All the End-of-Pregnancy Feels

FIESTY

There’s nothing I know of that’s comparable to being 38 weeks pregnant to bring out all the feistiness within. My crotch ACHES constantly, vomit threatens to migrate up my throat every time I lie down, I’m toting around an extra 54lbs, and I’m trying to mentally gear up to push an 8-10lb child out through my genitals. Suffice it to say: it’s not a good time to mess with me. But because I’m not usually uber-pregnant like this (thank goodness), and because I was raised to be a good girl, as virtually all of us were, I rarely let my feisty fly. Here’s a sampling of the commentary I have received about my body over the last few months, and the responses I wish I had been ballsy enough to utter:

“You look awfully big.” You seem awfully rude.

“Don’t be surprised when the second baby comes out.” Don’t be surprised when I punch you in the face.

“You’re not going to make it to your due date!” Actually the appearance of a pregnant woman’s body has zero to do with the timing of labor. 

“Are you sure it’s not twins?” Yes I actually know more about my body than you do, stranger! Imagine that! (And at 34 weeks I was only measuring 32cm, jerk!) 

[Wide eyes upon hearing me say “December” — or now “two weeks left” — when asked when I’m due] You do know I can see you, right?!?!

This one time I really was feisty:

A stranger laughed at me, pointed at my big belly, and guffawed “Good job!” in front of a small crowd. I’m thought to myself good job…having sex? Good job…gaining weight? What inappropriate thing is this man praising me for? My thoughts got a little cloudy as I felt taken aback and he continued talking. He said something about boy or girl, still laughing loudly (was he postulating alien or tumor?). I stammered out “a baby,” and left in a hurry.

He saw me again a few minutes later at the gas station next door and approached me. I didn’t know what to expect but it turned out he was coming over to apologize. “Ma’am…I’m sorry I upset you. I didn’t intend to upset you.”

I could have smiled sweetly and said “Oh that’s okay,” but I had reached my limit and this was harassment. So instead I said this: “You are a stranger and you have no right to make comments about my body.”

He looked panicked and tried to backpedal. “I didn’t mean to…make comments about your body…I have a wife and a daughter and and…it’s beautiful. Your pregnancy is beautiful.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes — why do men love referencing their female relatives to claim they know how to treat a woman right? You shouldn’t have to have a daughter to know it’s rude to laugh and point at other humans.

“Then just say that. Or just say congratulations. Or nothing,” I deadpanned. He nodded and started to back away.

“I’m sorry ma’am.”

“Thank you for apologizing. Have a nice day.” I never smiled.


FRAGILE

I like to pretend that I’m a badass. I’ve had two babies at home au natural. I expressed my displeasure to a rude man at a gas station about his commentary on my body. I was a little harsh with an old lady at Walmart last week (she LET HER JAW HANG OPEN AT THE SIGHT OF ME — I try to be strong, but it was a crushing blow to my self-esteem). “When are you due?!?!” she exclaimed with the alarm conventionally reserved for emergencies. “Soon!” I tried not to cry. “June?!?!” she cried out, clutching her pearls at the thought I’d continue to ballon for another half a year. I shouted back “SOON!” She still didn’t hear me. I screamed “SOON!” again and added, “Thanks a lot for commenting on my pregnant body!” as I waddled away from her. I brushed away hot tears in the Christmas tree department.

The truth is I’m fragile. My body is fragile. I feel like an eighty-year-old woman…every step hurts. Today I fell down and did the splits in my kitchen. I cried, my two-year-old cried, my bones cried. I can’t play with my kids. I’m too tired, too uncomfortable, zapped of energy (and normally-fuctioning ligaments). I’m fatigued when I wake up in the morning. It takes all the strength I have just to roll over in the middle of the night. I’m no longer a person who is pregnant; I’m a (big fat) pregnancy inhabiting a person.

My nerves are fragile. I tested positive for GBS this pregnancy and have been pounding kimchi and fermented garlic and vitamin C and probiotics and apple cider vinegar to try to get rid of it. What if my next test is positive too? I don’t want to have to make a decision about antibiotics in labor. Why didn’t I do more to prevent GBS this time? Because I’m tired and I like eating sugar. Maybe it will be helpful if I lie awake at 4AM and obsess about it… 

My emotions are fragile. It feels like everyone is out to get me even when they don’t have bad intentions in the least. I dropped a fork on my foot last week and snapped at my husband (and cried) because his appropriate reaction was not inside my incredibly small box labeled “compassionate responses for mean forks.” #whoops #hormones #promiseiloveyou


FREAKED

A dear doula friend of mine refers to this as the “oh shit moment.” It’s when it sinks in — and I think this happens with every pregnancy — that you actually have to expel this little person from your body. This is the thought that make your vagina wince.

And it’s hard not to fixate on personal history. Gabe’s labor was 28 hours…I had a third degree tear…Phoebe was born with a compound hand presentation…it felt like I was being ripped to shreds…in a combined 46 hours of labor, I’ve never known anything but back labor…

I’m nervous about having a baby in a new place. No grandparents. Newish community (gonna get a swift kick into more intimate community when I have leaky boobs in front of everyone). I’m nervous about having three kids in my van and just the logistics. Who do I get out first? How do I keep them all alive in parking lots? How do I deal with Gabe and Phoebe poking and prodding each other constantly now that their car seats are butted up against each other?

I’m freaked the vasectomy won’t work and I’ll end up pregnant again. I’m freaked motherhood will swallow me whole. I’m freaked I can’t be the mom my children need. I’m freaked that I’m too maxed out to add a third to the mix.

I’m freaked out about struggling with massive oversupply again after baby is here. When Phoebe was born I was tandem nursing AND pumping off an extra 25-30 ounces EVERY MORNING. I did all the things, you guys, ALL THE THINGS…and eventually I succumb to pumping (what you’re generally NOT supposed to do) because it was far better than the constant threat of mastitis. Just thinking about it makes me cross my arms over my breasts and whisper please don’t explode again. Please don’t hurt me. 

I’m straight scared too. Of the big stuff. The worst stuff. I’ve watched my doula client die in childbirth right before my eyes, her baby born still, her husband impossibly devastated. I’ve attempted to walk with my friend who’s really my sister this year in the aftermath of her infant dying suddenly at four weeks old. I’ve bled my own pregnancy into a Walgreens toilet before and looked for my baby among the clots. I’ve seen irreparably damaged babies and helpless tormented parents in the NICU. I’ve heard too many stories of miscarriage, infertility, stillbirth, anomalies, SIDS. There are too many stories.

I’ve spent a lot of this pregnancy thinking I was “over” the fear of loss. I’ve had a rainbow baby, so I’m good, right? Turns out not so much. When my kids sleep in I still think half the time “are they dead?” Last week my five-year-old pulled a bookshelf over on himself and he was fine but my mind immediately went to the social media posts about toddlers dying under dressers (and the bolts we should buy to tether that thing to the wall). It will never be easy to accept that I don’t have control. I will never be able to keep my babies, or myself, or my husband, or my life totally safe. Nope. It’s terrifying. And I just need to say it out loud.


FIERCE

People tend to be confused why a woman preparing for her third birth (especially one who does “birth things” professionally) would want to take a childbirth class in advance of her labor. But…it’s like a really really big deal. And I haven’t done it in over two and half years. And I’ve only ever done it twice. Did I need the discussions regarding Pitocin and fetal monitoring and the Hep B vaccine? Not particularly, no. But I needed the emotional and mental preparation. I needed the day away from my kids to connect with my husband about this HUGE THING that we are about to do together, again, that will forever change our lives and the lives of our children.

One of the most powerful parts of the class for us was simulated contractions with ice cubes (something all my doulas and teachers have used to prepare me for my three births). In this instance I was blindfolded and given a large bowl of ice. A song started playing when everyone had their ice, “Beautiful Things” by Gungor which is one of my favorites. As instructed I plunged both hands to the bottom of my bowl of ice for the duration of the song. That song is over five minutes long…and I kind of rocked it. I rode that “contraction” and the eventual burning sensation (“baby crowning”) with power. I drew on affirmations, vocalization, and my husband’s presence and touch. (I also told him to stop talking so much, because mama knows what she likes and what she doesn’t — one kind encouragement per contraction and then please be quiet). And when the song ended (“your baby is born!”) I would’ve told you it’d been thirty seconds instead of five minutes. I took my blindfold off and my husband was rubbing my bare feet and beaming at me. I wept. My hands were frozen but my heart was warm and my self-confidence was blazing.

I remembered. I remembered that women are warriors. I remembered that I am a warrior. I can labor. I can birth. I can postpartum. I can mother THREE children. Despite my fears of really horrible things happening. Despite the pain that is so very unavoidable (no matter how and where you birth). Despite the absolutely thoughtless comments from strangers who might as well skywrite “you’re an enormous disgusting monster!” across the heavens. They don’t get to say what’s true about me. I am a child of God and a mighty woman and the uterus is the most powerful muscle in either the male or female body. I want a shorter labor. I want an intact perineum. I want a well-positioned baby that comes out with just a few pushes. But no matter the hand I’m dealt, no matter the circumstances, I can and will triumph.


FAITH-FILLED

I can do this.

I am doing this.

My body is powerful.

My baby is strong.

