Closing Up Shop

I didn’t set out to be an “infertility blogger,” but that was what a lot of this blog turned into. And I appreciated the outlet, because for the four years between ditching the pill and conceiving our miracle Jonathan, a lot of awful stuff happened. I needed to write about the big things, the small things, and most of all, the feelings that went along with all of them. Strange as it sounds, I want to remember these feelings. I don’t want distance and a happy ending to destroy the compassion I have developed for those experiencing many kinds of grief and disappointment. And it’s good to have those memories somewhere outside my head, so they will remain in their original form and also allow me to let go of them enough to move forward.

We have no idea if Jonathan is our first child or our one and only, or how future children will join our family if they do. But even if we struggle with infertility, miscarriage, or more adoption disappointment in the future, our status has changed. We are no longer childless. We can no longer say we haven’t carried a pregnancy to term and seen it result in a healthy, beautiful baby. We are no longer in the dark regarding the horror of sleepless months or the anxiety of knowing something is wrong but not knowing what or the joy of seeing our son smile and laugh while gazing into our eyes.

We are parents. We are grateful and enjoy capturing special moments in pictures and sharing them on Facebook, Skype, over the phone, or in person with those we love. But here that joy feels like a disconnect from the immense pain that paved our road to parenthood. So for now at least, I am closing up shop.

I want to spend my writing time, what precious little I have, writing my books. What’s more, I don’t want to dwell on the lingering negative feelings that creep into my head when I don’t get enough sleep–wishing our first-conceived was part of our present family, or grieving the breastfeeding experience I wanted, or wondering where my hormones will land when they calm down after all the craziness they’ve been through. I want to acknowledge those things as they come up, but I also want to teach myself to focus on what is here with me right now, and that is this little lovebug:

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So I will let this blog stand as a testament to just how much we had to go through to get where we are, and I will love my little one all the more for it.

It’s gone right here:

JonathanIt’s gone to caring for, admiring, and worrying over Jonathan Reece, who came into the world on January 20. He was small–only 6 lbs 12 oz and 20 inches long–but as you can see, he was perfect. No smashed face, no cone head, no black eye–he was perfect. He is perfect.

He announced his arrival by sending contractions only to my back, and by my back I mean my tailbone. Two labor and delivery nurses told us over the phone that I likely wasn’t in labor before the pain was too much to manage and we went to the hospital anyway. I got a cervical catheter to induce dilation and went from one centimeter to six in twenty minutes (while I may or may not have been screaming hysterically, unable to answer the doctor’s questions). Thank You, Father God, for our labor nurse, Nancy, who sings in our church choir with Mike, and for Danna, who held whichever hand Mike wasn’t holding and didn’t let us give up. A few hours to finish up with the epidural, two hours of pushing, and we had our little one. We could hold him. He was ours.

IMG_1660 Mommy

The month went to a weeklong visit from Grandma and Papa, who took care of all of us. I could finally call my mom “Grandma,” the title she’s been dreaming of since my wedding day. I could watch her dote on my son and realize that even with two decades worth of childcare experience, I needed her to be there. I needed advice. I needed someone to make me a sandwich each day around lunch time and tell me to take a nap. I needed someone to keep on top of our laundry and dishes so I could take care of something infinitely more important.


It’s gone to medical procedures–the routine ones like check-ups and circumcision, and the scary, unexpected ones like the one where we learned our sweet boy was quietly starving and we were readmitted to the hospital two days after we left. It went to many tearful, painful nursing sessions where I felt like a mothering failure for needing to give my baby a bottle of formula to make up for all the weight he’d lost. It has gone to accepting that having Grandma and then Daddy helping me feed him was not the plan but can be a blessing–and really, it’s not like anything else in this journey has gone according to plan.

It’s gone to sweet moments of snuggling him as he sleeps, singing to him and reading him books, gazing at his perfect face and wondering how we got so lucky. It’s gone to moments of panic where I nudge his foot or hand just to make sure he’s breathing, my overactive imagination unwilling to contemplate what would happen if he wasn’t. It’s gone to days and nights of sheer exhaustion, and appreciation of dear local friends who have brought us dinner or otherwise loved on us and gotten us through another day.


