At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Today is a big day for Nation family reproductive history. This is my first day off of the pill.
I've been trying to write about the end of using the pill for a few days now, but I just haven't been able to do so until now. It honestly just didn't really register until last night when I went to set my alarm for this morning. I didn't set my 9:00am alarm for the pill and though I haven't set it for a week every month for the last four years, this was what caused the reality to really hit home. I don't intend to really ever set that alarm again. An era of my reproductive life has concluded.
Birth control is a funny thing and I've been thinking about it a lot recently. I am deeply thankful for its invention and thankful that I live in a time and age in which I have the option of easily separating sex from procreation for a time. Granted, it does mean that I have been constantly tempted to view those things as fundamentally separated and fundamentally in my control, but I also have had the opportunity to learn the lesson of surrendering my will to God. I get to choose to step into a new role, following the Lord as I do so.
This thing – motherhood – is not my own story. I belong to the bigger story of Eve – the story which involves helping and suffering, adoption and heirs, waiting and promises, the Bride and childbirth. I don't get to choose whether I face a reckoning with this story. I live in a time and place in which the world is constantly trying to trick me into thinking that I can escape this story if I want to, that I can wrest this story into being my own, and mine alone. But all women everywhere will stand face to face with their potential, abandoned, lost, or gained motherhood at some point and decide how to engage this story that has always been bigger than our small individual selves.
Lord, I am small and I am usually pretty afraid of this story that you have spun into motion. And most days I think that by expelling a baby from my womb, I will inevitably expel my brains along with it. But I am trying, really trying to believe that the story you created is not a harmful story for my person. That you did not make me second rate. That by being a mother, I will not be losing everything you have created me to be. That you have created me to be a self and a mother, and that I do not need to be a mother to be a self. And ultimately, that motherhood was not intended to be a destructive force that shuts down a woman's gifts, talents, and strengths, but rather something that can be wondrous.
(Image by Erik Cleves Kristensen, "Mother painting.")
Athenaeum, Boston, Massachusetts
I love the Athenaeum. I love spending days here, lost in the silence and the coating of whispered sounds that tingles my skin and soothes my mind. I love losing myself in the world of my thesis, fellowshipping with my sad, beautiful sisters across the centuries who desired usefulness for their Creator and gave themselves up for it. They feel like my friends, their voices so clear and challenging. They were platinum – priceless and hard.
I love being able to pick books off the endless shelves and find delight in them. Tonight I picked up a book of five hundred self-portraits and I could look at it all evening long. I love being able to walk out the door to grab lunch or dinner, and a coffee. I love the rain against the huge windows and I love the lights on Park Street. I love the romance of this place.
As I sit here enjoying my little pool of warm lamplight spreading across my wooden table, I sorrow over the reality that once I start having children, all of this will go away. The silence, the mental space, the communion with women across the centuries, the freedom, the romance. I no longer struggle to want to have those children that will take all of this away from me, but I still find myself mourning the inevitable.
Will I keep my mind? Will this world of thought that I have been building and growing dissipate like the morning dew? It feels too tenuous to remain – like it will disperse in an instant. Right now all of my thoughts, all of my ideas float with me throughout the day. But it seems hardly likely that they will be able to collect around me when there are other people connected to my being, my reality. The mists of thought will vanish, and in the light I'll look down to find a pack of little faces clinging to me for life, requiring me to die so that they can live.
They will be my parasites and I will love them. Lord Jesus, please help me to love them. Please enable me to delight in them, to find sublime joy in what will be required of me to give up for their sake. But please, Lord, please also don’t let all of this go away. Please, let me keep some small corner of mist. Let me retreat there every so often. Please don't take my mind away.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I just had an amazing experience with my body. I don't think I've ever experienced something quite like it before. I've come close, but not like this. I went for a run. I really didn't want to run, but I made myself go. It's cold today, but at least it's sunny. And I was feeling really, really depressed. It was that stupid kind of depression – over literally nothing, but a quicksand of despair. I remember the book I had to read while I was in counseling said that for many people, depression feels like drowning. Well today, I didn't necessarily feel like I was drowning, but it did feel like at any moment the waters could close up over my head. I was working at the Athenaeum and on the subway ride home, I had to put all of my focus into not letting the waters close over my head. That's when I decided I needed to go for a run. I know I'm PMSing right now, and every medical person has always told me that exercise is really good for severe PMS, but I've never taken it seriously. That's not a statement on how lightly I take my PMS, but rather how severely I hate exercise. But nonetheless, I decided to run. Lately, I haven't been listening to anything while I run. Initially it was because I just got lazy after I finished The Magician King, but I've started really liking it. I can hear and feel my body so much better when I'm not thinking about whatever I'm listening to. It's only because I've been running since Christmas that this can work, though. Until recently, I needed distraction from my body in order to run, but now, something is changing. I have got to be one of the worst runners ever, mostly due to my horrible lungs. But also due to my horrible inability to put my mind over my physical desires. I simply stop running whenever it's too uncomfortable. But I've been trying really hard to use my mind to overcome my discomfort and push myself. It's been slowly working a little bit, but something really different happened today. First, my knee was feeling weird, but I stopped and tested it and stretched it and everything seemed ok, so I made myself keep going. It was fine. Then, on the last half of my run, my usual mental/lung shut down started happening, but something inside of me just said, "No. Do this. Do this now." It all sounds so silly and dramatic, but this is a really really big deal for me. I kept going. And then I kept going some more. And while I ran, it was like I could feel this divide between my brain and my body closing. It felt like something inside of me that had been unzipped was now zipping up. My brain spoke to my body and told it that it it wasn't the enemy, but it still needed to get in line. My body and brain needed to get in step and so they did. Now I'm really going to sound crazy, but this was such a big deal that I actually started crying while on my run. I have never been that aware of my mind's ability to put my body in it's place – not as mind against body, but as mind taking its rightful place within the body.