My God is good.

These are a few of the four-word mantras I have been saying to myself when I make time to practice meditation. I touch my thumbs to each of my four fingers with each word. I. CAN. DO. THIS. It helps my mind return to a focus on my breathing or my Jesus or my baby — whatever I’m trying to concentrate my attention on. We’ll see if it’s a tool I use in labor or not. But here, today, 38 weeks and some change, bones brittle and patience thin, it’s fueling my faith. And I’ve learned that’s a desperately needed ingredient for labor, birth, and parenting. Faith in my body. Faith in my child. Faith in my abilities. Faith in my Creator.

The closer I get to forty weeks (or forty one, or forty two) the more I am inclined to surrender. To the process, to the future, to the unknowns. What else can I do? I could simmer in fear, stay in the freaked out place, wrap every anxiety around myself tightly. But I know there’s no benefit in that. The profit is in transforming fear into faith. And not in some trite religious way; it’s not about “just have faith, honey,” or about what I “should” do. It’s about what I choose to do. It’s about a stubbornness to kick fear in the shins and be directed by love instead. It’s about embracing the paradox that I can be feisty, fragile, freaked, and fierce all at once, and all of that can rest inside my faith.

Come on, baby. I believe in you. I believe in me. I believe in this…this life, this birth process, this stupid-hard parenting journey. I believe it’s all holy. I believe in the Holy One who made us both and who has given us everything we need to get you from my belly to my arms. Come on, baby. When you’re ready. My fears won’t go away but I promise I’ll keep using the transform-into-faith machine as best I know how. It won’t be perfect. I’ll fail. I’ll curse either you or your father during labor. Your siblings will assault you. But you’re already so loved. Come on, baby. My kisses await you.

 

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11 Reasons to Nurse Your Toddler

22519321_10105619768376080_9071876206752966551_nThere’s a cultural phenomenon in America to wean nursing children upon their first birthday. If that’s your preference, by all means, proceed — and congratulations on breastfeeding for a year! Still I think there’s a lot of advantages to continue nursing into toddlerhood and I wish those perks were better known. So to that end, with my lactation consultant hat on but leading with mama knowledge, here’s my list of reasons why you might consider continuing your nursing relationship after that first birthday cake…

(1) Y’all. It’s like the freaking Imperius Curse. Or “the reset button” as my husband calls it. Toddler meltdown over the wrong-colored cup? Thrashing on the floor because you told them they couldn’t run with scissors? Losing their mind because you suggested Goodnight Moon instead of Barnyard Dance? My friends, there is a cure. You have the power to mind-warp the Gringotts goblins into allowing you into the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange. Bust out Harry Potter style parenting by bringing that wailing mess of a child to your breast. MAGIC. Afterwards they almost always forget what they were so irate about and are willing to do your bidding.

(2) Goodbye milk supply worries. They’re toddlers! They eat food! So who cares if you have a ton of milk or not? Obviously you need to maintain some semblance of a supply so as to continue to give your child the benefits of breastmilk (although honestly they often don’t care if you only have drops — some toddlers nurse through the pregnancies of their siblings with no complaints about the lack of milk). My point is that you don’t have to obsess over it. You don’t have to pump at work! You don’t have to count ounces! You don’t have to worry they are going to starve. Welcome to peace of mind. (Also, conversely, if you’ve got a kiddo that eats so little solid food you wonder how they stay alive, then you’ve got nursing to fall back on).

(3) They know what to do. Hooray! You made it through a year of nursing an infant! And that is some hard, hard work. It’s EXHAUSTING. It’s CONSUMING. It takes ALL OF YOU. But by the time you have a toddler, you have a nursing professional! They know how to latch. They can nurse in any potion. I mean ANY POSITION. Okay, the crazy gymnastics moves they like to pull sometimes aren’t the most fun. But I do love that toddlers need *zero* help nursing. They can nurse sitting up in your lap. They can nurse standing up. They can even fish your boob out of your shirt and help themselves while you are blow drying your hair (yeah that might be based on a true story). Bottom line: it’s easier than nursing an infant. They don’t need your help.

(4) It doesn’t tie you down like it does with a baby. You don’t need to devote thirty minutes every two hours. Sometimes one-year-olds do nurse for longer sessions, and two-year-olds too, but typically 5-10 minutes. Usually at bedtime, overnight, or first thing in the morning. But during the day? It does not take a lot of time at all. It’s drive-by nursing. It’s post-ouchie nursing. It’s “let me grab a quick snack while I show you my excavator toy” nursing. Many toddlers have this hangup about having “both sides” and as long as they are permitted to nurse from both breasts, they’re often satisfied with very brief sessions!

(5) It’s funny. I mean really, really funny. Once when he was three, my son cupped my breast under his hand and proclaimed as though he was admiring a work of art, “That’s a beautiful nee nee.” Another time he said to me, “That’s some good milk. Tastes like chicken!” My daughter? She went through a phase around her 2nd birthday when she would decide that mommy’s nee nees were dirty. Mid-nursing she’d unlatch and say matter-of-factly “Nee nee dirty.” She would absolutely insist that I “cleaned” my nipple off with a damp cloth before she would resume nursing. And then other times she’d giggle and tell me mommy milk tastes like chocolate.

(6) You get to have more boundaries. In fact I encourage it. Babies ought to be nursed on cue, and while this will naturally continue into toddlerhood and often works well, it’s also OKAY to distract your toddler, offer table food instead, nurse for the length of the ABC song, not offer but not refuse, and flat out say “Not right now” when you’re not feeling it. Also: night weaning. It’s a bear to get it done, but it can dramatically improve the nursing relationship if you’re burnt out. Moms tell me often they want to wean because their older baby or toddler is still waking up at night and they JUST CANNOT ANYMORE. Preach, mama! I get it. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can night wean. You can teach a toddler that they must wait until the sun comes up. You can keep nursing and yet not nurse constantly.

(7) It’s a biological norm. Children typically do not self-wean before eighteen months of age at the very earliest (sometimes nursing strikes are unfortunately perceived as a desire to wean). The worldwide average age for self-weaning is FOUR YEARS AND THREE MONTHS OLD. Quite a lot older than the one-year cutoff that’s been normalized in our culture! Also, if you consider what other mammals do, there’s compelling evidence that humans are meant to nurse significantly longer than twelve months. For example some mammals nurse until the quadrupling of birth weight — my 9lb newborn son didn’t hit 36lbs until he was four. Other mammals nurse until halfway to physical sexual maturity, so for humans that would be around seven years!

(8) No one *needs* cow’s milk. UGH — this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Moms are often told by well-meaning folks that they need to stop nursing after their child’s first birthday because now it’s imperative to introduce cow’s milk. What? It doesn’t make sense. There are plenty of different ways to get calcium and protein and fat into a child’s diet. I should know; my kids were highly dairy sensitive for their first few years of life so we definitely didn’t give them cow’s milk in any form! Guess what? They continued to grow! Also you can do BOTH! There’s no reason you cannot keep nursing your toddler AND give them cow’s milk. The point is cow’s milk consumption is not essential for human development. No one would suggest your kid needs zebra milk after all. You know who needs cow’s milk? Cows. You know who needs human milk? Humans.

(9) Because you can! ALL. THE. TIME I hear moms of almost one-year-olds sigh and say “Well, her birthday is around the corner. Gotta start weaning. I’m so sad! I’m not ready!” And it’s like well then DON’T DO IT! Have a party, give you baby a smash cake, and then clean him up and NURSE HIM AGAIN JUST LIKE YOU DID YESTERDAY. I’m so troubled by this trend to wean abruptly at a year old just…because. Why? It’s not as if breastmilk ceases to be beneficial overnight! If you WANT to wean? If you’re maxed out, you’re done? WEAN! I don’t believe in martyrdom with breastfeeding — it should stop whenever mother or child wants it to, regardless of the age of the child. I’m all about honoring the needs of the mother/child UNIT — both parties are equally important. A mom might need to wean on day 3 or week 3 or month 3. But if what mama wants is to keep nursing into toddlerhood, by all means, tune out the haters and nurse on.

(10) Illness. It’s sure handy to be able to nurse your toddler when they are sick. First of all, you’re able to provide those awesome immunities to your little man to help him heal faster. Secondly, you can easily comfort your sweet girl by nursing. Thirdly, it’s really helpful nutritionally and for hydration when your toddler is probably not eating or drinking very much. Dehydration is scary and with sick nursing toddlers, it’s rarely something you have to deal with. (Another thought: delay weaning until after flu season).

(11) They’re still so little. I wish I could go back in time to my oldest child’s toddlerhood years. He’s going to be five next month, and he’s STILL so little. When he was 1 he was really still a baby! Sure, he walked, he said words, he looked dapper in a sweater vest. But in most ways he was still a baby. He was still tiny and vastly unable to do most things for himself and needing his mama so very much. Nursing is just one way of meeting a toddler’s needs, but it is a beautiful way of doing it, and if you enjoy it with your eleven-month-old, I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy it with your thirteen-month-old too. They might seem “so big” now, but with time and perspective, I promise you’ll look back in a few years and think…gosh she was just so little.

