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Babies Add Color to Life

Childfree by Choice. This is a growing trend in western and American culture that can no longer be ignored. Even Elon Musk and the Pope have recently commented on the matter. The US fertility rate is low and dropping lower. We are below the 2.1 births per woman for replacement rate, at 1.6, and headed towards a demographic winter like much of Europe and Japan.

I recall seeing the 2015 Time Magazine cover, “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children.” Well, my experience has been the opposite. It was in having children that I felt a profound sense of completeness. But I heard a call to Motherhood when I was eight years old. That is when my youngest brother was born, holding him and helping care for him was so exciting! My love for that little baby just gushed out of me. When I was in 7th grade, after getting to experience firsthand the miraculous invention known as contact lenses, I decided I wanted to be an eye doctor. I chose that career in part knowing I wanted to be a mom and that it afforded the flexibility to do both. God called me to be an eye doctor, but he called me first to be a mother. And in that life-work balance, it is the same order, I’m a mom first and an optometrist second. And I have always ensured that in doing so it is never to the detriment of my patients.

Have you ever tried to describe some amazing experience and it just falls flat? Had to be there, right? Can you imagine climbing a mountain and trying to describe the sunset at the top? You’ve poured sweat into the climb and then the beauty and magnificence has such a purity to wonder and behold. You could never find words to aptly describe the beauty, but that is what art does. Art in its many forms tries to capture and convey truth, beauty, and goodness. So why can we easily convey the “dirty diapers” of parenting. You know the costs-lack of sleep, financial drain, the toll on Mom’s body, the stresses and insecurities, and of course the many literal dirty diapers. But few of us, can aptly articulate the simple joy and wonder of it all. Let me try.

It is awesome. It is Awe-some, as you sit back in awe of how perfect these little humans are created (even imperfectly perfect). It is Awww- some, as they melt your heart in unexpected ways, and are just so dang cute! It is Ahh-some as you strive to teach them all about the world, but you end up being taught what the world is all about. Simplicity. How often we lose sight of the simple things. The best things in life aren’t things! Parenting is not easy, it is a great amount of work.  But in a sense your child is a work of art. Art co-created by the spouses and God to reveal the goodness and beauty of God. Do you smell the dirty diapers? That is the smell of the work it takes to produce a work of art, a work of heart.  

In some ways I kind of resent the culture. If I would have known that children were so wonderful, I would have started sooner! I was so in awe of the profound joy and sense of divine purpose when I had my kids, it made my many accomplishments before children appear watery and gray. Not that I’m not proud of graduating Magna Cum Laude, getting a 4-year degree in 3 years, being awarded special recognition for service to others, and -if graduating with a doctorate isn’t accomplishment enough- doing so with both academic honors and leadership distinction. However, when these bouncing bright spots came into the picture, they couldn’t help take center stage with all their color and animation. Pictures can speak a thousand words, but it is still 2-dimensional. In real life, children are 3D in their contagious laughter and energy.

So, how do we reconcile the truth, beauty, and goodness of children that spring forth from God’s perfect design for marital love with things like this book I saw prominently displayed at the public library a few years ago. “Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creating a New Age of Independence.” I wanted to read the book, to be more knowledgeable in potential counter arguments, but it was just depressing to think about! A book convincing people not to have kids-humanity’s greatest treasure! I like God’s definition for family, I don’t want a new one.

Sadly, there are many other books in this genre. I saw six suggested to me on Amazon, one struck me in particular, The Baby Decision: How to Make the Most Important Choice of Your Life by Merle Bombardieri. The first thing in the book description is this, “This valuable unbiased book skillfully shows readers how to stop fretting over the choice and take time to make the right one.” –Blue Ink Starred Review and Notable Book It goes on in the author’s bio to say:

Merle Bombardieri, MSW, LICSW is a psychotherapist, coach and workshop leader. Although she enjoyed raising her daughters, she has been a childfree advocate since 1978. She has contributed to Our Bodies Ourselves, The Boston Globe Magazine, Glamour, Self and Brides and has appeared on national news, talk show, and documentaries.

