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Book Review – Night

In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine mentions Elie Wiesel’s Night, and speaks of the power it held for her, the first time she could truly relate to someone. I was incredibly impacted by Clemantine’s story, so in order to better understand it, I wanted to go back and read Elie’s story. I quickly understood why this short, memoir style account of a Jew in Nazi Germany is so often required reading in high school curriculum.

In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine mentions Elie Wiesel’s Night, and speaks of the power it held for her, the first time she could truly relate to someone. I was incredibly impacted by Clemantine’s story, so in order to better understand it, I wanted to go back and read Elie’s story. I quickly understood why this short, memoir style account of a Jew in Nazi Germany is so often required reading in high school curriculum.

Book 16:
Night
by Elie Wiesel

Genre:
Memoir

Published:
1956

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Night is Elie Wiesel’s record of his time as a Jew in the reign of Nazi Germany from the moment he and his family were taken from their home to the moment he was liberated from the captivity and inhumane torture of concentrations camps. Having lost his family and his innocence, he dives into the deeper matters of life like what it takes for a man to mentally and physically survive one of the most terrifying times of a race in history and how his Jewish faith played into his journey.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Poor Akiba Drumer, if only he could have kept his faith in God, if only he could have considered this suffering a divine test, he would not have been swept away by the selection. But as soon as he felt the first chinks in his faith, he lost all incentive to fight and opened the door to death.”

―Elie Wiesel, Night

“We were the masters of nature, the masters of the world. We had transcended everything – death, fatigue, our natural needs. We were stronger than cold and hunger, stronger than the guns and the desire to die, doomed and rootless, nothing but numbers, we were the only men on earth.”

―Elie Wiesel, Night

Awards (based upon my brief research):
Oprah’s Book Club
New York Time’s Bestseller
Elie Wiesel – Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize

Pages:
120

My Overall Rating:
4 – This is a powerful read. While the cruelties of concentration camps is not new to most of us, it’s still hard to read and to realize thousands of real people went through these things. Elie does a phenomenal job of packing his story into a small book. There were many details left out, and many time frames where the story was scant – I both wish he had filled in those times and am grateful to not have had to be reminded once again of the cruelty mankind can bestow upon mankind. 

I greatly appreciated Elie’s sharing of the depths of his faith during this time. He was pushed to the place where he had to rely on God, to the place where he questioned God, and to the place where not many people go – of believing whole-heartedly God had turned his back on the Jewish people. Still, he remained faithful to the end of his life. He is an inspiration.

Alone in a Building Full of People

We choked back emotions as we said goodbye for our first time in this new stage. We were supposed to be giggling, giddy for the birth of the baby that would take us from two to three, babymooning, putting together a nursery and dreaming of what life would be like in four months. Instead, Kevin walked out of my hospital room, retrieved our car from the emergency room parking lot and went home alone to the house I would not see again until our baby was born.

5.29.17

“I think we both wish so badly this didn’t have to be a part of our story, but it’s completely in God’s hands. All we can do is pray for the best.”

It was a weird sort of unworldly experience, that first weekend in the hospital. We hadn’t fully understood what this phase of our lives was going to look like. We lived somewhere between bliss and denial. Baby girl was still on the inside, but so was I.

On Saturday, I was administered the second dose of my rescue round of steroids. Otherwise, over the weekend, I’d returned to steady, though steady now meant losing blood consistently throughout the day as well as the nightly gushes.

My husband stayed with me, sleeping on the chair/lounger, bless his soul, through Monday, it being Memorial Day. We had several visitors, family and friends, and I was given wheelchair privileges, so we ventured out into the beautiful weather for an hour here and there, making sure I was back in time for pills, IV flushes and vitals.

We marveled at how when we’d left our house on the 26th, we’d packed overnight bags for the wedding I was standing in the next day, and while our packed attire did not exactly fit the hospital scene, we were lucky to have our toiletries, pajamas/lounge clothes, cell phone chargers, my body pillow, and some other necessities right in our car. We were lucky to have had Kevin home from work early, on a day when we thought we were crossing the state in the afternoon, but instead admitted me to the hospital. We were lucky to have had our dog packed up and ready to go to my parent’s house for the weekend that would turn into the summer.

And then Monday evening came.

Our holiday weekend, filled with too much excitement and a getaway to the Medical Mile of Grand Rapids, came to a close.

For one of us.

Kevin had to return home, to take care of our house, to go back to work, to sort out our lives a bit.

And I was left alone.

We choked back emotions as we said goodbye for our first time in this new stage. We were supposed to be giggling, giddy for the birth of the baby that would take us from two to three, babymooning, putting together a nursery and dreaming of what life would be like in four months. Instead, Kevin walked out of my hospital room, retrieved our car from the emergency room parking lot and went home alone to the house I would not see again until our baby was born.

