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Domestic Church Fatherhood Ink Slingers Martina Motherhood Parenting Respect Life Spiritual Growth Vocations

The Worst Best Advice I Got as a New Mom

The Worst Best Advice I Got as a New Mom

Time, it goes by so fast – enjoy her while she’s little.

That bit of advice came from a virtual stranger at my cousin’s high school graduation. I remember like it was yesterday. A new mom, I held my then three-week old baby in my arms. I knew it all and that comment just rolled off my back. Time did NOT go by fast in my world, kind stranger. It felt like it went by painstakingly SLOW. Each moment felt dragged on, but my youth and immaturity were to blame in how I viewed the world at the time.

Today, as I sit here writing this, it is my youngest daughter’s second birthday – January 14. My sweet Emmaleine Rose, whose birth we awaited with quiet anticipation and anxiety, as she was our first baby after three consecutive losses. She is number 7 to the world, and number 10 in our family, after Felicity Gertrude (Gertie), Michael Christopher, and Sarah Olivia.

Time – it does go by fast. In my head, I’m still the young mom, even though the mirror tells a cruel contradictory story. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade any of it. Time goes by entirely too fast. It reminds me of another common phrase heard among veteran parents:

the days are long, but the years are short.

Somewhere along the way, time just sped up with no regard for how I felt. Rude. As it stands now, I have an almost 23 year old daughter (who is closer in age to ME than she is to her youngest sister), followed by a 17 year old son who will soon be 18. Two adult children, and five more in the pipeline. The next one down the line will be 14 in less than three weeks, but my youngest keeps me grounded. She’s barely two. She reminds me to slow down, to appreciate the small things because she, too, will be 22 one day. And when that happens, I will be the one saying to my children of their babies:

Time, it goes by so fast – enjoy her while she’s little.

TheWorstBestAdviceIGotasaNewMom


A Parent’s Prayer

Loving God,
You are the giver of all we possess,
the source of all of our blessings.
We thank and praise you.

Thank you for the gift of our children.

Help us to set boundaries for them,
and yet encourage them to explore.
Give us the strength and courage to treat
each day as a fresh start.

May our children come to know you, the one true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

May your Holy Spirit help them to grow
in faith, hope, and love,
so they may know peace, truth, and goodness.

May their ears hear your voice.
May their eyes see your presence in all things.
May their lips proclaim your word.
May their hearts be your dwelling place.
May their hands do works of charity.
May their feet walk in the way of Jesus Christ,
your Son and our Lord.
Amen.

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Ink Slingers Loss Michelle Motherhood Respect Life Spiritual Growth Vocations

Snow Angel

Georgia snowIt always makes me laugh to think of my fellow Southerners panicking at this time of year when the forecast is for snow. It is very typical for us to get a small dusting (or perhaps even more than a dusting!) right about now. But it seems that everyone forgets that tidbit of information and instead thinks the world is coming to an end because the “S” word has been mentioned.  I used to be one of those people too. It used to irritate me that we were so close to spring and yet winter wanted one last laugh and one last hurrah before leaving us to better, warmer weather. It used to, but it doesn’t anymore.

Something happened that would change my outlook forever.

snow baby 1On March 2, 2010 Joseph Isaiah was born at home. He was perfect and tiny and so still. We knew he would be as I had watched the last beats of his heart on an ultrasound the week prior. But knowing that he was already gone didn’t make it any easier to deliver him that day. I have written here about that journey and how it affected me. I tied my experiences in to Lent and the crosses that we bear and the metamorphosis that we can make when we embrace our crosses and continue to strive towards that perfection in Christ.  That message still holds true and still gets me through the rough times. But today, I write to remember Joseph’s passing not in the context of Lent or as my cross to bear, but instead, I write about the need for us to keep his memory alive and how the snow at this time of year helps me do that.

There is a common misconception that it is better to not bring up someone’s loss so that you won’t hurt their feelings and bring them more pain. But truly, most parents who have miscarried, delivered a stillborn child, or who has experienced infant loss will tell you that the opposite is true. Having someone remember your child can hurt (because you still long to hold them) but more than anything it brings you an overwhelming feeling of love simply because someone remembered.

