At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I'm in my office. The only light on is my floor lamp. The rest of the house is dark, except that I know a light is on in Trey's office behind the closed door. Modest Mouse is playing. I can see bright white snowflakes in the light of the streetlamp directly outside my window. It's just the light of the computer, the dim light of the lamp, and the flecks against the black night. And I know everything is ok. And this is when I want to have children. The moments when everything is quiet, but not dead, and there is poetry to be breathed. And I want them to know it and to see it and to experience it.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I so want to be a more joyful person. I have struggled deeply with joy this week, and I must confess that I have failed. And for no reason at all. My life is exceptionally good right now. I'm excelling in my CELTA course. I received a scholarship at Gordon-Conwell. My husband has cooked breakfast for me every morning. I just went shopping for the afternoon and bought us clothing we probably don't actually need. My church preaches the gospel and I have friends who want to spend time with me. And yet, I haven't had such a difficult and miserable week in years. The main culprit was exhaustion. I'm halfway through this CELTA course and it's felt like being in finals for two weeks. There is a real reason why joy has been challenging this past week. But I want, want, want to be a joyful person even when life is stressful, even when I am exhausted. I want to be able to have and display joy to my future children when they've kept me up all night and I'm exhausted. If I can't be joyful now when I'm tired, how can I ever hope to be so when the craziness goes through the roof? I need to pray and I need to ask God to work in my heart now, this moment, this week, transforming me into a bearer a joy now, not later, when it will be even harder.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I've been thinking a lot about how scary it is for me to think about giving up work to be a mother. I know that all mothers don't stop working, but most at least significantly alter their working life. At the minimum, I believe that as a mother, I would need to hold all of my work very loosely, willing to give it up if necessary for the good of my family. I think the recognition that having children could very well end my work identity is part of what scares me about having children.
The truth is, I am not the same person I was ten years ago. I once saw marriage and children as an escape, as a creative outlet for a life that I wasn't happy with. Everything in my life professionally made me afraid. Everything. The idea of pursuing something, sacrificing for something, and loving it, could never have entered my mind. I wanted many of the same things I want now concerning family life, but I wanted them for the wrong reasons - for meaning and fulfillment, for justification of my existence.
But I remember the time in life when all of that truly changed. I was 25 years old, living overseas, had experienced heartbreak, and had not a single romantic prospect. It was the most single time of my life. I was single and more than any other time in my life, I knew that singleness was truly what the Lord had called me to that year. And I was deeply and richly fulfilled. I loved my life and for the first time ever, I understood what joy in work was. I found work pleasant and meaningful. It was hard, but it was fascinating and I simply enjoyed it like I had never enjoyed it before.
Since that time, work is something I value. It's something that I like. I like my work. I don't need to run away from it into the fulfillment of a family. I don't need children and pregnancy to feel fulfilled. I am content and joyful now. This doesn't mean that I don't want a family, but it does mean that I don't feel the need to be a mother in order to find something that I enjoy doing. Once I did need that, now I don't.
The truth is that people do change and it's not always a bad thing. Of course I want children and a family, but just because that desire has been complicated by the discovery of my identity professionally, it does not mean that the changes in my life are for the worst. No one is stagnant – God is constantly giving us new experiences and new things to ponder and discover. I found out that I actually enjoy work and can find it quite fulfilling. Just because other women don't have this experience, just because it complicates my life, just because it changes things about who I am, these do not make me a bad person. People change. That's not always a bad thing.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Last night, I made Trey a really nice dinner. I made Japanese pork and noodles. It's his favorite dish that I make and I finally perfected it, so it was quite lovely. It’s a little labor intensive to make, though, so I was pretty tired when we sat down to eat. Plus we split a large bottle of beer, so that added to the tiredness.
We had a wonderful time talking and spent hours rehashing our college years at Covenant. We talked a lot about the dating world at Covenant and our experiences in it. It was funny and we laughed and enjoyed ourselves.
We got into bed and the conversation kept going. Eventually I was so tired, though, that it became clear sex was not going to happen. We talked about it and decided what direction the few remaining minutes of the night would take (or not take) and kept talking. I don't remember how, but it wasn't long before I was expressing my fears about having kids and all of the dismay I feel about the world and bringing children into it. Our evening of fun quickly veered into a deep malaise as I expressed woe after woe related to mothering.
Trey patiently responded to all of my fears, pushing back and refusing to let me wallow. I wasn't really listening to or embracing his counterarguments though. Finally, he bluntly stated, "I think you're just making up all of these woes because you feel guilty about not having sex tonight." I burst out laughing.