I cried. Oh, I cried.

You can be surrounded by people all day long as a hospital patient – doctors, nurses, visitors – but they all go home at the end of the day. This would be my first experience of significant loneliness in a time when I was never more than 25 feet from another person. However, the only other people who could truly understand the loneliness I felt were also locked away in their rooms until they, too, were granted wheelchair privileges and their family or friends retrieved them. Still, we didn’t chat even when we did see each other.

Though my body was best when still, my mind was not. I learned to keep myself busy. I continued working from the hospital. I crocheted more and more dish scrubbies. I shared my days with endless visitors. I chatted with my nurses. I read books. I journaled. I checked on and tweaked our baby registry almost nightly.

I did anything to keep my mind from reminding me just how isolated I felt.

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 23 weeks 2 days
Days of blood: 33
Days of bedrest: 54
Pre-Hospital Stay Doctor’s Appointments: 8
Ultrasounds: 4
Days in the hospital: 4
IV starts: 1
Magnesium drips: 1
Trips to Labor & Delivery: 1
Sets of visitors: 8


Sponsor Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

P.S. I have to note the real heroes in this stage of our pregnancy, my nurses. I’ll mention some here and there in the upcoming posts, but it shouldn’t go unsaid that yes, I was beyond lonely, but these girls were absolute godsends. They chatted with me, laughed with me, cried with me and cared about me as if I hadn’t just entered their lives a few days ago. 4 Center, OB Special Care, is a truly special place. While I hope I’m never their patient again, I so badly miss some of those girls who so quickly became my friends.

Admission

With pen and paper thrust toward me, Dr. D asked the question I’d never discussed with my husband, “Knowing the severe complications your baby may face due to prematurity, do you want us to take full resuscitation measures?” I frantically looked from person to person, trying to get a read on the room and have a conversation with my husband via our eyes alone. What was his stance? What is mine? Is this a situation where we go with our gut or is there a deeper level of thinking we’re supposed to reach in the next 25 seconds? I could throw up.

5.26.17

“Admission. I was staying. They prepared us for what would happen if we delivered and sent us up to labor and delivery.”

If this pregnancy had not already been a lesson in best laid plans, the 26th of May was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It was the day of my best friend’s rehearsal dinner. My ceremony stool packed into the trunk of our car, my yellow dress hanging in the backseat, I’d worked in the morning and the plan was to leave around lunch time, giving us ample time to make our trek across the state to the rehearsal dinner. Another friend of mine would be carpooling and staying in the hotel with us.

And then at noon, I started feeling weird. Not sick, not stressed, weird. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was happening. I laid down. I went to the bathroom. I texted my husband. Eventually, I asked the friend who was supposed to be riding with us to walk my dog so I could have a moment alone to call my doctor without bringing anyone else into the details of our chaos. I left a message with a nurse and then my husband came home. We hastily chatted in whispers as we finished packing up, got in the car, and headed out toward the other side of the state.

We’d decided to drive for a half hour before making a final call, with the hope that we’d hear back from my doctor by then. Making our way out of town, we merged onto a highway heavily in need of repair. Through the perfectly consistent bumps I realized what I was feeling was also perfectly consistent – about every three to five minutes to be more precise. Contractions.

Still trying to remain calm, we pulled off at a gas station just out of town so I could “use the restroom”. I used that restroom to cry and to communicate via text with my husband who was right out in the car that we needed to turn around. I pulled myself together, walked back to the car, sat down, and the question my husband broke the tension with was, “So… to the hospital then?” I didn’t answer.

I called my best friend and told her through tears we would not be making it. I gave the phone to my friend in the backseat and had her call the hotel to cancel yet another set of reservations.

We pulled into the parking lot of the emergency room.

“Do you have a medical emergency?”

“Yes.”

“Do you need a wheelchair or can you walk from parking?”

“I can walk.”

I could not walk.

My husband parked the car in the first available parking spot and my feet dragged my body to the first available wheelchair. I hadn’t realized how bad things had gotten. Just yesterday we’d been prepped by Dr. C. “If something goes wrong, you go straight to the emergency room, to the front of the line and say, ‘My name is Mandi Grasmeyer and I have placenta previa.'” Now, slightly over 24 hours later, I mechanically regurgitated those very words.

While waiting for an ob-gyn doctor to come down, the nurse at my doctor’s office called back and told us to go straight to the emergency room downtown. We had made the right decision, but by now I already knew that to be true.

Away they wheeled me, my husband following, my friend hanging back in the waiting room.

