Saturday, September 10, 2016

Lean Mean Budget Queen, Part II

  A few years ago, when we were a family of four, I wrote THIS blog post. I wrote it mainly out of a desire to help a few of my friends, who had privately approached me about financial concerns and wanted advice on budgeting as a single income family (more on that in a minute). It wasn't written in response to anything in particular, but out of a sincere desire to give hope to some of my friends who found themselves struggling with debt, budgeting, and financial stress. I certainly don't hold myself up as any kind of financial guru, and I'm sure there are several experts out there who would cringe at our lifestyle and financial choices. However, even as a child (my parents can attest to this), I've always been somewhat financially savvy and budget-conscious, and my attitude of "if I can't afford it, I can't buy it" has admittedly served me well in my adult years.

  Although my previous post wasn't necessarily written in response to any particular critique, I'll go ahead and admit that this post is. Specifically, critiques of military wives. For those of you who are married to someone in the service, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Simply Google "military spouses" or "military dependents" and let the fun begin. Didn't you know we're all about a bunch of fat, lazy, uneducated leeches who let our children run wild all over housing, while we sit on the couch, stuffing our faces full of Doritos and watching reality TV all day? And let's not forget that we spend our husband's (!!!!) entire paycheck on a Michael Kors purse and wallet set at the PX first chance we get. Our homes are disasters, our children are feral, we neglected our appearances long ago, we're always broke and trying to find ways to hang on until next payday, and we have at least one repo under our belts. After all, we aren't referred to as a "dependapotamus" for nothing.

  In case you're wondering, no, I'm not exaggerating. These are the stereotypes military spouses (mainly wives) have to deal with on a daily basis. We hear it from soldiers, government employees, and surprisingly (or not surprisingly, depending on how you look at it) other wives. It's disgusting, it VERY RARELY paints an accurate picture of military spouses, but the stereotype simply won't die. As if that weren't bad enough, I see posts on social media all the time scorning one-income families, insinuating that women who stay at home are a drain on their family's finances, and a major source of stress to our husbands. Now, I'm not here to defend my decision to be a stay at home mother. As far as I'm concerned, that's between my husband and I, and if someone has a problem with that, they can go kick rocks. Nor am I here to slam working mothers, because I don't think there's anything TO slam. Some women couldn't imagine being out of the workforce for years, and giving up their careers. I get that. If I hadn't gotten married shortly after graduating college, and had a career of my own (rather than jobs wherever we were stationed), I'm sure I would have a hard time giving up my career, too. I also completely understand that many women may not want to work, but they have to, either for insurance or financial reasons (or both). Again, I completely understand, and I'm not setting out to make anyone feel like they have to justify their choice.

  What I DO intend to do is squash the notion that one-income families are drowning in debt, or barely hanging on by a thread while our husbands (because let's be honest, most of the time if there's a stay at home parent, it's the mother) work themselves to the bone. Without getting too personal-in other words, I won't be posting our monthly salary-I'll show that we not only survive, but thrive on one income. We're not wanting for anything. Our kids do not go without. We may not have the latest and greatest technological toys, but that was never anything that was important to Will and I, even when we were DINKS. So, let's get the details out of the way right now. 

  We do not have any credit card debt. None at all. Nor do we have any kind of store credit debt. We paid off our student loans years ago (Will had a relatively small loan of $2500, and mine was over $16, 000). Seeing as how the Army chooses to move us every two years, we never bought a home, as that wouldn't make a whole lot of financial sense for us. So, we don't have a mortgage. What we do have, slightly to my dismay, is two car loans. This is fairly recent; as of last Saturday, we have a new (to us; it's a CPO) minivan. That wasn't technically in financial plans, but neither was a fourth child fourteen months after I delivered the last one. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. But in any case, for the first time in our lives, we have two car loans. I'll admit I'm slightly uncomfortable with this, and I've been going over our budget with a fine-tooth comb, and making plans to pay off our SUV within the next year. But in the grand scheme of's not the end of the world. We sleep easy at night knowing that we're in a position where we can afford two car payments at once, and both of us drive safe, reliable vehicles that won't die on us next month. But the question can we afford this type of luxury on one income? 

