For My Hero

As I pushed Lauren’s stroller through the Kaiser parking garage on my way home from a postpartum appointment, I heard my phone ding.

“I got a text from your dad. He and your mom want to talk to us tonight when we are all together.”

My stomach immediately sank. My parents had news, and they thought it was so important that David be with me when I heard it that they went to him first.

A couple of hours later, I sat on the couch, phone in hand, with eight-week-old Lauren fast asleep on my lap and David’s arm wrapped protectively around me.

My mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

I was very calm and painfully clear-headed. I asked a lot of factual questions. I asked about timelines. I asked my mom and dad how they were feeling, and when it was ok to call and check on my brothers.

Surprisingly, I did not cry.

We hung up the phone and as Ellie scampered into the room David said with a sweet smile, “You might want to give Mama a hug right now, she is feeling a little sad.”

I squeezed Ellie with my free arm and set a smile on my face. “Mama just heard some hard news, but I promise it will be fine.”

The tears didn’t come that night. They didn’t come the next morning as I nursed Lauren or ate breakfast with Ellie. It wasn’t until I was loading the girls up in the car for a morning of errands that the floodgates opened.

I cried on the way to Target. I cried all through Target, and just as I had myself under control something random like the frozen food aisle would make me cry again. I cried driving home from Target. I cried as I unloaded the car.

I texted friends, panicked a little, gave myself permission to do nothing but snuggle the girls and watch feel-good TV. I prayed. I thought about how my mom is the single biggest influence behind how I parent.  

All the while, a sole question plagued my thoughts over and over.

How would I do this without her?


I flew to Southern California for my mom’s second chemo treatment, leaving Lauren for the first time, David armed with a freezer full of pumped milk. It was a day I didn’t realize I desperately needed until I was there. It sounds strange to describe hours of doctor appointments and chemotherapy as fun, but my mom and I managed to make it just that.

I was gone approximately 12 hours and Lauren rewarded me with constant comfort nursing for days after, staying on my breast for up to two hours at a time, her desperation to hold on to me matching my desperation to spend time with my own mom.

There literally weren’t enough hours in the day to nurse her and take care of everything else. It was also Christmas time and I was trying hard to squeeze in some magic, despite feeling out of control.

I know my mom must have had days like these too, but when I think back on my childhood, I just remember feeling safe and happy. My mom could do anything and make any situation wonderful.

She still does.

How would I do this without her?


The baby’s cries faded over the monitor, and as she drifted off to sleep, I sat on the couch and pulled Ellie onto my lap. Every morning during Lauren’s first nap of the day we have “Mama and Ellie time” and today we were reading a very special book.

My mom’s hair was gone, bravely shaven off between her second and third chemo treatments. We had talked to Ellie about the cancer, telling her that Gammy has to have a lot of check-ups at the doctor and they were going to help her feel all the way better very soon. I had kept my tone light and Ellie wasn’t worried at all. But, I could not for the life of me figure out how to explain my mom’s hair loss.

Then a box came in the mail with a children’s book about a rabbit who gets sick and has to take medicine that makes her fur fall out. Of course there’s a children’s book on that subject, and of course my mom thought to find it and send it to us. That kind of thoughtfulness is just one of the reasons we still need her so much.

That morning we read the book over and over, talking about how Gammy’s medicine also made her hair fall out, but it’s making her feel better. There were assurances that Gammy’s hair would grow back and I threw in a Daniel Tiger song for good measure, “You can change your hair or what you wear, but no matter what you do, you’re still you.”

The book ends with the rabbit, aptly named Hope, fully healed and realizing her dream of jumping over the moon. “Mama,” Ellie piped up, “When Gammy feels better she will jump over the moon and I will jump with her! Can I, Mama? Can I?”

“Yes baby,” I replied holding back tears. “You absolutely can.”

How would I do this without her?


On chemo days I found myself anxious and preoccupied, with less patience for Ellie and Lauren than they deserve. If the days were hard for me, I can’t even imagine how hard they must have been for her, the one actually going through chemotherapy.

The funny thing is, you would never know it. She sent us upbeat texts from the hospital detailing the latest news from her doctor and always took a smiling selfie with whomever her chemo buddy was that day, showing whatever number treatment she was on with her fingers.

I marveled to one of my friends about how my mom had handled the whole situation, recounting that she spent a week with us shortly after Lauren was born. She cooked us dinner, played with Ellie, helped me get out of the house with both girls, changed countless diapers… all while waiting for the results of her biopsy. She suspected she might have cancer, but she didn’t say a thing. How’s that for strength?

My friend smiled and simply said, “That’s what moms do.”

How would I do this without her?


My mom’s sixth round of chemo came the day after Ellie’s third birthday. At 6:30 a.m. I sat in the “Mother’s Lounge” at the Sacramento airport simultaneously pumping and leaking everywhere. I joined the group of others waiting to board the flight down to Southern California – them in their crisp business suits and faces full of makeup, me with my messy bun and chambray shirt covered in breast milk.

There was a news story on the terminal TV about a relatively new disease called COVID-19 that seemed like it might be spreading. I hoped I wouldn’t catch anything on the plane and thought about how I almost canceled this trip down, reasoning that it was hard for David to take the day off of work to be with the girls and I would see my mom in another month for her surgery. But I didn’t cancel, thank goodness.

A few hours later my mom and I sat in the infusion center laughing until we cried about trashy TV and Super Bowl commercials while my sweet dad sat in the waiting room, giving my mom and I time together we cherished. We ate Oreos and endured dirty looks from a man in the corner. I giggled to my mom that I thought we were the rowdy chair as a nurse stopped by to discuss the latest episode of “Below Deck.”

It was a perfect day, besides the cancer.

How would I do this without her?


March 2020.

My brothers and I had it all figured out. We booked flights into town for surgery day and planned to show up at the hospital wearing funny matching shirts emblazoned with the motto our family had adopted during the cancer fight. We wanted my mom and dad to know how much we love them and would do anything to support them. Mostly, we needed to be together.

Willie was the first one to cancel, when the COVID outbreak started getting really bad in Seattle. I canceled next, when Northern California appeared to be on its way to becoming the next epicenter. Stephen held out a little bit longer, but finally decided he needed to cancel his flight from Tucson a few days before the surgery. None of us were willing to risk any chance of getting my mom sick, even if it meant we had to ride out surgery day alone and she had to go with a few less hugs and smiling faces cheering her on.

