If I have to pick one pregnancy ailment that vexes me above anything, it would be the heartburn.

Pregnancy heartburn is not run of the mill “Oh I shouldn’t have ate that burrito, better pop some Tums” heartburn. It is a vicious, predatory attack. It rears its ugly head as soon as I eat in the morning, and lasts until the middle of the night when I wake up coughing and gagging on my on reflux.

The causes are two-fold: a growing belly which rearranges every organ in your torso until your food literally has no where to go but up, and a hormone called “relaxin.” Relaxin is meant to relax your muscles and joints to make giving birth easier, but it unfortunately also relaxes the muscles that typically keep stomach acid from burning holes in your esophagus.

The mild blessing of heartburn is that it is a good distraction from the fact that my other, more metaphorical heart, is also constantly in distress. 

Pregnancy is nine long months of not only physical, but also mental torture. “Is the baby okay? I can’t feel it yet. Should I be able to feel it? Am I big enough? Am I too big? Should I be working out more or resting more? What is every single ingredient in that cracker I just ate, and are they pregnancy safe? What? You aren’t supposed to eat flax seed now? Should I have been eating flax seed so often that I am now distressed to know this?”

Having someone so close to you, so intertwined with your body and soul, and yet being unable to guarantee their safety is the part of pregnancy I hate the most. I can’t guarantee if they are okay – I can’t even see if they are. But I can feel the weight of the responsibility all over me.

I often think it must have far easier to be an expectant mom in the 1950s. The list of things you weren’t supposed to do was far shorter – don’t lift your hands above your head and don’t wear a corset. None of this fretting about exactly how much kale you should eat if you want to guarantee your child is accepted at an Ivy League university. 

That is, if I could eat anything without inciting a heartburn riot.

In an attempt to control the uncontrollable, I read everything I can find about having a healthy pregnancy. According to science, I should exercise regularly, eat six dates a day, eat fish but not too much fish and only the right types of fish but definitely more fish than I eat now just try not to think about the mercury levels if you eat the wrong fish. I can’t sleep on my back, must spend time in green spaces, and shouldn’t stress because that is also bad for the baby. 

My husband likes to tell me I shouldn’t worry, because everything will turn out fine.

But there’s no guarantee of that. Things can go wrong. Horribly wrong. Ultrasound tech avoiding your eyes wrong. Doctor wringing his hands in the waiting room wrong. Hushed whispers whenever you enter a room wrong. There is no guarantee that they won’t, no matter how much I try to use every scientific study I’ve read to my advantage. 

So my heart burns.

I try to placate it with cold glasses of almond milk, Zantac, and the knowledge I’m not in control. But for pregnancy related ailments, there are only temporary remedies.

The only known cure is birth.



There is this person.

I don’t know much about them, other than they exist. And I love them.

That seems ripe for a metaphor. Like I should start talking about how it shouldn’t take much more than knowledge of existence for us to illicit compassion.  How we shouldn’t make a refugee on wartorn shores prove their worth, or ask a child to demonstrate the economic profitability of providing them with clean air.

But I’m too tired for all that right now.

Besides, love at this point is only theoretical. Don’t get me wrong, it’s real. I know it’s real, or at least will be real. But think back to how you look at your wedding day. Doesn’t part of you wonder how you even got married to someone you knew so little? Somebody whom you hadn’t yet walked through the trials and blessings you’ve been through since?

Or your baby’s first smile. It was wonderful, sure. But it has since been eclipsed by grins, guffaws, and kisses. How little you knew then.

Love is difficult, is it not? It is raw, involuntary, and demanding. It is an action we must choose, time and again, often before ourselves. It breaks us and leaves us more whole than we have ever been before.

So, sure. I know I’m in love. And I know the first days, weeks of love pale into comparison to the gritty work of what comes later. Life often gets harder and better on equal measure.

So here’s to the next love of our life, whom you are welcome to join us in loving sometime this October.

To believe in life



They’re still sleeping. Those little ones who are waiting for the Easter Bunny to wriggle his whiskers and hop to their front steps, bringing sweet candy. They won’t sleep much longer, but will wake and soon indulge, donning pastel colored smiles as we drive to church.

They believe so easily, these little ones. I suppose it’s easy to believe in stories about triumph and new life when you spend your days conquering an outsized world. Everything is new to them – the crocuses popping through the ground, the green buds as tiny as they once were, the broken eggshell laying underneath a tree. They saw these treasures last year, but again they are new. You see the world with fresh eyes each day when you are three.

