Friday, December 28, 2012

The Royal BABY

December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  On this day, we celebrate the male babies murdered by King Herod in his paranoid attempt to preserve his throne and kill the newborn king, the Christ Child.  Today, we pray for those babies as well as all of the other Innocents that have died.  My niece, our baby Thérèse, other babies that died through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death, as well as the millions of babies that are victims of abortion come to mind.  Catholics entrust these Innocents' souls to our loving God's mercy, and the Church celebrates these babies as saints.  


On this Feast of the Holy Innocents, I came across Eric Metaxas' article "Gushing over the royal fetus: words matter" on Lifesitenews.com.    He made me consider all of the hoopla surrounding the royal baby in a new light.  Of course, like the rest of the world, I was thrilled for the couple when I heard the news, but I hadn't taken pause to consider what a wonderful blessing this royal baby is by his or her presence in the media spotlight.  

As a pro-life woman, I barely blinked at all of the reports about a "royal baby" and took that phrase for granted.  After all, when a woman is pregnant, she is having a baby, right?  I never considered what a wonderful, pro-life message the words "royal baby" send the world--especially early on in the pregnancy.  The news generally does semantic gymnastics when it refers to a pregnancy in the first trimester.  These babies are usually referred to as a "product of conception," "lump of tissue," or a "fetus." 

Yet, it seems when we're talking about royalty, there's no debate in the tabloids or news over the personhood of the royal offspring.  Since the news broke, we hear everywhere that Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge are having a baby--not a "product of conception," a "fetus," or a "lump of tissue."  In his article on Lifesitenews.com, Metaxas mentions a British blogger with the tongue-in-cheek pseudonym "Archbishop Cranmer," "referencing the 16th-century Protestant divine who was executed during the reign of Queen Mary on the charge of heresy."  I think Metaxas is onto something when he quotes the hypocrisy "Archbishop Cranmer" notes the media treatment of the "royal baby" compared to other first trimester babies: 
Noting the excitement in British society about the child who is “destined to ascend the throne,” the modern “Archbishop Cranmer” points out the slip of so many tongues. “Surely such ‘pro-choice’ newspapers and journals (and people) should be talking about a bunch of pluripotent stem cells, an embryo or a foetus?” he asks. “For reports suggest that the Duchess is still in her first trimester, so this is not yet a baby; and certainly nothing with any kind of destiny. At this stage, surely, it is a non-person, just like the other 201,931 non-persons who last year were evacuated from wombs in England, Scotland and Wales.”
"Archbishop Cranmer" is right to question why the world unwaveringly considers the royal baby (even in the first trimester) a baby while the country legally aborted hundreds of thousands of babies and refers to other first trimester babies as "a bunch of pluripotent stem cells, an embryo or a foetus."  

When the world watched the Olympics in London, we witnessed the deep respect and love the English people have for the royal family.  That deep respect seems to be transferring naturally to the royal couple's children.  In an unspoken agreement, the English people and the world dare not degrade the royal baby to the status of "potential person."  

Some might lament that the world is anticipating the royal baby's birth more than it anticipated the birth of the Christ Child at Christmas, but let's focus on the good.  It is good and beautiful to witness the world anxiously awaiting the birth of any baby.  

It's interesting to consider that the world won't question the personhood of the royal baby, yet it turns a blind eye to the millions of babies that are victims of abortion.  If we believe what St. Paul tells us, we need to remember that we are royalty, too.  (Remember, though, our King wore a crown of thorns instead of jewels.) 
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  (1 Peter 2:9)
If God is King and we are His children, we are made in His image and likeness and make up His royal priesthood.  When I taught high school Spanish at an all-girls school, I routinely told my students (en español) that they were God's princesses and deserved only the best treatment from any young men that they dated.  Now that I have children of my own, I demand that the world treat them as the royal babies that they are--not because they can do no wrong (ohhhhhhhh, believe me, my precious little ones can make my blood boil on the right day), but the world should treat them as royal babies because they are on loan to me from their perfect Father.  Just as I expect the world to treat them as royal babies, I expect them to return the same treatment to everyone else on this planet because we're equally important in the eyes of God.  

So, Holy Innocents, please pray for us.  Pray that we see the inherent beauty and dignity in every human person--especially the unborn, disabled, and elderly.  Pray that we defend the Innocents among us.  Help us to anticipate the birth of every baby with hope and joy in the knowledge that the baby will be a member of a royal priesthood.    

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Baby Jesus' Birthday Party

At the beginning of Advent, we started explaining to the children that we were preparing for Baby Jesus' birthday.  We had Christmas Eve all to ourselves this year, so we decided to throw Baby Jesus a birthday party.  When I took the kids to the grocery store last week, I asked Janie to pick out the kind of cake that Jesus likes best.  Naturally, His favorite ended up being chocolate fudge with chocolate fudge frosting!

Janie and her trusty sidekick, Walt, helped Philip make Baby Jesus' chocolate chocolate cake.


Adding the ingredients

Mixing it all up

Philip did the frosting and writing

Janie thought the cake needed a little something, so she added some red sprinkles...

Some silver balls...

Some blue sprinkles...

And some rainbow sprinkles.  Ta da!  We thought this was the finished product...

