Sarah Thompson

Dear friends,

When I initially began my blogging journey, my goal was to put the spotlight on women who inspire me, challenge me and are all around fabulous individuals. With pleasure, I share with you my very first interview of a dear friend and mentor – the wise, loving and glamorous Sarah Thompson. She took the time to sit down and share how Hope, her gorgeous and equally glamorous daughter, came to be part of the Thompson clan through the miracle that is adoption. Her story is an incredible testimony to how the love of God is reflected in a family unit.

image1

G: Hi Sarah! Thanks for taking the time for this sit down. To kick us off, tell us about yourself and your family.
S:
Heyyyyy! I am a stay at home mama and a pastor’s wife and a perpetual volunteer. I’ve been married to Jeffey for 17 years and we have three kids, Judah, 11, Elias, 8, and Paulina Hope who’s 5.

G: I know (through our past conversations) that your involvement with the organization Safe Families was instrumental to constructing your family unit into what it is today. Tell us more about what Safe Families is and does.
S:
Safe Families for Children is a compassionate movement to keep kids safe and families in tact. They are available in moments of crisis for families with a network of support and temporary hosting of children while their folks get back on their feet. They are a preventative service to keep kids from out of situations where abuse or neglect might occur and come in before foster care might be an option. It’s a super cool organization. We found it while we were in the process of adoption, hoping to care for kids in need while also getting to learn how to love a child from different genes with different backgrounds.

G: Talk to us about your story with Hope. How did she come into your life and what ultimately led you to the decision to adopt?
S:
I found out I have PCOS (Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome) when I was 16 and so had known for a long time that having biological children might be a challenge for me. We jumped through a 1000 hoops over the course of several years to get pregnant with Judah. I didn’t want to go through that again and we started our adoption journey.
Right when we had completed the process, I found out I was pregnant with Elias! You hear about stories like this from time to time, but it’s actually super rare! It was a huge surprise. And we had gotten really excited about adoption at this point and so decided to continue to pursue it for our third child. We chose domestic adoption, because there were so many kids right here that need homes! Our only stipulation was that we wanted to keep birth order, so to have Elias be a big brother too.
We were chosen by four different birth moms over the course of a year and they all chose to parent themselves. This was a hard year for us, though we were soooo glad and grateful that these birth moms were each able to come to that decision in a positive way. To keep our focus on the prize, we started hosting children through Safe Families!
We were blessed to keep four kids at different times over the course of the year, the shortest being for just a day and the longest being three months (which was the longest a child would stay in a host home through Safe Families). This was challenging in a completely different way and also a huge blessing. Our case worker at Safe Families knew we were waiting to adopt and so when there was a baby girl who’d been in the program whose mom had decided she wouldn’t be able to parent, she got in touch with us. Safe Families goal is always to keep families intact. They are not an adoption agency, but of course sometimes extenuating circumstances make it difficult or impossible for a family to continue to raise their child. This was one of those very rare occurrences.
We met with Paulina’s birth mom and hit it off right away and she chose us to parent Paulina! We found out about Paulina one day, met with her birth mom the next day and a day after that brought her home. It was a whirlwind after all the waiting! And after she’d been in our care for six months we were able to make Paulina Hope an official part of our family!

image3
Paulina’s 6 month photo, the first picture we ever saw of her.

G: How did you go about sharing your decision to adopt with Judah & Elias? With extended friends and family?
S:
Our family and friends had been in on our journey with us from the beginning, through our struggle with infertility and coming to the decision to adopt.

Life takes a lot of support, you know?

We needed a community around us for the ups and downs! We are so grateful for our families (church family included) and friends.
With the boys, we have always been open that God sends kids to families in different ways: sometimes through a mom’s tummy and sometimes through adoption, where, for whatever reason, a mom or dad can’t give the best care to their child and chooses to love them by putting them in the care of a family that can give them the care they need.