Losing a child, no matter what the age, in my opinion is the hardest loss a person can endure. It goes against what we believe should happen and what we expect to happen. Our children are supposed to bury us, not the other way around. And yet, so many of us have buried a child (or in my case, many children) and our hearts don’t know what to make of the pain. And while the pain is almost unbearable when we are surrounded with people who care, the pain is tenfold when we feel alone. At the beginning there can be many people to comfort you, but soon people move on with their lives. While your life has stopped, the rest of the world keeps on going.

Unfortunately, while life moves forward often our hearts stay at the same place for quite a while. It can be a lonely and dark place. People believe that enough time has passed and that you must be healed and “all better”. Many times that’s just not true. You may hide the pain and not talk about it, but more often than not you don’t talk about it because no one is asking anymore. But there are still triggers and there are reminders and suddenly your heart is ripped wide open again.

snowflakesTo help me through some of those times, I have tried to associate certain good memories with my babies who have died. Joseph has become my Snow Angel. The near blizzard that blew into town and almost kept us from being able to get to the doctor’s office turned into a reminder of him. Instead of thinking of a blizzard, I think of each individual snowflake falling quietly and softly and gently landing on my face. I picture them as kisses from Joseph and my other children in heaven. It brings me great comfort to think of my children kissing me with the beautiful snowflakes that will inevitably fall at this time of year.  Instead of being upset about the snow that delays spring, I cherish it knowing that it is a reminder of the day God allowed me to hold a little piece of perfection in my arms.

I have tried with all my might to turn something tragic into something heartwarming. I choose to make a memory that will see me through the difficult and lonely times. I can’t tell you that it always takes away the pain because it doesn’t. But I can tell you that it brings me comfort and brings me peace the majority of the time. It helps me remember him when it feels like everyone else has forgotten. It helps me to know that my son lived and he was here. It is a tangible reminder of his life and his importance. I cherish the snow that falls late in the season as I know it is a precious gift of heavenly kisses from my very own Snow Angel.

What do you do to remember your own sweet angels?

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Loss Martina Motherhood Offering your suffering Prayer Respect Life Vocations

A Heavenly Lesson from St. Gertie

On Sunday, November 2, we confirmed our suspicion of being pregnant. Ah, seven kiddos. Downsizing just before number six was born, I started to doubt the size of our home. Six pregnancies and six live births, something in the back of my mind immediately jumped to “this one isn’t yours.” I’m not sure why I thought that. It might have been the rarity of having so many children without complication or loss, or just the urge to feel panicky, but there it was. I couldn’t shake it. Determined not to let it cloud my happiness, I started to size up the very real challenges of our current state of life. Our oldest, now a high school graduate from Seton Home Study School and working, our two-year-old son who would make the path of destruction of the Tazmanian Devil look like child’s play, and all the kids in between, I braced myself for the impending “mack truck” phase of pregnancy. How would I deal with the sheer exhaustion between weeks 9-16 and trying to scrape together something that gave the appearance of homeschooling, domestic chores, managing a blog, working with our parish Jesus Is Lord program?

EXCUSE ME, HAVE YOU SEEN MY BRAIN?

This was my third AMA {advanced maternal age} pregnancy and it showed right off the bat. I started to make dinner one evening and needed to run to the store for something. I mentioned it to the oldest that I needed to get something and would be right back. I never said what that item was. Sure enough, I arrive at the grocery store, put the car into park and promptly forget why I was there. Great, I think to myself. I text my daughter who informs me that I did not tell her what I was getting. Something for dinner? she suggests to me. No, I write her back. I mentally run through all the aisles at H-E-B and cannot remember that dadgum item. Convinced I will remember it if I drive home, I start to leave the store – and sure enough when I get to the light, I REMEMBER!! Safety pins. Y’all, I went to the store for safety pins. So I could make a creative pregnancy announcement. #pregnancybrain #gettinold #youdecide

I won’t bore you with details that the store was out of safety pins or that I spent an HOUR at Hobby Lobby looking for just the right safety pin sizes and doodads and whatnots for the picture I casually posted as my cover photo on Facebook. Nope. I won’t bore you with all that.

TieBreaker

Not ones to waste time, we announced baby safety pin within a few days of finding out ourselves, telling the children, and telling family. A friend once said she told people early on so others would be praying for them. We announce early for this same reason. This bebe was to be our tie breaker. We don’t just have three girls and three boys – we also have a ridiculous pattern of GBGBGB going on.

