Taylor Christmas Letter 2016

Well, my Friends, I am back again for anther edition of the Taylor Family Christmas Letter. For those of you just tuning in, I am the much Beloved Christmas Moose, back again to update you on the Taylor Family Happenings from this memorable year. Ready? Here we go…

(The pictures you will see were all taken from the Taylors’ afternoon-long, pathetic attempt at a family picture. I say pathetic because they did not get one successful shot, and because they accidentally pointed the camera too low to include me. I was on top of the fireplace mantel. Ah well. Family pictures with four Little Ones are literally impossible.)

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Would you believe I woke up to meet another little Moose-calf in the Taylor household? They never even told me they were expecting! But out I come, out of my box in the closet to join the family in putting up Christmas decorations, and there was the most adorable little Baby just nestled up in Justine’s arms! If you’ve seen pictures, maybe caught a glimpse of the Little Guy snuggled up and sleeping…you have seen nothing. He is SO cute. Just wait until you see him with his little eyes open wide. Adorable.

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Along with writing a traditional Christmas letter, this year I have been delegated with the task of including an update of Elijah’s first month, because yesterday was indeed his first month birthday. Lij, as the family most frequently calls him (pronounced as the middle portion of E-Lij-ah) was born on November 20, bright and early. He flew through his tests and procedures and was happily discharged and sent home two days later, November 22, two days before Thanksgiving and four days before I came out of my box (Yes, they got me out a day late this year). However, Taylors like to break the medical odds and in true Taylor fashion, Lij tested positive for borderline congenital hypothyroidism. It sounds worse than it is. While hypothyroidism (low activity of the thyroid gland) can be very serious, Elijah has a very mild case and is already taking special medicine to keep everything right where it needs to be. As long as he takes his medicine, like the good baby he is, he shouldn’t have any symptoms.

Elijah weighed five pounds and eleven ounces when he was born, and at his latest appointment was up to six pounds, ten ounces. The first couple of weeks were slow going because he was just too sleepy to eat very much. Most parents want their babies to sleep more. Justine was trying earnestly to wake him up. Elijah even sleeps at night, much to Dan and Justine’s surprise and delight. Sure, he gets up every 1-3 hours, but three out of every four nights he’ll go right back to sleep after a diaper change or a snack. He is a content Little Boy and everybody in the home loves snuggling him.

And, I might be speaking too early, but as I was writing this update I saw the Little Guy roll over for the very first time. (Although he was sort of on his side to begin with.) Way to go Little Man!

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Well, as adorable as Elijah is, I just can’t spend my whole time writing about him. Next up is P-Man. That is: Bud, Buster, Buddy, Butch, Butchems, Butchcake, Stinker, Rascal. Paul. He’s a cutie too, and always up to something. This year Paul set a new record for the family by taking his first steps at 16 months old. He spoke his very first words during one of Dan’s softball games this spring, “Hi Daddy!”. Aww. Some of his other words are: baseball, Mama, Daddy, baby, Leeya (Lydia), Lijah, no, and sock. He loves wearing his shoes everywhere he goes, except in the car, where he loves to take them off. He still needs two naps a day, sucks his fingers when he gets sleepy, and enjoys being held by his Mommy. He loves to be outside in the warm weather and hates being outside when it’s cold. He will hold his little brother and give him kisses and sing him songs. He absolutely loves to wrestle anyone, but especially his Dad. Recently he found the drawer where Justine keeps her oven mitts, and now he likes to dig those out and put them on before finding Dan and punching his legs. He is all boy and super sweet all at the same time.

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Then there’s Abigail. Abby, Abster, Abs. She’s a little fireball and whatever she does she does ALL THE WAY. If she’s happy, she’s irresistibly sweet. If she’s angry, everyone from here to Detroit knows about it. She doesn’t let her big sister push her around. They are the very best of friends, even if they don’t realize it yet. Together they love to play house, wedding, and princesses. Lydia is always the bride or bridesmaid and Abby is the “Wedding Girl” (we don’t know what that is yet). She is three, but if you hold up your three middle fingers she will tell you that she is not that three. She is the pinky-ring finger-middle finger three. Abby always calls Paul by his nick-name “P-man”. She thinks Elijah is “so, so cute”. She likes to do school with Lydia, which involves coloring in a coloring book or tracing in her special tracing book which she calls her “cat book” because of the cat on the cover. She is learning that napkins are not called “Backins”, but she still calls toilet paper “paper toilet”. Abby is funny and sweet and learning and growing a lot this year.