G: I’m sure its impossible to pick just one “best thing” about adoption – but share with us some of what you feel are the greatest parts of it for you and your family.
S:
Having Hopie (as we now refer to Paulina Hope)! She is a jewel, a precious, precious gift. She is a tangible expression of God’s grace and love for us. While we were so far off and so different from God, he chose to love us as his children. It’s a far smaller jump for us to love a child with different genes/background and we are completely humbled and honored to do it.

G: What would you say was the greatest challenge? How did you overcome that challenge?
S:
The waiting was hard. But that’s life for everyone, right? Whether we’re waiting to get pregnant or get a job or find a life partner or whatever: the process is the same. Rely on the Lord and trust his perfect timing and provision.

Sometimes God wants us to want him more than we want his provision. Sometimes we are not ready for the thing we are asking for and the wait brings us closer to it. But whatever it is, God’s ways are better than our own.

Secondly, we leaned on our friends and family. We were so blessed by the love and support of others. And we practiced what we wanted by serving with Safe Families.
I’d say there’s a lot of other challenges in adoption too, like learning to really love a child that in some ways is just completely different than you, or how to have a relationship with the birth family, or how to incorporate our child’s culture into our family… it is a lot. But we did our homework and researched and asked a lot of questions before we ever laid eyes on Hope.

G: Does Hope know her story? If yes, how did you tell her? If not yet, how are you planning to explain it to her?
S:
Yes! Most domestic adoptions are open adoptions, meaning we can know her birth family. We knew Hopie’s birth mom loved her so much and still desired a relationship with her, even though she couldn’t take care for her. Plus, it is generally seen as healthier for a child to grow up knowing and feeling like adoption is normal and just a part of their story. So we started telling Hopie her story before she ever understood the words. And we talk to “Mommy Shay” (as we refer to her birth mom) every week, on the phone/FaceTime or over text. Paulina Hope is blessed to have lots of family that loves her and wants the best for her!

image2
The day we adopted Hopie.

G: What is one thing that you wish people would know or understand more in regards to adoption?
S:
I wish people would stop saying “gave up” or “put up” their child for adoption. It isn’t giving up to choose adoption for your child. It’s choosing to love and to put the child’s life and needs first. And by using language like [“gave up”] we are perpetuating a stigma that it’s a bad thing or worst case or something to be ashamed of. It is not. It’s a beautiful thing.

G: Do you have a Biblically centered view on adoption/foster parenting that you could share? What encouragement can those that are hoping to enter into this role or are in it currently draw from Scripture and the Gospel?
S:
It was Matthew 19:14 where Jesus says “Let the children come to me” that first piqued my interest in adoption. God’s Word is living and active and never returns void. So here’s a bunch of scripture that helps to form my view of adoption:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”– Romans 5:8

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”– Romans 5:10-11

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” – Galatians 4:4-7

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” – Ephesians 1:3-10

“But when Jesus saw it, he… said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. – Mark 10:14-16

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”– John 14:18

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”– James 1:27

Now for some fun questions…

G: Its summer in Chicago! YAY – finally! What are some fun activities that you and your family have done or are looking forward to?
S:
We LOVE being a city family and taking advantage of all Chicago has to offer. We go to the beach. We bike the Lake Shore path or the 606. We head to the Chicago Botanic Garden at an attempt of a more peaceful day. We hit up a lot of playgrounds/parks – Maggie Daley is awesome, but Oz Park and Welles Park are a couple of other favorites. We try to get museum passes from the library and go to at least one museum every summer. We usually hit up Lincoln Park Zoo a few times. We go to Lickety Split for the world’s greatest frozen custard and Miko’s for Italian Ice! And the Chicago Park district has a ton of really great affordable programs. I could for sure keep going. There’s a lot to do and see in this city!

IMG_0274

G: What is the funniest thing your kids have said to you this week?
S:
Hahaha! They say funny/gross stuff all the time! But out of the blue Hope said the other day, “Stop calling me Mr. Ham!” No one has ever called her Mr. Ham. We all died.