NOVEMBER 17

The Monday everything changed. Spotting. No cramping. Early texting with my husband, Neil. Called a friend who is a doula. I’m 6W5D at this point. I decide to lay low and step back from all my obligations for the week, including stepping back from working out. I ask for prayers on my Facebook wall. I e-mail my priests for prayers, the local Dominican Sisters, and even texted friends in Rome and begged that they please leave my intentions at the altars in Vatican City. No change. In-laws arrive that Friday. The following Monday is our son’s birthday – our car birth baby. He turned seven. The next day, I can’t take it anymore. Emotionally raw from no changes, I decide instead of going to the birthing center like we have for the past three children, we will see a friend who is our local NaPro doctor. By this point, it has been nine days – November 25. I have had plenty of time to pray about things and feel like I am ready to accept the outcome. I reason that it would be best to be surrounded by friends for this particular appointment should we find out we lost the baby. We are seen at 6 p.m.

I DIDN’T THINK I WOULD CRY

I’m not generally someone who is easily overcome or owned by emotions. Yes, I am Mexican American and, yes, I am pretty comfortable with being loud or angry, but sadness not so much. I didn’t even cry during Steel Magnolias or The Notebook! When Dr. K delivered the news, I had somewhat made my peace ahead of time. Remember the friend who is a doula? She works at the same practice and was working that day. She and the doc were in the room with me and my husband. Stricken with grief from the news, Neil excused himself from the room to get some air. Christine looked at me with tears in her eyes – likely recalling her own losses and sorrow – and said I’m so sorry for your loss. I really thought I could hold it together better than that. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m not fine, I’m really not fine. HERE COME THE WATERWORKS! 

THE DRIVE HOME

7:30 p.m. Silence. 25 minutes of silence broken up only by stifled crying, staring out the window, dropping off my prescription at the grocery store, wondering how we would break the news to the children, how we would cope with the grief; personally, as a couple, and as a family. So much to consider and think about. The details of how to move forward were too overwhelming. Sleep sounded good. Better than having to tell the children. Better than having to see their expressions go from ones of hope to crushed from the loss. It was one thing to be mentally prepared for the news myself. What I wasn’t prepared for was the children’s reactions. The child we thought would handle it best turned out to be the one who was the most devastated. We gathered everyone in our bedroom. Neil handled it with such grace. Obviously very emotional himself from the news, he went on to tell them we had lost the baby. We both shared that it was ok to be angry, sad, feel fine one moment and then cry the next. We wanted the kids to know it was all normal and that we were going to be there for one another and to be kind to each other. We tried our best to let them know that despite our sadness, we should be glad because we had our very own saint to pray for us – and that it was important for us to name the baby so we could make that personal connection.

SHE HAS A NAME!

Mary Josephine
our sweet Josie

Not long after we broke the news to the kiddos, we all pretty much concluded that she was a girl. After all…birth order, right? The question was what is your name, sweet girl? I had the most amazing dream that evening {for days after I wished I could fall asleep and go back to where I left off} in which I was running in this golden field with this little girl. She looked a lot like our daughter, Josie – only blonder and more curls than our sweet Josie. She was wearing this beautiful emerald green dress and kept telling me her name was Gertie. I was so enamored with this beautiful child. I woke up and told my husband her name is Gertie! Her name is GERTIE! That means her name is…Gertrude. Oooooh, that is so not a name I would have chosen.

Neil looked at me and said he had a name come to him in the car ride home – Felicity. Neither of those names we would have chosen. But, without question, we knew that was the name she was to be given. Confirmation #1.

HEAVEN AND EARTH MEET

Thanksgiving Day we went to Mass, as has become the tradition for our family in recent years. It’s a bilingual Mass and it’s the only Mass of the day, so all friends who attend other Mass times and are in town come to this Mass. It’s beautiful. Before Mass, it’s not uncommon for someone to lead a rosary. It’s also not uncommon for the closing prayer to include a set of prayers for our Holy Father’s intentions. What is uncommon is for the lady leading the rosary {someone I am acquainted with, by the way} to finish the Holy Father’s intentions and then go on to say she would like to say a prayer to St. Gertrude, blah blah blah. I say blah blah blah only because I literally heard nothing after she said that. I began punching Neil’s leg DID YOU HEAR WHAT SHE SAID? The only other thing going on as irreverent as me punching Neil is my daughter, who was sitting on the other side of my husband who is whisper screaming MOM, DID YOU HEAR WHAT SHE SAID?  Confirmation #2.