  The first step for Will and I was learning to distinguish between "need" versus "want." When we were living overseas and both of us were working full-time, we got in the habit of going out to dinner and bars with our friends at least once a week, going on fabulous European vacations, dropping $200 on a whim to stock up our wine rack, and generally just buying whatever we wanted, when we wanted. Now, we still managed to contribute a good amount of money to our retirement and savings accounts during that time, so I'm hesitant to refer to that period in our lives as "irresponsible." But things definitely changed when I got pregnant and we moved back to the States, and we worked very hard over the years to change the spending habits that had become familiar to us. What were the most significant changes we made to our lifestyle? 

  1. Budget, budget, budget. 

  Sounds incredibly simple, doesn't it? You would be surprised at how many people I know who cringe at the thought of putting down their income and expenses on paper. Why, I'm really not sure. Perhaps they see it as restrictive? It's really not; if anything, it's freeing. You know exactly where your money is going every pay period, where you can cut back, how much you have left over to add to the "fun money" category, etc. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to money saving tips, and I saved quite a few pins with free budget printables that I use every month. Give it a try!

2. Meal plan

  We rarely eat out anymore. Firstly, I don't particularly enjoy dining out with small children. I'm not going to bring my "age six and under" crew to a fancy restaurant, so on the rare occasions when we DO bring them out to eat, it's at a kid-friendly restaurant. The food is rarely anything to write home about, and we're lucky if our kids take more than three bites out of their $8 meals. If we're going to spend money on dining out, Will and I want to go to a quiet, slightly upscale restaurant that both of us would enjoy, and not have to worry about our kids crushing soda crackers on the floor. So yes, we eat the majority of our meals at home. I'm fortunate in that I enjoy cooking, my family likes my cooking, and I have perfected the art of making enough food the night before so Will can bring leftovers to work for lunch the next day. Cooking at home is cheaper, healthier, and in my humble opinion, tastier than most of the food you would buy at a restaurant. Which leads me to my next piece of advice...

3. Make meals from scratch

  A rule that I adopted over the past few years is, "if I can make it myself, I can't buy it at the store." You would think this would be complicated and time consuming, but it really isn't. I never purchase the following things from grocery stores anymore (some of which I never did in the first place):
Marinara sauce (or "gravy," depending on where you live).
Any kind of bread. I make it all; sandwich bread, garlic bread, rolls, etc. 
Broth. Broth is ridiculously easy to make, and the homemade versions are so.much.better than their store-bought counterparts.
Desserts. If I'm craving cookies, pies, cupcakes, what have you, I have to make them myself. This is a practical deterrent if I'm craving sugar but don't want to put forth the effort to make it myself. The exception I have to this rule is Italian pastries. I'm not going to spend hours perfecting the art of cannoli shells. 
Salad dressing. Not only is it ridiculously easy to make, but I loathe store bought dressing. It's chock full of preservatives and nasty ingredients, and the homemade versions are SO much healthier. I honestly can't remember the last time I bought salad dressing from the store. 

4. The best things in life are free

  Well, maybe not everything, but with little kids? They don't need to spend every weekend at a museum where tickets are thirty bucks a pop, or amusement parks, or take part in every single enrichment activity. Are those things fun to do every once in a while? Absolutely! But trust me, it's very easy to entertain small children for free, or at least for a very low price. We spend a lot of time at libraries, parks, splash pads in the summer, play dates with friends, or even something out of the ordinary at home. You'd be amazed at how giddy my kids get over "movie Friday," when I allow them to choose a kids movie on Netflix and microwave a bowl of popcorn for them. If it's a deviation from our normal routine, they see it as the coolest thing ever. I'm not saying that children aren't expensive (hello, we already have one in Catholic school!), but you don't need to break the bank to provide them with fun, educational, and social opportunities. 

5. Need vs. Want

  As I mentioned before, this will be one of the biggest changes you may have to make, but it's also the one where you will see the fastest results. Will and I have taken a good, long look at our expenses over the past few years, and we made some pretty significant changes to our lifestyle. We decided that paying upwards of $150/month for cable was ridiculous (especially considering there were only a few channels we watched regularly), so we cut cable, switched to a basic but reliable internet package, and stuck with Netflix and Amazon Prime for entertainment. If there's a book we want to read, we check it out from the library, instead of purchasing it immediately from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. We don't go crazy during the holidays, and we don't do over-the-top birthdays for our kids (and please believe me when I say, our children aren't missing out. There are many ways to make the holidays and birthdays special without dropping hundreds-or thousands-of dollars. Again, Pinterest to the rescue!!). Also, and most importantly, we cut out impulse buying. Every pay period, after writing out our bi-monthly budget and paying bills, I designate "fun money" for both Will and I. We can use it however we want, but when it's gone, it's gone. 

