Faith, Mamahood

The Miracle of (im)Perfect Timing

img_2113Two kids under two was never part of my plan.

My husband, whose sister is a mere 14 months his senior, assured me having kids close together would be not only good planning (get those hard years out of the way) but also a good investment in their friendship (he counts his sister and her husband among his best friends). My brother is six years younger than I am, and as much as I have always adored him, the years between us often seemed like eons. I figured there was probably a happy medium. Perhaps we’d try for a second baby after the first was potty trained. Or in preschool.

I am what you might call a “small plate person” – introverted, prone to daydreams, preferring a whole afternoon alone with a book to an adventure with friends – I don’t do well with multi-tasking. I knew myself well enough to know that having two kids in the span of two years would be asking a lot of myself, especially if I wanted to do it well and with any semblance of grace.

Which is why it was so strange to me that, when my first was 10 months old, I found myself saying to my husband, “Maybe I don’t want to wait much longer to get pregnant again.”

Now, if you think this occurred to me because first children are often a breeze compared to their loud and feisty younger siblings, let me set you straight. Our first, our wonderfully vibrant Jacob, is anything but easy. He (and therefore I) didn’t sleep more than 45 minutes at a time for the first two months of his life. And this was just the beginning. Often a solo parent due to my husband’s rigorous medical residency schedule, I spent the majority of my days intently interacting with my very extroverted, very loud, very intense son. I couldn’t even leave him on the play mat for the two minutes it would take to reheat my coffee without him screaming as though a piece of heavy furniture had fallen on him (this tendency did not help with my postpartum anxiety).

So why the change of heart? Partially, because at 10 months, Jacob was slightly less challenging and more solid and less prone to breaking. He had teeth and could eat Cheerios and was cruising and laughing and snuggling. We had fun together, even inside jokes. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The newborn months may have been terrible, but they suddenly felt light years away.

I had survived. I knew I could do it again.

I began to think about my upcoming 34th birthday and how I only had a year before my womb would be considered “geriatric” (can we please come up with a better word for this?).

Originally my plan had been to wait another year, after moving the following summer, wherever the Army would send us. But then I began to think about the potential for my husband to deploy (even though he assured me it wasn’t likely to happen so soon).

Also, it may have been momnesia.

My husband was ecstatic. When can we start?

So, when Jacob was 10 months old I quit taking the pill. You know how it goes: we weren’t trying, but we weren’t trying to NOT. After one particularly romantic evening, I thought I felt a twinge in my belly and I thought Oh my – did we just make a baby? A couple weeks later I took a pregnancy test and with mixed feelings read “negative.”

Mostly I was relieved. I started doing the math and realized if I had been pregnant, the due date would be a mere six weeks before the Army moved us God knows where. I thought to myself, Maybe we should wait a couple more months so we’re not moving with a newborn and a toddler.

Five days later I realized it was time to take another pregnancy test. This time it was positive.

When the first trimester nausea hit (so much worse this time around), and each morning I found myself sprawled out on the floor eating saltine crackers in front of Daniel Tiger with my son, who couldn’t even walk yet, I thought, How am I going to do this?

I comforted myself with the idea that this baby was meant to be. It might not be my timing, but it was the right time for him or her. The last time I checked, God doesn’t consult me about his plans.

I told myself if we had waited, we wouldn’t be having this baby. This baby is the one who is meant to be ours.

And sure enough, in May, seven weeks before we had to move, our sweet Henry was born. We knew right away he was my husband’s son. He looked just like him, and, unlike Jacob–intense and emotional like his mama–Henry eased into life with a gentle spirit and a love of sleep.

There was a peacefulness about him that drew us in, a quiet calm that almost had us fighting over who got to put him to bed. During a stressful move, quiet time with Henry became a welcome respite. When we learned my husband would have to deploy only a few weeks after starting his new job, Henry’s presence became not only an anchor to the present moment but the embodiment of hope in our family’s future.

In the face of our fears, his slobbery kisses were like christening, his coos a benediction.

Sometimes, I catch myself wondering how different life would be now had we waited to get pregnant with our second, especially during this time of transition and separation. Certainly, Jacob and I would have more quality time and fun adventures to the beach and the park. I’d get more sleep. I’d only have one nap to plan my days around, one bath time and bedtime, only one size of diapers to buy (and change). Life would be simpler. Easier.

