Category: My Life

A Look Back at 2020

Everyone is hating on 2020 tonight, and for good reason—a lot of people have been suffering this year, and that breaks my heart. Nevertheless, it has actually been a year full of blessings for my family. I am grateful!

In January we went on a cruise to Cabo, where we rode camels, enjoyed mediocre cruise ship food in large quantities, and got to spend time together as a family of four before trying for baby #3. We made quick work of that when we got home—at the end of the month, we found out we were pregnant!

In February we picked our house’s floorplan (to be built) and lot, signed a purchase agreement, and customized the details.

In March we adopted our fourth bunny, Karma, from a friend who couldn’t care for her. We also started marketing our house, but when the pandemic hit, we were convinced it was not going to work out as planned.

In April we found out we were having a baby girl, and announced the name we’d already picked out, Amelia Madeline. That month, we also surrendered our bunnies Ellie and Chester back to the rescue we adopted Ellie from, because it was not a good fit (she was aggressive towards us and towards Karma). Karma and Kit have bonded beautifully, and we are happy with our two buns.

In May our dog Sky passed away suddenly, at the age of nine. We will always remember her happy smile and how she loved everybody—she was the friendliest dog I have ever known. In happier news, we sold our house (for our asking price!), much to our great surprise.

In June we rehomed our dog, Roscoe, who had unique behavioral issues that we did not feel equipped to handle. He went to a wonderful home with another dog, lots of kids, and a dog trainer in the family. We now have just our one dog, Macy, who we adore.

In July we moved to our new home, which we have loved from day one—it’s our dream house! Our pet mouse, Harriet, passed away just a few days after our move at the very old age (for a mouse) of 3. I also turned 28 this year.

In August we started homeschool with Cody in Kindergarten. Cory turned 29.

In September, Abi turned 3 year old. Cory also got a new job—his dream job! This was a huge blessing because contractor work (as a software engineer) was extremely stressful for him. In sadder news, my family dog Missy passed away at the age of nearly 14 years old; she was very loved and part of a legacy of wonderful bully breeds in my family.

In October, Amelia was born! I had an amazing, fast, planned home birth and celebrated my final pregnancy and birth with great joy. Amelia has been welcomed by her adoring siblings and family. That month Cody also turned 6; their birthdays are two days apart!

In November we rehomed our three guinea pigs, knowing that they would be more enjoyed by another family—and we found them a guinea-pig-knowledgeable and very loving home, with a family who already had one guinea pig and wanted more. Their introduction was very sweet, and they bonded instantly with their new herd-mate.  

In December I started horseback riding again, and then quickly bought a horse of my own! Her name is Apple, and the past two weeks with her have been a rollercoaster. As of today, I am not sure what the future holds for us together. She has turned out to be more of a “project horse” than a beginner-friendly horse, and we are considering re-selling her to more experienced owner. We are also considering putting her into a more intensive training program, and seeing if she can work out for us, even if not in the way we originally envisioned. Either way, it has been a valuable learning experience!

As we move into a new year, I am excited to see what is ahead. My word of the year for 2020 was “gifts,” and while there were many unwanted “gifts” this year (like nausea throughout my pregnancy, a worldwide pandemic, and huge division in our nation), there were also crazy huge blessings in my life this year. I am very thankful for the wonderful things God did for my family in 2020. And I pray for there to be less suffering for all of us in the year to come.

My word of the year for 2021 is “balance.” I don’t know exactly what it is going to mean for me yet, but that’s the word I’ve felt God giving me for this coming year. I’m looking forward to a year seeking balance in all areas of my life, and I’m excited to see what God does!

Happy New Year!  

The Newborn Stage

I realized something weird recently. I was googling “how long does the newborn stage last?” and noticed a lot of results relating to “surviving” or “getting through” this stage. It made me realize that a whole lot of parents– possibility the vast majority– don’t particularly enjoy the newborn stage. The weird part is that I really, really do. In fact, I’ve always said it’s my favorite stage. I just never noticed until now that I’m in the minority with this feeling. 

I totally get why many parents find this stage challenging or unpleasant. Yes, it’s hard to adjust to getting very frequently interrupted sleep at night, every night, for weeks or months (or years) on end. Yes, breastfeeding can be challenging (even painful), tiring, and stressful in the beginning. And yes, having a totally helpless baby who needs you for everything around the clock is a big adjustment. Postpartum hormonal changes and the emotional impact of such a huge life change can also cause mood swings, depression, and anxiety. It’s a very demanding time in a parent’s life, especially a mom’s life, for sure!

But for me, it’s the most precious time. I’ve been waiting with so much anxious anticipation through a seemingly endless pregnancy, and now I finally have my prize, my treasured child in my arms. I finally get to stare at her and memorize all the details of her tiny face. I want to savor every moment of it. It goes by so fast, and babies change so much in this time. I know it won’t be long until my little baby is a rambunctious toddler, and probably driving me up the wall! 

I love this newborn stage where all baby does is nurse and sleep and then wake up and stare at me for a few minutes before doing it all again. I treasure the long hours of laying with her sleeping in my arms, or on my chest. (Of course, I also enjoy breaks when daddy holds her or she’s content in her swing for a little while!)

I know it’s not like that for everyone. I’m blessed to have so much support, and my husband’s awesome paternity leave benefit. My six and three year olds are also fairly independent around the house, so it hasn’t been too overwhelming to add a newborn to the mix– at least not yet. So far, my baby is generally content, and we’re both recovering well from an uncomplicated pregnancy and birth. We have a lot going for us! Overall, this transition period has been very smooth for us, and I’m thankful for that. 

The newborn stage really is so special to me, and one of my most favorite stages of parenting. Possibly the hardest part, especially this time around, is the knowledge that this is our last biological baby. I’m still hoping to adopt another baby down the road, if it’s God’s plan for us. But there’s no guarantee that this plan will come to fruition, and even if it does, I know it won’t be exactly the same. 

If we do get to adopt another baby, I won’t be giving birth and bringing my brand-new baby up to my chest for the first time, bathed in the hormones and triumph of childbirth. I may not even be able to be in the room when my baby’s born. I won’t be breastfeeding (though some adoptive moms do induce lactation, I’ve already decided not to go that route), so I’ll be bonding in a different way than I have with my three bio babies. I may not even co-sleep, since that’s safest and most beneficial with a breastfeeding baby; though I would still room-share. 

It’s also possible that this will be our last baby, because adopting a baby might not be the plan God has for us. We won’t know until we know, most likely a few years from now when we’re actually in that season.

Anyway, my point with all of that is that this time is even more precious to me this time around, because I know I’ll never experience it in the same way again. Knowing that has caused me some feelings of sadness that I, personally, haven’t experienced after the birth of a baby in the past. (Baby blues are very common, but I’ve never felt them before this). 

It’s a little scary in a way to think about my life from here on out, because so far the births of my three children have been the “pinnacle” moments of my life– and now that’s all over. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and emotionally pivoting into what’s next for me; even only nine days postpartum, that was where my head was at! Now I’m three weeks postpartum, and I’ve calmed down a bit about the future, but it’s still on my mind often. I’m always thinking about what’s next. Which is all the more reason for me to try my best to stay in the moment, in this beautiful and fleeting newborn stage that I love so much.

It’s not without its challenges, and I don’t judge any parents who don’t enjoy the newborn stage and just want to survive it. But for me, it’s one of the best stages of parenting and life in general. Falling in love with the baby I’ve been waiting to meet for months, and getting to do almost nothing but hold and snuggle and nurse her all day and night; this is heavenly. Yes, it’s hard, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

Pregnancy, I would gladly fast-forward through, but not the newborn stage. For this, I’d rather have the ability to slow time down. Since I can’t, I’ll just have to enjoy it as much as I possibly can before I blink and it’s over. 


