All posts by Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

Filling Tummies, Hearts, and Minds

I read a heartbreaking story a couple days ago about mother whose baby died after struggling to breastfeed. He became dehydrated and this eventually effected his brain and heart. And while I can’t begin to comprehend this mother’s pain, I am grateful for her courage in telling her story with the hope that it will help other mothers. That is why I am writing today.

I didn’t get to hold my first baby until he was three days old . . . except for those first precious moments after he was born. It was immediately apparent that he was having trouble breathing—his lips, feet, and fingers were blue and each breath was a sad little grunt. He was born at 37 weeks—technically full-term—but tests showed that he was developmentally at 32-34 weeks. He was transferred by ambulance to a nearby hospital that had a NICU. I had to stay behind.

I didn’t get my skin to skin contact. I didn’t get to nurse him. All of my reading of many, many books didn’t prepare me for this. Well, kind of. What I had learned from those books (and magazines as I sat waiting to be seen by the doctor for my prenatal exams) was that if I didn’t immediately hold and nurse my baby he would develop bonding issues, might not ever learn to breastfeed, and I wouldn’t feel a connection to my baby. Among other things.

Guilt and fear weighed me down more with every passing minute. As soon as I was discharged from the hospital, we hurried over to our baby across town. I felt like I was racing against some bonding clock. I hobbled to the elevator, washed my hands, and finally got to see our 5 pound, 13 ounce miracle. He had severe jaundice and respiratory distress. He had monitors and a feeding tube. This looked nothing like what I had imagined, or had been taught to imagine. They placed him in my arms, careful not to disturb all the wires. I got my skin to skin contact, and finally felt like a good mom—under the circumstances.

Days passed. Feeding him was agony, for lack of a better word, especially since that is the best one. He wouldn’t latch on. I cried constantly. He cried constantly. And I cried when the nurse told me he had to supplement his feedings with formula.

If there was one thing I learned as a first-time mother in the early 2000’s, was that unless you breastfed your baby, you were pretty much the worst. Not kidding. Commercials, magazine article, books, billboards, and posters in doctor’s offices all told me this over and over again. So, it was like I was watching them pour poison into his tiny, pure tummy when they hooked the formula up to his feeding tube. A “movement” had begun around that time which promoted breastfeeding, which was in direct contrast to what women were taught in the few generations before. My own mother was told by her doctors not to breastfeed her babies because it was considered “primitive.” She disobeyed them, but she was the exception. The reaction of my generation—as it usually is—was to go as far as possible in the opposite direction to the point of shaming women who can’t or don’t breastfeed.

After almost two weeks, we brought our then 5 pound, 5 ounce baby home. We had passed all the feeding tests. He was “eating.” He was “sleeping.” He had wet and messy diapers. But the poor boy cried all the time. He would nurse every 1-2 hours, feeding for up to an hour each time. And then he would cry. I thought it was allergies. I stopped eating dairy. I stopped eating eggs. I wrote down what I ate and when he ate and for how long. I wrote down how long he would sleep, which was never longer than an hour—day or night.

I took him to the doctor, and despite feeding him around the clock, non-stop, he had lost two ounces. I started going to the doctor’s office every day, weighing him, feeding him, and weighing him again, hoping to see the tiniest bit of weight gain.

It took at least a month to see any changes. He still never slept, but he was slowly gaining weight. He could go a little longer in between feedings, which were still pretty much agonizing. Everyone had advice—doctors, nurses, friends, family. Even people who had never had any babies. And I’m not saying their opinions weren’t valid, it’s just that they had no idea what they were talking about. (see note at the end.)

But . . . the books. The books knew what they were talking about. These were experts. After all, they had written a book. Putting your baby down was bad. Holding your baby too much was bad. Sunlight was bad. No sunlight was bad. But most of all—formula was bad.

No matter how exhausted I was, I couldn’t make myself break open even one sample bottle of formula. If I did, that would mean that I had failed . . . that I wasn’t a good mom. And my baby would never forgive me. He wouldn’t be as smart. He wouldn’t be able to fight diseases. He would be overweight. He wouldn’t be receiving the genetic information necessary for his development.

