The Long Goodbye

West Virginia almost seems like an accident.

We hadn’t planned on settling in or putting down roots. Bethany followed me there for the first 2 years of medical school with the thought that we’d probably move closer to home for my rotations; but every attempt to leave was thwarted. Two years stretched into three, then four, then six years later we realized there was actually a definite ending to our time in this misunderstood state.

We spent the first couple years in West Virginia as if we were journalists or cultural anthropologists. We walked through life in our little town making quippy mental notes and rushed observations then scurrying back to the safety of my apartment to plan our wedding and to study for school.

I’m not sure when West Virginia actually began to feel like home. After our first year there, Bethany and I got married, and we moved into a shabby little rental home in downtown Lewisburg. As we organized the contents of our cabinets and hung curtains on the windows, we began to let the charm of our little town sneak into our hearts.

I think it was the summer after we got married that we decided to plant a garden in the abandoned flower bed at the base of our chimney on the west side of our house. The fertile soil and the heat brought from the red bricks of our chimney helped produce “state fair quality” tomatoes as our friend Maria described them; (and to us, her word was gospel because she was raised on a Mennonite farm, and how can anyone with those credentials not be an agricultural expert?)

Together with the roots of our squash and tomato plants, we nestled into the soil of West Virginia.

We adapted into the simple rhythms of small town life. The changing seasons were marked by the town festivals. Weekends were made for strolls through downtown, visits to the farmer’s market, and bagels from The Bakery (which needed no other specifying name because for many years it was the only bakery in town). Summers were made for pruning the garden, camping at the lake, and hikes along the river trail.

This two year stint was no longer just a transition.

Within this tiny town nestled in a valley of the Appalachian Mountains, we built our life. Many of the students who move to Lewisburg strictly for medical school make few connections in town outside of the people in their class and the bartenders at one of the two bars in town. However, thanks to our ever extending stay in Lewisburg, we built friendships both with folks connected to the med school and with “the locals.” The sound of a banjo playing was now a sign of a bluegrass concert in town rather than Deliverance. We found a church. We found community.

The Beginning of the End

When I signed a contract with a hospital system in Indiana, the thought of leaving West Virginia seemed surreal. We’d already had so many “last” events in West Virginia (our last Christmas, our last camping trip) all of the other times we’d thought we were leaving that it kind of seemed like we could just move, and we’d be okay.

I signed my contract in September of 2015, so we had almost a full year to say goodbye to this place that had become our home. Now, I’m not good with goodbyes. We’ve had to say many goodbyes over the last seven years as friends from school moved in and out of town, but this time it was actually us leaving. I prefer to just avoid ever saying goodbye, and give the “Oh, of course we’ll see each other again soon” even if all parties involved know that we have no intention of keeping in touch.

As we approached our final week in Lewisburg, a massive flood hit our valley and devastated our little corner of the world. Two days after that, we found out Bethany was pregnant. It was so difficult to balance our joy with the reality that whole towns were obliterated, homes were destroyed, and many lives were lost. It kind of seemed like this natural disaster created a distraction for Bethany and I to sneak out of town unnoticed. I’d promised so many people, “Oh, I’ll stop by and see you before I go.” My departure, however, was the last thing on many people’s minds as they were trying to clean out flooded basements, collect clothes for their suffering family members, and make sense of the tragedy.

Bethany and I had both said to ourselves in the weeks preceding the move that we were ready to just be gone and start our new life. Our hearts were filled with excitement and hope for our new home that we’d purchased and an adventure in a new town. Even in our final drive out of town, we didn’t reserve too much time for sentimental blubbering as we tried to get on the road to keep us from arriving in Indy too late in the night.

I thought that our last glimpse of Lewisburg in my rear view mirror as I pulled onto the interstate was my final goodbye, but I didn’t realize that this was actually just the beginning.

Our first few days in our new home were meant to be so exciting but were actually kind of miserable. The moving company didn’t deliver our belongings until five days after we arrived. We didn’t have a fridge or a couch, and the only furniture to sit on was 2 folding camping chairs—one of which was broken. Catherine was forced to sleep in her pack n play which she’s never enjoyed. She was already in the process of getting sick when we left Lewisburg, and she quickly passed her virus onto Bethany and me.

Bad to Worse

On a Tuesday morning a couple weeks after our move, Bethany woke up and knew something wasn’t right. I prayed so hard, but I knew in my heart that our baby was gone. Through a frenzied series of phone calls with different operators and offices, we finally got an appointment at an OB/GYN’s office.

As we rode the waves of our emotions and prayed for a miracle, I just kept imagining what it would have been like if this had happened back home. The moment things started, it would have taken me one 30 second phone call to get her an appointment with the OB. Our drive to the office would have been 5 minutes instead of 30. There would have been any number of people that could have watched Catherine while we sat through all the pieces of this appointment instead of me pacing the halls with her stuffing raisins in her mouth praying that both she and I could hold our emotions together at least until we got in the car.

It’s difficult to describe the isolation Bethany and I were both experiencing. This was a dark time for us, but there were glimpses of hope and grace even in the midst of our sorrow. While we were in a new city, our friends were still there via text and phone calls showering us in love and prayers. We were initially unsure about whether Bethany would need an operative procedure to help clean out her uterus, but she didn’t. And it’s amazing how welcome a distraction a wild, newly walking one-year-old can be. It’s hard to remember you’re sad when your baby is giving you sloppy wet kisses or trying to jam your keys into electrical outlets.

I was hesitant to even write about the miscarriage because it’s honestly not something that I really want to talk about. Similar to my approach to “goodbyes,” I think that sometimes denial is my favored approach to reality. But this miscarriage happened to us. It’s part of our story. This baby that we lost is just as much a part of our family as Bethany, me, or Catherine; and saying goodbye to our baby seems intrinsically tied with saying goodbye to West Virginia because that’s where our baby experienced its first glimmer of life.

I get nervous that talking about our loss makes it seem like I’m seeking pity or attention, so that’s often why I don’t want to mention it. I’ve known people in the past who seem to sensationalize their losses, and I don’t want to do that. Anywhere from 10-30% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, so our story is not exceptionally special or unique. It’s similar to when a friend has lost one of their parents. It is a reality of life that people die, but that doesn’t negate the loss, despair or horror for those left behind on earth.