  It's taken us a while to get used to a budget-conscious way of life, but it's more freeing than I ever thought it would be. Because we put a good chunk of money into our savings account every month, we don't freak out when the unexpected happens. (And trust me, it will. Just as soon as you think you're getting your financial act together, your washer/dryer set will break down. Or you'll need a major car repair. Or your water heater will blow. Or *cough cough* you'll face an unexpected pregnancy. Can you say "Murphy's Law?"). I'm glad that we can teach our children that "frugal" isn't a bad word, and they will grow up in a home that doesn't embrace our country's throw-away culture. If our kids choose not to take care of their things, they don't get replaced. It's as simple as that. 

  I can't stress this enough; this post isn't meant to start a debate between the working parent vs the stay at home parent, or to parade the choices we've made as the superior option. We've made our mistakes, just like everyone else on the planet, and some were easier to overcome than others. What I do hope to show is that living on a single income isn't impossible, or unattainable, if that's what you feel would work best for your family. I'm always happy to answer any budget questions you may have, even if they're somewhat personal. :) 
                  A typical Tenney Christmas. Chaos with a lot of love. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

All Kinds of Random

  This is officially a post about everything and nothing. It was kind of getting to the point where I had a ridiculous amount of blog ideas swimming around in my head, but rather than actually, you know, sit down and write, I let them gather in the far recesses of my mind and stay there. And I haven't updated my blog in a month, so, yeah. I'm attempting to banish "Lame Marisa" to the corner for now, and bring "Somewhat Together Marisa" back for the time being. Think of this post as another 7 Quick Takes, only more than 7 bullet points, no link up, and no real purpose. I'll get back to writing real posts next week, I promise. 

1. So, first and foremost, I have a kindergartner. An adorable kindergartner in the most adorable school uniform EVER (and I take back everything disparaging I ever said about uniforms as a small child. Uniforms are my jam. No fights over school or weather appropriate clothes in the morning. Easy laundry. I'm totally sold). 
  I didn't get emotional on the first day...maybe I'm just not that sentimental of a parent, or maybe I just knew how good kindergarten was going to be for Tony. He was definitely ready for the next step (and not gonna lie, I was too. Something about the end of summer makes my children act like raging lunatics, and I for one was thrilled to have a bit of order and routine in our lives once again). Tony is happy and excited to leave for school every morning, and he's always in a good mood when I pick him up every day. Plus, his teacher has already won me over, after sending this home with the children on their first day. 
  I That's a special person right there. 

2. I am very big, very pregnant, very slow moving. I'll be 32 weeks tomorrow and I'm This little stinker whom I'm gestating is currently transverse (sort of...head on the right, leg in the crotch, another leg to my left), and posterior. Really, little one? I'm seeing a chiropractor trained in the Webster technique in hopes of flipping this baby before resorting to an ECV or major abdominal surgery, doing a ton of exercises from the Spinning Babies website (which, to be honest, never really seemed to work for me), rubbing peppermint essential oil on my belly every night, and praying. I would really prefer to avoid a c-section, since I can't imagine trying to recover from a surgery like that with four little kids and a husband with a demanding military job, not to mention I'm worried that it could cause extra issues with my already excruciating back pain. So, prayers are welcome and much appreciated. 

3. In other pregnancy news, Will said it looks like I have a marijuana leaf on my belly. Well, we DO live in Colorado. Thanks, honey! Love you too! 
Yep. Right above my belly button. If that isn't a reason to avoid piercing your belly button at the age of 19, I don't know what is. 

4. Despite the fact that I have a blog, Facebook and Instagram accounts, I kind of suck at using social media to my advantage. The other day, I saw that one of my favorite bloggers opened up a Q&A on her Instagram account, with plans to answer all questions later that day on her blog. I thought, "hey, that sounds like a great idea." I have a lot of friends I've made online over the years, through blogging, mom groups, what have you, and I love learning more about them. I thought a Q&A on my own blog would be a great idea, so I posted the same concept to both my Instagram and Facebook accounts. No one bit! I was a little bummed out, until I remembered I posted the picture/idea at 4:30am. Reality check, Marisa. Normal people do not browse social media in the wee hours of the morning whilst battling pregnancy insomnia, back pain, and a teething baby. Duly noted. So. Anyone up for a Q&A? Any questions for me, regarding our family, military life, religion, education, social media, budgeting? Ask away in the comments section, and I'll see about getting a post up relatively soon. As in, not a month from now. Promise.