Amelia’s Birth Story

Disclaimer: This is a birth story! It has a lot of details which may be considered TMI. If you aren’t comfortable reading it, then please don’t! 🙂

My pregnancy and birth with Amelia will always hold a special place in my heart, since we plan on having no more biological babies after this (and we really, really, really mean it, this time). Being pregnant for the third time (technically fourth) was very challenging, as I was more sick than I’d been with my previous pregnancies. I experienced nausea throughout my pregnancy, as well as my usual pregnancy discomforts, the worst of which was heartburn nearly every day. While I always enjoy seeing my belly grow and the experience of growing my baby inside my body, I really did not love being pregnant, and I am honestly so glad it’s over! As for my birth, it was really the best birth I could have imagined, and I feel so blessed to have that as my final birth experience. I prayed most of all for a smooth, safe, and healthy birthing, and that is exactly what I had. God is so good!

Amelia Madeline Westropp was born on Wednesday, October 14th, 2020 at 10:38 PM. She was born at home, completely unmedicated, in about 6 ½ hours from start to finish. She was 20 inches long and weighed 7 lbs 5 oz. Here’s how it all happened.

On Wednesday, October 14th, I was 40 weeks and 3 days pregnant. Cory was on paternity leave, starting on Monday the 12th, and my mother-in-law Marsha came over in the morning for her weekly overnight visit to help out with the kids. I had my weekly prenatal appointment with my midwives that day at 11 AM. 

One week before, at 39 weeks and 4 days of pregnancy, I’d asked the midwives to sweep my membranes, a way of encouraging birthing to begin, but it hadn’t brought on any waves. At that point, I’d been about 2 CM dilated, 20% effaced, and baby was about -2 station. I’d also lost my mucous plug on Sunday, at 40 weeks, which is a sign of the cervix beginning to dilate.

On the 14th, I was feeling anxious to get my birthing time started because I was worried about the increased risks to baby of going past 41 weeks of pregnancy. I was considering going to the hospital for an induction if I didn’t have her by then, but was also considering following the original plan of waiting until 42 weeks. There’s a lot of gray area in terms of research and evidence for the safety of continued pregnancy versus induction between 41 and 42 weeks, so I was really struggling with the options and hoping it wouldn’t come to that point.

So at my appointment, I asked for another membrane sweep as well as a foley balloon “induction.” For those not familiar, membrane sweeping is done by brushing a finger around the inside of the cervix to stimulate further dilation, effacement, and possibly birthing waves. The cervix must be at least 1-2 CM dilated already in order for a sweep to be done. A foley balloon induction involves inserting a tiny balloon just inside the cervix and then slowly inflating it with saline to further dilate the cervix and encourage birthing waves to begin. Foley balloon inductions will only further dilate the cervix to 3-4 centimeters before the balloon is fully inflated and will slip out, and is then thrown away.

For both of these procedures, many women say that they feel mild to extreme discomfort, but fortunately I’ve never experienced any discomfort with membrane sweeps, and the foley balloon was equally fine for me. No biggie! I figured that even if it only got me an extra centimeter or two, maybe that was what my body needed to get things going. 

It can take a few hours, or even up to 24 hours for a foley induction to be finished and the balloon to fall out. For me, it took only 2 ½ hours, and came out at about 2:30 PM. For the next couple of hours, I focused on encouraging birthing to begin by staying in a quiet, dark, room by myself and listening to my birthing time worship music playlist and praying.

At about 4 PM, I noticed that I was having some more intense waves at seemingly regular intervals. My doula checked in and encouraged me to eat some good protein to be well-nourished in case my birthing time was starting, so I did that. Then I went to rest some more and started timing my waves. They were coming about every 6 minutes, lasting about 30 seconds, and staying strong. After an hour, they were still continuing and starting to move closer to 5 minutes apart and 30-40 seconds long. I tried moving from laying down to sitting on my birth ball to test out how consistent they would be with a change in position. The pattern wasn’t as consistent when I changed positions, but the waves didn’t stop. They started ranging from 2 to 6 minutes apart, and sometimes were only 30 seconds but a few reached closer to 60 seconds. After about an hour and a half total of timing waves, I called my midwife, Alicia, to let her know I was noticing a good pattern. Then I texted my doula, Grace, and we decided that she could start getting ready to come over. 

My mom video called me to see how I was doing and I shared that I was most likely in my birthing time. I also texted my family to pray for me and Amelia, but decided to wait to text my friend prayer group until I was more certain it was really happening. 

While I was waiting for Grace to arrive, my waves were becoming intense enough that I was 90-95% sure I was in my birthing time. I asked Alicia if she thought she should come as well, and she suggested having Grace check me (since Grace is also an experienced midwife) and go from there. Meanwhile, I told Cory things were heating up and asked him to inflate my birth pool and start filling it up. He was surprised because he hadn’t realized it was that “serious” yet. We’d always had so much more leadup to birth, with a really long early birthing time, so this was a totally new experience.  

At this point, I was moaning through my birthing waves; not in pain, but just from the intensity of them and knowing that low tonal sounds can be helpful for working through them. Grace arrived at 7:45 and checked me shortly after, finding that I was about 8-9 CM dilated, with some cervix left in the back. “I had a feeling,” I told her with a smile. I was happy to hear the news, but also cautious because of how quickly I’d dilated with my previous births without easily progressing further. 

She went to call Alicia to come, while I got into the birth pool. Cory texted my prayer group to let them know I was in my birthing time. I kept the room dark and had my birthing time worship music playing throughout my entire birth, which I believe was helpful for my body and mind to stay relaxed. I also spent the majority of my birthing time in the pool from that point on, even though I’d planned on alternating more between lying down, sitting on my birth ball, and the pool. I did spend a little bit of time lying down, but most of it was in the pool. I did a lot of squatting leaning back, trying to encourage the rest of my cervix to open. I also did some hands and knees, and squatting leaning forward with my arms supported over the edge of the pool. 

Cody and Abi came to visit me throughout this time, and Abi got in the pool with me for a while. She laid her little hand on me during my waves to comfort me, which was so sweet. Cody was a quiet, shy observer for the most part, but he stayed in the room for longer.

During my active birthing time and transition stage, my waves were very strong and intense, and I started feeling some anxiety about getting through them. I asked Grace to read my birthing time affirmations with encouraging scriptures, and leaned on God for strength and comfort. Cory was great at massaging my lower back and encouraging me with my “RELAX” hypnosis cue and reminders to breathe deep and slow. 

After a little while, I laid down in bed and reached for Cory to cuddle, feeling like I needed some comfort. I whispered to him that I was scared and it was really hard. He encouraged me and reminded me that I’d done this twice before and could do it again. 

When I got back in the pool, at 8:30, Alicia arrived and her student midwife Julie arrived soon after. They checked my temperature and blood pressure, and started to monitor Amelia’s heart rate after every few pressure waves. Everything was looking good, and I was reassured that all was well. 

Just before 10, Grace suggested that I could try feeling for Amelia’s head if I wanted. I felt something else instead– my amniotic sac bulging almost to the entrance of my birth canal! I described it and Grace told me what it was. It felt like a water balloon, but with a thicker skin. She asked if I wanted the midwives to break it, which could encourage Amelia’s head to come down. I said yes, please!

Julie tried to break it with the amnio-hook, but it was so strong that she had trouble. Alicia checked to make sure it was my amniotic sac, which it was, and helped walk her through it. We did it in the water, and I felt the warm gush as my water broke. The midwives confirmed that the water was clear, which is a good sign. 

They checked Amelia’s heart rate again, and it was slightly elevated. Alicia said it was most likely from head compression from moving down into the birth canal. They had me take some focused deep breaths, and her heart rate calmed. 

It wasn’t long until my waves changed dramatically. I’d already noticed slightly trembly feelings since about 7:30, but I suddenly felt very shaky. Then my waves were PUSHING waves, without a doubt. I felt a powerful bearing down urge and my body pushed voluntarily several times with each wave. My entire body would shudder as I pushed, and the noises coming out of my mouth were something like a sumo wrestler might make. It was loud, and I simply couldn’t help it. My birth team encouraged those low, deep groans– the deeper and louder the better! Cody had gone to sleep in his bed (which is in our room) a little while earlier, and I was shocked that I didn’t wake him up. (Abigail had gone to bed with Marsha in the guest room.)

