Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Littlest Saint

This is the story I never wanted to write.

John and I have lost the tiniest baby to miscarriage.

Her time on earth was too short, but what joy she brought us.

And though her life was short, there's still so very much to tell: how it all happened, how I found out, her name. So I'm sharing it all now to honor her perfect, little life and keep her memory alive forevermore.


My cycles had been on hold for a while due to my nursing relationship with John Paul. I was eager for them to start them again, as we were eager to start trying to conceive a sibling for our little bud. So I was excited when Aunt Flo ever-so-gently made her appearance toward the end of our trip to Harry Potter World back in early February, at approximately 9 months post-partum.

We started trying right away.

I wasn't exactly devastated when Aunt Flo appeared a second time in mid-March, because hey, it was only our first cycle of trying and I was used to things taking a while, as it took almost 2 years to conceive John Paulie. But I was certainly ready to try, try again.

While a mama returns to fertility, things can be a little . . . off. So it took forever to ovulate in that second cycle. But I still tracked it, we used the right days, and remained hopeful.

Two days after peak, I was hit by the most intense nausea ever. It started in the middle of the night, during a 4am nursing session with John Paul, and didn't let up for almost 24 hours. At first I chalked it up to food poisoning, but I never actually got sick. I wanted to hope that it was somehow related to conception, but I also felt that was really weird. So I pushed it to the back of my mind.

Then John Paul started acting strange. And I couldn't figure out a reason for it. He wasn't teething. He wasn't sick. He was just skipping most of his naps and being super snuggly. I wanted to hope that it was somehow related to early pregnancy and him just knowing something was up with mama's body, but I didn't want to get too carried away. So I tried to push that to the back of my mind. But with the possible conception nausea and now my baby boy acting so out of character, I started to let hope grow.

At this point, I raided our medicine cabinet and found my old prescription for progesterone. Leading up to my first post-partum cycle, my luteal phase was only 5 days long. And leading up to my second, it was only 8. Considering 13-to-15-day luteal phases were my pre-pregnancy norm, I knew my progesterone levels were off, as they usually are when a mama is returning to fertility. So I decided to self-treat with that old progesterone prescription.

Pretty soon it was 9 days past peak and I got hit by an annoying migraine. Another hopeful sign!

In this time, I also had a friend tell me she had a dream I was pregnant with twins and my sister-in-law told me she dreamt I announced I was 4 weeks pregnant. And so hope grew more.

Come 11 days post peak, a good friend, Emily, convinced me it was time to test. Pre-John Paul, I was not an early tester because I was so used to not getting pregnant each cycle, so why bother? But at this point, I had so many signs pointing toward pregnancy, I decided to give it a go.

I stared at the test as the urine crossed over the testing window. Negative. But wait, Stephanie! It says to read after 5 minutes. So I walked away, and set a timer for 6 minutes, just to be sure.

When the timer went off, I checked again and negative again.

But wait, is that second line? Surely not. No. I'm squinting. There's no line there. But wait, is there?!!

And with another few minutes of staring and squinting and second guessing, the faintest of faintest second lines was really there.


Oh my gosh, I'm PREGNANT!!!!!!!!!

A few texts back and forth with Emily and she confirmed it. She saw it too. SHE SAW IT TOO!

And I was giddy!


I immediately called John at work and told him, and he excitedly said, "Well, yay! I had a feeling this is what you were calling me about. How lovely!" After the weird nausea and John Paul's behavior and migraine, he was hoping along with me. And now it was confirmed.

We're pregnant!!!!

But it wasn't long before doubt crept in.

That second line was super light. What if it was an evap line? Plus, the test is over two years expired. This probably isn't real. Oh, but I want it to be so bad. Please be real!

So with excitement but also a little fear, we went to sleep that night and planned to test in the morning.

When morning came around, the test was still positive. Ever so faintly positive. But positive is positive!

Pregnant. Pregnant. PREGNANT!

