Tuesday, December 29

Tough decisions

We got one of those fine print "Important Changes to Your Account Terms" for one of our credit cards. I was about to just file it away without looking at it, since these things usually involve changes in APR or finances charges, and since we never carry a balance I don't worry about that stuff. Thanks to Congress, lately they've been more in the vein of "we're not allowed to rake you over the coals quite like we used to."

Luckily I took a closer look at this one, as one of the changes went like this:

Annual Fee: We may charge an annual fee of $20 if your credit limit is less than $1,000 and an annual fee of $45 if your credit limit is equal or greater than $1,000.

"May" charge an annual fee? Like, if they feel like it? You're always given the option to reject these changes, but in my experience that has always meant you have to cancel the card. Alas, I sighed, it will be time to search for a new Visa card.

So we called yesterday, prepared to cancel. The conversation went something like this:

Me: What does this mean, "may charge an annual fee?" Does that mean you will or you won't charge the annual fee?
Agent: They probably will charge the fee.
Me: "Probably"? So... will you let me know, or are you just going to surprise me?
Agent: You can reject these changes, you know.
Me: I know, but I'd like to keep the card, if possible.
Agent: You can reject the changes, and keep the card.
Me: So... the $45 dollar fee is... optional?
Agent: Right.
Me: So... I just have to tell you that I don't want you to charge me the annual fee, and I still keep the card?
Agent: Yes, you just opt out of that change and keep the card.
Me: And... I can just do that over the phone?
Agent: Yes.
Me: Um, let's do that.

So, it was a tough decision, but after giving it about a microsecond of thought, I decided I didn't want to be charged $45 dollars a year. Weird, I know.

Moral of the story: Read the fine print.

Sunday, December 20


Back by popular demand...


I've been asked about this name. There isn't much of a story except this:
When I was a little girl, I loved planning what I would name my children, and top on the list was Maren, because I thought I had made it up. Imagine my dismay, as a small child, to find that there was someone in my ward named Marin. I was understandably upset. My baby was supposed to be the only Maren in the world!
Anyway, I had forgotten about that name until a few months ago. I just remembered, oh yeah, I loved that name as a kid! And when she was born, Maren fit better than the other names we had considered.
So there you go.

Gnome pants
My mom made these, and all my siblings wore them as well as many of my nieces and nephews. They also come in blue and maroon. These are my favorite three outfits by far.

Snoozing in the sun with Dad

Checking out the world

Much happier about the post-umbilical bath than last week's sponge bath

Best. Picture. Ever.

Friday, December 11

How she got here

WARNING: Long post.

A week ago yesterday Maren made her big debut, writhing into the world in what is proving to be her signature style.

Here’s how it went down:

Tuesday, December 1

Contractions get more uncomfortable. Dani pauses to document the large size of her abdomen.

Increasingly aware of her cervix, Dani passes a restless night.

Wednesday, December 2


A curious flow gives Dani cause to suspect her water might be broken. Having recently read stories of women whose water leaked for three days before they realized what was going on probably contributes to this suspicion.

Conversations with her skeptical-about-midwifery worry-wart father and her overly excited husband compel Dani to call the midwife, against her wishes (Dani is in denial). Midwife doubts the water is broken, but suggests Dani come in to make sure.


Midwife confirms that the amniotic sac is intact, and we’re just seeing the mucus plug work its way out. Dani is dilated to a 4, up from a 3 last week. “You will probably have your baby soon,” Midwife Gina says. Gina and Midwife Ramona stress the importance of not coming to the center too soon, but waiting until contractions are 3 to 4 minutes apart and too painful to talk through. Dani and Mark receive message loud and clear.

Evening, 6:00ish

Contractions get painful enough that Dani stops what she’s doing to talk herself through them. She continues to work remotely in the hope of getting things squared away for her substitute at the office.

9:00 p.m.

Dani’s sister calls and Dani forces herself to talk through a contraction. This is the last contraction she talks though.

10:30 p.m.

Dani finally stops working and gets her PJs on. Thinking perhaps the contractions will subside (remember, she is in denial), she plans to go to bed.


