Why I make a yearly spiritual retreat (and you should too!)

My favorite 3 days of the year are just around the corner: during these three days I leave home, retreat from the world and spend time in silence, prayer and meditation. I get to sleep, rest and recuperate. As a mom of 4 under 4, it is essential that I MAKE time for a retreat every year. It requires a lot of planning (financial planning, childcare planning, etc), preparation, support from my family and even overcoming my own laziness in order to break out of the comfort of my daily routine and venture somewhere new. Yet I truly believe there is no better gift I can give my loved ones than a Mama who is filled with peace and joy, and knows her mission for the next 12 months.

Here are the reasons I make this retreat each year:

1. My relationship with God. Just as in any other relationship, you must spend time with a person to get to know and love them better. The same is true with God, and if He is to be the most important person in my life (you read that right: I prioritize my relationship with God first, BEFORE my relationships with my husband and kids) than I must make Him my priority. Just like dates with my husband are essential to our marriage, this yearly date with God is essential to my relationship with Him. A yearly retreat provides uninterrupted, focused time for me to spend with God; to talk to Him and to listen to Him. This period of time is pivotal in my spiritual life, and I always leave feeling more in love with Our Father than I ever have before.

2. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). We are all weary and burdened by daily life, and God calls us to come away and rest in Him. A retreat centered on Him is more rejuvenating than any vacation, spa or self-care could ever be. On a retreat, you are allowing the Divine Physician to heal and renew you: you are drinking from supernatural waters. God also tells us it is essential to seek this supernatural nourishment from Him–He is our manna, our daily bread–lest we grow too weary to complete our Earthly pilgrimage: “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you” (1 Kings 19:7). We must get up, step away from our daily routines, and consume the nourishment God is yearning to give us. He wants to walk with us on our Earthly pilgrimage, but can only do that if we make ourselves available and welcome Him to join us.

3. I need time and space to get my bearings, and to plan with God about how to live intentionally for the next 12 months. If you don’t take time to stop and reflect, you won’t have a clue where you’ve come from or where you’re going. A yearly retreat is the perfect opportunity to talk to God about how you’re doing, about any struggles or suffering you’ve experienced, about your joys, and about your dreams and hopes for the future. Through a few days of uninterrupted dialogue with God, you can make plans for how you want to tackle the year ahead, how you hope to live and what you hope to accomplish. A big lesson I’ve learned is that it is essential to include God in this planning for the future, because then you are not only aligning your will with His will, but you also have a supernatural ally to keep you on track. For God instructs us to live “not by [our] might or power, but by My Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). All that is good, all love, finds its origin in God: we must empty ourselves in order for His beauty to shine though in our life and work. A retreat is the perfect place to unload our burdens, our sins and darkness, and to leave refreshed, ready to be, as St. Mother Teresa said, a pencil in the hand of God.

Scepter Publishers has an excellent (free!) ebook on how to make a good retreat–I highly recommend checking it out if you are planning to take a retreat this year.

If you need ideas about where to go on retreat, feel free to reach out to me! 😊 What has been the greatest blessing you have received from a spiritual retreat?

Peace be with you!


How to Prepare for Labor and Delivery (From a mom getting ready to give birth for a 4th time)

This April I will be giving birth to our fourth child. I’ve learned a lot from my last 3 births, which I never prepared for much beyond the hospital tour and (for my first child) the birth and baby care class. Here’s how I am preparing for L&D this time around:

  1. Set up childcare. If you have any older children, plan ahead so you know who will be caring for them while you’re in the hospital. We have always had to be induced (thanks to high risk pregnancies) which has actually been super helpful in this regard! This time around my mom is taking off work to stay with my older kids, and I’m also going to set up a babysitter to help her for part of the day.
  2. Set up your support system. This time around my husband will have to work while I am in labor (though he will be there in time for the birth). Thankfully, a dear friend of mine will keep me company until he gets there. I know from experience that the L&D nurses at our hospital are also amazing–L&D nurses are some of the best nurses out there at any hospital, IMO–so while I’m disappointed my husband can’t be there the whole time, I know I’ll have lots of ladies around to offer support!
  3. Figure out your “birth plan”. I’ve never really had a birth plan before, beyond going in with the idea that I’d hold off on the epidural for as long as possible (I’ve ended up getting an epidural the past 3 times). But this time around, I am going to try to avoid the epidural for 2 reasons:
    • First, each time I’ve gotten one it’s been less and less effective. Last time around, it didn’t work AT ALL on one side (the same side that is always a problem…we think I have weird physical abnormality that prevents the pain medication from reaching that side).
    • Second, I HATE epidurals with a passion…truly, my only phobia in life is of epidurals. I’m planning to read Mary Haseltine’s Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth in order to not only physically and mentally prepare, but most importantly to SPIRITUALLY prepare (something I’ve never really done before). If Haseltine’s book doesn’t go into the topic of delivering without pain medicine/epidurals, I may also look for some books with practical tips for managing pain.
  1. Pack your hospital bag. Here’s an extensive list of essentials if you’ve never gone through this before. My list below are the things that make me feel comfortable and (somewhat) put together in the hospital:
    • A GIANT water bottle with a straw (like this one). HomeGoods will also often have nice large water bottles for sale.
    • A cute bathrobe. This is what I live in (with a nursing tank and yoga pants underneath) during my hospital stay. PinkBlush has some cute robes, and this time around I was gifted a robe from MilkMaid Goods, which I like a bit better because it’s longer.
    • A L&D gown. I’ve never purchased one of these before, but this time I’m planning on it because my husband won’t be there and so I sense that I’ll want to feel a bit more put together (basically, I don’t want my butt crack hanging out when I walk to the bathroom while my friend is sitting in the room behind me 😂). I’m planning to buy one of these L&D gowns from Kindred Bravely.
    • Slippers with good traction/rubber soles. That you can also throw away when you leave the hospital (ain’t nobody wanna bring the MRSA bacteria home with them). They give you socks with traction, which are fine and cozy until you step in something wet (usually an unknown substance). Check out Target’s dollar section (they usually have slippers there in the winter season) or their website for slipper sales. I also saw some slippers on discount at my local grocery store the other day.
    • My iPad & phone (don’t forget your chargers!). Because I’m always induced, I usually have tons of time in the lead up to birth to sit and binge watch a show. My phone is essential to check in with my big kids and text with friends—it’s nice to have a support system outside the hospital too!
    • A good book. Another way to spend time, if you’re not in the mood to watch TV.
    • A thick, soft, cozy blanket. This has always been SO nice to have upon arrive in the mother-baby ward post-delivery.

So there you have it! My game plan this time around. What are you doing to prepare for L&D? Have you read any good books that have helped you with your preparation?

Peace be with you!


Preparing for a NICU stay

As we prepare for the birth of our 4th child this coming April, we are also preparing for our second NICU stay. Our first time in the NICU, just over a year ago, was unexpected and overwhelming.

Today we have a sweet and healthy one-year-old (pictured below👇), who serves as a constant reminder that the suffering and struggles were totally worth it. I also came away from that NICU stay with a new understanding of how to improve the experience for me and my family, tips and tricks that I’ll be putting into practice this April:

1. Be your own (and your baby’s) advocate. This is hard when it feels like the doctors and nurses know so much more medically than you do (which they do); but the maternal instinct is also valid and if something is troubling you, SPEAK UP. For example, I was encouraged to stop breastfeeding Rosie during her hospitalization because it meant she had to be removed from treatment for 30-45 minutes at a time, as opposed to 5 minutes if the nurse bottle fed her. But—especially as a mom with PPD who has had trouble bonding with babies in the past—I stuck to my belief that breastfeeding through that time was critical to our longterm wellbeing as a family. And you know what? It turned out I did the right thing for us (we bonded beautifully), and on top of that, pulling her off her treatment for those chunks of time did not extend her hospital stay. Obviously your child’s situation/health will be different, so pulling them off treatment to nurse might not be possible: I’m not suggesting that you go completely against medical advice. Rather, what I’ve found (and what my husband, a physician, says) is that a patient who advocates for his/her needs, or has family who advocates for those needs, will almost always receive better patient care.

