Saturday, May 10, 2014

March and April--Photo Overload

We took some fun little trips in March and April.  Get ready for lots of photos! 

In March, we spent several days in Pocatello.  Ryan's little brother Cole and his wife and baby were in town from Missouri during Cole's spring break from medical school.  We had never met Baby Tate, so this was super exciting, and the entire family came together for the occasion.  Fun!  

Tate loves his Aunt Rachel
Noah enjoyed mauling the babies...
Lily and Tate weren't so sure.
Four generations of Nielson men.
Love how angelic Noah looks in this photo.  
Grandma and Grandpa with all the grandkids...
a little hard to get them all to cooperate, but we did our best.

A new experience for the Nielson boys was pheasant hunting.  I think it made them feel like real Idaho men.  Ryan cracked me up when he decided to wear his Holden Caulfield red hunting hat for the occasion.  Apparently he is a really good shot (is anyone surprised?) and got two pheasants at once...boom, boom.  I am not a fan of hunting, and fortunately, I don't think this is something that will become a regular hobby--but they had fun doing it for a new experience.

In April, I went to Denver to help take care of my sister's kids for a week.  Her husband Logan's little sister was getting married in New York City, and Logan happened to have the whole week off, which was nothing short of a miracle.  (He is a surgery resident and works 80+ hours a week and gets his time-off randomly assigned to him.)  Since Sarah and Logan seriously never get to spend any time together, they decided to make a get-away of it, and my little sister, Laura, and I agreed to watch their kids.  

I knew it was going to be an adventure, but with both Laura and me working together, how bad could it be??  

Well, it was bad.  Real bad.  We had Sarah's two kids--a five-year-old who missed his parents and was thus uncharacteristically moody, and a two-year-old who is a bit of a princess diva--and then we had my little rascal who doesn't like to share and wanted to rough-house with his cousins who (justifiably) weren't interested in being tackled every other minute--and then we had Laura's three-month-old who contracted a stomach bug on the plane and was very sad and puky and ended up in the ER one night.  On top of that, I still wasn't feeling great from pregnancy and ended up with an awful sinus infection that made it hard to sleep at night.  Seriously, what a week!

No, but we did have fun.  There were lots of sweet moments mixed in with lots of tantrums and tears.  It definitely makes for some funny memories!  I'm glad we went, even though it was CRA-ZY!

 A happy moment, playing in a box
Princess Jade is not so sure about her Auntie Rachel smooching on her
Bedtime stories with Bapa--he was a HUGE help throughout the week.
I love this girl.
Noah was quite taken with Luke and even wanted to share his monster blanket and doggy with him
Cousin snuggles
Two two-year-olds, both sobbing at the same time...awesome!
Granny and Luke--does it get any sweeter?
Callum loved to hold Luke any chance he got.
(unfortunately, Luke was sick much of the week and often wasn't in the mood)
The boys enjoyed playing in the High Line Canal by my dad's house.
Jade DID NOT want to get her feet wet or muddy and screamed the entire time we were at the Canal, even when I was holding her.
Stories with Grampy

Noah was very, very glad to get home to his dad at the end of our exhausting week.  Noah has suddenly turned into a major "Daddy's boy."  He never had a preference between us until just recently--now it's nothing but Dad, Dad, Dad.  

Speaking of Ryan, he had his own little adventure while Noah and I we were in Colorado.  He went to the Final Four in Dallas with his bosses, and they had a great time.  I'm so glad Ryan decided to go--he has never done anything like that with "the guys," and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  

A few weeks later, it was Easter, and my friend Sherry from Buffalo came to Idaho to visit for the weekend.  Unfortunately, I don't have any great photos of us together, but we hiked around Dierkes Lake in Twin Falls, dyed Easter eggs, and made a quick trip to Salt Lake City for Easter Sunday.  Sherry was flying out of Salt Lake anyway, and she had never seen the Mormon Temple there, so we decided to spend the day.  The weather was perfect and the flowers at the temple were incredible.  It was a special, sacred place to spend the holiday.