Quite awake, Dani gets in the shower. She asks Mark to please time a few contractions using their handy iPod app. Contractions are 3 to 4 minutes apart.

Thursday, December 3

12:00 a.m. – 2:30 a.m.

Contractions really pick up and Dani is moaning through them. Loudly. Dani and Mark are acutely aware of the thin wall they share with their Coldplay-loving neighbor. They move to the other room. Dani finds the toilet to be the most comfortable least uncomfortable place to be, leaning into Mark’s leg. Dani repeatedly asks Mark if they can call the midwife yet. Mark wants to wait, having been duly warned not to go in too early. Finally Dani convinces Mark to time contractions again. They are 2 to 3 minutes apart. Mark calls the midwife, who advises them to come in. Mark takes charge and packs the car between contractions.

3:00 a.m.

Dani and Mark depart for Holy Family Services Birth Center in Weslaco, TX. Dani kneels on the floor in the back seat and dozes between contractions. The motion of the car seems to be soothing and Dani calms down.

3:30 a.m.

They arrive at Holy Family and meet Gina. Dani is dilated to a 5. They move to the birth room.

Our "suite" -- nicer on the inside than you'd imagine.

4:15 a.m.

Dani gets in the tub, commenting, “This was a good idea.” Contractions are still painful, but the water takes the edge off. Dani spends 95% of her tub time on her hands and knees, forehead resting on the side of the tub. Jessi, the nurse, rubs Dani’s back during contractions. Mark stays by her head. Gina offers encouragement from the side of the tub. Every hour or so Gina has Dani get out of the tub to use the bathroom and walk around.

Every laboring woman deserves one of these.

7:00 a.m.

Dani is disappointed to see the sun coming up. She was sure to have had this over with by 6:00 a.m. She feels absolutely exhausted and wishes she could just lie down and sleep, but hands-and-knees in the tub is the only place she wants to be during a contraction.

8:00 a.m.

Out of the tub again. Despite her ardent desires for a natural birth, Dani is wishing for an epidural right now and thinking if there were one available she’d take it in a heartbeat. She considers what it would be like to transfer to the hospital.

8:15 a.m.

Back in the tub. Dani is hating life. Everyone around her is very encouraging, telling her how great she’s doing. She has been stuck at 8 centimeters for what seems like eternity (but is really probably only about two hours). Contractions are becoming unbearably painful. Gina postulates that an extra healthy amniotic sac is pushing against the cervix but isn’t firm enough to dilate it. Dani and Gina weigh the option of rupturing the amniotic sac artificially. Having read more than is probably healthy about interventions in labor, Dani wants everything to go as naturally as possible. Then she has another contraction, and in a moment of delusion – thinking that rupturing the bag of waters will alleviate some pain – she agrees to have Gina take a look at it.

10:50 a.m.

Dani gets on the bed. Gina “helps” the water break. Dani gets back in the tub. Gina tells Dani not to push until they’re sure the cervix is dilated; otherwise the cervix can swell and then you’re in a world of trouble. Dani envisions an emergency transfer to the hospital for a c-section because of a swollen cervix and tries her best not to push.

11:00 a.m.

If Dani thought things were painful before, she has another think coming. She goes from controlled moaning to outright screaming at the top of her lungs. Each contraction is accompanied by blood-curdling shrieks. She begs for drugs. After a few pitiful, pleading contractions Gina says they do have a narcotic they can give, but it makes you sleepy. Dani demands it. Gina remains calm and says they will send the nurse to go get it.

11:20 a.m.

Gina, who up until now has only guided Dani, firmly instructs Dani to get out of the tub. Dani is still screaming during contractions, begging for the nurse to come faster with the drug. Surely the entire town of Weslaco can hear her. This is not like what you see in the movies; this is worse. Mark would later describe her as “freaking out.”

11:30 a.m.

On the bed, Dani is screaming bloody murder for the nurse to hurry up. Everyone else is calm. Suddenly Gina says, “Your cervix is gone. You can start pushing.” Dani is in disbelief. She holds her breath while she pushes, asking if she can get off the bed. After a few minutes, Gina says yes. Mark sits on the side of the bed and supports Dani under the arms while she squats. Pushing is hard work, but not as painful as the contractions were before. Gina says, “Your baby’s head is right there.” Dani can’t believe it’s almost over. Impatient, she pushes hard. They bring a mirror over and she can see her baby’s head advance, and then recede, advance, and recede.