To say I was a puddle throughout Mass would have been an understatement. Pretty sure I broke out the ugly cry, friends. The next trigger was the realization that our entire family was together – because heaven and earth meet when Mass is celebrated. So much to be grateful for. So much to be grateful for.

PROCESSING GRIEF AS AN INTROVERT

Online, it’s easy to appear as an extrovert. It’s even easier to fool people who share common interests because you have so much to say. My reality included asking for prayers, but not really looking for a conversation. I’ve never found myself go so deeply inward before. I spent a considerable amount of time processing the events, the details that still needed to be sorted through – burial, Texas law and where to bury, what on earth do you buy for a miscarried child?, the local cemetery or our own backyard – I had so many of my own thoughts that, between that and meeting the needs of my husband and children, I felt absolutely tapped out beyond that. Normally I like to stay and chat with friends after Mass while the children run around the trees, but not so soon after the loss. I couldn’t be trusted with my emotions. I communicated the best way I knew how to –  phone, e-mail, texting, Facebook messages – places where I could maintain my composure better.

CONFIRMATION #3

I look for things in threes and it was the evening of Thanksgiving when the third confirmation would reveal itself. Remembering that the woman who led the rosary wanted to pray to St. Gertrude, I decided to look her up. St. Gertrude’s feast day was the day before everything turned sour with the pregnancy, November 16. It was enough for me. It was enough for my husband. Her name would be Felicity Gertrude Kreitzer. Now, if you know the names of our other children, you would know without a doubt this was God’s chosen name for her.

BURIAL BRINGS CLOSURE

unnamed-16
The casket

Three weeks after the process of miscarriage started and on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, we were finally able to say goodbye to our little one. Due to a series of conflicts of schedules, we were finally able to figure out a date that was compatible with both our family and our priest. Had it been any sooner than that, we would not have buried the baby. The baby passed the day before. As awkward as it was, I asked the kids if they wanted to see the baby’s home. Some of them were rightfully squeamish at the thought, but I posed the question think about how you might feel after the burial and you passed up the opportunity to have a look…will you regret not looking? And I left it at that. I wanted it to be their choice. All six children chose to look and many of them had a lot of very respectful and thoughtful questions. It ended up being very cathartic for them and made Gertie seem real vs. a concept or idea, which can be a real danger in early pregnancy.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Time is sometimes the only way things heal. Having a loss so early on in pregnancy, the holidays don’t feel sad or burdensome, but I expect our would-have-been due date to be a tough time. Since I can’t predict the future, I can only hope and pray that the God’s graces to move us through that time will be there. St. Gertie, pray for us!

RESOURCES

I have always had a heart for those who have suffered a miscarriage or infant loss, which is why we have tried to do our best at Catholic Sistas to highlight National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day on October 15 through a series of stories. We have also created a board on Pinterest dedicated to helping mothers and fathers move through lost parenthood. For those curious about the casket, a friend found theirs through Heaven’s Gain, so we ended up ordering through them, too, and were pleased with our purchase and experience.

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Colleen Motherhood Parenting Respect Life Spiritual Growth

To the Mom Terrified of Having Irish Twins

Picture 169

You’ve just given birth. You are so in love with this tiny person who consumes every second of your time and attention. The sleep deprivation you are facing makes the late-night college studying look like a week in Cancun. You are happy, but your days (and nights) are so FULL. You are trying to figure out how to balance being both a good wife and a good mother. Your body is just starting to recover from childbirth, and you are trying to make peace with your new shape. You may have had severe morning sickness or a traumatic delivery – something that makes you glad you are on the “other side” of the past 9 months. You hope to have more babies someday, but it’s not really on the radar right now – you just had one! And you are tapped. out.