The nurse started an IV and hooked me up to the monitor. My husband frantically texted both families on our phones, trying to give updates and coordinate temporary help. Dr. W watched as my contractions showed themselves in chartable form on the endless strip of paper that confirmed my fate – pre-term labor.

We were officially admitted.

They moved my bed up to the Labor & Delivery floor, and I was given a shot of steroids to help speed up lung development for our baby girl.

They started me on a magnesium drip to hopefully slow my contractions, but at the very least for neuroprotection of the baby. In all but five minutes, I went from being in a stilled state of shock, to being incredibly in tune with the fire coursing through my veins, boiling my blood, heating the room to what felt like otherworldly temperatures. A nurse turned down the temperature of the room. She and my husband stripped me of my blankets and clothes and shivered themselves while placing iced washcloths all over my body. Magnesium is not for the faint of heart.

The hospital called in a NICU doctor, Dr. D. She handed me hell in the form of a pamphlet, “To parents of babies born at 22-25 weeks…” and explained our daughter would most likely not be able to breathe on her own, may suffer brain damage, will struggle to fight infections, could very likely be blind or extremely hard of hearing, most certainly will be developmentally delayed and could face several other significant lifelong issues… if she survives. Her chances of survival were somewhere around 20-25%.

Then we moved onto our business meeting. Dr. D, the nurse as our witness, my husband and myself entered into a conversation I never imagined I’d need to have. Legally, viability begins at 24 weeks. At 23 weeks, the mother and father can sign, asking for resuscitation measures to be taken. We were 22 weeks, 6 days and 18 hours. At the very least, we needed to not deliver in the next 6 hours.

With pen and paper thrust toward me, Dr. D asked the question I’d never discussed with my husband, “Knowing the severe complications your baby may face due to prematurity, do you want us to take full resuscitation measures?” I frantically looked from person to person, trying to get a read on the room and have a conversation with my husband via our eyes alone. What was his stance? What is mine? Is this a situation where we go with our gut or is there a deeper level of thinking we’re supposed to reach in the next 25 seconds? I could throw up.

I broke the silence, “What do most people do in our situation?”

Dr. D responded, “Most people give their babies a chance to declare themselves.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew from her demeanor that if I said what my gut had told me, she wasn’t going to judge. I looked at my husband while I answered, “I think we’ll sign for full resuscitation, right?” He nodded.

We signed.

Dr. D and the nurse as our witnesses, we signed the papers that said save our baby. Do what you can. We’ll take her however she comes. We’ll love her no matter what happens.

They left the room and, for a moment, it was just the three of us, my husband, my yet unborn baby and me. I looked at my husband. Just seconds ago I’d wished we had a moment to talk through a substantial conversation and now I had no words to say.

The resuscitation conversation is supposed to happen at the end of a life – not the beginning.

When our nerves settled, my husband and I entered the next difficult conversation. I’d said many times in this pregnancy that I would not be picking a name for our baby in the delivery room. I had no idea I’d be in the delivery room so soon. Having already chosen a family name for the middle name, I whittled our first name list down to two and my husband chose. We vowed to keep it a secret until she was born.

Contractions somewhat calmed, my parents entered the room. They were our second set of visitors, my in-laws having been the first to both get some things to us and rescue my friend from the waiting room. We shared baby girl’s middle name to confirm the spelling as she’s named after an aunt of mine. We otherwise spoke with heavy emotion sitting on our hearts.

After all of the visitors left, my husband and I spent a sleepless first night in labor and delivery before being moved up to a world I didn’t even know existed, OB Special Care.

I closed out my journal that day with this:

“We’re praying the Lord continues to watch over us and keeps giving baby girl the gift of each next day. Ultimately, His plan will prevail. We’re trying our best to trust whatever that may be.”

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 22 weeks 6 days
Days of blood: 30
Days of bedrest: 51
Pre-Hospital Stay Doctor’s Appointments: 8
Ultrasounds: 4
Days in the hospital: 1
IV starts: 1
Magnesium drips: 1
Trips to Labor & Delivery: 1
Sets of visitors: 2


Sponsor Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

P.S. My go-to questions for the doctors throughout this pregnancy were, “What would you do if you were me?” and “What do most people do when they find themselves in our situation?” If you’re in uncharted territory and a doctor says, “Any questions?” the only way you’ll get more information is if you ask questions. Some of our biggest decisions revolved around the answers to the two questions I just mentioned. Please, if you find yourself even remotely in a bad medical situation, ask questions.

Ask questions, and pray. I am blessed to know I had a God watching over me at my very worst. My daughter’s birth plays a significant role in my spiritual journey. It was my Abraham and Isaac moment in life. God created her, God saved her.

What Color is the Bridesmaid Dress?