I nursed that sweet boy until that magical 12-month mark, and even a little longer. He was happy and thriving. Somehow we had figured it out. I still don’t know how we were so lucky.

My second son was born with severe allergies to milk, eggs, and all nuts and I nursed him until he was 18 months old—mostly because I didn’t know what else to feed the poor guy. But by this time, I had friends who nursed their babies until they were over three years old, so 18 months wasn’t anything to write home about.

My body and brain had everything figured out by the time I had boy #3. I didn’t read any books. Actually, I gave them all away. I even kind of hated them. I was able to look back at my experience with my first baby and realize that the books and stupid magazines had completely messed me up. They all contradicted each other, and they were ALL right, and ALL wrong. This baby was my first chubby baby and he slept from 6 pm to 7 am . . . Every. Single. Night. He took three naps a day and was laughing and happy.

I had it all figured out.

Until baby #4.

I won’t go into all the details of the birth of baby #4 here, but I will just say that I became very sick after he was born. I had a pulmonary embolism and a Group A strep blood infection that attacked and infected all of my organs. I was dying. There were no stronger antibiotics they could give me and they were talking about flying me to a center for infectious diseases in Chicago.

The worst thing about all of this? I couldn’t feed my baby. Not that he couldn’t latch on or that he couldn’t be with me in the ICU (which he couldn’t) . . . it was that I had nothing to give him. My body was shutting down and producing milk was the last thing on its list. My baby had to drink formula. All my fears from those books I had read came back. Would he be strong? Would he be smart? Would he feel bonded to me—especially when I wasn’t even the one feeding him? He wasn’t even allowed to be where I was. My sweet family took care of him and fed him all night and all day for me.

It took almost two weeks, but I was finally well enough to go home. Not well. Just well enough. I still couldn’t lift my six-pound baby. He had to be given to me while I sat down. My three older boys spent a lot of time at friends’ houses. Neighbors folded laundry. My husband made dinner.

And I fed my baby formula. We tried many different kinds, most of which he violently threw up. I took medicines and tried different things to get my milk to come in. I had heard of friends who had adopted babies who had been able to breastfeed them. Surely my body would remember. It had already done it for over 3.5 combined years.

Nothing.

When I would bottle-feed him in public, I wanted to cry out, “I can’t breastfeed him. I want to, but I can’t!” Was anyone even judging me? I don’t know. But I chose to feel judged, and that made everything harder.

At this point (and perhaps earlier) it may sound like I was a little obsessed with breastfeeding. And you’re right. I had been trained to be. Am I blaming society? Yeah, a little bit. And the problem stems from this—we have turned something that is completely natural into something that is worthy of congratulations. Have mothers been nursing their babies since the dawn of time? Yes! And were they applauded for it? No. Maybe once they got the hang of it, with the help of mothers, aunts, and grandmas, there was a little celebration and relief, but it was just how we stayed alive—for forever. And I can promise you, that if and when any of those mothers was too sick to feed their own children, they would have been crying in gratitude for the precious gift of formula.

Before you think that I am diminishing the importance of breastfeeding, let me correct you. I love breastfeeding. And when my fifth boy was born and, miraculously, I was able to nurse him, I cried many tears of joy. But I had gained a new appreciation for something I had been taught to view as lazy, selfish, and even poisonous—formula. It had kept my baby alive. And I even grew to love bottle-feeding. I held my bottle baby just as close I had held all my other babies. He looked up at me with sleepy eyes as he ate, just like all my other babies. He held my fingers and fell asleep in my arms, just like all my other babies. And, I got to wear whatever I wanted. 🙂 (Ya gotta see the good.)

Breastfeeding is beautiful. Formula-feeding is beautiful. Both require sacrifice and patience. Both fill those sweet little tummies with the nutrition they need to grow.

But that is not all we’re feeding them. We’re feeding them kindness, empathy, and hope. We’re feeding them discipline, gentle correction, and encouragement. We’re not just feeding tummies. We’re feeding minds and hearts. We’re filling them with so much love, it won’t matter how soon they got their skin to skin contact because we get to hold them every day. It doesn’t matter what they were fed as babies—because, hopefully, we’re filling them with goodness and love every day.

And that is nothing to feel guilty about.

