Thursday, November 29, 2007

the twins

I'm sorry, I'm afraid this blog is becoming more baby-centered than church year centered, but right now, my biggest task from the Lord seems be be gestating (not that that's inappropriate in Advent!).

I got to see a perinatologist today, who confirmed that the twins are monoamniotic. So it looks like I am headed for a hospital stay starting just after Christmas. I'm not surprised, although she seemed to be - she had trouble believing that she couldn't find a membrane between them and kept repeating things like, "This is just so rare!" :)

The good news is that the girls look good. Nothing else is wrong with them, so if we can get them here at around 32 weeks, they have as good a fighting chance as any other preemie, and better than many (32 weeks being better than, say, 24). It was so good and reassuring to see them, so beautiful and well-formed, and curled up right next to each other, heads touching.

I feel . . . a little like I wandered into Narnia. I'm suddenly faced with this weird, impossible task, but it's an inevitable impossible task, and Aslan's set me to it, so I'm just going to do it.

Well, actually, not quite like I'm in Narnia, but like we are in Narnia. Like Adam and I and are kids are the Pevensies, all stumbled through the wardrobe together, bewildered, but willing to do what we're asked, even though it seems like it might kill us.

I don't know, I have nothing profound. Just that I can see where I am now, and I can see where I hope to be this time next year, but I can't see much in between. I know I'm gonna walk through it, but I can't even really think about it. I'm just gonna do the next thing, by God's grace.

And, you know, He's being very gracious. The hospital closest to us - a wonderful, Catholic hospital, where I delivered my first two children, can handle this pregnancy, and the girls if they come early. And my husband has a job with insurance that will cover, it looks like, all of our costs (which is HUGE). And we have family and friends nearby, wonderful people, who are willing to take on the hardship of caring for our two older children while I can't. And who will care for them lovingly and kindly - I can't even express how grateful I am to know that Bess and Gamgee will be well taken care of while I'm in the hospital. And I'll probably get to spend Christmas at home (minus an hour or two under monitoring at the hospital). And there's nothing else wrong with the girls but this. And the hard part of this pregnancy is coming at a time of the year when some of our family have time off from work. There are many, many things that could be worse; it feels like He's saying, "I am giving you this one hard thing to do, but don't worry about anything else. Just do this one thing. Just take care of these girls, while I take care of you and yours." I hope I'm hearing rightly.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

He knows

I've been reading, this week, a book called "When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets or Quads" by Dr. Barbara Luke. Unlike the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" series, Luke's book is HELPFUL. Dr. Luke runs clinics for moms of multiples, and the twins born to moms who've followed her program tend to weigh, at birth, 20% more than the average for twins.

I appreciate both the weight of her research, and the encouragement of her words. And I'm discovering tons of fascinating facts, like:
-twins develop faster in utero than singletons; they tend to be a few weeks ahead of their gestational age, developmentally, preparing them for their almost-certainly-shorter gestation.
-multiples born to moms who've given birth before gestate longer. This is because they don't have to stretch out the uterus themselves; it's already been stretched out, and they can grow faster without an un-tried uterus restricting them.
-bedrest - or at least REST, lying down - actually does do some good. It takes the strain off your heart, allowing more oxygen to circulate through your and your babies' bodies, and off of your kidneys (since they have more blood flow), allowing your body to more quickly and easily filter and eliminate fluids. Given that a twin mom sees TWICE the increase of blood volume that a singleton mom does, this is important.
-while breastmilk is great for preemies, if they're very, very premature, even breastmilk can be bad for them, because their digestive system is too immature to handle it. Weird. I've thought about immature hearts, lungs and brains, but never immature guts.

Anyway, those are just a few things I've learned recently. I feel like I'm taking a crash course on multiple pregnancies, births and childhoods!

But maybe the most helpful thing in this book is when the author talks about how parents, upon finding out that they're pregnant with multiples, go through the five stages of grief: shock, denial, anger/depression, bargaining, and acceptance/adaptation. Reading that was helpful, because I was able to look back over the last few weeks, and see that cycle at play in myself. For instance, a few hours after we first found out about the girls, I found myself sitting on a couch, feeling too shaky to stand up. I recognized that I was coming off of an adrenaline high, and later that night I cried so hard that I gave myself a real (not Braxton-Hicks-ish) contraction. (So I stopped crying, realizing, in an oddly cold-blooded moment, that I hadn't the right to cry so hard when it might hurt my babies.) Denial was the days I had myself convince that at least one, if not both of them, were going to die, and so it all didn't matter anyway. Anger and depression followed as I looked at the prison term/hospital stay ahead of me. Then bargaining: "But at least if I go do this, you can promise me they'll be okay, right?" And now, though there's still a slight hope we'll find out that they aren't sharing a sac, I'm planning my next weeks' menus so that I can double every meal between now and when I'm hospitalized, hopefully leaving my husband and oldest children with a freezer full of yummy, nutrious stuff for them to eat while I'm gone. I guess that's acceptance.