While I often don’t want to talk about our loss, I know that it was our friends who had suffered miscarriages in the past that provided us with some of the most comfort during this dark time. If they hadn’t been open about their past, then we never would have had them there to comfort us and empathize with us. Bethany also found a lot of comfort from reading blog posts and stories online of other women who’d gone through this same misery.


Our journey of healing from the loss of our baby and our community in West Virginia, coincided with our search for a church. We’d been actively seeking out a new church family when we moved, but the miscarriage made the search even more desperate. Even though Bethany and I had each other, the absence of our friends and support system back home was heightened.

When we pulled into the parking lot of what is now our new church, I wanted to put the car in reverse and drive back to our house. When I looked at Bethany with tears welling up in her eyes, I knew she felt the same way. All we wanted was to feel safe, and nothing about the exterior of the community center where the church rented space on Sundays screamed, “safe!” Instead it screamed, “Drug deals, rape, death!” The rows of decrepit and decaying houses, rusted and broken down fences, and shady looking characters milling down the sidewalks seemed like more than we were ready to handle. This church looked like a place that was designed to minister to the broken and needy, and I was not in a place where I felt like I could minister.

What a fool I was.

The moment we walked through the doors, we were greeted by smiling faces who wanted to know our names and our story. I realized that this church was most certainly designed to minister to the broken and needy; but they weren’t asking Bethany and me to come in and minister. They had created a safe place where they could minister to us. At the end of the service after communion, I sang the closing hymn with tears in my eyes. This was one of the first times since we’d moved to Indianapolis that I felt safe.

The Long Goodbye

I would be lying to say that I don’t still mourn the loss of our baby and our home in West Virginia, but through time and by the grace of God, healing is coming.

We’re trying to establish new rhythms and routines. We’re finding new restaurants and farmer’s markets. We’ve spent hours painting walls, building furniture, and sorting through boxes until our new house is finally starting to feel like a home. We’re spending time with my sister who was one of the big reasons why we moved here. We’ve joined a small group at our church and are starting to see a new community blossom around us here on the Eastside of Indianapolis.

I don’t know if I’ll ever completely finish saying, “goodbye” to West Virginia, but I think I’m starting to say “hello” to the rest of our lives.

The Reason We Can’t Have Nice Things

Bethany and I are organized people.

Bethany is more of an overall neat person. She picks up after herself, immediately does her dishes after eating, and hangs up her clothes at the end of the day.

My cleaning habits are a bit more haphazard and neurotic. I love the concept of everything being immaculately clean, but sometimes I just don’t have the energy to keep it that way. I’ve been known to remake the bed if I think Bethany didn’t do it properly, but at the same time, I’ll leave a pile of clothes on the floor for four days straight and let my shoes collect in a heap on the floor of the closet instead of hanging them on the shoe rack. I don’t even quite understand the whole inner-workings of my mind myself, but Bethany and I have somehow made it work. When I do take the time to clean, it will be done perfectly, down to the polished furniture and scrubbed bathtub.

I’d been warned by friends before we reproduced that we should enjoy our time with our clean house while we could because once the baby came along, nothing would ever be clean again. I would always smile and nod at them while thinking to myself, “Oh you fools. You just don’t care enough or try hard enough.”

The first several months of Catherine’s life were a bit deceptive. Bethany and I both were agreed on the fact that we didn’t want the house overrun with toys and baby crap. Thanks to friends bringing meals and us ordering LOTS of carry out, we kept dishes to a minimum. Our apartment being small also made it easy to pick up quickly if people were stopping by.

Fast forward to this afternoon.

Rain is beating against the windows as the wind howls through the corners of the French doors that we can’t seem to seal no matter how hard we try. A guitar case and a set of bongos are lying in a pile next to the front door alongside four pairs of shoes and a lone flip flop whose mate seems to be missing. A purse is turned on its side with the contents strewn across the floor with the matching wallet lying nearby disemboweled of its ID’s, cash, credit cards. There are three coats piled next to the purse with a CVS membership card peeking out from under the fuzzy, coral sleeve of the smallest coat.

A few feet away from the entrance mat at the front door is a book case which is almost inaccessible due to the ankle deep pile of DVD’s and books strewn in front. The bottom two shelves have been almost completely emptied of their contents except for a lone copy of St. Augustine’s Confessions precariously leaned up against the Fight Club DVD case. It’s as if the two are clinging to each other to keep from falling to the same demise of their brothers beneath them. The top shelf of the bookcase appears to still be intact for the most part except for the wine rack that one can’t help but notice to be entirely empty.

The room truly looks like it should be a crime scene with yellow caution tape blocking off the doors and chalk outlines drawn on the floor. There’s even what appears to be blood splattered across the carpet.

But this is not a crime scene. This is my kitchen and living room. Upon further inspection, one would notice the red splatters on the carpet are actually spaghetti sauce rather than blood, and the culprit responsible for all this mayhem is leaning up against the French doors with her face plastered to the glass smacking a tube of Chapstick against the door frame while chattering on in mindless mumbles as if she’s inviting the rainstorm outside to come in and play.

She’s a two and a half foot tall monster with piercing blue eyes and a chubby little belly hanging over the edge of her sagging diaper.

Feigning some essence of organization was manageable when Catherine was stationary, but the second she learned how to crawl, any chance of a clean house was gone.

Ironically, it seems like around the time that Catherine learned how to pull up on the bookshelf and destroy my alphabetized row of DVD’s, I stopped caring that my house be that organized. If I have to choose between a neurotically organized house or watching my 1 year old daughter scream in delight as she plays a cymbal solo with the plastic cases of Meet Joe Black and Boondock Saints, well, it’s not even a choice.

I think that when Catherine was first born, keeping the house clean was a way of maintaining a little bit of control over life. I couldn’t control my screaming infant or explain why she was still hollering even after she’d been fed, bathed, and changed; however, I could clean the kitchen, do some dishes, and throw in a load of laundry. I couldn’t control my baby, but I could vacuum.

Now, cleaning the house is waging war against entropy. I never did well at comprehending the laws of thermodynamics when I took physics, but now I see life’s propensity to move from order to disorder the moment Catherine opens her eyes in the morning.

I have to choose daily what matters most to me. Do I want to watch my daughter explore the world around her as she systematically empties all the bottom drawers in the kitchen, or fiercely try to redirect her toward her toy box all day? She will often play with her toys, but I can’t even describe the grin on her face as she crawled around the floor today toting the empty tonic water bottle she fished out of the recycle bin.

