At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Life is crazy. We moved into Harvard student housing last week and it was a zoo. By God’s mercy my mom came into town and helped us pack. I seriously don’t think we would have made it without her help. She pretty much got into town and power housed her way through our apartment. The only downside to having her pack was how excessively she tapes boxes. It’s given us a lot of laughter as we unpack.
Now that we’re in the new place, I feel both deeply grateful and am dealing with a lot of anxiety. The place is really great, all things considered, and will be great with a kid. It’s much more accessible to campus, there is a washer and dryer, and tons of areas for children to play in – as well as tons of children themselves. Baby V definitely won’t lack for playmates.
With that said, though, I’m struggling with my pride, my limitations, my doubts, and my worth in this move. My pride is rearing up because this place is just so small and so unglamorous. While everyone else is buying houses and moving on in the world, we’re choosing to live in cramped student housing. I find myself worrying not about the apartment itself so much as I worry about what other people will think of it and of us in it. I’m facing my limitations because I am working a ton in order to live here rather than a half an hour away, and I feel overwhelmed wondering if it’s really sustainable with a baby. Can I really work as many hours as I’m committed to working in a week and can Trey really get through his PhD excellently with a baby on the way?
This is the most I feel doubt about it. I know a lot the emotions involved have to do with the fact that I just moved, the house is still a disaster, and I’m really, really behind on my thesis. But nonetheless, I’m starting to better imagine the realities of adding a baby to our lives and am trying to reckon what I foresee with everything I’ve committed to. Lord, please let this child be a good sleeper! And of course, with it all, as with any time I feel emotionally overwhelmed or stressed, I am really struggling with my self worth and the decisions I’ve made. Am I making the wrong decision by not trying to do a PhD myself right now? Are we insane for continuing with school through our 30s? If I can’t have as much academic success this year as I think I need to be in a good position for applying to programs later was this whole degree a waste? Is all of this pure drivel and instead I should be thinking only and solely of my kids?
I just want the answers to life and more often than not, answers are the most difficult thing to find in the world.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
It's become so hard to write. Not because there isn't anything to write about, but because there is too much to write about. Every day is filled with so much to process, so much to try to understand. Most days I just don't know where to begin.
Christmas was both a very good and a very strange time. For some reason a lot of people seem to think that it's particularly special to be pregnant at Christmas. This is so bizarre to me. Why would it be more special to be pregnant at Christmas than at any other time of the year? I guess the insinuation is that somehow it brings you closer to Mary's experience. That I understand. But shouldn't pregnancy bring any woman at any time closer to Mary's experience and the mystery of the incarnation? Christmas is simply a yearly reminder of what we should know to be true year round. The whole idea that it's more special to be pregnant at Christmas just feels to me like part of our romanticization of maternity.
Being home while pregnant was also weird, but in a totally different way. It felt similar to the first time I stayed in my parents' house after getting married. It was a marked reminder of the changes that happen in life – the dreams of an adolescent Hannah about marriage and family are no longer dreams, but reality. After marriage the physical presence of this man in my childhood bedroom marked change in ways I could touch and smell. With pregnancy, my own physical space within my parents' home is changing. I'm not just bringing another body into this space, but my body itself no longer exists the same way. I literally no longer move around the house in the same way I once did and that will intensify once this baby is born. My very movement is now marked by another and the space I inhabit changes as I change.
I had my first "stranger touches the belly" experience over Christmas. It was awkward. It was after church and I was catching up with an old friend. Her brother, who I've never met, came over and we all started chatting about the baby. He asked me if people touch my belly and as he asked, he reached over and touched it himself. I don't think he even thought about what he was doing, but it was quite a shocker.
The belly is definitely taking on a life of its own. Baby V moves around all night long. It seriously is like she's having a party in there. Sometimes I wake up and she is thudding against the walls of my uterus. Not kicking, not punching – full body slamming. I love her so much.
The aches and pains are definitely on the rise, too. Driving ten hours to Pittsburgh was a beast. Everything ached when we arrived and it took a few days for my muscles to loosen up again. I've started getting this pain in my left butt cheek, and my lower abdomen gets sore. Sometimes it seems like the baby is balled up in one area of my uterus, either down low or the side I'm sleeping on and then it hurts. I move to my back and she seems to move to a more central area and the relief is wonderful. We have three more months to go, so I can only imagine her love of curling up right on my bladder is only a foretaste of the discomfort due to arrive when she's so big there is nowhere else for her to go. I probably need to be doing more stretching, and I definitely need to be walking more. I tried to dance at Debbie's wedding and that was telling. Everything was so tight I could only make it through a song or two before needing to sit down for a break.