I also appreciated that Dr. Luke pointed out that new information or changes can knock you back a few steps. That explains why, after my ultrasound last week, where we again failed to find a membrane separating the girls, I felt depressed for several days. I hate the feeling of being depressed. I'm not used to it and I don't like it. But at least now I know that it's not abnormal, given the circumstances.

Anyway, I guess it's enough to say: education helps. Living each day as it comes helps. Thinking of the future only insomuch as it's today's duty to prepare for it helps. Knowing how many people there are praying for us helps. Eating well and resting because TODAY that's how I can take care of my babies helps. Enjoying being with my toddlers because today I get to be with them helps. Going on a date with my husband (go see Enchanted, it's lovely and funny!) helps. Thinking about how Jesus completely understands helps.

Actually, that last one helps a LOT. Every time I cringe at the idea of how painful the next few months will be, I remember that my Lord also - eyes wide open - walked to his own place of suffering. When I feel like the hospitalization is a prison sentence, I remember my mom's thought that it's more like a rescue mission, as the shepherd left the ninety and nine where they were safe in order to go after the one. When I wince at the idea of a c-section, I remember that the Lord knows what it is to bear scars for the sake of his children. When I think about the dark valley ahead, full of sleepless nights and tears and and terror and loneliness, I can know that my Lord doesn't just order me to go there, and won't just be with me, but has actually walked that road himself. As the friend says at the end of Lawhead's Byzantium, "He knows, Aidan. He knows."

That is my comfort. I am finally learning with my heart something I've long known with my head: that it's the Incarnation that makes suffering bearable. I don't have the answer to the problem of pain, but I know that the One who does had the integrity to bear the brunt of it himself. So if he knows, and he walked through it, I can walk through it too. But only because He's there and He knows. I feel like a little kid, who doesn't want to get my shots, but who can do anything if her dad is beside her, holding her hand. If He's there, it will be well.

Oh, but help, I don't want to do this. Thy will be done, Lord, not mine.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Link: Jesus Christ Victor

Over at Touchstone's Mere Comments, Anthony Esolen explains exactly what it means that Christ is our King, and that our King is Christ. I especially appreciate this insight on today's gospel, that of the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus:

He does not speak to Jesus man to man. He speaks to him as subject to King: "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." That can make sense only if he understands, somehow, without any theological sophistication, that Jesus is both Lord and God. He's asking Jesus not only to remember him, but to forget -- because he knows well what kind of life he has led. Only God's memory conquers the grave; only God's forgetting cancels out our wickedness. The thief's prayer is granted, and he enjoys a privilege unique in history: the only Christian to die next to Christ.

Read the rest of Mr. Esolen's essay here.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

beautiful potholders from an easy-peasy tutorial

Aren't those pretty? I made them using this tutorial, from Artsy-Craftsy Babe. It's one of the clearest tutorials I've ever done, partly because it's not very complicated, but even more because the author of the tutorial did such an excellent job of explaining and photographing each step clearly.

I'm so pleased with how they turned out - and I love how they're each made out of a simple cotton dish cloth. (And yes, one of them already has a stain - it was put to use the day after it was made!)

I found this tutorial on Sew, Mama, Sew, which is running this really cool feature all November where, every day, they are publishing a collection of links to various online sewing tutorials. One day it's children's clothing, the next bags or totes. Anyway, there's a lot of beautiful stuff, and I recommend checking it out if you're interested at all in sewing, especially sewing gifts for the holidays. (Hey, if you start this year, it might be done by next.)

I'm amazed at how much I like sewing. I always thought it would be too fussy to be enjoyable, but I was wrong, and I freely admit it. There's something very satisfying at making something you'd otherwise buy, and being able to make it exactly the way you want it.

Anyone else find any good tutorials recently?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Christ the King Sunday

Tomorrow is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. Also, my favorite ordinary (i.e., not-a-major-feast) Sunday. And I'm not entirely sure why. The picture in my head when I think of Christ the King Sunday is a big tangle of the beginning of the second part of the Te Deum ("Thou art the King of glory, oh Christ/Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father . . .") and the Christo Pantokrator icon and the music of "Crown Him with Many Crowns" and vaguer pictures of what the last judgement will be like.