I continually have to ask myself, is this hurting her? Is she actually ruining anything? Or is she just making a mess?

Now, instead of following my daughter around reorganizing the books and restocking the kitchen drawers, I choose to get down on my hands and knees and roll around in a pile of DVD’s.

Having nice things is truly overrated.

Does Having Children Make People Unhappy?

So, I recently read an article from my favorite news outlet…okay…fine…I don’t watch the news or read the newspaper.

I recently read an article that somebody posted on Facebook about a study that was done following couples through their journey of pregnancy and then into their first few years of parenthood. The article was entitled, “Study Shows Parenthood Makes People Unhappy!” or something along those lines. The poster of the article tagged her husband with the link along with some quippy comment like “see, honey, we’re right!!!”

At first I just scrolled past the post deciding that I wasn’t even going to dignify such a post by reading it. But then as I thought about it, I began to get more and more angry. How could somebody post something like this? This “scientific study” can’t be real. This has to be some inflammatory journalist citing a Cosmo quiz as a “scientific study” in an attempt to increase his or her readership. I looked down at my sleeping baby who I’d just rocked to sleep and couldn’t imagine how somebody could say that parenthood made them unhappy. How could anybody even say that they are unhappy when they are cradling this tiny, sweet piece of their heart in their arms.

Then I looked down past my sleeping baby and saw that I was wearing the same t shirt and underwear that I’d had on for the past 2 days. I was coming off of an 80 plus hour work week and instead of Bethany and I celebrating this week’s conclusion with drinks and dinner out on the town, she was already in bed asleep, and I was desperately begging God that Catherine would fall asleep and stay that way so I could go to sleep too. The clock on my phone read 8:30 PM, and I realized that my friend who had posted the article had probably just finished dinner at a restaurant with her husband and they were likely on their way to see a movie or meet friends for drinks.

Now, I guess I have to be honest that I look idealistically on this life without kids where a couple spends all their time that they’re not working having fun and going wild on the town. I don’t think that Bethany and I have ever really gone wild on the town. Even before she got pregnant, a lot of Saturday nights were spent on the couch watching an episode of Scandal with both of us trying to keep the other one awake. I remember one night when we went out to sing karaoke at a seedy bar in town with some of my friends from work, and we were both shocked with the fact that the karaoke didn’t start until 9PM–on a Thursday nonetheless!
“That’s what time we’re usually getting ready for bed,” Bethany hollered when I told her about the karaoke night.

With expert time management, we were able to have a couple beers, sing “Friends in Low Places”, and still make it home in time to have 7 solid hours of sleep before work the next morning.

While many of our friends who are waiting to have kids or choosing not to have them deal in currencies of extra time, money, and fun, the primary difference between our life a year ago and now is the amount of sleep we were getting. Bethany always depended on at least a solid 8-9 hours during the week, and if she happened to accidentally sleep 13 hours straight on a weekend, it was an extra bonus for a solid week of work. I was always happy with a nice 6-7 hours of sleep, and I relished quiet mornings starting at 5 or 6 AM when I could go for a run and then watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee and some breakfast.

The day that we brought Catherine home from the hospital, all of this changed. Well, it actually changed for Bethany 4 or 5 months before that when she started to have to get up in the middle of the night to pee because she had a baby dancing on her bladder.

Sleep is no longer doled out in heaping portions like an Italian grandmother filling her family’s plates with steaming hot gnocchi and ravioli. It’s stolen in quick snatches and tiny portions or begged for like little Oliver Twist pleading, “Please sir, may I have some more.”

I’m a bit luckier than Bethany because the baby isn’t dependent on my lactating breasts for survival. If enough milk hasn’t been pumped for me to give the baby a 2AM bottle, then Bethany is stuck getting up to feed. We have both quickly understood how effective sleep deprivation could be on prisoners as we sometimes feel that we have become prisoners in our own little home, and the warden is a screaming, puking, chubby midget dressed in pink ballerina footy pajamas dictating orders over us. She often deprives Bethany of food and water due to her constant demands, and sometimes Bethany could go for a couple days without actually setting foot outside.

Now, I’m sure that some would read this and find our lives a compelling argument for why having children makes people unhappy. They would copy and paste snippets from this post and mail them to the primary investigator over the research study with an attached note saying, “Recruit this couple for your next project!! They’ll be perfect!!”

I believe, however, that all of this talk of happiness and unhappiness is completely related to a person’s expectation on life. Even though people warn ahead of time about the amount of work a baby is, there is no way to actually comprehend this until you become the sole caregiver of a child for 24 hours straight, days on end. People might call me a horrible parent, but I think I could understand how a new father could say he was unhappy. You’re not getting enough sleep. You’re tired. Your wife is tired. You’re doing everything in your power to please this little tiny human but she just looks at you and screams. You want sex, but you’re not allowed to have it for 6 weeks, and once those 6 weeks are past, you’re so tired that you would choose sleep over sex. You want to make everything okay and make your wife happy and your baby happy, but you look around and realize that you have no idea how to do that. Even if your life before the baby was hard and stressful, you look back on it idealistically thinking about how happy you both were together and how even if you chose not to, you could go out on the town or take an unplanned weekend trip or maybe just sit on the couch and binge watch five episodes of House of Cards and only press pause because you have to pee or get a fresh pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
As all these thoughts are rushing through your head, somebody hands you a survey that reads, “Are you happy? Check yes or no.”

I think the question that should be asked to new parents is not, “Are you happy?” because the moment the answer “well, hell no, I’m not happy” comes to his or her mind, the person is ridden with guilt feeling like they just betrayed their baby or their spouse.

I’ll say it, some days, I’m not happy. Having a baby is really freaking hard!!

But just when I think that I’m not happy and I wish things were different, my baby looks up at me, catches my eye, and gives me this smile that could drive all the clouds out of the sky or bring world peace or something. As I rock her, she nestles her little head in the crook of my neck as if her day has been a long journey, and after searching high and low, she’s finally found a little crevice of safety to nestle into for sleep. She giggles as I tickle her little fat belly, and I’m overwhelmed with emotion. Happiness, however, isn’t the emotion.

It’s joy.

Pure unadultered joy.