The thought of being pregnant a month or two after having a baby sends most women into a panic. Nurses and midwives will warn you that “Your body needs a year to heal after giving birth and BREASTFEEDING DOES NOT PREVENT PREGNANCY!!!!” as they shove a birth control prescription in your hand. (And they’re not exactly wrong about breastfeeding – sometimes it doesn’t.) Plenty of faithful Catholics have been tempted into using contraception temporarily just to ensure a little bit of spacing. I recall a friend revealing to me that she believed that contraception was wrong, but used it anyway because she was so scared to get pregnant again “too soon.”

pregtestWhat are most of our concerns based on? Fear. Fear of physical damage; fear of being even more overwhelmed. Fear of losing what is left of our free time. Fear of scarring our children because they didn’t have enough time to “be the baby.” Fear of what people will think of us. (Ooh, this is a big one. “You know what causes that, right?” is people’s attempt to be humorous while implying that you are too dumb to control your reproduction. And pregnancies less than 3 months apart? That means you’re riding the crazy train. To most of the world, it screams pretty loudly “WE DON’T USE BIRTH CONTROL!” But even to non-contracepting, NFP-loving folks, the idea of Irish twins is pretty foreign. Some NFP advocates insist that a certain arbitrary spacing is ideal, or even necessary, in order to keep your marriage healthy, parent properly/attachment parent, keep your body healthy.)

And do you know what? Those fears are legitimate. If we had a glimpse of the Eternal Plan, we would see that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28), but in our very narrow view of our life, we don’t always know what the future holds. We know our own weaknesses. And so we are afraid we can’t handle it.

If you find yourself expecting again soon after giving birth, some of the random thoughts that might cross your mind are not limited to the following:

How can I handle 2 babies at once? Won’t my older child feel neglected? He’s still a baby himself! How can I carry two kids around? Can my body handle two pregnancies so close together? Will I have to wean my older baby now that I’m pregnant? Am I going to have a baby every year for the rest of my life? Some of your concerns may be even more serious – I was hoping for a VBAC; am I going to need another C-section? Am I going to experience the same pregnancy complications the second time around?

motherteresaBut first – take a deep breath. Know that God has destined you to be the mother of THIS child. He knows your weaknesses and your faults, your concerns and your fears. But still, He has chosen you. Rest for a moment knowing that in His plan of Divine Providence, He knows what is best for your soul and another baby is it. He knows who will be the best mother for this baby, and she is you.

(I often dislike when people say “But look at all your blessings!” when things are hard, because they still don’t mitigate the sting of our crosses, and sometimes our blessings come with crosses attached. But it has been helpful to me to remember to offer up any of my pregnancy-related woes for women struggling with infertility or recurring miscarriages, who so long for another baby to hold. Why have God given these children to me while allowing another woman to continuously feel the sting of empty arms? Just dwelling on that for a little bit has really helped me to appreciate my little crosses-in-the-midst-of-blessings. Sometimes, the best way to realize how fortunate we are is to will ourselves to be grateful, even during trials. And sometimes we need a gentle reminder of that.)

To the specific questions: You may have to switch to formula. You might have 2 babies who need to be carried everywhere for a while. Your chance of pre-term labor goes up slightly, and your body may be achier with your second pregnancy. You may have some crazy nights; you may have two babies not sleeping through the night at once (I had 3 blissful weeks of my older baby STTN before my younger one was born.) You may experience more pregnancy complications the second time around (I was very blessed that the pre-eclampsia I had with my first did not present itself with my second.) It may be a harder pregnancy. All legitimate concerns, absolutely.

nateben

I found out I was pregnant when my oldest was 12 weeks old. My newborn didn’t sleep well at night. (do they ever?) I spent every afternoon on the couch with nausea and exhaustion while he napped in the baby swing next to me. I kept crackers by my bed to eat in the middle of the night when I got up 8 times feed him. Sometimes it was 10 times. Some of the earlier days with a baby and a young toddler were a blur.

Now, my Irish twins are 5 and 4. The older is studious and loves numbers and words, telling time, calendars, calculators, writing. He is not the biggest conversationalist; he likes to be on a schedule and doesn’t enjoy spontaneity or getting dirty. The younger loves to talk, to tell stories and ask questions, to draw pictures, to be read to, make up stories, to help cook. He wears costumes and hats, and his creativity knows no bounds. These boys are total opposites, but they are the best of friends. They push each other out of their comfort zones. They learn about the virtues of patience and kindness through each other. I can honestly say that they are the best thing that ever happened to each other.