As a woman, my body has so often been my enemy. I don't know why or where it comes from, but I have learned to view my body as my enemy, as my limitation. I don't think men feel this way, but I know many women who do. The moment blood starts coming out of a part of your body that you never really gave all that much thought to, betrayal takes place. Pain becomes a reality that your mind can't overcome and every single month you are reminded that there is disunity within your very physical existence. For me, it takes on the added element of psychological disunity. My PMS is so bad that it has put me on antidepressants, sent me to counseling, and overwhelmed every person I've lived with as an adult. Yesterday, Trey and I got into a massive fight. The fight was no one's fault, but my acting like a teenager was a reminder that at the height of my PMS, I can't even deal with reality accurately. As I told Trey, it is the scariest thing to know that once a month things will happen physiologically that will impact my brain that I will have absolutely no control over. And that will never change.
But today my mind was able to overcome while I ran, and that was a big deal. As a woman, I may have learned from a young age that my body is my enemy. But that doesn't mean peace can't be made with it.
(Image by Pablo Picaso, "Nude in An Armchair.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
All I can think of is how happy I am that we have had this much time before I give birth to figure out sex. Seriously, we have amazing sex and it's because we've had four years to learn it and learn each other. Thinking about having a child before this point in our sex life is terrifying. I know many couples successfully work through damaged vaginas and postpartum realities just fine and that for the history of humanity, most women haven’t had the luxury of waiting to have children until they first reached this point sexually, but I am so so deeply grateful for these years. I am thankful that without any hesitation, without any uncertainty, without any blushing, I can say that sex has been a rich and luxuriant good in my life before a potential nine pound baby alters my physical reality forever. Thank you, Jesus, for this sweet mercy and kindness.
Boston Athenaeum, Boston, Massachusetts
It's a beautiful day at the Athenaeum. I got here right after they opened at 9am and was able to get a table by the window overlooking the Park Street steeple. It's sunny and quiet. I feel like I could just curl up in the patches of sun streaming over my table. I feel really thankful.
Friendship makes all the difference in life. On Wednesday, A. came down to eat lunch with me and then I gave her a tour of the Athenaeum. It has been so long since I've had a true, real female friend, and having A. in my life is this remarkable breath of fresh air. I think I had forgotten what it's like to have a girlfriend. I don't feel tired talking to her, I don't feel judged by her in any way, and we enjoy so many of the same things. Our personalities are pretty different, but that just makes it better. Best of all, we're in the same stage of life. We're both in our early thirties and both struggle with the question of having kids. But not because we don't want them; rather, because it's just such a big question and we don't know how to deal with it.
When we were touring the Athenaeum, I showed her the children's library and I knew she would love it. All of the precious little books that are all so beautiful and carefully curated. And the cubbies that overlook the cemetery. And all of the sudden, we were talking about having kids at the same time and doing a childcare swap and coming to the Athenaeum together.
I am praying so much that God allows us to stay in Boston, because A. is so much the friend I need to get through babies. If there is anyone I could choose to have babies with at the same time and share the experience of motherhood with, it's her. Please, Jesus, please let Trey get into Harvard.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Well, I've started reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Which is terrifying. WHY do all of these women's health guides always feel like they think they have to romanticize the female bodily experience in order to make us women interested in it? Just be a medical guide, don't try to tell me all of the reasons why I should distrust the medical establishment because they disdain the natural processes and a woman's body.
It is exciting, though. Here we go. The lid is about to be taken off of Pandora's box.
I do think that we need to wait one month longer before we start trying. I really want to start after the next round, but if I got pregnant right away (and even though it's a big if, it's still an if), I would be due mid-December and that seems crazily difficult to swing with graduation. I guess I could make it work? But one month more isn't going to hurt anyone.