5. Despite feeling run-down and just generally exhausted yesterday, Will and I rounded up the crew and made a very necessary Costco run, only to return home and realize we forgot to purchase toilet paper, personal wipes, soap, Popsicles, and frozen chicken breasts. In other words, pretty much everything that makes sense for us to buy at a big warehouse store. I'm blaming pregnancy brain. I can only use that excuse for another eight weeks or so, and damn it I'm going to make the most of it. 

6. We've been doing pretty well sticking to a healthy Mediterranean diet for the past month or so (more on that in another blog post), and when I brought up the idea of a Greek chicken skillet with cherry tomatoes, chopped spinach, red onion, garlic, and feta cheese with Greek seasoned potatoes served on the side, Will said, "hey! Fried chicken sounds like a great idea for dinner! It's in my head and I can't get it out. I'm going to the store for buttermilk!" Well, I suppose exceptions have to be made and all that. 

7. Confession: I never really had "proper" fried chicken until I started dating a Southern guy. We never had it growing up. Ever. My mom made roast chicken frequently, and I loved it, and it never occurred to me to try anything else. My Louisiana husband grew up on it, and he introduced me to the deliciousness that is Popeye's Chicken (something I've never seen in my home state of Wisconsin). I usually have a craving for it once a year, much to Will's chagrin. As he put it today, "I can eat myself sick on fried chicken." 

  Okay, technically I lied. I'm ending this post after seven blurbs, because Gianna is feverish, teething and miserable, it's 2:45pm and I'm still in my pajamas, and I have a sinking suspicion that Will is blowing up my kitchen in an attempt to prepare fried chicken for tonight's dinner. I'll be back later this week with a post on one of the following topics (please cast your vote if there's something you really want to read):

Our family's health and the Mediterranean diet
Pregnancy update, or What I'm Stressing About This Month
How I Put My Pride Aside and Learned to Accept Help

Friday, July 22, 2016


1. So, an almost two month blogging break isn't bad by my standards, right? I have a bunch of posts (in my head, naturally) that I'm planning on writing, including but not limited to the start of the school year, budgeting, the Mediterranean diet and how our family eats, and for a brief moment I considered touching on politics, but nah. That would just make me ragey, and put me in a foul mood for the rest of the day, and give everyone else a headache. So I'm going to veto that plan for now (see what I did there?). Rather than write an actual blog post, I'll just share some pictures and brief accounts of our recent trip to the glorious Midwest this past month and a half. Beginning with..

Gianna's first haircut, by Miss Benay (who cut my hair as a baby, and my brother's hair, and Tony's hair...what can I say. An Italian woman's dedication to a hairdresser is a powerful thing). As you can see, Gianna was unimpressed by the whole experience. 

Playtime with Uncle Mark on our first Saturday morning back in Wisconsin. I'm pretty sure I've scared my little brother away from parenthood, at least for the time being. Sorry, Mark!

4. There was a lot of this:
First time in the neighbor's pool. She loved it. ❤️ 
And this:
If there was ever a picture that captured Alessandra's personality...

4. Some quality time at the Jelly Belly factory with my bestie and two older children:
Tony: "I shall dominate the world! With or without my shoes on the correct feet!" 

5. Merry-go-rounds in the village.
"My horse is SO much better than yours."
"Nuh uh!" 

6. Meeting cousin Hugo for the first time (he and Gianna were born 10 days apart!):

7. Aaaaannnnnnd returning home, to immediately get back in the groove of trashing the house.
It's a talent, really.

Will is still on leave for another glorious week, so I'm enjoying a whole lot of lazing around, organizing things for our upcoming move in January (Lord Jesus don't get me started on this foolishness), and thinking about baking. And blogging. And cleaning. Maybe one of these days, I'll follow through.

Happy weekend! 