Never in a million years did we think my mom would have to ride out the day alone as well.

COVID protocols were getting stricter by the minute, it seemed. First, my mom was only going to be able to have one visitor with her. Then, the night before her surgery she let us know that she wasn’t allowed to bring anyone. My dad gave her a hug in front of the surgery center and that was it.

“I only cried once!” she told me over Facetime the next day after she had been discharged and made it home.

She is my hero. 

How would I do this without her?


Radiation started and radiation ended, just like that. Well, it seemed “just like that” to those of us not experiencing it. I know it was a grueling 20 sessions to endure.

The week she finished radiation, my mom had a follow-up appointment with her oncologist to go over how effective her treatment had been and figure out the next steps. I felt very apprehensive about it and I couldn’t figure out why, but I prayed like crazy and I know many others did too.

The day of the appointment came and my mom called me in the early afternoon.

“Hey sweetie, we’re leaving the hospital and I just wanted to let you know it went really well. I’m done!”

DONE.

“Mom, that’s amazing!” I said in between bouncing Lauren on my hip and trying to keep Ellie’s persistent interruptions to a minimum.

“So, no further treatments at all? (Yes, Ellie, I see those bell peppers in your kitchen. Go play, please.)”

We talked about the medicine she will take for the next several years. We talked about how her reoccurrence rate is only 15%, the same odds of anyone being diagnosed with cancer in the first place. We talked about answered prayer.

A few minutes after we hung up, it hit me.

Relief.

I was making Ellie a sandwich when I started to shake. I suddenly realized that I had not taken a full breath in seven months. I had been taking care of my family and trying to cultivate joy in a season of quarantine all with restricted capacity – part of my brain always distracted, my lungs constantly tight with the fear of “what if?”

I was brought out of my stupor by Lauren crawling in front of me at lightning speed, making a beeline for the steps she wanted to climb. I scooped her up and smiled because doesn’t life always have a way of doing that? It continues on in the most special and mundane ways, no matter what we are going through or what kind of revelation we just had.

Yes, life goes on and I get to continue living it while taking deep, full breaths.

She does, too.

Lauren’s Birth Story

Alternative titles for this post include “I’m not Sure These are Actually Contractions” and “A Redemptive Birth Experience.”

Allow me to set the scene: On Saturday, September 14th, David’s godparents came into town to take us to dinner. I was 37 weeks and two days along. I felt extremely uncomfortable and looked like I had swallowed the world’s largest watermelon. However, baby girl was still sitting pretty high and I had been told at my doctor’s appointment just days before that I still had a ways to go.

“Who knows?” David’s sweet godmother quipped during our meal, “This could be your last dinner without the baby!”

We all laughed and I felt certain that wouldn’t be the case. I had weeks to go! Besides, didn’t my doctor just tell me that she wasn’t anywhere close to being in position yet?

Plot twist: that was, in fact, our last dinner without the baby.

Saturday night as we were putting Ellie to bed, I started feeling a lot of pelvic pain. It felt like someone was taking my hip bones and ripping them apart while baby girl was forcefully using my ribs as leverage to shove herself downward. She had always been a strong, active baby so I just assumed these were normal pregnancy aches and pains.

Later on that night I did start to feel funny–like I just needed to stop and take in everything as it was right at that moment. I asked David to stop what he was doing and sit quietly with me for a little while. I remember having a fleeting thought that maybe this was my body’s way of telling me I was about to go into labor, but I quickly dismissed it. I went to bed early to prepare myself for a full Sunday of church, a baby celebration lunch with a few of my dear friends, and dinner with one of David’s co-workers and her family.

4:30am Sunday morning, my eyes opened. I lay there in the dark for a few minutes trying to figure out why I was awake.

Is Ellie up? No.

Do I need to go to the bathroom? No.

Do I need to roll over? No.

Am I thirsty? No.

Alright, mental checklist complete, I guess I can fall back asleep. But… ouch! What is that annoying abdominal cramp? Oh ok, it’s gone. Time to go back to sleep.

Five minutes later…

Ouch! There it is again!

Five minutes later…

You get the drill. Needless to say, it took me an embarrassing amount of contractions to start suspecting I was probably having contractions. They weren’t intense at all, but they were definitely there and definitely coming every five minutes like clockwork. I assumed they were Braxton Hicks contractions, so I got up and started walking around the house in the hopes that they would go away. They only got stronger. At that point, I decided the best thing to do was go back to bed and try to get as much rest as possible. You know, just in case. I obviously wasn’t in labor.

David’s alarm went off at 7:00am.

“Good morning! Um, let me know when you are awake enough to talk, I have a few things to tell you.”

That right there was enough to wake him up; I’m not usually that conversant first thing in the morning.

“Ok… well… I’ve been having contractions… at least I think they’re contractions… since 4:30am. They are coming every five minutes. But they are so mild! I’m sure they aren’t really contractions. I’m only 37 weeks!”

I answered his barrage of questions.

“Yes, since 4:30 this morning.”

“No, I haven’t called labor and delivery.”

“Well, I figured one of us should sleep, so I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“Ok, ok, fine. I will call the hospital.”

The nurse who answered in labor and delivery gave me strict orders to take a shower, eat some breakfast, drink a ton of water, and put my feet up. I was to call them back in a few hours if the contractions were still coming.

Late in the morning I finally gave in to the fact that, yes, these were actual contractions. I was in the early stages of labor! We canceled all of our plans, asked my parents to get on the road so they could be here with Ellie, and settled in for the day. I spent most of my time laboring on the couch listening to David and Ellie play in the playroom behind me. Every few minutes or so I would call to David that a contraction was about to begin and he would start timing. Talk about multi-tasking at its finest.

Right after we got Ellie down for her afternoon nap, the contractions picked up in intensity. David said he thought we needed to go to the hospital, but I wasn’t convinced. I could still talk just fine in between contractions, and my parents had barely made it past Los Angeles; it would be hours before they made it to our house.