Thumbs up from the baker

Philip gave Walt a taste of the frosting, and he ended up with a little mustache

Checking out the action.  This is when Janie gave the cake a final flourish of blue sprinkles!

Walt's not so sure about the added blue sprinkles.

The finished product!
We went to our parish's Children's Mass on Christmas Eve and came home for our Baby Jesus Birthday Party.  To mix things up a bit, we had brunch for dinner.  We went with a Christmas tree motif.

We added green food coloring to the waffle batter for our "tree."  The "star" is chopped up peaches, the "ornaments" are raspberries and blueberries, and the "trunk" is a sausage link.  The kids loved their trees!  We also had some cheesy scrambled eggs.  Yum yum!  

After brunch for dinner, I brought the Fontanini and Little People Nativity Baby Jesus figurines out of hiding to join us at the dinner table.  We put a single candle on the birthday cake, turned out the lights, and sang "Happy Birthday" to Baby Jesus.  The cake was a big hit--especially with Walt!


The kids were SO EXCITED that Baby Jesus was finally in His manger in the nativity scenes!  Janie kept saying, "Aw, Baby Jesus is sooooooo cute!" giving him smooches, and laying Him back in His manger.  Walt walked around with the Little People Baby Jesus, saying, "Baby!  Baby!  Baby!"  It was a fun little celebration with our little family to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Thoughts on Sandy Hook

I sat down to write tonight, hoping to put something cohesive together about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday.  I can't.  All that I can come up with is a bunch of thoughts simultaneously running through my mind.  Maybe that's what this post needs to be since my brain isn't capable of formulating well thought-out paragraphs.  Maybe I just need to get it all out.

I wrote about the usual tropes with mass shootings after the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado.  That post highlighted the pandemic of instability our youngest members of society face in the United States.  Instability, I argued, is the greatest cause of problems among our country's youth.  

Does our country need tighter gun control laws?  No doubt about it.  Will tighter gun control laws save lives?  Logic tells me they will.  Yet, no matter how tight the laws are or how well they are enforced, I believe a mentally unstable person desperate to do others or themselves harm will find a way to find a lethal weapon.  So, the solution extends beyond the gun laws.

We can't jump to conclusions about any shooter from any of these cases, yet we can observe the parallels and hope to learn something from them.  When classmates, friends, family members, or other acquaintances describe the shooters, their adjectives include: adolescent, male, loner, awkward, isolated, computer geek, goth, average, depressed, quiet, smart, nice, divorced parents, suburban.  Lumped together, these adjectives often do not add up to what the education system considers an "at-risk" kid.  A non-minority child with good to average grades from a middle to middle-upperclass background simply won't get the attention and resources that the "squeakier wheels"(i.e. children with behavioral outbursts, socioeconomic concerns, learning disabilities) receive.  

I do not doubt our country is full of hardworking and sacrificial teachers that give nothing less than their best everyday to their students.  We cannot fault our educators or the education system for allowing these truly at-risk children to "slip through the cracks."  We need to see what brokenness these children are bringing with them to school that our education system cannot and must not be expected to repair.  

Many of these young men come from broken homes and many are raised by single moms.  There are plenty of single parents in this country (most are moms) who are doing a heck of a job raising their children on their own, but I imagine most would concede that it's not ideal.  Parenting is a tough gig, and there are all kinds of reasons that God designed it to be a tag team effort.  (While we're at it, parenting used to be an extended family and neighborhood team effort, but we're talking about moms and dads right now.)  Parenting is supposed to be a mom-dad tag team effort because, no matter how much protesting or hate mail this comment receives, mothers and fathers are not interchangeable, they do not perform the same functions in families, and they and their children need one another to bring their unique gifts to the family.  (In putting my thoughts together, I realized I actually have a lot of thoughts on this topic.  In the interest of staying on-topic, I bunched those thoughts all together into another blog post that I'll publish another time.) 

In the Sandy Hook case, we hear that the shooter's mother stayed at home with him, homeschooled him for some time after fighting with the school board, and received substantial financial support from the shooter's father.  The father seems largely forgotten in the scenario while the news and blog comment boxes are full of belligerent comments about the mother.  This is where we see that even a stay at home mother or financial stability is not enough.  We all know it is not always possible because of death, military service, or another reason, but whenever possible (and barring unique situations like abuse), the ideal scenario for a child is living with their mother and father.  

As a society, let's beef up the gun control laws and figure out what makes these shooters "at-risk."  Let's examine our mental health diagnostics, procedures, and protocol.  Let's get these troubled youth the help they need, but let's not depend on our education system to catch everyone.  Our educators are already overworked, underpaid, and generally expected to raise our country's children for us.  Let's look within our own families and ourselves as parents to determine what we can do to be our children's best advocates.  Let's create as much stability as possible for our children.  Let's remember that women and men are not interchangeable, that we need each other, and that we need to work together within the family context to help our children transition healthily into adulthood.  Let's remember that marriage is a lifelong commitment to one another and any children that we help to create.             

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sharing What I Learned

Losing our precious baby Thérèse taught me many things, introduced me to many resources, and showed me how many families are affected by miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.  Since sharing our story, nearly fifty women and their family members reached out to me to share their stories or ask for advice on how to navigate through this time that nobody seems to talk about.  