I hope that’s helpful. Granted it’s tied up in my own experiences and there are certainly not-rosy things about nursing a toddler (like having Paw Patrol vehicles driven across your chest). It’s not for everyone. But it can be pretty great, and I wish more people knew. Nurse on, mamas. You’re amazing.

Why Write?

snoopy-writingI write because I take pride in having made something. Whether or not it’s objectively a quality product. Like my child who squeals with delight, “LOOK, MOM!” when he made a piece of crap at school, my heart cries out with a similar song. I made this! All by myself! 

I write because I’ve got something to say. Much of my life I have felt silenced. Sometimes the voices told me to be quiet directly, sometimes it was implied but acutely understood on my part. And it turns out that there is only so much silence a soul can endure; there is only so much room in the human psyche for untold stories and unshared opinions. I write to clean the attic of my mind.

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” – George Orwell

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Flannery O’Conner said that, and I couldn’t agree more. I joke with my husband that my spoken thoughts during our conversations ought to be considered first drafts. You want my coherent, sensical opinion on something? Gotta get it from me in writing. It’s the only way I’ll know what I think, let alone anyone else. This is especially true of the past, and by that I mean both yesterday and decades ago. What the heck happened? Better start writing and find out.

“That’s why I write, because life never works except in retrospect. You can’t control life, at least you can control your version.” – Chuck Palahniuk

I write because it’s my way of making things beautiful. Even pain. (Especially pain). Perhaps to some it seems unnecessary to create beauty, and probably others feel there is something disturbing about finding beauty within pain, but I’m left grasping for straws (gasping for air?) if the pursuit of beauty is nullified as a worthwhile endeavor. Why are we here if not to find beauty where it exists and create it where it doesn’t?

“I believe there is hope for us all, even amid the suffering – and maybe even inside the suffering. And that’s why I write fiction, probably. It’s my attempt to keep that fragile strand of radical hope, to build a fire in the darkness.”
– John Green

I write because I wonder if it’s an essential aspect of keeping myself healthy. Toni Morrison said that an artist without an art form is dangerous. Elizabeth Gilbert says if she’s not actively creating something, she’s probably actively destroying something. This needs more unpacking in my own life, but I’m highly suspicious that I also need creative outlets to maintain inner sanctum. What will happen to my soul if I don’t write? Will it become cluttered and then chaotic and then downright hazardous? I also worry about my poor imagination. It would be so cruel to never let it indulge any of it’s many ideas.

“Why am I compelled to write? . . . Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and anger . . . To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispell the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit . . . Finally I write because I’m scared of writing, but I’m more scared of not writing.” – Gloria E. Anzaldúa

I write because I see problems that need addressing. Because it’s the only way I know how to make sense of things. Because I care about truth and compassion and justice and love. Because I have to work out my humanity somehow. Writing seems as fitting a tool as any for doing something about those things.

“Because I can’t seem to escape it. It’s a way for me to address and counter my questions about what it means to be human…” – Junot Diaz

I write because I’m finally figuring out how to! I’ve had “the bug” since childhood but I’ve bowed before the god of perfectionism my whole life. I can’t even write a sentence. Just look at that sentence. It  sucks. The verb is all wrong and the adjectives are unoriginal and the subject matter is tedious and no one will care. I would write one or two sentences and give up because I couldn’t nail it on the first try. And it was far too stifling — and not at all fun — to try to edit sentence by freaking sentence, or worse, word by word! So I embraced journaling — I could get my cobwebs of thoughts down on paper, but I wasn’t paralyzed by the fear of anyone else finding out how stupid I sounded. I have stacks and stacks of journals that I filled in high school, college, and beyond. And then I became a mother and I started blogging…occasionally (#Exhaustion, #LifeTakenHostage, #ThisGigIsNoJoke). And I just…journaled on the Internet. I just told the truth. (I was too undone by motherhood to do anything else). People liked it — that was cool. Apparently my little life isn’t as boring as I assume it is.

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” — Anne Lamott

I write because I’m finally permitting myself to write badly and then sit on it for a while (or, on the other hand, to just bang out a few thousand words on this puppy and press “publish” because IT’S A BLOG, for goodness sake). Anne Lamott preaches “the shitty first draft” and that was huge for me: you mean everyone churns out crap when they first sit down and peck at their keyboards while being mocked by a naked Word document? Like…even published authors? Wait…like really bad stuff? YES, is apparently the answer. Mary Karr, celebrated memoirist, once threw out 1,200 PAGES of work because, in her words, they weren’t any good — that’s easily four books! Everyone struggles. To struggle with writing is not a disqualification. So I’m trying to embrace “done is better than good,” and also have some ongoing projects, neither done or good, and believe that the magic will come later.

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” — Shannon Hale

I write because I found a writer’s group a quarter of a mile from my house, so I can’t quit now! You guys: for the first meeting I attended, I had to write 500 words based on this prompt: “Three children are sitting on a log by a stream. One looks up at the sky and says…” And I wrote about three foul-mouthed teenage boys in a horror genre. It was so fun! Simon was like, “Why all the f-bombs?” And I said, “Oh it’s not me, honey, it’s my characters.” The next meeting, the assignment was to write 500 words inspired by the words “curiosity, broom, knife.” And I wrote an ER scene about two nurses trying to get an IV into a hysterical man who presented with a broom handle stuck in his rectum — I’m a nurse, what do you want from me? Both of these assignments were so fun, and nothing like the personal stuff I write for my blog. It’s been exhilarating to see that I can stretch myself and dabble in different art forms, if ever so mildly. The feedback is kind and thoughtful, not the intimidating “you suck” sort of stuff I imagined.

Also, the weirdest thing happens to me sometimes. People tell me I write well when I wasn’t trying to write well. Like, that my Facebook update was well-written. What the heck? That doesn’t count; I typed that out in two minutes as a little ditty about whatever cheesy picture I just posted. And so I’ve started to wonder how much I get in my own way. With my high and mighty ideals about transcendent descriptions and relatable voice, I wonder if I make it too hard and I should just tell the story. Huh. That’s interesting. Makes me think of the blog post I wrote about my miscarriage: I didn’t try to make it pretty because I couldn’t. I just bled at my keyboard; I didn’t censor myself. I told the story. And that piece was the most-read thing I’ve ever written.

“The trouble with so many of us is that we underestimate the power of simplicity.” — Robert Stuberg

I write because I have problems with authority and social norms and supposed-to’s. I do crazy stuff like eat a piece of my own raw placenta while hemorrhaging because I am a mammal after all (and I probably permanently established myself as the crazy lady at MOPS by telling this story on the “what’s the craziest thing that happened during your labors or births” Facebook thread, amongst posts from normal people like “I ate food” and “The nurse caught the baby”). I write because, if I’m being totally honest, I hate normal jobs. (This might be why I got a degree in nursing, actually…it’s a very weird normal job. There is so much poop and nudity and hallucinating). When I write, I can be free. I can be as weird as I like. And people can hate it. But they can’t do much about it.

“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.” – Roald Dahl

I write because, like the chick in Mean Girls who didn’t even go to that school, I just have a lot of feelings. Also, I ask questions like nobody’s business (mad props to my mother who had to watch movies with me for twenty years, and to my husband who has to watch movies with me until he dies). Writing is a really great outlet for feelings and questions — and I can ooze both of them without anyone becoming annoyed (well, at least, while I’m in the process of writing. The keyboard loves me unconditionally. Later, when people read it, maybe they’re annoyed. Maybe I’m whiny and obnoxious and never-satisfied. But at least while I’m writing it’s smooth sailing. I’m working on caring less about the reactions of others, realizing those don’t belong to me).

“Recognizing this reality — that the reaction doesn’t belong to you — is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smily sweetly and suggest — as politely as you possibly can — that they go making their own f***ing art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

I write because…that’s what writers do. Because this is who I am. I took a creative writing class in college and it was so life-giving. I wrote a short story called Marigolds about a pre-teen girl and her father navigating their grief after her mother/his wife passed away. It was heavy and tender and, I thought, beautiful. But after that class, I simply returned to journaling. I couldn’t actually BE a writer. It wasn’t practical. It wasn’t realistic. It wasn’t profitable. It wasn’t contributing to society (some say, I felt, etc). But what if none of that matters? What if I’m just a writer? What if it’s not what I do but who I am?

“I’ve been writing since I was six. It is a compulsion, so I can’t really say where the desire came from; I’ve always had it. My breakthrough with the first book came through persistence, because a lot of publishers turned it down!” — J.K. Rowling

I write because a younger version of myself wanted to write a book. A stripped-down, pre-marriage, pre-kids version of myself who had more room in her mind and time in her days. My twenty-year-old self didn’t care about what she didn’t know, or how hard it might be, or even if anyone read it. She was declarative: I’m going to do this! And why did she want to write a book? It almost seems like a silly question — she just wanted to. And I’ve got to give her credit; this twenty-year-old version of myself, not really a girl or a woman, was having a hard time. She was heartbroken, confused, lost. It’s a big deal that she had a dream. I want to do right by her.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

I write because I want to connect with you. To be part of something that’s much bigger than myself. To communicate. To call out into the night, “Is it just me?” and to have you call back, “No, it’s me too.” And visa versa: to intercept your calls in the dark, your questions that haunt you, your desires unspoken, and to respond imperfectly but as earnestly as I can: I see you, I hear you, I value you. Writing and reading enable us to breach chasms in understanding, to tackle our dogged loneliness, to discover truth everywhere it exists. I delight in being a part of that glorious exchange.