I just can't wait to meet this little girl. Every time I think about holding her and laughing with her, smiling into her eyes, I feel like I have a high school crush all over again. We started registering for baby items over Christmas and that was the worst. I hated just about everything having to do with deciphering and picking out things we want for the baby. There is just so much crap in the world to buy for a baby. Even now I can feel my blood pressure rise thinking about the baby registry. But when I think about the baby itself, I don't feel anxious. I know there is so much that I could be anxious about, but all I want to do is hug her. It's hard to feel anxious and afraid when you just can't stop thinking about meeting the person you've been feeling inside of you for months.
(Whitney Waller, "Pregnant.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Oh my goodness. I'm having an emotional meltdown and I'm not even really sure why. I was writing Dr. G an email to tell him that I won't be at the conference and that I won't be applying to grad schools this fall due to being pregnant, and I just started weeping. I'm sure a lot of it is hormones, but a lot of it was just the feeling of cementing the reality that I will not be doing a PhD any time soon. I know if God wants me to do it later in life it will happen, but I just feel so much in my prime right now and it really feels like it's all just going to be wasted. I have so many ideas and so much academic energy and I look ahead to ten years of wasting it all on jobs I’m not sure I like. If I could drop all of my other jobs and we had enough money or free housing or free childcare or something, I would do it. But that is such a pipe dream. We aren't trust-fund babies, and we don't have anyone who believes in our work enough to fund it fully. So we make due. And it's all ok. Really. I just have to mourn it for a while, that's all.
National Quemoy University, Kinmen Island, Taiwan
It is my birthday and I have only fully realized it because I wrote out the date just now. I am 32 years old and the past two weeks have been some of the most eye opening to my life that I've ever had. I am realizing that I am exactly what I never thought I would be – a successful, childless workaholic. I know I constantly worry about not doing something with my life and about having to give up my interests to have kids. But it has literally never crossed my mind what my life looks like to the outside world until this month.
It started during a phone conversation with my mom. She asked me if we were trying to get pregnant and I was floored. I assumed that would just be obvious to everyone since I am turning 32. Even my mom didn't think it was an obvious thing.
Then I actually heard myself speaking in some of my conversations with people – I was preparing to travel internationally for my job while also finishing up my school semester while considering applying to Harvard while publishing a paper while joining staff at a church. While living in the third most expensive city in the United States. I've been so focused on figuring out how to not lose my goals that I have been totally blind to my success in them and again, how I must look to the people around me. I have been addicted to success and work. I also have been legitimately trying to figure out how I am supposed to use my gifts and talents.
Right now I have a choice before me – I cannot use all of my gifts and talents to their full extent without burning myself out. I cannot have a family while using all of my gifts and talents. So which ones will I use? I am 32 years old, have been working like a mad woman for four years, and am burnt out. It is time that I get my shit in order and stop trying to do it all and instead focus on how to live while using the gifts I care about the most and have the most peace about.
I grew up hearing yuppies referred to in only negative terms. Good Christians had children early and valued their families more than anything else. I have had no paradigm for seeing myself as a thirty-something, successful urbanite because I was trying very very hard to not be selfish in my decisions and I grew up thinking that yuppies were simply the result of selfish, immature motivations. I constantly heard yuppies referred to as the result of never being willing to grow up and be an adult, and I have tried very hard to work against that.
And yet, here I am. The very definition of a childless thirty-something-year-old woman who is doing well in her work. I am more the product of my society than I could ever have imagined myself being. I couldn't have imagined it because I never thought I valued the things yuppies value. But I do. And I do not think it is evil. I think it is cultural. And a result of trying really hard to use what's been given to me for God’s glory.
I don't even know what I am trying to say with all of this other than I just am at this totally bizarre place in life in which I both know where I want to go and believe I have the talents to do it (if I let go of certain other things that I've held on to), and I can completely recognize that I am not the person I thought I was. In other words, I feel like I am waking up to who I am and I am becoming more aware of my abilities. I guess what's really going on is that my vision is focusing. So much of the excess work, of the excess baggage, of the excess stress needs to fall away. I don't need to stay in this whirlpool. I know what I want - my husband, my children, to teach and write, and community ministry. The rest has to go. And that can be the value of finding myself where I am at 32 – the focus that I haven't been able to find until this point.
(Image by Nicolette Tomas.)
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
My body feels horrible. I started working out again when we got back from Chattanooga and this is the first I have worked out every day. I even worked out at the hotel in San Diego during the CP conference. My body is so unhappy - my lungs and my digestion are pretty shot. It's horrifying how much I'm in rough shape. I know this is just while my body readjusts to being worked, but it does not feel good.