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Lydia (Lyds, Lydnacious, Munchkin) started school this year and loves it. Her favorite parts are probably math and art, but everything else comes in a close second. Lydia is almost always pretending: pretending to be a mom, pretending to be a grown up with a sister that she is always visiting, pretending to be a princess, or pretending to get married (to Dan). She is incredibly creative with her outfits (regular or dress up) and becoming more and more aware of what she likes and doesn’t like. Today she was sharing her list of foods she doesn’t like (spicy peppers, onions, celery, mushrooms, and sort of baby carrots) and does (tomatoes, cucumbers, burgers, pizza, cheesy noodles, ice cream, chocolate cake, chocolate brownies, and chocolate). If you ever are lonely, you could use a Lydia in your life. She loves to be together, loves to snuggle, and can always find something to talk about with lots of questions included. She has an insatiable desire to play with her Daddy; read stories; and, at Christmas time, make tea, turn off the lights, and snuggle in the living room by the Christmas tree. She is quick to love, quick to forgive, and learning how to be a Big Helper to her Mommy and a Loving Sister to all three of her siblings.

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Justine has her hands full this year, as strangers love to tell her. She likes to think that full hands and full days make for a full heart, and she has been basking in the joy of it all this Christmas. This summer felt like one big, long wait for Baby. Now that he is here, Justine is soaking up his Little Newbornness as much as she can (while still taking care of the rest of the pack). She also loves teaching Lydia. All year she has focused on being a Good Mom and being grateful. She finally found a satisfying healthified toffee bar recipe, an accomplishment that can only be trumped by successfully taking all four kids to Elijah’s doctor’s appointment last week. (They are a handful!) Other than homeschool and Baby, the highlight of Justine’s year has been spending more one-on-one time with Dan. She, like Lydia, loves to spend time together.

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Dan started a new job working as an Artificial Intelligence Computer Scientist on the Autonomous Vehicle for GM this year. So far he has been enjoying the challenging problems at work, despite a longer commute and even earlier mornings. He still loves to work out in his (unheated) garage gym, even on the coldest and windiest winter days. This spring he joined several young men from church on a Softball team, and this summer he spent many Sunday afternoons playing baseball and soccer. Dan has also tackled several home repair projects this year including roofing his garage and rebuilding his old shed. He can’t wait until Paul and Elijah can tag along on his projects, in his gym, and on the baseball field.

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As for me, it was a good year snuggled up in my box. I have never had the privilege of seeing a Taylor Baby so freshly born, and, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, he sure is cute. The others are too, and even more so this year as more of them can say my name and give me hugs. I just love when they suck on my antlers.

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Well Friends, so wraps up another year for the Taylor Family. They, and I, wish you a blessed Christmas season and a very happy new year.

Yours Truly,

Christmas Moose.

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Elijah’s Birth Story

Ever since Lydia was born, I have enjoyed hearing others’ birth stories. Some are encouraging, inspiring, or at times, intimidating, but all have been useful in preparing me for another birth. So this is Elijah’s birth story. Here’s my disclaimer: this is going to be long (for the most part) unedited. If you don’t enjoy hearing lots of medical sorts of details, this post may not be for you.

To read about the events leading up to Elijah’s birthday, click here.

At something like 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning on November 20, Dan and I were settled into our triage room waiting for my doctor to come remove my stitches so Baby could be born. My labors have all been pretty fast, and have gotten faster each time, so I was already doing the math in my head and expecting Baby to be born by about 9:00. But, I was also trying to just take things moment-by-moment, because I know nothing is guaranteed to go the way I expect during labor. I had read up, prayed a lot, and was prepared for a completely natural delivery, if possible.

The resident and hospital doctor came into our room to remove the stitches and I braced myself for an uncomfortable experience. (I had a cervical cerclage, or stitches to keep the cervix shut and hold Baby in longer, put in at around 13 weeks.) My doctor was not on call that night and his partner, whom I’d never met, wasn’t at the hospital yet. So my entire time in triage was with the hospital’s on-call doctor and the resident. They had had some trouble getting the stitches out with Paul, and it was a fairly painful experience. This time was much worse.

The resident started trying to get them out, but after several minutes, she gave up and asked the doctor to try. She couldn’t seem to find the stitches. The doctor sat down and started to try to get the stitches out, but she couldn’t find them either. So the two started tag-teaming, trying different tools, angles, and techniques. Thankfully, I wasn’t in too much pain from contractions yet, because the attempts to find the stitches were painful enough. I lay flat on my back, squeezing Dan’s hand tightly with my teeth clenched and eyes tightly shut.