I felt Amelia’s head moving down and knew I’d be holding her soon. I pushed for about six waves, if I had to guess– the time is obviously a blur, but it only took 40 minutes to push her out. I remember the wave where I felt she was almost crowning, and the wave after that where I felt the most intense stretching sensations and knew she had to be crowning. After her head came out, I found out later that she opened her eyes and looked around under the water.

My midwives suggested to bring one of my legs forward into more of a lunge position, as I had been squatting leaning forward before that. I did so, and I pushed my hardest, not wanting a repeat of Abigail’s shoulder dystocia. I was asked if I wanted to catch her, or for Cory to, and I just said “you do it.” Within a minute or two, she slipped on out and I reached down to find her. They handed me my baby while I, apparently, shouted “baby, baby, baby!” She was born at 10:38 PM.

I pulled her up to my chest and stared in wonder and incredible relief at my little girl. I couldn’t believe it was already over! I felt immensely triumphant, and shouted out, “I f***ing did it!” to the laughter of everyone else. 

Because of my history of postpartum hemorrhage, we’d already planned on a managed third stage (the delivery of the placenta). That involved drinking an herbal concoction just before Amelia was out, and getting a shot of pitocin right after. They helped me to the bed with Amelia, and we waited for the placenta to come out. Our plan was effective in leading to a pretty quick delivery of the placenta with minimal bleeding. 

After that, though, my bleeding did pick up again, so I was given some misoprostol and another pitocin injection, along with uterine massage. The bleeding wasn’t hemorrhage-level, but it was getting close and my midwives wanted to be conservative, which I appreciated.

I worked on getting Amelia to nurse throughout that whole time, and she struggled at first but was able to get latched on after a few minutes. We eventually decided that getting my belly bound up could be helpful for controlling the bleeding, as well as emptying my bladder. So we cut the umbilical cord, which had long stopped pulsing, and I handed Amelia off to Cory. After my belly binding, we very slowly and cautiously walked to the toilet, and after a minute I was able to pee quite a bit. I hadn’t realized how full my bladder was, and how important an empty bladder is to helping the uterus stop bleeding. I went back to the bed and finally passed a good-sized clot, and that was the last of the bleeding. 

Then the midwives were able to stitch up my small tear (which they said I could choose to either leave alone or have stitched). It was a challenge because I had a lot of swelling, so it took a while. Marsha was holding Amelia while I was being stitched. Afterward, she came back to me for a quick nursing while getting her vitamin k shot, before her newborn exam. She cried briefly for the shot, but nursing did seem to help distract her.

After that, Julie did her newborn exam, and everything looked good. Amelia cried for most of the few minutes it took. When it was time to weigh her, we all gave our guesses; mine was 7 lbs, Cory’s was 6 lbs 12 oz, and Alicia’s guess from her last in-the-womb exam was 6 lbs 13 oz. She was 7 lbs 5 oz, just an ounce more than Cody was, and 20 inches long (both Cody and Abi were 20 ¼ inches long). 

By the time everything was finished, it was nearly 2 AM. The midwives left, and we went straight to bed, which was weird for us! 

Amelia’s first night was surprisingly restful, and she was a great sleeper. She woke up to nurse a few times, but slept soundly otherwise. I got a decent sleep in, too. In the morning, I was the first one up and I took Amelia to my rocking chair to wait for the kids to wake up so they could meet her. Cody got up first but needed a few minutes to go downstairs and wake up fully before he was ready for the introduction. When he did come in, he said she was cute and looked like a baby doll, and that he couldn’t believe she was born. When Abi woke up, she was completely enchanted and wanted to hold her. (She’s been pretty obsessed ever since then!) She gently stroked her baby sister’s head, face, and hands, and said she was so cute and that she was going to play with her and teach her how to walk. 

We’ve been settling in together since then, and adjusting to being outnumbered by children! Amelia wants to nurse and be held a lot, as expected– and I’m not holding back because I really want to savor this last baby. 

Since Amelia’s birth, I’ve been nothing but happy. Not only is my precious baby finally here, but I had the most amazing, fast, and smooth birth experience I could’ve imagined. It wasn’t easy, or painless. “Pain” doesn’t feel like the right word to me, but it was incredibly intense, challenging, and at times overwhelming. It felt like my body was trying to tear itself apart at times! I had the most discomfort around my pubic bone this time, and some discomfort in my lower back (but not as extreme as with Abigail’s birth). The crowning feeling was also more intense this time, and I remember thinking that I was probably tearing and hoping it wasn’t going to get worse (even though I ended up with only a very mild first-degree tear). But the fact that it only lasted about 6 ½ hours from start to finish is pretty amazing, and I was so grateful that it went so well. What a way to end my final pregnancy! 

I give the glory to God for helping me through my pregnancy and birth, and blessing me with such a beautiful family. My amazing husband and now my three beautiful children are the most precious gifts I’ve ever received, and I feel blessed beyond belief. As always, I couldn’t imagine getting through the challenge of birth without God’s presence and strength. He is my rock and my fortress at the times I’m at my weakest, and he gives me the strength to do hard things. I’ll be forever grateful for three beautiful, unique birth experiences, two of which were natural and at home– but all of which were amazing, empowering, and life-changing. 

Welcome to the world, Amelia Madeline. You are a precious treasure.

Five to One

In the last year and a half, we went from having five dogs to having only one. It’s been a lot of changes, difficult decisions, and sad losses—but having just one dog now is also really nice. Here’s the story of how it all happened.

In January 2019, we adopted a Shiba Inu and Shepherd mix who we named Roscoe, as a puppy. At the time, we had our Pit Bull mix named Marley (age 14), our American Eskimo Dog named Sky (age 9), our Jack Russell Chihuahua mix named Lila (age 3), and our American Staffordshire Terrier named Macy (age 1).

Marley had been dealing with health problems for a few years at that point. He had very bad teeth, despite yearly cleanings for about the last five years of his life. They were severely diseased and causing him pain. He had a few teeth pulled at every cleaning, but his molars were the biggest problem and are almost impossible to remove in dogs since they are basically fused to the jawbone.

Other than that, he had a heart murmur which was growing worse every year. Heart murmurs aren’t necessarily a problem, but in combination with his dental disease (which can have a connection to heart disease in dogs), it was a bit concerning. In his final year, he developed congestive heart failure, a terminal illness. He began to lose weight, and considering that he was always on the thin side, it was even more worrisome. Sometimes he refused food for several meals in a row, and at the worst times he wouldn’t even eat a bowl of shredded chicken set down right in front of him. He was on medication to help with his chronic cough (the telltale sign of congestive heart failure).

Although he still had a surprising amount of energy, moved well, had perfect control over his bathroom habits, and seemed overall to be happy, we knew that with his disease and at his age he would eventually die a painful death—and it would happen within months. We chose to euthanize him at home before his suffering became too much, but it was a very difficult decision. It felt like we were murdering him, to be honest. I knew deep down that it was the right thing to do, though, and I am happy knowing that his last day was a very good day. We went on a long walk, gave him excessive amounts of snuggles and attention, and fed him a special treat that would usually be off-limits since it can cause digestive issues—his favorite thing, dairy. He passed away so peacefully at home with me by his side. That was in February 2019.

We had a long time to prepare ourselves and process Marley’s death before it even happened, so I didn’t go through a lot of grief afterward. I miss him still, and have countless loving memories of him from over the 13 years that he was mine. He will always be a very special dog in my heart.

In September of 2019, we rehomed Lila. It all started a few months before that, when out of nowhere a fight broke out between her and Macy. We weren’t home at the time, but our dog sitter let us know what happened and we came home to a wounded and traumatized Lila. The fight was sparked by jealousy over who was getting attention from the sitter, and the apparently incompatible personalities of the two dogs.

Lila has a very anxious and bossy personality towards other dogs, and a tendency to bare her teeth anytime she felt threatened. Macy has a very submissive personality towards other dogs in general, but when she senses any form of aggression, she snaps into boss mode and sees it as her duty to put the other dog in their place. Lila’s territorial aggression, especially when it comes to human attention, was not something Macy tolerated well that day. After the floodgates were opened, there was no stopping it. Macy was out for blood from that point on—but we weren’t ready to accept it yet.