11:50 a.m.

Still in denial that childbirth is actually happening to me, Dani gives a final push and the next thing she knows, Gina has caught what has just slithered out, the pain is gone, and Dani is holding a slimy baby against her chest. One word: relief. After a few surreal moments Dani remembers to check the baby’s gender and exhales, “I knew it.”

They help Dani onto the bed, where 10 minutes later the placenta comes out. They wait for the cord to stop pulsing before they clamp it and let Mark cut it. Covered in blood, vernix, meconium, and sweat, Dani holds the baby for a while before they take her to be weighed, measured, and cleaned up. Two thoughts go through Dani’s head: 1) I will never, ever judge any woman for taking drugs during labor, and 2) I don’t know if I can ever put myself through this again.

Total time in active labor: about 15 hours, total time pushing: 20 minutes


One Week Later

A week away from it all, here are my thoughts:

I have thought a lot about the merits of a home birth, but I am so glad we did this at the birth center. I felt such relief when we arrived. I can’t explain it, but it was something about knowing that I was in a place that was designed for me to labor, and I didn’t have to worry about what our neighbor could hear or me getting blood on the carpet.

That last bit, where I was screaming bloody murder and begging for drugs, was transition -- the most painful part of labor but also a sign that it’s almost over -- but I didn’t know it. I think if I had known the end was near I would have borne it better. I was screaming so hard that my throat hurt for two days. For the record, on a scale of 1 to 10, Gina gave my labor a 5 for difficulty and my transition a 9 compared to others that she's seen. Comforting to know that it 1) isn't always that bad, and 2) I am not just a total wuss.

Even though the pain at the end was more excruciating than I had anticipated in even my wildest imagination, I am so glad I wasn’t at the hospital. The consistency and support I felt with the midwife and two nurses was, in retrospect, infinitely more valuable than pain relief. My memory of the pain has faded completely, but my warm feelings toward the women who supported me and the cozy, dark room I labored in have only grown in the past week. Jessi, one of the nurses, rubbed my back during each contraction for four hours. Katie, the other nurse, hung out with us from 6 a.m. until nighttime. Gina gave the best mixture of guidance, support, and direction I could’ve asked for and stayed there the whole time. The room was homelike; the three of us were able to spend our first night together as a family in the same bed, alone and undisturbed. From the happy camaraderie among the nurses and midwives to the way they had gotten to know me personally from my months of prenatal care, it was like being cared for by family.

Gina and Maren

I owe a lot to Mark, of course, who has been 110% supportive of my decision to do this from the very beginning. I couldn’t have done it without him (for lots of reasons, wink wink).

Remember how I said I hoped to have a birth that was “beautiful, empowering, spiritual, and even life changing”? I remember lying on the bed with my baby in my arms and thinking that it was none of those things. The only adjectives I could think of to describe the experience were raw and surreal. The thing I remember most was how slimy she felt when they handed her to me. Really, really slimy.

There’s a scripture in John that I turned to numerous times during pregnancy:

A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. (John 16:21)

I had my birth-announcing blog post all worked out in my head months in advance -- there would be that scripture and a picture of the baby. But as I lay holding her I thought, “I can’t post that because I sure remember that anguish!” It took a little longer for me to bond and forget how painful the whole ordeal was.

If you had asked me the day of or the day after Maren’s birth if I would do it the same way again, I would have told you I wasn’t sure. I would have told you that I’m not sure there’s going to be an “again.” But one week removed, I can confidently say that I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

And now what you really want, which is more pictures:

After she was born, someone commented, "Where did she get those cheeks?!"

Seriously? Look at me!

Do I look exhausted or what?
I certainly can't take credit for how attractive this child is (for further evidence, see "About Me" section to your right).

I doubted when we packed the labor bag that we'd get to use this suit. But then it ended up being the coldest day since we've moved here, like 45 degrees outside. Which is great, because this is too cute. And hence her first nickname, Mare-Bear.