G: Describe your perfect way to unwind after a crazy day.
S:
Hit a yoga class, go home and have Jeffey already put the kids to bed and sit and read or watch a show with him and one of the stellar cocktails he makes. Then have sex and still make it to bed by 11pm. Lol goals

Final thoughts from Sarah:
It’s amazing to think about how I’ve seen God’s overarching faithfulness in my life. His provision and perfect timing has guided my every step and led me to be the woman I am today: mom, wife, follower of Jesus. Some times have been really hard! But God has ordered my steps and proved himself good again and again.

Got more questions about Safe Families or how to get involved?

Visit their site here!

The Sweet Six

“Oh my goooosh, can we see your little human? Both our kids are already big humans.”

Two ladies my mom’s age were slowly approaching me as I navigated Zoya’s stroller through TJ Maxx the other day.

The normal oohs, ahhhs and compliments followed suit.

“She is just so sweet! Aren’t you, honey? Aren’t you?”

And then,

“Enjoy her. Even through the tears. We remember – it’s the middle of the night and they’re crying and you’re crying too. But then it’s over real fast. So try to enjoy it too.”

Wow. That got real so fast.

I couldn’t help but marvel at how poignant and raw those words were. The fact that I was hearing them from two seriously seasoned mothers somehow made them even more sharp.

Zoya is now 6 months. Looking back, I am struck by how much truth is in those womens’ words.

There were definitely tears on my end, especially in the beginning. I had such a tough time adjusting to the lack of sleep aspect of motherhood. Nights that Vlad was gone due to work call were especially rough.

It was snowing, dark and cold. Zoya would sometimes take as long as 45 minutes to finish her 3 oz bottle. The fight to eat would then be often followed by an episode of major spit up. I would get her back to sleep and, teary-eyed, clean the rug or change out the sheets on our bed. Knowing I still had a 20 minute pump session ahead of me before I could go back to sleep. Wondering if such giant amounts of spit up meant something was wrong with Zoya. (Note: She simply grew out of it.)

In the thick of it, time seemed to be at a standstill.

Reality was, it passed by so fast.

I sleepwalked through the first three months of Zoya’s life. Then, one day, I woke up.

The tired blur of feeds, diaper changes, endless swaddling, re-swaddling, and guessing what was wrong that is the newborn stage really is just a blip in time.

It wasn’t all tears, though. I think three months in was when I really started to get the hang of it all and settle back into enjoyment. (Just in time to go back to work. Can we all agree that the U.S. needs to get with the times and create laws allowing longer maternity leave?)

I love coming into Zoya’s room in the morning – she always greets me with the biggest smile. She is also developing a serious affinity for music and it’s been so fun cultivating that in little ways. And there is so much more.

It’s hard to believe she is six months. Half a year shouldn’t be allowed to pass by this quickly.

As Vlad said recently, there is no growth without struggle.

Motherhood has been undoubtedly the largest and hardest undertaking of my whole life. And it has produced so much growth. I have had to lean on the Lord in ways I never knew before, learn to be a team with Vlad on a whole new level, and adjust to this baby centered pace of life.

From her birth, I have been confidently believing that God intentionally gave us Zoya, specifically, as a daughter and us to her as parents. It’s a giant privilege to be entrusted to show her the world and also to learn from her.

Six months.

What a sweet beginning.

April 25, 2018

Today, April 25, marks exactly one year since I found out I was pregnant with Zoya. I’m pretty sure it will forever be seared into my memory.

Vlad and I had decided that we would let the cards fall where they may when we decided we were ok with getting pregnant. I purposefully had pretty low expectations for myself in regards to timeline. The heartbreak of infertility and pregnancy loss are all too common and I wanted to protect myself from the pain at all costs. I wasn’t trying to be negative, but I did want to be real.