“Why does one begin to write? Because she feels misunderstood, I guess. Because it never comes out clearly enough when she tries to speak. Because she wants to rephrase the world, to take it in and give it back again differently, so that everything is used and nothing is lost. Because it’s something to do to pass the time until she is old enough to experience the things she writes about.” – Nicole Krauss

For all these reasons and for others unearthed, I write.

 

Photo credit: https://jdspero.wordpress.com/category/writing-2/

Reclaiming Sassy

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“She is SO sassy and willful.”

“Stop that sass right now or you’ll get a spanking.”

“I’m in big trouble; she’s such a sass pants!”

“Young lady, don’t you dare sass me.”

These are all things I’ve heard parents say about or to their daughters (never their sons of course). It’s high time we put a stop to this nonsense.

18881770_10105127366328730_4789417064769285870_nI saw the Wonder Woman movie with Simon recently. I had heard it was awesome from many people so I went in with high expectations. I feel like that’s often a set-up for disappointment, but I was blown away. Seeing Gal Gadot defiantly step out of the Allied trenches onto the battlefield to face the German army made my heart swell and my eyes water (okay, overflow with tears). She was going to pursue justice at any cost. She was going to battle for the oppressed despite the danger and act out of love despite the hate-fire literally flying through the air. It was No Man’s Land but one indomitable woman dared to cross it. The Allied forces were able to rally behind her and she led the troops into a triumphant battle.

That scene, which was unimaginably almost cut from the film, was a direct contradiction to every moment in my life when I’ve felt small and incapable. It proclaimed that’s not the truth about you. I wept with the poignant stirrings of dreams shut down and confidence interpreted as bitchiness and role models devastatingly few. And then I felt like I too could be an Amazon warrior who saves everyone. It was intoxicating. And I thought to myself, do men get to feel like this at the movies all the time?

16508223_10104713115121470_3552771851245733594_nBut you know what? I’ve got a Wonder Woman in my house with me. Gal Gadot’s character is far away in a movie not yet available to rent, but her spirit is present in my bed every morning, at my breast throughout the day, and in my lap with storybooks every evening. My Phoebe Clementine teaches me how to gather courage, how to lay claim to my own power, and how to take back my voice in the night. Her presence in my life is a healing balm for the little girl inside of me who was always picked last in gym class, who was always among the slowest to complete the mandated mile run, who was on the fringes of social groups, who never felt like she fit in or met others’ expectations. She’s only two years old but she’s been God’s instrument for redeeming the hidden badassery in my soul since the day she was born (literally: she was born fist first, channeling Rosie the Riveter even before her first breath).

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Sometimes people ask me if I named my daughter after Phoebe Buffay from Friends. My answer is well yeah, sort of. I was inspired by Phoebe Buffay’s fantastic quirkiness and continual breaking of the mold. I was also inspired by Phoebe of the Bible who was a deacon, or perhaps a minister depending on your exegesis of the text, who many believe was responsible for delivering Paul’s letter to the Romans and perhaps explaining it’s complex theological content to the people as well — no matter how you slice it, Phoebe of Romans 16 was quite a woman, especially in a deeply patriarchal culture. The word Phoebe means “radiant, shining one” in Greek, which could not be a more fitting description of my girl. It’s beyond beautiful; it’s brilliant and glittering. Phoebe is an embodiment of every aspect of her name’s inspiration and as such she oozes sass.

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“I’m doing a great job! I’m doing a great job!” This is what Phoebe says to herself when she is practicing riding on her balance bike. “I did it all by myself!” This is what Phoebe says to herself every single time she gets dressed. “Made it!” This is what Phoebe says to me every time she scales a playground apparatus intended for a five-year-old. “Beat ‘cha, Gabe!” This is what Phoebe says to her brother every time she completes a task faster than he does (or so thinks). How I wish I had the self-talk of my daughter. Her confidence astounds me, still untainted by a cruel world. I pray I can keep it forever intact despite knowing that arrows of pain strike everyone eventually. Thinking of that, I then pray I’ll know how to teach her to pull those arrows out of her side and get the hell back out there for Round 2.

14021681_10104148174167670_4085211941103525818_nAnd it’s not about “acting like a man.” Wonder Woman, in all her glory and ambition and defiance, was also beautiful, pure-hearted, tender — traditionally feminine qualities. She possessed a balance of masculine and feminine qualities (something we ought to instill in all children). One of the most powerful parts of the movie for me was that Wonder Woman was as much a wonder as she was a woman. Loving AND strong. Powerful AND tender. Poised AND unstoppable. After all you can be both feminine and a feminist. My Phoebe is OBSESSED with pink. I tried not to overdo the pink thing as a mom, but the child just has an intense love for the color pink (don’t give her a blue plate; she’ll rip your eyes right out). And my pink-laden girl also loves playing with trucks and dressing up like a firefighter and holding rattlesnake tails (and unfortunately pummeling her brother on occasion — a few weeks ago he wrapped his legs around her neck and she just bashed her skull into his crotch — I cheered a little on the inside). There’s so much cultural tension and infighting over “Women should be good and sweet!” vs “Women should be powerful and strong!” And I’m just like well shit, can’t we be both? My Phoebe sure is.

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Stop condemning your daughter’s sassy ways. We don’t do it to boys because we admire it in boys. It’s worth admiring and encouraging in girls too. I’m not advocating permissive parenting or disrespectful children. But I am taking a stand for sass. It’s life-giving. It’s soul-protecting. It’s justice-pursuing. It’s guts and heart and self-love and with proper nourishment, others-advocacy. Bossy, sassy little girls will grow up to be leaders, champions, senators, presidents, earth-movers and world-shakers. If we quell their sass, we do it at our own peril.  Someone’s gotta emerge from the trenches or we die down there.

19145830_10105171073519170_6189884650407752893_nMy daughter is a warrior. She’s a hero. She will not be intimidated. If you bother her when she’s working, she’ll retort “I’m busy!” And no one interrupts Daddy’s sermons except his daughter and it makes me absolutely giddy. And this girl will love you something fierce. She runs to gleefully smash into her older brother when he arrives home after school and wants to give him a hug and a kiss every night. She gushes to me, “I WUV Daddy! He is the best Daddy.” And she snuggles with me every chance she gets and proclaims “You are a beautiful mommy” (swear to God I didn’t teach her to do that). My “sassy” girl harnesses her power for good. For the people she loves. For the betterment and beautification of the world. She’s my very own Wonder Woman. She steals hearts and kicks ass and exorcises demons that keep little girls down. She reminds me that I am Wonder Woman too.

My daughter is sassy. PRAISE GOD. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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Hello, Arizona

2016-05-30-1464627347-5203949-SaguaroNationalPark171It’s 9:15 at night and as I sit outside on the pavement my legs are still being baked by the concrete and my arms and face and back feel the heat from the oven. And yet I’m pretty comfortable. It’s no seventy degrees, but I’m content to be outside right now because the contrast is enough from the climax of the day. After all, it’s only 95F = two digits, totally doable. Gotta get into the elements when I can avoid frying.

And I think it says something about my process of adjusting to a new life. There is so much to adapt to, it’s quite overwhelming much of the time, and the weather seems a trivial thing to pat myself on the back for. But man alive, it’s such a change from what I’m used to so I’m going to do it anyway. Granted I’m also doing plenty of whining about the weather; it’s worlds different from the four evenly-spaced seasons that I’m accustomed to, and my Midwest patience is wearing thin for summer. I’m programmed for 90 days of a pattern and then a shift. In Arizona, I’m being asked to wait things out.

95ecbd44194a7878f0edbac23e99f946Wait. That is a reoccurring theme for me in Arizona. Wait to know where everything is, wait to understand cultural differences, wait to appreciate the desert, wait to have side-splitting laughter with friends. Wait a (literal) hot minute before letting the children play in the backyard while I scan the area for rattlesnakes or bobcats or tarantulas. (I’ve seen the first two — thankfully neither in my actual backyard). Wait for a time other than evening to retrieve the trash and recycling bins from the curb — ornery javelina might be lurking.

Arizona. The kids have no idea that we live in Anthem, or (sort of) Phoenix. It’s Arizona. Because that’s how we’ve always termed it to them, and unconsciously to ourselves. It’s big, it’s huge, it’s down there in the bottom lefthand corner of the country that I never paid any attention to before. It’s alien. It’s a strange land. The plants will poke you and the animals will sting you and the heat will burn you. It feels harsh, dangerous, confusing, other.

There are stoplights at the end of highway merge ramps. I thought they were cute and absolutely ignored them for the first six months we lived here, until Simon told me I was supposed to actually abide by their red or green lights. You mean I’m supposed to go from zero to sixty in two seconds as I merge on to the highway?! “Well, it’s supposed to help with the flow of traffic.” Well, I think it sounds like a great way to get killed. (I have this teeny-tiny tendency to buck social norms, so I still don’t really stop, but I do slow down).

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Also my driver’s license doesn’t expire until 2046. Isn’t it funny that that’s going to be a real year? What if I go blind before then? The government is cool with me driving blind? I’ve also been told you get a new picture every five years or so, which I’m grateful for because my picture is truly ghastly. But doesn’t a new picture necessitate a new license? I haven’t figured this one out yet.