I think my affinity for the day goes back to the first time I really celebrated Lent, when I chose as my meditation for the forty days C.S. Lewis' essay "What if this Present were the World's Last Night?" and the John Donne poem from which it took its title. It's a great essay (the poem's good too) that I recommend to everyone, and Lewis made in it the point that the main two things that Christ said about His return was that He would certainly return and that we certainly would not know when, leading to the third point: because we do not know when He will return, we ought always to be doing what we ought to be doing, so that He will find us doing it when He comes back.

So, on Christ the King Sunday, I think both about the greatness of our Lord, His absolute righteousness, and the absolute obedience He expects from us.

And yet, somehow it's heartening, and not disheartening. Because He's going to come back for us, and - as one of my college professors told us - He always gives what He demands.

So Christ the King Sunday is, to me, the most comforting Sunday, because it is the one where I remember that everything is going to come right. Christ will surely come, He will judge the world, He will judge us. But, as Michael Card said, we will look into our Judge's face, and see a Savior there.

Thanks be to God!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

little girls!

Well, I got to go and see the twins again today; my mom accompanied me on this second ultrasound.

While the ultrasound tech wasn't able to find a membrane between them, meaning that they likely are monoamniotic, they are both growing well, and are about a pound each already!

So, it looks like I probably am facing hospitalization after Christmas, but the Lord holds us in His hand. And it's still possible that the perinatologist that I'm scheduled to see next week will be able to find a membrane that this technician missed. I hope so.

All the same, it was lovely to see my babies this morning.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Advent-ful Days

It was last Advent that started me on my journey to celebrate the whole church year, so while Easter (Queen of Feasts!) remains my favorite season, Advent is the one towards which I feel the most affection.

And though I don't know how this twin pregnancy will affect our celebrations (except that it probably will, somehow), I'm still beginning to get excited about December.

Last year, inspired by Madeleine L'Engle's "Twenty Four Days Before Christmas", I tried to do something to get ready for Christmas every day of Advent. It was a great way to celebrate with my then-two-year-old, and to gain opportunities to talk about the gospel with her. This year, her younger brother is old enough to join in (at least some of) the fun.

Since Advent is also the time we remember Christ's second (as well as his first) coming, it strikes me that doing something every day to celebrate the season is also a good reminder to do something every day of our lives to make ourselves more ready for His return. I like the picture of our souls as a house that we make every day more hospitable to the Holy Spirit, the same way we every day in Advent make our physical houses more festive and bright.

So, I am beginning to compose a list of Advent activities. The idea is to have twenty-five or so possibilities, and then to pick one each day, as it fits best with that day. Sundays, of course, the Advent-ful activity is attending Mass. Here's the list thus far:

-get a Christmas tree
-decorate the tree
-make snowflake cut-outs
-get out all of the Christmas books and display them together
-make cookies
-make candy for presents
-wrap presents
-write Christmas letter
-get out Advent calandar (Day 1 or 2)
-assemble Advent wreath (Day 1)
-go caroling
-get out the creche
-celebrate St. Nicholas' Day? (Dec. 6)
-attend Lessons and Carols?
-color pictures of the Nativity story
-make ornaments
-make paper-chains
-make a star for the top of the tree

And I need more. Somehow I came up with the requisite number last year, so I know I'm forgetting some good ones. I need to reread the L'Engle book!

Anyone else have some good Advent activities that I'm missing?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

a quotation on publishing from Orson Scott Card

My husband is an Orson Scott Card fan, and he told me that the afterword at the end of Card's book, "Invasive Procedures", was about writing and that I should read it, I did. And here's a short quotation from that afterword that I really liked:

"(That's what publishers do, of course - they bet thousands of dollars that the writer can actually produce a novel, and many thousands more that readers will actually buy it. And when they lose that bet, I don't see many writers taking up collections to make up their losses. That's why I don't understand the writers who get angry or resentful when publishers reject their manuscripts. It's the publishers' money, and so the publishers get to decide which horse to bet on in the race. If you're a writer and nobody bets on your manuscript, the answer isn't to whine and complain, or even to start your own race; the answer is to get another horse - to write another book or story. And another. And another, until somebody's willing to bet on one of them.)"

Smart man, no?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mind Over Matter and the Master of Matter

You know how something can happen in your life and you don't realize, till years later, what it might have been preparing you for? Why the Lord let it happen to you?

I think I'm having one of those moments; I think I know now, at least in part, why the Lord let me break my both of arms almost three years ago.