The difference between joy and happiness is that happiness is fleeting. Happiness is encumbered by life’s misfortunes and bad days and screaming babies. Joy is much deeper than this. Joy is present in spite of the hard times that life throws at us. For me as a Christian, I have my joy in Christ who is present and consistent regardless of life’s circumstances. I can even find joy in my screaming baby.

As much as I hate to say it, it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of people decide that they are less happy once they have a baby. I think that today’s society has become much more materialistic and selfish in their lives. It’s probably the same reason that the divorce rate continues to increase. If one’s primary goal is personal happiness, and happiness isn’t being fulfilled by one’s spouse, then it’s probably time for a divorce. If my happiness is found in my sleep and free time and money, then I probably shouldn’t purposefully create a baby that becomes a bottomless pit that devours all of these entities.

Honestly, I’m not going to debate people on whether or not they decide to reproduce or what their reasons are for making their decisions. During the time that Bethany and I were talking about getting pregnant, I desperately wanted a baby, but a line from the song Changes Come by Over the Rhine kept running through my head. The song talks about how the songwriter wants to have a baby, but she questions if the world is too screwed up to bring a baby into it.

Now that we have Catherine, I can’t imagine my world without her. Actually, that’s a lie. I can imagine my world without her, but it’s not a world of which I want any part. There might be nights when I don’t get much sleep and there might be times that she goes all bipolar and screams for no reason, but I would never trade my current life.

The times when I’m starting to get tired, I close my eyes and think about the evenings that the three of us, my little family, snuggle together in bed and watch the sunset over the mountains. We listen as the draft horses gallop across the field, and as we stare in silent awe as the raging shades of pink and purple and orange nestle into their bed behind Muddy Creek Mountain, my darling daughter breaks the moment of wonder with a giant fart.

This isn’t happiness.

This is joy.


“Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate, like having Janis Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come stay with you.”

– Anne Lamott

I sat in my brown leather chair in the living room where just a few weeks ago I was sipping scotch, reading The Sun Also Rises, and listening to my Simon and Garfunkel records in peace.

How had my life changed so much in the past three weeks?

Instead of reading Hemingway I was staring at my sobbing wife. The tumbler of scotch was replaced with my umpteenth cup of coffee that day. The Sound of Silence was replaced by the screams of a howling infant.

MY howling infant.

The one that I’d been begging my wife to have for the past two years.

The doctors and nurses at the hospital—my so called “friends”—somehow tend gloss over these facts of life when they pack you up and wheel you out the door of the hospital with your new infant and prescription for a few Percocet. “Good luck! She’s beautiful!” they tell you, as they close your car door and wave, smiling broadly thinking in their minds, “These poor fools don’t even know what they’ve just gotten themselves into.”

The first day and night home from the hospital actually went quite smoothly, deceptively smoothly. Since we’d had a scheduled C-section we were able to plan ahead of time, and we’d left the house perfectly clean. I was running on anxiety and adrenaline the afternoon we got home from the hospital, so I tucked Bethany and Catherine into bed while I scurried around the house unpacking our hospital bags and putting away the car seat and diaper bag. I really had no control over how Bethany was going to heal from her surgery or how Catherine would accommodate to the real world, so I cleaned ferociously to make me feel like I had control over something in my life.

The next day Bethany’s parents came into town, but we still weren’t quite living in the real world as her mom cooked meals for us and held the baby during the daytime while we showered, took naps, and ran errands.

It was her parents’ last night in town that the reality of the Catherine’s permanent existence in our lives finally unpacked its bags and made itself at home in the rooms of our minds. Catherine no longer wanted to sleep at night. She really liked screaming for no reason. Apparently she made the decision that the stellar latching and feeding she’d been doing the previous nights was just a hoax to lull us into a sense of comfort and complacency. Now, instead of feeding, she wanted to motorboat on Bethany’s nipple for a few seconds then just scream. I stared at her thinking how long it had been since I’d been allowed to motorboat on that boob and how this was all just a travesty and injustice.

It was also around this time that I kept watching my squirming infant getting stiff and sneezing, and I’d think about how I’d seen actions like this before. These actions were stereotypical of the babies I’ve cared for in the newborn nursery whose moms were addicted to drugs during pregnancy. I stared at my sniffling and sneezing baby as my desperately sleep deprived mind silently formulated tales of my sweet wife’s heroin addiction that she’d been hiding from me for the last five years.

My temporary insanity wasn’t helped by the fact that I caught a head cold at some point, so I sat on my couch watching my baby rock in her swing with Kleenex stuck up my nose, while I tapped out, hollered “UNCLE,” and did the least manly thing imaginable. I called my mom.

I sobbed into the phone that I didn’t think we could do this parenting thing and that we were both so tired and the little beast wouldn’t eat, and I was sick and contagious with what was definitely some rare form of Ebola that would certainly infect and kill my baby girl.

My perfect and wonderful mother reminded me of something she’d told me a few days before we’d had Catherine when I was freaking out a little bit about being a parent. “Jeremy,” she said, “you don’t have the grace now because you don’t need it yet. But when that moment comes, God will give you the grace to make it through. He will ALWAYS give you the grace to make it through.”

Well, God gave us the grace. Our friend came over that night who is board certified in Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and Sleep Medicine, and she also just happens to be a lactation consultant. Basically, God gave us Batman. Instead of a batmobile, she arrived in her husband’s Jeep Liberty, and instead of an ominous whisper, she spoke in sweet and gentle tones. I guess there was some black spandex involved because she came over straight from the gym. So, yes. She was Batman.

She helped Bethany with nursing and calmed my fears that I wasn’t going to give the baby Ebola if I held her, and she gently encouraged us that these would be the worst 6 weeks of our lives and it was okay to revert into survival mode. The house didn’t have to be clean. I didn’t have to cook a fully nutritious dinner every night. Carry out dinners were okay, and just managing to shower and put on a clean shirt was a huge success. Accept help from anybody who offered, and always remember that life will get better. It was okay for us to cry, and it was okay for the baby to cry.

She was the grace my mom promised that God would give me. With her breastfeeding recommendations and by following her other life advice, Bethany and I finally started to feel a little bit better and slightly more like humans.

So, on the day that I sat in my leather chair and gazed at my new life, I took a sip of my coffee and remembered the words of Batman. “This will get better. Take it one day at a time.”