(And just a little word about advice from people who have never had babies. My 18-year-old brother was over at my house when my first baby—who never slept—took his first nap that lasted over an hour. I was actually worried about him and was thinking about waking him up. But my wise, never had a baby before, brother said, “Let him sleep. He must need it.” Sometimes the best advice comes from those who simply observe.)

Daughter of Ishmael Blog Tour

The story of Daughter of Ishmael begins around 600 BC near ancient Jerusalem. While its setting may not be familiar to many, it will feel very familiar to those who know the story of Lehi and Ishmael their families. And, to those who haven’t heard or read their story, the themes of this book will resonate with all readers.

While I tend to shy away from dramatizations of scriptural accounts, I genuinely enjoyed this one. Diane did a masterful job taking the reader to this place we’ve never been, to a time only accessible through countless hours of study and research. I was absolutely immersed in the ancient Jewish culture and traditions, in their family life and in their faith. I love that Diane didn’t try to take their time and cater it to the modern reader. She didn’t apologize or try to placate the contemporary woman who might not quite appreciate the roles of women in those ancient times. Instead, she remained true to the time and traditions, and in so doing, my appreciation for and admiration of these brave and stalwart women increased. I think we could all “take a page from their book.” Pun intended.

I loved Hannah. She is brave and humble and dutiful. She remains firm and faithful, even under the weight of family tensions, a misguided husband, and being uprooted from her own comfortable life. She had her struggles, and I ached for her, while cheering her on.

The pacing of the book was perfect—always moving forward—every chapter, paragraph, and word essential to the story. (And I, as a writer, took a few notes. :))

As I mentioned at the beginning, the themes of this book will resonate with every reader, no matter how familiar they are with this scripture story. There is love and hate, obedience and disobedience, humility and pride, life and death, and the struggles that some righteous parents have when their children rebel. Tears filled my eyes on more than one occasion. There is heartache, though it is often mingled with joy.

Because it was so well-researched and the characters real and true to their time, there was no obvious break between fact and fiction. They flowed together seamlessly. And since I am so familiar with the story, I found myself anticipating what was coming and wondering how Hannah would react. She never disappointed. And then I found myself wondering how I would react in those same situations.

I hope I would be just like Hannah.

No Donuts (or is it doughnuts?)

It’s cold out there, my friends.

Now, I know many people are complaining and even shocked about the cold. Not me. It is winter after all, and in many places of the world, that means cold. It does not, incidentally, have anything to do with the earth moving away from the sun, as many of us were taught in school. Weather is actually affected by the tilt of the earth in relation to the sun. But, I’ll leave that discussion to my husband, the science teacher/microbiology major, and I’ll stick with silly anecdotes which may or may not be sprinkled with tidbits of wisdom, or at least humor. Maybe.

I grew up in Southern California but have spent my adult years in Utah, so if anyone gets to complain about the cold, it’s me. But I don’t. Oh sure, I may cry a little when I get into a cold car, or I may feel like swearing when my fingers fall off as I shovel the driveway. But that’s not complaining, exactly. I’m simply experiencing winter in my own, wimpy California girl way.

But I love it. I do. Honestly. I was the child who would look out the window at the palm tree in my front yard and wish it were a pine tree. I would sigh as I mowed the lawn in December, wishing it were covered in a blanket of white. I dreamed, nay, prayed for a white Christmas. And though I loved the Christmas days where my family would play baseball at the local park, a part of me longed to “be up north” if you will.

Now, this is not a post about winter and how lucky I am to actually have them now. Because, really, instead of mowing, we’re shoveling and instead of sweating, we’re freezing. But its’s aaalll good.

With all this snow we’ve been getting lately, I have been reminded of a little story from high school that makes me smile, and maybe it will make you smile, too.

It was February and I was a freshman sitting in the 6th and final period of the day–geometry with Mr. Herman. (“Are ya with?”) Anyway, it had been a cold day, and I don’t mean Southern California cold. It was cold enough that my hoodie that I wore from December to February and parts of March was actually not enough to keep me warm. Crazy. I know.