Saturday, May 28, 2016


  Anyone who knew me in high school (okay, and college) will wholeheartedly agree that I'm a master procrastinator. Major term paper due tomorrow, one that would normally require weeks upon weeks of backbreaking research? Sure, I'll crank that bad boy out the night before, beginning around 1am. Biomedical Ethics midterm? Why, what's wrong with reviewing two months worth of class notes the night before? And so what if it's my 21st birthday? I can always go out to celebrate on the weekend!

  (Yes, I actually spent the night of my 21st birthday, on Halloween no less, studying for a midterm. I'm not sure if that makes me sound incredibly studious or incredibly lame). 

  My point being, I tend to leave important deadlines to the last minute. Adulthood is no exception. See: inviting 12 soldiers and their families over for a Thanksgiving dinner at our house, and not shopping until the day before, waiting until I was in full-blown labor with Alessandra and barely making it to the birth center in time, waiting until I was down to the VERY LAST CLEAN CLOTH DIAPER before deciding I should probably do get the picture. I always promise myself that I will grow up, get things done in a calm, leisurely manner, and not running around like an addict who can't find his stash (inappropriate analogy? Possibly. I've only had one cup of coffee this morning). This rarely pans out. For starters, old habits are hard to break. Furthermore, I generally have the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. Pretty much every last-minute deadline, whether it be a test, term paper, childbirth, entertaining, what have you-works out in my favor when I leave it to the last minute. However, being an adult (or so I keep telling myself) I know I need a good kick in the butt every now and then, and I need to get my &#$% together. 

  In a mere four days, we will bid farewell to Will, who will depart for Fort Knox for 6 long weeks. My mom arrives in the Springs that very day, and 2 days later she, I, and my crew will depart for Milwaukee. I'm really looking forward to this trip, but I'm not looking forward to the prep. The "prep" being laundry, packing, map routing, food preparing, grocery shopping, overnight bag packing, car cleaning...the list goes on. My mom and I were chatting a few days ago, and she reminded me to make a packing list for the kids and I. Right. I'll get on that. However, I'm looking around our house, which is in desperate need of a deep clean, there are boxes in the garage from our most recent move that still need to be unpacked, the kids' playroom looks like a tornado ran through it but it's THEIR playroom and I'm NOT signing myself up for that job, people around here insist on eating every day so I still have to prepare meals, and the laundry has reached an alarming state. SOOOOOOO my list kind of looks something like this: 

Laundry. Much laundry. 
Check out Google Maps, compare to Mapquest. Determine not only fastest route, but route with rest stops with playgrounds (yes, they do exist!), Chik-Fil-As, Burger Kings and McDonalds with child play areas. Must find places where kids can get the wiggles out. 
Pack for everyone. Laundry first. Impose harsh restrictions on what children can wear for the next few days. 
Clean house. Thoroughly. I detest coming home to a disaster area after a long vacation. 
Grocery store. Probably should make a shopping list first. 
Drop Murphy off at dog sitters house. 
Arrange for someone to cut the grass at least once during our absence. 

  What have I done thus far? I've thought about making a packing list. Thought very seriously about it. Decided that was too much work, and proceeded to write this blog post instead. 
But with this awesome guy (who's kind of sporting a Jersey Shore-ish look as of late) insisting that he wants Papa time with the kids today and I should "take it easy," well, who am I to argue? 

Friday, May 20, 2016

7 Quick Takes-WeekEND!!

1. I haven't participated in 7QT in...I don't know how many months, so I figured I'd get back in the game. Also, pregnancy insomnia strikes again, and I've been up since 3:30. Imagine how much I could accomplish if I was a CEO of a major corporation while battling sleepless nights. Then again, about half an hour ago I remembered I threw a load of clothes in the washer last night before I went to bed, and I could totally get a head start on laundry if I went downstairs and threw them in the dryer. That seemed like too much work, so I continued to flop around in bed until I got the brilliant idea to write a blog post. Best to stick with this stay at home mom gig. At least I can wear yoga pants.

2. One more day of work for Will, then weekend, plus a few extra days of leave he's taking to help me pack up for our upcoming trip to Wisconsin. It's ridiculous how excited I am about this (both the leave and the trip). 

3. My kids have decided they love the song "Uptown Funk." I do, too. It's catchy, has a great beat, and it's a nice break from Lady Gaga's "Telephone" (Alessandra's current favorite. Don't judge me). The problem? We're having a bit of an articulation issue. When my kids beg me to play "Uptown Funk," it's sounds like they're saying uptown really bad word.