GrannaAnd, somehow, we’ve arrived at this:

one month

It has come too fast after too many long nights and short days. It hasn’t been the way I expected any more than I expected to feel contractions only in my tailbone or have a low milk supply, but it is orders of magnitude better than the grief and frustration that preceded it.

Jonathan Reece, our miracle baby, we love you. Even in our disbelief that you have been in our lives so long, we know you have been in our hearts much longer.

You’d think by now I’d be the world’s leading expert on waiting for my child to arrive. But being 39w3d pregnant is a lot different than I thought it would be when we were waiting to get pregnant, or waiting to be chosen by a birth family.

I’m not just waiting to welcome my child into the great big world. I’m waiting to go into labor. After all the painful endometriosis episodes of watching and waiting to see if a new symptom was worthy of action or just ibuprofen, now I know a painful hospital visit is looming and I’m waiting for it to begin.

We have our bags packed, minus the toiletries and phone chargers we use daily. They sit, along with Jonathan’s diaper bag and car seat and Mike’s sleeping bag and pillow, in a pile near the front door, ready to be loaded into the car while gently mocking my nesting impulses for perfect order and cleanliness. We have a stack of addressed Christmas cards waiting to be stuffed with birth announcements and sent to relatives and friends near and far.

Every trip to the grocery store, every dinner out, every round of laundry or bathroom scrubbing has me wondering if it will be “the last time before…” Before Jonathan, before parenthood, before life as I know it is permanently altered.

Mike and I don’t do well with huge, permanent change, even of the best kind. We were not blissful newlyweds because we were too overwhelmed with trying to organize our new, mutual space and make it our own. (Also, there was some sleep deprivation involved as we learned to share blankets and bed space. Looking back, that probably made mountains out of what should have been molehills more than anything else.) We fell in love pretty quickly and wanted to be married, both in the abstract and to each other, from very early on in our relationship, but that didn’t mean it was an easy transition. Especially for people who aren’t always the most graceful transitioners.

So even though we’ve waited an eternity and waded through a quagmire of grief and frustration, there are still moments where we both get nervous, or terrified, or just a little dazed at the unknown possibilities of being parents. And knowing it could start any time, or be started for us when we’re at our wits’ end, leaves the waiting that much more intense.

I’m still pretty bad at waiting, but at least this time (I hope) all will be well when it’s over.

Technically, Jonathan’s first Christmas will be in 2015, not 2014. He’s still safely on the inside of his mommy for the moment (and my doctor thinks he’s likely to stay that way until closer to D-Day, January 16). But whether he knows it or not, there were presents under the tree bought for and addressed to him–clothes and toys unmistakably for a baby boy. Mommy and Daddy took the liberty of opening them on his behalf, and then thanking his grandma, great-aunt, and uncle for their generosity.


He even got his own stocking, labeled “J” lest we confuse it with the “E” and “M” ones that have hung from our mantel for awhile.

We didn’t get him any gifts from us, though. In part it felt silly since we are buying things like crazy and sorting through shower gifts, preparing for his arrival. But also, for this Christmas, he is our gift. He is the gift we have prayed for these past four Christmases. Our little miracle coming just after the Season of Miracles, on the heels of the celebration of the most miraculous birth in the history of the world.

God has given, all right. And we rejoice in His soon-to-be perfect gift.


This July, when I was in my nauseous-zombie-first-trimester-fog state, I got an email that made my day. For the first time in my writing career, I had a work of fiction accepted by a paying market. After five years of virtually nothing but rejections, this felt almost as miraculous as the little guy responsible for my zombie fog.

The story is called “The School Strike.” The paying market is an educational database called Schoolwide, which has a library of texts available for schools and school districts with an annual subscription. I heard about them through my local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) chapter’s blog in April, and decided my much-rejected story didn’t have anything to lose. A few weeks ago, I filled out a questionnaire about my writing process and background that will accompany the story when it goes live. Every six months that it generates enough downloads to stay live, I will get a royalty check. Probably enough to take our little family out for ice-cream, maybe a fast-food dinner, but still.