But then, I wouldn’t have Henry.

At seven months, he still looks just like his daddy, except his daddy has teeth (and, now that he is deployed, a “silly mustache,” as Jacob would say).

When he smiles at me, I see my husband: his kind blue eyes, his impish grin, his calm and steadfast love. What a gift.

And I have to think, as I rock him to sleep, maybe the timing was pretty perfect after all.

Originally appeared on The Good Mother Project

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Faith, Mamahood

Waiting For My Missing Piece

crown-gecko-1302347_1280The lizard was tiny and speckled brown, and it ran across the carpet of the new master bedroom as Jake and I played on the floor. Excited to show my toddler a creature he’d never met before, I pointed to it.

“Look, Jakey! A little gecko!”

With the speed and curiosity inherent to boys of his age, my little scientist jumped up, ran to the gecko, and promptly pinned it down by its tail.

The gecko kept moving; the tail did not.

After our first week living in Hawaii, in a house without furniture or air conditioning (with a toddler and a newborn), my coping skills were at their limit.

Without thinking, I squealed. “Oh NO!”

My little boy came running back to me, wide-eyed, almost shaking with fear. “Mama!”

As he threw himself into my embrace—something that happens so rarely these days—I took a deep breath and prepared myself to do damage control. “It’s okay, sweetie. Geckos’ tails grow back. She will be okay. I was just surprised!”

“Oh no,” he repeated, hanging his head. “Oh no.”

How quickly things change from the time our little ones cannot comprehend the words we speak over their heads to the days when they absorb everything we do – our words, our tone of voice, our knee-jerk reactions. The responsibility we carry as parents suddenly shifts from not only providing them their physical needs but ushering in a safe emotional space to inhabit as well.

I held him close and whispered reassurances, but I could feel the weight of what happened settle onto his small shoulders.

Our summer was one of immense upheaval—we introduced him to his baby brother in May and seven weeks later packed our things and said goodbye to the town and the friends who had been the only home he’d ever known. On my mind throughout most of this was how he would handle so much change with so little consistency to cling to.

At a time when we should be phasing out bottles and maybe even diapers, here came a little brother who claimed my attention 24/7 with feeding and changing. And thus my toddler learned the words “Me, too!”

At a time when he needed more supervision and coaching to better understand boundaries and structure and measures of safety, I was distracted and sleep-deprived and ever-ready with the iPad.

At a time when he most needed his Mama and Dada to be loving and encouraging and kind, we were stressed and impatient and short-tempered.

All the while I kept telling myself, Just get through the summer. Soon, my husband would start his new job with more consistent hours. We’d find a church and community to remind us to keep our eyes lifted up and hands extended out toward one another. We’d find a routine and finally figure out how to parent two under two. We’d celebrate all we’d accomplished and the blessed fact that kids are resilient and thrive on even the simplest offerings of love.

Then came the news of my husband’s deployment.

Read more on the Good Mother Project

 

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Identity, Mamahood

You Can Do This

pill box feetFriends, here’s the truth: Life has been HARD recently. Hard hard hard hard.

Hard.

Not necessarily tragic or traumatic or full of drama – just HARD.

You ever have one of those seasons? When it just feels like you can’t catch your breath or catch a break?

We are in the middle of one of those. It’s like monsoon season over here, with a newborn and a toddler and a house full of boxes and a husband who may or may not be deployed this year. It’s been hard.

And being the highly sensitive emotional introvert that I am? Well, let’s just say I’ve lost my cool more than once.

So yesterday, in the interest of self care, as soon as my oldest was down for a nap I handed the baby to my husband and declared, “I’m going up the Pill Box Trail!” I laced up my new purple sneakers and headed out.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, stubbornly climbing my way up the steep, overgrown embankment making up the initial ascent. All I knew is that I wanted to see the Pill Boxes, I wanted to sit on the edge of the graffiti-covered concrete and stare out into the blue. Whatever came before that would be worth the climb.

So I whispered to myself “It’s okay, you can do this.”