This semester, this year is my last chance to set healthy habits before we start trying to have kids. And I know once kids are around, it'll probably only go downhill. But I want to take care of myself. I look at my grandparents and I look at my parents, and I want to be a good steward of the body I've been given. I live in a culture that has all but stripped humanity of physical movement and unless I once and for all get it into my head that it's now or never, that my body belongs to God, and as such, I am responsible for maintaining it, I will only set myself up for the sedentary life of those around me. But I want to move and have life as long as God keeps me here. I want to be in charge of my body, not it in charge of me.
I know that many people take that desire and twist it into unhealthy obsessions. But I am so far from that. I would literally sit on my ass and eat ice cream every day if I could. I hate discomfort. I hate anything that makes my body feel uncomfortable. But really, it's just selfishness and laziness. I want all of the benefits of health with none of the discipline and work. I am a total American.
But I don't want to pass that on to my children and I don't want to set that example for my children. It's not about beauty or vanity, but it's truly about stewarding something I hate to steward and loving something I have always despised – my body.
H. and D.'s House, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Parents are made for leaving behind. This is what I've been thinking about since Thanksgiving. It's been rolling around the back of my mind, but it's a thought that I've had a hard time giving traction to.
During our visit to Pittsburgh, it really struck me again that I don't have to be my parents, that I can be different from them. I can be free without loving my parents any less. Connected to this realization, I thought about my own future children and how one day they will feel the same way towards me. I will never give them a perfect enough home that they should want to stay under me. They will feel as frustrated with me as I have felt at times toward my own parents. Frustration isn't even the right word, though. It's more the basic human need to differentiate oneself from those who have come before. I am not my parents, they are not me. I can't seem to find a way to express myself adequately here.
My families all love each other deeply and we all want to be with each other. But there is still the issue of how the generations relate to each other. We get in each other's ways and often can't seem to understand what is truly service and blessing for the other. Parent and the child waltz around one another trying to figure out how best to love.
It seems to me that at stake in so much of the parent-child dynamic is what must or should be done to maintain closeness. I want to feel closer to my parents who live far away, so I feel pressure to replicate their choices and selves in my life. We are all afraid of not feeling close to each other, because in fact we aren't "close" but live thousands of miles apart.
In the end, I think more and more that what we have to accept is that parents are made to be left. Marriage is the most important relationship in a person's life – it is the only relationship where there might be some expectation of lifelong companionship. Parenting is a short-lived endeavor. It is in incubator – short, intense, and hot – and then it must be turned off. For me, I need to turn off my desire for my parents to parent me. I want to stay in the incubator, but the time to turn off the lights has long passed. That time has passed and is gone and we are no longer sharers of the same space.
As I think about having children of my own, I do not need to contemplate how to keep them for the entirety of the rest of my life. I will give them life and then it will be their own. I will have Trey afterwards. Every family is nothing more than a succession of incubators, maintained and cared for by a pair of life-long friends. This should be a relief. I am not my parents; I am not my children. I am only myself.
Airport, Atlanta, Georgia
I can just feel this pressure welling up inside of me. Why am I not pregnant? Does everyone judge me? My brain and heart are really twisted. Approval has ALWAYS been my biggest idol. One small moment during this weekend has been a surprise blessing, though. An older friend mentioned to me in passing that she was 33 when she had first child and 38 when she had her last. I don't really know this woman well, and I don't know what the circumstances were, but those words were a sweet balm to my soul when I heard them.
At Home, East Arlington, Massachusetts
Last week, my mom came to visit. Mothers are such complicated things. I don't think my relationship with my mother is any more complicated than anyone else's, but sometimes, in my most disoriented moments, it certainly feels that way.
My mom and I are very very different people. She is all practicality. She is rooted in life in a way that I've never been able to share. Her mind is all lines and sense where mine is chaos and flicker. People are central to her world. Ideas are central to mine. She listens to people's hearts. I imagine what their hearts could be.
Recently, I've started to realize that as much as she struggles to understand me, I struggle to understand her. For a long time, I thought that I was a lot like my mother. And we are. We both care about people a great deal, and I thought that her gifts and talents were mine. The thing about this is that of course most children inherit some of their parents' abilities. I got just enough of my mother's straightness, just enough of her “peopleness,” just enough of her empathy to think that I could go through life doing much of what she did. As with most children, I tried to pattern myself off of her frame.
But I can never be everything that my mother is because I can't understand her frame. And this is currently one of the biggest struggles in my life. Within me, there is a tug to be rooted in reality and people the way she is, but I can't do it. The times I've tried have overwhelmed me. But without following in my mother's footsteps, in whose footsteps do I follow? My own are a scary and lonely place.
I can't be my mother. And she doesn't want me to be her. She made it very clear when she was visiting that I have to be my own person. I have not been made to replicate her. But this is frightening. It is being cut loose into a world of decision. It is having to think. It is having to examine. It is having to trust.