I slowly got up, took my fussy infant from my wife’s arms, and sent her to bed for some desperately needed sleep. I held a pacifier in my baby girl’s mouth and we danced around the room to Joni Mitchell, and I realized that these are the moments that I’ve heard my friends with grown children remember fondly.

Before Catherine, I had always called things like a Keurig and Rice-a-Roni “lazy” and “cheap.” But, now as I try to hold my baby and grind my coffee beans or shake a wok full of stir fry, I call the Keurig “sanity”, and I call the Rice-a-Roni “survival.”

Catherine Margaret Hampton

My life changed forever at 7:57 AM on June 15. Bethany’s abdomen and uterus were sliced open, and Catherine Margaret Hampton made her grand entrance into this world. As Dr. Perkins held Catherine up over the sterile drape that blocked Bethany’s face from her exposed innards, I stared at my offspring and thought, “Wow! She looks normal”—a romantic thought, I know. Many people told me that even if my baby were really ugly, I wouldn’t even know it, and I’d think she was beautiful. While these people are sweet and idealistic, they are also wrong. I knew that if my baby came out looking odd and funny, I would love her like crazy and pray that she grew into her giant nose or stuck out ears. 

I probably thought she was going to be odd-looking because for some reason, I had the idea in my head that Bethany and I weren’t allowed to have a normal, complication-free birthing experience. I was sure throughout the pregnancy that Bethany would get eclampsia and have to be on bed rest and be dependent on Magnesium supplements to keep her from seizing and dying or that the baby would have a horrible shoulder dystocia where it gets stuck in the birth canal and would end up paralyzed.

Catherine was transverse and required a c-section, but Bethany and I were okay with this and didn’t consider it too much of a complication. It was part of our birth plan. When one of our friends who’s a little bit granola asked Bethany what her birth plan was, Bethany informed her it was “to get the baby out and have her be safe and healthy.” The friend scoffed at Bethany and informed her, “Oh, you really need a birth plan.” I don’t think she realized that Bethany was serious. We both figured Bethany would end up with an epidural, and if it was needed, she’d get a c-section, and as long as she and the baby came through healthy and whole, we were good.

The whole time in the hospital was a little bit surreal. Even when I was watching the nursery nurses clean her and measure her and give her a bath, it seemed hard to believe that she was ours. Maybe it’s because I’ve held and swaddled and snuggled so many other babies in that nursery. While they were getting Catherine ready to meet Bethany there was another baby crying, and I instinctively picked it up and started rocking it because that’s usually what I do when I’m in the nursery examining the babies that are my patients. I felt a connection to Catherine because I knew she was mine, but the connection seemed more in my head than in my heart; however, as the hours passed by and as Bethany and I sat together holding Catherine and looking at her, I quickly realized that this kid is mine forever and always. Due to this undying love, any medical knowledge I have immediately became irrelevant in regards to Catherine. I sat and stared at her in the nursery while the doctor did her newborn assessment just sure that there was something massively wrong with her. I was sure that she was going to be deaf because she didn’t always respond when I talked to her in the womb. I was the one frantically texting our pediatrician the day after we brought her home because she hadn’t pooped or peed in 12 hours, and I was convinced it was my fault because I’d been tired during the night and waited 3.5 hours instead of the recommended 2-3 hours to wake up Bethany to feed Catherine. As she started to get a little bit more jaundice on her first day home, I was convinced she would get kernicterus and be traumatically brain damaged forever. I also was wearing some trashy travel deodorant while we were in the hospital. I know that babies recognize their parent’s scents, and as my newborn daughter nestled against my shoulder, I was just sure that she would now expect her father to smell like a frat house and that the familiarity with this scent would most certainly give her an attraction toward trashy guys.

My friends in the medical field who already have children tell me this is normal, but they’ve also warned me that it doesn’t usually get any better for the first few years.

This whole baby thing still terrifies me just a little bit, but I am so excited to be a father. I think I’ll follow the advice my mom gave me a few days before Catherine was born. I will just take it a day at a time.

The Nursery

Over the past 9 months, Bethany and I joined ranks with the millions of other impatient parents desiring a sense of control during pregnancy by pouring our pent up tension and anxiety into our nursery (and many bottles of Cabernet–me, not Bethany). Bethany and I are both always up for a good project, and getting a chance to prepare for our newborn daughter has been pretty good incentive to get creative.

Give Bethany her sewing machine and give me a paintbrush and an old wooden pallet, and we’ll produce something useful.

When Bethany and I moved into our apartment, we quickly settled into most of the 1,000 sq ft. space with the exception of The Tan Cave–the extra room above the garage where our land lord covered every surface in fifty shades of beige. Our friends Paul and Erin who lived in our apartment before us had planned for the room to be Paul’s man cave, but once Erin jokingly called it “the tan cave,” the new name stuck.  The room basically became a make shift “office/guest bedroom” where we kept a desk and a futon, but the room never truly had any sense of completion.


Once the two pink lines appeared on the pee stick, this nursery has become a labor of love. Neither of us wanted to dump thousands of dollars into a room in which the primary occupant doesn’t even have developed enough senses to enjoy it; however, we also are both always looking for a nice outlet for our creativity, and we didn’t want our house to look like a dump. We also knew that we would be spending a lot of time in the room with feedings and rockings and diaper changes, and we wanted a place that would be calming.

I’ll give a quick caveat that neither of us are into making “How To” posts on projects. Bethany finds tutorials for things and follows them like a true scientist. I see something I like, read some tutorials, then get started. I rarely can find an exact tutorial for what I want, and this often leads to a lot of trial and error, but between the two of us, we now have a bedroom for our daughter that we both truly love.

So, without further ado, I present Catherine’s nursery.


Photo Jun 07, 9 20 29 AM

 Photo Jun 07, 9 31 20 AM

 The Dresser

This dresser was an old Craig’s list find that Bethany and I hunted down over Christmas break in South Bend. I’m pretty craptacular at remembering to take “before” pictures, but imagine a nasty pine dresser with pine knobs, a lot of dents, and drawers scattered with cobwebs and mouse turds. Photo Jun 07, 9 21 29 AMWe made the cash/dresser exchange in the parking lot of a seedy bar in downtown South Bend. The whole time we were waiting, we kept watching the patrons coming and going from the bar wondering if we were going to get raped, robbed, and murdered or if we’d find a false bottom to a dresser drawer filled with a stash of pills or cocaine. In the end, we made it through the exchange unscathed. The owner of the dresser was a pretty cool seeming girl in her mid twenties with some sweet tats her nasal septum pierced.