We were floating on cloud 9 that entire day. We were in happy shock that it only took us two cycles of trying this time!! I kept excitedly telling John Paul he was a big brother. We looked up her due date: December 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents. (Eerily fitting now, looking back.) We swooned over the thought of a Christmas baby.

We treated ourselves to ice cream after dinner and took one of the only images we now have of me while pregnant with our little one.

Later that night, the bleeding started. First spots of brown, then a bright spot of red.


The familiar feeling of failure from our two years in infertility came creeping back.

I've failed us. I'm broken. I'm so sorry.

Those were the words I uttered to John.

With the smallest thread of hope I had left, I took another pill of progesterone before bed and closed my eyes to sleep, ready to face the worst in the morning, but clinging to Him, desperately wanting a miracle.

By morning, the spotting was back to brown and another pregnancy test came back faintly positive. By afternoon, the spotting had stopped.

Could it be? Implantation??

The spotting shook me up enough to want blood work. So Sew called me in some favors and my long-distance NaPro doc (we don't have one in my new town) ordered HCG and progesterone labs for me.

We went to bed excited and hopeful and scared yet again. But mostly, joy-filled. I was still pregnant, praise God. We thanked Him for another day with our little poppy-sized babe and went to sleep in awe of His great gift.

We got yet another faintly positive test in the morning.

But when we got our lab results later that day, we were quite shaken.

On day 13 after peak . . .

HCG: 13
Progesterone: 17

Crushed again.

Our NaPro doc assured us that those numbers were possibly ok. They were numbers he'd expect to see in very, very early pregnancy. The progesterone wasn't great, but wasn't the absolute worst. He wanted it to be at least above 20, so we made a plan to switch to progesterone in oil and hoped that would do the trick. As for the HCG, well, we would test again in 48 hours to see if it's doubling and then go from there.

As we waited for the morning of the next HCG and progesterone check, I oscillated between hope and sadness. For reference, my HCG was above 2,000 when checked on day 18 after peak during John Paul's pregnancy. An HCG level of 13 just sounded so terribly low. So terribly hopelessly low.

But we kept praying. We kept hoping. We kept imagining our future with this sweet baby in it. And we tried to enjoy every moment we had with her, because we knew there was a chance there wouldn't be many more.

When the nurse finally called to tell me the results of the second test, her voice gave it away. So I told her to give it to me straight.

On day 15 after peak . . .

HCG: 3
Progesterone: 5.5

Completely and utterly broken.

An HCG of less than 5 is negative for pregnancy. It was confirmed. Our little one was no longer growing. I had miscarried.

And I sobbed.

John was at work, so it was me and John Paulie and the little fading life inside me for the afternoon.

That night, I didn't take my progesterone, and the next morning the bleeding began for real.


Technically, I experienced a chemical pregnancy. And in the past week, I've come to hate how clinical and sterile that term is. But since my HCG was never high enough and she was never big enough to be seen on the big screen (ultrasound), her pregnancy gets that callous title.

It's crazy to think that if I hadn't been paying attention, I probably wouldn't have even known she existed.

Thank God for NFP.

It's possible I was meant to lose her the night I experienced what I thought was implantation spotting. The progesterone probably kept the pregnancy going those few extra days. But I'll never know for sure.

It's also possible there was some sort of chromosomal issue and our little lady just couldn't develop very much because of it. But we'll never know that for sure either.

I also worry that maybe we started trying too early, before my post-partum body was ready. I'm not trying to place the blame on us, but it's hard not to, ya know? Just yet another thing we'll never know.

We also don't know if she was really a girl, obviously. But I do lean that way. Mostly because her pregnancy was so different from John Paul's. Which is silly to say, I know. It was obviously very different because it never got very far and was never meant to. But I'm holding on to these things and letting myself think our baby was a girl, even if it's not right, because I guess at the end of all this, I'm still entitled to my motherly instinct. John thinks she was a girl too.

One day, though, on the other side of Heaven, we'll know all this for sure. When we truly meet our little lady for the first time and hear her story straight from the Source. We'll know for sure.

