Dignity in Diapers.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Joe and I were trying to calculate the other day how long it took us to go through a box of 172 diapers. We think maybe about 2.5 weeks. That's an awful lot of diapers to go through in one day.

Because I stay home with Bert all day, sometimes it feels like all I do is change diapers and feed him. Rinse and repeat. Some days it seems no sooner do I change a diaper than it's time to change one again. Sometimes it can feel, well, monotonous at best, defeating at worst, to reflect on my day and realize just how much of it is devoted to changing Bert and cleaning him up.

I recently read an article (and for the life of me I can't remember where, but I'm looking all over for it to give proper credit) that basically said that taking care of the hygiene of someone who can't take care of it for themselves gives that person dignity. At first I was like, well, yeah, that makes sense: someone with dementia who used to be able to do that but now can't take care of his own hygiene, it would give him dignity as a person to have someone else lovingly do that for him. It would be very hard -- and make someone very vulnerable -- to not be able to clean himself up after going to the bathroom, change his own dirty clothes, or give himself a bath. 

But, like, Bert -- I mean it's my JOB to care for him, right? He's just a baby. I mean, he's just small so that's why he can't take care of his own hygiene ... OH, RIGHT. Just because Bert has never been able to do it for himself doesn't mean that it's any less holy to do that work for him. I think it would be very hard -- and make him very vulnerable -- to not be able to clean himself up after going to the bathroom, change his own dirty clothes, or give himself a bath. 

Think of how horrified we are when we read a story about a neglected child, a child left to sit in a dirty diaper for days at a time, or a child whose clothes are filthy or has never been given a bath. We balk at these stories because NO ONE should have to experience that. When that happens, the victim is being treated as less than a person.

I am a believer in the value of human life from conception until natural death, and I am also a believer that ALL human beings have dignity -- whether they have a physical disability, are in the womb, or have Alzheimer's. Although Bert might just be a little baby, a way that I can protect and honor his dignity as a human person is to change his diapers, bathe him, and give him clean clothes to wear. These things sound so mundane out of context, but when looked at through the lens of the value of Bert's personhood, those chores take on a level of holiness that transform how I think about them.

This topic reminds me of one of my favorite pictures of Mary and Jesus. It's called "Polish Madonna," and it depicts Mary hanging clothes to dry on a line while baby Jesus sits nearby.


We honor Mary and think of her sacrifice in carrying Jesus and watching him die on the cross. But for years, like every other mother, Mary spent so much time changing Jesus's diapers, washing his dirty clothes, and giving him a bath. She might have been the mother of God, but at heart, she was just a mother.

It's so easy for me to fall into the trap of asking myself what I really did all day. My friend Maggie has talked to me about finding that question hard to answer too because what she did all day was take care of a child. How do you begin to describe everything that is? How beautiful, lonely, joyous, boring, taxing, fun, and overwhelming that is? I'm going to try and reframe my answer in my mind now. Instead of telling myself "all" I did all day was change Bert's diapers and feed him and do laundry, I'm going to remind myself that what I actually did all day was honor Bert's dignity as a person, made in the image of God.

Three Years Later.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

September 11 is of course an important day to remember in our nation. But it is also an important day in Joe and my life together because it was September 11, 2016 that we had our first date.

It was a Sunday, so I had gotten up and gone to church with my parents as usual. Later that day, I showered and got ready (wore a blue flowered dress and took a cardigan with me, naturally) and met Joe for lunch at 2 p.m. at Black Sheep Burrito in Huntington. (Old location for people who know what I'm talking about!) Joe was already there when I arrived, and we spent the next few hours sitting together talking, eating tacos, and drinking beer. We also went a for a really nice walk in Ritter Park.

The following year we commemorated our first date (although a couple days early since Joe lived in Georgia, and I still lived in West Virginia) by once again going to Black Sheep and sitting together talking, eating, and drinking beer.

Last year we were married, so for the first time we lived in the same place on September 11, so although we couldn't be at Black Sheep, the day once again found us sitting together talking, eating, and drinking our beer.

Yesterday as you know was September 11. This year was different, though. Although Joe and I were still sitting together and talking, it wasn't at Black Sheep or even at our house. 2 p.m. found us sitting side by side in a surgeon's office, our sweet Bert between us, listening to a doctor talk to us about another of Bert's health issues. In fact, the whole day went by yesterday without either of us acknowledging the anniversary of our first date.

Joe and I around the time of our first date.

On one hand, maybe that's a little bit sad. But on the other hand, isn't this what we're really all hoping for when we go on those first dates? Not to be in doctors' offices with our infants, of course, but I mean to even be sitting there together with a baby at all. Before we go on those first dates I think all -- or at least most -- of us are hoping that we will have finally found our person and that years down the road we may be too busy living our regular, everyday lives together to do more than smile for a moment when we arrive at the anniversary of that first hopeful date, if we even are able to take a moment to remember it at all.

Something else I thought about yesterday is how much life can change in such a short time. If you would have told me on my way to Black Sheep to meet Joe for that first date that we'd be sitting in the first home we bought together with our baby son just three short years later, I don't know if I would have believed you, but here we are. Three years ago I was Anna Lafferre, teaching at Fatima in Huntington, and living in my little apartment with Baby Snicks. Now, I am Anna Kraft, staying at home with my newborn son after teaching at Saint Jude for a year in Atlanta, living in my first home with my husband, son, and two dogs. Things really can change so very quickly.

Joe and I with newborn Bert, three years later. 