I am so incredibly and deeply grateful for my husband. He understands me better at times than I can ever understand myself. I had been looking forward to the bedroom all day and when we finally got there and I was too tired from the week of work and cooking a complicated meal, my disappointment flowed through and became guilt and despair. When I'm disappointed about something, anything, in life, it often ends up being expressed in totally random ways. It's really hard for me to say that I'm just sad about something and that's ok. I project that sadness onto some big, important problem in the world because that seems a lot more justified than my small personal feelings.
It's really good to have someone in your life who is close enough and loves you enough to see when your fears are legit and when they are the extrapolation of less significant, but more immediate disappointments.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I just read the most horrifying web post about a woman's vagina being ruined in childbirth. Why. Just... why? And not just why did she write it, or why did I read it, but why does this even happen? No wonder men have had multiple wives or lived outside the confines of the marriage bed for the entirety of history. It's difficult for me to even fathom the depths of sexual suffering that must happen when something like this occurs. For the woman, for her husband, it just seems so nasty.
Ultimately it leads me to questions about God and his creation of the world. Is this something natural, something that would have happened in a pre-fallen world? And if so... why? Why would God give women bodies that seem so ready to turn on them at some point in their lives? Maybe if humanity was not fallen, we would be able to properly think about sex and it's place in our lives and we would be able to live contentedly with destroyed vaginas. But then again, everything in the Bible points to sex as a really good thing and one of the central experiences of humanity.
Is female suffering fundamental to sex? Apart from modern medical and technological advances, suffering is intimately and intrinsically bound up in the physical experience of sex for a woman. It is not this way for a man. Sure, men deal with sexual frustration and have their own challenges, but those challenges tend to be of a spiritual or emotional nature. A man's physical reality is not consistently trying to kill him or destroy his ability to enjoy sexual activity.
I see two alternatives - either this reality for women is the result of sin entering the world, or it is not and therefore has something to tell us about ourselves and about God. I think most people would jump in to say that the suffering intimately wrapped up in female sexuality is a result of sin entering the world. I don't doubt this is partially true. After all, the curse Eve receives seems to pretty explicitly describe a certain kind of suffering that will enter the fabric and reality of womanhood. But unless we think that things somehow altered genetically for women, it's hard for me to accept that the entirety of female physicality altered when Eve stole the apple. Were vaginas somehow larger pre-fall and then shrunk after Eve was cursed? I'm just not so sure about that.
It seems to me that God created women and female physicality, female sexuality, with these risks always possible. Yes, something absolutely changed after Eve sinned and as our mother, she has passed the curse on to the eons of her daughters. But I also feel inclined to say that sex always has been, even from the very start, a very different experience for women than for men, and that this is quite possibly how God intended it. Even with all of our advances, women enter into their full sexual identities only at great risk to themselves. This is terrifying and it terrifies me trying to understand the mind of the Lord behind such a design.
The M's Home, Somerville, Massachusetts
Today I had the most random epiphany about nannies. Basically, I realized they are actually pretty cool and I'm not sure why people make such a big deal out of them. I guess I actually do know, because I was one of those people. But it seems so silly after my epiphany today.
When Ruthie and I started nannying, I felt like the women we nannied for were kind of pathetic, especially the one's who only wanted "mommie's helpers." It made sense logically to have a nanny if you worked either from or out of the home, but it didn't make any sense to me for a woman who didn't work at all to hire another woman to help her out. Real women should be able to do it all alone.
But what I realized today is that this practice is simply going back to the old tradition of having a female companion. It's very American to hold the idea that we must do everything on our own. Our most pronounced national virtue is being able to singlehandedly maintain our own lives, independent of all aid, and this has been applied to even “mommydom.” Moms are supposed to be so good and independent at mothering that they would never need another woman to assist them. Only the weak or needy want help raising their children.
But this flies against everything female culture has centered around for centuries, if not millennia. For much of history, it has been very common for women to work with and support each other in the raising of families. Mothering has never been more lonely and isolated than in this, our 21st century.
For much of history, being a wife and mother meant that you were the head of the household economy, not the lone ranger on the isolated prairies of your family life. Under your supervision were not only a brood of children, but the group of helping hands you assembled to work alongside you. From hired help to live-in relatives, you were almost never alone in the maintenance of your household. In fact, being alone in it would have been considered an overwhelming burden, a sign of abandonment and suffering. Most likely, your younger female sister or cousin would have been sent to live with you indefinitely to work as your right-hand woman until she too married. If no such woman was available, you would have considered hiring a local maid, even if you were not in the upper echelons of society. A woman’s home was an institution, and as such, the role of wife and mother more often looked like that of a manager rather than that of frontier cowboy.