First off, let me just say out loud what everyone is thinking. How to make the most important decision of your life? GO TO THE LORD! PRAY ABOUT IT! The inconsistency, if you missed, is that the reviewer calls this an “unbiased book,” but then the author bio touts that she has been a childfree advocate for over 40 years! The magazines that are listed? No doubt full of worldly advice, not godly. We want our daughters to pursue glory not glamour!

Teach your child to follow Jesus or the world will teach them not to. Teach your children the sanctity of sex, married life, and children, or the world will teach them …hell only knows. You read that right. Sex is sacred, marriage is a sacrament, and children will cultivate virtue in the life of a parent that will lead them closer to Christ! We are selfish, but God calls us to love, and to love means to sacrifice. See my blog Motherhood a Lesson in Divine Love for more!

Catholic wedding vows include:

“Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God?”

Take a minute to contemplate what it would mean for a marriage to flat out reject God’s gift of children?

As Catholics, our view of children is different. Some see all the bad in the world and fear to bring children into it. We see children as bringing good into the fearsome world!  

CEO of Tesla, billionaire Elon Musk commented earlier this year to the Wall Street Journal, “I can’t emphasize this enough, there are not enough people … And yet, so many people, including smart people, think that there are too many people in the world and think that the population is growing out of control. It’s completely the opposite.” Musk contended that one of the biggest risks to civilization is the low birth rate and its rapid decline. The atheist father of six urged, “Please look at the numbers. If people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble. Mark my words.”

The Pope remarked last month that he has seen more couples choose “fur-babies” over having children and that these couples are “missing something.” He applauded those that choose adoption. I recently watched Cora’s Story, where Cora says, “I can say firsthand after going through two adoptions, there was this special chamber within my heart that was hidden, I didn’t even t know it was there, and the moment I held my first daughter it was like this chamber in my heart just opened up. It’s a love, I didn’t even know existed, and it came so profoundly just pouring out into this child, and it is the unconditional love I have for both of my girls.” Those that choose children overwhelmingly don’t regret it. Babies Add Color to Life! Babies add light, laughter, and love too. They certainly have enriched my life. Let us make a positive messaging campaign. Babies add much more than they take away. Let us do what we can to encourage and support those that say “Yes” to children. Parenting requires a ton of time and attention and really takes a village!

Raise a Glass to St. Padre Pio

My son had a paralyzed vocal cord. As an infant, he was unable to swallow milk without aspirating. St. Padre Pio reached out to us in our time of need, and this is our miracle story.

St. Padre Pio (1887-1968)

I first heard about Padre Pio from my Uncle Pat. I loved to hear stories from my Uncle; and he told me when I was about 10, about an Italian Priest and the stigmata. The stigmata is a supernatural phenomenon where a holy person becomes so united with Christ the wounds (and pain) of his crucifixion miraculously manifest on their body. St. Pius of Pietreclena (formal English) or Padre Pio (familiarly) bore the bleeding wounds of Christ for 50 years, from 1918 until his death in 1968.

I was so fascinated with the stigmata that in college I did a presentation about it for my religion class. We could choose any topic relating to any religion and I chose the stigmata. I learned about St. Francis of Assisi being the first recognized stigmatist, and that he wasn’t actually a priest, but a brother. It has been near 20 years ago, but I still remember tidbits! Incredible stories of nuns willing to suffer for the salvation of souls. And the first priest to receive the stigmata Padre Pio. I got an A, so it must have been good, ha ha.

There are so many incredible stories about Padre Pio. A Capuchin Friar, he spent most of his days in the confessional and saying the Rosary. He survived on less than 400 calories a day. While living he had many miracles attributed to him and he foretold that there would be many more after his death. When asked what he would like to be known for, he answered his devotion to the Rosary. He could bilocate, so while his body never physically left his dwelling at the San Giovani Rotunda he appeared to many people with messages. The most amazing ones are those during the war. On several occasions he appeared to aircraft personnel, so that they would not intentionally or accidentally bomb the hospital he founded to alleviate suffering. 

The leadership of the Catholic Church was suspicious of everything. They were convinced it was a hoax and Padre Pio a fraud. He was prohibited from saying Mass for many years, which greatly pained the pious priest. Eventually he was exonerated. I always believed with child-like faith all the stories my uncle told me. I always believed in miracles. Someday, I will tell my nieces and nephews about Padre Pio too. I will not just tell the stories of others, but our story.