And I remembered in a flash the moments right before my youngest was born–before the move, before the malaise, before whispers of deployment–when the pain was too much and I didn’t think I could go on. I remembered my own hoarse whisper, coaching myself through labor, reminding myself that I could do hard things.

So I kept walking. And climbing. And scrambling. And even scooting on my bum when the trail got too steep. I was slow and perhaps even timid. But I was also tenacious. I kept going.

And I did it. And it made me proud: proud of the body God gave me. Proud of the strength I’ve been slowly building at the gym. Proud of the wisdom it took to take a break from the monotony of motherhood. Proud of the courage it took to stretch into the blue sky and the hot sun and the sandy rocks.

After three hours in the wilderness my feet were worn, clothes sweat-soaked, and fingernails caked in dirt. And when I returned and my oldest approached slowly, quietly asking: “Mama?” as though he wasn’t quite sure I was the same woman who left, I smiled to myself.

It’s about time he meets this version of me, I thought. It’s about time he sees me doing hard things. It’s about time he sees the brave woman I need to be to raise his brother and him well.

It’s about time I see her, too.pill box

Originally shared on the Good Mother Project Facebook page

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Faith, Mamahood

Naked and Ashamed

water-767211_960_720As I anticipate birthing my second son in just a few short months, I recall a vivid experience I had just a couple of weeks before going into labor with my first. It was otherworldly and practically unbelievable. Terrifying and hopeful. But that’s the God I believe in: wild and full of grace.

My breath comes short. My shoulders heave. My body is a sob. The shower is hot, as hot as I can stand. Steam envelopes my nakedness. I am naked and ashamed.

I look at my belly, rounded, obscuring the view of my toes. I rub my hands along the curves of my new body, along my stretched stomach, my heavy breasts, my rounded hips, my aching back.

This body, so foreign to me in its peaks and valleys, so voluptuous, so striking – I can’t hide. When I leave the safety of this shower, this room, this house, all eyes are on me. Everyone watches. They want to look at me, really look at me. They want to touch me.

My breath is shorter, faster.

In a few short weeks, strangers’ hands will reach inside this body, inside the searing pain and extract an alien being—the alien being I’m told is my son—from between my bare legs. It is unfathomable. This love that I feel for this unknown child is unfathomable. This fear, that I will tear in two and never be the same, is unfathomable.

The white tiles on the wall to my left seem closer than they were before. I reach out my left hand and place it against the cool ceramic. I can’t stop thinking about childbirth, the unknown, the pain, the rending of skin, the veil torn between myself and the rest of humanity. Between living for myself and living for another. There is no going back. Fear hangs heavy about me, dripping down the sides of the shower, clinging to the droplets of water on my bare skin, seeping in from the outside.

I’ve read books on childbirth, on how to breathe through the pain, on how to train your mind to relax your body. The hours I’ve spent meditating and breathing and listening to self-hypnosis cues have set me up with peaceful, productive images to call upon from memory at a moment’s notice: a crystalline mountain lake, a rose blooming between my thighs.

But I know better.

It doesn’t matter how well I prepare my mind. My body has tales to tell, secrets. My mind and body were disconnected many years ago, severed by the unwelcome touch, the unwelcome violence enacted upon this skin, upon these breasts, these hips; on me, in me.

I squeeze my eyes shut, salty tears washed clean by the shower spray. My body is a minefield. What will set it off? The hands of a well-meaning midwife? The pain of what should be an empowering natural birth? Or worse: the paralysis of pain medication intended to relax, to soothe?

The water is still running hot as I wrap my arms around my chest, grabbing each shoulder blade and squeezing as tightly as I can. I was made to do this, I think. My body, this woman’s body. Designed for new life. I am caught between this courageous thought and the fear of total destruction.

He could destroy me, this child. Through the trauma of birth. This boy could be the traumas of all traumas, enough to finally wipe my beautiful, tender soul off the face of the earth. A final disconnection from all that is holy and true. I cannot seem to pull myself out from under this despair.

But then a thought: I am a new creation.

My breath catches, eyes open wide. Instant warmth radiates from the core of my belly, from the secret quiet place where my son dwells in darkness. Goosebumps prickle my skin.

I am not alone.

“Do not fear, for I am with you,” I whisper into the spray, into the heavens.

He will see me through this birth.