I have no idea when or how this was lost in modern America (I'll have to research it sometime), but it does help me see how ridiculous judgement of nannies is and how awesome they really are. Nannies as household companions in the old-fashioned sense truly would be a remarkable cultural revival. Nannies as substitute mothers are, of course, hideous. Nothing ever excuses a mother for not being the mother. But if a family does not have female relatives close by or friends who are able to help fill the role, and they have the financial means to hire one, having a nanny does not have to represent a selfish shirking of responsibility. Rather it can be household building and community producing relief for women going through what I hear are some of the loneliest times in life. Having other women around to help with children and household is something that does not have to compromise the nuclear family. It could be a revival of feminine institutions and the household economy.
(Image by Anna Pasternak, "Motherhood.")
At Home, East Arlington, Massachusetts
The last week was weird. Really weird.
Last weekend we got snowed in and didn't go anywhere. That was actually really nice. It was Valentine's Day on Saturday and Trey and I stayed in the whole day. He did a lot of homework, and I just totally relaxed. We had breakfast in bed and then made a yummy dinner. At the end of the evening, we randomly decided to watch Romeo + Juliet.
It was really fun, but by the end of the movie, I was kind of a wreck. It brought back so many memories from my teen years that I just do not like to think about. And the result of that was really not wanting to have kids. It wasn't because I felt afraid of them having the same difficulties; rather it was some kind of deeper reaction. It brought back so many memories of feeling alienated. It brought back how much I sometimes wanted to hurt myself. It brought back so much shame. It brought back the desire to do something to be recognized, to be proud of myself. Mostly, it just reminded me of how much I still haven't addressed these things that seem so far away in the past.
But I don't want to delve into these things. Thinking about doing so feels like taking my head and smashing it against the wall at full force. Things are so good now that I don't want to go back to the past. I feel like the issues of my teen years don't define me or my relationships today. I don't want to be sad or burdened by them, nor do I want others to be so. The older I get and the more I understand myself, the more I know that despite the brokenness, my teen years were full of so many good things. I don't want to doubt everything.
And yet, my visceral reaction to thinking about all of this is still a strong aversion to wanting children. I guess it just seems like there is still so much inside of me that I'm afraid of – fear, anger, insecurity. It scares me to think about either addressing it, or ignoring it and having it eek out into the lives of my kids.
But that wasn't the end of the strangeness of the week. After crying about it all for quite a while with Trey, things got back to normal. He truly is God's greatest blessing to me. I am so so deeply thankful for him. He, more than anything else, makes me want to have kids.
That is until on Monday when I developed serious acid reflux. I have never in my life experienced indigestion the way I experienced it this week. I couldn't eat anything without turning into a giant ball of belching. By Thursday, I was convinced I was pregnant. There was no particular reason for this idea apart from the fact that my stomach was doing super weird things it had never done before. But the lead up to taking a pregnancy test after a week of suspecting pregnancy preceded by a meltdown over having kids the weekend before made the test quite ominous.
It sucks being a woman in the 21st century. No, it doesn't suck. There are so many good things about it. But the conundrum of childbearing sucks. So many thoughts raced through my head. Relief at knowing I could get pregnant. Surrender to the inevitable. Anger that God would ordain this. Trust that what he wanted was best. Sorrow over lost opportunities to go back to school. Sorrow over my sorrow. Jealousy that other women get to do what they want. Acknowledgement that having children isn't the end of my life or personhood. Fear that Hannah as we know her will be gone forever once there is a baby around. Joy at the idea of a family. And so much confusion. Just so much confusion.
In the end, I am not pregnant. The lack of that little blue line both made me incredibly happy and reintroduced so much of the fear about whether or not I'll be able to get pregnant. But the final take away is that I thought quite a lot about what kind of person I want to be. I have come across so many women who are truly lost to their motherhood. The woman I once knew is gone forever and all that remains is an obsession with her children. It's all she can talk about and it's the only thing she is interested in defining herself by. She is no longer primarily a friend or a wife. She is a mother.
And the thing that drives me crazy and totally mystifies me is that they seem to do this to themselves willingly. They are their own agents of this change. Usually there is no lack of people willing to talk to them. I have sat with so many young mothers who have ceased to talk about anything except for their mothering. I have been a living, breathing person in their presence, willing and waiting to talk about anything we used to talk about and instead, we don't. The person I knew is gone.
This terrifies me. I want more for myself, but mostly, I want more for my children. I want to be the person in their lives who opens the door to the world. I want them to feel like the world is a bigger place because I am their mother, not a small place centering only on our family’s lived reality.