PART 1: In 2018, my 3-year-old son Ian needed a fourth open-heart surgery. He has Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) and the surgery was expected. We travelled from Idaho to Southern California. The surgery was to connect his inferior vena cava to his pulmonary arteries via a Gortex tube, and to remove a stent and patch an area in his left pulmonary artery. It was to be a fairly major procedure taking 4-6 hours.  Ian got out of surgery, and they informed us that once they opened him up his aortic arch (the aorta being the major blood vessel off the heart) was too big.  So, in addition to the planned “renovations” the surgeons also reconstructed his aorta with human graft tissue. An aortic arch reconstruction is a procedure he had done several years before, and it is a major and complex in itself. Of course the heart has to be stopped to operate on it and the bypass machine will beat and breathe for him. My friend whose son also has HLHS texted me and tried to prepare me for the worst when she heard the news. The recovery would be really rough, and he may even comeback open chested. Delayed sternal closure is common in babies as the swelling of the heart is delayed so the surgical team intentionally waits a few days until the swelling goes down before they completely close up the chest wound. Ian had to have that twice before and it is traumatizing as a parent to witness, and a very vulnerable and uncomfortable situation for the patient. Her efforts to prepare me for the worst set me on edge. He was out of surgery, but we had an hour before he’d be settled into his ICU room and we’d be allowed to see him. It was afternoon and we’d checked in at 6am. So, I decided I needed some air and a short walk.

I was on an emotional precipice; we were trusting God- all was supposed to be well! On the verge of freaking out, I walked out of the hospital and see a round woman wearing a blue shirt with a huge picture of Padre Pio’s face and the words, “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.” I recognized St. Padre Pio immediately and things went back into perspective. We were praying, we had many prayer warriors praying. We were combating all fear and despair with a fierce hope drawn out by our faith and a ferocious love for our son. And despite the many worries and what ifs, we gave them all to God. Give God your trust and he will give you his peace. We immediately added Padre Pio to our team of intercessors. The next day, my friend Karen told me she couldn’t sleep, so she just kept asking every saint she could think of to pray for Ian and for some reason she kept coming back to Padre Pio. Coincidence?

Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.

St Padre pio

Ian had a rough night that night. They didn’t want to extubate him since he’d been through so much, but he hated that tube down his throat and kept gagging on it. You can’t breathe around the tube you have to breathe through it. You also can’t talk. He kept gagging on the tube. He ended up gagging and vomiting and choking on his own vomit as it clogged the tube. I had to scream for help, since that room didn’t have an emergency button and luckily the nurse and RT (Respiratory Therapist) came quickly! Scary and then quite frustrating that the resident did not want to extubate him (only residents at night). My poor 3-year-old boy. Finally, around midnight he was able to lose the tube. I think it was the RT that advocated and made the resident doctor realize how lucky we got that I was right there and that they were right there to resolve the problem so quickly. Thank heaven! The recovery was miserable. Ian had to have these big chest drainage tubes, and was puking off and on for 5 days (if he ate anything, mostly on). He was in pain, depressed, no appetite and weak. It was hard to watch our typically happy boy with no smiles, no drive. After days of relentless prayers by many, Ian finally turned a corner! See The Cheetos that Pierced my Heart. At the same time our daughters back home  went to VBS (Vacation Bible School) and Padre Pio was the saint of the day! I think there were hundreds of children praying for Ian that week! Padre Pio reached out to us in our time of need, and we were so grateful. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

PART 2:  Ian’s first open heart surgery at 1 week old left him with a paralyzed left vocal cord. The nerve to the left vocal cord wraps around the aorta and when they did the first surgery (which included aortic reconstruction) this was damaged permanently. Its impact on the sound of his voice was pronounced. He had this little kitten cry. It was so quiet that on the baby monitor I would hear him sucking in air if he was crying hard, but no cry! The silver lining was that we didn’t need to use the cry room at church, which made me happy to be able to avoid the germs : ) Vocal cords play a vital role in protecting the airway drinking and eating. They prevent food and drink from going into the lungs or choking/aspiration. A baby’s liquid diet was a problem.  Once it was discovered that Ian’s vocal cord was paralyzed, he was immediately not allowed to eat by mouth. He had to be fed with an NG tube at first (through the nose to the stomach) which I learned to replace in case he pulled it out, which he did the first day home! Then he eventually got a g-tube/button. Once he was healthy enough for a swallow study he passed on honey thick liquids. So, we would feed him milk thickened with rice cereal to the consistency of honey and then what he didn’t have energy to drink we put in his tube. As he got older, he could eat solids just fine, it was the thin liquids that were the problem, water, milk, juice. I would joke, we had a baby with a drinking problem!

