A few days ago I spent a lovely hour reading 60 or so pages of Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, while eating dark chocolate and breathing in Ylang Ylang and Grapefruit essential oils from my diffuser. It was a rare evening of peace and self-care (as opposed to vegging in front of the television and calling that rest), and I thought to myself, I have to do this more often. I’m about halfway through the book now and it is helping me reflect on lots of things I’ve been feeling and lots of stuff I’ve been bumbling around trying to process. Giving birth again. Everything that still remains from my miscarriage. My family’s ongoing season of underemployment/seeking a ministry job and just generally waiting for “new” to show up. (Oh yeah, even how I can’t cook). So these are my random musings. (If they don’t make sense, I blame pregnancy, because it’s the perfect excuse for everything).
It’s getting down to the end, folks. Five weeks of pregnancy to go, give or take (probably give). Then I will have a newborn in my arms. A friend of mine who is equally pregnant remarked to me recently that the “oh sh*t” moment is occurring sooner this time around and I couldn’t agree more. Mamas, you know what I’m talking about. The moment when it hits you that this huge thing is really going to COME OUT OF YOU, and the exit ramp is straight through your lady parts. I think my vagina is going to go cry now.
So there’s that. I was trying to read Birth Matters by Ina May Gaskin recently, and I gave it up after the first few chapters (truth be told I had to because I had already renewed it three times and that’s all the library allows). Now Ina May is one of my personal heroines. I’ve read multiple other books she’s authored and loved them. I shared an elevator with her one time at a super-nerdy-awesome birth conference and just about peed myself. She’s INA MAY GASKIN. The mother of midwifery. A national treasure. But I just could get into this book right now because I couldn’t stand all her talk about easy, lovely, orgasmic birth. Listen, Ina. This ain’t my first rodeo. The gig’s up. I know this hurts.
Granted I’m hopeful and somewhat expectant that this birth will be easIER; it’s well-established that second labors are usually shorter and more straight-forward than first labors. But I’m not under any illusion that it’ll be EASY. Gabe had a fifteen-inch head circumference (in case you were wondering, that’s in the 90th percentile for newborn head size, per the CDC). Lord, give me an eleven-pounder over another fifteen-incher. It’s by God’s grace that I can no longer really call to mind the exquisiteness of that pain (otherwise I never would have jumped back in the sheets with my husband), but just ask me come May.
Another friend of mine wrote to me recently about “feeling the fear and moving forward anyway.” This has really been resonating with me. It is applicable to labor pains, definitely, but it’s relevant to almost everything. She was writing to me in the context of pregnancy after loss — feeling the fear of losing THIS baby, ANOTHER baby…but forging onward regardless. Picking out baby names. Relishing sweet baby kicks. Making preparations for a baby that will be alive. And wondering — fearing — sometimes it will all be for naught.
“…it wasn’t helpful to deny fear, but to feel it (mingled with hope) and then watch myself keep going, keep walking with it. It was a powerful journey and a powerful life lesson…It was okay to feel that way and to worry…I’m not saying you have to approach your journey the same, just affirming that it is totally fine to feel fearful and you don’t have to try to make that fear go away or to convert it into anything else. It is brave, it is courageous to feel it. I didn’t realize how courageous until I looked back at myself and how I had moved within the fear.” — Molly Remer, talkbirth.me
Moving within fear…that’s a doozy. This book I’m reading right now, Bread and Wine, talks about “starting where you are” (pp. 40-48). With cooking but also with life. The way she talks about cooking actually makes me want to try to cook and that’s a serious testament to the author because I hate cooking. No, I don’t hate it — I’m terrified of it. Recipes don’t work for me; something always goes wrong. The kitchen makes me crave Xanax. (Not long ago I roasted a chicken upside down…it specified “breast side up,” but I couldn’t figure out which side was the breast side! Google did not help. It’s cool, you can keep laughing).
But…my husband loves to cook, and he’s really good at it too. He’s also really good to me and no exaggeration cooks 99% of all the food consumed in our house. And dagnabbit, his love language is acts of service. (For some reason that I’ll probably never understand, he feels loved when I do laundry and empty the dishwasher; it’s so weird). I can’t think of anything that would make him feel more loved than me cooking a meal for him. But…ahhh…the anxiety…things burning, smoke alarm blaring, sweat beading…can I please hide somewhere? Start where you are.