We had planned a fun trip to California for Vlad’s birthday, April 28th. (That’s coming up, so feel free to love on him extra this Sunday!) Our flight to San Francisco was the evening or April 25th.

Leading up to that day, I had been feeling utterly exhausted. I was also constantly starving. While working, I would finish my lunch within a few hours of arriving and actually resorted to buying sandwiches from Dunkin’ Donuts to make it through the rest of the day (yes, they were delicious and greasy). I shared what had been going on with a coworker.

“Oh my gosh. You’re totally pregnant. You need to take a test!” She laughed, pointing my way towards our point of care room, where we had multiple boxes stocked for patients. I refused, waving it off as a waste of time.

Several days later, we were packing. The perpetual exhaustion I felt had been joined by breast tenderness. On top of that, my period was mysteriously missing. I was thinking out loud to Vlad about all that had been going on.

“I had better not get my period on vacation!” I lamented. We decided that I would take a pregnancy test just to be super extra 100% certain nothing else was going on. I was in no big hurry.

The day of our flight, I went to my nail appointment and picked up a pee stick at the local Dollar Tree. Cause I wasn’t about to pay more than a dollar to find out I wasn’t pregnant. Obviously.

At home, I continued last minute packing. The test lay on my bed in it’s plastic bag, waiting for it’s time.

At last, when Vlad’s brother arrived at our house to give us a ride to the airport and with less than an hour before we had to leave the house, I locked myself in our upstairs bathroom. After a deep breath, the testing commenced. I had stolen a styrofoam cup from the water cooler at the nail salon so I wouldn’t actually have to pee on a stick (knowing me, I would for sure miss).

With my enough pee in the cup, I gingerly dipped the test and waited as the moisture seeped into the result window. I was really only half watching as a pink line appeared. It wasn’t faint either. If it was a paint color, I would call it “desert mauve”. The line appeared so fast that the control didn’t even have time to develop.

I was the definition of the word shook. Admittedly, the words “oh crap, what did we do?!?” popped into my head as well as the realization that this was forever.

I had been thinking of how I would tell Vlad I was pregnant when it would actually happen…there were vague ideas of doing some sort of cute prank and taping his reaction. Now that I was definitely pregnant, I was in such shock that the mental capacity required to come up with anything that adorable was long gone.

I slowly walked into the office, where Vlad was nonchalantly making his headphones into a neat little roll for the trip. I’m pretty sure my jaw was dragging on the floor somewhere behind me.

He looked up at him. I looked back wide-eyed.

What happened next was a lot of frenzied whisper screaming so we wouldn’t clue in Vlad’s brother, chilling downstairs. We tried our best to play it cool as he dropped us off for our flight.

If it’s possible to be ecstatic, terrified, confused and amazed all at once I was all of those. Plus slap happy. My body was actually creating a very tiny human. I felt different…yet I didn’t feel any different. I wondered if I looked different to anyone or if it was obvious to any of the thousands of people at the airport that I was with child. It was the most surreal experience.

Morning one of being pregnant. Note the giant breakfast.

Vlad and I had the most amazing trip, pondering the future and savoring every present moment. When I was ready to tell people at work, I found the nurse who had called me out initially and we jumped up and down in the medication room.

This is my story. I love it because it is perfectly representative of me – kinda quirky and silly, but also constantly aware of the emotional depth some moments hold.

Every mama has their own story, and they are also perfectly imperfect. Some stories are still being written, and that’s ok too. Truthfully, there are so many beautiful ways to arrive at parenthood.

I’m thankful to be able to share mine with you today.

I just wanna be OK

Can we all just acknowledge for a second that the motherhood struggle is real? And that although the hardships are now being more publicly spoken about, many times the sharing is done via perfectly curated Instagram images that still set the bar so high.