At 8:00am on the 25th of May, we made our first drive to the Grand Rapids Medical Mile. We navigated parking ramps, elevators named by colors, hallways named by numbers and the many offices packed into various buildings named by donors. We sat anxiously in the waiting room, hopeful not for a great outcome, but even just for some answers. I remember looking at the other couple in the waiting room and realizing I was in a place solely for people with botched pregnancies. How could I belong here?

5.25.17

“We waited so long for this appointment, and now he suggested I admit myself to the hospital at 23 weeks to be monitored for the rest of the pregnancy. That’s Saturday… that’s two days away… TWO DAYS AWAY.”

It was the 25th at last. Since the perinatologist referral on the 10th, we’d held steady, living our normal and waiting on the appointment that’d been made for us. So long as things stuck to our status quo, we were told all we could do was wait. In that time, “our status quo” meant being content to add 11 more days of blood loss to the count, because blood loss was nothing new.

At 8:00am on the 25th of May, we made our first drive to the Grand Rapids Medical Mile. We navigated parking ramps named by numbers, elevators named by colors, hallways named by letters and the many offices packed into various buildings named by donors. We sat anxiously in the waiting room, hopeful not for a great outcome, but even just for some answers. I remember looking at the other couple in the waiting room and realizing I was in a place solely for people with botched pregnancies. How could I belong here?

They called my name, an unwelcomed welcome to the club.

We followed the ultrasound tech back to the first of two rooms we’d visit. I sat on the table. She dimmed the lights. Our fourth ultrasound commenced. Again, the tech silently and impassively made note of the many abnormalities our untrained eyes couldn’t see, while we breathed sighs of relief because at least our baby girl was still alive.

I can’t say whether the ultrasound lasted longer than usual or whether my mind was playing tricks with time, but it felt as if we might be sitting one room away from some real answers and the tech wanted to confirm what she was seeing 30 times over. Alas, she escorted us to room number two.

Shortly after, Dr. C entered and the three of us, Dr. C, my husband and myself entered a scene of movie quality. He sat across the table from us, drawing diagrams, explaining potential outcomes, giving best and worst case scenarios and, ultimately, delivering the reality check of a suggestion that I admit myself to the hospital at 23 weeks to be monitored for whatever would be left of my pregnancy. We’d reach the 23 week mark in two days, the day of my best friend’s wedding of which I was the maid of honor, our second day on the other side of the state to celebrate said wedding.

I had to hold myself back from the part of me that genuinely wanted to say, “No, you’re mistaken. You see, I still have 17 more weeks to be pregnant. What would I do with myself if I spent that entire time in the hospital?” And truth be told, that part of me did still exist. Every step of the way, each doctor had told us there was a chance things could still return to normal. Admitting myself to the hospital in two days for an undetermined amount of time doesn’t sound like the route of someone who’s planning for normal.

Why hadn’t any doctor told us we might be facing a long term hospital stay when Dr. C offered the suggestion like I didn’t have any plans for the summer of 2017? I’d already borrowed the stool I was going to sit on during the wedding ceremony on Saturday. I’d booked our vacation just three and a half weeks ago so I could get out of the house for once and sit somewhere else.

Things had been so crappily steady, but Dr. C knew how much worse they could get. Half of our time with him that day revolved around the discussion of whether I go to my best friend’s wedding on Saturday or admit myself to the hospital. Two pieces of his wisdom stuck with me.

1 – He said, “The difference is, I’ve seen how these things can go. You don’t know any better to be more scared than you are.”
2 – I asked him what he would do if I were his wife and, without hesitation, he answered, “I would bring you to the hospital at 23 weeks.”

Still, my husband and I took the suggestion as a shock. I couldn’t fathom not only skipping my best friend’s wedding, but choosing to spend my summer as a patient in a hospital for an undetermined amount of time. We reasoned more with ourselves than with Dr. C that we would go to the wedding, come back on Monday, and get a second opinion on Tuesday at my next scheduled doctor’s appointment.

Dr. C walked us to the checkout. Having left the decision up to us, I could sense he wanted to tell us what to do, and I wanted him to tell us too, but I was 99% certain I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, leaving 1% left for denial. He finished our conversation with this question:

“What color is the bridesmaid dress?”

Somehow, in that question, I knew he was telling me the wedding was a bad idea. He wasn’t directly telling me not to go, and my decision hadn’t changed, but his words would bounce around in my head for the next 24 hours.

Yellow. The dress is yellow. I hate yellow. Does any bridesmaid ever love their dress? By asking the color of the dress, Dr. C reminded me this: your role as a bridesmaid is subject to one day. Your role as a best friend is not. On that one day, you wear whatever the bride tells you to wear, do whatever the bride tells you to do, and all that lives on for you, as a bridesmaid, are the pictures of you in the dress you didn’t like.