Noah really enjoyed Easter this year.  At the beginning of Easter Week, we sat outside in the hammock for Family Night and told him the story of Christ's death and resurrection.  We showed him some simple pictures from the church Nursery manual, and he was really enthralled.  He was so sad when we talked about Jesus' death--"Ohhhh--why did they hurt Jesus?"--and then he threw his arms in the air with joy when we told him about Jesus's resurrection and showed him a picture of Christ coming out of the tomb.  It was priceless.  I love that sweet boy.

He enjoyed the secular parts of the holiday too, especially dying eggs.  He was amazed when the eggs turned colors.  Sadly, his mother never got together an Easter basket or egg hunt for him (it had been a long and busy month), but I did grab him a free sticker from the grocery store check-out line when I went to buy toilet paper the night before Easter.  Classy, right?  Luckily, Noah was thrilled with his sticker and had no idea what he was missing.

It was a busy but fun couple of months.  I feel like a broken record saying this over-and-over on the blog, but it's the truth: Life is good, and we are blessed.

A Letter to My Mother

**My mother passed away when I was 19 years old, on July 14, 2003.  Since her death, I've written her a letter every year on Mother's Day, and it's become a tradition that I really look forward to.  I think these letters will become my personal history someday, as they always chronicle the ups and downs of my previous year.

I don't usually share these letters but have decided to share this one because it explains the name that we have chosen for our Baby Girl who is due in August.  I miss my mother and am so grateful for the knowledge that families are eternal.  I know that, somehow, she is aware of me and of these letters that I write to her.  I love her.

*Me and my mama, shortly after my birth:

Dear Mama,

Another year has passed with so much news to share.  We’ve had our highs and our lows—but, as always, we have so much to be grateful for.

I’m glad that Mother’s Day happens every year in the spring when the long winter is just ending, the flowers are blooming, and the sky is blue.  It’s a time of year that always makes me feel hope and reminds me that, like the winter, the trials in our lives do end—“joy comes in the morning.”  I’m grateful that it is often with this perspective in my heart that I am able to write my annual update to you.

This year especially, I am filled with joy as I write your Mother’s Day letter because, even as I type this, I can feel a tiny, precious, little being moving around inside of me.  Yes, that’s right, Mama—I am pregnant!  We did IVF in the fall, and miraculously and mercifully, it worked.  My long years of infertility are over, and a little girl will join our family sometime in the beginning of August.  Only three more months to go…I can’t wait.

We are going to name her Sally Grace—Sally, after both of her incredible grandmas, and Grace, because I could not have gotten pregnant or made it through this pregnancy without Him.  Truly, it’s all been a miracle—an experience that I never knew if I would get to have.

After adopting Noah, it no longer really mattered to me if I ever had biological children; I learned firsthand that the children God intended for our family would get to us somehow, and that my love for them would be all-encompassing, unconditional, and inexpressibly deep, whether I carried them in my womb or not.  Yet I am grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to be pregnant, not because my love for this baby is any different than my love for Noah—but because this new experience has taught me just as much about life, faith, and myself as adoption did.

It has been pretty tough, Mama.  The IVF experience was difficult, with daily hormone shots and doctor appointments and procedures—and then I was terribly nauseated for the first 17 weeks or so of my pregnancy.  I couldn’t really function and couldn’t take good care of Noah, and I felt lonely and desperate at times, wishing for no one else but you to come take care of me and help me.  I am almost 28 weeks pregnant now, and I still feel nausea almost every day, though it is not nearly as bad as it was early on.  Add to that headaches and backaches, insomnia and bladder infections, and it’s been quite a tumultuous seven months!  As is always the case when I go through a physically difficult experience, it makes me think of you and your long battle with cancer.  How did you do it, Mom?  How did you live with such grace and gratitude, even when you felt awful?  I have often yearned for your advice during all of this, but when I think about it, I feel like I know what you would tell me if you were here: Take it one day at a time.  Get through the day, do your best, and never lose faith that God is there and He is helping you. I am trying, Mama—I am trying to be like you.

Oh how I wish I could’ve seen and heard your reaction to the news of my pregnancy.  It was so fun to tell our families the incredible news.  There were cheers and tears, fist pumps and hugs—and Ryan and I just felt overwhelmingly grateful that we have such amazing people in our lives to love and support us.  We are mighty, mighty blessed.

I’ve always thought that we would probably name a little girl Sally, since it is so special that both of our moms share that name—but I didn’t want to make a definitive decision until the time got closer.  Once we found out that this baby is a girl, I made a list of all of the girl names that I love—and there are a lot of them!—because I wanted to give each one of them a fair shot; but for some reason, the only name that stood out to me was “Sally.”  My eyes kept coming back to it every time I looked at the list, and it was the name that came into my mind whenever I thought about or pictured the baby.  “I think her name is Sally,” I told Ryan one evening, as I stared at the list of names, and I was surprised when he immediately agreed.  (We had quite a bit of trouble agreeing on Noah’s name before he was born.)

And speaking of Noah, he took quickly to the name as well.  I was afraid he might be confused by all of the Sallys in his life, but he seems to understand perfectly that Grandma Sally is in heaven, Grandma Nielson is “Big Sally,” and the baby in Mama’s belly is “Little Sally.”  Just the other day, a saleslady asked Noah if his mom had an Elmo in her belly, and he responded quite vehemently, “No!  It’s not an Elmo; it’s a Sally!”  He is the cutest, smartest, spunkiest, little boy, Mama.  You would absolutely adore him.  As hard as it can be sometimes, motherhood has been the best experience of my life, and I am nervous and excited to expand that experience with the addition of another baby.  How much love can one heart hold?  Will I really love this new baby as much as I love Noah?  It feels impossible—but I know that I will.

I love that this special little girl is going to have your name and that I will get to think of you every day when I say it.  I hope that she has your strength and resilience, your love of life and your undaunted courage.   I hope she has Ryan’s mom’s amazing ability to nurture and to mother, her innate goodness and her desire to do what’s right.  I certainly want our Sally Grace to be her own person, but I hope she will look to the example of her grandmothers and be inspired by the lives you lived and the people you were.  I hope she will also think about her middle name and always embrace the goodness of God throughout her life—allowing Him to fill her, enable her, strengthen her, and lighten every burden.

I can’t wait to meet her.  As I’ve started to feel her moving more in the past month, I have been filled with a happiness and excitement that is hard to explain—it must be what people mean when they say that pregnant women “glow.”  I am honored to be her mother and to be carrying her in my womb.  As hard as pregnancy has been (and still is at times), it’s an experience that I would not trade; even the horrible nausea has given me wisdom and empathy that I know will be invaluable to me for the rest of my life.  That’s the only worthwhile outcome of trials, isn’t it?  The faith, wisdom, and empathy that come as a result and enable us to better love and serve other people throughout our lives.  No wonder you were so amazing at connecting with and loving people—you’d been refined, humbled, and strengthened through all of the trials you suffered.

Oh, how we miss you, Mama.  We have needed you this year.  Laura had her first baby, Lucas Michael, in January (can you believe it??), and the experience of welcoming him into our family has brought us all so much joy—but it has also magnified the loss that we feel without you here.  Family milestones and celebrations always do that.  Sarah has continued to struggle with depression, and though she is amazingly strong and carries on as a loving mother, wife, sister, and friend through it all, she misses you deeply.  We all do.  A very common text message sent between us three girls over the past few months has been, “I miss Mom.”  Thank goodness we have Dad, who has been simply remarkable over the past eleven years that you have been gone.  We have clung to each other and to Heavenly Father, just as you always told us to, and it has made all the difference.

I do know that you are a part of our lives.  I have a feeling that you are beside us more often than we realize as we mother our own children and do our best to raise them with the same love with which you raised us—but we still wish you were here, beside us, laughing at the stories of our crazy children, and crying at our sorrows and disappointments.  There is no one who can take your place.  And no amount of time will completely erase the pain of your passing—you loved us too well for even decades of time to cause us to forget.