I called labor and delivery again and they asked me to come in. The nurse said they likely wouldn’t admit me, but since I was late pre-term and had already been laboring for more than ten hours, they wanted to monitor the baby for a bit. So, we left Ellie in the care of friends and neighbors and headed out.

We pulled into the hospital around 3:30pm. I got out of the car and felt a contraction coming on. All of a sudden I heard a *pop* and doubled over in pain. The baby had kicked me so hard it felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I stood up and told David everything was fine but as I took a few steps I could feel something leaking.

“Um, this is awkward. I think my water broke? Maybe? It can’t really be that, right?”

The next thing I know I was hit with an incredibly intense contraction. They started coming one right on top of the other, making it impossible to walk and nearly impossible to breathe. Thankfully, by that point, we had made it halfway through the emergency department lobby and a nurse brought us a wheelchair. By the time we were in the labor and delivery ward a few minutes later, I was leaning over the side of the chair in extreme pain. Up until this point, my labor had been much easier and far less painful than Ellie’s, but I was starting to have flashbacks and zone out from the pain. I stood up in the triage room and felt a huge gush. Yup, that episode in the parking lot had been my water breaking.

A very upbeat midwife entered the room and asked me what I “envisioned” for my labor. I managed to gasp out “epidural” and that was about it. She checked me, discovered I was dilated four centimeters and sent us off to our room with a promise to call the anesthesiologist right away. The 30 minutes or so I was waiting for the epidural are a little fuzzy. I remember searing pain, shaking, sweating profusely. Our nurse set about getting me hooked up to everything and running the necessary tests. I turned on my side and gripped the bed rail for dear life. All I could do was breathe and repeat “this too shall pass” over and over in my head. Somehow I answered all the nurse’s questions, while David sweetly coached me through each contraction, telling me constantly what a great job I was doing.

Mercifully, the anesthesiologist finally came and my epidural was placed! It was almost instant relief and I settled happily and comfortably into my bed to wait out what I assumed was quite a bit more time before we met our girl. It was about 4:30pm.

Less than two hours later, I told David I thought I wanted to take a nap. I had been up since 4:30am and laboring for almost 14 hours at this point. I was starting to feel tired. The nurse gave me a funny look and asked, “Do you feel the urge to push?” I did not feel the urge to push at all, I felt the urge to sleep. “I want them to check you, first. The baby is really, really low.”

The midwife came in and checked me. “Yup, you are at a ten! I can feel the baby’s head, try a practice push for me during this next contraction.”

I complied and baby girl started moving.

“Ok,” the midwife said. “It’s definitely time to push, I’ll get the doctor. Are you ready to meet your baby?”

David and I stared at each other in disbelief. Were we ready to meet our baby? Of course, but couldn’t we slow this thing down a little? I had barely gotten used to the idea that I was having real contractions, and wasn’t I just four centimeters a mere two hours ago?

Ready or not, she was coming!

They got the room set up and the doctor came in, the same one who delivered Ellie two and a half years ago. Ten minutes later, at 6:24pm, less than three hours after we arrived at the hospital, Lauren Poppy Kruckenberg was in my arms.

I felt blissfully aware and in control the entire time. I held my own legs when I pushed. I watched as they lifted her up and placed her on my chest. I even cut the umbilical cord myself. It was a beautiful process from start to finish and a moment I will cherish as long as I live.

When we first decided we were ready to think about welcoming a second child into our family, I prayed a rather bold prayer. I asked the Lord for a redemptive conception experience, a redemptive pregnancy, and a redemptive birth story. I wanted to look back on this time with peace and joy, not as something I needed to emotionally heal from. Nothing, and I mean nothing, on any of those fronts went according to what my plan for a “redemptive” experience would have been. But looking back on it now I see that in His infinite wisdom the Lord gave me abundantly more than I could have imagined.

Our Lauren is exactly who we needed in our family and she came exactly when we needed her. What a sweet testament to God’s grace.


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For This Child I Have Bled

“Oh wow!” the nurse processing the new pregnancy paperwork after my eight-week appointment exclaimed. “Your daughter was quite a big baby!” I laughed and glanced over at my tall, now extremely lanky, toddler carefully pulling the pamphlets out of the basket in the corner of the nurse’s office one by one. “Yup! 9 pounds, 11 ounces. Apparently, my husband’s side of the family has big babies.”

The conversation continued, “Ok, so I’m going to need you to complete your glucose screening before your next appointment. Having a baby over nine pounds in a previous pregnancy puts you at an increased risk for gestational diabetes, so we need to test you early.”

At this point, my internal dialogue started going crazy. Um, excuse me? Drink that nasty stuff during my first trimester? Does she want me to throw up all over the poor unsuspecting lab tech?

Unfortunately, no amount of exclamations on my part about how I didn’t have gestational diabetes in my previous pregnancy, I was sure I was perfectly healthy, and really I just have big babies would get me out of it. I (once again, internally) rolled my eyes and thought at least I would get the test over with early on.

What’s that saying? Pride cometh before the fall?

Much to my dismay a mere three weeks later, at only 11 weeks along, I found myself sitting in a “So, you have gestational diabetes” type class learning all about my diet restrictions and how to use my new glucose meter.


Every night after dinner for months of this pregnancy, until the triple-digit summer heat made it unbearable, I took a walk. It’s one of the best things you can do to regulate your blood sugar. Sometimes Ellie and David joined, but many evenings I walked by myself. I put one foot in front of the other, circling our block multiple times, first legitimately walking and then waddling as my belly grew.

The walks gave me a lot of time to think.

I often wondered what our neighbors thought and if any of them felt oddly invested in my pregnancy, even if they don’t personally know me, as they watched my belly expand night after night as I passed by their houses.

Mostly, I just thought a lot about the baby inside of me and prayed.

It’s ironic, really. If you were to ask me which pregnancy was easier I would answer this one without missing a beat even though I’m technically high risk, because physically it has been. It’s been largely free of the nausea that plagued me during Ellie’s entire pregnancy and required medication. For the most part, I’ve had energy and been able to keep up with all my normal activities. I even got used to the unwelcome diet changes pretty quickly. But in its own way, it has been harder this time around.

With Ellie, I had complete peace and confidence that my body was the safest place for her to be. She was literally created for me; I knew I was the only one who could provide her with what she needed during those 40 weeks. As sick as I was, I never had a doubt that she was going to stay ours and come out healthy at the end.