I can't WAIT until they request this song in public. 😖

4. I texted this meme to my mom yesterday, with the title, "The Ballad of Mark and Marisa's Childhood." 

5. A mother at the bus stop asked me yesterday if I was an expert in moving and unpacking (brought on by a conversation about the possibility of us moving back to Georgia this winter). I definitely got a good laugh out of that comment, and invited her to come over and take a look at our garage. Nope, I'm about as far away from the "expert" level as one can get. I'd like to think that as a military wife who has done 7 moves in the past 10 years, that I've got this down to a science. Lol NO.

6. Will thinks this baby is another girl, based on my first trimester morning sickness and craving for anything loaded with sugar. As for me, the verdict is still out. I think it's safe to say at this point whatever I think will be wrong, so just stick with my husband's guess, mmmmkay? He's 3 for 3, and I'm 0 for 3 when it comes to gender prediction. (Though interestingly enough, my guesses are *usually* correct when it comes to my friends).

7. Looking forward to warmer weather, BBQs with friends and family, Popsicles, lazy days at the pool, July fourth festivities, and chubby babies in swimsuits and hats. Summer can't get here fast enough.

Happy weekend!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Thank You

  This is a long overdue blog post, but I can't thank everyone enough. Those of you who commented on my blog, Facebook page, and Instagram account with prayers, advice, and those who shared your own stories of unexpected pregnancies and struggles. Words cannot express the gratitude and love I felt reading your comments, and truly, part of the reason it took me such a long time to write this post was because I honestly didn't know how to respond. To say "thank you" seems woefully inadequate. To say I was blown away by your kind words, your compassion, and your raw honesty is a massive understatement. I wanted to respond to everyone personally, but every time I tried, I would break down in tears, humbled beyond words and convinced I would never be able to say what I wanted to say without rambling, or repeating myself. I still believe that I will never be able to find the right words, so please accept my heartfelt thanks, and prayers for all of you.

  Pregnancy-wise, everything is fine. Baby's heartbeat has been strong and consistent at my last few midwife visits, and our ultrasound is scheduled for June 1. Naturally, Will is going to have to miss this one as well (thanks, Army!!) but my mom will be in town, so she and the kids will get to see their new grandchild/brother or sister on the big screen. I'm finally, FINALLY past the "I'm going to throw up the contents of my stomach as soon as I open up my eyes in the morning" stage, and Will has been awesomesauce about letting me get as much rest as possible. So, yeah. Back problems aside, I'm having a healthy pregnancy, and from the looks of it, a healthy baby.

  As I mentioned, Will is going to be absent for a good chunk of time this summer. He'll be doing training at Fort Knox from the end of May to the middle of July, so boo. I don't really feel like hanging around Colorado solo with three little ones during the whole time, so my mom is flying out in a few weeks, and she's going to help me pack up my brood and my trusty SUV and drive back to Wisconsin for an extended visit. I haven't been back home in a long time, and I'm already dreaming of visits with family and friends, dinners at my favorite restaurants, taking the kids to Bay Beach in Green Bay for some cheap carnival fun, and Fourth of July festivities. It's going to be great, and I'll confess, I'm excited to visit the good 'ole Midwest during the summer again.

  In other news, we moved into a new house in the Springs, one with a "get things done" landlord, a finished basement (which has been turned into a playroom), and a noticeable absence of mice! Imagine that! It's also considerably closer to our church, where Tony will attend kindergarten in the fall. Let's all take a moment to let that sink in.
    Yes, this Tony. With that killer dimple. 

  There's a chance we may be headed back to Fort Benning a year earlier than originally planned. On one hand, I love living here in Colorado, and I know I'll miss this state terribly. I've never lived in this part of the country before, and there are still days when I wake up and can't believe how beautiful Colorado is. I love the area, I love being so close to Denver and all the opportunities the city offers, and we've made some amazing friends here. So yes, I'll be very sad to leave. That being said, accepting a job there would be good for Will's career, there's a chance we could find a decent place to live on base, we have family in Atlanta, and Destin and Disneyworld aren't THAT far away. ;) So, whatever happens, I fully intend to make the best out of our situation. Such is Army life, right??!!