Rather than keep the advice and lessons learned to myself or within private messages, I want to share helpful lessons and resources with everyone interested in learning more.  Whether a person needs the advice now or faces the death of a baby down the road, hopefully this shared insight will help them to face that time with some gained perspective and the knowledge that there is a community of support ready and willing to help. 

Here is what Philip and I learned:

Hold The Baby and Bring Items for Them to Hold
If parents receive a terminal prenatal diagnosis for their baby, think he or she may die shortly after birth, or that the baby may not even survive the birthing process, consider a c-section.  A c-section may offer them the opportunity to hold their living baby. 

If other family members are present or will be shortly after death, invite them to hold the baby.  This will be their only chance to see and behold your precious baby, so offer them that option if you are comfortable with it or they request it.  I was able to hold my niece shortly after she died, and I am so grateful that my sister and brother-in-law gave me that tremendous blessing.  It was the only chance I had to hold her and see her with my own eyes as my precious, irrepeatable niece. 

Get the Right Doctor, Be Your Family's Best Advocate, and Trust Your Gut
If you feel that your doctor is not sensitive to your family's needs or wishes, switch doctors.  Some physicians may advocate termination when you desperately wish to move forward with a pregnancy despite a terminal diagnosis.  Find a doctor who will help your family to make decisions that uphold your family's beliefs.  

I highly recommend finding a pro-life doctor from OneMoreSoul.com.  This is how we found my amazing NFP-only OBGYN.  Without his pro-life convictions and support, I think losing our baby would have been a different experience.  Despite what the science was telling him, he trusted my gut feeling that something was wrong and told me to come on in for an ultrasound.  The ultrasound confirmed that Thérèse had died.  He always referred to Thérèse as our baby instead of "the fetus" or "the products of conception," affirmed that her death was a real loss, and encouraged us to take all the time we needed to grieve. 

Make Memories Just Like It Were a "Regular" Pregnancy or Delivery
During the pregnancy, do the things parents do during "regular" pregnancies to make memories.  Keep everything.  I asked to keep the ultrasound pictures of Thérèse because they were the only chance I had to see her.  Take belly pictures, write in a journal, or write letters to the baby.  Writing was very therapeutic for me after we found out we were miscarrying, and several women shared that putting their thoughts into writing during a pregnancy with a terminal diagnosis helped them as well.  Whether it's a personal journal, a private or public blog, or some other writing outlet, writing is a helpful way to put thoughts into words or remember the details as they happen when you don't have the energy to talk to another person.  The other reason I loved writing about things as I felt them was that I wanted to capture the details.  I wanted them on paper so that when I was ready to relive some moment or face something emotionally, the memory was all laid out for me to throw myself into.  Rereading about the day we found out Thérèse had died or the day I had my emergency D&C helps with the healing process on the days that I am able to relive the experience.  

Bring special items like a stuffed animal or a blanket to wrap the baby in at the hospital.  These items that your baby touched are treasures.  Some hospitals provide services to take clay imprints of the baby's footprints.  Consider creating a playlist of music to play during labor, delivery, and after the baby is born.  The music that you listened to as you met and held your baby might bring you comfort in the future.  

There is a fantastic resource called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Photography.  NILMDTS specializes in the photography of parents with their babies 25 weeks or older for a private session at the hospital immediately after their baby's death.  Over 5000 photographers are available throughout the country to offer this invaluable service to grieving parents searching for a way to capture their baby's memory.   You can find a photographer through the NILMDTS website here

Name the Baby
Choose a name for your baby.  This way, your precious, irrepeatable little baby will be more in conversation than "the baby we lost."  Other family members will have a name to refer to them by, and you have a name to call on in heaven when you ask for their intercession in prayer. 

You may not be far enough along in the pregnancy to know the sex of the baby, and that's okay.  You can either pick a name based on the inkling you had or choose a name that works for both genders.  

Baptize the Baby
If the baby survives delivery and is in danger of death, baptize the baby.  If possible, make arrangements ahead of time and ask your priest to be there in the delivery room.  If not, remember that anyone, including parents, can baptize case of danger of death.  All that is necessary is some water to pour over the baby's head as you say the words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  Pour the water one time for each member of the Blessed Trinity, and add the baby's name before blessing if you chose a name.  For example, "Innocent, I baptize you in the name of (pour water) the Father, and of (pour water) the Son, and (pour water) of the Holy Spirit."  For further information, consult the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Your parish priest will help you navigate these questions as well.      

Formally Commemorate Your Baby's Life and Death
I recommend having a formal memorial service of some kind.  Gather family and friends (whoever you'd like to be present) to celebrate a memorial Mass, a Rosary, or some other formal way to recognize that you were blessed with a precious baby that died and that you want to remember and pray for them together.   

Honor other family members by asking them to participate in your ceremony.  We asked our niece and nephews to each lead a decade of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary for Thérèse.

Many cemeteries and funeral homes work with families at little to no cost to provide them with caskets or burial plots for babies.  Many cemeteries have special areas set aside for babies that die through miscarriage, stillbirth, or as infants.  Our baby Thérèse died at 12 weeks gestation, so she will be buried in a special crypt with other miscarried babies in a Catholic cemetery.  We are comforted knowing that there will be a physical place that we can go to with a marker to visit our baby.  