And what a joyful day that will be.


To honor the life that was entrusted to us, we've named our sweet girl.

The littlest saint in Heaven . . .

Therese Hope

We wanted to name our sweet girl for a saint who died as a child.

St. Hope immediately stood out to us. She died a martyr at the age ten.

At the end of her story, our little girl has brought us nothing but hope. Hope that we can grow our family again. Hope that my body is healed, or at least healing. Hope that we will be with her again. Hope that God will redeem this suffering for good. What a perfect name for our saint.

And while thinking of other saints, I kept coming back to St. Therese of Liseux. I was drawn to her little way, glorifying God in all she did, especially in the little things. It spoke to me and reminded me so much of what we had been through in our short time with our daughter. She didn't live for very long, but her little, simple life provided us with so much love and so much joy. It felt like exactly the right name to honor her life.

Therese Hope.

(Pronounced Teh-rezz Hope.)

When I say her name, I'm reminded . . .

There is hope.

And I hope you hear that too.


I have always wanted to become a saint. Unfortunately, when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by. Instead of being discouraged, I told myself: God would not make me wish for something impossible and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint. It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new.

We live in an age of inventions. We need no longer climb laboriously up flights of stairs; in well-to-do houses there are lifts. And I was determined to find a lift to carry me to Jesus, for I was far too small to climb the steep stairs of perfection. So I sought in holy Scripture some idea of what this life I wanted would be, and I read these words: 'Whoever is a little one, come to me.' It is your arms, Jesus that are the lift to carry me to heaven. And so there is no need for me to grow up: I must stay little and become less and less.

-St. Therese of Liseux


Our only family picture. 

We didn't know it at the time. 

John, Stephanie, John Paul, Therese.

I was trying to help John Paul stand and walk while John was reaching out to him. 

The rainbow and circular, embryonic figure in the bottom left corner give me chills.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Winter Recipe Capsule

Happy Eastertide, everybody! 

And can you believe it? . . . Spring has sprung! It may not exactly feel it, especially for you northern folk who just got hit by a bunch of random April snow. Yikes! Sorry 'bout that. But spring's here whether the weather wants to cooperate or not. Flowers are blooming, the sun shines late into the day, and the air has that warm, happy, things-are-growing springtime scent. Mmmmmm.

You know, I'm totally into every single wardrobe capsule post I read. It's definitely something I'm going to do some day when we have more storage space in our NEW HOUSE!! (I'm going to have to leave you with a cliffhanger there, but yes, we got a house!) But today, I'm going to switch things up and create for your viewing (and eating) pleasure, A WINTER RECIPE CAPSULE! AKA the recipes that got us through the winter.

What makes a recipe a winter recipe? Oh, I don't exactly know. Warm, filling, comfort food-y to get you through the winter blues, carby to help you pack on some extra blubber to survive the cold winter temps. Yeah, that about covers it.

While these recipes may not apply right now (unless you're one of the unlucky few who is currently buried under a northern pile of snow), they'll be great to come back to once winter hits again next year. Or if you don't care about matching your meals to the season, I say go for it! We've loved making and devouring each one of these, so I hope you will too, no matter when you make them.

While I'm not a huge goat cheese fan, it totally makes this recipe. Yum! To cut costs, we usually replace red/orange/yellow peppers in any recipe with plain ol' green. I know they don't taste exactly the same, but especially in this recipe which cooks for hours and hours in a crock pot, I'm pretty sure you won't notice a difference.

A big thanks to Ashlie for introducing me to this one. Oh my YUM! Take her advice and double the dumplings in this one. They're the best part!

We all love Kendra at Catholic All Year, amirite? This recipe is delish and super filling, especially over a big bowl of pasta. Oh, and did I mention? It's about the easiest recipe you'll ever make.

John and I have been enjoying this recipe for a few winters now. It's pretty easy to throw together, and fills you up without feeling too heavy. Plus, I'm always a sucker for something that combines pasta and greens. The dressing recipe that goes along with this one is okay, but you can make it way easier, and probably tastier, on yourself if you pick out your fave balsamic vinaigrette from the grocery store and just go with that.