Occasionally the doctor and resident would ask, “Do you want a break?” but I just wanted the stitches out, so I kept telling them to keep trying. I have no idea how long we were in that room, but it felt like a long time. At some point I started praying. Then I started praying more urgently, “Jesus, help them find the stitches…guide their hands…” It started to look like they were never going to find them, and I started to wonder what would happen if they didn’t. Would I have to have a c-section? Would I labor anyway and just tear right through the stitches? I was praying more frantically and feeling pretty desperate.

When I was feeling rather hopeless, urgently praying, suddenly the darkness of the inside of my eyelids seemed to be replaced by a glowing light and I was filled with peace and calm as some verses came to my mind. They weren’t actually verses that I have memorized so the words weren’t clear in my mind, but the idea was there…”When you pass through the waters, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned…” I was filled with trust. Jesus was taking care of me. Then I heard the doctor and resident and felt the pain again and everything was dark and painful and desperate all over again. And I prayed and again the darkness melted away and I remembered those words, “The waters will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” Calm washed over me again.

Just a couple of minutes later, the doctor declared that she had successfully removed the stitches! There were still buttons in there somewhere, stuck in the scar tissue, but the stitches were removed. (The stitches were tied through a button so that they would be easier to find and cut out. Instead, the buttons got lost and the stitches were very hard to find!) As soon as everyone left the room, I asked Dan to find the passage that had come to my mind. He found it and read it to me:

Isaiah 43:2
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,and the flame shall not consume you.”

Soon we were allowed out of triage (I have no idea what time it was by now) and headed to labor and delivery. We were shown to our room and once there we let everyone know what kind of labor I was intending on having (since we had already been offered pain medicine once or twice). My birth plan was pretty short:

I would like to have as natural of a labor and delivery as possible.
If possible I do not want an IV.
I know that pain medication is available and will ask for it if I want it.
If possible, I would like to hold the baby immediately after delivery.

Our nurse was sweet. She got me all hooked up to monitors and assured me I could have a natural delivery. Then someone told me I had to get the betamethasone steroid shot for the baby’s lungs. I assured them I had already gotten both doses, but they insisted. New research has shown that it can help if Baby gets it right before delivery, any baby born before 37 weeks. Now, that shot takes 24 hours to be fully effective, and 48 hours for two doses to be fully effective. We thought it was silly, knowing how fast my labors are. But we also felt like we were in a position where we would be terrible parents to say, “No”. So, I got that painful shot during labor again. (My doctor later told me that I could have declined, knowing the shot was pretty much useless in that amount of time anyway).

After the shot I was allowed to labor as I wanted. I lay down on my side, shut my eyes, and tried to relax through the contractions. Dan was at a loss as to how he could help and kept asking if I was ok. “I’m relaxing!”, I insisted, “it’s part of my method”. Eventually I couldn’t just relax anymore, so I got up on my knees and leaned against the top of the bed. The nurse offered me a big bean bag to lean up against, and that really helped. By now my contractions were really intense, sometimes coming on top of each other. Dan tried rubbing my back or pushing on my hips to help and I actually swatted him away, thinking, “you’re doing it wrong!”. I’ve always wanted Dan near me and helping me during labor, so I KNEW I was in transition and Baby would be coming soon. I also started to feel like I had to go to the bathroom all the time, but after a couple difficult trips back and forth, I knew it was just the pressure from Baby moving down lower.

When I started moaning more and more loudly through the contractions, Dan and I knew it was time for them to check me. I was a little nervous, not wanted to hear I was only dilated to four. But I was also confident that I was in transition and Baby was coming fast. They told me I was dilated to “six or seven” and I clearly remember thinking, “Whatever. That baby is coming soon.”

I hit the peak of transition and thought, “If this goes on much longer, I can’t do it”. I was moaning so loudly that I heard the nurse saying, “Stay with us Justine!” If I remember correctly, Dan was expressing some concern that, “They’d better get in here!” Then I felt Baby moving down fast and pressure to push. I started yelling (how else could I tell them Baby was coming?). The nurse knew instantly that I was starting to push and she got right up near my face and asked, “Did the contraction stop?” I frantically shook my head no and she told me I had to turn over onto my back during the contraction. This seemed cruel and almost impossible to me at the time, but I was also in a state where I would do whatever I was told. I managed to roll over onto my back and the contraction just kept going.