If the baby has older siblings, some parents ask the children to bring a balloon to the burial to send up to heaven for the baby to "catch."  Having a physical place to visit on the anniversary of the baby's death, original due date, or other important family anniversaries can be very healing.  

Celebrate the Anniversaries
Find a ritual that works for your family to memorialize your baby.  Perhaps you'll visit your baby's gravesite, donate a blanket or monetary gift to the hospital NICU, donate to your parish school, or find another way to share the love of your child with your larger community.  My sister and brother-in-law decided they would commemorate each passing year by donating to an area women's religious order summer camp for vocations in honor of their daughter.  

Advocate for the Proper Handling of Your Baby's Remains
Unfortunately, not all hospitals or healthcare providers are as sensitive as they should be with the handling of your baby's remains.  In our case, I had to go to an area non-Catholic hospital emergency room for an emergency D&C after severe blood loss.  

I was asked to fill out a form to determine what we wanted to happen with Thérèse's remains as I was being prepped for an emergency D&C.  There were three options available on the form.  Option one was to allow the hospital to treat the remains according to hospital policy.  This basically amounted to treating our baby as medical waste.  The other options were to release Thérèse's remains to a funeral home or to say that we were unsure at the time.  

Philip had accepted a job after residency in another city, so we knew we wanted Thérèse's remains buried there.  We asked that Thérèse's remains be released to us so that we could deliver them to a Catholic hospital in that city to make arrangements for burial in that city's Catholic cemetery.  Unfortunately, it was against this hospital's policy to release the "products of conception" directly to parents.  They usually worked through funeral homes.  In our case, since we would have needed Thérèse's remains transferred to another city, it would have cost a pretty penny to have a funeral home deliver her remains to the hospital in the other city.  Had we miscarried at home, we would have avoided the legal hoops and could have delivered our baby's remains to the hospital for burial without incident.  

It took a very special pathologist from the hospital to advocate for us with the hospital's administration and legal team to get Thérèse's remains released to us.  Although he is our baby's father, Philip could not pick up Thérèse's remains since they were in my name as the hospital patient.  So, I packed up the kids, and we headed to the hospital to pick up Thérèse's remains.  The hospital had to draw up a release for me to sign, saying that I would deliver Thérèse's remains to the Catholic hospital for burial.  Also, I had to sign that I was aware that "coming into contact with the products of conception" could cause serious infection or even death.  The pathologist shook my hand and said that he was so sorry we had to go through all of the legal hoops.  He said he went to bed the night before feeling terrible about how things happened but that he was glad he could help a family bury their baby as they wished.  I think of that sweet pathologist often and am so grateful for how hard he worked to help us.  

If you feel that the way your doctor, a nurse, or other healthcare professional handled your situation was not helpful, let them know.  I am writing a respectful letter to the hospital where I had the D&C.  When I was bleeding uncontrollably, the emergency doctor started to remove Thérèse without telling me what he was doing.  Perhaps he was just focused on stopping the bleeding, but I had to ask Philip and the nurses to tell me what was happening.  I watched as he filled container after container, and I kept asking if he had found our baby.  It was a bizarre and helpless feeling.  We were also disappointed in the way the hospital would not release Thérèse's remains to us without a fight.  If I don't make the hospital aware of our story or our feelings, other families may experience the same kind of fear or frustration.  I hope my writing a letter to the hospital will help others.   

Although we had some negative experiences with some healthcare professionals, there are many well-trained and sensitive doctors or nurses trained to help families through and in preparation for the death of a baby.  If you receive a terminal diagnosis during pregnancy or your baby dies while in the hospital, find out if there are trained grief support professionals available to help you.  There are often registered nurses with additional training in bereavement services.  These special people can help facilitate the creation of mementos, referrals for community support, registration for grief support groups, or help your family to make various unexpected decisions.  They will help families to avoid unnecessary heartache by doing things (with your permission) such as: marking your door with a special sign to alert others that your baby died (this will prevent well-meaning nurses or others from asking hurtful questions about breastfeeding, newborn photos, etc.), or they may help you to be transferred away from the maternity wing if you wish, etc.     

Consider the Gift of Life
Some babies are eligible for organ donation.  Although it might be too difficult to consider beforehand or even in the moment, your precious baby can give other families the gift of life.  The donor recipients will be living memorials to your baby.  If you have ethical concerns about this practice, contact the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia for a consultation.

Read or Listen When You Don't Feel Like Talking
There are some fantastic books and other resources available for parents or other family members searching for support when they don't feel like talking.  Reading was a great comfort to me during the quiet of night, when Philip had a long shift, or during the kids' naptime.  I read a few books that I highly recommend:
  1. Naming the Child: Hope-filled Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death by Jenny Schroedel.
  2. Empty Cradle, Broken Heart:  Surviving the Death of Your Baby by Deborah Davis.   I need to point out that this book shares stories of post-abortive women as well as families that lost babies through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death.  Feel free to skip through the stories that are not as helpful or pertinent to your situation.  Reading stories about women who chose to end their pregnancies when I so desperately wanted mine was difficult, so I chose to skip those.  Nonetheless, those women need to find healing, and this would be a tremendous book for post-abortive women trying to find support.
  3. Catholic Answers Live podcast, After Miscarriage, with Karen Edmisten and Donna Murphy.  Donna Murphy has an apostolate called Heaven's Gain dedicated to casket making for babies.  Karen Edmisten wrote a book called After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman's Companion to Healing and Hope that I read and found very uplifting.  
  4. The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis.  Lewis tried to address the problem of evil as a Christian in The Problem of Pain.  It wasn't until the death of his wife that he felt he personally experienced profound pain and wrote about enduring it as a Christian in A Grief Observed.   
I know there are other wonderful books out there, but these were very helpful for me.  Each of the books has a rich bibliography full of additional resources. 