It was so encouraging to get an acceptance letter instead of another rejection for my stack (and yes, I have a literal stack of my rejection letters, or rather a folder. I have one for acceptance letters too, but it’s so much smaller.) It was even more encouraging that this story falls into my favorite genre, historical fiction, and is my second story idea to come from wandering a museum in Europe. In this case, it was the Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam, where I read the stories of college students who risked their lives resisting their Nazi invaders and wondered what a younger but equally determined child would do in the same situation. My last published article back in 2009 was also about this movement, so I already had the background as the story grew in my head during that eventful trip.

But when we came home, of course, life got a little too eventful. Writing has been a challenge for me ever since because it requires so much concentration and emotional awareness, both of which were often already occupied with the various facets of our infertility struggles. Somewhere in there, I managed to write this story, and revise it with the suggestions of trusted critique partners, and sporadically send it to a magazine or contest only to have it come straight back. That I sent it to the editor who agreed to publish it the same month God began knitting Jonathan together in my womb feels like the ushering in of a whole new era.

And it helped give me the courage to keep digging deeper into the first story that jumped into my head from a museum exhibit in Europe, the novel I used as my master’s thesis. It has been rejected four or five times as often as “The School Strike,” and I now see with good reason. It wasn’t ready for the big time. Maybe it still isn’t, and that makes me uneasy as I start to feel comfortable with the changes I’ve made and wonder if maybe it’s ready for another round of agent- or editor-hunting.

I don’t want to press my luck. I don’t want to feel the dull ache of rejection again. That was a constant presence during our two years of adoption possibilities, along with my writing attempts before and during that process. I finally feel chosen again. It’s a feeling I know won’t last forever, but I still want to cling to it like the softest of security blankets.

May I find the courage to deliver this story into the world when the time is right, just as I ask for the courage to bring forth that other piece of my heart I’ve waited so long to hold.

Full Heart


My heart is full of many things as I approach my last month of pregnancy. I expected, when I thought I would never be in such a position, to have a heart full of only good things–joy, gratitude, anticipation, love. All of those things are there, all of them bubble over and make the days creep by as I long to finally hold a baby who is mine.

But new-mommy anxiety fights for a place, especially when I’m not able to sleep through the night for several nights in a row. So does frustration at my aches and pains, along with lingering sadness over all the hard things of the past few years. It all lurks beneath the surface, sometimes closer to the top than others, and it’s hard to know when to acknowledge it and when to try to force it away by ignoring it.

It’s as if I don’t feel I have permission to feel anything negative. Well-meaning, otherwise-supportive folks have reminded me that backaches and labor pain are “what I prayed so hard for.” Not many, but enough to feel put in my place. Yes, for this child I prayed, harder than anyone will ever know. But funny how God answered those prayers with a little person kicking my ribs and not with a crystal ball and instruction manual. I feel no more ready to labor and deliver, let alone parent, this baby than anyone else who has never done either.

At the heart of it all is still a degree of incredulity that this is happening to us. The fear that something could still go horribly wrong is there, of course, but there is also a competing voice in my head saying, “But what if it doesn’t? What if Jonathan is a healthy, happy baby who grows into an amazing kid and then a handsome, God-loving man who outlives his parents?” And that thrills me to no end, but it can still feel like someone else’s story. Surely that can’t be meant for our family after all this time?

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” Genesis 21:1-7

Once again, I feel the permission to be anxious or incredulous from Sarah. I imagine her shaking her head in wonder for months after Isaac is born, maybe still afraid he is a dream or a manifestation of dementia. But there is joy, thankfulness, love, and laughter in her words too. It can feel a little cramped with all those feelings floating around in there, but there is room for all of them.

Lessons From Adoption

Our adoption process that we left hanging is still a sore spot for me. I still don’t understand why we felt led down such a long, complicated road that didn’t result in a child, and hearing about the serendipity of successful adoption stories has the same effect on me that miraculous pregnancy stories did when I thought we would never have one of our own. All that to say, though, all the psychological preparation we did for adoption changed our perspectives on having a biological child.

I mentioned my impatience with the perspective that a woman’s body is made to give birth in my last post, and I suppose this is a follow-up to that. I should add that I don’t doubt there are plenty of women who give birth relatively easily without major medical intervention. The world’s population would be incredibly small if that weren’t the case. I also don’t doubt that there is value and substance to the research on the benefits of immediate skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby after birth, often followed quickly by the first breastfeeding session. So many hospitals, ours included, wouldn’t promote it if there wasn’t a good reason.