Woah! A throwback to my very old, barely used blog. I don't mind embarrassing myself to share this one with ya because this recipe is the bomb. Easy, tasty, cheap, and vegetarian! I lived off this stuff when I was a full-time volunteer for a year. Check it.

I'm linking to within my own blog here. But I take no credit for this tasty creation: this one's a family recipe. Another one that's tasty, cheap, and vegetarian! Not exactly easy though, since it does involve a butternut squash. Those things are a beast. I like to say . . . When someone makes you a recipe with butternut squash, they must really love you, because butternut squash is WORK. That work is well worth it here, though, I can promise you that. Once the squash is chopped, this is very easy! Worth the sweat.

Lots of fun and unique flavors here. My favorite part is the can of coconut milk. Tell me, have you ever had a bad recipe that involved a can of coconut milk? Pretty sure the answer is no. That stuff is divine! Extra special thanks to Katie for recommending this one. 

Another recipe with fun and unique flavors. This time, the star ingredient is cinnamon. I know, cinnamon and veggies . . . sounds a little weird, right? But I promise it's good. So good. Oh, and yeah, this one's another butternut squash recipe. But again, worth the effort! Plus, it makes a TON of food. We usually get at least 3 nights out of it.

Ignore the fact that this one comes from GQ Magazine and may include a silly/obnoxious article leading up to it. John made this recipe recently and it's to die for!! Also, SO SPICY! So if you're not into spicy, leave out about 1/2 the peppers in adobo sauce, or make sure you have LOTS of sour cream on hand. But wow, this one is jam packed with amazing flavor. And it's super filling. Great for a party! 

You know, enchiladas are SO GOOD, but also SO MUCH WORK. This recipe takes the work out of the equation, but leaves the tasty. :) We like to top it with avocado and tortilla chips in addition to the cheese and scallions and cilantro.

Not gonna lie, slicing the zucchini super thin with a mandolin, then straining them, then layering, then baking . . . this recipe takes a lot of love and time. But it's good. So dang good. And it'll last ya several nights, or serve several guests at a party. Plus, it'll warm ya to the bones.

It might sound weird, but the combo of peanuts and cilantro and sriracha . . . pretty much a match made in Heaven. We skipped the rice on this one, but added a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes, a big spoonful of extra peanut butter, and 16 oz of cubed tofu. Now that's what I call a Happy Meal!

I'm all about that quinoa, 'bout that quinoa. :) And I especially love a good quinoa bowl. But sometimes, I don't want all the healthy that comes with your typical quinoa dish. Enter: BBQ Chicken Quinoa Bowl. I guess it's not that bad for you, but with the BBQ sauce mixed in and that healthy dose of cheddar cheese . . . yeah. That's next level stuff right there. Now imagine topping it all off with bacon. :-O

Another shout out to Katie for this one! Not only is this so good, but guys, it only requires one pot! You basically throw it all in, water and pasta and everything, and boil it 'til the water is gone. So . . .  minimal mess, minimal work, maximum yum? You got it! Plus, you top this bad boy with feta. Does it get any betta? ;)

Speaking of feta. :) Alright, so try to keep up with me here because we made quite a few adjustments to this recipe. First, eliminate the zucchini. Too much work, too watery. Instead, I tossed some arugula in oil, salt, and pepper and placed it on top like a big ol' salad after this bad boy came out of the oven. Also, we probably doubled the feta. And I added some toasted pine nuts. It was glorious. Don't be afraid to leave the rind on the lemon slices like it recommends. It gives this a really strong lemon flavor. So fresh, so yum. And here's the pizza dough recipe we used. But I bet store bought would work just as well. 


So there you have it! My 2015-2016 Winter Recipe Capsule. Is your tummy grumbling yet? Mine sure is.

Now tell me, what would you put in your Winter Recipe Capsule? I'm dying to know! Bonus points for links!

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