Forgive Others and Give Yourself a Break
When others say or do the wrong thing, stay away, or don't know what to do, forgive them.  When someone says the wrong thing, you can tell them, but remember that their risking saying the wrong thing is probably coming from a place of love.

When you're not ready to talk, you're struggling through your grief, or you need to ask for help to get through the day, forgive yourself.  My wonderful friends and family offered to take the kids so that I had time to be with my thoughts or cry.  This was a tremendous gift.  One of my favorite things to do was sit in silence in the adoration chapel, let the tears flow when they came, and listen to our Lord.  

Don't be afraid to ask for help, and don't be afraid to make the request specific.  As my friend told me, "People love you, Catherine.  They want to help you.  They need it, too.  Let them."      

If the grief becomes overwhelming, get the help you need to work through the healing process. 
   
Make Sure "Dad" Gets Support
Dads often get forgotten while Mom and Baby get all of the attention.  Make sure "Dad" is able to work through his feelings and get the support that he needs.  Philip and I made it our routine to check in with each other before bed each night.  A month later, we still check in.  "How are you doing today?"  

Since men tend to handle things differently, and each man will handle things differently than another, help your husband find a way to grieve and share in his own way.  Some men might enjoy talking with other dads or just having a little silence.  Since many men don't have a chance to decompress on the way home from work or have friends to talk to about their baby's death, give them an opportunity to have some silence before they get home.  My friends suggested that Philip pop into our parish adoration chapel for 10 minutes on his way home.  Also, remember that it is okay for your husband to grieve differently than you.

Don't Try to Compare Apples to Apples
No one may ever perfectly understand your story, and that's okay.  Nonetheless, it's human nature to compare stories.  When we hear about another family's tragic loss, sometimes we try to comfort them by saying something like, "Wow.  You had it so much worse than I did.  I only miscarried, and you had a full-term baby."  

Resist that temptation.  It's okay that our experiences are different because, well, they simply are.  There's not better or worse or easier or harder.  They are just ours.  

When my sister tried explaining this to me, she said a friend gave her some great advice.  "If we had all of our problems thrown into a pile, we'd still pick our exact same problem out of the pile again.  After awhile, you own it, and it becomes a part of you.  You wouldn't trade your problem for another person's problem because it's yours."   

So, whether you lost a baby days after a positive pregnancy test, in the delivery room, or just before their first birthday, you still lost your irrepeatable baby that you love.  Your baby deserves to be remembered, grieved, and prayed for.  Don't let your baby's age diminish your love affair or the depth of your grief.

What Did I Forget?
This is only a compilation of the things I learned, read, and experienced as we navigated losing Thérèse.  Everything I wrote won't be helpful for each person, and I'm only one person, so I undoubtedly didn't write everything on the topic.  Hopefully at least one thing I wrote will help you to help yourself or a loved one through the death of a beloved baby.  If you are a medical professional, hopefully this added insight will help you to be a better advocate for families and their babies.  If you have something to add, please share it below.  No family should have to experience the death of a baby and feel helpless as they navigate the process.  It is my prayer that sharing my story and the lessons we learned through the process prevents other families from experiencing further heartache and find peace as they grieve their baby.     

Additions Since Original Post:
A friend passed along information about the Missing Angels BillIf families have a baby that is stillborn, the Missing Angels Bill helps them to create a birth certificate for that baby.  The birth certificate is called a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth.  Here is an article with more information. 

Another tremendous resource for families is the MISS Foundation.  According to their website, MISS is "an international 501(c)3, volunteer based organization providing C.A.R.E. [counseling, advocacy, research, and education] services to families experiencing the death of a child."  For more information or to find local MISS chapters, check out their website here.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Celebrating Thérèse

After a lot of prayer, Philip and I decided we wanted to celebrate our baby Thérèse's life formally with our family.  Thérèse will be buried at a Catholic cemetery, but there will be no formal burial ceremony.  (I'll go into the logistics and hoops I had to go through to set all of that up another time.)  Instead of a memorial Mass, we decided to gather our family and my Bible study girlfriends together to pray the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and have a dessert reception afterward.  

We met on Sunday at our parish Our Lady Chapel.  Isn't it beautiful?


The space was perfect for our intimate prayer time together.  Philip and I wanted to make sure that everyone there felt that they were active participants, so we made a few preparations.  

First, we typed up a program.  On the front were our family's intentions for each of the five Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and a small note of thanks:

 

Please Join Us In


Praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary


To Celebrate the Life of
Thérèse Patricia Boucher
                   


The First Glorious Mystery – The Resurrection We pray for the gift of strong faith--both in times of sorrow and joy.  May we always find hope in the Resurrection of Christ.  Let us ask Mary for the gift of an unshakeable faith.