But here’s where some lessons from adoption come into play. Basically, adoption taught us to say two words most new parents find very difficult to say: it’s okay.

Adoptive parents rarely get the chance to experience that skin-to-skin contact. When medical professionals and otherwise-helpful publications glorify that time and make it synonymous with the entire process of parent-child bonding, it often produces guilt and fear. But adoptive parents do bond with their babies or older children somehow, and that bond isn’t somehow secondary because it wasn’t facilitated in the seconds following birth. We had to come to a place of acceptance of this for over two years, and had to learn to be okay with it.

We had to learn to be okay with not breastfeeding an adopted baby, especially so that I would be free to pursue whatever endometriosis treatment was necessary to give me the energy to care for this new baby. Some adoptive moms do nurse, but very rarely are they able to do so without formula supplementation. So we had to smile and nod through the rhetoric about breast milk being nature’s perfect food while instead being thankful for the abundance of quality formula that would allow us to feed our baby. And if breastfeeding Jonathan doesn’t go well, guess what? I still get to be grateful, and he will be okay.

Babies are resilient. They can survive exposure to horrible substances, they can survive with a minimum of medical care, they can survive being transferred to another set of parents. It’s no one’s ideal, and in no way am I advocating for it. But we saw a lot of hair-raising scenarios among the fifty-four cases we were presented with, and to many of them we said, sometimes with fear and trembling, it’s okay. If you are meant to be ours, we will get through this together, because that’s what families do.

Biological families can get through less-than-ideal beginnings too. Jonathan already has a lot of advantages over many of the babies who could have become his older sibling in that I know what he’s been exposed to and it’s all been approved by my doctor. Ultrasounds have shown a healthy boy of normal size and proportions. God willing, he’ll come into this world safely and I’ll be able to hold him to my chest and let him nurse immediately while Daddy wraps his arms around us both.

But if we can’t, we will still form an unshakable bond with the son we longed for. He will be okay, we will be okay, and we’ll get through it together, because that’s what families do.

Jonathan Reece, our Baby Miracle, is due in a little over six weeks. For the first time since 2009, singing Christmas carols in church does not cause deep pain with every mention of mothers and babies. For the first time since 2009, I am getting the one thing I want for Christmas (though I hope he stays put until afterward). It is a season for rejoicing and anticipating and getting my rib cage kicked, and even though it wears me out, I am grateful to be on the other side of the intense longing and depression that has characterized the past four years.

We’re also wrapping up childbirth classes, which have been a mixed experience for me. Our instructors have been very informative and provide balanced information on unmedicated and medicated birth options offered by our hospital (and they back this up with personal experience, having delivered their own children there). Our workbook is a little more, um, less so. It gives detailed risks to mother and baby for any sort of medical intervention associated with labor and birth, neglecting to mention that many of these interventions have saved lives. Natural birth, according to them, has no risks. (First world perspective if I ever heard it.) They’re big on the “Your body was made to do this” idea.

I have no patience for that line of thinking. Maybe I could have bought it before we boarded the plane to Europe in 2010. But if my body was designed to incubate and birth my babies, why did my body create such an inhospitable environment for that long-ago first-conceived baby? There is a huge chance that baby couldn’t properly implant because of uterine blood clots and my body’s inability to process standard folic acid. But that was determined by blood tests. On the outside, I was the healthiest I’d ever been in my adult life. I’d recently lost about 20 pounds while Mike lost nearly 100, I was eating great and exercising regularly, I had no endo symptoms, and I was hopeful for our future family. So if my body just needed excellent care to be in top baby-making shape, I had it in spades.

In the years that followed, my body couldn’t seem to do anything right. Endo, ovarian cysts, and other reproductive system issues big and small wrecked havoc on my physical and emotional health. Medicine, dietary changes, surgery, fertility treatments all did nothing long-term. My body seemed made for nothing but malfunctioning after I’d worked so hard to get it in tip-top shape. I wasn’t noticeably better off when I discovered I was expecting Jonathan, which is why we called him Miracle from day one. We did nothing to prepare my body, other than taking the baby aspirin and folate pills along with standard prenatals “just in case.” God decided, for reasons still unknown to us, that this would be the Christmas we would sing, “For unto us a son is given” in a whole new way.