Bridesmaid Dress

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 22 weeks 5 days
Days of blood: 29
Days of bedrest: 50
Doctor’s Appointments: 8
Ultrasounds: 4

Sponsor Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

P.S. Again, I will warn you, the posts are about to pick up. June and July were big months for us. I’ve tried to limit myself to two posts per week, but I also want to make sure each important day is covered.

Day 48

My 48th day of bedrest (May 23, 2017) was no different than the others but, little did we know, life would be significantly changing for us soon. So what did it look like then? What had I been doing for 48 days? Here you’ll find a loose schedule of my days, some notes that may help clarify how we made things work during this time and some tips for approaching people in our situation.

My 48th day of bedrest (May 23, 2017) was no different than the others but, little did we know, life would be significantly changing for us soon. So what did it look like then? What had I been doing for 48 days? Below you’ll find a loose schedule of my days, some notes that may help clarify how we made things work during this time and some tips for approaching people in our situation.

My typical schedule looked something like this:

2:00 am – Much of my blood loss came like clockwork. 2:00am seemed to be the witching hour. It was not a long, drawn out process over night. It was a quick, large gush; too much at once.

6:00 am – If there was a second round of blood loss, it was most often around 6:00am.

7:00 am – Get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, do anything I needed to do upstairs before making my descent to the family room on the main floor.

7:30 am – Breakfast. I don’t usually do this, but every day from the day I went on bedrest I ate a bagel with cream cheese. Call it a craving. Call it a guilty pleasure. It got me out of bed in the morning during a real crummy time, so let’s just call it a miracle.

8:00 am – Work. A lot of people didn’t realize this, but the two part time jobs I had been working were more than willing to let me work from home as all of my work could be done with a laptop. I would sit on my living room couch and accomplish just as much (if not more) than I had been accomplishing in the office.

11:30-1:30 – Lunch. Usually somewhere in my work day, someone would bring me lunch or stop by for a visit. Some days these visits were warmly welcomed. Some days they were hard to endure. While I wish I could say I loved every visit – I was mentally exhausted from trying to schedule visitors, get all my working hours in, keep a happy appearance for 9-10 hours a day and navigate our obvious situation.

I don’t know how to tell you what is the right or wrong thing to do when someone is in our situation other than to say these two tips:

1 – Be flexible in your availability. Even though I was sitting on a couch and unable to leave my house all day, I still had a lot going on (like getting in 8 hours of work each day) and still had to schedule people. It was easy to feel taken advantage of when people would tell me, “I’m coming over tomorrow at 1:00.” I struggled to say no because I both needed and dreaded these visits sometimes.

2 – Be flexible in your conversations. Sometimes I wanted to talk about our situation. Sometimes I wanted to talk about the book I was reading, or my dog or anything but our situation. Be prepared to listen to the person sob and be angry and be prepared to interact with the person like you normally would have, as if you’re just two friends shooting the breeze.

1:30-5:30 pm – Work. Usually, given the weather was good, at some point in the day I moved out to our patio to work. I typically worked later than I did prior to being put on bedrest to make up for the time I was losing during my lunch visits. This also helped me keep busy until my husband got home from work. If I didn’t need to make up work time, I would read (did you expect anything else?).

6:00 pm – Dinner. Between my husband cooking, takeout and our friends and family, dinner was very different for us during this time, but we were always well fed.

A few notes on that…

1 – If you provide dinner to someone in our situation, please take the time for it to be homemade. The amount of restaurant food I ate during bedrest was substantial. Never have I felt so gluttonous.

2 – Ask the person for an old staple of a meal you can make for them. In my house, there are one or two meals we eat every week. I missed those meals during this time. I missed you, flatbread pizzas…

3 – Eat the meal with the people you’re providing for. Don’t get me wrong, ask about 42 times whether they want that or not, but it’s a great way to visit that doesn’t make the person feel like an invalid. We’re all just hanging out, eating dinner, like we always do. Maybe we’ll play a game or something too.

7:00 pm – Outside time. Usually we’d sit outside at night for a bit. My husband would shoot hoops or grill our dinner and I would crochet dish scrubbies. I was told I could leave my house so long as I never walked further than the distance from my house to the car, so occasionally we’d get out and go to small group or a family dinner or something of the sort.

8:00 pm – TV/Read time. As before bedrest, we generally ended our days with a bit of TV or reading or some type of unwinding.

10:00 pm – Bedtime.

Some seated hobbies I acquired/continued during bedrest were:

1 – Reading.

2 – Learning how to crochet dish scrubbies and knit dish cloths and then giving everybody and their brother a dish scrubbie or dish cloth.