If you are struggling through a pregnancy right now, planned or unexpected, long-awaited or a complete shock, God will give you the grace you need to persevere. In the words of St. Gianna Molla, “Our task is to live holy in the present moment.” And as our beloved Papa Benedict said, “You were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.” Allow these two thoughts to inspire you and to give you hope. You’ve got this, mama. I’m cheering you on.

nateben2
{This post is not intended in any way to shame anyone or to make light of serious medical reasons for postponing pregnancy. All pregnancies and all situations are different. I’m not here to convince you that you need very-closely-spaced babies. I simply want to reassure you that if you do end up having babies in rapid succession, you are not dumb or irresponsible. You are not bad at NFP. You are not crazy. You should not feel ashamed of your openness to life. Do not obsess about the future – focus on the NOW, the baby in your arms and in your belly, not the future you who might possibly have 18 children spaced 11 months apart (but probably not.)}

 

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Colleen Ink Slingers Marriage Matrimony Parenting Testimonials Vocations

College, Marriage, Babies… But Not In That Order?

cscollegeMy husband and I have been married for almost 6 years. We have 4 small children. And last week, we both graduated from college.

We both took 3 years of college classes, and in 2008, decided not to wait any longer to get married. Since my husband had a full-time job and we were able to support ourselves, there really was no reason for us to put off marriage until after we were finished with college. In that same vein, there was no reason for us to wait to have babies. He made a modest income which was enough for us to live on even with me as a stay-at-home mom. My husband would finish college slowly and I would be content with my associate’s degree.

After 3 years, the regret of spending so much on my education and not finishing my bachelor’s degree began to sink in. I do not believe that everyone needs a college degree, nor do I think that college is very good preparation for the real world! But because I had invested so much time and effort already, I decided to complete my undergraduate degree part-time through a state university that offered a large portion of its classes online. Meanwhile, my husband kept plugging along at his degree while working 50+ hours a week, helping around the house, and being a husband and daddy. (It takes a LONG time to finish a degree when you only have time to take 2 or 3 classes a semester!)

Was it hard work? Absolutely. Many evenings we just wanted to crash, but had exams to study for. Numerous times I found myself nursing an overtired baby while writing a paper with an 11:59 pm deadline. I brought my books to the hospital when baby #3 was born during my second week of classes that semester. I started my last semester of college with a 2-week-old who ended up being a very colicky baby. My husband came home from work every day, helped with dinner, played with the kids, put them to bed, and hit the books. We made financial sacrifices to finish, and were married 5 years before buying our first house. So many times we wanted to quit and wondered if it was worth the effort. But we didn’t, and after all the sweat and sacrifices, we are finally done.

20140517-IMG_3716I am under no illusions that this can be done by everyone in every situation. Someone who takes classes that require being “all in”, such as a medical degree or law school, may not be able to work while going to school. Marriage and children may not be prudent for a short time. But if you have a job that pays enough to rent an apartment and put food on the table while you are in school, and you are prepared to take the plunge into marriage before you are finished with college, don’t hesitate because of what you think you are “supposed” to do, what everyone else does. You don’t have to wait 2 years to have a baby because your husband is in school; it is possible to finish while having a family. Part-time, night classes; there are options. And perhaps you will find, like many of our peers have found, that the modest-income job you had when you started your family has become a lucrative career path in a field that does not require a degree at all.

I am sharing our story simply to encourage. Our society has led us to believe that there is only one path; college, marriage, then babies (and maybe a few years in between each of those). Anything else is simply irresponsible. We give more importance to our education and our careers than to our vocation, even though we are ultimately sanctified through our vocation. I am telling you that there is another way; if you are called to the vocation of marriage, and especially if you have met your future spouse at a young age, an alternate path may be God’s plan for you. It requires prayer and discernment, like every path, but it can be done successfully. 

If we had waited to get married, we could have finished years earlier; if we had waited to have children, finishing our studies would have been easier. But sometimes earlier and easier isn’t our path. Yes, it took a lot longer and was a lot more work than we ever anticipated. But those sweet, grace-filled babies that we wouldn’t have if we had done it any other way? They are worth all those late nights and tired mornings a thousand times over.