  Today is Pentecost Sunday, and I have lots to do-including a trip to the grocery store and convincing  a stubborn 3-year old that ratty sweatpants are not appropriate for mass-before church at 10:30. As always, thank you for reading, and for your kind words. I am grateful beyond measure. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

When Facing the Unexpected

  I'll be honest...this may be the most difficult post I've ever written. It involves sharing a whole lot of personal information, going waaaaaaay out of my blogging comfort zone, and going in to more details about my body than I ever would have imagined I would share online. (I should probably take this opportunity to inform you that I'll be discussing my cycles, natural family planning, and as I said, a whole lot of personal information. If you're prone to getting squicked out by discussion of periods, post partum hormones, etc, you may not want to continue reading). For a long time, I thought about  avoiding this post altogether, and just posting the standard happy announcement. But...that wouldn't be honest. I've been making an effort this past year to share everything; the good, the bad, the ugly, and not just gloss over the trials and tribulations we face as a family, simply because it's not a neat and tidy story. So, honesty it is.

  For those of you who haven't guessed by the picture or the first paragraph, I'm pregnant. Twelve weeks. And this pregnancy was very, VERY unplanned. Let me back up a bit.

  After Gianna was born, Will and I agreed to wait before even contemplating getting pregnant again. We had multiple reasons for this decision, but the most important reason had to do with my health. I made an appointment with my neurosurgeon when Gianna was a week old (I had a excruciating back pain during my pregnancy with her, and I knew something was seriously wrong). My neurosurgeon immediately scheduled me for an MRI, and when I got the results back, he said that without a doubt, I needed surgery. I had a microdiscectomy when Gianna was 4 1/2 months old, and the second-no joke-I woke up in recovery, my neurosurgeon was standing over me. He said that when he actually opened me up, my back was far worse than the MRI had shown, and I was going to need spinal fusion surgery. His exact words were, "I don't know how you were walking, let alone carrying a pregnancy." Since then, I've been in a lot of pain. I've been attempting to manage the pain through weekly PT appointments and pain medication, but it really isn't ideal. So, Will and I both agreed that we needed to get my back fixed once and for all before even considering another baby. 

  As far as birth control goes, we use NFP. I understand there are quite a few, shall we say, strong opinions on the matter, but we use it for both health and religious reasons. We have used NFP successfully in the past, both to avoid and achieve pregnancies. No, it's not always easy, but it worked for us. Until, obviously, now. 

  I've heard many people (health practitioners, NFP instructors, friends) talk up ecological breastfeeding-in other words, exclusively breastfeeding your baby for as long as possible, babywearing, co-sleeping, not using a pacifier-as a fantastic way to delay the return of your fertility. Now, I realize that EB works wonders for many women, and I myself have many friends who WILL NOT get a period until their babies or toddlers are completely weaned. I am...not one of those women. Despite exclusively breastfeeding, babywearing constantly, and co-sleeping, my period returned at two months postpartum. Not cool, nature. Not cool at all. It was especially difficult for me, as I now had to worry about charting my cycle with an infant who had, at best, unpredictable sleep patterns, not to mention I was taking pain medication daily for my disaster of a back. I tried to chart, I really did, but it seemed like the universe was working against me. In addition to getting my period at two months postpartum, I was getting two VERY heavy periods every month. I was exhausted beyond belief, getting migraines constantly, and having painful PMS back pain on top of my already excruciating back pain. Will and I were being obsessively careful about avoiding sex during what I thought was my fertile time each month, but again, my body was doing all sorts of screwy things.

  At the beginning of February, I was looking through my CycleGoPro app on my phone, and realizing, "ugh. Lovely. Time for my first period of the month to show up. No wonder I've been craving pizza and ice cream lately." Well, a few days went by, and no period. I started to feel cautiously hopeful; hey, maybe my body was finally starting to right itself! Could it be that I wouldn't have to suffer through this nonsense more than once a month? Well, twelve days went by. At that point, I was confused, and I was starting to get nervous. I pulled Will aside one day after he got home from work, and asked him if he thought I should buy a pregnancy test. Will laughed, and said, "There's just no way. That would seriously be a one in a million chance. Buy one if it will put your mind at ease, but I really don't think you have anything to worry about. If you're not-and I'm SURE you're not-I think you should give your midwives a call to see if they can figure out what's going on with your body." That made sense, and I agreed that the chances of me being pregnant were slim to none, so I ran to Walgreens, picked up a test, and came home just as Will was getting Gianna ready for bed. I told him I was going to take the test immediately just so I could sleep that night without worrying, and Will agreed. I went into the bathroom, peed on the stick, and prepared to wait a few minutes for the results to show up. 