What if it is true? What if the very presence of God is here now, waiting for me to fall into his arms, naked and unashamed?

Something in me shatters. A guttural cry like the mourning of Eve. And then—like a miracle, like grace—I barely, just barely—feel arms. Strong arms. Wrapped around me.

I look at my belly, rounded, obscuring the view of my toes. I rub my hands along the curves of my belly, for perhaps the first time feeling like I have permission to touch myself in such a way, to touch myself with love. The love that is not just for me. It is for the tiny baby floating in my womb, curled up tight and sucking his fingers, I imagine, like my husband and I saw on the sonogram.

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Faith, Mamahood

I Want to Forgive

The sonographer sat my chair upright and told me we were finished. The doctor would be right in to discuss the pictures she had just taken during the twenty-week anatomy scan of our second child, another baby boy. As she turned to leave, she paused. “Wait.”

She studied the scans she held in her hands and seemed to change her mind. She looked at me blankly. “Actually, I need you to remove your clothes. I couldn’t get a good read of your cervix. I need to get a better look.”

Remove my clothes. Look at my cervix. She had to do an internal exam.

My throat went dry, my eyes wide. I looked to my husband, panicked, wanting him to help me, to pull me out of the spiral of anxiety into which I had suddenly plummeted. The room was silent. “You have to do an internal exam?” I asked. I needed her to confirm that’s what she meant.

Her response was annoyed, harried. “Yes, of course. You’re okay with that, right?”

No. No, I was not okay with that. She wanted to shove a probe inside me and she was acting like it was no big deal. Have some respect, woman.

I told her no, I’d rather she didn’t and then asked if I had a choice.  No, she said, not really.

Well, then.

She didn’t understand. In the dim light she didn’t see the blood rush out of my cheeks. She didn’t see the hairs rising on my neck or the goosebumps on my arms. She didn’t hear the quickened thrum of my heart in my chest.

She didn’t understand.

How could she? How could she know that the mere suggestion of an internal exam felt like a violation? How could she know that my body went on high alert as though it were about to be used without consent?

She couldn’t. She couldn’t know that my mind went to a different place, a dark place, where I believe the lie that I don’t have a say over the protection of my own body. How can you, if you’ve never been there?

I left that day full of grief and anger and frustration—a day that was supposed to be one of celebration and joy. Why had she been so cold? Could she not sense even a hint of my anxiety? Where was her compassion?

She was just doing her job. Maybe she was having an off day. You can’t blame her for being oblivious.

These are the thoughts I used to comfort myself as I tried to calm down and focus on the good news: the baby growing inside my belly was healthy and strong.

But the joy that would quietly bubble up was stifled by the heavy darkness that hung around me. Maybe a better woman would be able to let something like this slide, but I’m about as pensive as they come. I kept thinking: Another boy. Boys, who take advantage and ruin your self-image and put you in a place just like this, so you’re left dissociating from a normal medical examination because the memories are a nightmare.

The anger within me had been sparked by the sonographer but this all-consuming fire had nothing to do with her. I was angry at the men who had assaulted me. I was angry with men—all men.

Why would God make me the mother of two boys?

An illogical train of thought, perhaps, but a powerful one.

My husband held me as I cried.

Later that afternoon, I went to my son when he woke from his nap. Sleepy and snuggly, he rubbed his eyes and smiled. “Mama!” I held him close and smelled his sweet baby skin. My son. My boy. My sweet firstborn who loves his mama unconditionally, who is innocent and untouched by the world.

How can I hold such bitterness in my heart when these warm brown eyes are so full of love and expectation? How can I hang on to such hatred when his daddy has proved time and time again to be true and tender and kind?

I leaned into their love for the rest of the day.

The intensity of emotion I succumbed to that afternoon could not be trusted. I’m learning that slowly, again and again. I know that I must learn to identify triggers for what they are—triggers, not actual threats to my safety. I want learn how to dive into my emotions and then let them pass over me like a wave.

And I want to forgive.

I want to forgive the hands that betrayed my trust.

I want to forgive those who use careless words that trigger me.

I want to forgive myself for carrying these hurts for so long.

I want to forgive for the sake of my sons.