This pregnancy has been one giant mental battle.

It’s the extreme weight loss early on and my inability to gain the weight back because I can’t have sugar or simple carbohydrates; the constant checking of my blood sugar; the phone calls from nurses that come every Wednesday evening like clockwork to record said blood sugar numbers and ask me questions about my diet; the “supervised high risk pregnancy” label that shows up on all of my paperwork. I’m so thankful that she is healthy, but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that my body isn’t the safest place for her to grow. I just want her on the outside where I can actually take care of her.


700. That’s how many times I have pricked my finger this pregnancy and squeezed out a drop of blood to test my sugar levels. I’ll have to do it 112 more times if she goes to full term. I know this won’t be the last time I physically bleed because of her, and I also know that my anxiety for her wellbeing won’t end when she finally exits my body. In fact, it will be the beginning of a lifetime of concern, worry, and prayer over the sweet soul I have been entrusted with.

For this child I have bled, and will continue to bleed, and pray over, and love and protect with everything I have in me. I am so lucky to be her Mama.

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A Tale of Two Conceptions

When I read the story of Gideon in the Bible, I am always reminded of how Ellie came into our family.

The Lord appears to a man named Gideon and tells him to rescue Israel from the Midianites. Gideon, unsure that God will really be with him in this endeavor, asks for a sign.

“Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised, prove it to me in this way. I will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor tonight. If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised.” Judges 6:36-37 (NLT). When God delivers on this request he asks for another sign; he lays out the fleece once again and asks for the ground to be wet while the fleece stays dry.


In early 2016, after several months of trying to get pregnant, I was diagnosed with “chronic anovulation” and told we would need fertility treatments in order to conceive. A few weeks after the diagnosis, I found out that come the end of the year the dream job I was working would be ending as well.

After a period of prayer David and I were still completely unsure what to do. Should we put fertility treatments on hold to allow me to find and grow into a new job? Should we throw caution to the wind and start treatments knowing that getting pregnant would make it difficult to find a new job and pretty much guarantee I would transition into being a stay-at-home-mom? This was something we both wanted, but weren’t sure if we could financially handle.

We asked and asked, but still God seemed silent.

Finally, we made a plan of action and hoped for a sign. I put my job hunt on hold for a few months while we pursued treatments. If the treatments didn’t work after a set period of time, we planned to put those on hold while I focused on finding a new job. The Lord’s answer became crystal clear when we surprised all of our doctors by getting pregnant right away after just one round of Clomid.

Not exactly laying down a fleece, but the sentiment feels very similar.


Fast forward to early 2019 when we have a spunky almost two year-old and I finally feel like I have my stay-at-home-mom feet underneath me. David and I had long said we would start thinking about a second child once Ellie turned two but I brought up the topic a little early, reasoning it would surely take several months at a minimum and possibly even a second round of fertility treatments to get pregnant again. He agreed, so I deleted the “take birth control” reminder that popped up on my phone every night and didn’t think too much about it. I was more curious to see if my body would work properly than anything else.

Imagine our surprise when mere weeks later my morning cup of coffee tasted like soap (one of the first signs of my pregnancy with Ellie) and I once again found myself standing in our bathroom holding a test with two pink lines on it. I walked out to the kitchen where David was getting Ellie’s breakfast ready and held it out to him, unable to really do anything but laugh with nervous excitement. He looked at the test, and then looked at me with a smile. Ellie asked to be picked up, and he continued cooking her scrambled eggs. You know, just an ordinary morning.

It was as simple as that.

There were no exams and no medication. We didn’t have any awkward conversations with doctors about our relationship we simply enjoyed being married. Nothing was planned and nothing was timed. We weren’t even trying really; we had just stopped preventing.

I know that’s how most people make a baby, but for me it seems like such a strange concept. You mean, I just get to love my husband and we create a miracle? Without involving anyone else? What a beautifully redemptive experience.


I am now 21 weeks along with Baby #2, who we just found out is another sweet little girl! Most days it still doesn’t feel real to me, even now as she is kicking around in my belly.

When we found out that we were pregnant with Ellie, I had this sense that she was meant to come into the world at that exact moment for a great purpose. I know our second daughter is exactly who is meant to join our family right now for that same reason. The stories of how they came to be are incredibly different, but the outcome remarkably similar.

So for now, I pray the same prayer over her that I did her sister. Lord, please help her to grow healthy and strong, and let us keep her for a long, long time.

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Christmas all the Time

There is a part of the Christmas story, often overlooked, that speaks directly to the heart of a mother. I know, I know, it’s not Christmas, and even if it were the most wonderful time of the year, the Christmas story as found in the Gospel of Luke is about God sending his son into the world, not motherhood. Just hear me out.

After there was no room in the inn, after the stable birth, after the shepherds appeared to worship baby Jesus, we read in Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

This is motherhood in full force – a statement that moms of any age, faith, and walks of life can relate to. Because isn’t that what we all do? We treasure, we ponder, and we replay those savored moments in our own hearts and minds again and again.

Let me tell you a little about my daughter. She is 13 months old, bright, spunky, and sweet as can be. She is a delight, and fits into our family in a way only God could have designed.

She is also the worst sleeper known to man.

(That may be a slight exaggeration, but over a year of sleep deprivation gives one license to be dramatic.)

Nap time is often a battle of the wills, and the very beginnings of sleeping through the night did not start until 11 months of age, and even then it was an inconsistent luxury.

Currently, at just over a year old, she allows us to get close to a full night’s rest nearly every night. This is due in no small part to a carefully crafted schedule of strict wake-up times, oddly specific nap lengths, and the willingness to continue rocking her to sleep. It turns out some of the research and organizational skills you learn in the professional world are directly applicable to motherhood.

Enter our ill-fated attempted to transition from two naps to one.

Things spiraled very quickly, but it’s not my fault really; Ellie gave us all the signs she was ready. She started skipping naps, happily stayed up for long stretches of time, took longer to put down, and fit in the correct age range. Everything I read about her behavior pointed to dropping that first nap. So down to one nap we went, and I excitedly began to plan everything I would do with our free mornings and my long afternoon stretch of alone time.