We worked hard on training and desensitizing them to each other, and felt that things were improving. Then they both got closed in the bathroom together by one of the kids, and another fight broke out. I got to them quickly, but Lila was injured again. From that point on, we had to keep the two of them separated at all times. Even then, we still had a few incidents of Macy trying to get at Lila through her crate. It was clear that they could not live together, and it wasn’t fair to Lila to have her living with another dog who was clearly wanting to end her life.

Not only was the decision to rehome Lila a hard one because we love her and were very attached to her, but it was deeply disappointing to me to discover the capacity for aggression in Macy. I see Macy as pretty much my perfect dog, and she has been one of the best-behaved and the easiest-to-train dogs I’ve ever had. She even has her Canine Good Citizen certification. One thing I love about her is how gentle she is with other dogs. But seeing what she was capable of towards Lila made me question her in a way I was deeply saddened by. I never ever questioned Marley’s ability to get along with another dog—he was an angel in that regard. Seeing a different side of Macy was a hard thing for me, and even now I still don’t 100% trust her around other dogs. (For the record, she has never been in a fight before or since Lila.)

But back to Lila. We found her a perfect home, where she is the only dog and gets all of the attention and exercise she needs to be well-adjusted and happy. It was sad to say goodbye, and difficult to walk away after handing her off to a stranger—but her new owner was reassuring and they both seemed happy in the photos I received in the weeks after. We knew that we made the best decision for Lila, and she will have a better life for it.

At that point, we were down to three dogs: Sky, Roscoe, and Macy. From the beginning, Roscoe had been a challenge. He was the most difficult-to-train dog I’ve ever had, and we did not handle his bad behaviors very gracefully. Potty training him was a nightmare—he would refuse to pee outside, and then pee in his crate minutes later. As he grew older, he would still pee in the house a few times per week, and when he did that he didn’t just pee in one place. Roscoe had a special skill for accidents—he would start peeing, and then walk around the house, forming a thin trail of urine perhaps 10-20 feet long. Never before, and I beg to God never again, have I seen this type of behavior in a dog.

Crate training in general was very difficult as well. He was unbelievably vocal about his dislike for his crate at first and boy did he have stamina. He would screech at shocking volumes for hours through the night in his crate, and it took him weeks (or months?) to adjust to being in his crate for any period of time. It was a harrowing time, to say the least. That’s not to mention the chewing (dog beds, baby gates, and kids’ toys were favorite targets), barking, and refusal to let anyone brush him or trim his nails (or touch his paws at all, actually).

Despite all of that, of course Roscoe had some good traits. He’s very cuddly and sweet, now perfectly crate-trained, knows basic obedience commands, and is a great exercise buddy. He is also very smart and learns fast. We did love him, but the misbehaviors that continued into his early adulthood eventually became too much for us. Ultimately, we decided that it would be better for him to be rehomed with a family who could manage him better and give him the love and attention he needs. After coming to this decision, we put him on an online rehoming website in May (2020), shared his profile on social media, then waited for the right family to come along.

While we were still working on rehoming Roscoe, Sky started to have some health issues. It started back in January when she had her yearly teeth cleaning. It went fine, but from that point on she started having accidents in the house. We still don’t know if it was related in any way, but that’s how I remember it starting. After we started leaving the doggy door open almost all of the time, the accidents stopped and we thought the issue was behind us. Next came the diarrhea. She started to have loose stools, and at first we thought it would go away on its own, since diarrhea in dogs is something we’ve dealt with quite a few times before. But it continued for days, and then weeks, and we started to feel concerned. She was still eating normally and acting normal, so we put off taking her to the vet.

Then I started to notice signs of pain. She would sometimes start panting and quietly whimpering for a few minutes, or she would struggle with going to the bathroom. She also had a very odd episode which I didn’t know at the time was a seizure. She started staring at the door, and then suddenly flopped onto her side and started kind of clenching her paws. It was really subtle, and hard to tell that anything weird was happening, and after a moment I picked her up and put her back on her feet and she walked away like nothing happened. I chalked it up to a senior moment. Shortly after that, though, I decided to make a vet appointment for her—but for some bizarre reason, all of the vets in my area were extremely busy and booked out for weeks. I was able to get her an appointment for late the next week.

It was only a few days after booking her appointment that we woke up to her obviously in distress. She was panting, trembling, and had another episode (a seizure) in which she also peed all over herself. We took her to the emergency vet, and they took her back immediately because she was in critical condition. It took a few hours to run tests and get a diagnosis, but ultimately, we were informed that she was having seizures, which were at that point coming back-to-back, and they were likely caused by a brain tumor. The only treatment options available did not provide a good prognosis, and were extremely expensive. Considering Sky’s age, and the fact that she was suffering and would likely never go back to how she was before due to brain damage from the seizures, we knew the only option was to euthanize her.

Having to make this decision so suddenly was jarring, and surreal. It was completely different than Marley’s situation, where we had time to prepare for the end of his life. Sky was old, but not that old considering her size. We’d always expected a lifespan closer to 18 years from her. But when we sat with her at the vet’s office to say goodbye, it was crystal clear that there was no other choice. She was practically gone already—there was no recognition in her eyes, or any sign that she was aware of her surroundings. We held her in our laps and pet her face, and talked to her, and her finally closing her eyes and seeming to relax was the only sign I got that she knew we were there with her. We said our goodbyes, and held her as she passed away. That was near the end of May, last month.

After losing Sky, I was sad, but I honestly didn’t go through a lot of grief. I don’t completely know the reason, except that I think perhaps I just handle pet loss fairly easily. I cry when I’m saying goodbye, but usually after that I can move on and feel at peace with it. The only exception was our three guinea pigs who were killed (by Sky, incidentally)—which I grieved over for months. They were very special to me, and the way that they died I think was the biggest source of pain because it was anything but peaceful, and anything but the right time. Although Sky was ours for almost seven years, losing her was not as traumatic. We have so many fond memories of her, as well.

After Sky passed away, we continued with our plan to rehome Roscoe, and we were actually more eager than ever. We’d been talking for months about how nice it would be to have just one dog, never expecting that it would actually happen anytime soon. We expected Sky to pass in another five to eight years, and then Macy not long after that (since she’s a large breed and purebred), and we’d then be left with just Roscoe for many years. But Sky passing only further solidified our desire to rehome Roscoe, since both our family and he would certainly be happier that way.

It didn’t take very long to find him a good home, and when we did, we found a fantastic one. He went to a family with lots of kids (he is a wonderful dog for kids), and a dog trainer in the family. They were extremely eager to meet him and committed to taking him home from the start. Even though he was anxious and standoffish at the meeting and exchange, which I’d expected and prepared them for, they were very patient and understanding of him. I know that he is in the best hands now, and we made the right choice.

We’ve had just Macy for less than a week now, but it feels almost as if this is how it’s always been. I feel so much lighter and I enjoy her so much more—and the house is so much more peaceful. She’s been getting walks every day, which never happened when we had three (not to mention five) dogs. She has free reign of the house at night, since she’s well-behaved and Roscoe was the only one who actually needed to be in the pen they used to sleep in. She gets all of the love and attention, and although I know she enjoyed the company of other dogs, I think she’s happy and she’s becoming more social with us humans now.

Now that I have one dog, I am not planning on ever going back to more than that. It’s pretty glorious. We have more flexibility to go places, since we can take her on trips with us, or leave her with a dog boarder without paying for a full-time house sitter. We can pay for more expensive vet bills for her if needed, without worrying about the expense of four other dogs. And because she is so well-behaved, we don’t have the stress of dealing with dog behavior challenges anymore. We can work on and improve her training and it’s actually fun for me now because it’s so much easier than trying to work with many dogs at once. I enjoy working with Macy, anyway, because she’s so eager to please and learns really well.

Going forward, my family hopes to enjoy Macy for many, many years to come. In the future, we’d love to rescue one dog at a time, and we have a strict “bully breeds only” policy now. If we’ve learned anything from all of these changes, it’s that we love this breed—and why mess with a good thing?