And I will try. Day after day I will practice gratitude for where I am and what I have and lean into the love around me. I will continue ask God to give me the strength to leave the past behind. Because walking in freedom is the only way I want to live.

Originally appeared on the Good Mother Project

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Mamahood

I Roared My Little Lion Out

IMG_5483I crouched in the hospital bathtub, wearing nothing but my sports bra. I’ve always been the girl who would rather contort herself in a bathroom stall than go bare in the women’s locker room, but my nakedness was nothing compared to the pain. The idea of laboring in the tub with my loving husband nearby had seemed luxurious and comforting, even a little glamorous. In reality it was small, cramped . . and crowded. Four sets of eyes watched me as I bore down on another contraction, waiting on me to make a decision about the epidural. Anxious, afraid, I was uncertain: as a survivor of sexual assault, I had mixed feelings about numbing the pain.

My waters had broken 12 hours before. 7 pm, at home, on my toilet, as I peed.  Nothing glamorous about that. No contractions. Just a strange, slow trickle.Could this be it? It felt so anticlimactic after months of panicked anticipation. Normally this wouldn’t mean much; normally a woman could take her time in the comfort of her own home. But I had tested positive for Strep B and needed to get to the hospital for a round of antibiotics. On top of that, the amniotic fluid was tinged with green, indicating there was a chance my son was in danger of breathing in meconium. There was a risk that he would not be able to cry or breathe on his own.

I found comfort in small blessings: my midwife, by my side throughout my anxious prenatal journey, happened to be on call that night; my overworked husband had the night off. I held on to these gifts as a brusque night nurse interrogated me and then told us my plan to try an unmedicated birth was unrealistic. At 10pm I still hadn’t had a contraction. The presence of meconium and its threat to my son meant I’d be on Pitocin by midnight.

Time moved slowly and the ache was guttural. My body moved in response to the pain and with every roll of my hips and stretch of my back I felt more rooted to the earth than I had ever been before. There was something primal brewing within me, a timeless song. But against the rhythm of that ancient melody was a frantic thrumming, an offbeat syncopation beating in my brain: No! Not yet! He will tear you apart! No amount of breathing made me feel safe enough to let go.

By 6am, hunched over in lukewarm water, I wanted to quit. I wanted my baby more, but I didn’t know how I’d ever get through the pain.My body craved expansion, but my brain threatened to shut it down. I tried to encourage myself. Remember the half marathon you ran? Remember how you thought you’d never make those last three miles? I recalled twisting my ankle at mile 10, falling to the ground and picking myself up in tears and humiliation. I can’t do this, I had thought. It’s too hard. I finished that race, though, and I would finish this one, too.

But I was beginning to think I’d need a little help. I looked at my husband, embarrassed and a bit ashamed. “I think I need the epidural,” I whispered.

At 7am there was a shift change. My trusted midwife, who had acted more like a doula than her job required, would be going home and I’d be put into the care of a woman I had never met. The new midwife had a quiet, calm demeanor. She was older and exuded a sense of motherly wisdom. I knew in my core I would be safe in her hands.

But when she said she needed to check my cervix, my stomach plummeted. I willed my body to relax, but that was hard to do with a clenched jaw and rigid limbs. Does she know my history? As she examined me with her fingers, another contraction enveloped me and I almost lifted off the table. “You’re 7cm,” she said. She put her hand on my thigh in a gesture of comfort but it was more than I could bear.“Let’s get you back into the tub.” She wanted me to continue without the epidural?

Fear, dressed as fury, thundered out of me. “NO! I need everyone to stop telling me what to do,” I was shaking. “Please don’t touch me.”

I was met only with kindness. She took her hand away gently. “Of course. This is your birth.” She stepped aside.

It takes time to get an anesthesiologist in the room. Even though anxiety began to loosen its grip on my brain, the contractions just continued to get deeper and stronger. I didn’t realize at the time I had already entered into transition.

The anesthesiologist was kind, and I didn’t care about the big needle he wielded. I just wanted the pain to subside so I could stop feeling so afraid. As the drug began its work, I lay my head back on the pillow and for the first time since my waters broke I felt calm, centered, confident.

The midwife came to check on me. “You made the right decision,” she told me, her eyes filled with warmth. “Now your body can relax and do what it was made to do.”