Today a picture popped up on Facebook of a mother and her children. I don't know this woman well, but for a long time she has symbolized to me much of what I want to be in motherhood. She is beautiful – not in some superficial or toned way, but she understands her own beauty and embraces it. She is engaged with the world and her mind is awake. And her smile is one of the most genuine motherly smiles I see in pictures on Facebook. She is a woman who has kept her personhood intact and it lets her love her kids ferociously.
That is the person I want to be. And not just when I am a mother, but now.
At Home, East Arlington, Massachusetts
Last night I dreamed I was pregnant. Like all dreams it devolved into oddness and I ended up being only hysterically pregnant. But for a while I was really pregnant in my dream and it was so happy. I could feel the baby in my womb and an emotional fullness filled my dream. This morning, I've been so excited thinking about having a baby.
Amazingly, I found myself wanting to get pregnant more than wanting to get a dog. That may sound odd, but I've been wanting to get a dog for years. I've wanted to get one this summer before trying to have a baby, but I'm proud of myself because this morning I realized that if I'm really thinking about working, and being in school, and having a child, then a dog is way too much to add to the mix. And I was ok with it.
I didn't feel a need to control the situation – having all of the ducks I want before starting a family and lining them up perfectly. The warm emotions of being pregnant in my dream continued throughout the day and having a baby was suddenly so much more important and exciting than making sure my desire to have a dog is first fulfilled. I can get a dog for the kids when they are old enough and I'll still enjoy it just as much. And it'll be awesome to teach my children the joy of canines.
At Home, East Arlington, Massachusetts
We're in the middle of a snowstorm, again. Even though it's completely unnecessary, we took time to sleep in and cuddle this morning and now I'm giving myself part of the morning to enjoy a longer time in scripture and then read some of the book I'm trying to get through. It's absolutely delightful.
Yesterday, I started having anxiety about the future again. What school should I pursue? Is it realistic to try to do all of these things? Is it selfish to try to finish a degree? Will I be a messenger of peace if I'm that busy or will I be an ogre among my loved ones? And ultimately, will we be able to have children?
This morning, my reading plan had me in Genesis 17 and the passage of Sarah laughing at the Lord really struck home. I can see that all of my anxiety about the future and schooling really comes down to two questions. Is there a right or wrong decision for me to make? And do I actually believe that the Lord intends good, not evil, for me?
Though I've never thought of it this way, I can look now and see all of my stress and anxiety about the future, about my life, about my purpose and meaning, as me laughing along with Sarah at the promises of God. The Lord told her he was going to do good to her and she laughed at him because it seemed too unbelievable. When I stress and worry it is because in my inner heart, I am also laughing at the idea that the Lord is going to do good to me. I just can't believe it, and therefore the weight of responsibility for figuring out how to have the good in life is on my own shoulders.
My greatest desire for myself once I start having children is that I will not be stressed and anxious all of the time. I want to be a bearer of peace in the life of my family, not of worry and discontent. I want to be a mother who laughs and delights in life, laughing along with the Spirit about the things that are truly laughable, not laughing at the idea that God is good. If I want to be that mother, I need the Lord to start retuning my heart now. I can't wait for the crying and dirty diapers and sleepless nights to seek a peaceful heart. I need to seek it now, when my greatest anxiety in life is which blessings of the Lord's to accept.
Brookwoods Camp, Alton, New Hampshire
I want to be the type of mother who has joy. I've spent the weekend with all sorts of mothers from my church and it's amazing to me how much variety there is. I guess it's no different from all people - some are happy and some are not. But I want to be the kind who is just happy, and not bothered or stressed about everything. I know women who are so relaxed and unconcerned about things. Some just glow peacefulness. They seem to expect and be totally fine with chaos and I want to be like that. I don't want to have pursed lips and a tightened forehead every day of my life as a mother.
About the Project
This is a very personal project. It tracks my growth and development as I journeyed toward motherhood over the recent years. It doesn't document every experience I had, and probably neglects my more joyful and peaceful moments in the frenzy of trying to communicate my fears, anxieties, and doubts. If you are a friend or loved one, please do not let anything you read here overshadow what you know of me personally. If you are a stranger, please remember that a living and flawed person stands behind these words. To all my guests here, please understand these are not political statements and try to extend me grace, even as I share my failures and foibles - I have repented of much of what I share. I don't share this journal as an exemplar, but rather out of the desire to share my hope that entrance to motherhood does not need to be a fearful thing - despite the very real fears I have fought against. Motherhood is simply a part of life and one through which I am discovering more of myself and my God.