On a side note, yes, we still have our zoo. We did recently surrender two of our bunnies (a bonded pair) to our local bunny rescue, due to them being a poor fit for our family and vice versa. Our zoo now consists of: two bunnies, Kit and Karma who are a bonded pair; three guinea pigs, Piper, Annie, and Calla; two parakeets, Oliver and Oakley; one mouse, Harriet; and one Betta fish, Baby. Harriet is quite old for a mouse, so I don’t expect her to be around much longer, but other than that we have no plans to say goodbye to any more of our pets. Our cats, Luna and Leo, are still of course a part of our family as well. We are very happy with the way things are! Although 12 pets may seem like a lot, it is very manageable for us at this point and we really enjoy having animals as a part of our family and home.

Death on a Stick

I’m now past 17 weeks pregnant with my fourth baby (I lost my first baby, Sam, in early pregnancy). We found out about a month ago that we’re having another daughter, who we’ve named Amelia.

To put it mildly, this pregnancy has been a rough time. I’ve been dealing with severe nausea nearly 24/7 since five weeks of pregnancy, along with food aversions, frequent acid reflux, and some gnarly headaches. To put that in perspective, as long as California’s stay-at-home order for coronavirus has been in effect, I’ve been sick for several weeks longer than that. What I wouldn’t give to just be quarantined and not feel miserable at the same time.

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a long time, mainly because I’ve been waiting to feel better so I can write about it from the other side. But at this point in my pregnancy, I’m not sure if or when that will happen. So here we are.

Let’s talk for a second about “morning sickness.” Personally, I find this term irritating and refuse to use it. Not only is it inaccurate, since pregnancy nausea can hit at any time of the day, but it also has a connotation of some mild, benign, perhaps slightly uncomfortable symptom of pregnancy. “Oh, it’s just a little morning sickness.” No. Just no.

I prefer many of the other options for what to call this hideous phenomenon. NVP, which stands for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, is appropriate. Pregnancy sickness also works perfectly fine, and typically I use that term. I’m pregnancy-sick. Sounds accurate.

Anyhow, pregnancy sickness is common during the first trimester, and for many women it involves both nausea and vomiting. Often, it doesn’t last all day but hits at specific times or based on specific triggers, which can differ for each woman. Then there are some women who only have nausea without vomiting (me), and those who have it nearly or actually 24/7 (also me). And of course there are some women who don’t feel sick at all (definitely not me).

For most women though, pregnancy sickness fades after the first trimester, which is through 13.3 weeks precisely. Fun fact, there’s actually not one officially accepted time for when the second trimester begins–some say 13 weeks, some say 14, and other say 15. In any case, for many women, pregnancy sickness is not typically part of the second trimester.

Then there are the unlucky few for whom pregnancy sickness is more severe and longer lasting. These women are typically considered to have hyperemesis gravidarum, which basically translates to “a whole lot of vomiting.” One of the main symptoms of HG is throwing up a lot during pregnancy. Women with HG often end up dehydrated and malnourished, and may need to be hospitalized for periods of time. Unfortunately with HG, many women continue to feel sick until the day they give birth. About 50% feel better by 20 weeks of pregnancy, but for others there is no relief until the baby is born.

In my case, even though I’ve been struggling with severe, often debilitating nausea that is now lasting well beyond the beginning of my second trimester, I have never thrown up during this pregnancy. While I’m grateful for that aspect of it, it’s still really difficult to feel horrible and nauseous constantly for almost three months straight now.

I have every other symptom of HG, though, including being unable to function normally, being slow to gain weight, and having difficulty staying hydrated and eating enough. It’s unbelievably difficult for me to eat and drink as much as need to, and as a result I have only gained one pound so far, and a couple of weeks ago I actually lost a pound. By this point, I should have gained about 5-10 pounds. I’ve never had trouble gaining weight in pregnancy before, so this has been particularly unnerving.

In general, I’ve been in what I call “survival mode,” doing the bare minimum of trying to eat enough and drink enough and feeding the kids. Cory has picked up the slack in almost every other area, doing dishes, laundry, pet care, and caring for the kids when he’s not working. I help when I can, and I’ve been able to ignore and power through my discomfort on a few occasions to do things like get our house ready for showings. (Yes we’re selling our house in a pandemic. That’s a topic for another post.)

So while I don’t feel completely certain in identifying my discomfort as hyperemesis gravidarum, I do suspect that it might be so. Essentially having HG but without vomiting is very invalidating. That’s weird to say, but what I mean is that since I don’t look like a typical HG case, I don’t feel like I have an appropriate label to give myself. At least if I did then I could explain to people that I have a legitimate medical problem. Instead I’m just going through “morning sickness.” Which as I’ve already mentioned, is just a hilariously inadequate term for me.

That aside, I’ve struggled with depression as a result of my intense discomfort. (Depression is also common with hyperemesis gravidarum). I’ve felt hopeless, desperate for relief that doesn’t come, and just over life in general. My mood has been less than positive, and I know I haven’t been the wife or mom that I want to be. I simply haven’t been able to. (I’m mostly past these feelings at this point, fortunately, and I’m starting to feel more like myself again).

Also, as much as I wanted to have another baby and very much intentionally conceived, I struggled with feeling excited about this pregnancy until recently. I had a hard time connecting with the baby, harder than it was with either Cody or Abigail. Feeling her kick has been a game-changer, and I’m lucky enough to already be feeling her because it really helps me bond with her. Another thing, though, is that while I was okay with having either a boy or a girl, I really imagined a boy and started to want that. Sometimes I still catch myself thinking about the baby in terms of the boy name we had picked out. When I found out we’re having a girl, I felt a little jarred.

In sharing all of this, I don’t want anyone to think that I take for granted how blessed I am. I am very thankful that having babies biologically is an option for me, and of course it is worth it. I love Amelia and very much want her. I am fully on board with having another girl, since that is what God has chosen for us and he always knows best.

But I think it’s also fair to feel how I feel, which is honestly just miserable and hating pregnancy. A lot of people don’t believe me when I say this, but I will never do this again (as long as I can prevent it). I knew going in that I might suffer as I did with my previous pregnancies, but I really didn’t let myself believe it would be worse or this bad. I can only imagine how horrible a fourth pregnancy would be for me… and really, I don’t want to.

So yeah. This is my last biological baby, and wow is this pregnancy has been giving me a hard time.

There’s a saying I’ve heard, that when you reach the end of your rope, you should tie a knot and hold on. Well, I’ve been dangling from this knot at the end of my rope for weeks now and I’m not sure how  my hands are even holding it anymore. Truthfully, it must be God holding on for me at this point because I know I should’ve fallen off of the cliff by now.

This may all sound absurdly dramatic. I think it’s hard, or more like impossible, to understand when you’re not in it, or haven’t been through it. I read an article about HG that really hit home recently, and it described it as feeling like death on a stick. And that is just so perfect.

So I’ll just be here for a little while, feeling like death on a stick, until it’s all over. Hopefully soon, but I’ve been saying that so long that it’s lost all meaning. The best I can say, I suppose, is eventually. Eventually, I will feel good again.

This week, at least, I have noticed that my nausea isn’t as severe for as much of the day. Today, for instance, it didn’t start until 10:30. As I’m writing this, it’s not hitting me like a ton of bricks, but more like a quiet voice in the back of my mind just whispering “nausea” and “headache” instead of shouting it. So at least that’s something. Maybe, after this week, I can downgrade “death on a stick” to “ick on a stick.”

Whatever path my pregnancy sickness takes, I will get through this. It’s already worth it just to feel Amelia’s little kicks. She is my child and I’d do anything for my children–including feeling like death on a stick (or “ick”) for months and months.

 

P.S. Yes, I have tried that thing you’re thinking you might suggest. This isn’t me not trying everything I can to feel better. I have tried all of the things. This is just me accepting that pregnancy will not be comfortable for me. And yeah, it sucks. It’s okay to just say “I’m sorry it sucks.”

P.P.S. I do very much appreciate those in my life who have tried and continue to try to help me. I feel loved and cared for and it means a lot to me. Your prayers are the most valuable thing you can give.