Basically, society dictates that you can be a hot mess, but in a very coordinated, photogenic way,

Instagram worthy serenity

Let’s face it though, sometimes we’re just a mess. No hot prefix. And the daily grind of being a mom doesn’t always inspire beautiful sentiment and song a la Disney princess.

When I was pregnant I had a notion that after giving birth, love for my baby would give me superhuman energy. I thought I would be able to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to tend to Zoya’s every need with an angelic smile and the energy 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep gives. It was bewildering and guilt inducing when, in fact, I felt the opposite. “They’re only this little once, enjoy this sweet season” – was what I heard from every outlet. Except the tiny baby season is also so, so tough. There are long nights that turn into early mornings and constant guesswork relating to a new baby’s needs. I wanted to cherish all the moments, but constant exhaustion was like a foggy veil that I couldn’t shake some days.

I was also frustrated at myself over struggling to figure out the balance of caring for a baby and exclusively pumping while simultaneously…uhh…doing everything else. There were days that getting dressed in anything but clean pajamas was unfathomable. Housework was like a mountaintop that I didn’t even want to begin to scale. Going back to work added a whole new layer to the mix. Girlfriends who had been through the season of fresh motherhood told me, “Don’t worry, you’re not supposed to get anything done right now.” Yet, as someone who has thrived on the satisfaction of accomplishment, accepting the growing mountain of laundry in the hamper as the new normal seemed like a big fail.

It took me a while to figure out that feeling this way was OK. It was normal and didn’t make me an inferior mother. Neither did the fact that I’m not a machine that can simultaneously fold laundry, work out, and make a gourmet meal while raising a baby.

I’ve learned to seriously prioritize all the things and be fine if some tasks don’t get accomplished. I figured out my sanity is more important than a clean house, a home cooked meal or even (gasp!) a baby participating in ten different activities a day. If I need a shower and I want to snuggle Zoya during nap time, and that means I have to order Instacart groceries, so be it. (Note: I’m very particular while grocery shopping, so giving the reins to someone else has required some serious humility and personal growth.)

When there’s multiple balls in the air, it’s ok to let some drop so you can catch the others.

This has become my daily reminder.

So if you’re just as overwhelmed and underenthused as a new mama or in any life stage, allow the reminder to also become yours.

You’re doing your very best, giving as much as you can give, within your present circumstance. You’re enough. You’re nowhere close to perfect, but it’s ok cause you’re nowhere closer to failure either.

Reality: Utter chaos
Trying to get some rest any way I can
These pants and sweater have become my uniform

Changing Waters

Change. 
There are people in the world that thrive in its presence. They relish the idea of new seasons and changing tides. I am not one of them. I love the feeling of the fuzzy familiar. Perhaps the only exception to that would be work, where I enjoy seeing a variety of patient cases…as long as I am with the same wonderful coworkers and consistent environment. Sameness makes it very easy for me to feed my inner, sometimes unhealthy, need to plan everything and control the world around me. With change comes unpredictability. That is where I falter.
Lately, there has been so much change in my life it feels like an altogether different reality. I ended maternity leave and began a brand new job, transitioning to nursing in the outpatient arena. OK, I totally initiated that change but still, it was difficult and I spent many days missing the position I left. There is so much to learn and with working in a new hospital system a whole culture to get accustomed to, which has had its difficult moments. Our church has been going through some turbulent times and the process has been akin to a painful pruning. 
Obviously, the birth of Zoya has been the biggest and most radical adjustment of them all. The large scale change of her appearance in this world has been punctuated by so many small ones that I can hardly keep up. Right after her birth, I recall missing being pregnant and feeling her little kicks. After Vlad went back to work and the new baby high wore off, I struggled with the loss of my daily routine and instead having to put a tiny human first.  Most recently, she stopped sleeping in the bassinet next to our bed and transitioned to her “big girl crib” in her room. The first night was the hardest. I had grown so used to her sleeping within arm’s reach of me. The wall separating our two rooms made her seem so far away. My sleep was restless all night even though I knew she was perfectly safe in her beautiful nursery.
Going through these transitions felt bumpy in the moment. Now that I’m a bit farther down the road with each of them, I can really see the positives in each. My new job has catapulted me into a whole new arena of the nursing scope of practice and has tons of promise for the future, along with a more “mommy friendly” schedule. Both Vlad and I have agreed that as rough a go as our church has had, it now feels more authentic and is utilizing people’s gifts that were otherwise on the back burner. And although there were times where both Zoya and I were crying together from frustration at one another, I wouldn’t trade her flipping our life upside down. As tough as it was to “let go” and have her sleep on her own, I am now so glad to have our room back! 
In ruminating on all these changes, I have been reminded that God does not desire us to be stagnant. Accepting the Gospel as truth and committing to a relationship with Christ is akin to an entire reconstruction of one’s heart. We are catapulted into a life of constant transformation as we figure out what it means to live for Him. 