Baking. That still scares me, but it’s way less pressure than the stovetop. Put something in a 13X9 and set the timer and wait. I could try that. So the other night I made flourless chocolate brownies. I substituted the butter for ghee (which is technically still butter but it’s casein-free so it works for our family), but otherwise I followed the recipe impeccably. You know what happened? They never cooked all the way; they came out gritty and weird. I was disheartened, as I always am when I (inevitably, it feels) botch something in the kitchen. But…I still did it. I did make brownies (without a Betty Crocker box). And I could try it again? Despite being afraid of failure? It’s sinking in slowly that that is always an option.
A little over a year ago, I had a miscarriage. And about four months later, in an unexplainable blend of hope and sheer terror, we tried again. And I got pregnant again. And it was wonderful and awful. And though I miscarried at 11 weeks and I am now 35 weeks with this pregnancy, I’m still scared. I still find myself thinking, “We might have a baby,” instead of “We’re going to have a baby!” I cannot declare the experiment successful until I am holding a living newborn in my arms. So everyday for the last 35 weeks I’ve been “trying again,” and that will remain my daily task for five or six more. Trying to hope. Feeling the fear and moving forward anyway. Can I just say it’s exhausting? To hope and fear at the same time?
A little over two years ago, I gave birth. My god, it hurt. It was long and hard and triumphant, but when you’re 35 weeks pregnant, you’re just thinking about the long and hard part. Ignorance really is bliss, and I no longer have that luxury. And as much as I know the pain of labor awaiting me, I’m even more afraid of what’s going to come after that. Two children. Like, there will be more than one of them. And sometimes I will be alone with both of them. THEM — plural, folks. I keep telling myself that women having been caring for two children (or three, or four, or ten) for all of history, and surely I can’t be so different than the millions of mothers that came before me. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m scared.
A little under two years ago, my husband lost his job due to our church’s financial hardships. (My husband is a pastor, that’s probably necessary information to have for that last sentence to make sense). The journey we have had since that time has been the hardest one of my life. So lonely. So confusing. It’s been church after church, this coast and that coast, and no after no. We started out full of hope; a good first interview with a church would have us drooling over Zillow porn, already imagining ourselves in the setting of our fresh beginning. A second interview would have me checking out school districts, Google-mapping driving and flying distances to St. Louis, and researching the midwifery options in these places. Simon promised me that we would buy an MLB package if we relocated so that I could still watch Cardinals games — perfect. But it’s been a while now since we started out. We’ve been underemployed for a long time, piecing together part-time jobs that pay the rent and little else. Rejections have become less crushing and more normative. I’ve become jaded. I stopped checking out potential church’s websites; I swore off Google maps and Zillow. I didn’t keep track of all the “no’s” and the even more torturous “maybe’s.” I turned off hope because it hurt too much to have it dashed over and over again. Instead I cultivated cynicism, envy, and bitterness. I struggled — and struggle — with feeling forgotten by God. I watched my husband feel the same way and it’s a helpless feeling as a wife to not be able to make that go away.
I’ve been realizing as of late that I must come to the end of myself. I must surrender. I must be real about where I am and ask God to move in my heart even in the ugly places. And despite myself I can see that God has been doing just that. I’ve noticed that I don’t pray as many words as I used to when Simon and I pray together before he has a phone call or Skype interview. I used to beg for what I wanted. Please God, PLEASE, let Simon find favor with this search committee. PLEASE let them like him. PLEASE give him another interview. PLEASE give us this job. Lately it’s more like, God, I know you love us. Your will be done. Amen. Albeit at a glacial pace, I’m arriving at the conclusion that it’s rather pointless (and manipulative) to give God marching orders. He’s my Heavenly Daddy. He only wants the best for me, and though I kick and scream, he won’t stop protecting me from things that look good but actually would hurt me. Maybe I can trust him.