Mr. Herman had just slid one side of his white board over with his usual gusto to reveal the clean side on which he would teach us more about parallelograms, or tell a little joke about the word “assume,” when I looked out the window. Beautiful little flurries of white were falling from the sky! I love how snow has the ability to make people of all ages behave like three-year-olds. We–our class of fourteen to sixteen-year-olds–stood up and gasped and ooh-ed and ahh-ed. Poor Mr. Herman struggled to get us back in our seats, though his mustached mouth twitched as he fought back a smile.

At that moment, an announcement crackled over the PA system. “Students and teachers, school will be let out early today on account of the snow.” Cheers erupted and Mr. Herman could no longer hide his smile. We jammed our books and folders into our Jansports and began lining up at the door, waiting for our blessed release.

“All right, everyone. Have a fun day. But no donuts in the parking lot,” Mr. Herman said.

We all looked at each other in confusion. What was wrong with donuts in the parking lot? Did someone bring donuts? Where are these donuts?? Was there a better way to celebrate our early release from school than donuts in the parking lot??

We filed out of the classroom as Mr. Herman shook his head.

Alas, there were no donuts in the parking lot. A small part of me hoped that the school would provide us with some, or one of the kids might open their trunk to reveal of stash of donuts for just such an occasion. But it was not to be. I climbed onto the front bench seat of our huge gray suburban next to my older sister, who had her hands clenched at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel.

“Have you heard about donuts in the parking lot?” I asked her.

“You mean like food donuts, or when you spin your car around to make donuts in the snow?”

My cheeks burned and I looked out the window. “Well, yeah, the snow donuts.”

Thankfully, she left it at that and I spent the rest of the ride home sighing in relief that I hadn’t asked anyone else about the donuts in the parking lot. As soon as we got home, our California family turned on Christmas music, turned on “White Christmas,” and drank hot chocolate . . . without donuts.

Safety first.

 

Short but True–the Dinner Dilemma

Comments from my kids at dinner last night:
Mmm! It smells SO good!
Is there any more?
If no one finishes theirs, I’ll eat it.
This is my favorite!
Can we have this tomorrow?

Were these comments about the my tomato basil parmesan soup, my chicken casserole, my chicken fettuccine alfredo? Perhaps my french onion soup or beef stew?

No. It was fish sticks. We had fish sticks.

And dang it, they were good.

New LDS Fiction GIVEAWAY!

The Goodreads Giveaway ended on Saturday night and I want to thank the 969 people who entered! Nine Hundred and Sixty-Nine, my friends. Whoa! But, if you missed that one or you’re not on Goodreads, then here is another giveaway you won’t want to miss!

“Ella’s Will” will be sponsoring a month-long giveaway for the month of October for New LDS Fiction. You don’t have to be a member of anything, you don’t have to be LDS, and you don’t have to give anything to enter–except your excitement over the possibility winning a free book! All you do is login with your Facebook account or email, pick the book you want, AND the format, and you’re done! Easy Peaslee! Just click on the link below, take a gander at the books (pausing extra long at “Ella’s Will”) scroll all the way to the bottom, and click on the “Enter to Win” box. You have absolutely nothing to lose! No strings attached! Good luck!

Win These Books! October 2016

Goodreads Giveaway!!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Ella's Will by Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

Ella’s Will

by Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

Giveaway ends October 01, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Your Own Happily Ever After

I can’t sleep and I’m just thinking, of all things, about fairy tales. Yes, fairy tales. Why do we love them? Why do I love them? Why did I write my own version of one . . . twice? What is it about fairy tales that makes them timeless?

I’m no expert, but I’m just gonna throw this out there. I think the answer lies in the Happily Ever After part. Not just that there is a Happily Ever After, but that after all the struggles and pain and misunderstandings, there can still be a Happily Ever After.

But what is a Happily Ever After? Do any of us really live our own fairy tales? According to the magical version of fairy tales, I would guess that very few of us do. I mean, I don’t think any of my friends get help from birds and forest creatures to get the housework done. (And, if they truly call themselves friends, I would hope they’d share. Or else.) Also, most romances I’ve seen take more than a day or two to develop and become something real. Sometimes they even know each other’s names before they get married. Totally unromantic, I know.