So forgive me if I don’t have much confidence in my body’s ability to finish the job. Forgive me if it has caused a little anxiety as I contemplate this monumental task ahead of me. Forgive me if I laugh or roll my eyes a bit every time I see or hear the words “birth plan.” Not one piece of this journey has gone according to plan so far–not plan A, plan B, plan C or on down. If I have to have a fully-asleep emergency C-section because my uterus ruptures during labor, I will not be surprised. I will be grateful the ability exists in my time and place to keep Jonathan and me alive in such situations, but I will not be surprised. I will not mourn the loss of my “birth plan” or how my body has failed me by not being up to the task I was told it would be.

My heart was made to grow even more than the Grinch’s when I finally get to meet my son. That is all I know and all I expect. I hope for a smooth labor and delivery (complete with epidural) and time to adequately heal and rest in the weeks that follow, but if that doesn’t happen, well, it wouldn’t be the first time something went berserk in this journey. None of it could change my love for my son, in whom I am already well pleased.

One of our first major upgrades to our house, all the way back in August 2008, was to replace the aging oil-converted-to-natural-gas furnace that was only about 60-70 percent efficient with an Energy Star-rated natural gas furnace. It cost a ton and took a whole day to install (thankfully we followed our home inspector’s advice and replaced it in the summer). But for all the money and time we spent, we didn’t have anything to really show for it except lower energy bills. As my aunt put it, who gets excited to have friends over to show off their new furnace?

The same was true for a lot of things this year. In early spring we had sewage backup that led to a plumbing overhaul (wait, that doesn’t happen in every house?), complete with the comical touch of discovering some of the pipes under our house were one size held to more pipes of another size by lots of tape. Then, on Halloween, our sump pump died and we discovered it had never been hooked up properly. It allowed so much water to flood our crawl space that it spilled over into the garage and also killed our furnace motor. No heat for a week just as the temperature dropped, and we spent a few days with a make-shift sump pump system that included our garden hose running water from the pump out the crawl space, through the garage, and out the garage window to the ditch in front of our house.

But aside from the absence of the temporary ridiculousness, all we really have to show for that one is a giant credit card bill. And the invisible hope that such a thing will never happen again.

Then there are the fun projects. Or at least the projects that are fun when they’re complete. These are the show-off-able projects, the ones that delight your own eyes every day because you remember what came before. In the case of our kitchen, we’ve upgraded both style and substance over the past year. And just in time–no way was I welcoming my first child into a construction zone.

kitchen remodel

We’d gotten much more used to our granite tile counters that were installed over the summer by the time the backsplash was put in. We had a hard time choosing a design for the backsplash, and until we installed it, I wasn’t sure the blue tiles would look okay with the brown and gray swirl of the countertop. I just knew in the often-dreary Pacific Northwest, I needed a touch of color. I think it worked out rather well:

backsplash over stoveThis is the only part of the kitchen where the backsplash uses all three “tiers” of tile. If you look really close, you can see the blue glass tile is just a smidge too short to fit under the cabinets, so James, our house’s fairy godfather, had to cut each strip by half an inch. After slicing nearly every piece of granite, though, he said glass was a piece of cake.

We also got rid of one remaining bit of weird after all the tiling was complete. Between our cabinets and the back door of our house is a small strip of wall that was paneled with bead board up to about the height of the countertop. It’s the only such panel in the whole house, and we naively figured it was left over from when the kitchen had a different cabinet configuration. After the number of walls we’ve opened, we really should have known better:

kitchen heaterThat black box is what’s left of a heater. Yes, a heater. When the previous owners built an addition onto the back of the house, they apparently “solved” the problem of the heat ducts not being able to reach that far by putting heaters into the walls. Which isn’t so bad, but then they thought covering it up with a cabinet and bead board was okay? No way were we pulling out the cabinet after we had just tiled the counter and backsplash, so James took pliers and literally ripped as much out of the wall as he could before patching the hole with drywall and adding an outlet. In terms of hacks, ours is at least a notch above theirs.