I was concerned about tearing, and I knew it could be good to stop pushing and wait even if it hurt. I was preparing for that moment, but everything was happening so fast. The next thing I remember was feeling the most intense pushing contraction and the nurse demanding my attention. It took every ounce of will-power to not push and instead listen and obey what the nurse was trying to say, so I opened my eyes wide and looked right into hers. Later Dan told me he would never forget the face I made. He said my eyeballs were almost outside of my head and I looked completely crazy.

The nurse told me to let go of Dan’s hand (I wasn’t even aware I was holding it) and bend my right leg and wait to push. I did. It seems like there were about five people all crowded around me at that point and that a couple of them started telling me to go ahead and push. I have no idea if I was having a contraction or not, but I pushed and then I heard Dan say, “Justine! Look!” I looked down and there was my baby! Well, there was the top half of my baby. I heard one of the ladies there (A nurse? Or doctor? Or pediatrician?) say something like, “What do we have?” and in the next moment someone declared, “It’s a boy!” and scooped him up and put him right up on my chest.

Dan and I both thought it was a girl (again). And I had really wanted a boy. So I was relieved and thrilled and so happy I could cry. They were about to clamp the cord when Dan jumped in and asked if they could wait. They said that was fine, and waited until the cord stopped pulsing to clamp it. (From what I understand, the baby gets more blood if you wait to clamp the cord. Since all of our children have been anemic at some point during their first years, this was important to us.) They left Little Elijah snuggled up on me for the next 45 minutes.

Then my Doctor’s partner came in (he missed the delivery, but I guess I really only did push once or twice). He sat down with the resident and they spent the next half hour or more digging around looking for those long-lost buttons. They finally found them, after a miserable search, lots of hand squeezing with Dan, and lots of sympathy from the nurses. They had to cut them out of scar tissue in the cervix and then stitch up the cervix and a second degree tear.

However, I snuggled my Baby that whole time before they took him away to weigh him and clean him off. He weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces and was 19 1/2 inches long. He was born at 8:38 in the morning, just 5 hours and 23 minutes after my water broke.

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It took a while to settle on his name, even though we had pretty much picked it out when he was only about 14 weeks along (that’s another story). But soon enough we announced it: Elijah John, and we were transferred to the Mother-Baby room to enjoy the first couple of days with our new baby.

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Later in the morning, the kids came to visit and meet their new Baby Brother. Lydia very sweetly brought a stuffed lamb for Elijah to sleep with, in fact, the stuffed lamb my mom gave her before she was even born (we told her that wasn’t allowed, but kept the lamb where Elijah could see it.)

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It was sweet to see the kids together, but I especially enjoyed watching Paul react to his new brother. He loves him already, and even though he doesn’t have a lot of words, we’ve heard him say, “Baby” and “Lijah” and sometimes he gives Elijah kisses.

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Like Paul, Elijah got to be held almost non-stop in the hospital. It’s a privilege we just didn’t get to have with the girls.

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And after two (sleepless) nights in the hospital, we got to take Elijah home!

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The Days Before Elijah

Ever since Lydia was born, I have enjoyed hearing others’ birth stories. Some are encouraging, inspiring, or at times, intimidating, but all have been useful in preparing me for another birth. So this is Elijah’s birth story. Here’s my disclaimer: this is going to be long (for the most part) unedited. If you don’t enjoy hearing lots of medical sorts of details, this post may not be for you.

Since my last update was way back in October, I’ll have to back up a little before I actually tell Elijah’s birth story.

I had been having contractions off and on starting at about 30 weeks. So, for several weeks I was constantly on my toes thinking, “Is Baby going to come today?” However, I had had contractions off and on for a couple weeks with Paul and we didn’t want to put everything on hold just because I was having a few contractions that might be nothing. So I took it easy when I could, but we kept enjoying fall and preparing for Baby. We went apple picking, took the kids to a cider mill, bought pumpkins, and watched some world series games at Dan’s parents’ home.

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We got our car seat, packed the hospital bag, and set up the bassinet. One by one we were checking items off our “to-do before Baby” lists. I even had a verse picked out that I thought I would be using a lot to get through labor:

Psalms 28:7
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exalts, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The one last project we wanted to finish before Baby came was repairing our shed. The shed in our back yard was a mess: dirty and rotting. Early in November, Dan started repairing it, knowing that once Baby and/or Thanksgiving hit, we’d be busy and it would get too cold to work on it anymore. We really wanted it done so we could clear out some space in the garage to park the car this winter.