People in Arizona use the phrase “of ____ o’clock.” As in “I’ll pick you up at ten of six,” or “Let’s meet downstairs at twenty of four.” I had no idea what this syntax meant. When a friend from church said “twenty of four” to Simon and me, I asked Simon, wait what? What time? Simon replied, “I think he said 3:24?” That did make sense to our ears, but surely no one would request a meeting at such an odd time. Our friend said, “Ok, see you at twenty of four!” and I just blurted out, “I’m sorry, we don’t know what that means!” And for about thirty seconds we had a conversation in two different languages until it finally dawned on me that he meant twenty til four. “OH! You mean twenty TIL four! 3:40, twenty minutes before 4pm, right?” (because it seemed important to be really really explicit given the confusion that preceded this revelation). I’m sure he thought I was ridiculous but he graciously confirmed that 3:40 was indeed our meeting time.

Main4I’ve only spent three months in the South so I’m not the best person to make this judgement but Arizona feels like the South to me. Hospitality, four different Christian radio stations, and everyone goes to church. But it’s like the South wearing spurs. This is really the Wild West. Open carry — that’s new. People riding horses to restaurants. I’ve heard that one zip code east of mine has the highest concentration of horse ownership in the US. I wanted to buy cowboy boots in an attempt to fit in, but lordy they are expensive. I’ve sent three pairs back on Amazon because shoe sizing online is about the most impractical thing ever.

I’m the sort of person who is finds enjoyment in the most bizarre things. Like filling out online forms with drop-down menus for state, and not having to scroll at all, because Arizona starts with A. So that’s fun.

Arizona-Map-Old-ofHouses in Arizona don’t have basements. Hearing this was analogous to a hypothetical discovery that Arizonans don’t have toes or kidneys. How can houses not have basements? Where do you store your Christmas decorations? Well it turns out that Christmas decorations can be stored in a variety of places. Our garage has sick built-in storage with cabinets that go from floor to ceiling and everything we formerly stored in our basement is in there. Also, no basement turns out to be kind of amazing when you have little ones, because if you also have a ranch-style home as we do, that means no stairs! No baby gates, no fear of toppling children, no putting up with the one-year-old’s fascination with going up and down the stairs 500 times. So thank you, Arizona.

Also, thank you for the rocks. My vehicle and construction-obsessed child is all about the rocks. He can bulldoze and excavate and dump rocks with his toys for days (weather-permitting). THANK YOU for not participating in daylight savings time, oh my gosh; this mama of small children is eternally grateful! Thank you that because my house is always over 80F I can squirt coconut oil out of a ketchup bottle because it will never, ever, ever harden (til winter, which I proclaim by faith will indeed come again). Thank you for allowing me to vote by mail. Thank you for being on Pacific time (March-November) so that I can watch late-night comedy not late at night. Thank you for being midwife-friendly and respecting my right to make my own choices about the type of maternity care I desire (I cannot get over the shock of SEVEN birth centers just in Phoenix. How amazing!). Thank you for being so hot here right now that anyone who is unsure about global warming need only to pop into Phoenix for a crash course. Thank you for not having mosquitos here!

Flagstaff-peaks_0Did you know that Arizona has more national monuments that any other US state? Did you know that northern Arizona has pine trees and mountains and snow? I knew about the Grand Canyon and Four Corners, of course, but those are just two of many many gorgeous places that I’ve been told I just must visit. Glen Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Havasu Falls. Flagstaff is just ninety minutes north of us and is the most adorable college town where we can take the kids to go sledding or grab a cup of joe at a crunchy hookah lounge. I’ve heard they do a great Polar Express event for the holidays.

It’s easy to write off the new as wrong and to scorn the unfamiliar as inferior. I’ve done plenty of that. It’s homesickness, it’s immaturity, it’s human nature, it’s something I’m working on. It’s not the whole story. Arizona is a different place from what I’m used to, but it’s a place all the same. It’s full of history and complexity and beauty and lives lived and loved. And underneath the cultural differences (I’m not sure I’ll ever understand wearing pants when it’s over 70 degrees) and operational differences (assuming no blindness, I’m thankful to the Arizona government for relieving me of many hours that would otherwise be spent rotting in the DMV), people everywhere are just the same. Looking for love, looking for hope, looking for purpose. And just like we worry when we’re having a second baby that we couldn’t possibly love that child like we love our firstborn, we discover we’re wrong in a flurry of hormones and emotions when that newborn is placed on our chest and we do instantly love two babies, equally and differently, without the first losing anything. Your heart just gets bigger, say the wise women who came before us. And what Jake Perry said to Melanie Smooter in Sweet Home Alabama is absolutely true: “Since when does it have to be one or the other? You can have roots and wings.”

13177882_10103883826432650_1322013044471081833_nBaby one, baby two. Roots, wings. Childhood home, adult landing place. Missouri, Arizona. Since when does it have to be one or the other? Can we live in the tension? A few days ago I was sitting on Gabe’s bed with him as he fell asleep for the night. He rolled over and said to me contemplatively, “Mom, it’s really hard to move. I didn’t want to move. It’s hard being in Arizona.” And my heart swelled with love for that little boy who is so much like me, all feelings and melancholy and dreams and a need to wade through despair. “I know, sweetheart. It is really hard. It’s hard to get used to a new place. Do you miss St. Louis?” He nodded. “I miss our house,” he said as he started to cry softly. “And I miss my room.” I joined his crying and nodded back. We talked about how everything happened there. “When will we move back to our house?” he asked me. I explained as gently as I could that Arizona was our new home, and added that even if we had never left St. Louis we would have a different house anyway because our family has outgrown those thousand square feet. He just looked at me, eyes unsure and spirit questioning. I told him that Daddy and Mommy will be with him in the hurt, in the new, in the different. And I didn’t put a bow on it. His adjustment journey is as sacred as my own.

So we go forward. I attempt to moderate some sort of balance in my heart between optimism and enthusiasm verses honesty and hardship. One day I sunk to the kitchen floor and spontaneously started sobbing while my children danced around me and my husband walked in the house to quite a scene. And then I get excited about meeting the other parents in Gabe’s pre-K class and connecting with moms at MOPS. It’s one heck of a zig-zag.

nava_mapHello, Arizona. I’m still saying hello. It seems like greeting time should be over and done with by now, but it’s just not. You still catch me off guard and behave in ways I’m not used to and the acquaintance phase continues. But I like the flowers on the cactuses. It was cool when I had to stop my car to yield to a passing coyote. I loved trying fry bread on the Navajo reservation and learning about the native way of life. I can’t wait to get back to those winter days of Simon grilling my favorite foods and those winter nights of sitting in my backyard roasting s’mores with my family around the fire pit. It’s 10:35 on this summer night now and the sweat is dripping between my breasts and pooling under my gravid belly and my bangs are plastered to my forehead. But it’s a dry heat…sure.

 

Photo credits in order:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stefanie-payne/8-reasons-to-go-to-arizonas-saguaro-national-park_b_10208502.html (saguaros at night)

https://bigcatrescue.org/bobcat-on-cactus/ (bobcat on saguaro)

https://www.national-park.com/welcome-to-saguaro-national-park/ (saguaros in daytime)

http://horsebackridinginarizona.com (cowboy boots)

http://www.history-map.com/picture/000/Arizona-Map-Old-of.htm (AZ map)

http://flagstafffieldinstitute.com/about-us/ (Flagstaff mountains) 

Personal photo of Gabriel and newborn Phoebe 🙂 

https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/scpn/parks/nava.cfm/ (map of Navajo reservation) 

Bad Mommy

Recently my children have started calling me “bad mommy” when I do something they don’t like: put a toy in timeout, take a tantruming child to their bedroom, what have you. Generally I find this amusing and I remind myself this means I’m establishing reasonable limits. In other words bad mommy = good mommy, yes? And when it comes to these types of disciplinary matters, I think that’s pretty true. My two-year-old’s proclamation of my “badness” would be met by nods of approval by knowing mothers everywhere.

p01785jxBut regrettably, sometimes I really am a bad mommy. The kind we shame on Facebook and whisper about at the playground. The kind who is does the wrong things, says the wrong things, and gets incredibly mad at her children in that visible unstable sort of way. The kind who loses control and sometimes wants to hurt the little people she created. Like a pot of water that boils over on to the stovetop, sometimes I have episodes of rage that terrify me, and certainly terrify my children.

Friends were dismissive at first. “Oh I know, they’re little hellions! Sometimes you just want to shake them! Good thing they’re cute.” I oscillated between feeling like every mother bursts into fits of rage, that this was a normal occurrence of life with small children, and feeling very much the opposite, that I was the only mother on the planet who ever had flashes of fury in which she desired, even for a moment, to really harm her children.

I have never truly physically hurt them, thank goodness. One time I did push Gabe, my four-year-old. It wasn’t violent but it was a push nonetheless, and he defined it as such immediately. I have also tossed Phoebe, my two-year-old, as well as Gabe, on to couches and beds with more force than is appropriate. raged-woman-in-red-screamingMostly what I do is clench my fists and bite down hard on my bottom teeth and ooze with anger. Sometimes I slam doors. And I yell. I have uttered so many curse words under my breath intended for my babies, and some of them have come out audibly, directed at little ones who don’t know their meanings but feel their cruelty regardless. And I’ve shamed them, just poured my yuck right over their spirits like an evil baptism.