3 – Making cards for people and/or writing thank you notes.

4 – Binge-watching Netflix (can I count that?).

Some seated hobbies we learned I am terrible at:

1 – Puzzles. My husband did more of the puzzles than I did.

2 – Adult coloring books. Which is odd, because I love to doodle. I just don’t have the patience to color someone else’s doodle.

As many people know, we had planned on doing a “babymoon” road trip through Canada, stopping in NYC and ending in Acadia National Park in Maine in the middle of June. We kept our reservations for this trip until May 1st, when I finally admitted defeat and cancelled everything. Our doctor told us we could still go somewhere, as long as we were within a half hour or so of a hospital with a solid NICU and only two hours from Grand Rapids. After some research, I booked us a trip to the beautiful and exotic New Buffalo, MI at a hotel in the marina where we’d planned to just sit, watch boats/people and be on bedrest somewhere else. On May 25, I would cancel that reservation too. 2017 was not a year for traveling.

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 22 weeks 3 days
Days of blood: 27
Days of bedrest: 48
Doctor’s Appointments: 7
Ultrasounds: 3

Sponsor Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

P.S. I want to be transparent in the process of telling our pregnancy story. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions! I’m trying to include the important details, but I realize that may mean I’m neglecting to include details that make it all add up to the outsider. Also, don’t hesitate to share our story with others – especially those who might be facing a similar situation, looking for a story of hope and ready to hear ours. (I know, firsthand, not everyone is ready/wants to hear these stories in those moments. Please be considerate.)

I should also note that the posts are about to pick up. June and July were big months for us. I’ve tried to limit myself to two posts per week, but I also want to make sure each important day is covered.

Book Review – Small Country

This is the story of a child living in beautiful Burundi, pre-civil war, innocent, happy and culturally content. And then it’s the story of a child forced to grow up to soon – forced to protect his family and neighborhood, to witness violence and war, to flee and to find peace in his identity and his relationship with his country.

I don’t know why Book of the Month offered a second book revolving around the Rwandan genocide the month after The Girl Who Smiled Beads was offered, but thank you. I was so impacted by Clemantine’s true story in The Girl Who Smiled Beads, that it left me craving more. A genocide happened in my lifetime and I knew very little about it, let alone the personal stories of any survivors. These two books pair together so well, a female’s true story of her fleeing, and then a male’s novel based on the true story of his fleeing. One focused on the fleeing, the other on his life leading up to the fleeing. Together, they gave me a new perspective on life in Rwanda/Burundi before, during and after the genocide and the effects of war on a child, a country and a culture. I only wish I could have read Small Country first.

Book 15:
Small Country
by Gaël Faye

Genre:
Coming-of-Age Fiction, Literary fiction

Published:
June 2018

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Small Country is based on the true story of the author, Gaël Faye, born to a Rwandan mother and a French father, living in Burundi Africa until the age of 13 when his family fled the genocide to France in 1995. The main character, Gaby, opens up to the reader the world of a child living in beautiful Burundi, pre-civil war, innocent, happy and culturally content. And then it’s the story of a child forced to grow up to soon – forced to protect his family and neighborhood, to witness violence and war, to flee and to find peace in his identity and his relationship with his country.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Genocide is an oil slick: those who don’t drown in it are polluted for life.”

―Gaël Faye, Small Country

“The more I prayed, the more God abandoned us, and the more faith I had in his strength. God makes us undergo these ordeals so we can prove to him that we don’t doubt him. It’s as if he’s telling us that great love relies on trust. We shouldn’t doubt the beauty of things, not even under a torturing sky. If you aren’t surprised by the cockerel’s crow or the light above the mountain ridge, if you don’t believe in the goodness of your soul, then you’re not striving anymore, and it’s as if you were already dead.”

―Gaël Faye, Small Country

“Of course a book can change you. It can even change your life. It’s like falling in love. And you never know when such an encounter might happen. You should beware of books, they’re like sleeping genies.”

―Gaël Faye, Small Country

“When we leave somewhere, we take the time to say goodbye: to the people, the things, and the places that we’ve loved. I didn’t leave my country, I fled it. The door was wide open behind me as I walked away, without turning back.”

―Gaël Faye, Small Country

Awards (based upon my brief research – these were all awarded to the original, French translation in 2016):
Prix Goncourt des Lycéens
Goncourt List, Choice of the Orient
Goncourt List, Tunisia’s Choice
Goncourt List, Poland’s Choice
Goncourt List, Serbia’s Choice

Pages:
183

My Overall Rating:
4.5 – This is another one that just punched me in the gut. I realized, once again, that I could rate books on how likely I am to hug them when I finish them, because, again, I just wanted to give it a hug. I absolutely loved getting a glimpse into the “good” part of childhood in Burundi – childhood before the height of civil war in 1994. Then, Faye did an amazing job of stripping away the innocence of childhood in his main character, Gaby, and exposing, in him, the ways such a traumatic experience can change the very identity of a person.