Recipe: Sticky Sweet Pork Belly Bowls & Ramen Noodle Soup

Hello readers! I have not posted for quite a while because I am pregnant and really feeling the discomfort of the first trimester. The nausea hits me hard and it stays for a long time. I’m 14 weeks along now and still not feeling any relief yet. It’s rough!

There have not been a ton of things I have been able to eat in the past couple of months, but this recipe was one that I enjoyed very much. With the coronavirus craziness and groceries being a bit harder to get, I decided to finally use the pork belly I’ve had in my deep freezer for way too long. I copied and modified some recipes I found online to create this one, and my experiment was a success! I hope you try this one and if you do, enjoy it!

 

Slow Cooker Sticky Sweet Pork Belly Bowls

& Savory Ramen Noodle Soup

Two Recipes in One!

 

Ingredients:

Pork belly meat (raw)

Chicken stock

Vegetable oil

Salt & pepper

Steamed white rice

For the glaze:

Honey

Brown sugar

Soy sauce

For the ramen:

Ramen noodles

Salt (or garlic salt)

Optional veggies: green onion, baby bok choy, peas, corn, small cubed carrots

Optional: egg

 

Instructions:

This recipe is easily scalable to whatever amount of ingredients you buy.

Begin by slicing the pork belly into thick strips, about two inches wide. The size is not as important as simply cutting the meat into similarly-sized pieces so that they cook evenly. Place the pieces of pork belly into the slow cooker pot and cover with chicken stock, just submerging the meat. Cook on low for about six hours.

Reserve the cooking liquid for ramen noodle soup broth; I recommend blending the broth in a blender or food processor to pulverize any chunks, which also results in a delicious miso-like texture.

Shred pork belly with forks, then fry in a pan with vegetable oil, salt, and pepper. Meanwhile, make the glaze by mixing equal parts honey, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Make enough to coat the meat well; roughly ¼ cup of each ingredient for up to 2 lbs of meat. When the meat begins to brown and look crispy, add the glaze and stir to coat well. Cook for another few minutes to allow the glaze to stick well on the meat.

Serve over steamed white rice. It pairs well with a side of edamame!

For the ramen noodle soup, simply reheat the broth if it has been cooled. Cook thin Asian noodles right in the broth, or cook in water and drain before adding to the broth. Add salt, or garlic salt, to taste. Optionally, add veggies such as green onions, thin slices of baby bok choy, peas, corn, or small cubed carrots, and boil in broth until tender before adding noodles. A raw scrambled egg can also be added to the boiling broth, stirring gently, for added flavor and texture.

A Look Back at 2019

Every new year, I like to write a post about what happened with my family in the year before. Here’s what we were up to in 2019.

In January we went to Big Bear to play in the snow, adopted our puppy Roscoe, and got our parakeets Oliver and Oakley.

In February my Grandma Terry passed away, as well as our beloved dog Marley.

In March, I enjoyed a Glen Ivy spa day with my stepmom and sister-in-law, and we went camping with my dad and brother. My brother and sister-in-law moved to England that month, as my brother was stationed there with the US Airforce.

In April, I began classes with my fourth Hypnobabies student couple. We also went camping in Calico with my dad and stepmom.

In May, I found a renewed interest in horseback riding and took my first lesson in over a decade. I continued lessons regularly throughout the rest of the year. In May, we also went camping in Crystal Cove with Cory’s parents. And, we adopted our three guinea pigs, Piper, Annie, and Calla.

In June, we found our borrowed-bunny, Cinder, who we returned to her owner shortly after. I also got my own saddle and other tack for horseback riding (as a birthday gift from my parents!), which was exciting for me.

In July, I turned 27, and we bought our bunny Chester. We also went on a trip to Lake George, New York, for a family reunion of Cory’s mom’s side and a wedding.

In August, we adopted our bunny Ellie. We also bought a new minivan and sold our old one. On the 21st we celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. At the end of the month, Cory turned 28.

In September, we started Cody’s first year of homeschool Kindergarten. We haven’t yet decided if we want to do another year of Kindergarten to keep him in the same grade as his peers of the same age.

Also, in September, Abigail turned two years old. Near the end of the month, we rehomed our dog Lila, after she and one of our other dogs proved unable to coexist without fighting.

In October, Cody turned five years old and we celebrated both kids’ birthdays with a small family party. For Halloween, we dressed up as Marvel Superheroes.

In November, our dog Macy had surgery on her tail (a partial amputation). I also started taking Krav Maga classes, although I later realized it wasn’t for me. I did discover the joy of hot yoga at the same location, however, and continued taking those classes through the beginning of 2020, when I had to stop for safety reasons as we planned to conceive our next baby soon.

Near the end of November, we adopted our third bunny, Kit. And of course, we celebrated Thanksgiving with our family.

In December, I began teaching my fifth Hypnobabies student couple. We celebrated Christmas with our families, as usual. At the very end of the month, we squeezed in a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, to play in the snow—and it was lovely! We plan on making it an annual tradition.

This past year we were a part of a ministry called Safe Families for Children—which you can read about in my post here. We took in six children in 2019, and provided temporary care for them while their parents got back on their feet.

We also were active in our church, Fusion Christian Church. We were a part of four different small groups throughout the year, continued attending church services and serving regularly, and I enjoyed monthly women’s nights where I connected and enjoyed spending time with the ladies in my church family.

We spent a lot of time with family in 2019, and I am looking forward to creating more fond memories in the years to come. I am truly blessed to have an extended family with very little drama and a whole lot of love and warmth. We love spending time together, and I hope that never changes!

I also enjoyed time with my friends, those with children and those without. Here’s a special shoutout to Noelle, Jocelyn, Veronica, Lucia, Kyle, and Ryan, who are some of my best friends in this world and whom I treasure. Love you guys! <3

This year has been very blessed, and I eagerly look forward to the year to come. God is good!

 

The Westropp Zoo in 2019

We added a lot of new pets to our family this year! We started the year with four dogs, two cats, and two mice, and ended the year with 14 animals.

In January we adopted our puppy, Roscoe. He was the absolute worst puppy I have ever had, although Lila was a close second. (Smart dogs, it seems, are more challenging as puppies!) He is now about 14 months old, and finally to the point where I would consider him potty trained. He still chews things he’s not supposed to semi-regularly, but not as often as before, and he is still very bad about stealing food left on the table. But overall, he’s not the worst dog in the world. 😉 On the plus side, he is very smart and sweet and he is the cuddliest dog I’ve ever had. He’s also a good rollerblading companion.

Also in January, we bought two parakeets who we named Oliver and Oakley. They pretty much hate me, and do not like being handled whatsoever. However, their sounds are pleasant to listen to, and I have allowed their flight feathers to grow out so they can fly around the room when I open their cage, which is fun to watch.

In February, we sadly had to say goodbye to our beloved dog, Marley. He was 14 years old (or possibly even older), and beginning to decline with symptoms of congestive heart failure. I knew that I didn’t want him to suffer, so I chose to have him put to sleep gently at home after he began to lose interest in eating. Even though he started eating again on the day he was put to sleep, and he was still in many ways happy and energetic, I knew that it was an upswing that wouldn’t last. His last day with us was a very happy day for him, and he went to heaven without having to suffer through a long decline. It was a hard decision for me, but I have to believe I made the right one. And yes, I do believe he went to heaven! The Bible describes animals in heaven, and I can only hope that we will be reunited with loved ones, including our beloved pets, in paradise. 😊

I adopted Marley when he was about a year old, and I was 13 years old. He had been with me through so much, and he was really the best-behaved dog of our pack by miles. He was also just special in so many ways. He was sweet, quirky, gentle, and goofy. I love and miss him very much, and I know I will never have another dog like him.

In April, one of our mice, Hazel, also passed away. We decided not to get another companion for her sister, Harriet, since mice don’t typically live past one or two years old and they were both already about one and a half at the time. Surprisingly, Harriet is still with us and just passed her second birthday!