repaired kitchen wall

We then had him do the same thing to the (visible) heater in our bedroom wall, which we had always been afraid to touch ourselves. Turned out that unlike several things in our house, neither heater contained live wires. They were simple fixes, somewhere in between the realms of seen and unseen home improvement. But as James is moving to the far reaches of our county and limiting his side work and we are burned out, broke, and getting ready for Jonathan, the kitchen feels like our last project for awhile unless something breaks. We’re grateful to have found James and other quality contractors, grateful for the education our home has provided, and grateful for cheap, quality materials on Craigslist. But we are even more grateful to just be done. To let our hard work pay off and let our house transition from a project to a fuller nest.

Still in Crisis Mode

I continue to be amazed that our darling Jonathan is developing exactly as he should, and that my pregnancy hasn’t had any real complications. Given my reproductive system’s love of complications, this is not how I thought things would play out. But it doesn’t take much to fall back into crisis mode thinking. All the women I’ve known who’ve been pregnant after a miscarriage admit to the same thing. It’s as if worst case scenario feels more plausible than best case, because in my case, worst case in this area is all I’ve known.

So when any little symptom shows up that could be indicative of a larger problem, it’s easier for me to imagine that larger problem playing out than to agree with the on-call doctors that it’s probably nothing. This tendency is definitely exaggerated when I’m awake earlier than normal and away from home.

In mid-October, my father-in-law turned 80. We went to South Carolina to be able to attend his birthday party, and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law used my being in town anyway as an excuse to throw a shower with some neighbors and friends from their church. It was a big weekend for the whole family, and since my in-laws aren’t in the best of health right now, Mike and I tried to do as much to help with the party set-ups as possible. I noticed trace amounts of vaginal spotting on Sunday morning, pink in color, which made me nervous but which I attributed to doing more than I probably should have.

If that were the case, that it was from over-exertion, then it should have lessened as I slept that night. Instead, when I woke up around 5 a.m. to use the bathroom, it had gotten a little heavier and darker. I wanted to scream.

That’s how some women’s miscarriages start off, with spotting that gradually gets heavier. Mine was more of an all-at-once deal, and I knew I was far past that stage of pregnancy by then anyway. But there’s really nothing good about vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, especially when you’re set to fly across the country later that day. It was the thought of dealing with something like a detached placenta in Minneapolis, where we were scheduled to change planes but know absolutely no one, that eventually got Mike and me out the door of his parents’ house and to the nearest emergency room. If we were going to have an emergency, better to have it with family than on our own.

As far as ER experiences go, this was decidedly the best we’ve had. Maybe it was because they transferred me to the maternity section when they learned I was pregnant, but it was also one of the few times no one dismissed my worries or told me flat-out wrong information. The nurse, midwife, and ob/gyn who saw me throughout the couple of hours we were there were all friendly and helpful, concerned without being alarmist. They didn’t try to tell me what was usually wrong with others in this situation, but instead immediately monitored Jonathan’s heartbeat (strong), had me give a sample to check for UTI, and then took a look at the source of the problem.

Didn’t take more than a few seconds to for the midwife to determine I had a small polyp on my cervix that was the bleeding culprit. Just a polyp, like I had this past winter that gave me extra spotting between periods. Nothing that would affect Jonathan if we just left it alone.

So simple. Not a crisis, yet it was all too easy for me to think it was.

I had an ultrasound at the next day at my regular doctor’s office, just to make sure the placenta was still in place. As soon as the tech assured me it was, I began to relax for what I realized was the first time in an ultrasound room during this pregnancy, and maybe ever. Instead of checking off limbs and vital organs from my mental list like I did during my twenty-week “anatomy scan,” I got to enjoy an unexpected glimpse of my son. My mama-heart nearly melted on the spot when she zoomed in on his face and saw his right eye blinking and glancing around, probably trying to figure out what all these strange noises were.

27 weeks - 1

It was like a treat for surviving the crisis-that-wasn’t. And it closed even more of the gap for me between guarding my heart from potential disaster to loving him as much as I want to.