I walk away, I turn on Netflix for the kids, I make a cup of tea. Something to disengage. I wish I could say that I feel horrible instantaneously, but sometimes it takes me a bit to transition from feeling vindicated to feeling guilty. When the guilt comes I make amends. I apologize, I ask for their forgiveness, and it rips me apart that they pardon me every time. Often Gabe cries, falling into my arms and weeping. I cry too, sometimes, other times my tears are delayed and I just feel worn out, embarrassed, despicable. If he isn’t already crying, he surely will be when I ask him if Mommy was scary.


My shame grew and grew, just as the frequency of my rage episodes did. The more I experienced rage against my children, the more shame I carried. And because shame thrives on secrecy, the longer I told no one the extent of what was going on, the deeper I feared losing the respect of others, or even my children themselves should CPS come knocking.

But I’m learning that shame is beaten back by exposure. One night I texted a friend some more details about what was happening. About how I was unraveling. About how I get so mad at Gabe, and sometimes tiny Phoebe too, and how it doesn’t feel like “normal mom stuff” in my heart.  She responded with care instead of judgment. She asked if I had considered therapy, psychiatry, medication. I had thought a lot about the first item on her list; I have always valued counseling and was currently seeing someone actually (not that I had brought this up during our sessions). But it hadn’t occurred to me that I might benefit from seeing a medical doctor. I didn’t feel put off by the suggestion; I’m a believer in antidepressants. It just hadn’t occurred to me that this thing I was experiencing could be medical. My friend sent me some links to articles about depression expressing itself as rage. I wept reading the articles — I wasn’t the only one. There were other mothers, other good women who loved their children, who found themselves exploding with rage against tiny humans. I wasn’t the only person on earth having this struggle and that knowledge empowered me to take action.

So I confessed everything to my counselor. I had already been seeing her for months but I hadn’t told her about my rage because Shame, the liar, told me not to. I feared losing my children, but then I also thought to myself If I am a real danger to my children then I need to lose them in order to save them. My counselor was humanizing and gentle when I told on myself; she added that I ought to see a psychiatrist. I gulped. She said we would figure this out.

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My counselor told me that it was a sign of a good mother to tell on myself. She said it’s the parents who have problems but never tell anyone that end up damaging their children or losing custody of them. That made me feel better. But she also made me promise that if I find myself unable to deescalate while raging, and Simon isn’t home, that I must go to a neighbor for help immediately, and failing that, call 911. I exhaled and I promised. I knew she was right, of course, a million times over. She talked at length about how shame and depletion are the pillars that support rage. When your cup is perpetually empty, and you are being bombarded with lies that you are not enough, a likely end game is rage. Shame + depletion = rage. My counselor preached self-care instructions. Self-talk instructions. It all made sense and I took mental notes, all the while thinking easier said than done. We talked about the work to be done before December when my family will grow by ten fingers and ten toes.

That’s another thing — I’m having a third child in December. We did this on purpose. (The first one was a very-much-not-planned WHOOPS, the second one was brilliantly planned during unemployment, and this one was a genius move during questionable mental instability — baby timing might not be our greatest strength. But making cute babies? We’re really awesome at that). In telling this story, I fear that everyone will think she’s having ANOTHER baby? Is she stupid? I’m not here to prove that I’m not, and I hate that it feels necessary to assure the world of this, but it does so here’s the thing: I love my children. I love them with a ferocious love, an enduring kindness, an involuntary affection. My love for those babies is the fiercest force that’s ever been awoken inside of me, and I would go to hell and back for them. And I will love this next baby, this wanted baby, the very same way, with my whole heart, with all the compassion and fallen humanity therein. I wish I was a perfect mother; I wish I had only strengths and no weaknesses. But I am deeply imperfect, and as I try to accept that daily, I make the only smart move I can, over and over, as the need will never diminish: get help.


Calling the psychiatry office was one of the most humiliating things I have ever done. It felt like the definition of rock bottom. I was two inches tall in the pit, barely making out the sun over the crest of the earth. But after I did it I felt a huge sense of relief and I was surprised to find myself anticipating the appointment instead of dreading it. My psychiatrist asked me a million questions. Medical history, mental history, family history. Have you always had a temper? No. Would people describe you as an angry person, like your husband or old boyfriends? No. Was your pregnancy planned? Yep.

Triggers, she asks — what brings on the rage? Breastfeeding. I’m a lactation consultant and fiery as ever about nursing, but as a human I’m maxed out. I have nursed Gabriel for over four and a half years, and I am also nursing his two-year-old sister, and growing another person in my uterus, and it’s too much. What else, my kind psychiatrist inquires. AngerNot enough sleep. Being woken up before 6AM every single day. Other things? Well, misbehavior. (This makes everyone nuts, right?) It almost seemed to obvious a trigger to go into detail, but I do anyway: being repeatedly ignored when I know the kids can hear me. Being kicked and swatted and whined at day after day after day. Tackling tiny sumo wresters into their carseats while they scream. Chasing after gleeful children who streak across parking lots. I also tell my psychiatrist that sometimes the rage comes out of nowhere, and these instances frighten me the most.

She asks me if I’ve had any mental health diagnoses before. I say yes, an adjustment disorder and I give some context. I also say depression, but that I’ve never had an official diagnosis. I mention sheepishly how being in her office makes me feel like I am actually a sick person, whereas being in a counselor’s office just makes me feel proactive and responsible. She scribbles on her notepad. I am overwhelmed by the notion of mental illness, but also thankful that I am getting the help that my babies and I so deserve.

Have you ever contemplated suicide? Sure, in my darkest moments. I’ve wished I wasn’t alive. For a fleeting moment or a few hours or maybe a day, here and there over the years.

The thought is always gone the next day? Correct.

Have you ever made a suicide plan? No. I’ve never considered taking action to end my life.

Have you ever wanted to hurt your children? I say sometimes I just want to slap Gabe across the face. She presses harder.

Have you ever wanted to really harm them badly? She leans into the word harm. Her tone of voice and body language are clear: she is talking about beatings, abuse, lasting damage. Ever? Has that thought *ever* crossed my mind? Yes, I whisper.

Have you ever had rage fantasies, thought about doing horrible things to your children? Damn, woman. I was able to answer “no” to all of her questions about punching walls, throwing things. Can’t answer no to this one, which is much worse than the earlier questions. Yes…I have had those fantasies. There, I said it. She knows now how broken my soul is. But she just continues to her next question, kind and dignifying, clearly a doctor and not a priest.

Have you ever had homicidal thoughts? Have you ever contemplated a homicide-suicide? I’m only one inch tall in the pit now, maybe one centimeter. I’m shell-shocked and feel lower than a slug to receive this question. No, I tell her. It’s the truth. But it only makes sense that she asked me.


yelling-mom-6187597She hypothesizes that all of my rage episodes have triggers, even the ones that appear random. She asks me how I am at self-care. I say okay and she doesn’t believe me. She asks if I was better at self-care before I was a mother, I say of course! (Isn’t that true of everyone?) She doesn’t let up: you were never really good at it, were you? It’s not shaming or accusatory, just knowing, an olive branch of truth. I think about it and tell her no, I’ve never been good at meeting my own needs — I’m really good at meeting other people’s needs. I tell her about the depletion issue that my therapist and I discussed, how a constant diet of depletion is a setup for rage. My psychiatrist agrees. She says my rage is fueled by not taking care of myself like I should, even when it seems to come out of left field. When your tank is always on E, a child protesting bedtime can make you unhinged, instead of annoyed but in control of yourself, she offers as an example. I feel less insane with this theory from her that there is a measurable explanation for all my “episodes.” I feel less crazy, and simultaneously alerted to the degree I have neglected myself.

She takes my vital signs and finally proclaims near the end of my ninety minutes that she doesn’t think I require medication at this point in time. She says that nothing she would consider prescribing is very safe with pregnancy or nursing, and she feels that the risks to the fetus and my nursing children outweigh the benefits I might receive. I wonder for a moment if she’s in a jam and would be writing out a STAT order for Wellbutrin if I were not in the family way. prescriptionsBut she seems confident in the plan she recommends: continue regular counseling with my therapist. She will be in contact with my therapist, and I sign the HIPPA papers to allow the two of them to discuss my dark yucky parts over the phone anytime. My psychiatrist tells me she’s going to call me in two months to see how I’m doing and then we’ll reevaluate my needs. I’m uneasy that she didn’t prescribe something for me; at this point I’d love a pill to keep me from ever lashing out against my children again. But I’m also encouraged that she thinks that I can do the long, hard work of therapy to center myself in wholeness.

My psychiatrist runs my credit card and I sign the receipt. She smiles at me in a motherly way. I thank her and I leave.


I used to think that when I became a mother I would stop being a human. I would be bigger, better, more capable. I would be divine and Pinterest-perfect. But if anything I am more human than ever before. I love bigger but I hurt deeper and fall harder. And even the sweet babes that I nurse and nurture, even they (especially they) fall prey to my weaknesses. To my state of mental health or illness. To my humanity with its ever-glaring pock marks.