I thought of play dates, trips to the zoo, and story time at the library down the street, the afternoon coffee I could enjoy on the couch by myself, more time to write and focus on volunteer activities… my naive illusions were soon shattered by what I will forever call “the week with no sleep.”

As it turns out, she was tricking us. Despite all the signs she, in fact, was not ready to drop that morning nap and the consequence was a little girl who was so overtired she almost completely stopped sleeping at night.

I should have known because Ellie rarely does anything by the book. It’s usually something I love about her, but this particular week it caused me to whisper things like “you will not defeat me, I will win” in the dark of night. Not my finest mothering hour, to be sure.

In one of those sleepless moments rocking with Ellie I happened to glance over to her dresser at one of her Christmas presents, a board book that tells about the night Jesus was born from the perspective of different people and animals in the manger.

It may not be Christmas time, but she asks to read the book quite a bit, so I have it mostly memorized by this point. I thought about my favorite page, the one from Mary’s point of view. The one that always makes me tear up when I read it, because through simple language it reminds me of the depths of my love for Ellie. “I am Mary, the mother mild, how I love my tiny child.”

Why is it that when we tell the Christmas story the concept of motherhood is never talked about, aside from how Jesus came into the world? He was born of a virgin, and that’s it, Mary’s motherhood seemingly stops there. Except it doesn’t.

“But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Through all the craziness of life, when we feel like we can’t keep going, in all the moments that feel inconvenient like giving birth in an animal stall and being immediately visited by strange men would have been, this verse speaks wisdom into our motherhood journey.

My mama heart finds memories to store forever, even in the difficult times.

I will never forget how Ellie’s face always looks like a newborn’s when she finally falls asleep, even as my arms can barely contain her tall, one year old body.

In her whiny and cranky moments, she runs to me for comfort and trusts me to provide for her needs.

It doesn’t matter how tired she gets, that girl loves a good dining room dance party and smiles at my dorky mom moves.

I know Ellie well enough to tell that the move to one nap clearly wasn’t working, and I was able to make the changes necessary to welcome sleep back into our lives. It fills me with awe and confidence in my God-given ability as a mom, and that is something you bet I will ponder often in the years to come.

Even now as I sit on my kitchen floor, stealing a few minutes with my laptop in an attempt to get these words onto a page before they leave my thoughts, I hear my daughter playing. She has switched the setting on her toy from English to Spanish and is babbling with delight at the new songs it sings. It’s a seemingly insignificant moment, but it makes my heart soar.

“But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Ellie may not have slept that week, but in my exhaustion I gained perspective.

Motherhood gives us little gifts to remember always. It’s Christmas all year long.

Editors Note: I wrote this piece over a month ago, but the sentiment still holds true. Ellie is now 14 months old and officially on a one nap a day schedule! True to form, she did it in her own timing.

Motherhood, Grief, and my friend Chuck

Let me tell you about my friend, Chuck Ball.

I met Chuck when I was 17 years old and preparing to go on my first overseas missions trip to the country of Albania. He was 63 years old and, having been to Albania numerous times before, was one of the team leaders.

Chuck has a bit of a gruff exterior, and when I first got to know him I was more than a little intimidated by him. As it turns out, that gruffness was all show; you’d be hard pressed to find a more generous, encouraging, kind, and even funny man.

On that high school missions trip, thanks in large part to Chuck’s leadership, my love for Albania began. Fast-forward to today and I have been to Albania five times; three of these trips were with Chuck. He was a true friend and mentor, and in this moment it feels impossible to overstate the impact he has had on my life.

Two weeks ago I received news that Chuck had a heart attack and was at the hospital. The updates I heard throughout the day didn’t sound great, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe that this was the end. As I assured one friend, “I’m sure he’ll be fine, you know Chuck. We’ll see him at Christmas and give him a hard time about how he’s not allowed to get old and he’ll roll his eyes at us. It’s going to be fine, it has to be.”

Unfortunately a phone call from this same friend later than night confirmed our worst fears. Chuck had passed away. He was home in the arms of his Savior after a life so faithfully and well led.

I put the phone down and immediately burst into tears. But then something happened I wasn’t expecting, although I should have been. It’s something mundane, something that happens all the time. My ten month old reached up for me from her playpen, a big smile on her face. I had been getting her dinner when the news came, and she was hungry.

I dried my tears, picked her up, and went to get her mashed sweet potatoes off the stove. I spent the rest of the evening thinking about Chuck, but not really able to grieve the way I wanted. I couldn’t. There was dinner to eat and clean up, evening playtime to be had, bedtime stories to read… you get the picture. Mom life keeps on going, even when we want to stop.

Over the past couple of weeks since that day, I’ve realized that I have absolutely no idea how to grieve as a mom.

I’m an introvert by nature. I process sad news and major life changes best with a lot of alone time, introspection, and often times tears. Unfortunately alone time is a rare commodity these days, and while I could try to schedule a good cry in during one of Ellie’s naps, tears don’t really work that way.

I guess I’m adjusting to a new normal in more ways than one. How do I make processing my grief a priority while still maintaining the level of selflessness motherhood requires of me? What is the balance here?

I’m starting to suspect there’s no magic formula, but like all things on this motherhood journey I just need to keep prayerfully putting one foot in front of the other until I figure it out.

Grief is hard, but grief also gives us something to be thankful for. I had 13 years of learning from an incredible man, and while his loss hurts now, I would not trade his influence over those years for anything.

If you need me, I’ll be here simultaneously missing my friend and loving my family. And I’ll be sure to let you know if I discover that magic formula.

 

Six Months a Mama: A letter to myself

Dear Mama,

Congratulations! After the hardest 21 hours of your life you have welcomed a beautiful, healthy baby girl into the world. I know you are struggling as you try to figure out what just happened to your body while immediately caring for your daughter 24/7. You are utterly exhausted, overwhelmed, you have stitches in places no one should ever have stitches, you can barely stand without help, and you cry at the drop of a hat for no reason at all.

Unfortunately, it gets worse before it gets better. This is normal, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

But please, hang in there; because when it gets better… oh does it get better.

You know all those cliché sayings everyone shared with you while you were pregnant? You have just discovered the truth behind them.