We dreamed of the day that he would be through all his heart surgeries and stable enough to have vocal cord surgery. We hoped that we’d be able to have it done before he went to school. That he’d be able to drink out of a water fountain like the other kids and not need constant thickener. Funny sidenote: Ian stayed in the nursery at church one time and while the other kids have their allergies, gluten, eggs, strawberries, his restriction was water! Do not give him water- it could kill him! His normal blood oxygen was about 80, so anything that could compromise his lungs has a potential to be lethal.

So, Padre Pio saw us through Ian’s fourth heart surgery and now it was time to revisit the pediatric ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor) and finally see about that vocal cord surgery! First, we needed to do another swallow study and see if he could pass on liquids thinner than honey! We figured he could at least do nectar if not half nectar.  The doctor was not optimistic. He was surprised his voice was as strong as it was given the paralysis and lack of compensation from the right cord. He also seemed surprised that he’d never gotten aspiration pneumonia. He said he didn’t think he was a very good candidate for the surgery. He said they can do a temporary surgery with botox to see if it helps, but in cases like his, where he silently aspirates (meaning the liquid goes into his lungs and he doesn’t cough like a normal person would), the chances of success were iffy. I was crushed. I asked about alternatives: none. We would just have to keep thickening everything he drank indefinitely. For over 3 ½  years, every milk he drank was mixed with yogurt/rice, water was mixed with applesauce or thickener.  The prospect of continuing that forever…ugh. I scheduled the swallow study for the next available. It was obvious in that moment: we needed a miracle. Our alternative lay in heaven. I called my friend Karen and told her that we needed a miracle and that Padre Pio was the man for the job!

It just so happened that for the 50th anniversary of Padre Pio’s death, St. John’s Cathedral in Boise was having an exposition of some of his relics. A first-class relic is a physical part of a saint’s body. It could be hair, bone, blood, etc. A second-class relic is something that the saint touched, for example wood from the cross of Christ, or a piece of Mary’s veil.  In this case they had blood and one of his habits. It was a hectic morning getting three kids ready, one off to school, and two littles with me to trek downtown before the exposition ended! I made it in time, whew, but there was barely a moment. I contained the kids best I could, got my time up close and personal, and said my heart felt prayer. St. Padre Pio, heal Ian’s vocal cord (through Jesus’ healing power).  

The swallow study finally rolls around. I’m oblivious to the fact that Padre Pio’s feast day (anniversary of his death) is on Sunday and his swallow study was the very next day on Monday! What are the chances? Thickening to honey consistency is not necessary or practical, we need him to at least pass nectar, we would be elated if he could pass half nectar. The OT (Occupational Therapist) administers the test, I’m pregnant, so I am in a different room away from the radiation. I can see on the linked computer monitor the screen, I can tell he is doing well, but I don’t know what it is she is giving him. I assume she is starting thick and going thinner. She comes in to update me. OT: “He’s doing GREAT!” Me: “Oh good, was that nectar?” OT: No THIN. My jaw drops. She tested him 12 times and 12 out of 12 he passed! No silent aspiration, no deep penetrations. He passed with a spoon, a straw, a sippy. MIRACULOUS! PRAISE GOD! That should not have been possible, but with God ANYTHING is possible!

At home, we slowly transition to thinner and thinner consistency until he drinks straight up milk, juice, water, etc.   He proudly drinks Capri Suns and juice boxes, just like the other kids! He started Kindergarten being able to drink out of the water fountain like we dreamed! However, due to the coronavirus everyone has their own water bottle : )

Happy Feast Day, St. Padre Pio! Pray for us, especially Ian, my little miracle with half a heart.