With some love, sandpaper, mint green paint and new hardware, our baby’s dresser came to fruition. The dresser cost us $60 to buy, and we probably put $30 into it for paint and hardware. That’s not too bad of a deal considering it’s a solid piece that could easily be repainted and repurposed in the future.

Photo Jun 07, 9 22 06 AMThis is just a regular old Summer’s Eve changing pad from Walmart. Bethany made the covers using this great tutorial. (http://asmallsnippet .com/2013/09/diy-changing-pad-cover.html). 

Bethany bought this lamp at Walmart before we got married. I slapped on a coat of the same coral paint we used to paint the bookshelf while Bethany recovered the lampshade with some white fabric and made the little rosettes to put on it. 

   The Chair

Photo Jun 07, 9 25 49 AMThis chair is probably my favorite part of the nursery. This is mostly because this chair and I have spent many good hours together. The chair came with a set of furniture I bought before leaving more med school. For the underwhelming sum of $100, I got this chair and a matching ottoman, love seat, and sofa. I took these with me when I moved to West Virginia while the desk and entertainment center went to my brother’s house.

IMG_3818The other pieces of furniture have been sold or given away over the last 6 years, but my beloved chair remains. It started out plaid with a very floral back cushion. My mom held the back cushion in her lap while my parents drove me down to West Virginia and recovered it in the green fabric so her young, medical student son wouldn’t feel emasculated by having pink floral furniture.

Six years later, the chair needed another transformation. Were told by many friends that having a bed or recliner in the nursery was fantastic. Well, we didn’t have room for a bed and didnt’ really want to buy a recliner because, let’s be honest…most reclincers are pretty ugly. Therefore, the wife and I took up our first upholstery project together. Now, fabric is expensive. Upholstery fabric is REALLY expensive. BUT painting dropclothes…not so expensive.

We reupholstered this chair for a wopping $35 in supplies. The hidden cost in this project was the time component. The chair got started around the time Bethany’s growing uterus made it hard for her to get up and down easily. This left me with the job of covering the base. She read a lot of tutorials and guided me in the right direction, and the base got done over the course of a weekend. My beloved mother came to our aid and helped Bethany cover the pillows. This was a labor of love considering how much time Bernice invested, but it’s been totally worth it. I’ve already resumed my habit of taking naps in the chair.

Photo Jun 15, 4 09 14 PMThe side table was a great find. I was actually on my way to Lowes to buy the materials to build a side table when I found this beauty in somebody’s front yard next to their trash cans. One of the legs was broken, and the table top was ovular, but with the help of some wood glue and my jigsaw, I made this.

Bethany found the fabric for the bigger back pillow at Hobby Lobby and decided it would be the basis for the color palette for the room. The smaller pillow in the front is from the same fabric she used for the bedskirt–also from Hobby Lobby.


 The Ottoman 

OttomanIf I were ever inclined to write a tutorial on one of my projects, this ottoman should have been the piece. I made quite a few mistakes along the way including screwing about twelve pockets holes in the wrong spots, but I got a chance to use my awesome Kreg Jig (https://www.kregtool .com/store/c13/ kreg-jigsreg/p169/kreg-jigreg-r3/).

The chair had an ottoman that came with it, but as we were trying to enhance our storage options, we decided building this ottoman was the way to go. Plus, it gave me a good project to work on. It also gave me a chance to say, “Screw you, Pottery Barn!” because this ottoman is pretty stellar.

What’s not pictured is that the ottoman is now filled to the brim with packages of diapers. We’re making good use of the storage space.

The Crib 

Photo Jun 07, 9 23 47 AMCrib:


Photo Jun 15, 4 11 04 PMBethany made the crib rails in the same fabric as the changing pad cover using this tutorial  ( /2009/02/shes-crafty/).  She also made the crib skirt cause she’s cool and handy like that.

The mobile was my creation. I didn’t follow any kind of tutorial because I really didn’t need directions to tell me how to punch out paint swatch circles and glue them on nylon thread then suspend them from an embroidery frame. (Consider the previous sentence my first tutorial).

If the baby had been a boy, I had a grand plan for a mobile that involved wood cut outs of a fedora, a smoking pipe, brass knuckles, etc. Since this didn’t really coincide well with the coral and mint theme Bethany had going, and since our baby didn’t have a penis, I decided for this piece.

The Bookshelf

Photo Jun 07, 9 27 41 AMI am so happy that we got to use this bookshelf in the nursery. My mom bought this from one of her clients when she cleaned houses twenty years ago. This bookshelf has made the rounds through our family. I had it in my bedroom for several years. My sister had it in her first apartment and in her first house. Then I acquired it again, and it was with me through undergrad and into med school. (Again, this is when a before picture would be helpful.) But now that it got a fresh coat of paint, I don’t foresee the bookshelf leaving the family anytime soon.Photo Jun 15, 4 08 24 PM Sidenote: When I was transferring books to the shelf, I just took the whole poetry section (yes, I do have my books organized by genre) because I knew I wanted Shel Silverstein in the nursery. I didn’t pay much attention the fact that along side Where the Sidewalk Ends sat Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing and Sylvia Plath’s entire collection of poetry. I probably need to get these out of the nursery before the baby can start reading and she begins to ponder Cohen’s intricate descriptions of sex and Plath’s suicidal ideations.

Take note of the wooden rattle sitting in front of the duck. Our friend Timmo is a brilliant wood carver who builds furniture for rich people. (Seriously, they pay him thousands of dollars for his creations!). Well, he made the baby this beautiful rattle out of walnut and osage orange.

See Timmo’s work here (

 The Glider

Photo Jun 07, 9 29 33 AM Bethany really wanted some kind of glider to be able to breast feed in. We searched high and low for gliders that were built well, didn’t cost too much, and didn’t look like they belonged in your Great Aunt Prudence’s house covered in a blanket with cats on it. Let me just tell you that no such glider exists.

There are awesome gliders out there that look modern and are great quality…and they all cost $700. We opted for the affordable option and went for this glider by Storkcraft. The good news is that it matched the drop cloth covered chair perfectly, and it cost under $200. Let’s hope it holds up through a couple years worth of breast feedings. It also was an even better deal because Bethany’s mom decided she wanted to pay for it as another baby gift and my Dad assembled it while I was finishing the bookshelf.