A lot of circumstances contributed to me breaking both of my arms at a karate test three years ago, and they weren't all my fault, but at least one of them certainly was: I thought I could do anything, if I only made up my mind to do it. I didn't want to be doing the test I was doing, and so I foolishly decided that the way I would get through the ordeal would be to just duck my head down and power through.

I believed the mantra "mind over matter" and had always had the impression that if I just had enough determination, I could plow right through any physical test that came my way. If I just kept going, I would get through.

Well, my bones didn't agree. I learned that day that while I have the determination to break my own arms by hitting a brick really, really hard, I do not have the power to convince the brick itself that it is softer than my bones. The brick won, my bones lost.

I learned that I might be determined, but my determination is not a match for everything it encounters. I learned that I was smaller, weaker, and more fragile than I thought I was.

That lesson is standing me in good stead now. I still have the urge, looking at this high-risk pregnancy I'm carrying, to think that by sheer determination I can carry these twins to term, I can keep their cords from tangling, I can prevent pre-term labor. I think I really would think that if I hadn't had the experience of breaking both of my arms.

But I don't think that anymore. I know that I cannot change the laws of physics (thank you, Scotty), I cannot reach my hands inside my womb and keep the blood and oxygen from the placenta flowing equally to each baby. I know my limits. I know that while there is a lot I can do to make this a healthy pregnancy, that my body might fail me, and that my babies' bodies might fail them. Our minds do not control matter, not like we wish they would.

But there is one Man who is master over matter, whose feet did not sink when he stepped out onto water, whose speech could make the dead rise, whose very touch convinced diseased flesh to transmute to whole. I cannot reach my hands into my womb and keep my babies' cords from tangling, but He can.

And so I am grateful, finally, for the nightmarish experience of disability that I went through three years ago. It was, maybe, the most dear lesson I have ever had; it cost the most. But I'm not going to ignore it. I'm going to remember that I cannot will my way through obstacles. Instead, I am going to lean on the one who can say "be so" and it is so. I am going to lean on Jesus. He is the Master of Matter. Including the very flesh of my babies and cells making up their cords. By His grace, I will not make the mistake I made before, and hopefully this time will not be about me learning a painful lesson, but rather about Him showing His glory.

Please, Lord Jesus, if it is your will, hold and keep my children safe.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

snuggly books

Okay, so not really snuggly . . . but what are the books you can always fall back on?

I've noticed recently that I've gotten in a slump again of reading blogs and magazines, and not so many books (some really GOOD blogs and magazines, but all the same), and whenever that happens, I tend to turn to old favorites to get my book-reading engine started again. In other words, after a reading slump, I don't want to say, "Hey, I ought to be reading more books! Let's dive into Augustine!" No, it's more like, "Hey, I should be reading more books. Well, it's never a chore to spend a few days in Narnia."

Eventually, reading my familiar books gets me ready to tackle my more difficult acquaintances - this time, a lovely little perusal of "Mandy" by Julie Edwards (think "Secret Garden") got me feeling fit enough to tackle Tennyson - and it had me making a list of authors that are just old, comfortable friends. If these books were real people, they'd be the ones whose calls I'd never screen:

-Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" and "That Hideous Strength"
-"Gaudy Night" or "Murder Must Advertise" by Dorothy Sayers
-ANYTHING Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold
-"The Four Story Mistake" by Elizabeth Enright
-"Dear Enemy" by Jean Webster
-anything by Essie Summers or Georgette Heyer
-poetry by John Donne, George Herbert or Gerard Manley Hopkins
-the Brother Cadfael mysteries, by Ellis Peters
-the "Betsy" books by Maude Hart Lovelace

And, yes, about half of those are either romances (of the delightful, full-of-daily-details, old-fashioned variety) or children's books. But I'd defend all of them as good literature, at least of their sort. (Not great, necessarily, but good.)

So . . . who are your dear old friends? Your old comfy slippers of books?

Funny thing is, most of those old comfy slippers, familiar as they are, are of the very finest craftmanship. Bad literature just isn't that soothing. :)

But share yours with me, I'd love to make some new acquaintances at my library!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, November 4, 2007

more on the twins

After a bit of research, I've found some more hopeful news about monoamniotic twins.

First: it's very possible to get a misdiagnosis, especially from a routine ultrasound. It's not the likeliest thing, but not uncommon, to have a membrane separating the twins found on a more high-level ultrasound, that wasn't visible on the normal ultrasound. We're praying this is the case with our girls.