Your three girls are all mothers now, journeying through our own heartaches and joys, trials and triumphs—and we are thinking of you every single day.  On this Mother’s Day and always, I want to say thank you for everything you taught us and gave us and for who you were and how you loved.  Thank you for continuing to be our mother, even in heaven, and for not leaving us behind.  We still need you.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama.

With love,


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Eating Disorder Update

I've been thinking a lot lately about eating disorders--mostly about how amazed I am that I am free of mine.  When I started the IVF process, I felt some of my weird eating disorder behaviors returning, which didn't really surprise me since infertility treatments were a huge trigger for me before, so I sought help from a counselor here in Twin Falls.  I never, ever want to end up again in the place where I was for so many years--loathing myself and eating in secret and failing at ridiculous diets and obsessing over food and feeling so empty--so I am not above seeking help when I need it.

Fortunately, even in the middle of IVF, the eating disorder behaviors got under control quickly (I think because of the good work I'd done with my counselors in Colorado and my quick decision to get help in Idaho).  I still see the counselor here about once a month, mostly to talk about my mom and her prolonged illness and eventual passing and how it all continues to affect me, especially now that I am in the trenches of motherhood myself and pregnant for the first time.  (Turns out that when you watch the woman whom you love and admire most in the world suffer throughout your entire childhood, it has a profound and lasting impact on you--crazy, right??).

It has been good to talk things over with a counselor once in a while, but overall, I feel like I am in a really good place mentally right now--especially with the eating disorder.  I honestly marvel at how different I am from a few years ago--how food has almost no control over me anymore.  It makes me laugh in amazement and thank my Father in Heaven when I realize just how different I am.  I truly feel free, and that is an incredible feeling.

I worried that pregnancy and the inevitable weight gain and body changes that come along with that might bring up old issues--but so far, I have been just fine.  (I hope I'm not jinxing myself.)  I eat what my body wants.  I don't have insane cravings for sweets like I used to.  I don't own a scale and so I haven't been obsessed with the increasing numbers.  I go for walks when I have the energy and try to be active because it feels good.

I feel honored to have a baby inside of me, and I love feeling her moving around.  I know that I am not a tiny, cute, model-like pregnant woman, but I am okay with that.  I know this isn't forever--and I will have a waistline again eventually.  (The postpartum period will surely bring its own set of body image challenges, but we will cross that bridge when we get there.)

I am so, so, so grateful that I went through counseling when I did so that I could just enjoy this experience of being pregnant and not have it be all wrapped up in body insecurities and food obsessions.  Seriously, I feel amazed almost daily at the grace of God and how much He has helped me change.

In the midst of all of this, I have decided that I want to share more of my story, in case there are others out there who are struggling as I have struggled.  When I was first going through counseling, I was so ashamed of the fact that I have big weaknesses/needs and that I had developed an eating disorder that I couldn't share much of my experience with others.  It was honestly painful to address and to talk about.  Throughout the course of my therapy, I wrote a lot about my past, and I tentatively shared some of it with my sisters and my close friend who had overcome an eating disorder herself (and who started me on my path to recovery).  She told me that one day, I would be able to openly share my experiences with others--that I would even be willing to share my writing, which was excruciatingly private at the time.  She told me that I would reach a point when I felt so free from that former self, so very different and removed from it, that it wouldn't make me feel embarrassed anymore--it would just make me feel grateful that I had found the help that I needed and compelled to try to help others find freedom as well.

I am finding that my friend was right.  Today at a playgroup of young moms, in the midst of a discussion about body image and perfectionism and diets, I just said straight out, "I went to counseling for an eating disorder, and this is some of what I learned..."  I think these women were a little shocked, because who really admits something like that to a group of people they don't know that well?, but I just want people to know that they can talk to me if they are ever struggling.  I want people to know where I have been--because I'm not there anymore, and I am thankful beyond words.

So I may be writing about this more often on my blog.  I am going to share some of the writing that I did during my counseling, probably soon.  It feels a little scary to do that, but I think it's time.  I hope it will be helpful to someone.

Happy May, everyone.  It's Spring.  There is hope and sunshine and pollen in the air.  The long winter is over--it always ends eventually.


The writing that I did in counseling is found here.