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18


Through all of this, God himself is constant. There are SO many great verses in Scripture that showcase his nature, one of my favorites being Psalm 90:2

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Whether we are a boat that is peacefully gliding in glistening waters or if we are getting tossed around by life’s storms, God is like a lighthouse. Firmly fixed in place, showing us the path as we try and make our way towards Him. Maybe this is a cheesy analogy, but meditating on it when life seems to be moving a bit too fast gives me peace. 

Change is hard no matter what. Viewing it from a spiritual lens brings a bit of relief by reminding me that change has a purpose. Better yet, God is the same forever – no amount of earthly turnover can shake Him or His word. I can rest in the knowledge that He is the one thing that is certain.

All The Best Things…

Following delivery, I could not sleep. Not that I didn’t want to. Believe me, it was all I wished for. However, for 24 hours afterwards I remained on the magnesium drip to continue to protect my brain. This required neurological checks performed by the nurses every hour. Just as were done with a check and I began to drift off, time rolled around for the next one. No sleep meant that I was forced to face my thoughts. Physically, I felt as if I had been run over by that runaway train I was involuntarily riding earlier. Emotionally, I fell into a dark hole. I had created so many fuzzy scenarios about giving birth in my head – how exciting it would be when my labor would start, how I would labor at home as much as possible before presenting to the hospital, how Vlad would coach me through pushing and how deliriously happy we would be when Zoya was finally out. All of that got ripped away within just a few days time. I could barely comprehend what had happened. To top it off, the NICU team called to say that Zoya developed a bleed in her lung and had to be placed on a ventilator until it (hopefully) resolved. I didn’t even have the capacity to adequately process the emotional blow of that news – I simply said OK and hung up the phone.

My faith in God had never been so tested. In that moment, I needed God’s consistent goodness, sovereignty and faithfulness to be more than just nice words Christians use in hard times. I needed them to be true. I clung on to my faith that God has a good plan to work even the worst of situations for our benefit and ultimately, His glory.

In the days after, the good plan began to be revealed. So many blessings poured out on us from all different directions. It was one of the most awe-inspiring, edifying moments in my faith walk. I want to share with you just some of the main outcomes that resulted due to Zoya’s early appearance in this world.

1) Learning to relinquish control

Thank goodness for technology, right? I spent a lot of time reading the Bible on my phone in order to find peace in the midst of the chaos. One of the verses that stuck out to be was Psalm 100:3 –

Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

For those that don’t know me, I am a major control freak and have struggled with surrender for a majority of life. This lovely character trait is especially pronounced in times of stress. It seems as if I would rather run myself into the ground trying to find solutions to situations in which not much can be done, rather than be still and patient, knowing God is in control where I am not. With Zoya’s birth, God kinda sorta forced my hand in letting go. Even if there was something I could have done, in the first few days postpartum I was physically and emotionally incapacitated. I had no choice but to trust that God is who he says He is. I reran Psalm 100:3 over and over in my mind. Great comfort was found in the knowledge that God takes ownership of His children. I imagined Him protectively holding me and Zoya by the hand as we walked down a scary path, keeping our steps steady, giving us what we needed to make it through.