  I didn't even need to wait 10 seconds. The second line appeared almost immediately, and I burst into hysterical sobs. I was crying so hard I couldn't even see. Will, naturally, was in a complete panic, and he was yelling, "What's wrong? Are you okay? Open the door!!" I opened the door, handed him the test, and collapsed on our bed, still sobbing. "WHAT? How is this possible? There's no a false positive likely?" Nope. False negatives are fairly common, but false positives are almost unheard of. Will was doing everything he could to calm me down, I couldn't stop crying, Gianna started crying because she saw her mama was was chaos. 

  I cried all night long. I woke up every hour on the hour, remembering the positive pregnancy test a few  feet away from me on my nightstand, and I would just burst into tears. Will would wake up, hold me, tell me that he loved me and he would take care of me, and tell me everything was going to be okay, and he would rub my back until I fell asleep again. I just couldn't believe it. The thought of going through another pregnancy with chronic back pain made me want to vomit. Even if I didn't have chronic pain, the thought of two under two (especially with two older children) was absolutely terrifying to me. Our families were going to freak. My neurosurgeon was going to think I was dumber than a box of rocks. And last but not least, how was this going to affect Gianna? I already suspected that my milk supply was dwindling, and I was taking a bunch of lactation-boosting herbs to continue nursing her. None of which were safe to take during pregnancy, so I had to immediately discontinue using them. 

  It took me a long, LONG time to come to terms with this pregnancy. I cried at my first appointment with my midwife. I cried pretty much every single night for two weeks straight. I felt selfish and ungrateful, knowing how many friends I have who are struggling with fertility and would kill to be in my position. I cried when I finally admitted defeat, realizing my milk supply completely dried up, and I had to switch Gianna to formula. I didn't want to tell anyone. I avoided talking about it with Will, and every time he gently brought up announcing the news to family and friends, I talked him out of it. After I got over my initial sadness, I felt anger. At everything and everyone. I was angry at God, for clearly giving me more than I could handle. I was angry at society, for making me feel embarrassed and needing to defend having more than the "acceptable" number of children. I was angry at NFP for failing me. Most of all, I was angry at myself. For not making an appointment with my midwives as soon as I realized something was kind of screwy with my body, for not making the time to take a Creighton NFP class (with my friend, who is a certified instructor and had offered her services to us in the past), and for not being more careful. And most of all, for seeing this pregnancy as a huge burden. I was so ashamed of myself when I realized I had resentment towards an innocent baby, a baby whom I knew I would fall in love with the moment he or she is placed in my arms. 

  I ended up confiding in one of my close friends, and she gave me some great advice. "Don't show your fears or sadness to those you know won't understand, but with those who WILL, don't hold back. " We eventually told our families, a few more of our close friends, and shortly thereafter, we made the official announcement online. For the most part, people have been very supportive and happy. We've had to field a few of those "hilarious" questions such as "ya know what causes that, right?" (Har! Good one!). I've also become more comfortable admitting that while yes, a baby is always a blessing, that doesn't mean I can't be scared about the timing, or sad about the circumstances. I had this (irrational) fear that I would be kicked out of some kind of Catholic club for not being over the moon about another pregnancy, and that couldn't have been further from the truth. My Catholic sisters were supportive, understanding, and as patient as can be with me while I cried about my fears and grumbled about our hyperactive fertility. 

  Everything is going to be okay. I know it is. I will make it through this pregnancy, and at the end, we will have a beautiful, and, God-willing, healthy baby to show for it. Yes, our life will become slightly more chaotic, but that's certainly nothing new. I'm slowly allowing myself to feel excitement over the impending newborn stage again, and buying tiny little clothes and hats for our newest addition. I'm doing everything I can to try and manage my back pain, and get as much rest (as possible) during the exhausting first trimester. It wasn't easy, but letting go of my fears, anger, and anxiety has given me the peace of mind I so desperately needed. I'm slowly but surely getting back into a daily prayer routine, and in the midst of my worries, remembering that I have so, so much to be grateful for.