The Conclusion

Photo Jun 15, 3 57 03 AM

A friend of ours from church gave us this sign as a gift. Her sister is an artist who does printmaking and calligraphy. We love it! The artist’s work can be found at We are also thrilled to finally announce her name to the world now that she’s arrived. We are pretty smitten with our little bundle of poop and joy, and we hope that Catherine enjoys her new room.

A Taste of Paris


Last night I was missing Paris.

I’m reading The Sun Also Rises which, like most of Hemingway’s early work, revolves around life in Paris in the early 1920’s. As I read about the characters traveling through Montmarte and Montparnasee and the Latin Quarter, my heart began to reminisce the days Bethany and I spent together in Paris two years ago.

Our whirlwind vacation through Europe began with four days in the City of Love, and I’ve longed to go back ever since.

On our trip, I accidentally rented us an apartment in a sketchier block of Monmarte for which Bethany still antagonizes me. When booking the apartment, I envisioned it would be in a building surrounded by bakeries, wine shops, fromageries, and book stores. Now, in my defense, such settings did exist at both subway stops adjacent to ours; however, instead of wine shops and fromageries, we had shady liquor stores and hair salons specializing is multi colored weaves. Amidst the graffiti and garbage on the streets, we didn’t notice the tiny corner bakery across from our building until our last morning in Paris.

All other mornings, we quickly rushed out of our apartment building to the subway station keeping our heads down and our hands on our bags. This morning, however, we decided to take a risk and linger a bit longer in our neighborhood to try out the bakery.

We were not disappointed in our decision. The moment we entered we were greeted by smiling faces and the scent of bread, sugar, and happiness.

After significant pondering, we both decided on sweet brioche rolls covered in chocolate chips. Not wanting to risk our luck any further, we stashed our breakfast in our bags and waited to eat them until we were a safe distance from our subway stop at a sidewalk café near Notre Dame.

We sat together in the crisp spring air eating our brioche and sipping espresso marveling at the fact that we were in Paris.


I’ve been saying for the last two years that I need to try my baking hand at brioche, and Hemingway finally inspired me to take the plunge.

I have an undying trust in Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, and once again, she proved herself faithful in supplying me with recipes to feed my artist’s soul and my voracious appetite.

I won’t try to compete with Deb or my friend Chelsey (whose delightful food blogging can be found at in preparing an actual recipe blog. Instead I’ll settle with sharing stories, pictures, and a hyperlink to this little taste of Paris.


What a Baby Wants, What a Baby Needs

Bethany and I were talking and scheming again about the nursery yesterday. I think that God gave new parents who are extra neurotic like Bethany and me the gift of a nursery because it gives us something firm and concrete to plan in our head. I can’t touch my baby, but I can touch a crib. I can hold onto a baby blanket and socks and diapers. Even though the baby is right there in the room with us and only separated from us by a few inches of flesh, it seems like it’s on another planet, in spite of my not believing there is life on other planets.

Even if there were, I really don’t care. I’m wildly narcissistic and think that most of outer space is a waste of time because even if there is life out there, that life does not directly affect me. Billions of dollars is spent annually so some joker can walk on Mars for 10 minutes, when that money could be spent digging wells for starving people in Ethiopia.

In spite of my views on the cosmos, I do have the idea in my head that my little baby is floating around there in the cosmic abyss and doesn’t actually enter earth until seconds before it slides out of the birth canal.

Because I’m seeing newborns daily right now in the hospital nursery, the reality of our impending birth seems more real to me, but Bethany isn’t around new babies all the time.

We were sitting on the couch yesterday talking, and she looked and me with panic in her eyes. “Jeremy, this baby is coming soon, and we are not ready! The tan cave is a pit. (The tan cave will be transforming into the nursery). We don’t have anything. You need so much for a new baby, and we have nothing!”

We sat together in panic for a few minutes and discussed an immediate trip to Walmart to stock our entire house with all of our baby needs.

Then I thought for a second about the contents of a day in the life of a newborn in the hospital nursery. It sleeps, eats, and poops. That is literally all that kid does. I reasoned with Bethany that as long as we have diapers and her boobs, we’ll be set for at least the first couple weeks.

In that line of thinking, the whole concept of “the perfect nursery” is kind of ridiculous. We’re spending all this time stressing about what the room should look like when our kid won’t even be aware of the room. It can’t even differentiate between colors or see farther than a few feet when it’s first born. But, it’s just so important that we find the perfect color and make sure everything matches. Honestly, this nursery is for us. Again—it’s God’s gift to the neurotic, type A parents who need some sense of control over the pregnancy.

My Baby, the Prude

I’m not the most patient or calm person in the world. I’m incredibly neurotic, and I love to plan and organize things. Even as a child, my favorite part of Halloween was the day after when I would steal my mom’s giant Rubbermaid container and a box of sandwich bags from the kitchen and organize all of my candy. My goal was always to keep tabs on how much of each kind I had to ensure that I didn’t run out of any specific candy too soon. It also helped keep me aware if my beloved father tried to steal my candy without asking.

Even in college I remember the time that Bethany tried to be really sweet and make my bed and help me with laundry after I missed a week of school due to being on an overseas mission trip. I was so stressed about getting my life back in order that I remade my bed and refolded all of my laundry after she already had done it because “she didn’t do it right.” Thankfully, I’ve relaxed a little bit since then and stopped being a jerk and redoing Bethany’s housework, but I still am a little bit crazy about planning.

My most current struggle has been planning for a baby with an unknown gender. I realize that until 30 years ago, women didn’t get routine ultrasounds, and the gender of every baby was a surprise, but Bethany and I are choosing to embrace technology and find out what parts our baby’s got down there.

I don’t know why science hasn’t yet found some way to incorporate a gender sensor into urine pregnancy tests. There has to be some sort of antibody or enzyme that’s released into a woman’s system when an embryo housing a Y chromosome implants into her uterus.  An extra sensor will allow a little blue or pink symbol to appear on the test strip after the nerve wracked woman squats over the toilet and pees onto it.

Bethany is currently 19 weeks and 4 days, and I have been dying to know the sex of our baby since the day we found out she was pregnant. I realize that there are all those crazy people out there that want to be surprised, but isn’t there enough surprise and anxiety impregnated in the fact that there is soon going to be a newborn baby living in my house depending on me to keep it alive? We don’t need the added stress of trying to pick out two names and assemble all gender neutral baby items. Thankfully, Bethany and I have always agreed on this fact and have never planned on being surprised with the baby’s gender.