In a time when I could have been panicked with fear, accepting that I am powerless while God is all I am not and resting in His promises brought peace I would have otherwise never had. It was a rough, but necessary, learning experience that has since impacted every aspect of my life.

2) A New Bond
Going on seven years of marriage at the time of Zoya’s arrival, I felt like Vlad and I had found a sweet spot in our relationship. We knew each other. We were a true team. With every passing year, we were learning how to love and serve one another on a daily basis. But let me tell you guys, I’ve never felt that my husband truly loved me as much as when he was helping a flabby, leaky and wobbly me shower four days after delivery. It was painful to stand for a long time and just as uncomfortable to have him see me in such a state. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the bathroom. Vlad broke down my insecurities with his unconditional love. He calmed my worried heart as I was recovering. During hospital stay, he woke up with me every 3 hours to help me pump and then would personally walk down my breastmilk to Zoya in the NICU. He was my cheerleader as I shuffled down the hospital hallway despite the c-section incision pain. I’ve never been so dependent on another human being in my adult life. It was scary and humbling and left me breathless every time I thought about it. The experience of becoming parents in such a tumultuous way strengthened our relationship with a bond that could not be created in any other way. Talk about growing pains.

3) Friends in New Places

Following Zoya’s birth, we had a waterfall of texts, calls, messages – you name it – coming to us from all communication platforms. Our friend group surrounded us with love and support in every possible way. We had people bring us coffee and all kinds of delicious treats, call and pray with us, clean our house. My friend, Rita, started a meal train so we wouldn’t have to worry about cooking. It was amazing to know that the friends I considered as close really were that as they served us over the next few months. The best surprise of it all, though, came in the form of people who I was not close with or had lost touch with over time reaching out to us in love. Many shared their own stories of preeclampsia or experiences with having a NICU baby. Many just said words of encouragement. The transparency of these individuals, who were all but strangers, was incredibly uplifting. A particularly sweet girlfriend who I had previously been close with but fell out of touch with, offered to come over after I was home from the hospital and just be with me. She did not seek to be entertained but was simply willing to keep me company as I did whatever mundane things I needed to do that day. Zoya was the catalyst that ended our season of distance and started us on a path to a deeper friendship than we had in the past.

4) Fresh Professional Perspective

I’m a nurse, and nursing is all about empathy. It’s a skill that is actually taught during our education through practicing therapeutic communication, active listening and the like. Of course, the best empathy comes from personal understanding of the patient experience. Up until Zoya, I had very little expertise in being sick. I had never broken a bone. I had never gone to the Emergency Room. My “big story” was getting IV fluids and Toradol (like an ibuprofen, but given intravenously) at an urgent care for a bad UTI. I tried my best to be empathetic and compassionate to my patients, but looking back, I probably failed miserably many times over. I don’t blame myself, because I simply didn’t know what being a patient was like.

Being in the hospital for 6 days left me in awe of how tough the patient life really is. From the vulnerability of wearing a hospital gown instead of regular clothes to the unpleasant taste of saline in my mouth during an IV flush (it’s a weird phenomenon, but so real) to how mind numbing it is to remain in the same room for days on end, I kept thinking to myself, “wow, so this is what it’s really like!”.

It was a deeply personal experience that created a fresh professional perspective. I knew it was going to make me less dismissive, more compassionate and ultimately a better nurse.

These wonderful byproducts of Zoya’s birth story are just some of the ways in which I have felt blessed in those subsequent days.

There is so much more. Every day I would survey my life and find even more good. It was all around me, seeping out of every crack of this situation. It would have been very easy to sink into a dark hole in those days. To be honest, some days I was on the very edge. Relinquishing my personal control and holding on to God’s promises were what pulled me up and out. I did not forget the anger or fear that I felt. Yet simultaneously, my eyes were trained on all the good things, and ultimately, on a good God.