I neglected to give that final .5 simply because I would have liked to know more details about the conclusion. Though I know this was not the point of the book, the actual fleeing part of the book was so short. I thought we might at least learn how it was set up or what the first moments in France were like. But regardless… 

Read. This. Book.

But here’s what I would truly recommend: read Small Country, then The Girl Who Smiled Beads and then Night by Elie Wiesel (review here). This combination has changed my life. I’m thoroughly convinced I’m a better person for having been exposed to these stories, having grappled with them and having allowed myself to think, change my mind, and think again.

Taggies for Preemies

Looking back on Oaklee’s short story so far, we’re so grateful little moments of joy we found in the stressful time of becoming parents of a preemie. If you know of someone who’s just welcomed a preemie into their family, allow me to welcome them to the club with a little moment of joy, the gift of an embroidered taggy for the new preemie. Oaklee loved her taggy, and on behalf of her, we’d like to pass the blessing on.

It’s May, and I’m over here dreaming up what the next installment of mandigrasmeyer.com might be when the 2018 recap of 2017 is over. I have a lot of ideas and dreams of what to do and where this could go, but one thing remains constant – I want this to be a space for uniting. I never want to build walls or tear people apart by the content here.

That being said, part one of the 2019 plan is to offer free taggies to new preemies. Maybe this will go nowhere. Maybe some day I’ll be asking for the help of other sewers. But this is where we start.

Looking back on Oaklee’s short story so far, we’re so grateful little moments of joy we found in the stressful time of becoming parents of a preemie. If you know of someone who’s just welcomed a preemie into their family, allow me to welcome them to the club with a little moment of joy, the gift of an embroidered taggy for the new preemie. Oaklee loved her taggy, and on behalf of her, we’d like to pass the blessing on.

While this will not be advertised until 2019, it will be available now to the friends and family of my faithful followers. Thank you for following. Thank you for caring. Thank you for thinking of the littlest ones in the world.

Order a Preemie a Taggy Today!

Sponsor Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

Mother’s Day

I don’t know what people thought when they looked at me on Mother’s Day last year. Were their wishes hesitant? Did they make a conscious decision of what to say or not say to me before the even saw me? Did they wonder, like I did, if I would actually be a mother? I was in the darker side of the grey area that is a woman pregnant with her first child on Mother’s Day – with child, my body threatening to be without.

5.15.17

“The concept of Mother’s Day is hard. I get wished a happy Mother’s Day, and then I pray I’m going to be a mother at the end of all this.”

I don’t know what people thought when they looked at me on Mother’s Day last year. Were their wishes hesitant? Did they make a conscious decision of what to say or not say to me before they even saw me? Did they wonder, like I did, if I would actually be a mother? I was in the darker side of the grey area that is a woman pregnant with her first child on Mother’s Day – with child, my body threatening to be without.

I’d lost two gushes of blood in the night – a bad night. It felt cruel that laying down seemed to be the cause of blood loss when I was, indeed, on bedrest. I propped myself up on pillows. It was not the first time I tried this trick. While it gave me peace of mind, allowing me to loosely fall in and out of sleep, I was, yet again, in another uncomfortable sleeping position.

For 27 years, I’d only slept on my stomach. In the last 10 weeks I’d tried my back, my side, propped up, wrapped around a pillow – all with no success. I was uncomfortable. I was losing blood. I loathed nights.

But a redeeming quality of the early hours of Mother’s Day last year was this: On Mother’s Day, my husband felt our little girl move for the first time. Maybe it was the lunge into the bathroom that awoke her and got her moving. Maybe it was just God rubbing my back and telling me it was ok – she’s still moving, she’s still alive.

Mother’s Day was hard. I cried more days in this pregnancy than those I didn’t, and this day was no exception.

Please God, please let me be a mother.