All I can do is start where I am, accept where I am. Able to chop up carrots, celery, and onions, but too paralyzed to actually use that mirepoix to make anything (though damn proud I know what a mirepoix is). Able to wash baby clothes and permit some hope of using them, but unable to completely dismiss the fear that baby-loss has seared into my soul. Able to deliver this baby, pain and all, but unable to start out as a rockstar mom-of-two because I have to live it to learn it, like every second time mom does. Able to pray (sometimes) and hope (sometimes) for the right pastoral opportunity to offered to my husband, but unable to keep the faith all the time, to be optimistic continually, to believe God is good even when He tells me no (crap, I’m too much like my toddler).
The Lord is my shepherd but to be honest, a lot of the time I do still want.
“It’s not wrong to want [something], but there’s a fine line in there, and I feel I’ve crossed it a few times these last months, and moved over into that terrible territory where you can’t be happy unless you have just that thing you want, no matter what else you have. That’s how [children] are — demanding, myopic, only able to focus on what they need in that moment. That’s not how I want to live. That’s not who I want to be. I want to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, of groundedness, of enough, even while I’m longing for something more. The longing and the gratitude, both. I’m practicing believing that God knows more than I know, that he sees what I can’t that he’s weaving a future I can’t imagine from where I sit this morning.” — Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine, pp. 58-59
I’m trying to relearn to say thank you. I don’t mean the automatic “thank you” that you utter when a stranger holds a door open for you or you receive your food through the drive-thru window. I’m talking about the deep-seated soul thank you, a habit of spiritual thankfulness, an ongoing awareness of my many blessings. Yeah, pretty much forgot how to do that. Just like my two-year-old says “Hold it, hold it, hold it!!!!!” much more than he says “Thank you” once I’ve satisfied his Gollum-like desires, I find much of the same in my (supposedly) grown-up heart. So I will read and reread Shauna’s words and try to drink in their truth, because that’s not how I want to live either. I can be in a season of longing but still meditate on all that I already possess. I can thirst but remember I’m also quenched. I can be scared but still move. I can be battered and still hope.
In her wonderful book, Shauna details her struggle with infertility and miscarriages, and the joy commingled with fear upon eventually conceiving her son. Her fear skyrocketed when she started bleeding due to a subchorionic hematoma, and for a week or so could do nothing but wait to see if her uterus reabsorbed the clots or if it would mean the end of another baby’s life. At her follow-up appointment, her ultrasound showed that the hemorrhage had completely disappeared and her baby was growing just fine!
“Our little hummingbird was still beating its tiny wings, and even though my fear was detonating over and over like bombs dropping, the fragile and fractured wings of my heart dared to beat as well, and alongside all that fear and all that gratitude, I felt the first precious rush of hope.” — Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine, p. 88
What are you gestating right now? A baby, a relationship, a degree, a career? Courage to confront someone who has hurt you? The stamina to run a marathon? The skills to start your own business? (The kick in the pants to make brownies because that’s starting where you are?) Whatever your nest eggs are, I bet you care about them an awful lot. I bet you are sometimes scared to speak of how deeply you are invested in them, how much you are wanting to ensure they incubate at the right temperate, how devastated you would be if they did not hatch (and how terrified you are that that indeed will be the case). I don’t know your stories, but I know mine and I know what it means to hope and fear and yearn. I’m growing a baby and soon that child will be born healthy and well, God willing. That nest egg will hatch for me, and it will hurt, and the dividends will be sweet. Out of birth, out of pain, out of loss, my hope AND fear AND longing will exist together and perhaps work together. I still feel like I’m not in a super-thankful place, but I will be incredibly thankful for that squishy, slippery baby in my arms. Hopefully he or she will help me be thankful for everything else I am blessed to have, as I keep waiting on my other eggs.
As I hope for and fret over my other eggs, the little ones like cooking success and the huge ones like fantastic job offers, I will keep yours in mind too. What I pray for myself, I will pray for you. That we would feel our fears, embrace them like old friends, and move forward anyway. That we would hold on to hope, or return to hope, because the alternative is to be enslaved if not dead. That we would own our longings and our dreams, and give them water to grow, but to loosen our grip on them just a little bit as to be open to different blessings we couldn’t foresee. And, in the midst of everything, that we would remember to say thank you for eggs already hatched, already arrived, already anointing us.
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:19