I felt like I was floating, my mind separate from my body. I welcomed the warm ease it brought me, and I allowed myself to sink deeper into the bed, relishing the feeling of cotton against my skin.

About thirty minutes after the epidural began its drip, a slow ache began on the right side of my abdomen. Within minutes the ache had become a pulsing burn: the contractions were stronger than ever. Panic returned. What if they couldn’t fix it? What if I had sacrificed my desire for a medication-free delivery only to feel the pain? What have I done? The anesthesiologist returned and placed the needle in a different spot. My left leg became so numb I couldn’t lift it from the bed. The pain in my right side subsided but was still present.

I rested for a little while and when they returned, I was fully dilated.

So we began. The early afternoon light filtered in through the blinds and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I met my son face to face. A NICU team appeared with their tools, waiting quietly by the door. The midwife reassured me: “Just in case.”

The pain was still there. Muted, but present. I hated it and loved it at the same time. Birthing a child is supposed to be painful, and there was a part of me that was thankful for the slow, intense burn that reminded me my son was ready to enter the world. The pain would guide me. I was ready.

I opened my mouth and roared my little lion out.

My furry little cub, filthy but otherwise healthy and strong, opened up his lungs and roared right back.

This post originally appeared on the Good Mother Project.

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Faith, Grace, Identity, Mamahood

Survivor Mama: New Life after Sexual Assault

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source: eran jayne photography

Today I am seven years a survivor. So grateful to the Good Mother Project for publishing this piece yesterday. It’s time to use my voice again. It’s time to speak the truth. 

When I got pregnant, I didn’t realize I was a rape survivor.

Mere hours after my son was conceived,  I sat in our counselor’s office with my husband, gripping his hand tightly and holding my breath as she said the word: rape. It was rape. She was referring to an event that had happened six years before, something I had miscategorized in my mind. I had told my husband a bit about that night, but I had only shared vague details:  it was always “the night I regret,” “a huge mistake,” “taking advantage.” But: Rape? We had never used that word.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this new information. My entire world as I knew it, as I had constructed it around me, was changed. I had endured violence of the most vulnerable kind and my brain had protected me from the knowledge of it. For six years. Six whole years I had been living in a haze of despair, uncertain of its cause. Now I knew it wasn’t anything I had done, and yet somehow I still felt responsible. I read the books, I repeated the words (it’s not my fault). Still, a sense of shame and feeling of filth lingered, like cigarette smoke you can’t get out of your favorite sweater.

Two weeks later, two little blue lines showed up on a pregnancy test. The baby my husband and I had been praying for.

I was ecstatic. I was terrified.

I spent the first three months of pregnancy curled up on our couch in the fetal position. Despite the standard exhaustion and consistent nausea, my physical symptoms weren’t bad. But mentally and emotionally, I was a wreck.

The anxiety that built up within my quickly changing body manifested in ways I could easily blame on pregnancy: hiding in my house, watching Netflix for hours, ignoring phone calls from friends and family. I felt like I was too full of emotion—filled to the brim—and any additional stress would send me over the edge. How could I have normal, happy conversations with people about my pregnancy when I had such a dark secret lurking beneath it all?  I thought about it much more than I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to stop, or who I could talk to. No one wants to hear you say you’ve been raped. Especially when you’re supposed to be joy personified, bursting with excitement about your unborn child.

When I did have the emotional energy to speak with loved ones, I was truthful about my excitement and fear (who isn’t afraid of childbirth?), but I never felt as though I was being completely honest.  As someone who generally wears her heart on her sleeve, this was exhausting and painful.  So, I spent most of my free time in full-on hibernation mode. My one goal was to incubate my growing child, protecting the precious, innocent life still unknown to me. I built myself a cozy little nest of blankets and books and read everything I could about preparing for birth.

Close to the end of my second trimester I finally got up the courage to see a prenatal therapist. She was calm and nurturing and made me feel safe. Still, it took weeks of therapy before I was finally ready to tell her exactly what had happened to me the summer of 2008. With great kindness, she listened to me, validated me, and also helped me admit to myself that one month before the rape, I had been sexually assaulted.