The Second Glorious Mystery – The Ascension
We pray that our lives are a sign of hope for others.  In times of sorrow, grant us the grace to remain hopeful, trust in God’s will, and remember the promise of salvation.


The Third Glorious Mystery – The Descent of the Holy Spirit
We pray for a deepening in awareness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  May we use them to show our love of God and each other.  Help each of us to be a faithful disciple and steward of Your gifts. 


The Fourth Glorious Mystery – The Assumption We pray that each of us will model our lives after the faithfulness of Mary and rejoice in God’s faithfulness to us.  We pray for the grace to obediently answer God’s call in our lives and joyfully accept His will for us.


The Fifth Glorious Mystery – The Coronation

We pray for a deeper devotion to Mary, our spiritual mother and intercessor in heaven.   Mary, draw us close to your Immaculate Heart, where we may take refuge in times of trouble.  


Thank you for your prayers and for all of the different ways you have helped us this past month.  We ask for your prayers as we continue to heal.  We are so blessed to have such wonderful family and friends. 



Love,

Catherine, Philip,

Jane, and Walt

On the back, we wanted to provide a typed-up guide with the various prayers of the Rosary as well as their order.  Rosary Army is an apostolate dedicated to spreading devotion to the Rosary throughout the world.  They have a fantastic PDF that we downloaded and printed on the backside of the program.  I think this was a beautiful guide for those unfamiliar with the Rosary to follow along.  

PDF from Rosary Army
Since we have so many young nephews and nieces, we wanted to be sure and include them in this special Rosary for their cousin.  Ahead of time, we asked them if they would be willing to lead our family in a decade of the Rosary.  We decided to "spice things up" a bit by using the Rosary Army Scriptural Rosary for the Glorious Mysteries.  The Scriptural Rosary brings the Mysteries of the Rosary to life by incorporating verses of Scripture that pertain to each Mystery before each Hail Mary.  (Rosary Army has a version of the Scriptural Rosary for each of the Mysteries of the Rosary.)  We printed off "scripts" for our nephews and niece to practice ahead of time.

When it was time, we gathered in the chapel, handed out the programs, distributed Rosaries (some belonged to great-great-grandmothers), and Philip started our prayer time together.  He welcomed everyone, thanked them for coming, and explained that we would be praying the special intentions on the front of the program.  To help keep everyone's focus, we purchased 8"x10" images of the Mysteries of the Rosary from our local Catholic bookstore.  To make them last longer, I laminated them.  We brought a stand to prop them up on the altar in the middle of the chapel for everyone to focus on as we prayed. 

The Resurrection image laminated and propped up on the stand we used
I hope our family will develop a devotion to the Rosary and other special prayers, so I decided to put together a little prayer binder to store our prayer materials.  I stored the laminated images of the Mysteries of the Rosary in the divider pockets and printed off the Scriptural Rosary that accompanies the various mysteries.  I separated them by category and left room with future dividers to add other novenas or special prayers for our family prayer time together.

   
To set the tone and demonstrate how to lead the decades, Philip lead the introductory prayers and First Glorious Mystery.  Since he's Super Dad, he managed to do that and hold Walt in his arms while Janie and I sat in the chairs.  In that moment, watching him lead a Rosary for our baby in heaven as he held another one of our babies in his arms, I felt as though my heart could burst.  I prayed in thanksgiving to God for giving me such a wonderful, godly man to be the head of our family.  

With each decade, we changed the image on the stand and our nephews and niece took turns leading us in prayer.  Their innocence and reverence helped all of us to slow down and meditate on the words as they read them.  I was blown away by how naturally they led the room full of people in prayer!  The future of the Church is alive and well!  When I explained to my 8-year-old nephew how the Rosary was going to work and what he was going to do, he said, "Wow!  Cool!  This is going to be so awesome!"  I don't think my nephews or niece will ever know what their participation in our family Rosary means to me and Philip, but we are so grateful.

After the Rosary, we headed back to our house for a little reception.  Philip and I prepared some treats and snacks and had some refreshments.  The bad news is I forgot to take a picture of the spread because I was busy visiting with everyone and playing hostess.  The good news is I was so busy enjoying everyone's company that I wasn't spending the time snapping pictures!  We did manage to get a picture of the reindeer cookies ahead of time, though.  (To make the "antlers," I used chocolate-covered tree pretzels cut in half.)

I found some absolutely gorgeous red roses from a nearby grocery store floral department.  It's as though they were meant for our Rosary for Thérèse.  They weren't in the case the first time I looked through the flowers.  I was going to settle on some white spray roses and pink alstroemeria, but I decided to think about it while I went to the bakery to pick up the chocolate-covered pretzels for the reindeer cookies.  When I came back, the florist said, "excuse me" as she put this beautiful arrangement of a dozen red roses inside the case.  As an added bonus, they were "on special" at half off what they would have cost if I had called in to order a dozen roses!  (Have you ever heard of St. Thérèse of Lisieux bringing people roses after they pray a novena to her?  Well, I think this was our own "Little Flower" in heaven saying, "Here, Mom!  Do you like these?")