Since I have some extra resources in my line of work, I texted one of the doctors I work with who used to do a lot of OB and is skilled at prenatal ultrasounds and asked if she would give Bethany and me a sneak peak at Tommy(e) at 16 weeks. The genitalia should have been differentiated by this point, and the suspense of not knowing was driving me mad!

Bethany and I snuck into her office on a Monday afternoon a little bit nervous to see our baby again. I was again convinced that the baby had birth defects in spite of our negative screening tests so far. When Dr. Shuman began to rub the ultrasound probe over Bethany’s uterus, I automatically began searching around on the screen looking for the genitals. Did I see a little extra appendage floating around down there in the amniotic fluid?

No. What I saw was two crossed legs covered by two little hands directly over my baby’s bits. Tommy(e) knew exactly what we were looking for and was going to play no part in this little game of show and tell.

In spite of my baby laying the smack down on my neurotic planning, this has been one of the best parts of the pregnancy so far. Prior to this ultrasound, we’ve had two others. The first was at our initial prenatal visit when we first saw the heartbeat, and the second was at our next screening appointment when the nuchal translucency was measured to screen for Down’s Syndrome. At these visits, everything seemed a little bit nerve wracking and rushed, and I was automatically in doctor mode scanning the screen making sure everything was in order. At this visit, however, I finally felt like a dad just hanging out with Bethany and our baby. Shuman took her time scanning from all the different angles just letting us soak up this time with our baby. We watched the heartbeat and watched Tommy(e) bounce and jump. We lingered on the little legs and feet and hands.

I’ve heard stories from parents whose children are in the NICU connected to wires and tubes in their tiny incubators, and all the parents can do is sit next to the little encasements and whisper to the babies how much they love them when all they really want to do is pull that baby close and hold it tight.

This is kind of how I felt. I know that it’s good that the baby isn’t in the outside world yet because it would die, but at that moment all I wanted to do was reach inside, pull it out, and hold it tight to me.

Now, when I look at Bethany’s growing tummy, I see my little prudish baby with its hands covering its bits and its legs crossed begging me to leave it alone so it can go back to sleep.

We’ve had so many people tell us so far that they just know for sure that the baby is a boy or that the baby is a girl. While a part of me is still desperate to know because I want to plan, there is another part of me—a much bigger part—that doesn’t care. All I desperately want to do is hold it tight and snuggle it into my chest and whisper into its ear how much I love it and how I’m the luckiest guy in the world because it’s this little baby that’s made me a daddy.

Operating Instructions

When I found out that Bethany and I were pregnant, I instantly felt the need to start planning. I started pinning nursery ideas on Pinterest like a mad man (yes, real men use pinterest), and I started an Amazon baby registry. I googled reviews on strollers and car seats and tried to find the perfect bottles and pacifiers for Tommy(e). I realize that I’m a neurotic control freak and I wanted to feel like I was somehow contributing to the growth of the little fetus incubating in Bethany’s uterus. I wanted to feel like I was preparing, but honestly, I struggled to figure out what I was supposed to be reading. I started googling book recommendations for first time dads, but it was hard to find something designed exactly for my personal niche. Most of the “first time dad” books talked about coaching the wife through labor, what to expect in the delivery room, and how to be supportive to a hormonally charged woman whose body is changing and she doesn’t know how to handle it.

I probably sound like a pompous jerk, but I wasn’t finding any information being presented that I didn’t already know. I mean—I’m a doctor. (Yeah, I sound like an jerk.) But, I know what to expect in the delivery room. I’ve delivered lots of babies. I’ve coached women through pushing. I’ve held up legs, held hands, and fanned a pushing mom’s sweating face until I thought my arm would fall off. I’ve put in an epidural. I’ve performed exams on newborn babies and sewed up episiotomies. I’ve taken tests entirely composed of questions about pregnancy.

I desperately wanted to call my dad and get his recommendations on parenting books, but Bethany and I both wanted to wait until we were a little bit further along in our pregnancy before we told our families.

I tried to hold off on reading any books for a few days and do other pregnancy related things, but Bethany still refuses to let me paint the nursery until we hit at least the second trimester. Her reasoning is sound. We’re both pretty realistic about the realities of miscarriage, and the chances are highest during the first trimester. Even in her hormonally charged state, she has the soundness of mind to know that we shouldn’t make any huge changes to our house or make any huge purchases now because if we do miscarry, we don’t need more reminders of what we lost.

Once again, I was left searching for books. I was going to buy a few Christian parenting books, but then I realized once again that I should wait on my dad since he’s a counselor and has shelves full of Christian parenting books. I like free stuff, so again, I was left waiting.

I finally turned to the one person who I can always turn to in moments of desperation. Anne Lamott. Anne became my friend around the time I had my nervous breakdown in college when I read her book Traveling Mercies. Anne is a wildly irreverent, God loving, liberal feminist. While digging around for the perfect parenting book, I remembered that a few years after publishing Traveling Mercies she published Operating Instructions, her journals that she kept during the first year of her son’s life.

If anything, her book makes me more terrified to be a parent, but I don’t care. She writes the way I want to write. Her blatant honesty is refreshing, and when I read Traveling Mercies it makes feel like everything will be okay. I’ve read that book countless times, and sometimes when I hit my low points, I sit on the floor with my mug of tea/glass of wine, open to a random spot, and start reading. After a few paragraphs I start to gain some perspective on life again.

I think that Operating Instructions provides a nice contrast to the other books on my reading list like Grace Based Parenting and Love and Logic. Rather than a book of theories or advice, it’s the journals of a neurotic, recovering alcoholic who is trying to raise a baby as a single mom on a writer’s salary in California. After reading about Anne suffering another momentary breakdown and spending the night on her futon crying with her baby and dreaming of cocaine and bottles of wine, I realize that if she could keep her baby alive then so can Bethany and I.

While I love Anne, there are many areas where she and I differ in opinions on life. She’s a raging, liberal feminist who is a little bit too relativistic for my tastes. To me, however, she is like that old aunt who is terribly inappropriate, makes embarrassing comments about sex, and buys you skimpy Superman underwear for Christmas, but who you can’t help but love in spite of all this.