So there I was, very pregnant, very hormonal, very emotional, preparing for birth, and also trying to come to terms with the fact that I had been violently violated not once but twice—and I hadn’t let myself recognize the truth.

Any shred of security I once felt was lost to me. Suddenly everything and everyone seemed a threat to my safety. Trust was a dirty word. It didn’t help that at the time, our neighborhood was experiencing a wave of break-ins and burglary, and my rock of a husband, working long, hard shifts as a medical resident, was hardly home. My sleep, fitful and hard to come by, became punctuated with horrific nightmares.

It seemed impossible to escape the reality that I lived in a violent, terrible, evil world where women are raped (and children are molested and teens get addicted and men are tortured, and so on). And I was bringing a baby into this world. How could I protect him—how could I be a good mother—if I couldn’t even protect myself?

Yet I smiled for pictures. Shared my growing bump online. Dressed up for baby showers. I clung desperately to whatever joy I could find.

As my due date approached, the anxiety I felt around childbirth was palpable. I practiced self-hypnosis, imagery-based meditation, breathing, prayer—anything I could think of, and it still wasn’t enough. I was terrified that in the midst of labor I would be triggered; routine pelvic exams were difficult enough. Pain could be a trigger. Medication could be a trigger. Mentally, I could shut down. And even if I wasn’t triggered? This baby could rip me in two. He could destroy this body, already used and battered and worn. I could die. He could die. There was no way to know how labor would go or how I would respond.

I was completely vulnerable.

In the end, it was this very vulnerability that made room for the hope that saved me.

Interspersed with my fear and anxiety was the shimmering hope of redemption: my body, my story could be made new again. I thought about the strange and almost supernatural timing of my son’s conception: could it be a coincidence that in the hours I was first recognizing the truth of my past, he was being knit together in my womb? I began to meditate on the feeling of release I experienced when I learned I was a survivor: the way my shoulders dropped, as if letting go of a heavy weight; the way my entire body warmed as though melting away years of falsehood. The new life inside me was a promise of what lay beyond the empty devastation caused by acts of violence so very long ago. This new life, my son, was created out of joy and laughter and the love I shared with my husband.  

God began to feel very present to me, even amid my pain and fear. I felt very certain he had a hand in the timing of my pregnancy, that he was preparing my heart to be a mother as he led me through the hard truth about my past. The strange co-mingling of revelation and gestation began to feel like a gift. In my final weeks of pregnancy, a steady confidence began to build within me. Somehow, I knew I would survive birth and deliver a beautiful, healthy child.

God would get me through it. He had gotten me through much worse. I knew he would, not only for me, but for my son. Despite my fears, the sun seemed to shine a little more brightly, the air began to feel a little more crisp. The colors of early autumn seeped their way through my skin and stirred up my soul, reminding me of the beauty and goodness and light that can keep the darkness at bay. I was reminded of all I wanted to offer my son: the adventures we would take, the stories we would tell, the love we would share.

Today, my son is almost 10 months old, a sweet, active little boy with a mischievous grin. After all my worrying and wondering, he came into the world with relative ease. Oh, there was pain. And there was fear. I had to battle anxiety throughout the entire process. But I did it. I made it through. And in the end, I held the most precious gift.

So, why tell this story now? Why share something so private, so painful, so raw? I write these words because I know I’m not the only woman who has felt broken, used, and afraid. I share my story because I am confident that the evil of this world will not have the final say. I am speaking out because I want to be a witness to the beauty that has risen from the ashes of my life. I am reaching out in sisterhood to other survivors to say you are not alone.

jakeI’m telling this story because I want to teach my son by example. I don’t want him to live in fear or feel the need to hide from his past.

This journey of mine isn’t over. I still have days I’m overcome with anxiety, faced with the certainty that no matter what precautions I take, there’s only so much I can do to protect my child from harm. Each day is a practice in trusting and letting go.

Each day is a practice of faith.

Someday, I will tell my son about the half marathon I walked with him at eight months pregnant. I will tell him about the heat that beat down on me as I walked, feet swollen but heart bursting, through the brilliant beauty of Stanley Park. I will tell him how I thought of him the whole time, how I wanted to show him his mother was strong.

I will tell him how he taught me to be brave.

This post originally appeared on the Good Mother Project.

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