After that, we adopted our three guinea pigs, Piper, Annie, and Calla. Piper and Annie were adopted together from a family who no longer wanted them. (Fun fact, they came in a cage so small that we now use it as a litter box). Calla was adopted from a teenager who no longer wanted her, even though she is incredibly friendly and sweet! (Fun fact number two, she previously lived alone in a tiny glass aquarium with no hay… which is not appropriate care for a guinea pig.) Our three pigs are now living in a luxurious 10 square foot enclosure with the unlimited hay they deserve. Not to mention the fresh veggies! It is one of my greatest joys of pet ownership to be able to provide excellent homes for my animals. 😊

Not long after that, we found a bunny just hanging out in a neighbor’s yard, and took her home. She didn’t belong to the home we found her at, and I was hopeful she was abandoned simply for the fact that I very much wanted to keep her. We named her Cinder and she was the most friendly, sweet, and fun bunny I’d ever seen. Sadly, soon a neighbor from down the street came around handing out flyers for their lost bunny, and we very reluctantly returned her. That family was not caring for her properly, so it was particularly saddening.

At that point, we decided we wanted a bunny of our own and we adopted Ellie from a local rescue. She is a big, bold girl who will tolerate being petted more than most bunnies I’ve seen, but she still isn’t exactly what I’d call cuddly. Most bunnies are, by nature, timid creatures and won’t sit and be petted by people for long. We thought we could get a baby bunny, and if he was handled by us from a young age, he would be more cuddly—enter, Chester. Sadly, Chester has grown up to be a more standoffish bunny than Ellie, and he runs away without fail anytime I try to touch him.

We were about to give up on the idea of having a bunny anything like Cinder, but we decided to give it one more try and went to see if any of the bunnies at our local rescue were particularly friendly. Lo and behold, we met little Kit. He is very cuddly and doesn’t just tolerate being petted, but actually solicits attention. As a result of our search for the perfect bunny, we now have three!

Chester and Ellie are very well-bonded, but Kit has not been accepted into the herd. So, in our pet room where all of the small animals live, Kit has his own large enclosure, which takes up a little less than half of the room. The rest of the open space is for Chester and Ellie. All of the bunnies live cage-free, since they are litter-trained. Even though they don’t have total access to each other, Kit is able to easily see, smell, hear, and even lay next to the other buns on the other side of the fence, which I feel helps fulfill his social needs.

We are definitely at capacity with our small animals, and moving forward my plan is to allow all of them to live out their natural lives and not adopt any more. I’d actually love to eventually have one dog, one cat, one horse (boarded), and maybe one small animal (or at most one per child, if they want their own pet). Of course, that is at least a decade away from happening, so for now we are going to have a full house of animals!

In September, we made the tough decision to rehome Lila. For months, her and Macy had been fighting and Lila had been injured. Despite our concerted efforts to work with both dogs on training, and many alternative ideas we considered such as keeping our house divided using baby gates or keeping one dog crated at all times, we eventually came to the decision that all involved would be better off by rehoming Lila. She is better suited to be a single dog, and when it came down to it, the thought of rehoming Macy was unbearable. (Not to mention the increased difficulty of rehoming a bully breed dog with a history of aggression towards other dogs). For the record, Macy gets along just fine with other dogs at the dog park and with Sky and Roscoe. It was really a personal thing between her and Lila.

We did find a great home for Lila and noticed an immediate difference in our pack at home after she was rehomed. We know we made the right decision, and even though we miss Lila, we are happy that she is safe and happy now.

So with that, we are now at three dogs, two cats, three guinea pigs, three bunnies, two birds, and one mouse—a total of fourteen pets!

How do I manage it, you may ask? It’s actually not as hard as it may seem. It takes me under an hour a day to take care of all of the pet care responsibilities! Time spent petting animals and walking the dogs is not included in that, because a) I don’t walk my dogs every day, but when I do walk them I consider it fun, not a chore, and b) petting animals is also fun, not a chore.

Honestly, Cory and I often find ourselves at the end of the workday with all of the chores done and nothing to do! Despite what appears to be a full plate, we have a lot of spare time and we definitely have the capacity add more to our lives. That’s a big reason we know for sure that we are ready to have another baby.

I love having a lot of pets and it gives me something positive to do with my time and energy. I also love that my kids get to experience living with animals and learn how to care for them. I wouldn’t mind downsizing over time, as I mentioned before, and in fact I feel it would be quite nice to have only a few pets for a change. Nevertheless, I like things the way they are now and I’m glad that the Westropp Zoo is so interesting and fun.

 

2020 Update:

In late January, as of the time of this posting, we also have now added two betta fish to our zoo. While I truly didn’t want any more pets, I couldn’t resist a little “homeschool” lesson setting up a habitat for the fish with the kids. The fish are the kids’ first pets that belong to them, but of course as the adult I am the one responsible for taking care of them. The kids help feed them twice a day, which is fun for them, and they love to watch them swim around their aquariums. They even named them—Biscuit is Cody’s fish and Baby is Abigail’s.  

Our Experiences as a Host Family with Safe Families for Children Ministry

Last year, our family started a new adventure by caring for children in need. We became involved in a ministry called Safe Families for Children in late 2018 and continued throughout 2019. In our just-over-a-year time as a Safe Families host family, we took in eight children in total and cared for them for almost four months cumulatively.

What is Safe Families for Children? I’ve had to answer that question a lot this past year! First of all, it is a ministry, meaning it is supported by local churches and it is completely voluntary (unpaid). It is a program administrated through Olive Crest, which is an organization that also does foster care and adoptions. Safe Families for Children, however, is not foster care. It is a program to provide housing and care to children temporarily during times of crisis for families who have no other source of support.

Legally speaking, the organization links families in need with families who are able to help, and acts as a middle-man to set up a temporary caregiver authorization. The parents of the children who are being “hosted” retain full custody and are able to take their children back at any time. The host families are essentially long-term babysitters, and hostings typically last anywhere from a couple of days to a few months.

The most common reasons for parents to have their children hosted in Safe Families for Children are homelessness, health-related issues, and substance abuse. Families usually are referred to this organization through schools, hospitals, police officers, or CPS.

Our family chose to volunteer with Safe Families for Children because we were interested in becoming foster parents, but not sure we were quite ready to commit to such a big endeavor. We also knew we could not meet the qualifications for a foster care license because our children do not have separate bedrooms, and opposite gender kids are required to in foster homes. Up until the summer of 2019, our kids didn’t even have their own bedroom, as we’d chosen to co-sleep (and share our room) with both of them. Co-sleeping, even with your own children, is also not allowed for foster parents, so we knew we weren’t a good fit at that time.

Anyhow, we were happy to be a part of Safe Families and we gained so much from the experience. The children we took in were all between the ages of ten months and five years old, and four of them were babies. Twice we took in a pair of brothers, and we only ever hosted one girl. The parents of the kids we hosted were homeless, recovering from addiction, and/or struggling with mental illness. Not only did we get to help these eight children stay out of foster care by allowing their parents the time they needed to get back on their feet, but we also grew in many ways.

Caring for children who are not your own, especially when you already have young kids at home, is challenging! It was overwhelming at times, exhausting, and just plain hard. We dealt with disciplinary issues, sleep issues, and feeding issues. Many of the kids came to us with very little of their own clothing or belongings, and we spent a lot of money providing things that were needed for them. Our church also helped a ton, and so many people donated clothes and gift cards, brought us dinners, encouraged us, and prayed for us.

What I found most amazing was how even though it was hard, we could do it. We did do it. We kept all of the kids safe, fed, clothed, and cared-for, and we didn’t completely lose our minds in the process. I attribute this to God’s grace more than anything else. He gave us the strength to manage the chaos and he held everything together.

We also received an incredible gift as a result of our service—an increase in our capabilities as a family. Through all of the stretching, we came out on the other side stronger. In terms of how capable I feel to meet all of my responsibilities in life and manage everything well, I have found an increased capacity. I can handle so much more now than I could at the end of 2018!

Every time we sent one of our Safe Families children back to their parents, we had an amazing sense of relief. Going back to just two kids felt almost like going on vacation! Then, after a couple of weeks of rest, we were always ready to go back into the fray and start another hosting.

At this time, however, we have decided not to continue with the program.