Just before I hit 35 weeks, I woke up one night with pain in my belly. It was, I think, pain from stretching, and I had experience the same sensation about a week before Paul was born. I knew our time was running out, even though I hadn’t hit 35 weeks yet. I got up and headed downstairs where I could try to relax on our exercise ball until the pain would go away. As I leaned on the ball, I started to worry about Baby.

When was the last time I felt him kick?

I couldn’t remember feeling any movement all day.

What if he didn’t have enough amniotic fluid?

What if the umbilical cord was knotted or compressed?

Before long I was a basket case of worry and could hardly think clearly enough to pray. But I did pray and as I did, I felt led to read my labor verse, and the rest of the chapter. (If you want you can go read Psalms 28. It’s not too long). What stood out to me as I read it that night was that God had heard the cry of the Psalmist:

“He has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy….The LORD…is the saving refuge of his anointed…Be their shepherd and carry them forever.”

I felt assured in my heart that God had heard my prayers and that Baby was going to be safe. I gratefully turned off the lights and went back to bed. As I lay down to go back to sleep, I felt Baby kick and I fell asleep with a song in my heart.

The next week Dan attacked that shed with all his energy. But, on Monday morning (the day I reached 35 weeks, and the day Paul was born) I could feel pressure from the stitches in the cervix pulling.

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Tuesday I had an appointment and my doctor told me the cervix had shortened right up to the stitches and that I should come in if I had any more strong contractions. In that case, he would remove the stitches to prevent their tearing as the cervix tried to dilate.

The rest of the week was a race to finish the shed. Meanwhile, I didn’t have any strong contractions, but I had very steady weak contractions. I was in a dilemma about whether to go in, knowing that they would probably remove the stitches and Baby would probably be born. I was trying to wait for Dan to finish the shed, and trying to give Baby just a few more days. We started to pray that it would be clear when we needed to go in, that something would be an obvious sign that it was time to get the stitches out, or that my water would break like it had with all my other babies. The stitches were pulling more and more and the contractions kept coming.

Friday night, we took the kids out to eat (a reward for Lydia when she learned another Bible verse) and Dan and I chatted about what to do. He had finished the roof on the shed, but still had a lot more work to do. I was worried about the stitches. Dan kept assuring me that he wanted me to go in when I felt like I needed to, but I just didn’t know if I needed to or if I was being anxious for nothing. We prayerfully decided to try to wait until Monday morning (36 weeks), then call my doctor and ask if we should just get the stitches out. Dan even planned on taking the day off work so he could be there for whatever happened.

Saturday was a hard day for me. I was trying to stay off my feet, but I was also watching the kids while Dan and his Dad attacked that shed some more. The day was long. The hours dragged by, but Dan made really good progress and we both felt satisfied that night. Dan had finally knocked the bulk of the work off the shed and I only had to make it 36 more hours before calling the doctor.

Dan was exhausted from working out in the cold all day, and I was eager to get to bed just so it would be the next day, so we prayed again for Baby and for a clear sign if we needed to go in earlier than Monday, and then we went to sleep.

At 3:15 I woke up on my feet, running to the bathroom. I was still only half awake when I got there and it took me a minute to evaluate whether I had just wet the bed or if my water broke. This is the third time my water broke while I was sleeping, so it didn’t take me long to realize that was what had happened. I felt overjoyed that God had answered our prayers again by giving us an obvious sign to go to the hospital before Monday morning, and also that Dan had just barely made all that progress on the shed.

Because it was the middle of the night and I knew Dan would be exhausted, I waddled downstairs to make him some coffee for the long night ahead. At 3:30 I woke him up, “Dan…my water broke.” He got up pretty quick, despite how tired he was, and started making calls to find a babysitter. The first two people on our list didn’t work out, but the third had just called me that afternoon to remind us that she could watch our kids whenever I went into labor. It was so neat how God worked that out so we felt it was ok to call her even in the middle of the night. After we called, she told us that she had woken up at 3:30 and was just wide awake thinking, “I wonder why I’m so awake!” Just a few minutes later she got our call.

By 4:00 we were in the car, on the way to the hospital. Soon we were in triage, where the hospital doctor on call and the resident sat down to remove the stitches that had been bothering me all week, but that had done a good job keeping Baby in for a new record: 35 weeks and 6 days.

To be continued…