You will feel a level of tired you never thought possible.

The days are long, but the years are short.

Parenthood will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.

That last phrase is your least favorite because while you identify with the hard, you haven’t experienced anything rewarding yet.

I want you to know that I see you ever so slowly pressing through this hard phase.

I see you struggling to breastfeed, when nursing is far from the magical bonding experience people told you it would be.

I see you sobbing in the middle of the night because you’ve only slept for twenty minutes and you just can’t take it anymore.

I see you having a breakdown because you really want to attend the mom’s group at a nearby church, but you don’t have the courage to leave the house.

Most importantly, I see you in your biggest struggle, the one based around yet another parenting cliché:

The second I laid eyes on her I was struck with a love so overwhelming it’s indescribable. I can’t even remember what life was like without her.

You remember exactly what it was like before Ellie was born. You worked hard to build a career that you loved, you made decent money, you fit into the cute clothes in your closet, you slept… need I go on? Your life was good before Ellie, and acknowledging that does not take away any of the wonderful things she now adds.

You’re also struggling with this new love. It is different from anything you have ever experienced, and while you enjoy being a Mama you don’t really feel it yet.

Don’t misunderstand me, I know you love your daughter. You know you love her too.

It’s the kind of love that gets you out of bed for the fourth time in one night because she is hungry and you will do anything to take care of her.

It’s the kind of love that would cause you to do everything in your power to keep her safe, including sacrifice your own life.

It’s a “kick ass” kind of love, as your dad will describe it, and it’s the kind of love that is known in your head before it’s felt in your heart.

I hear those desperate prayers as you cry out to God to bring joy and fulfillment in your new role. You pray to feel the love you know you have for your little girl.

God will hear those prayers too.

At three months you will start to feel like a person again, at five months you will find yourself thinking “this is fun” more often than not, and by six months you will look at your daughter and the weight of the love you have always had for her will come crashing down on you.

It’s a love that is swift and fierce, filled with both head knowledge and more warm fuzzy feelings than you could ever imagine. You will look at this little person you created and burst with awe and delight.

You will finally experience the reward everyone says accompanies the hard stuff, and it will be like nothing you have ever known.

Just as she is growing into a person, you are growing into your new role. Give yourself grace, and continue to rely on the Lord more than you ever have before. Look at the amazing journey you have been on already, with a lifetime of learning and growing to go.



 

Dressing my Postpartum Body, AKA Learning to Laugh at Myself

My daughter was born three months ago, and while my figure is still miles away from where I’d like it to be, it generally doesn’t bother me too much. My body’s most important purpose right now is nourishing her, and if that means some parts are softer and other parts are *ahem* bigger than I would otherwise like them to be, that is just fine.

But accepting my new body and dressing it are two entirely different things.

We are going out of town this week, my first time traveling since Ellie was born. It dawned on me the other day that a vacation means I am going to be out and about and interacting with other people for a solid week and a half. Not to mention, this trip revolves around two very important family events: a graduation and a wedding. The take away? My daily uniform of yoga pants and David’s shirts isn’t going to cut it.

I surveyed my current wardrobe and discovered I had approximately three shirts and one pair of pants that actually fit me. So, birthday money in hand, David, Ellie and I hit the mall!

I was pleasantly surprised by my jean size and not too upset by the new size large shirts I had to purchase to replace my smalls and mediums.

The real adventure came when I went bra shopping.

We got off the elevator on the third floor of Nordstrom where a young, slim sales associate greeted me. She was absolutely adorable and could not have been more than 20 years old. I told her I was looking for a nursing bra but had no idea of my size. She took me back to get measured.

*jaw drop*

You guys. Not cool.

I’m not going to divulge the details, but let’s just say it’s an embarrassingly large size.

The sales associate left the room and returned with two bras for me to try on.

“These are the only nursing bras we had in *insert ungodly size here*.”

I turned around and came face to face with two of the largest, matronly looking bras I have ever seen. Whatever. If they fit and get the job done, I guess I can’t complain.

I was pleasantly surprised when I tried one on. It may have been ugly as sin, but it was definitely comfortable.

Young, skinny sales associate came back in to check the fit, and the following conversation ensued:

Sales Associate: “Well, it looks like it fits pretty well. But… is your right side your smaller side? That cup isn’t fitting as well.”

Me: “It’s currently my smaller side because it’s the side my daughter just nursed on.”

Cue uncomfortable silence and an absolutely horrified look from the sales associate.

“… oh…”

Awesome.

I was tempted to menacingly whisper “this is your future” but decided against it.

Then, to add insult to injury, my body decided to revolt.

That’s right, I leaked all over my yet to be purchased new bra as I was trying it on.

That’s right.

All over.

As I was still trying it on.

Once again, awesome.

Ironically, before leaving for this shopping trip I thought to myself how great it was that I had yet to experience one of those embarrassing leaky boobs in public scenarios.

Serves me right for being cocky.

Ellie’s Birth Story

Prior to going into labor myself, I loved reading any and all birth stories I could get my hands on. Stories from blogs, Facebook, Instagram, emails from my pre-natal yoga instructor; stories written by women I knew and women who were complete strangers; stories from first time moms and seasoned veterans… if it was about birth, I wanted to read it. Their words went a long way towards helping me mentally prepare for my own birth; I hope my story is able to do that for other moms as well.


I started having severe hip pain and pressure at about 38 weeks, and at my 39 week appointment was two centimeters dilated, 50% effaced, and the baby was at zero station. However, I was not having any contractions to speak of, either real or Braxton Hicks. David and I spent the week walking a ton, doing yoga/Bradley exercises, and basically anything we could think of to get contractions going.

The highlight of these efforts had to be waddling at a snails pace for three miles around the park close to our house wearing David’s clothes because nothing else fit at that point. Pregnancy is glamorous.

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Trying to walk the baby out at 39 weeks. Looking and feeling very pregnant!

Our due date of January 30th came and went, and I still was not having any contractions.

We had our 40 week appointment first thing in the morning on February 2nd. My doctor checked me again and this time I had progressed to being four centimeters dilated, 99% effaced, and the baby had moved down to positive one station. All without any contractions! We decided to have the doctor strip my membranes in hopes it would get things going!