2. Prioritize YOUR spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing. One thing I’ve learned from being a mama to multiple small children is that self-care is critical to you being the best mama you can be. Self-care is about making time to do the things that refresh and recharge you, and for me that means:

  • Putting God first. There is no hope for peace in my life if He is not number one each and every day. This means sticking to my daily prayer/spiritual reading routines, as well as going to daily mass when possible. While in the hospital last year, I even requested that the Eucharistic minister visit me daily (which they did in both labor & delivery and the mother baby ward!).
  • Resting and sleeping as much as possible. Naps are not luxuries; naps are how I keep my PPD at bay.
  • Filling my waking hours with meaningful activities. Last year I spent my time in the hospital mindlessly surfing the internet. This did not fill me up; in fact, I’d say it drained me further. This time around I’m planning to bring some good books with me and have a line up of shows on Netflix/Amazon Prime (BBC’s new Little Women and possibly some Marie Kondo).
  • Planning ahead meals and snacks to keep me well-nourished in the hospital. While the hospital does provide a room for the “nesting” mom, they no longer provide meals for you once you are discharged. I learned last year that the hospital cafeteria is expensive and not very good, but thankfully there is a small fridge in which I can store my food. I plan to stock up on Chobani Yogurt Drinks and maybe some meats (honey baked ham anyone?), fruits and veggies. I might even make some meatballs ahead of time because I know I am going to be craving substantial, high-protein food.

3. Schedule dates with your husband. You and your spouse need each other’s support during a NICU stay, and that means being physically, mentally and emotionally present for each other. Resist the urge to switch into self-reliance survival mode, where you become ships passing in the night (my husband and I drifted into this territory too much last year). These dates may take place in the hospital–which is how they went for us last year–but are times when you can be alone just the two of you. Last year my husband would come visit me when the big kids were napping and/or in bed for the night. Sometimes we were too worn out to talk, but it was a comfort just being together. You might also consider planning some Netflix/Amazon shows for the two of you to watch, or pack a book for the two of you to read aloud together.

4. Family dinner every (possible) night. We made this a priority, and I don’t think we missed a night. Some nights this took place in my hospital nesting room, and some nights (especially when I needed fresh laundry, etc) I went home for 2 hours between Rosie’s feeds. This meal was critical quality time together; it was an anchor for everyone in our family during an otherwise turbulent time in our lives.

5. Schedule “dates” with your big kids. Last year I felt like I was drowning during our NICU stay, and one of my biggest regrets was relying too heavily on other people to support my older kids emotionally during that time. This spring I am planning to be more intentional about one-on-one quality time with my big kids while I’m nesting:

  • My (will be) 4 year old daughter: I’d love to watch A Little Princess and Annie with her, and also start reading Narnia or some Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m also planning some simple jewelry making crafts that we can easily do in the nesting room (like making friendship beaded bracelets).
  • My (will be) 3 year old son: I’d like to start reading a new Roald Dahl book with him. He loved James and the Giant Peach, so I’m leaning towards Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after reading this review. We’ll probably do some crafts as well—including the friendship bracelets (mother/son bracelets 😊💕) and I’ve been thinking about investing in some educational manipulative activities like this Scoop-a-Bug Sorting Kit.
  • My 1 year old daughter: This is harder to plan because she’s a girl on the go and a dirty hospital is not the best place for a toddler who wants to get into everything. Hopefully, since it will be April, we’ll be able to go for walks outside and have lunch together. I’m praying about this—let me know if you have any good ideas for things to do with a toddler in the hospital!
  • And, of course, breastfeeding dates with the newborn. 😉

So this is my game plan! If you’ve had a NICU stay, what did you learn form that experience? How would you approach it differently if you had to do it again?