And so it must seem easy to believe a story your mom tells you as she tucks you into bed. About a man who preached love, about a time when hope conquered fear and new life was given. This is their rose and robin egg blue colored world – one where each day finishes with the promise of tomorrow, each night ends with a fresh sunrise. The world is safe, the world is good. The world is new always.

It must get harder to believe as we grow older. We grow used to the rhythms of the earth, and worse – accustomed to the its pain. We are no longer surprised when death and grief color the headlines of the day. At a certain point, we attend more funerals than birthday parties and the promise of new life, or life at all, must begin to seem like a wistful dream of childhood.

This weekend, as flowers push through frozen ground, I remember a cold and windy day ten Aprils ago. A rumor from my friend, a phone call from my mom, a headline on the news. My sleepy Virginia home became the focus of the nation. Dozens of lives taken by gunfire, and a school that would never be the same.

I could have gone to school there, I thought. It could have been my French class a crazed gun man walked in to that morning.

But it wasn’t. And my life goes on, to watch little hands snack on jelly beans, and little feet chase after eggs.

I wish I could believe as easily as a child. I get mired in logic and logistics, until my head aches from questions. One day, the stories I read ring deep and true, the next I find more doubt than peace.

But I will never ceased to be in awe of a world that can hold so much pain and so much hope concurrently. My faith might be, at times, illogical and contradictory. But so are our very lives. It is one mystery of the world we understand less as we grow older.

The little ones might live in awe, for a time, as they unravel the innerworkings of the world. Gravity, clouds, butterflies await discovery. The newness will eventually wear off for them, and a story of new life might seem more like a child’s memory.

But, each spring, I never fail to still be surprised at the first bud I see. Hope is inherent in the birth of the world. Pain, we will always have with us, as well as an infinite capacity for bringing good into the world.

This, I believe.

Stuffed Monkey

Semmens Family (16 of 27)

My son fell asleep without his stuffed monkey a few weeks ago.

This is not a particularly important milestone of childhood – I’m certainly not going to write it down in his baby book. To be honest, a part of me felt slightly relieved. If we were ever to have another “left-the-monkey-at-the-grandparents-house” incident, we would not have to have it overnighted immediately.

This wasn’t the first time, either. Last week, he slept without her for a few nights.

I only noticed because she was under our kitchen table, where he drags her most every morning to sit beside him while he eats his breakfast, in the exact same spot for a couple of days in a row. I hadn’t realized that it had been a few nights without a frantic 8 p.m. search across the house for her, or a 3 a.m. wake up call to retrieve her from under his bed. She laid there on the floor, looking forlorn and forgotten even with her smile sewn permanently on.

Last night, I tucked my son’s blankets around him before I went to sleep. I pulled her out from under the covers and laid her in the crook of his arm. For years, I have done this every night to avoid that 3 a.m. wake up call, but last night I think I did it not to make sure she stays in the arms of a little boy, but to make sure it was a little boy still holding her.

I slept with my own stuffed bear for 18 years, before deciding it would be embarrassing to bring to college. The bear had little to do with comfort, and more to do with the fact it was the perfect shape to wrap my arm around as I slept at night. In college I laid on my side, trying to fall asleep while my arm slumped down awkwardly.

I still have that bear. It’s in a box of my son’s stuffed animals, and my boys toss it around and twirl the frayed cords that hang where its smile once was. It makes me happy to see it, but not as much as my own children’s favorite stuffed animals make them.

My mom used to make me promise to stay little always. She ultimately failed in that endeavor. In the moments when my kids are being irresistibly adorable, I too find the same request on the tip of my tongue.

But I don’t want them to stay little forever. I look forward to the day when we can ride our bikes together, when I can read them Pippi Longstocking, and when they can turn on the Saturday morning cartoons by themselves and I can sleep in for just a little longer.

In the middle of the night, though, when a stuffed monkey snuggles next to a face that looks more like a baby’s than a child’s, I find myself wishing for just one more night like this.

Bath time 


My kids are splashing in the bath tub.

I loved giving my nieces and nephews baths when I was a teenager. I twisted their soapy hair into dinosaur shapes, and told stories of mermaids swimming to distant shores. Afterwards, I wrapped them into fluffy towels and tucked them into bed.

Ever since I was old enough to be left alone, I’ve taken care of other kids. I babysat my first newborn when I was 12 years old, which necessitated a call to my mom when I couldn’t figure out how to stop her from crying. I eventually grew more qualified, and babysitting paid for my gas money in high school and through college. Even after grad school, I still found myself nannying while I looked for a “real job.”

Kids were always easy, fun, or at the very least funny, and I made good money watching them. Until, of course I had my own.