Trey found out today that he has been accepted at Brown. Still waiting to hear from Harvard, but at least we know he has Brown. The day has been full of so many thoughts, mostly just thankfulness, but it also puts a lot of my plans and thoughts almost into motion. I am really, incredibly excited for this next stage. I'm excited for where it seems God is leading us, and I am excited for the changes they entail for me, too. I have good work ahead of me: the work of bearing children, the work of mothering, the work of editing, and maybe the work of ministry in the church. Right now, I have really hard work to get my thesis finished, and it is incredibly hard. In the future I hope to have more hard work on a dissertation to do (I discovered an exciting UK option at Birmingham this morning!), but that's for the future. I don't need to prove anything to anyone – I just need to think the thoughts I like to think and see if anyone out there wants to hear them. And in the interim, I'm excited for the hard work of trying to be a mother.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I've been feeling incredibly stressed about my thesis - I just don't even know if it makes sense anymore. And I'm only two weeks into reading primary sources. I made the horrible mistake of starting research on PhD programs in the UK in the middle of my most stressed out part of the day and all of the sudden all of my academic self-doubt and fears about putting a pause on everything to try to start a family came rushing back in.
Tonight, though, I was thankfully reminded of how much I need to let go – by Anne of Avonlea of all things. I know it is incredibly silly and probably very superficial, but I need Anne in my life. Trey and I decided to spend the evening listening to an audio book and sew and do a puzzle respectively instead of gooning out to TV all night. Anne is just so optimistic and it challenges my pessimism to the core. She is willing to be content and wait for things to come when it's the right time, and though she is just a child's fictional character, I need what she represents. What I have now is so rich and so good. What it looks like I'll probably have for the next six years is also phenomenally good. God has blessed me abundantly after waiting for this time to come, why do I doubt him in the next stage of waiting? There is joy to be found in doing my current work well – I’ve waited years to be able to do so, so I might as well have fun! It may take years before the next stage in my academic career, but really good things will come in between. I don't need to stress. Maybe I just need to start planning a trip back to PEI for this summer.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Trey and I just had sex and I knew in an instant that I wanted to start trying to get pregnant sooner than we had been planning. We thought through it all and the end of March is the earliest I could get pregnant without risk of giving birth at the end of my fall semester. So we're going for it. After this round of birth control, I'll only have one more round left. Bah. It feels good.
Romans 2:6-11 "He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality."
I, like everyone else, want immortality. I want to know that my presence here was not meaningless, that it will continue. Birth and motherhood is a reminder that I am not immortal – the difference between birth and life is always razor thin. What gives life to one, takes life from another. Entering into motherhood will entail the next step towards my death – physical death, death to self, cessation of my individual will. But those who continue patiently in well-doing will receive eternal life. Only in Christ is a step towards death a step towards life. Only in Christ is childbirth truly redeemed, motherhood redeemed. I seek immortality, and it will be given me, but only through the way of the cross. Death is the payment due all mothers; but for those in Christ, those who are not self-seeking, true life awaits.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Yesterday I made the mistake of clicking through on an article somebody posted on Facebook. It was some kind of photo editorial celebrating birth. I should have known that all it consisted of was pictures of women heaving and crying in labor – and lots and lots of blood and grey babies. My immediate reaction was revulsion. I've never been good at gore, but what I really reacted to was how these pictures portrayed the women. The photos were being celebrated as empowering and beautiful, but really it just showed their subjects’ pain. Their faces were often obscured, too, in favor of highlighting their bodies, and the result was that it highlighted the way these women's bodies had turned into ovens of life. It's not a bad thing that women's bodies bloat and grow in order to create something. But in the attempt to capture intimate moments of birth, these pictures somehow portrayed women as nothing more than crying conduits. There was no glory for these women. Lots of tenderness, but nothing transcendent. It was the most animalistic I've ever seen women portrayed. Peter Singer is a gross, gross man, but I think he's on to something when he says that humans and animals are most like each other in suffering. Humanity was not destined to suffer and when we do, we demonstrate that which is most carnal about our existence. Though many women want to glorify the birthing process, it seems to me that the pain involved - the wrecking of the female body it entails - is not a sign of glory, but a reminder that in our rejection of our creator the mark of God's image in even something as glorious as childbirth has been horribly disfigured. Pain is not transcendent. Pain does not make something meaningful. Mothers sacrifice much to give birth to their children, but in that sacrifice itself there isn't hope. Like everything else that is painful in this world, it too can be a monotonous and wearisome reminder of the "banality of evil."
That being said, last night was the most I've felt a "maternal longing" in years. I'm ready. It's February and we plan to go off birth control in May. I have to admit that since Christmas, I've been really bad at remembering my birth control. I keep forgetting to refill it and I've been worse at taking it on time than ever before. We've been doubling up the protection since I started school full time, so I don't think there's any chance my slip-ups could result in getting pregnant. But I think subconsciously my brain knows that it's close to no longer thinking about little pills and it’s just slowly letting go of things.
Right before I went to bed, I had to search for a stock photo of a baby for a blog post for work and it was the first time in who knows how long that all of the sudden I wanted a baby. Last Tuesday at women's Bible study, I found myself not being able to care less about all of the babies in the room. But yesterday, I helped C. into her pink coat and owl hat and all of the sudden, I was ready. I've never liked babies. I've never understood them. But I've always loved little kids. As I lay in bed falling asleep, I thought about having little kids in the house and receiving little hugs and I knew the timing was right. I will be ok if we can't get pregnant, but for now, it's just good to know that I'm ready to wrap up this stage of life and to delve into trying the next.
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.