The beginning of a relationship is so exciting: getting to know someone, finding out how compatible you are, feeling that magic spark of something special. Those days are beautiful. But there is something magical, too, in the mundane day-to-dayness of life: paying your mortgage, buying the toothpaste, and talking about your worries and fears about a child. It was so fun at the beginning of our relationship when Joe would send me flowers or get me something he thought would help make my life easier. But I would trade all the flowers in the world for the Joe who changes Bert's diapers throughout the night, gets up and goes to work all day for our family, and changes his work schedule on a moment's notice to sit beside me at Bert's doctor appointment.

I once said to my friend Sarah about my friend Story that I felt like I owed Story so much for all she's done for me, but there was no way I could ever repay her. (Incidentally, Sarah, I owe you so much too for all you've done for me!) I made the comment that, "I mean, I keep showing up for Story's plays and things like that ..." And Sarah said those profound words that have continued to stick with me:


Amen, Sarah. Brilliant. That is how we show people we love them. Joe showed up to our first date fully engaged, never pulling out his phone or otherwise making me feel I wasn't worth his time. And I remember this, whether or not we were able to recall the anniversary of our first date this year. And Joe keeps showing up three years later. That's what real love is. Whether it's a romantic relationship or a friendship or a family relationship -- THAT'S WHAT REAL LOVE IS. You show up, and you keep showing up.

Grief ... It Just Is.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The son of a family member by marriage recently had his own son. We've never met the son or the new baby, but we love the grandmother, and we are so happy for her and her family. The new baby is about a month younger than Bert, and we've gotten to see a couple pictures of him.

A few days ago, Joe came home from work and, as we were talking, he suddenly told me he had a new photo that he wanted to show me. The photo was of the father of the new baby, shirtless and holding his new son skin-to-skin in the hospital.

Joe said, "I guess at this hospital they have the dads do that -- take off their shirts and hold the baby."

I couldn't respond. Because without me even realizing it or even any warning, I immediately started tearing up. I opened and closed my mouth a couple times, trying not to lose it, and Joe's face changed as he suddenly realized,

"... I was supposed to do that, wasn't I?"

I nodded.

"... But I couldn't because ..."

I nodded again. And the tears came.

As I wrote about here, there are a lot of things we didn't get to do with Bert when he was born because of his health issues. As I wrote about in that same post, I figured out that my post-partum healing would not be nearly as physical as it would be emotional and mental, coming to terms with what happened. Overall, I think I'm doing pretty well. But something I've also realized in all of this is that grief comes and goes in waves, it's not a straight line at all.

I think we usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, and, yes, that is such indescribably painful grief. But grief can also be associated with other things, such as when what you hoped, expected, or thought would happen in a situation turned out to be the complete opposite.

Some days I feel like I'm doing a good job of working through my grief, and other days some things will happen that just overwhelm me out of nowhere, such as the photo I just talked about or another health issue that Bert is dealing with. At his one-month appointment, Bert was diagnosed with an umbilical granuloma, which when treated, really is no big deal. The odds of getting it are 1 in 500, but as Joe said, if it's some crazy thing with crazy odds, Bert will get it. The granuloma was treated on Thursday, and we followed the instructions about giving it 24 hours, pulling the band aid off, and checking it. When I checked it Friday, I thought it still didn't look right, and it still had discharge coming from it. I called the nurse line at our pediatrician and left a message, and late Friday afternoon we got a call back that we'd need to take him to the Saturday sick clinic at one of our practice's other locations to be checked out and likely re-treated.

Like I said, this honestly is no big deal right now. But finding out that Bert had another health thing that required another "emergency" doctor's appointment hit me hard. It just took me right back to all the things that happened in the past five weeks of his life, and the overwhelming emotion this time wasn't sadness, it was anger. I told Joe I just feel so, so angry. I'm so angry about what happened to him, and that spiraled into me also being angry about what happened to Joe and me, angry about some things that went on in my own home after Bert was born, angry about something else that happened this summer that's unrelated to Bert's health but that I'm still dealing with, angry that I didn't stand up for myself in some situations like I should have. So right now, I'm angry. I'm angry, and I want a total do-over I won't get.

As I mentioned before, too, I know that life doesn't ever go according to plan, and I know that things could have turned out a lot worse. But I'm not sure in the history of time anyone ever felt better about their feelings after being told it "could have been worse." In reality, I'm pretty sure when someone is told that, all that happens is that they continue to feel their sad/angry/whatever feelings AND they now feel guilty for feeling those feelings, so now they just feel worse overall.

I am just trying to tell myself that grief is a process. Some days are great, some days you're taken right back to the thing or things that make you sad and angry. It's like this graphic that I've seen before:


Maybe it sounds like I'm whining or like I'm ungrateful for what I have. In reality, I am very grateful for Bert and all of the prayers for him and his current state of health. But, while my physical self is right on target for post-partum healing, my mental and emotional health is still a couple months behind. And you know what? THAT IS OKAY.

So if this is you right now, or past you, or maybe future you, please know that whatever you are feeling ... THAT IS OKAY. For as long as you need to feel it. I pray that you have someone to reach out to to talk to about it, and if not, I am happy to be that person because I understand. Talking about it has really helped me a lot. And if it happened to you five years ago and you still need to talk about it a lot ... THAT IS OKAY.

To be even more transparent, there is no happy ending to this right now. Right now, I'm in the middle of it, so it just is.

Here's a cute picture of Bert, though, because who doesn't love that? 

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