Mine are rarely easy, and are the opposite of good money. Like my previous charges, they are fun and funny, but those moments are sandwiched between frustrating ones as well. I see fellow moms post Facebook statuses saying, “I love every minute of being a mom!” and find myself wondering why I don’t feel that way.

Now that I’m the mom, I can’t hand the tots off to anyone at the end of the day, two twenty dollar bills in hand, figuring job done well enough. Every minute, every moment I am responsible. It’s not the children themselves that are exhausting (although they have their moments.) It’s the work that takes to raise them into adulthood that’s so draining.

It’s the “did I yell too much today?”

“Should I have been stricter?”


“Should I play classical music more often?”

“Am I reading to them enough?”

“Did they eat too many cookies today?”

“Did they eat a single vegetable this week?”

“Should I take her to the doctor for this?”

“Is this bath water too hot?”

“Am I missing it all?”

These are the questions I can’t leave behind at the end of the night. These are what have me so exhausted all I want to do during bath time is to zone out, rather than cherish these days.

As my son sat down in the bath tub tonight, he closed his eyes and said, “ah, this is the life.”

He’s right. And I’m worried I’m missing it behind my veil of exhaustion and worry. So tonight I will tell them tales of shipwrecked pirates and far off islands. They are mine, my exhausting blessings.

This is the life.

Holding on

My son lost a balloon today. 

We were in the meat department of the grocery store. I was trying to find the cheapest cut of beef possible, and my kids were eyeing the St. Patrick’s display. Green and yellow balloons were tied in front of a suspicious rack of “O’Garlic”sausages that I doubt anyone in the old country had ever tried. Just as I was about to reprimand them for playing with the balloons, a man burst through the door pushing a tall cart of tightly wrapped packages of chicken thighs with which to replenish the shelves. My youngest, being slow to react  and directly in the path of the cart, was instantly bulldozed. 

In typical protective mother fashion, I reacted by yelling his name much too loudly, causing a look of horror to cross the young employee’s face. My son looked startled, as seems just when you have been knocked down by a cart three times as tall as you. The employee, desperate to make amends, offered him a balloon. To a child, this is far better than never having been knocked down in the first place. Understanding the fraught nature of sibling dynamics, he offered my other son one as well. 

The employee began tying the balloon to my younger son’s wrist, causing the older one to yell, “I don’t want it tied to my wrist!” My protective mother bear instincts having subsided, I returned to my typical sub-par parenting skills and for some reason agreed to that plan, noting, “If you let go, then it’s gone.”

He let go. 

I had just turned back to the meat case when I heard wailing and saw a yellow balloon floating to the top of the ceiling. It should be noted that these cries far exceeded those of the son who was actually knocked down by the cart of meat. A second employee offered to get a ladder to retrieve the balloon. He returned with someone who had been stocking shelves, and with another man that I can only assume was the tallest person they could find in the store.

It was obvious that the balloon was still well out of reach and any attempt to retrieve it would result in far greater injuries than being knocked over by a meat cart. I told them to please not worry about it. At that point, my younger son had already grown tired of his balloon and offered it to his brother. He accepted, although noting that it was somehow, imperceptibly inferior to his own, which was still floating over the frozen fish display meant to entice culinarily inclined Catholics. 

We continued shopping, wandering the aisles and forgetting half of the things we had come into the store for. I felt bad for my son, despite that other maternal instinct of wanting to point out, “I told you that would happen.” There are few things more joyful for children than a balloon, that small, brightly colored defier of gravity. 

I know how he felt watching it float away. I get that same sinking feeling often now – whenever I hear a news story about melting glaciers, animals  disappearing from the earth, or when I realize how quick they are outgrowing their shoes. We are steam rolling to my children’s future and, as in any home, the voices of mothers begging us to slow down are ignored. Childhood is short, and the future is unknown. I want keep the good moments – the ones where my children are basking in sunshine and watermelon drips down their chins – but try as I might, I can never quite hold on. 

The employee tracked us down in the cracker aisle, offering one of the fancy balloons from the floral department, the kind that I never would have ponied up the cash for. He pointed out that this one had a weight on it, so it couldn’t float away, but my son was far more enthralled with the StarWars characters that adorned it. I prodded him to say thank you, and he eventually took a break from grinning ear to ear to do so. 

At home my kids took turns pummeling each other on the head with their balloons. “Be careful!” I hollered from the kitchen. “It will pop if you do that and then we really won’t have any more balloons.”

My oldest weighed his options. “How loud will the sound be?” he asked, enthralled by the possibility. 

“Loud,” I promised. “But then there won’t be any balloon at all.”

This time, he managed to surpress his desire to find out what would happen if he diverged from my directive and hold on for just a little bit longer. 

I’m going to try to do the same.