“I’m on call in labor and delivery starting tomorrow morning. I suspect I will see you there!” she called as she walked out of the exam room.

I was very shaky after the doctor’s appointment and even got sick on the way out to the car. We didn’t know it then, but this was the onset of labor!

By the time we got home I had started having very mild contractions, coming every half an hour or so. David called his office and let them know he would not be coming in, and I tried to lie down to get some sleep. My nap didn’t last long, however, as pretty soon the contractions shortened to being 12 minutes apart and started becoming painful.

Through the afternoon I labored in our living room, sitting with my legs crossed while leaning forward over our ottoman. David picked out a book, The Best of Clarence Day, to read out loud in between contractions to distract me and help me relax. During contractions, he would get on the ground with me and massage my lower back. I was experiencing quite a bit of back labor, so this was the only thing that made the pain manageable.

“As I heard the story years afterward, it was late when he got there, and he bounded up the front stoop two or three steps at a time, and…” David would read, until “Ok, sweetheart you have about 30 seconds until the next contraction starts, get ready. Breathe, breathe, breathe… you’re doing great… half way there… and done. Great job!” Then he would go back to reading to me.

Delaney the bulldog sat very calmly next to me, listening to David and letting me pet her. It was a surprisingly good distraction from the pain.

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The one picture I took while in labor. We had a very peaceful afternoon, considering what was happening.

The day was long, but passed by sweetly as I continued to labor away.

By the late afternoon contractions had jumped to seven minutes apart and became very intense. It was incredibly difficult to relax through them, but David did a wonderful job talking me through each one, providing encouragement, and continuing to apply pressure to my low back.

As day turned to night, we watched a movie and tried to get as much rest as we could.

Then around 10:00pm contractions suddenly stopped. They became super spread out and very mild. We decided to walk around the block to try to get them going again, I spent some time gently bouncing on my yoga ball, and finally decided to lay down and get some rest. That did the trick, because within an hour of falling asleep the contractions were back with a vengeance! They were still seven minutes apart, but even more intense than they had been before.

I don’t remember much at this point. I was desperately trying anything I could to cope, but it felt like the contractions were beginning to win. Eventually, I ended up on my side in bed, clutching a big pile of pillows. David sat with me and continued to read, but his voice sounded very far away. I was in so much pain that I had gone into a trance-like state.

Finally, contractions dropped to being every five minutes and we were told we could come to the hospital. We got there around 3:00am and were escorted into triage. By this point the contractions were coming even closer together.

“Wow, your contractions are registering very strong,” said the triage nurse. “And you are dilated to a six! Let’s get you admitted!”

The nurse was optimistic, but I was disappointed with my progress. I had been laboring for 16 hours and was told I had only gone from four centimeters dilated to six.

The hospital staff was very respectful of our birth plan (our ultimate “plan” was whatever it took to get a healthy baby, but we really wanted to have a medication free birth if possible), and didn’t push any sort of medication on us, but I knew I was exhausted and had reached my limit, so David and I decided to request an epidural. In hindsight, I think this was possibly the best decision I made because things got so crazy at the end, I don’t think I would have had the energy to push her out without the brief break the epidural provided me.

They gave me a very low base level dose, and I refused to push the button for more medicine. This meant I could still feel each contraction, but the pain was dulled. Sweet relief! Thankfully I could also still feel and move my legs.

From that point, things started moving very quickly.

After we were settled into our Labor and Delivery room, the nurse offered to show David the pantry where he could get me snacks and ice chips. I immediately piped up and asked him to go; it may sound silly, but those amazing, easy to chew hospital ice chips were something I was really looking forward to. David went off with our nurse and I curled up on my side, finally able to really relax for the first time in almost 17 hours. Then…

*pop*

*gush*

“My water broke!” I thought, lifting my head with a huge smile on my face. “One step closer. I can’t wait for David to get back, he’ll be so excited.”

All of a sudden the door flew open and a doctor and three or four nurses rushed in. Apparently the baby did not handle my water breaking well at all, and her heart rate had plummeted.

“Ok mom, the baby’s heart rate isn’t where we’d like it to be, we need you to roll over to your other side. Quickly.”

I heaved my knees, rolling my body and all the cords and monitors to my other side.

“Heart rate is still dropping,” the doctor murmured with concern to one of the nurses.

“Alright, mom, we need you to get on your hands and knees. Can you do that on your own, or do we need to lift you?”

“I can do it,” I assured them, saying a silent prayer of thanks that even though they were heavy with medication, I could still feel my legs.

It took all my leg, upper body, and non-existent core strength to roll over onto my hands and knees and hold myself there. Once I was up, I looked under my arm and noticed David had made it back to the room and was standing behind the doctor and nurses clutching my big cup of ice chips. Talk about a chaotic scene to walk in to! He gave me a concerned, but reassuring smile, and I smiled back.

The hands and knees position wasn’t working to bring her heart rate back up either, and they stopped being able to get a good read on the external monitor. The doctor called out that she was going to put an internal fetal monitor on the baby.

“I’m still not happy with that heart rate. We’re going to give it a couple more minutes, but if it doesn’t come up we’re going to have to get her out through a cesarean section.”

An emergency c-section? That was definitely not what we had hoped for.

I took a deep breath, “Whatever you have to do to keep her safe.” David agreed.

Thankfully, her heart rate finally came back up to a safe level and they let me lay back down on my side. The big group of nurses cleared out and David came back to his seat right next to me. “Crisis averted,” I looked up at him and tried to say with a laugh; but it was a frightening several minutes.

Before we knew it, it was 6:30am, I was dilated to a ten and felt a very strong urge to push. By this point the epidural had just about completely worn off, so I could feel everything, which is exactly what I wanted. The contractions were coming one right on top of the other and were barely tolerable. One of the nurses actually commented that she rarely ever saw contractions that intense and close together without the use of Pitocin. Awesome.

I started to push, but once again our girl was not handling the change in her environment well and her heart rate would plummet each time I pushed.

The doctor decided to have me wait to see if she would move further down the birth canal on her own. I was able to hold off for a while; by far one of the hardest things I have ever done! David stood right next to me, talking me through each contraction, while I focused intently on my breathing.

“Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.” It was the only thing getting me through.