Philip's family gave us some beautiful red, white, and pink roses.  Whether it was a happy coincidence or intentional, I love that they picked roses for our Little Flower, Thérèse, as well.
I am so thankful that my dear girlfriends from my Bible study were able to join us.  One of my friends, Annie, gave me a beautiful present to remember Thérèse and the day we prayed the Rosary for her.  It's the most precious itty bitty little Rosary I've ever seen!  The delicate little pink beads are for our little girl, she said, and she hopes it will be a treasured Rosary for Thérèse's siblings as they get older.  I know I'll treasure it forever! 
My oldest brother and sister-in-law also gave me an incredible keepsake and present.  They said it was a "belated" birthday present, but I think they gave it to me at just the right time.  It's a beautiful locket necklace from Origami Owl with little charms inside.  From left to right, there is: a cross, an angel baby, a baby's footprint, and a "T" for Thérèse.  I wore it the night of the Rosary, and I've been wearing it all day today, too.  It's such a special, thoughtful gift and reminder of our precious baby.
Aside from the very thoughtful presents, Philip and I were so overwhelmed by the response we received from our family members and friends.  Over and over again, individual family members or friends took each of us aside throughout the afternoon to tell us how beautiful and special the Rosary and reception were.  They said that they were "so glad we did this."  Several teared up as they thanked me for including them and gave me big hugs.   

Thérèse deserved to be celebrated and prayed for.  We are so glad we shared that day with others because they needed it, too.  Philip and I went to bed last night saying how to-the-core happy and at peace we feel knowing that our prayer warrior, Thérèse, is in heaven, and that we have so many wonderful people on earth lifting us up in prayer.

When we found out Thérèse died and that I would be miscarrying, Philip said we were lucky to have the extra motivation to get our entire family to heaven since we knew one of our babies was already there.  Now that more than a month has passed, nothing gives my life more purpose and truth than those words.  My life's mission is to get Philip and the rest of our children to heaven.  Having hope in my vocation brings me strength, joy, and peace.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our Jesse Tree

Have you ever heard of a Jesse Tree?  Until last year, I never knew the significance of the tree or the ornaments/images on the tree.  In anticipation of Christmas, the Jesse Tree tells the story of Jesus' family tree.   Starting with the story of Creation and ending with Himself, the Jesse tree chronicles stories from the Old and New Testament, weaving together all of salvation history into a beautiful visual aid to help your family prepare for the birth of the Christ Child.  

The story of Creation, Adam and Eve, and other Old Testament figures are aptly placed on the bottom (the "roots") of the tree.  As you place each ornament on the tree, read the Scripture passages about each story or person and reflect on their importance in salvation history.

One of our local Catholic bookstores sold this simple wooden Jesse Tree:

To make it a little more seasonal, Philip spray painted the honeycomb balls and base gold and the "branches" evergreen.  

We found beautiful Jesse Tree ornament images on the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania webpage.  Click here to download the PDF files of the ornaments.  (Illustrations found on the ornaments are by Carolyn Pikoulas.)  In addition to the beautiful ornaments, the Erie page provides a link to beautiful reflections and Scripture passages from Faith magazine by Anne-Marie Welsh to go along with each ornament.  

I printed off the ornaments on white card stock, cut them out, cut holes with my hole punch, and strung metallic cord through them to hang on the tree.  I found the metallic cord at a local craft store for $2 for several feet.

The Jesse Tree is a fun addition to our already existing Advent traditions.  As the matriarch of our little family, I am trying to slowly add to the things we do each year during Advent.  I keep reminding myself that there is no need to try to do it all anyway!  We have yet to read through the Scripture passages and reflections accompanying the ornaments as a family.  In full disclosure, I hung up the ornaments from the dove through the lamb all at once tonight because Philip finished assembling the tree last night.  

We placed the Jesse Tree on our mantle in the family room so that little hands aren't tempted to remove the ornaments.  It's a beautiful reminder of the "reason for the season" as well as all of the events that led up to the birth of the Christ Child.  



As an added bonus, if you reflect long and hard on the wild and crazy stories in Jesus' family tree, you might find reassurance and comfort that your own family tree looks pretty darn good by comparison!  

I hope you are having a blessed start to your Advent!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Christmas Planner

In March, I created a Boucher Family Binder to serve as our family's central information hub.  Since creating that binder, life is much more organized and less stressful around here.  To learn more about the forms and information contained in the binder, click on the link.


Much of the formatting I used for my family binder came from ideas in the book House Works: How to Live Clean, Green, and Organized at Home and the author's website OrganizedHome.com

When I created the family binder in March, I read about making a Christmas planner notebook to keep Christmas organized.  I finally decided to tackle the project this week, and I am so thrilled I did!


I purchased a 1" red D-ring binder at Walmart with clear pockets so that I could insert some scrapbook papers and stickers from JoAnn's to make it a little more festive.

 
With a lot of brainstorming, I came up with all of the different categories I wanted to include in our family Christmas planner.  I printed off a Table of Contents on some white cardstock and put labels on some plain white dividers.



Some of the forms are adaptations from OrganizedHome.com, others are directly from the site, and others are uniquely my own.  