I understand how child abuse happens. When you’ve repeated yourself a hundred times, and tried every trick in the book, and compared yourself to every mother you know and your kid — who seems to instantaneously combust because the air around him doesn’t contain his preferred blend of oxygen — to the kid at church who is actually wearing Sunday best and who doesn’t throw himself on the floor and fake a grand mal seizure when he doesn’t get his way — after all of that, when you feel completely defeated and moronic and exhausted, and you have utterly nothing left to give, even regard for others’ opinions of you, sometimes you just want to beat the snot out of that little punk. It sounds so tempting, and it really feels like they deserve every ounce of it.

mom-yelling-at-child-cartoon

Thank God I have not given in to the full urging of the rage. I’ve been mean, I’ve jerked little hands through a parking lot too forcefully, I’ve used shame and intimidation to punish my children. And I tell myself that it’s not as bad, not as wrong as hitting or “really hurting.” And maybe a jury would agree with me, but my heart knows the truth. I know, just like the people reading this who have never called a psychiatrist’s office, that it is always wrong to shame a child or use fear to control their behavior. It’s pretty basic. But it turns out that I’m a lot more limited than I thought I was. I’m coming to grips with the fact that I have to be Human and Mother at the same time. And, on the other hand, I get to be Human and Mother at the same time.

And I cannot do this without a village. No, not in a way that will keep my children’s dignity and my sanity firmly intact. And it’s rough right now because the vast majority of my village is over a thousand miles away in the Midwest. My husband is in a new job which was the reason for our relocation. His purpose is clear while mine remains nebulous. Why am I here? What does the future hold for me? That answer will take some unpacking but I seek it with intention. This move has been harder than I expected and progress feels glacial. I know of lots of people but don’t truly know many people. Not deeply, not like I crave, not like time and interactions has yet allowed for. It’s a slow burn, I’m learning, this brand-spanking-new life we’re creating here. When I can use all the bad four-letter-words while looking like hell and eating ice cream out of the carton in front of people who know I’m a pastor’s wife, then we will be true buddies. We will laugh til we cry and cry til we laugh, and we will weather motherhood and this messy beautiful life as a team. I look forward to it with the greatest anticipation.


I type these next words to preach truth to myself as much as I type them to share with you: being a good mother and having mental health struggles are not incompatible. I’m worn out. I haven’t been caring for myself well. I’m going through some huge transitions. I was carrying shame, such heavy shame, because I believed the lie that good mothers don’t have mental health struggles, and the longer I delayed sounding the alarm, the more times I blew up at my young children and increased the chances I might actually harm them. largeAnd it’s true that sometimes being a good mother means being psychically separated from your children to keep them safe, and I’m just thankful I told on myself before more severe intervention became necessary. That happened by the grace of God. My heart goes out to all the mamas who didn’t speak up, because they were afraid and ashamed — I was those things too, still am, and I know I easily could have gone down a different path. I am no different from you. We all, everyone, must work harder to remove the stigma from seeking mental health care. Until calling a psychiatrist is a normal as calling a cardiologist, there is more work to be done. And our lives and our children’s lives depend on it.


A dinner plate that falls to my kitchen floor is in peril the moment it leaves the countertop, but it doesn’t actually break until it’s fated meeting with the laminate. There are many instances in my journey as a parent that I am that falling plate. I’m going to shatter; I’ve already left the countertop. My blood pressure is rising and my temper is flaring and my children are quickly becoming less adorable and more infuriating. I might even know I’m about to crash but I fear I cannot rescue myself. It’s utterly terrifying and it feels like a monster has kicked me out of my body; the demon storms in and I am standing helpless on the curb. His name is Rage. He feeds on depletion and he breathes shame and he contorts my brain. He sends me spiraling. But because I am a human and not a dinner plate, I do have more options than inanimate objects do. I do have the ability to send up a flare, to ask for help, to shout out “I’m going to break! Get me out of this free-fall!”

The-Monster-Inside-Your-Head-Is-Always-ActiveSimon came up with a system for me to use to communicate with him quickly in times like these. It’s a scale from 1 to 10: 1 means I could not be enjoying my children more and 10 means I might kill someone. We have agreed that if I reach a 7, I am no longer a safe parent in that moment. Daddy needs to take over, or, if I am alone with my babies, I need to send up my own smoke signal: stick them in front of PBS Kids, or outside to play, or simply walk out of the room and give myself my very own timeout (preferably with tea and chocolate). This system is helping me, and it’s not even so much about the 7, it’s about the 2 and the 4 and 6.5. It’s helping me check in with myself on a regular basis and not just when I see the monster called Rage approaching. And the great thing about that is increased self-awareness, which results in me taking action when I’m a 5 or 6, to keep my children that much safer, to guard their dignity that much closer. And when the radar beeps 6 or 7, there’s the self-talk corrections, which I prefer to think of as monster evictions: “Get out, you bastard! These are my babies and this is my life and you don’t get to hurt us like this!” And then you punch him in the face and throw him out of your sub-conscience. (And you still take that timeout probably, because let’s face it, the monster is one stubborn dude and he’s not smart either).


Let’s be honest — there are social media posts that are appropriate and those that are inappropriate. We all subscribe to a set of unspoken rules when it comes to Facebook, Instagram, and the like — you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps no where is this more true than with regard to parenting. For example, it’s acceptable to post pictures of your kids smiling. You smiling with them. Statuses about funny things they do and sweet things they say. About once a week I’m able to capture a Facebook-sanctioned picture of my children and/or have a cute story to tell about them in a status update. But daily I have lots of stories I could tell about them that don’t follow the rules. For example:

“It’s almost bedtime. I have been so patient today. It’s almost time to rest. I’m giving the kids a bath and Gabe refuses to stand up so I can wash the lower half of his body. I ask nicely. I am very nice. I say he can play for two more minutes. Two minutes passes. I say it’s time. He ignores me completely. He is on another planet. I say his name repeatedly. I start raising my voice hoping I will be acknowledged. I wrack my brain for a bribe I can offer. Nothing works. My heart starts pounding and I clench my jaw in fury. For the millionth time I forget I am interacting with a four-year-old and I feel disrespected by an adult who thinks I’m dirt. I drag Gabe up out of the water by sheer force and he pretends like his legs are spaghetti. He’s whining; I’m pleading and cursing under my breath. He tries desperately to collapse in the tub and I struggle to retain my grip on forty pounds of slippery disobedience. He’s falling over the edge of the tub now and I have him propped on my pregnant belly, arms and head dangling over my shoulder. I manage to soap up his genitals and legs but what I really want to do is let go and allow his head to smash into the hard tile floor. For a moment I hope there will be blood. The monster has invaded and he is gnashing his teeth.”

That’s an everyday story from the Kim household and I’ve got a million more just like it. And here I go posting it on the Internet. But I have this theory that I’ll be a better mommy if I’m a more honest mommy. If I worry less about meeting others’ standards of motherhood and worry more about telling the truth about being a human being who happens to have reproduced. You might think I’m horrible. You might think I’m appalling. But at least my shame will be exposed, and I know it’s much less dangerous to me and my children that way. It can’t fester and therefore it can be overcome. When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible IS light. — Ephesians 5:13, 14

10

I’m pretty sure we’re all broken plates. We have all shattered. Maybe not as parents, but in other ways. We are not playing with a full deck. We don’t have all the answers or all the resources we need. Sometimes we need therapy or medication or hospitalization. Sometimes we need vacation or babysitters or showers with no little people watching. All the time we need each other. And the more we can admit that the sooner we’ll tell a friend how we found ourselves hating our kid one night, the sooner we’ll call a psychiatrist, the sooner we’ll be more honest with ourselves and our spouses, the sooner we’ll be more accepting of others’ help. It’s exhausting to glue ourselves back together over and over again. And I know from experience that once you break, you’ll break again more easily. I think it’s time to show each other all our broken places and dole out hugs (real hugs not that nicey-nice crap) and say “me too.” Maybe that’s the beginning of healing. Maybe that’s when we stop shattering.

brokenplate3

 

Photo credits in order: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130404-smart-saucepan-for-stressed-cooks (pot boiling over)

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-symptoms-of-borderline-personality-disorder-in-women.htm (woman in red shirt)

https://anitasilvert.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/beshallach-toggling-between-two-pillars/ (pillars)

https://krazykillers.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/vehicular-homicide-its-all-the-rage/ (woman screaming)

https://lupinelife.com/2014/11/20/mom-confession-im-a-yeller/ (profile of mom yelling)

http://www.lifecarefhdc.org/prescriptions/ (Rx)

https://pagesfromserendipity.com/2017/04/29/y-for-yelling-yelling-moms-arent-bad-moms-please-i-am-one-atozchallenge/ (cartoon mom yelling)

http://weheartit.com/entry/group/215981 (monster hovering over woman)

http://sadmoment.com/the-monster-inside-your-head-is-always-active/ (monster GIF)

https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-13048064-stock-footage-hand-holding-a-light-bulb-in-the-dark-the-lamp-lights-up.html (light bulb in dark)

http://atypyk.com/archive/broken-plate/ (put back together) 

 

 

Assorted Pregnant Thoughts

I’m terrified of how hard it’s going to be to parent three small children. I feel like society is very intolerant of my fear since “I did this to myself.”