 

Here is the story behind that decision…

Our last hosting started in November. That hosting was with two brothers, a 12-month-old and a 22-month-old. For privacy, I will use fake names for them, Tyler and Caiden.

Tyler was 22 months old at the beginning of our hosting, and I believe he is autistic. He is developmentally delayed, and doesn’t walk or talk beyond saying a few words on occasion. He also did not eat solid food at all for us, until the last week we had him, but he did still drink formula. Tyler wanted to be held, but only by me, nearly 24/7 and would cry any time he was put down.

Caiden was a much easier baby. He was born premature so he was also small for his age and not yet walking. He also had severe eczema and cradle cap that had not been treated. Both boys came to us extremely dirty, and did not seem used to being bathed. They did not sleep well at night, so we had to do sleep training. That is not something I typically agree with, but since I didn’t have my usual baby-sleep-encouragement tools—breastfeeding and co-sleeping—it was necessary for us to let them cry it out so that we could all get enough sleep to function.

Because of the boys’ special needs and how close in age they are, it was our most challenging hosting. We ended up asking for Safe Families to find another host family to host Tyler after our first week with him. But after only a few days with his new host family, he ended up in the hospital with signs of abuse. My heart was shattered, knowing that I’d handed him over to an abuser. All I could do at that point was continue caring for Caiden, and bring him to visit his parents in the hospital a couple of times.

After those distressing events, I developed a stronger and closer relationship with the boys’ parents. When he was released from the hospital, they wanted my family to keep both boys for a little while, and we agreed. But for some reason, Safe Families decided to end our hosting of Caiden at that point and even insisted on transferring him back to his parents themselves.

Within a week, we heard from the boys’ parents and they were once again in a bad situation with nowhere to go. We decided to take Tyler and Caiden in again, this time without involving Safe Families for Children. We all signed a temporary caregiver authorization form, which gave us some legal security and the ability to secure medical care for the boys if needed. Then we kept them for another two weeks before their parents were ready to take them back again.

During that time, we considered the possibility of adopting the boys, knowing that their parents were facing so many challenges. But when we gently asked questions about their thoughts on adoption, it was clear that although they appreciated our help very much, they weren’t willing to consider giving up the kids.

With that possibility closed, we decided to move forward with our own plans to have our third baby. Emotionally, we had moved on, especially after we gave the boys back to their parents. Sadly, it was less than a week after that before once again, they called us asking for more help.

We knew that the situation wasn’t sustainable, and we weren’t willing to care for the boys for the months that they were asking for, knowing that we would never be able to adopt them. At that point, we could also see that they weren’t taking the steps they needed to take or making any progress for securing long-term stability. The only option left for them was to allow Child Protective Services to step in and release the boys to foster care. That is the situation as it is now.

 

The reason I share this sad story is in part to explain why we no longer plan to be a part of Safe Families for Children, and in part to explain why we want even more now to become licensed foster parents in the future. While I believe in this ministry and their mission wholeheartedly, and I hope they will continue to help families in need, I also disagree with how the situation with this family was handled. I have deep concerns with how host families are screened, and how the parents they serve are treated.

But those issues aside, I can also see that there is a huge need for good, loving foster parents. There are so many terrible stories out there about abuses in the foster care system, and I want to be a part of the solution. Knowing that those boys who I cared for and came to love are now in foster care, I can only hope and pray that they are with a good family. I have no illusions about how foster children are often treated, and the possibilities of what they could be going through right now are distressing. Truly, all I can do to have peace is to trust God and his plan. He loves those boys, and I know he will use everything for the good.

For the time being, we are not planning on becoming foster parents just yet. We’ve decided that during my pregnancy (hopefully soon!) and postpartum we want to focus on our family of four-soon-to-be-five, especially knowing that there is a possibility I will not have the energy or feel well enough to care for extra children during my first trimester, and especially after the baby is born. It is also very important to us to co-sleep with our next baby, as we did with Cody and Abigail. Knowing that co-sleeping is not allowed for foster families, we will need to wait until we’re ready for baby #3 to sleep on his/her own before becoming foster parents.

We are also planning on adopting our fourth child through the foster care system. Knowing that, we will likely wait until our third child is about three or four years old, so that we can preserve our birth order and child spacing. During those few years, we may become emergency or respite foster parents, since we won’t be ready to adopt yet but we do want to help kids in need in some way.

So anyway! Those were my family’s experiences with Safe Families for Children, and it has been a huge blessing for us to be able to help others and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how God wants to use us to love and care for some of the most vulnerable people in our world—children in need—in the future.

No Paycheck

Money is so big in our world. Our lives revolve around it on some level, whether we want them to or not. Everything we do, eat, or use costs money, and therefore our lives are tightly tied to making and spending it.

As a stay-at-home mom, I’m obviously not paid. I don’t make any money to contribute to our family. Living in a money-driven society, being an unpaid worker is hard. Yes, I chose to have children and yes, I choose to stay home with them. Are those choices contributive to society? Yes, I sure think so!

Without children being brought into the world, the human race would die out. There are also benefits of having a stay-at-home parent for a child’s development, and regardless, a child who stays home with a parent is not using an outside resource for childcare, which leaves those resources available for others who need them.

But according to my non-existent paycheck, my work is worth zero dollars.

At times, it can be hard to not internalize this.

One thing that makes it even harder to believe in my value as a stay-at-home mom is the pressure to make money from home. SAHMs (stay-at-home moms) are frequently presented with opportunities to convert to WAHMs (work-at-home moms) by “making money from home.”

There are a seemingly unlimited number of businesses geared towards SAHMs, such as selling kitchen tools, clothing, cleaning products, essential oils, specialty skin care products, e-books, and more. There’s also blogging, life-coaching, virtual assistance, book-keeping, tutoring, and providing childcare to other children alongside your own. I have tried and failed to make money doing several of these things! And I’ve known many moms who have spent a lot of time and money investing in businesses like these, only to end up closing them because they don’t make enough money to cover expenses.

Many of these business models are actually predatory, designed to make most of their profit from the “momtrepreneur’s” startup costs, rather than their actual products. They basically know that most WAHMs won’t end up with a profitable long-term business, but they sell the idea of making money from home to moms who already feel undervalued by society. Diabolical!

Of course, we SAHMs constantly fall for it. I constantly find myself feeling the urge to make money, feeling distressed by the fact that I can’t, and then reminding myself that it’s okay because that’s not where my value comes from.

Societally, my value comes from what I contribute, which right now includes raising children who are healthy and capable and have good values, supporting my church by giving my time and managing my family’s tithing, helping families in crisis through the ministry Safe Families for Children, writing, providing a home and care for animals, and contributing to the economy by buying things my family needs and wants (with my husband’s income of course).

But beyond what society thinks, or how I contribute, I have an even deeper value, and that comes from God. Whether I lift a single finger in life or not, God sees me as priceless. He doesn’t value me for how hard I work or how much I contribute, and he certainly doesn’t value me based on how much money I make.

God calls me priceless because I am his creation, his daughter, and bought with the price of his son Jesus. He calls me valuable and gives me a job that is immensely more important than making money or “contributing” to the world I live in; that is sharing the love of Jesus with those around me and living my life to glorify him. I can do my part to help God’s family continue to grow and point more people towards Jesus, so they can have an eternity with Him in Heaven.

Ultimately it comes down to a choice. Do I want to have an earthly perspective and focus on making money and chasing “happiness” in this life? Or, do I want to have an eternal perspective and focus on living out my mission for God, and finding my joy in the Lord?

The truth is, I do care about having a nice life. It’s human nature to want that. I want that for myself and for my husband and for my kids. I don’t think that it’s wrong to want that, or to work for that. I am thankful that my husband has a great job and can support us comfortably, and I can afford to stay at home with my kids. But whenever I start to feel my money-driven-nature creeping in, I strive to remember that money isn’t where my value comes from, and contentment is so much more valuable than more income anyway.

As a stay-at-home mom, I would love to have a paycheck that reflects my value. But that isn’t the world we live in. Maybe someday it will be, but for now, at least I know that what I do is important, paycheck or not.