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 21 weeks 2 days
Days of blood: 21
Days of bedrest: 40
Doctor’s Appointments: 7
Ultrasounds: 3

Sponsor Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

Book Review – Emma in the Night

Thrillers… not my thing, but I have a confession: My problem with thrillers is that I love them too much. They pull me in. I have to know what happens. Like any story I read, I throw myself in and become a part of it, but thrillers are not stories I want to be a part of. So I avoid them until the Book Club girls choose one for our next book. Therefore, book 14…

Thrillers… not my thing, but I have a confession: My problem with thrillers is that I love them too much. They pull me in. I have to know what happens. Like any story I read, I throw myself in and become a part of it, but thrillers are not stories I want to be a part of. So I avoid them until the Book Club girls choose one for our next book. Therefore, book 14…

Book 14:
Emma in the Night
by Wendy Walker

Genre:
Mystery, Thriller, Fiction

Published:
August 2017

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Emma in the Night is about two sisters, Cass and Emma, who go missing on the same night. After putting the search to rest, Cass returns three years later and shares her story of being kidnapped and brought to an island where the sisters were held captive to help the forensic team find Emma. As they work to crack the case, things fail to add up, the untold details of the sisters’ family history begin to seep in and the pressure reveals the truth of the crime.

Favorite Quote:

“The hope is easy. I believe children do that to us. They make us have it because without it, my God, can you imagine? Looking at your child without hope for the future would be like feeling the sun on your face five billion years from now.”

―Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night

Awards (based upon my brief research):
Amazon Best Book of August 2017
Nominated for Book of the Year by Book of the Month Club
An August 2017 Indie Next selection
An August 2017 LibraryReads List selection
One of Barnes & Noble’s Best New Thrillers of August 2017
An Entertainment Weekly Must List selection

Pages:
308

My Overall Rating:
3.5 – This was, no doubt, a good book. It was an easy read – I read it in about four days. While it wasn’t predictable (I spent the bulk of the time trying to figure out what had happened, and I was genuinely surprised by the outcome), the predictable element was that things were not as they seemed. I immediately knew better than to read it for what it is, which, in a way, lessened the blow of the outcome for me. Had Walker not been up front about there potentially being a twist, I might have been more impressed, but regardless, I would love to see this as a movie, because I think it could be done very well.

Still, this is a very engaging story, and I feel I have to share I tolerated the “thriller” aspect of it very well… only one night of nightmares. (Haha!)

We Fundraised, We Marched, We Celebrated

Wow, what a journey it’s been these past few months as we worked toward the March for Babies. Back in January, we set out on a quest to raise $1000 for March of Dimes. Over the course of the next four months, we met our goal, raised it twice, and met it two more times, bringing in $2799 as a team. Do we have amazing people or what?

Wow, what a journey it’s been these past few months as we worked toward the March for Babies. Back in January, we set out on a quest to raise $1000 for March of Dimes. Over the course of the next four months, we met our goal, raised it twice, and met it two more times, bringing in $2799 as a team. Do we have amazing people or what?

My passion for this organization obviously stems from my previous experience with Oaklee, but here are some observations I made on the journey toward the March for Babies that continued to confirm this calling isn’t over:

1 – I will never not care about moms being healthy and babies being strong. It bothers me that babies die before they ever live their lives.
2 – If you spent an extended amount of time in the NICU with your kiddo, you support March of Dimes. As we got closer to the walk, I continued to learn of more and more girls from my high school who also had preemies and were also raising money for March of Dimes. Like me, they get it. We need this organization so others don’t have to go through what we went through.
3 – I raised money on behalf of Oaklee, but also on behalf of any unborn child I might have, because I am all too aware that I may need the assistance of March of Dimes again someday. I don’t want to be afraid of being pregnant or having another preemie, but the reality is that I have every right to be afraid, so until then, let’s continue helping moms be healthier and babies be stronger.

The fundraiser doesn’t end here – you can still make a donation if you feel called – but here is where I close this first chapter on my March for Babies. I’ll leave the link to sponsor Oaklee’s team in my posts until the 2018 event is officially over, but I’ll stop bugging you all otherwise. We came so close to $3000 this year, but if $2799 is where we stay, that’s $1799 more than we thought we could bring in. Thank you for making that happen!

March for Babies

Sponsor Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

And once more, thank you, thank you, thank you to the following donors (our village, our people, our blessing):
Grandpa and Grandma Grasmeyer
Grandpa and Grandma Merritt
Uncle Todd
Aunt Jenna and Uncle Josh
Aunt Sharon and Uncle George
Noel Montelongo
Lukas Muellerleile
Josh and Sarah Stuitje (and friends)
Eli and Betsy Cromwell
Mark and Heather Swierenga
Tyler and Tessa DeNooyer
Dan and Claire Larabel
Matt and Kim Dykstra
Lyndsay and Curt Syswerda
Bill and Emily Madsen
Alesha and Jeremy Schut
Pat and Roy DeBoer
Bill and Alie Hart
Sarah Potter
Karissa Hamm
Laura Sommerville
Jeff Kruithof
Nathan Diekevers
Lauren Edwards
Jason, Sue, Peyton and Taylor Snow
Ryan, Becky, Grant, Grace and Claire Grasmeyer
Jim and Short Holwerda
Brett Buckingham
Katy Engman