Yes, we planned this pregnancy. I think admitting fear and intention together adds up to stupidity in the minds of some. You’re scared…but you did this on purpose…you’re dumb and I have no sympathy for you.

Deciding to have another BABY was not difficult. If children remained babies forever, I might have a dozen more. I love babies. Especially newborns — so snuggly and precious and soft and smell-able. Give me newborns for days. The problem is not the newborn; the problem is the child the newborn will become.

Yesterday I paid over $24 in library fines because I can’t get my life right and as I was signing my receipt, my four-year-old ran over to me from the drinking fountain and spit a mouthful of water all over the library desk and floor. Then my two-year-old proceeded to throw her shoes across the room and run away from me. Both drenched children demanded stickers from the security guy at the door (“the sticker man!”) and Phoebe ran into the Phoenix parking lot with bare feet and screamed. I carried seventeen “free” children’s books atop my pregnant belly, somehow scooped up my crying toddler, and imagined what the next circle of hell might be like.


I’m seriously over this whole being-pregnant thing…and I’m only halfway done with this one. It’s exhausting and uncomfortable and, sure, the baby kicks are altogether delightful and other-worldly, but it’s a crummy payoff for all the vomiting and heartburn and round ligament pain and stretch marks and bowling-ball-in-your-crotch syndrome.

Contemplating what it must have been like for women hundreds of years ago leaves me baffled. You’re just pregnant all the time!? Easily two or three decades of your life!? Pregnancy, birth, nursing, pregnancy, birth, nursing, pregnancy, birth, nursing, pregnancy, birth, nursing. When did women ever rest? How did they manage? What if they had had enough? I know that abortion dates back to ancient times; crisis pregnancy is not a new phenomenon. My heart catches in my throat thinking about the pervasiveness of infanticide as a practice: newborns in clay pots set out on the street or thrown in manure heaps to die. I can barely fathom it. Perhaps some women timed intercourse to avoid fertility, but what about the women who had no say in the matter? I wonder if every young girl for much of human history had a moment in her life that she grasped the eventualities of femaleness and shuddered with the realization that she would have precious little control over her life.

With these thoughts, gratitude settles on my heart and I am so humbled. It’s an immense privilege that Simon and I could even have a conversation about whether or not we wanted to add to our family. And it’s a tribute to feminism both that many contraceptive methods are available, and that good men like my husband welcome their use. 20620978_10105371142763800_9067363122232208525_nI get to say, “my uterus is retiring after this pregnancy.” I get to make that choice. I get to have a limit. I also have the power to change my mind about my family size. Considering what was normative for women’s sexuality for eons (and still goes on today everywhere contraception is unavailable or scorned), it’s flabbergasting if you stop and think about it.


I’m also really over pregnancy rules. Totally rode a ride at a carnival (it was the Moon Cars, I mean COME. ON.). Went down a water slide. Ate quality sushi, ate raw fish, ate soft cheese. I take baths that are a little on the hot side. Couple small glasses of wine with meals post first trimester; one here another three weeks later. Took extra-strength Tylenol for my migraine. I went to a super fancy restaurant in Chicago with my girlfriends last week and had a cocktail, and lemony ricotta, and raw tuna over micro greens. Abso-freaking-lutely.

You can think I’m a bad mom. You can think I’m overly-relaxed or even reckless. You can think whatever you like because that is your right. Me, well, I think I just got to a place of realizing I don’t have all that much control. Whether or not to get pregnant? Yes, that’s something I can largely control (thanks to my privileged position). But the fate of this baby? Not so much. It doesn’t mean I’m foolish. It doesn’t mean I’ve thrown out research or reason or rational thinking. It does mean that I embrace moderation and risk-benefit analysis and responsibility for my decisions. It also means that I have decided to embrace my humanity. I cannot have a perfect pregnancy because no one can do that. I cannot be a perfect mom because no one can do that. And I like having fun and eating good food and taking bubble baths. I will be a mother and a human simultaneously. The verdict has been declared and I repeat it to myself as necessary.


When you get pregnant for the first time, you register. You go to Babies R Us or Target or hop on Amazon and pick out 60,000 things you are positive you must have to raise a tiny human. This go round? I have everything I need (which, as it turns out, is really about seven things, not 60,000) but I still have a wish list, it’s just very different than it was five years ago. Now I’m dreaming about a babymoon with my hubby before the birth, fabulous birth photography (if I’m putting my uterus in a vice again, I want pictures of me looking amazing while doing it), an uber practical and durable baby carrier (I think the days of working to perfect Double Hammock carry in a woven wrap are long gone), and a whole lotta meals brought to my doorstep postpartum. And babysitting for the big kids. And chiropractic care and massages. (Oh, and an intact perineum. Just this once, no stitches. For the love).


Let’s talk about how you start to show freaking immediately when you’ve been pregnant previously. It’s not cute. It’s laughable. I dug out my maternity clothes at seven weeks! When we went public with our news around twelve weeks, people said things like, “Oh I’ve know for a month, I’m so glad I can congratulate you now!” At ten weeks gestation two different people said to me, “You’re so big!” Why, just WHY? Why would you say that? I’M TEN WEEKS PREGNANT. I think I might seriously mess with people at the end of this pregnancy when I’m as big as a house. I’ve heard of women letting out little baggies of water between their legs in random places like the bank and the grocery store just to mess with people who have the gall to shriek “Oh my god!!! You’re huge! How did you walk in here?! It’s triplets right??? You look like you should have delivered a month ago!” It sounds so deliciously satisfying to make someone worry that I might get placenta on them.


Oooh, let’s also talk about all the annoying things we have to deal with as women post-pregnancy and birth. Like peeing on your couch because someone made you laugh. Totally have peed on my couch like three times since becoming a mother. (This is why we have a slipcover now). Oh, and having to cross your legs like mad when you sneeze because, again, the uncontrollable pee. Does everyone know that pelvic physical therapy is a thing? Oh, it’s SUCH a thing. I recommend it. I also recommend doing the exercises at home like the PT tells you to do instead of just blowing them off like me and being like, yeah my bladder probably won’t fall out. About a year ago, I straight up wet the bed. I mean peed myself like a child in my sleep. I was dreaming about being in the ocean and then I was in the ocean. I changed clothes and threw a towel down and went back to sleep because, motherhood.


Also: this is not my third pregnancy; it’s my fourth pregnancy. It’s been nearly three and a half years since we miscarried Zuzu and I’m not grieving anymore. It feels horrible to say that but also true and also freeing. I’ve been healed and isn’t that a good thing? My miscarriage experience remains one of the most traumatizing events of my life, not only the loss of my pregnancy and baby but the physical event itself. I’ll never forget all the blood. And I long to someday meet that sweet baby in Heaven, to find out who she is and what she smells like and all I missed. I await redemption. IMG_7588.JPGAnd yet in the here and now, my thoughts and feelings are consumed by Rainbow Baby Phoebe who filled up my womb and heart after Susannah went home. And this new baby, both known and unknown to me, Baby Cookie as the kids call my bump, is making his/her way into our love too.

The dark cloud of fear that dogged me during Phoebe’s pregnancy has lifted. It’s not a return to the days of blissful mommy ignorance I enjoyed during my first pregnancy; I know all too well that there are no guarantees. That blood is seared on my brain and I’ve wept with precious friends who have endured losses far more agonizing than mine. I choose to eat organic as much I can, and to buy the expensive prenatal vitamins, to avoid obstetric procedures that are not evidence-based. I chose to have my progesterone levels checked over and over in the beginning because it’s my Xanax for miscarriage anxiety. Ultrasound on Thursday, never miss a prenatal appointment, text my midwife with my questions and concerns anytime. But I choose to loosen my grip as well. I chose to finish every last drop of the best cocktail I’ve ever had last week at dinner. It’s a broken world; I’m a broken person; I might as well consume peace along with organic apples and pop sanity along with prenatal vitamins. There is only so much I can do, and even though I could run myself ragged doing it 24/7/365, it won’t put me in the driver’s seat. I’m still a passenger, along for the ride. The dangers are before me and I see them, but I’m rolling the window down and hanging my head out too. It’s a patched up version of blissful mommy ignorance: it’s experienced humbled openhandedness.


I will survive and then thrive the transition from two to three children. I will do it because I have to. I will do it because my children deserve it. And I will do it because I can, because I deserve it, because I refuse to let motherhood swallow me, because I love my children but I don’t always love parenting my children and I need a war cry, y’all. I have two hands and soon will have three children. I will soon bust out the pumpkin seat again and have over $700 of car seats across the middle row of my Odyssey. There will be afterpains and diapers and blood and milk on everything in sight. And it will be stupefying that the world will continue unaware.

But there will also be that face. That new face that today I can only dream about as the squirms inside me carry on. That new face that is not promised or ensured to us but that I nurture hope for anyway. That new face that ratifies our undying love for a new member of our family from the very first glimpse. That new face that is therapy and medicine and light ablaze. That new face that melts everything it encounters. That face I yearn to see, pray to see, delight to see. That baby face will be our glue. And I’m not ready and I want that face yesterday all the same. Grow baby grow. We’ll do this together.