1.  Budget
I created categories (gifts, charitable giving, decorations/lighting/home, food/entertaining, Christmas card/supplies) to keep the financial end of things organized and in balance.  My hope is that this form will keep the Christmas season financially on-track!  We'll see if I prefer the paper and pen method or want to put it on Excel next year.

2.  Master Gift List
I created this form with spots for your spouse, children, and non-family gift recipients to keep track of what you bought, where you got it, whether you already purchased it or had it delivered, whether you wrapped it, how much it cost, and your running total of how much you spent.

Our family does an adult gift exchange, and the grandchildren exchange a book.  I created a separate form for future years with names to cut out for the draw and a fillable list of the gift givers and gift recipients.  (My version has the family member's names filled in.) 

3.  Stocking Stuffers
Philip and I are still playing around with the idea of starting a tradition with the stockings to make it a little simpler.  We might fill them with winter jammies and a book each year to be opened, worn, and read on Christmas Eve.  That way, there's no need to buy a bunch of little things for each family member!  

For now, I created this form to keep track of all of the little stuffers for each family member to make sure that everyone gets roughly the same amount.


4.  Room-By-Room Décor
To make "decking the halls" and un-decking the halls after the Christmas season less stressful, I created this category and form.  It's a room-by-room guide of what décor I have, where I place it, and where it's stored.  My brilliant husband suggested taking photos of each room and the different arrangements and keeping the photo album in my "Christmas Planner" folder on the computer.  
 
5.  Menus/Recipes
Here's the central hub for the go-to and favorite brunch, dinner, goodies, and other Christmas-related recipes.  I'm in the process of compiling these items, so I don't actually have the forms yet.  I will separate the items by category and include the hard copies of recipes or the websites where they can be found.  I know I will be glad to have all of the recipes finally compiled in one spot!  No more searching for "that one cookie recipe!"

6.  Our Holiday Traditions
This is the place to list and describe the different things your family does that makes Christmas uniquely yours.  For our family, this section includes things like:  how we use the Advent Wreath and Jesse Tree, visiting an area parish's local living Nativity, celebrating St. Nick's day (December 6th), Bernie (Our Catholic Elf on the Shelf), gift exchange, baking goodies for neighbors, singing "Happy Birthday" and eating birthday cake for Jesus, visiting the botanical garden poinsettia display, etc.

7.  Advent Wreath
Philip gave me a beautiful Advent wreath with candles for my birthday (November 26th) last year.  We decided to put the Advent wreath on the kitchen table this year, and we're using Lisa Hendey's O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath to lead our prayers after dinner.    
I also collected and printed off copies of the Christmas songs we sing around the Advent wreath as a family.
8.  Jesse Tree 
I printed off the corresponding Scripture verses (Revised Standard Version) and reflections to read as we place each of the 25 ornaments on our brand new Jesse Tree.  (More to come on that another time!)


9.  Ornament Journal
If you're like me, you struggle to keep straight who gave who which ornament, and you want to remember those little details when you unwrap the treasures that go on your tree.  This is a central hub to record information about those ornaments to (hopefully!) be passed down to future generations.

10.  Holiday Favorites
This form, directly from OrganizedHome.com, is a place to keep track of favorite Christmastime movies, books, music, and a wish list.

11.  Recipes to Try
When I find a recipe I might want to try next year from a magazine, I tear it out and put it in here.  If I see a recipe on Pinterest or somewhere else online, I'll jot down a description of the item and the website where I found it.  If this section gets big enough, I'll categorize the items.

12.  Craft Projects
The place to put fun craft ideas to make with your family.  My Christmas Pinterest page is bringing me all kinds of inspiration.  I'll list the winners in this section!

13.  Entertaining
This is the place to include things like: buffet layout ideas, bar set-up, music playlist names/Pandora stations, Christmas Minute to Win It games, menus, etc.

14.  Christmas Card
We made a Christmas card and included a letter for the past few years.  With all of the chaos of this last month, we didn't get around to making a card or writing a letter, so we sadly won't be sending one this year.  Maybe I'll still write a letter and post it on my blog. 

This section of the planner is the place where I'll archive old letters/cards, store favorites from friends and family, keep the list of recipients, and record prices and shopping information for cards and stationery.

15.  Post-Holiday Debriefing
Perhaps this is the teacher in me that wants to evaluate how things went, but I'm excited about the Christmas debriefing form.  This form, directly from OrganizedHome.com, is the place to "record the highs and lows of the season just past.  Stored in your Christmas planner, it'll guide you toward more satisfying, less stressful holidays next year!"  It includes questions to get you thinking about what worked, what didn't, and what you can do to make next year more enjoyable for you and your entire family.


That's it--for now!  As I use the Christmas planner and celebrate the Christmas season with our family, I'm sure I'll learn that some things in the planner need revision or that we need to add more categories. 

Is there anything you think my Christmas planner is missing?  Please suggest additional categories or any revisions.

I created a Google docs page for anyone interested in using my forms.  You can access all of the forms here and print them off for your own use.  

I hope they help to make your Christmas season more organized and give you time to focus on what really matters--growing in holiness and sharing Christ's love alongside your loved ones as you prepare for Christ's birth.  I hope that you and your family have a blessed Advent and Christmas