At 7:30am it was finally time to push again! Baby girl still wasn’t doing well with the pushing, so I was told to only push on the very strong contractions.

They turned on that huge spotlight over the bed, and the doctor and several nurses took their positions. Everything was a blur at this point, almost like an out of body experience.

With all the commotion and bright lights around me, the only thing I remember being in focus is David’s face as he talked me through everything.

“Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, and PUSH! You can do it, babe. That’s it!”

It was painful and all encompassing, but thankfully I was making quick progress.

Then I heard the doctor’s matter of fact tone once again.

“Baby and mom are both in distress.”

Apparently, both our heart rates were dropping at the same time.

“I’m going to get out the vacuum, if this doesn’t work we’re going to resort to an emergency cesarean. I need you to push!”

An emergency c-section? Again?? I looked at David holding my leg and sweetly smiling down on me, closed my eyes, and gave it everything I had.

A few more pushes and out she came at 8:01am after only 30 short, but scary minutes of pushing!

I felt an immediate release as they placed her on my chest. I closed my eyes and as she let out her first cries, I allowed everything to wash over me; the exhaustion, the elation, the strong feeling of relief that it was over, the extreme joy that she was here, the way her body felt wiggling on top of me, the sense of comfort I had with her, the fact that she was mine.

“There’s ten of everything, and look at the size of those hands and feet!” the doctor said happily.

After all of that, the only thing I could manage to say was “Is she still a girl??” much to everyone’s amusement. What can I say? After we decided to go the very girly pink flamingo route with her nursery, I was paranoid she was going to come out a boy.

I could feel right away that she was a big baby; even so, I could hardly believe it when the nurse weighed her a couple of minutes later… 9lbs 11oz! No wonder she was so hard to get out!

They placed her back on my chest and I looked over at David. “She has your lips,” he smiled at me. “She’s beautiful.”

I lifted my head, laying my eyes on her for the first time. We had two names picked out for her going into the birth, and had decided to wait until we actually met her to decide on one.

“She doesn’t look like a Harper,” I said. David smiled again, “You know what my favorite name has been from the start.”

I looked back at our little wiggle worm. “Elenora,” I said.

“Hi, Ellie.”


My labor was 21 hours from start to finish, and a lot more extreme than I was expecting. I don’t know exactly what I thought giving birth would be like, but the reality of it was nothing like I imagined it would be.

If I could give any advice to new moms who have not yet delivered it would be to hold on to your expectations loosely and make sure you have a good support team.

There is absolutely no way I could have done any of it without David, he was the best coach, emotionally and physically supporting me through every minute. Like we tackle just about everything in our lives, we were truly a team. From the start of my pregnancy to the very end, we were in it together. Thankfully, that same teamwork has transferred into our parenting. I love him so much. Ellie and I are so very, very lucky.

I am also thankful that while we had goals for the birth, I didn’t allow myself to expect anything. If I had, I probably would have come out of this experience disappointed because things didn’t go at all how I wanted them to. The reality is there is nothing to be disappointed about! I managed to power through a long, difficult labor and I have a beautiful, healthy little girl to show for it.

It is truly amazing what our bodies can do.

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Ellie in all her beautiful, sweet newness.

Welcome 2017!

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” ~ Proverbs 16:9

New Years is usually not a big holiday for me, but there have been two times in my life when the idea of leaving a particularly difficult year behind has been so welcome that I have literally counted the days to New Years Eve.

2016 has been one of those years.

January 2016 started with the first of many doctor’s appointments that would eventually lead to our infertility diagnosis. Shortly after, I found out that my job would be ending towards the end of the year. I was working in my dream job with amazing co-workers for the best boss and felt like I was really hitting my stride. It was someplace I thought I could successfully be a working mom while continuing to grow in my career. The plan was to work for a few more years, save for a house, and then gracefully bow out to become a stay at home mom, hopefully about the time baby number two came along. I had it all under control; looking for a new job while trying to get pregnant was totally not my plan.

After adjusting to the idea of saying goodbye to the job and my co-workers, and a lot of discussion and prayer with David, I still wasn’t sure how to proceed. Do we put fertility treatments and having kids on hold for a while so I could focus on finding and growing into a new job? Do we charge full steam ahead into treatments and risk the fact that getting pregnant would certainly interfere with my ability to get a job? What direction were we supposed to go?

Ultimately, we decided to leave it in the Lord’s hands. I would put my job hunt on hold for a few months while we pursued treatment. If the treatments didn’t work after a period of time, we’d put those on hold and I would focus on the job hunt. Our intended path became clear to us very quickly when after our first round of clomid, we found out we were pregnant with our baby girl! My pregnancy has definitely been a huge source of blessing in an otherwise difficult year.

Things were finally looking up, but later in the year, my sweet boss and mentor, Sharon, passed away, followed closely by another dear friend, Judy. More loss; more goodbyes. (If you’re interested, I wrote more about these women in my post “For Such a Time as This: Thoughts on our Baby Girl”).

All in all, 2016 felt like a year dominated by loss. But, when I look back, I realize it can be best summed up by Proverbs 16:9, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” I started the year with a lot of plans, holding very tightly to the way I saw my life going. But, the Lord had a different journey in mind, and I can see that through all the tough goodbyes there have been a ton of blessings.

Rather than look at 2016 as a year of loss, I choose to look at it as a year of growth.

Friendships have been deepened in ways I could never imagine; I had the opportunity to travel; I spent some absolutely irreplaceable time with Sharon and Judy in the days before they passed away; I was able to finish my dream job strong in a way I am proud of; I have been supported and uplifted by amazing individuals who I have been able to support in return; I grew closer to family; I cherished time with my husband who I love more today than I did at the start of the year; and, though it was hard at times, I spent eight months of 2016 growing a precious life inside of me.

I had my plans, but the Lord established my steps. 2016 was filled with pain, but 2016 was also filled with joy and so much love. I’m not sad to see it go, but I understand that it’s a year that needed to happen.

And with that, I look toward 2017 with great anticipation! It’s the year I’ll get to meet our baby girl, transition into stay at home motherhood (more on that in an upcoming post), and hopefully see relationships with my family and friends deepen even further. I know it will be another year filled with growth, and hopefully a little less loss. I can’t wait.

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2016 in photos