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How Literature Saves My Life

alec vanderboom

Yesterday was a nuts. I logged on the internet at 7:30 AM and received an adverse diagnosis, "low-lying placenta" on email from my OB. "No sexual activity until your next sonogram in 2 to 3 weeks." I love how my OB flung those words in casually as though it is as easy as abstaining from sushi. Somedays, I feel like I'm the last woman in America who genuinely likes to make out with her husband even while knocked up with his child.

I wrote my OB back a list of questions--because I'm a Smithee and it's genuinely difficult not to remain a professional student. Feeling restless, I start researching my diagnosis on the internet under the general question of "Is this no-sex ban real?" I found out that it is real because it can detach the placenta and cause a life-threatening bleed for the baby. Exercise can do it too. In fact, some doctors tell their patients to not lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk.

Oh Crud! (My friend Rebecca will be so proud of me for genuinely being distressed about losing my exercise routine. Feeling like I can't live without my gym time is a new thing for me.)  Even though this isn't yet super bad news, it's serious.  It's suddenly back on the table that I could lose this precious kid. I won't know for sure until a sonogram at 32 weeks. That's 11 more  weeks of worry. Plus, I loose sex and exercise which are healthy ways for me to cope with my anxiety.  Wine is off the table while I'm pregnant. Shopping is out because I'm poor. I can't cook because I'm still sick with morning sickness. All I have left is prayer and my cello.

I should be all honored to grow in silent prayer with the Lord during this time. Instead, I am totally annoyed. "Seriously? This is why you have no friends!" I tell Jesus, paraphrasing my bff Teresa of Avila. As if Jesus owed me a perfect pregnancy after a miscarriage.

While I'm having my interior pity-party about having another three months of stress of losing this baby, my husband calls. We listed our House for Sale on Sunday. At 8 AM on Tuesday, Jon got an email from our realtor requesting two afternoon showings with two different agents. Our house, with five children, is a disaster because we spent most of the weekend at a Swim Meet and I spent the rest of the time in bed with horrible morning sickness. My husband expects me to cancel the showing. Instead, I thought maybe this was God trying to distract me from feeling miserable and fearful all day.

I accepted the challenge. Three floors of cleaning, in four hours, with 5 young children to babysit and a dog, while having actual puking morning sickness.

I did not successfully meet the challenge. It's really ironic that I chose to carefully homeschool my children for the past six years, because I taught them almost every single cuss word imaginable as I cleaned with them.  In those last frantic 50 minutes, all these cuss words just came out of me. At the end of the rush, my girls and I are hand scrubbing my kitchen floor with paper towels because I somehow managed to break our only mop five minutes earlier. I started apologizing. "Mom really said a lot of bad words today. It's really wrong. I'm so sorry."

My daughter, the one who might have a vocation to Religious Life, sticks her head up and said "Yeah, those words really stick in my mind. I'm sorry you said them to me."

"Oh great, I corrupted a future Nun. Double purgatory penalty" I thought.

I get into the car at 12:45 PM and it's crazy. We have the car crammed full of stuff for the pets--the things I'm supposed to hide during the house showings. We have the dog ped, the giant plastic container of dog food. I threw in a bunch of random stuff I couldn't fit into our narrow closets. We've got the 8 piece package of paper towels and the extra-large rolls of toilet paper. The two youngest girls are a mess. I'm trying to confirm that they at least have shoes on over their tears. I'm going over the Swim Team Check list with 3 older kids (Bathing Suit? Goggles? Swim Cap? Towel?) Our cocker spaniel is in the car, jumping over all the kids in an attempt to get his head out the van window.

I finally got myself into the driver's seat. I made another blanket apology. "I really screwed up this morning. I'm so sorry. I need confession. Let me just sit here a moment and say my Act of Contrition."

I felt so mixed up inside, I couldn't even remember the words. My 11 year old and my 9 year old jumped in to coach me with big smiles. They loved the role reversal of helping me. "Mom has to go to confession!" they all called out happily. I don't know why that decision made everyone so happy, but it totally changed the mood inside my van. Then they demanded "We deserve ice-cream!" I totally agreed and we drove to Wendy's for a frosty.

At 5:30 PM, I ran into my husband at the YMCA parking lot. Three kids were at Swim Team. The two youngest girls were napping in the back. It was a rare moment of quiet. I saw his handsome, sunburnt face and started crying.

My husband is great. I told him about how much I don't want to spend the next 11 to 19 weeks stressed out about having a hurt baby or an awful sixth c-section surgery. He said all the normal, soothing stuff. Then he told me about this quote from the Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. (Jon is listening to that audio book during his 3 hour daily commute to work.) Ma is stressing about all the problems that might await them in California. Her son, Tom tells her some of the guys went crazy in prison counting the long months until the end of their prison sentences. Tom said, "You can't think like that. You'll go crazy. You've got to take each day as it comes."

I felt so soothed by my husband's words. That idea fits so well into our Catholic Faith. I've got to figure out how to stay in the moment. Today, I have a baby. There is no bleeding. That means, it's a good day.

Thank you for everyone who is praying for me on the journey.