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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Faith, Mamahood

My 2 a.m. Friend, or The Day I Thought I’d Lost My Son

FullSizeRender (5)One minute we were lounging on the picnic blanket in our backyard. Jacob was happily chewing on a toy and I was happily snapping pics of him as he rolled back and forth, wiggling his toes in the air. The next minute, I noticed he had a piece of grass sticking out of his mouth, and as I reached to remove it, he began to gag.

I picked him up, set him on my lap and looked at his little face as my heart stopped. Is he choking? He’s not breathing. He quickly drew in a breath of air. Sweet relief. And then his stomach tightened, he began to cough and then vomited right down the front of my shirt, onto my pants, onto himself. I held out a hand to catch the rest of the vomit—which just kept coming. I thought it was strange that a single blade of grass would cause such an intense reaction, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Babies get sick sometimes, and everything seemed pretty normal. I picked up my son and our soiled blanket and took him inside for a bath.

I had barely made it through the back door before he began to gag and heave once again. This time, it was definitely not normal. Jacob’s face turned bright red and he began to cry a terrible cry, a sound I have never heard before. He kept heaving. I looked at his handsome little face contorted in discomfort and fear. He looked to me for reassurance, but I was so panicked I couldn’t breathe.

No, no, no… My brain was on an anxious repeat loop. My baby is going to die. Maybe there was fertilizer on that grass. My baby is going to die because I don’t know the number for Poison Control.

911, do I need to call 911? My husband, at work, did not have cell service. I was completely alone, completely responsible.

Jacob got sick again. I ran into the bathroom and held him over the sink. I saw a thin trickle of blood. I was overcome with a feeling of despair. Is this it? Is this how quickly the life of a child can end?

“No, no, no…this isn’t happening…” I heard myself say, as one hand gripped my puking son and the other shakily searched my phone for the number of Lauren, a friend and fellow first-time mama who lives across the street. She picked up on the second ring. I’m a text-only kind of girl, so she knew something was up.

Lauren is a practical, no-nonsense kind of woman, wise and cool-headed. I knew she would talk me down if I was crazy and would tell me to get to the ER if she thought that was what I needed to do. And I knew she would pray—something I just could not bring myself to do.

My words hardly came out for the hyperventilating. Lauren, who was on the road, sitting in Seattle traffic, listened patiently and calmly encouraged me to keep talking.

She listened. She let me tell her I was scared. She let me tell her I was worried I had somehow let my child get poisoned from sucking on a piece of grass. She let me sob in fear and desperation. She did all of this with grace even as her own baby sobbed in her back seat.

She told me she thought Jacob sounded okay, from what she could hear. She told me I should trust my gut, and if I’d feel better driving him to the hospital, I should absolutely do that. But she also said she thought it would be all right for me to wait it out a couple of hours.

She talked me down off the ledge (and let me tell you, if you’ve never been on the solo-parenting-postpartum-anxiety-first-time-mama ledge, it is pretty freaking high.)

By the time I got off the phone, Jacob was calming down. I cuddled him close as I ran a cool bath. Within minutes, he was playing and splashing as if nothing had happened at all. He was fine. He was going to be okay. I sobbed again, out of relief. Out of exhaustion. Out of gratitude.

Once he was dried, fed, and calmly sleeping in his crib, I texted Lauren to tell her he was all right, to thank her, and to apologize for being such a nut job on the phone. Despite the very real fear I had experienced, I felt pretty embarrassed. Had I blown the whole thing out of proportion?

Her words in response brought me to tears again: “Don’t worry about perception, friend! You did the right thing. You had insight, you reached out, you weighed your options, you acted. You nailed it, truly! You are a great mom. You proved it again today.”

Her words were like a balm. It was exactly what I needed to hear.preggoladies

In the two years we’ve known each other, Lauren and I have shared thousands of late-night texts and emails offering prayer and words of encouragement, but on this particular day, she proved to me again how important it is to truly invest in each other’s lives. She reminded me how crucial it is to surround ourselves with people who are unafraid of the messy, vulnerable parts of our stories and ourselves, who will let us feel whatever it is we are feeling and then calmly offer guidance when we need help.

For an introvert with a love-hate relationship with community, this lesson can be hard won. Sometimes it comes in the form of an eight-month-old baby projectile vomiting, forcing you to pick up the phone and cry out for help.

In the end, Jacob was fine. I still don’t know what caused him to get sick that day – it could have been the heat, it could have been something he ate. I’d like to say I’d never wish that kind of discomfort or fear on him again, but I’m not sure I can. If vulnerable situations teach him how to reach out to others, to rely on friends like Lauren in times of need—and learn how to be that kind of friend himself—then I believe the discomfort might be worth it in the end.

This post originally appeared on the Discovery Community Church blog, All In

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Faith, Identity, Mamahood

I’m Not Enough

IMG_5555It was 3am. I was more than sleep deprived; I was going a little bit crazy. Jacob, my new baby boy, was less than a week old, and he was hungry. His screams pierced the darkness and pierced this new mama’s heart.

The pediatrician’s office had called that afternoon to say we needed to supplement his diet with formula, and I was crestfallen. In my mind, nursing was the one thing a mother should be able to do for her child, and I just couldn’t make it work. Faced with his suffering, I caved, offering him as much formula as he would take. He filled his little belly and slept sweetly and deeply for the first time. In my gut, I knew I had made the right decision: the most important thing was for my child to be nourished and rested.

And yet, despite this small victory, when I awoke to his wailing, the word failure was all I heard.

I knew I would be tired, but I had no idea how wrecked I would actually be. I hardly slept because my poor son never stopped crying – unless, of course, he passed out in my arms, waking up if I put him down. During the day I’d hand him off to my husband and sneak in a quick catnap only to be woken by another high-pitched wail. Swaddling helped a little but not much. I gave him a pacifier a lot sooner than I had planned. Even when he couldn’t nurse, I pumped and pumped and pumped, hoping I might still provide him what he needed to grow and sleep well. But it was never enough.

Read more on the Discovery Community Church blog.

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Identity, Mamahood

The Joy of Surprising Yourself-and Others-With Who You Really Are

IMG_5325This past weekend, at almost 35 weeks pregnant, I drove to Vancouver for the SeaWheeze Half Marathon and walked 13.1 miles.

Was this planned? No.

Did I train for it? No.

What happened was I got up Thursday morning, decided to try and walk 5 miles, and when I did so successfully, I figured I might as well give the half marathon course a shot. Maybe I’d get 7 miles in and have a story to tell my son someday: “I didn’t walk the whole thing, buddy,” I’d say, showing him a picture of me at mile-marker 7, “but I did show up and I put forth my best effort. And that’s what’s most important.”

And yeah, I do believe that’s true. Just showing up can be—for me, at least—the hardest part. I signed up for this race back in January, before I even knew this little life would be accompanying every step I take. When I found out I was pregnant, I knew my plans of running were shot. Even the thought of walking it? Crazy talk.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always been the cautious, look-before-you-leap, rule-following type.

Even as a child, I wanted things to be black and white and as painless as possible. The idea of walking a half marathon (at 8 months pregnant) is not something that jibes well with my personality…at all. First, you’re supposed to train to RUN a half marathon. Who wants to be the girl walking at the back? Not only that – is walking even ALLOWED?

I was worried I might get in trouble. (I kid you not; this is how my brain works.) Second, pregnant women (especially in the third trimester) are supposed to take it easy. What if I gave birth in the middle of Stanley Park? What if all this childbirthing prep with my team of midwives was for naught and my sweet little boy was welcomed into the world by an Australian medic on a bicycle who doesn’t know the first thing about labor? (Ok, that’s cheating, I didn’t imagine this person beforehand, she’s actually someone I met on the course…who told me to please not give birth along the sea wall of Stanley Park because she was not trained in midwifery.) And third, walking from the house to the car is enough to make my pelvic bones sigh in agony. Why would I put myself through the pain?

Well, the simple answer, I think, is because I woke up on Saturday morning believing I could walk a long distance and be safe. Believing I could breathe through the pain. Believing this was something I had to try, if only to prove to myself that I have the courage to try something I never before would have believed I could do.

The more complex answer has to do with the matter of childbirth. Um, hello – that’s happening in less than five weeks. This body has to give birth to a tiny human (with, we are assuming, a rather large head, given the size of his parents’ skulls, Lord help me). I’ve always known I wanted to have kids, but when it came to the subject of birthing said kids, I always chose the route of denial, the route of “yeah, well, I guess we’ll deal with that when the time comes…” Well, friends, the time is upon us. This kid is coming whether I’m ready or not.

And sadly, when it comes to pain, I’m kind of a wuss. I prefer the terms “low pain threshold” or “highly sensitive person,” but who are we kidding, I cry when I stub my toe and want my husband to kiss it (my husband, a physician trained in emergency medicine, does not, in fact, kiss my boo-boos, which is probably best for the both of us). Once, when I was three, I tripped on the sidewalk, skinned both my knees, scared the neighbors with my screams, and very earnestly asked my mother if I was, in fact, going to die. This is what we’re dealing with here.

So, anytime the topic of childbirth came up between my mom and me, the message was clear: there’s no shame in getting an epidural.

And thank goodness for my mom’s wisdom, because I still hold that statement to be true. There is no shame in any way a woman chooses to give birth to her child. Only she knows her body and her history, and I am not one to judge either way.

But here’s the thing: when I first got pregnant, I was pretty convinced on the day of labor I’d march into the hospital and demand the drugs: “Give them to me now and do with me what you will!” The sentiment was just get this dang thing out of me. But I have to tell you, over the past 8 months, something has changed within me. Spending time with this new little love and watching my body metamorphose into a living, breathing cocoon for his body to be knit together has been the most beautiful, empowering thing. (I know, I know – some of you are probably humming “pregnant women are smug” right about now, and I’m SORRY. I really am. You can skip this part if you like.)

The more I get to know this new body of mine and the more I read about birthing and breathing and the beautiful design of a woman’s body to bring new life into the world, the more confidence I have that I CAN DO THIS. No longer do I want to march in and throw my life and the baby’s life exclusively into the hands of a doctor. I want to be an active participant, working with my midwife and team of nurses to create the best environment we can to facilitate the birth of my son.

But friends, I will be the first to tell you that this does not necessarily mean I will give birth without drugs. Or that I won’t end up with a C-section. Or that I will be disappointed in myself if I do march in and demand the needle just as soon as the anesthesiologist can get his butt in gear, any more than I would have been on Saturday if I had walked 5 or 7 miles rather than 13. Medical interventions and the care of good doctors are not something to be ashamed of, nor is non-medicated birth an issue of courage over fear. That’s not what I’m saying at all. But for me, it’s an opportunity to try something I never thought I would, or could. And I think I want to take it.

My word this year was “Flourish,” and the main sentiment behind the choice was that I wanted to lean into being more of who I truly am, unafraid of surprising or disappointing others if I acted or spoke in ways they aren’t accustomed to. And while I have to chuckle at the reaction some family members have had in the wake of some of my decisions (mostly pride mixed with disbelief), what’s even more illuminating is the way I have continued to surprise myself.

As introspective as I am, I thought I knew myself pretty well (INFJ, Enneagram 4, harmony-seeking koala FTW!). But in the past few months I’ve heard myself saying “I might be a crazy person, but I think I might try to….” more times than I’ve ever said in my entire lifetime (even more times than during my semester abroad in Sydney, which included skydiving, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, camping in the outback, and kissing Midwestern boys, just so we are clear). For some reason I feel it’s necessary to add a disclaimer to all I’m attempting to accomplish as crazy in their scope, apologizing, almost, for taking the path less expected. And yet I am deeply, passionately committed to seeing what kinds of creative solutions I can come up with to accomplish all that is burning in my soul.

But maybe I’m not crazy.

Maybe I am more ambitious than I ever knew.

Maybe I just hadn’t tapped into the things that were most important to me.

And most beautiful?

Maybe I don’t need to apologize for who I am and who I am becoming: a baby-toting, grad-school attending mama with a book manuscript stirring within her.

I tend to believe that God created each one of us uniquely with the opportunity to grow more into who we are meant to be, if only we stop holding on so tightly to what or who we think we are supposed to be, or what the world wants from us. It’s so clear to me that this year has been one of awakening, of pushing boundaries, of opening doors, and of continually asking the question, “Well, why not?”

Because maybe, just maybe, sometimes just showing up with an open mind and open heart are all you need to finish that race.

Originally appeared on Stratejoy

 

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Identity, Mamahood

Why I Post My Belly Bump Pics

babybumplumpsMy husband and I are expecting our first child at the end of September. The hope of a child is a precious, beautiful thing. Being pregnant? It’s strange. It’s humbling. It’s intensely surreal.

People like to talk crap about mommy blogs, but I have to tell you I’m thankful there are so many out there these days – especially the ones where the mamas and mamas-to-be are kind but frank about the realities of pregnancy and motherhood.

I’m thankful that women are creating a space where it’s okay to tell the hard truths (What? Not everyone is elated to find out they’re pregnant? Not everyone spends the whole nine months glowing? Along with extra weight and nausea, pregnancy can bring congestion, extra saliva, hair in weird places, acne in weird places, and a WIDER NOSE? It’s true, people).

I’m thankful for this space, but you know what? It’s still hard to practice.

Sure, I have felt a ridiculous amount of freedom in telling friends about my body woes (and reassuring friends who are also pregnant that they are NOT ALONE in any matter of ailments or fears).

And I am grateful for the grace and the compassion with which my truth-telling has been met. But there’s still this sense of confinement, of working out my inner demons, the hard reality that even in this sweet season of expectation, I have to face myself in the mirror.

And….WHOA, is that image changing.

Since we live thousands of miles from family and many dear friends, I decided to share my pregnancy progress over social media.

Since week 14, each Tuesday I post a photo of my growing belly to Instagram and Facebook and announce which kind of fruit or vegetable is comparable to the baby’s size. And friends, I worry that you may think this is shameless self-promotion, that I am just so in love with this new body and I think you should be too. Nope. In fact, each week I wonder if I will lose another Facebook friend because they are just so tired of seeing and hearing about my belly, certain that I am becoming one of those women.

Friends, this is HARD. For the girl who has been trying to perfect the selfie since before the advent of camera phones with front-facing screens (“Husband! Arm shot!” has been a common refrain in our marriage), I am much more comfortable with close-up pics of faces and smiles. After years of cropping photos to hone in on silly facial expressions (and okay, I’ll admit, my sometimes fabulous hair), I’m exposing my body to the masses – at one of the most vulnerable times in my life.

Vulnerable because: when I discovered I was pregnant, I was already 25 pounds heavier than my ideal weight. Heavier than I’d ever been in my weight-shifting lifetime. At my first prenatal appointment, my nurse asked if I was starting out at my “normal weight” and I burst into tears. I launched into a blubbering explanation of how much transition I’ve been through in the last few years and the stress it’s brought on and the plans I had been making to get back in shape and how the girl in the mirror and in pictures isn’t the girl I expect to see – and she kindly stopped me and said, “Oh, honey – you’re fine! I was just thinking what an adorable pregnant lady you make. Don’t you worry a bit.”

I was thankful for her reassurance, and I wanted to believe her…but I also knew she was trying to calm me down. Sure, I could be heavier, unhealthier, and my situation could be worse. But I also knew that for my height, my age, and most importantly, for me, I was overweight.

This wasn’t just about the number on the scale.

I wanted to be stronger and healthier so I could be better prepared to carry a child. And before I discovered I was pregnant, I was on that track.

I had just committed to training for a half marathon, and had spent hours mapping out a daily exercise plan in my day planner spanning the next eight months, including two shorter races in the spring.

I had begun easing myself into running again, and had been feeling good about the progress I had made.

But now – I was pregnant. And nauseated. And exhausted. And honestly? I felt a bit blue.

My whole plan to get stronger and feel better in my clothes had just flown out the window. Oh, yes – you can definitely exercise when you’re pregnant. And yes – every doctor will tell you to do so. And some women run half marathons while carrying a child, and do it well. But you can’t start training for a half marathon when you’re pregnant and have just spent two months on your couch nursing nausea and watching the entire series of Gossip Girl. You just can’t. Well maybe you can. But I didn’t.

And of course there are other ways to exercise while expecting. But the truth is, running has always been my go-to body-image and body-sculpting cure. I spent three torturous years in elementary school and middle school battling weight issues and the teasing that came with it (kids can be so mean), and it wasn’t until my parents purchased a treadmill the winter of seventh grade that I finally felt like I had some kind of agency over my body.

I laced up my shoes, turned on Sheryl Crow or Natalie Merchant, and ran until the weight melted off.

It’s been something I have turned to time and time again – no matter the season, running has not only helped me lose weight, but has also kept me sane, alleviating stress and promoting creative thought.

And to be honest—I am cringing as I type this—it has often helped me reach my true goal: to be trim and considered pretty.

I will be the first to tell you that I have always had – and still have – ridiculous body image issues. And the worst part is, I feel like I should know better.

In my professional life I’ve been privileged to learn so much from experts in healthy behavior change, body image, and disordered eating. I know that diets don’t work (in the long run). I know that the key to lasting change is eating nourishing food with delight and mindfulness and moving my body in a way that challenges me and brings me joy.

I refuse to participate in “fat talk” and try to challenge (and encourage) friends who are preoccupied with talking about what they should and shouldn’t eat and how they need to lose weight. I’m a passionate advocate of self-kindness coupled with accountability. But dang, it’s hard to do for myself.

Through the months of April and May, my Elevate sisters and I took on challenges to work towards a more positive body image. One challenge was to practice looking into the mirror with kindness, compassion, and love. To sometimes even speak out loud the words of affirmation that we truly long to hear (but don’t always believe). To smile at ourselves rather than grimace at every perceived imperfection.

So I began to spend more time looking at this ever-growing belly, practicing grace. And I committed to snapping a picture and sharing it each week in celebration – no matter how I felt about the image looking back at me.

On a Tuesday morning a couple of weeks ago, I stood in front of the mirror, wearing a maternity dress I hadn’t yet tried on. I loved the way it clung to my curves, showcasing my bump and growing breasts (friends, I’m sorry if that’s TMI, but this A-cup-lifer has to celebrate). And I snapped the picture. I loved it. Until my eyes traveled down and saw what the camera noticed, and I had not: my love handles, captured so delicately in shadow. And I thought –

I’ll try a different angle. No luck. Still there. And then I thought – I’ll just change clothes, I’ll put on something black, I’ll find a drapey cardigan to cover up this mess.

This mess?

My heart sank. The whole point of this exercise was to learn how to look at myself with kindness, to celebrate the changes within me, to embrace the beauty of the woman who is here right now. Without the aid of PicMonkey (um, hello airbrush, weight loss tool, and wrinkle remover!).

So, I took a deep breath and I posted it. And yeah, there is a part of me that recognized I would probably get fewer likes on that picture than the photos where I am carefully draped and posed. But hey – we’ve all got our body issues, we live in a fitness-crazed culture, and I realize some folks aren’t going to feel comfortable giving a thumbs-up to a woman who obviously has not been working out every day of her pregnancy. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I really hope so.

The point is, I am working on being brave. And being brave requires also being vulnerable. And here I am, swimming in the vulnerability pool, buoyed by my love handles. I’m effectively inviting you to go stare at, as Bridget Jones would say, my “wobbly bits.” I’m calling attention to the place on my body I would least like you to see, much less contemplate. I’m inviting you, in a way, to objectify me, like I’ve objectified myself. Like I’ve been doing since I was 13 years old.

But I’m also inviting you into a safe space, a space where we can all be honest about our fears and our hang ups and perfectionistic tendencies and realize that we’re not alone. And inviting you to recognize that speaking the truth about what we battle sheds light on what’s been hiding in the darkness. And there, in the glow, we can see that these fears do not need to hold power over us.

Because now that I’ve put this down on paper, I’m starting to think – who cares about love handles? Is this really what I’m going to spend the day thinking about? And now I’m laughing because – maybe no one even noticed.

My hope – my great, wild hope – is that in exercising this type of vulnerability, I’ll reach someone else who maybe doesn’t love her body today. Who maybe looks at old pictures of herself and longs to be 18 again. Or wishes she looked like her friend who seems to make life look so easy and perfect.

We’ve all got our secrets, friends. We’ve all got our struggles. Let’s be kind to ourselves and each other.

And may we celebrate the beauty we find today – right here, right now, staring right back at us from the mirror.

Originally posted on Stratejoy

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