Second: with good treatment (i.e., agressive, in-hospital monitoring of the babies during the last month and a half of pregnancy, weeks 28-34), monoamniotic twins can have up to a 90% survival rate, rather than a dismal 40%. The "good treatment" isn't a cure, and still involves a long period of hospitalization for the mother before birth, and probably for the babies after birth, but it's sure better odds.

So, I am encouraged.

And deeply, deeply thankful for all of your prayers for me and my family, especially for these very little ones. Please keep us in your prayers. And I will keep you updated as soon as we know more, both about the twins, and about the status of Adam's melanoma diagnosis. May God show his glory and mercy through us.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, November 3, 2007


I went in for my routine, 20 week ultrasound on Thursday (and excuse the lack of posts since then, but after you read this, you'll understand why), and was told by the tech, after she'd been scanning and frowning for a few minutes: "I wouldn't tell you this if it wasn't your third pregnancy, but I don't think you're going to panic: do you know what it means when you have a low-lying placenta?"

Yes, I did. Okay, so this pregnancy was a little more high-risk, hemmoraging was a distinct possibility, I probably wasn't going to get to have a vaginal birth - well, I'd had two very good births already, I could resign myself to a c-section for the sake of this child's health. Okay. I can do this. But . . .

Then the ultrasound tech said, "And, the next thing you should know . . . there are two of them in there."

I believe my exact words were, "Sweet Lord Jesus, have mercy."

Oh, and they are sweet little babies, so beautiful with their heads next to each other, and so many arms and legs moving about. Well, four kids is fine with us, we can do this too.

But then, the very scary part: they are probably monoamniotic, meaning that they share not only all their genes and a placenta, but an amniotic sac as well. And I moved from low-risk, to high-risk, to VERY high-risk. Monoamniotic twins only have a 50% chance of survival; because there is no amniotic sac membrane separating them from each other, their cords can get tangled, and they tend to die in utero.

Moreover, there is no way to prevent this from happening, other than by hospitalizing the mother for the last two months or so of pregnancy. That way, the babies can be constantly monitored, and hopefully cord compression can be caught right away - and as soon as a cord is compressed, the babies are delivered by emergency c-section. And they generally - if they make it so far - aren't allowed to gestate past 34 weeks, because by that point the risk of cord compression, even with constant monitoring, is worse than the dangers of prematurity. So even if monoamniotic twins make it, they are always preemies.

And if I am hospitalized, who will take care of the two children I already have? I know we have friends and family that will help, but the idea of being away from Gamgee and Bess for two months is almost unbearable, worse in my imagination than the idea of losing these twins. I know that's true only because I know my one year old and my three year old so well, and I am just barely getting to know these two little girls in my womb.

So I will be trusting God not only with the life of our unborn babies, but the life of our babies who are already here. He has put in me the desire to protect and care for all my children, but He has not given me the means. I will have to trust Him to do what I cannot: be the protective hand over all of my children. I will have to trust Him to be where I cannot.

I cannot put my hands on my twin girls, and keep them from tangling their cords, but He can. If I am in the hospital, I cannot watch that Bess and Gamgee are being taken care of and loved. But He can.

Oh sweet Lord Jesus, have mercy on us.

(And I hope, hope, hope that there is an amniotic membrane between our littlest ones, that this (non-high-level) ultrasound just could not catch. Please, Father, please.)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happy All Saints' Day!

The Lord is glorious in his saints!

So, whose stories are you going to tell to your children today?

On our walk back from the grocery store, I talked to Bess about saints, and how saints are people who loved the Lord very much and who were, with his help, holy in what they did. And we talked about St. Brigid, and St. Mary, and St. Peter and St. John, and St. Augustine and St. Monica. About how Brigid fed the poor and visited those in prison, and how Peter walked on the water with Jesus and John was Jesus' friend and Augustine wrote about God to help other people understand God better and how Monica prayed a lot. And we talked about how all of these things were things that made God happy and how Bess could be a saint too by loving the Lord Jesus and doing the good things he wanted her to do.

And do you know what my daughter said when we reached our front door? She volunteered that a Jesus-pleasing thing she could do was "share my candy with my brother when I have a bowl of candy and he doesn't."

Yay! She gets it!

Our other plans for All Saints' include reading some picture books of the saints' lives, singing our new hymn a lot AND . . . seeing our new baby! Yep, we have an ultrasound today, and I can't wait to see this squirt who has, FINALLY started regularly wiggling around so that I can feel him or her.

And it seems like All Saints' Day is a good day to see our new little one, because we hope that he or she will be a saint one day too. May all our children love our Lord and Savior.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell