Faith, Grace, Identity, Mamahood

Survivor Mama: New Life after Sexual Assault

ErinC-009

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.

Standard
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

Standard
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.

Standard
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

 

Standard
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

Standard
Faith, Identity, Mamahood, Writing

What if There is a Life More Beautiful Than I Dreamed?

SONY DSC

I can’t remember a time I didn’t know in my gut I wanted to be a writer, or that just as ardently, I wanted to be a wife and a mother.

Sure, as a child I also thought I might be a ballerina or a taxi driver, but even so, in my imagined future there would always be a pad, pen, husband, and brood of children awaiting my return.

As a child I was also a dreamer, a questioner, and a deep thinker. At three, I wrote my first story (a morality tale), attended my first West End musical (Starlight Express), and engaged in my first theological argument with a playmate while swinging from the tree in his backyard.

My parents often shook their heads, wondering, where did this child come from, but indulged my imagination as I re-enacted musical numbers on my Fisher Price roller skates, expounded on theories of what my stuffed animals did at night while I slept, and asked questions like “What does it feel like to kiss a boy?”

But somewhere along the line I started believing the lie that I couldn’t be fully me, fully in relationship, and fully loved. At some point I decided the only way to survive was to carefully hide the deepest parts of who I am, giving myself and others only glimpses of that creative, imaginative, insightful little girl.

Guess what? I’m tired of hiding. I’m ready to be me.

In November, when we Elevate girls were sending around initial introductions, Molly asked us to respond to the question “Where would you like to see yourself in 14 months?” Here’s what I wrote:

I would like to be writing creatively every day (or at least 5 days of the week). I’d like to have a solid blog with posts that I’m seriously proud of. I’d like to be able to say “I am a writer” and know that there’s substance to back up that claim. I’d like to either be enrolled in a master’s program or know definitively that it’s not the right time to go back to school. I’d also like to have begun a family or be pregnant – but there’s only so much planning we can do for that (yes, yes, the fun is in the trying…)!

In November I felt very clear about what I wanted: to be a writer. To make a decision about grad school. To be a mama.

Fast forward to January at the Elevate retreat, and I’m struggling to really own these dreams.

I have applied to and interviewed for a master’s program in theology, arts, and imagination (that I am so in love with, because it is so me), and I’ve started training for a half marathon in late August, but I’ve thrown the blog idea out the window (I’m still working on my voice!). I’ve pushed pause on the idea of immediately starting a family. Sure – my husband and I still agree to have fun trying, but we have decided the stress of ovulation strips and monthly devastation is taking a toll on our relationship, not to mention my sanity.

The word I claim for 2014 is “Flourish.” To grow, to create, to thrive. I declare I will renew my commitment to creative pursuits, to boldly step out and pursue a theological education, to train myself physically to be strong and fit and in the best shape I’ve ever been. I barely mention my dreams of having a baby.

Two days after the retreat, I’m holed up in a Starbucks bathroom in Laguna Niguel, peeing on a stick, partly because I’m a week late, but mostly because I want to know if it’s safe to drink the bottle of wine I’ve just bought to bring to my best friend’s house where I’ll be staying the next two nights.

And there, in the Starbucks bathroom, I see my future blooming in two very distinct, very bright blue lines.

I call my husband. Laughing. Crying. We’re going to have a baby.

I’m going to be a mama.

A trip to the doctor and I discover our baby will be arriving in September. Just five weeks after that half marathon I’ve been training for.

Well, then.

On Valentine’s Day I get the call telling me I’ve been accepted into the grad school program I’ve dreaming of. I’m in! The director tells me I’m brave and impressive and they want me. They are confident they can learn just as much from me as I can from them. Giddy, my husband and I pour teeny tiny glasses of champagne to celebrate life, love, and the dreams for which we are designed.

But I’m going to be a mama. And the baby is due three weeks after school begins.

So this is where I sit for a good month: fatigued, nauseated, and completely FULL of emotion.

One of the intentions I set for myself this year was to “be humble.” When asked my reason for choosing this way of being, I responded it was because I wanted to have a realistic viewpoint of my capabilities – I don’t want to be puffed up, but I also don’t want to be so deflated I lose confidence. Humility is a personal value I have; it’s also, in my belief, a fruit of the spirit of someone walking closely with God.

After our January retreat I scratched out “be humble” and replaced it with “be strong.”

So now here I am, almost forced into humility – because really, which one of us can ordain the timing of the creation of new life? But I’m also called to be strong – and now it’s not just for me, but for the little life growing inside me.

I’ve always said God has a great sense of humor.

With barely a baby bump, I’m already feeling the need to protect and arm myself in a mother bear fashion, ready for the opinions of others. To some, like my grandma, from the beginning the obvious answer was to keep moving forward:

“Women have been having babies and going to school for decades now. Why should you be different? Don’t give up your dream!”

(Love that woman.)

To others, the obvious answer was that having a baby trumps personal ambition. And honestly, as much respect as I have for women who seem to do and have it all, at first I agreed the latter plan was the best choice for me.

I generally do best with only a few important things in my life – I’m a deep diver, an all-or-nothing introvert who needs time and space to process and practice new things. I always pictured myself as the new mom who holes away for the first few months, learning all there is to know about this new tiny creature who requires so much time, energy, and care.

But then I thought: what if?

What if I could be the mama student with the baby sling and bag full of books? What if I could still pursue all I dreamed of this year? (Okay, with the exception of the half marathon. At 8 months pregnant? No way. Not happening.)

What if I could be an example to my child, showing him or her how important it is to pursue our passions, to get clear on our values, and synchronize our lives with what we know to be real, true, and holy?

What if I could still complete the program in the two years I have left here before my husband and I are relocated?

What if there was some creative option I hadn’t yet imagined?

So I decided to be bold.

I contacted the school and explained my situation. Within a week, I had chatted with my very encouraging admissions counselor and met with a warm and welcoming registrar, who helped me set up what seems to be a manageable schedule.

I enrolled. And I start classes this May.

In one month, I’ll be driving my pregnant self to Seattle three days a week to study theology, art, and imagination, with a personal focus on creative writing. I’ll be getting a head start on the studies I’ll put on hold next fall as I welcome my sweet new baby (to hole up and process and practice to my heart’s content). The plan is to pick those studies right back up where I left them at the beginning of 2015.

But as I’ve been reminded in this season, a lot of life can happen when you’re making plans. As I keep walking forward through 2014, I pray I will do so with an open heart, open mind, and open hands, ready to receive whatever comes next.

Originally appeared on Stratejoy

Standard
Faith, Identity, Mamahood

Big Decisions

ErinCollage-650x650In the spring of 2010, I packed up all of my belongings and jumped into my trusty Honda to start a new chapter in my life.

I had spent the last 5 years in Seattle, Washington, a beautiful, quirky, wonderful city which had begun to feel more like home than any place I’d ever lived. Now, I was leaving, heading to Bethesda, Maryland, to join my boyfriend, Tim, who was in his second year of medical school.We were serious about each other, and sensed a beautiful future stirring somewhere off on the horizon. Tim and I had been together for over a year, but the decision to move came quickly.

Within three weeks of asking my boss if I could telecommute from the East Coast, I hit Highway 90 with Tim by my side, ready to drive cross-country and spend the largest number of consecutive days we’d ever spent together.

It was one of the bravest, scariest, most authentic choices I’d ever made. I knew it was the right move, but it happened so quickly I didn’t realize how much confusion would follow me.

Three months into my new life in Maryland, much had changed.

I had an apartment much lovelier than I’d ever had before – and could hardly afford the rent.

I lived a 10-minute drive away from my amazing boyfriend, but, knee-deep in his second year of medical school, he hardly had one or two evenings to share with me each week.

I was reconnecting with old friends from college who lived in DC, but my Metro stop was a 15 minute drive from my apartment and a 30-minute ride into the city.

I felt freedom and a great deal of grown-up responsibility as a full-time teleworker, but put pressure on myself to be constantly on-call.

The more time I spent with Tim, the more I was convinced I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life, but the demands of medical school made him unable to make the leap just yet.

In short, I was lonely. I was afraid. I worried I might have made a mistake.

Enter Stratejoy and the Joy Equation. . That summer I woke every morning to journal about my fears, my hopes, my dreams, and desires – with no censorship. I visualized myself, 5 years into the future, married to Tim and expecting his child, working for myself, blogging in the mornings, maybe working on a book, and spending my afternoons meeting with friends in coffee shops, having heartfelt conversations.

I was fearless in these journal entries, allowing myself the space to dream, to seek, to yearn. I began slowly putting my goals into action, practicing gratitude, and honoring my core values. I had big, hard, beautiful conversations with Tim. We began dreaming together of the future and all that it held for us, together.

Fast forward three years to October 2013. Tim and I, married 2 years, had just moved back to the Pacific Northwest, into our first house, in Tacoma, WA. It had been 6 months since I had quit my full-time job. After a lovely sabbatical full of travel, adventure, reading, and self-reflection, I was working part-time as a marketing communications manager for an old friend. And I was once again dreaming of the future.

Tim and I had been talking about starting a family sometime in the next year, and for months it’s all I could think of.

The extra room in our new house? A future nursery.

The hot yoga studio down the street I had been so excited to try? Can’t do it – might make it harder to conceive.

Drinks out with friends? Sushi? Training for a new race? Might be too risky.

So each month I’d have a couple weeks of freedom followed by a few weeks of legalism and terror. I was getting tired of the dance. It was causing strain in our marriage, and stress on my body.

I thought what I wanted most, over everything else, was a baby. But in quiet, honest moments, it became clear to me it’s not all I wanted.

I wanted passion and purpose.

I wanted to be writing creatively.

I wanted to go back to school and learn how to help people in emotional pain.

I wanted to go back to school and learn how to talk to people about God in a way that is helpful and healing.

I wanted to begin developing a better relationship with my body, to celebrate my design and womanhood and treat my body with the love and respect it deserves.

I wanted to be fully, unabashedly ME.

I was meeting new friends, getting connected at church, already involved in my community, but I knew it would take time to develop the kind of trust needed to gain true accountability with these new friendships. Then I remembered the clarity and empowerment I gained that Joy Equation summer…and promptly began lurking on the Statejoy website. When I saw the advertisement for Elevate Mastermind, I knew I wanted to apply.

Accountability? Sisterhood? Champagne? Dance parties? Yes, please.

The night Molly announced her call for applications, I stayed up until midnight, typing and typing, fervently wishing and hoping and praying that come January, I’d be sitting in a yurt with 13 other women, risking vulnerability and dreaming big.

When Molly called to tell me I was in, I hung up the phone and prayed. And prayed. And prayed. This was going to be a huge investment – time, energy, money – and I needed to be sure I wasn’t just blindly signing up for something because it was shiny and sparkly and sounded so fun.

And the more I prayed, the more it became clear to me that Elevate was exactly what I needed to do this year. It was so clear I laughed out loud. My prayers aren’t always answered so specifically (or so quickly), but that day they were: I knew in my heart, with utmost confidence, that I needed these women who would make up the tribe. I needed to hear their stories and get to know them and learn from them. And I needed to boldly offer myself – in all my beautiful, messy vulnerability – and learn how to practice being exactly who I am and who I was created to be. And maybe, just maybe, they’d learn something from me, too.

It’s crazy to think back now, because so much has changed since that night in October. So much has changed since that magical, champagne bubbly, yurt-loving weekend in January.

I’m excited to see what comes next.

I wanted this year to be a big year, and beautiful year, a year of creation and joy and purpose. I am confident it will be, even if it looks slightly different than the way I dreamed it would be.

Originally appeared on Stratejoy

Standard