A Love Letter

Dear Zoya,

One more week until I’m back at work.

Until you came along, finishing nursing school and conquering the emergency room had been the most difficult, yet satisfying accomplishment. Now, the stress of exams and learning how to behave in a code seems trivial in comparison to being entirely responsible for nourishing a human life.

We were blessed with the opportunity for me to take four months off work in a country where some women get no time at all. One month of that time was spent sitting by your isolette in the NICU as we eagerly awaited your homecoming. I watched you start your journey from a frail little bird with limbs the size of my fingers.

After you finally joined us home on December 7th, Vlad and I spent the rest of 2018 floating through our house in a sleepless haze common to new parents. Every feed felt like life or death as we learned to care for your needs – fortifying your breastmilk with extra calories, supplementing vitamins, making sure you remembered to breathe while eating – all the while praying for good growth.

It was tough to be cooped up in the house during a long winter, especially after Vlad went back to work. I was equally anxious about flu exposure as I was about just being out with an infant – what if you had a need I could not provide? Then, slowly, we began to brave the outside world together. I remember the elated text I sent Vlad the first time you and I went to Mariano’s. Grocery shopping went from a mundane task to a monumental accomplishment.

Now our time together is getting sweeter by the day. We have learned one another the way mothers and daughters do. I love our early mornings especially. Waking up is still as tough as ever but after the morning bottle, we lay together on the big bed and you give me the best smiles. You’re starting to take in the big world around you. I feel so privileged to shepherd you through it.

In a week I will trade in your soft snuggles for being party to the physical, and often spiritual, ailments of strangers. That is what nursing is, after all. It feels a bit odd to be leaving you. And I must admit, it feels guilty. That mom shame is so, so real.

I keep reminding myself that God made me your mother, but he also made me a nurse. He gave me the mind to pass all those exams, the skills to assess a critically ill patient and the words to comfort a loved one just as he gave me the intuition to know exactly what you need from one cry. Now, again with His help, I have to figure out how to balance the two.

Being a working mom is no walk in the park. Neither is the life of a stay at home mom a permanent vacation. Career choices aside, the pressure is on to make organic baby food, decorate a sparkling home on a penny budget, and to look “I woke up like this” perfect on Instagram. Women are in competition with one another to raise beautiful young prodigies all while looking and being fabulous themselves. Reality is, it currently takes me several days to fold one load of laundry. The amount of dry shampoo I’ve been using on a regular basis is slightly concerning.

I recently listened to a podcast interview of Hannah Anderson, the author of Humble Roots. In it she relates many of our life stresses to pride. She states, “pride is self-reliance and attempting to live beyond the limits that God has placed in our lives.” Baby girl, how badly I needed to hear that! For I am such a limited human being. I know, that try as I might to be a perfect mother, I will inevitably fail in some way. And I’m learning to be OK with that.

My hope is that as you’re growing, you see me as a mother that leans deeply into the grace of God. As you see me going to work, I hope you are inspired by seeing me using the gifts God gave me and consider your own. I pray that you are modeled what humility and forgiveness looks like as I learn what they mean and practice them in the context of motherhood. Instead of trying to be a perfect parent, I want to teach you that God is the most perfect Father any of us could ever have.

I am sure there will be days that I will want nothing to do with getting in the car and driving to work. I am certain there will be at least one instance where I cry because of missing you or not being able to witness a milestone firsthand. But there will also be priceless greetings, bed time stories and lazy Saturday mornings. Our time spent together will be all the more cherished.

We are entering into this new season at full speed. Change is hard, I must admit. But also necessary. We will be in a brand new place, and it will be different. Different is not bad, though, and we mustn’t be afraid. Our love will change too – it will only grow stronger.

We will figure out this new place in life together and find a way to make it even sweeter.