There is so much within me that comes from my mother. Though we do not think alike, we certainly feel alike. And that strongly. And maybe that is why it is sometimes difficult to relate. Our minds and attitudes are miles apart, but our hearts beat the same emotion. We struggle to comprehend what the other is thinking, or why she is thinking such things, but we feel the same way – strongly and sensitively. Both deep love and great hurt are often produced by this reality.
My mother is a great woman. Perhaps the greatest I know. And in the end, this is the most profound reason why it hurts at times not to be just like her. I have risen and called her blessed, and I fear that unless my life looks exactly like hers, my children will not be able to do the same for me. What does it mean to honor your father and mother? Surely it does not mean becoming exactly them. And yet they have shaped me and molded me in indefinable ways. I am grateful to know they love me and are proud of me, despite all of the internal crises I put myself through.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Yesterday someone close to us let us know she is pregnant again after miscarriage. Her voice sounded happier than it has in a long time, but she still seems unsure of everything. I am so incredibly excited for her and her husband, and I want them to also know joy. I've been praying that they would be able to try again without any difficulties. I pray that the Lord will be kind to them, and lavish them with goodness. I mostly pray, though, that she will be able to hide her heart in Christ and with it hidden there, that she would be able to rejoice even when it seems like God's face is hidden.
After talking with our friend, I felt old. It was the first time I've ever felt that way. Since I turned sixteen, I've always struggled with my age and the process of time. But this was different. It was so much an emotional fight against the inevitable. It was just feeling old.
Over the past week, my body has been hurting. I did something to my knee first and then yesterday I woke up with back pain. Both have kept me from working out and both have been incredibly unpleasant. I'm thirty one years old and yesterday, I could physically feel the process of decay beginning in me. Most likely, I have years left in my life. But my body is already starting to groan and creak in ways that I don't like.
But what really made me feel old is the same question I've been struggling with for more than a year – what have I done with my life so far? I'm thirty one and I haven't had children, I'm just now working on a master’s degree, we don't own a home, we've barely made any money, and I'm not sure any of the things I've worked at for the last decade make a squat of difference. Almost all of our friends and family are solidly in the stage of life in which kids, homes, and careers are well settled and flourishing. I feel like Trey and I have been held back a grade, but it's completely unclear for what purpose.
So I felt old. Not because I really am old, but because I'm so far behind where everyone else my age is. And I'm not sure I'll ever be able to catch up. And what's worse – I now consistently have people in my life telling me I should catch up. I have friends who reprimand me for not having babies and I have friends who wonder when we'll ever have "real" jobs.
I've tried so hard my whole life to live according to what I've believed God is calling me to do. And for many years, I thought it was possible to do that. I did a lot of things I didn't want to do because of it. But now, I don't know that it's not all somewhat arbitrary. That all of the decisions have been mine, only mine, and not some great calling from God. God communicates in his Word and there is nowhere in his Word that spells out the intimate details of my life. I know from the Word what God desires people to be. How he has designed them to live. And I know that his Word applies directly to my life. But it has not told me where to go and what to eat every day.
And yet, I do believe God has directed me here. And I do believe that many of the decisions I made were right. Not because God told me so directly, but because the alternatives would have been taken up out of mistrust and selfishness. The things I've done themselves aren't as clearly good or bad as the reasons for which I've done them. Was there something about each life choice I've made that was clearly God's will for me? No. But in each of those moments of decision was it clear that one choice involved trusting God more and the other involved seeking my own interests more? Yes. While I don't know whether or not the particular things I've done in life "mattered" or were God's plan for me, my conscience is clear that at each turning point, I attempted to my best ability to choose the path that required obedience.
I can't look back on the last decade and know that the things I've done have mattered, or that they will bring me any degree of prosperity. But I can look back on my life and know that throughout it, I was trying to follow God. I may be "behind a grade," but if that's the case, will I be content in knowing I'm here because I've tried to obey and this is seemingly where the Lord has brought me? Is it enough for my life to be defined by attempted obedience, even if makes everything unclear and even if I don't always get it right? When I feel old, can I find my comfort not in the things I've done or made, not even in the places I've arrived at, but rather in the knowledge that in my heart, I'm here because I have tried to obey God? If we never own a house, if my academic aims never pay off, if I am not able to have a baby, will I be ok knowing that what validates my life is not all of the other things that can be substituted for these achievements, but rather the succession of attempts over my life to do as God wanted me to, even if hasn't ever been clear exactly what it is he wants me to do besides love him?
If I can't say “yes” to all of these questions, then I will never find satisfaction as I age. But if I can say “yes,” then it doesn't matter whether I am ahead or behind in life. It doesn't matter if God advances me or keeps me behind. If my peace is in the pursuit of God, then it doesn't matter where I live or how many children I am or am not able to have because they are all just testing grounds, gifted opportunities from God to try to obey him once more.
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.