I'm grateful for a healthy body and a healthy baby and for the existence of Holy Family Services for giving me such a great birth experience. I hope I can find something similar wherever we end up living when the next one comes.

Saturday, December 5

Meet Maren

Maren Emily
Born December 3, 2009
11:50 a.m.
19 inches
6 lbs. 11 oz.

More pictures and details forthcoming...our internet decided THIS was a good weekend to go on the fritz. Hopefully we'll be up and running by Monday.

Tuesday, December 1

The Gospel of Peace

I’ve had a heavy heart since I heard Friday’s news of the passing of John Jones, who was trapped in the Nutty Putty caves last week. I have felt a deep sadness since reading about it on Friday morning, and I’ve struggled to understand my own emotions.

We weren't terribly close to the Jones, who were in our ward at BYU for a year, and we haven’t kept in touch. But the Jones are the kind of people whose influence reaches far and doesn’t fade. Emily in particular is someone who so happily radiates the light of Christ that she is hard to forget. Her simple example affected me in specific and memorable ways that it would be impossible for her to know about.

My heart has ached all weekend at the weighty implications John’s passing has for the little family he left behind. I have struggled to know what to pray for, and I’ve wished that somehow I could shoulder some of the grief that his loved ones, especially Emily, must feel. It’s been hard to understand the depth of my own reaction considering the distance of both time and space between our family and theirs. But I was reminded on Sunday that I promised a long time ago to “mourn with those that mourn,” and though my ability to comfort those that stand in need of comfort in this situation is limited at best, I’ve come to understand that somehow my little portion of grief ascends upward in some small but meaningful way.

Emily’s post the day after her husband’s death, as well as her comments at Saturday’s memorial service (thanks again for recapping that, Melissa), spoke of peace. I spent a lot of time thinking about that yesterday.

I have thought before about how the Gospel doesn’t promise a pain-free life. Living righteously doesn’t ensure ease or comfort or even constant happiness. But it does promise peace. “My peace I give unto you…” the Savior said. And since peace is communicated through the Spirit, we have to be worthy of it. Hence one of the many incentives for living righteously.

I was also reminded of a personal scriptural insight I had a few months ago. The short version of the story is that I had received a substantial bill from someone who had dealt with me dishonestly and he wasn’t going to fix it. I was pretty upset. That day Mark and I were reading in Alma 15, where Zeezrom is sick with a scorching fever caused by his own wickedness. As I read the description of his spiritual anguish in verse 3, I was struck with the thought, “Dani, you think you’ve got problems? Zeezrom’s got problems. And his are the kind of problems you never have to have.”

I was impressed that the anguish of being separated from the Spirit due to our own wickedness is worse than any trial we could possibly have to pass through in this life. And based solely on my own choices, I can have the Spirit – and the peace that accompanies it – as often as I am willing to live worthy of it.

As I have contemplated this peace, I was reminded of the Sunday School lesson I taught the teenagers last week on the armor of God. One of the pieces of armor is having our “feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.” That wordy piece of armor has never really made sense to me. But yesterday as I contemplated peace, I had a new understanding of having our feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. Kind of in the vein of “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” -- that living constantly worthy of the peace of the Gospel prepares us for whatever vicissitudes we may be called to walk through. That we can confidently walk through life in our “Peace Boots” because we know that no matter what, our own choices and behavior entitle us to the constant -- constant -- peace of the Gospel.

So although I haven’t had contact with Emily in years and I don’t know that she’ll ever read this, I want to thank her for her example of being prepared with the Gospel of Peace to weather the hardships of life. She has inspired me before and continues to do so. I want to be a better person because of my minuscule glimpse into how she has dealt with this tragedy. I know that pain heals only with time and that the loss will never completely disappear, but I also know that the Gospel of Peace makes our worldly challenges bearable. And I know that Emily knows that too, because of the way she has lived her life. I’ll continue to pray that the peace she’s felt will stay with her and the rest of John’s family throughout this intensely difficult time.

If you’d like to make a contribution to Emily and her children (14 months old and one on the way), you can do so here or to the John & Emily Jones Memorial Fund (Utah Community Credit Union and Wells Fargo) or the Emily Jones Children Donations (Zions National Bank).