecticut, Norman Rockwell’s museum in Massachusetts, and the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in Tennessee. He had a dream, and I do too. I want to sink my feet in the sands of a Fijian beach, taste the cheese in Switzerland, and swim in Italy’s Blue Grotto. I want to gaze upon King Tut’s tomb, walk through the Taj Mahal, and stand by the Great Wall of China.

I want to read. I’m curious to see if Jane Austin is as good as everyone says (maybe she can even teach me how to love). Oscar Wilde is supposed to be funny, so perhaps he is the cure for a crummy day. If I’m ever bored, Sir Arthur Connan Doyle should be stealth enough to keep me guessing, but if he isn’t, there’s always Edgar Allen Poe to make my head hurt. While I’m catching up with the classic writers, I also want to become acquainted with the modern ones. I want to appreciate poetry as much as the people who understand it do. I want to be the woman who is always found reading at the park, or coffee shop, or Taj Mahal.

I want to write. Whatever happens to me, whatever doesn’t happen, I want to put into words. The ordinary days, the odd days, the awful days, they all deserve to be documented. Microsoft Word, journals, napkins, whatever it takes. I want live with the oppressed and bring their stories of injustice to life–the child soldiers in Africa, the sex slaves in Asia, the poverty stricken all over. Being published would be nice (though I don’t want to judge the quality of my writing on such basis). A book is my dream.

I want to teach. If I do it right, my students will learn that there’s more to life than high school. They will have to sit next to someone new every day. If the weather is nice, we will go outside. Field trips will be a regular occurrence. Documentaries will be shown. Short stories, essays, and articles will be read. They will be forced to write. Every day. A five-minute free write to start each class period. A reflection on the covered material at the end of class. Their homework will be to think. Final exams will be flexible—a paper, presentation, art project—whatever they want to do to show all they have learned. Grades will be based on their attempt, not necessarily their ability. I will probably get fired.

I want to love. I want to love my family even though they’ve hurt me. I want to love mean people—the closed minded, the insulting, the ignorant, and the annoying. Perhaps no one has ever loved them before. I want to love a man. I dream of the day when my knees will crumble because of the way he looks at me from across the room after years of being together. I dream of the fights, the fun times, and the make-ups. We won’t have an average wedding—it will be inexpensive and outside. A cookout on the beach with shrimp sishcabobs and a ukulele. No shoes allowed. But then again, maybe we’ll just save ourselves the invitations and elope. I long to be a foster parent, to provide love for the children who’re lacking. I desire to give birth, to create life, to understand the connection between mother and child. I want to love like Jesus did. I want to stop pulling a Peter and actually stand up for my savior (even when I’m doubting, embarrassed, or angry at God).

I want to be happy. No matter the circumstance. People will die, misfortune will come, and life will treat me unfairly. I want to find joy in all of life (and even death). There is always something to be grateful for. Each day is a gift, yet I treat it like a burden. Monday is just as exciting as Friday. It’s a day I get to breathe, laugh, and learn. I want to defeat the routine of everyday life, the stress of to do lists, and the fear of failure. I want to stop comparing myself to others, and stop measuring my worth by success, beauty, and boys.

I want to be uncomfortable. God only knows I’m most alive when I’m being challenged. I need obstacles and setbacks and the strength to overcome them. Life should be lived dangerously enough to get hurt. Contentment is not my goal; I desire to live for more than myself.

I want a lot of things. I want to change, to be a better person than I was yesterday, yet still flawed enough to grow tomorrow. I want to live simply; to detach myself from the materialism that has already consumed me. I want to meet Johnny Depp, win an Oscar, ride in a hot air balloon, donate a kidney and encounter every person in the world. I want to wear Chucks when I’m 40. I want to be remembered.

I’m a twenty-one year old on the verge of college graduation.

I want to stop dreaming and start doing.


What are some of your dreams (whether from 10 years ago or last week)? I’d love to hear! 

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