Now I’m not saying that fairy tales are bad. I honestly think every childhood (and adulthood) should be filled with them. But I also think as we grow a little older, it may be wise, and even necessary, to change our definition of what fairy tales and Happily Ever Afters are, just a little bit. Otherwise, we’ll be running around searching for our proverbial fairy godmother, or even just an exceeding helpful mouse, and be sorely disappointed. Sorely, my friends.

A professor I had told a story I’ll never forget. He and his wife were on their honeymoon when they had their very first fight. It wasn’t pretty. There were tears and hurt feelings, finished off with a healthy dose of the silent treatment. When they started speaking again, they sat on the edge of the bed and cried. Why? Because they thought they had to get divorced. Surely people who loved each other and were “perfect” for each other would never fight. Right?? Well, after talking to a counselor (I’m not kidding) they realized that this was not true. Real life was a little different than the fairy tales. They were going to make it. They would choose to make it. And fifty years later, they still are.

I’ve been thinking about friends and family who have lost spouses, or who don’t have a spouse and want one, who have lost children, who are on their second and even third marriages, though they never wanted life to be that way. I think about things that have happened in my own life that, by definition, disqualify me for a fairy tale. It took my husband and me a year and a half to decide to get married. Waaayy more than two days. Sometimes—and don’t tell Cinderella this—we don’t always agree. I’ll wait while you gasp.
Are we doomed to live without our own fairy tale life? Our own Happily Ever After?? Is it something we just read about in books or watch in movies?

Heck. No.

I truly, sincerely, indubitably believe that if we are living the best we can—even with the mistakes and pain and plain old garbage—we are all living our own fairy tale lives. We are all working toward, and even getting little tastes of, what Happily Ever After really means.
I am convinced that our own stories don’t have to be devoid of strife to be truly beautiful. Everything doesn’t have to be nicely wrapped and tied with a pretty bow to be breathtaking. It can sometimes be wrapped in a grocery bag and tied with a stretched-out rubber band.

The beauty and breathtakingness is in the realness. Yes, I said breathtakingness.
There is a song from “The Scarlet Pimpernel” musical that might be appropriate to throw in right about now. I’d sing it for you, but seeing as how there is a screen between us . . .

Anyway, Marguerite sings:
Come and wake me!
Come be the love I can hold now.
Storybook love leaves me cold now.
Show me the way to stop dreaming.
There is only one perfect storybook ending,
That is the end of pretending.
That is the moment I say, love me now!

What Marguerite is saying is that she wants something real. That the only one perfect storybook ending is the one that is her own, that is real. And then, she starts singing in French, which pretty much makes everything extra true.

So, here I am, sitting in my jammies, my feet too cold because they’re next to the vent, the dishwasher running but the sink is still full of dishes. In about an hour, one of my boys is going to sneak into my bed and somehow end up with his feet digging into my back. I can pretty much guarantee my kids will argue tomorrow and they will try their darnedest to reel me into it. The weeds I pulled this morning have already started growing back. And I will most likely drop something, like a can of green beans, on my toe. I do that.

But, I will also laugh. A lot. My husband will kiss me and tell me he loves me. I will read my kids a story, and make myself sit through an episode of Power Rangers (though I will beg for Word Girl, but I will probably lose) because it means so much to them when I just sit with them. My youngest will pretend he can’t walk in the morning and say, “Will you hold me?” and have me carry him down to breakfast. I’ll kiss his soft cheek, warm from sleeping on my pillow he stole, and love it. My oldest will tease me for being shorter than he is, and I’ll pretend to be “mad”, though I love that, too. I’ll catch my boys reading, and clap when they show me the song they made up on the piano. I’ll put a Band-Aid on one little boy’s finger and cheer on another at football try-outs.

I’ll go to bed and try not to think about all the things I didn’t get done, or the things I should have said and shouldn’t have said. And then, I’ll be asleep, and I’ll wish for the thousandth time that I could be just awake enough to feel sleep.

I’m choosing my real-life, sticky, dirty, fun, sweaty, backbreaking, heartbreaking, nail-biting, joyful, busy, dream-come-true fairy tale every single day. And that is what makes it magical.

And by the way, having our Happily Ever After doesn’t come at the end of our story. It doesn’t come when we die and we’ve done all our living. It comes when we know what we’re living for.