As tears streamed down my cheeks, three faces stood looking at me with concern. The nurse, who had faithfully helped reposition me over and over again to help progress my labor in the passing hours, sticking her fingers inside me to help direct my pushing. My doctor, who had not once during my prenatal care said the word “c-section” and who now held my hand and told me the procedure did not mean I was a failure. And my husband, who for sixty hours had been by my side helping coach my breathing, hold me throughout bouts of uncontrollable shaking, and read scripture to remind me of God’s presence, and whose face now showed an undeniable mixture of fear and relief. I finally accepted the inevitable, recalling stories of friends who had tried to keep pushing only to find themselves dealing with additional complications.
I lay on the operating table, my arms stretched out and deep sorrow welling up in my soul. All of the questions about how I got there and whether it was really necessary came later. At the moment, all I felt was fear like I had never felt it before - and underneath it an emotional pain that made me completely passive. Undoubtedly the heavy doses of drugs were partially to answer for the utter surrender I found myself experiencing; but they did not explain it all. As I lay on the table, I realized I was truly and finally at the end of waiting for motherhood. My baby was going to arrive, but she would arrive in the most invasive and scary way I could imagine. And as the operating room chatter of doctors and nurses quickly indicated, even the details of my brightly lit, highly anesthetized delivery would not be easy. The baby was so stuck that normal procedure could not take place.
As the tugging and pulling commenced and continued, I closed my eyes. In my heart I reached out to God and he met me. Story after story of broken women flashed across my mind. Through scripture, God reminded me of his closeness to women who suffer. I thought about Sarah. I thought about Mary. I thought a lot about the woman healed of bleeding. Lying on the operating table I felt unbelievably small. But it was in that smallness that God fellowshipped with me and reminded me of the ways he has seen the small, hidden things of female existence. Now more than ever I understood the suffering of women described over and over again in the Bible and as I was ministered to by the Holy Spirit, I loved the God who condescends to see us.
The worst moment of the entire last nine months came at the very end. As they finally lifted the baby out of me, she did not cry. For an eternity I listened to doctors repeat questions and return answers about their efforts to invoke her cry. In reality this did not last longer than a minute, but that minute was fire through my brain. Everything about the last nine months snapped and all of my concerns about myself, about my identity, about my future were burned up with the overwhelming desire to know that my baby would breathe. In an instant I dropped every fear I had about what motherhood would do to me because all of those fears could not compete with the resounding thought that my baby was not okay. Until a kind nurse came to reassure him that our little girl had a good heartbeat despite the continued need for her to cry, my husband sat on the edge of insanity. But soon the cry came, and it came loudly.
Verity Ann was born at 12:53pm on Sunday, April 30, 2017. As the doctors continued to stitch and medicate me, she was brought to my chest and I said, “Hello, baby.” She couldn’t stay long, though, and it was my greatest relief to send her daddy to watch as the nurses cleaned and assisted her. She was not alone.
In the weeks since my daughter’s birth, I have dealt with myriad emotions. Against the backdrop of relief, I’ve doubted doctors, I’ve doubted myself, I’ve doubted the system - all to arrive back and back again at the belief that everyone did both what they could and what they should have done. In the end, what I have had to accept is not the I or someone else screwed myself over, but rather that I have a broken body. Despite everyone’s best efforts and even in the shadow of God’s providence, my daughter’s birth left scars on my body that will not be removed until the full redemption of all matter. My womb, which was not meant to be, was cut open and sewed back closed and this mark on my body that will not go away until the dust I’m a part of is remade again.
I’ve seen a lot of women online speak of pride in their “battle scars.” I understand why women speak this way. It helps to bring honor to a process that easily feels like your biggest failure as a woman. I too feel like I went through battle and was willing to do whatever necessary to win, even letting my flesh be cut, pulled, and sewn in order to ensure victory. I too feel as if the scars left behind are a badge of my experience. But this term - “battle scars” - only reminds me that things are not as they should be. It’s a term that speaks to the sacrifice made and the victory I had, but also that all was not right to begin with. Battle is only something we enter into when something is broken, flawed. Just as the wounds of the soldier will one day be erased along with all bloodshed and war, so too the scars left behind by the battles women have faced in birthing. The dust of our existence will be renewed. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). God has not forgotten who we are.
Since her arrival, my daughter has brought me more joy than I could have possibly imagined. When I look into her eyes, when she smiles as she poops, when she sticks out her tongue in hunger, when her eyes finally close in sleep - all of these things are a new song for my soul. These and countless other things about her life and person. It amazes me how quickly this joy flooded my life. Almost from the moment she was born, her existence reduced the worry of other unhappy things going on. The long labor, the unfortunate c-section, the initial frustrations of nursing, the discomfort of the hospital, the sleepless nights all so easily and so quickly faded into the joy of life. Verity does not fulfill me. But her life makes me happy and it is something I love to celebrate every day.
But I am not very good at writing about my joys. Words are hard for me when I turn to describing the things that make me happy. I wish so badly that I could find better ways to describe the joy I find in being Verity’s mother and in embracing her as my daughter. And I wish that I had known more of this joy during my pregnancy. Now that I know how happy it can be to have a child I wish I had celebrated her preparation every day.
In the end, it is a matter of love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). How can I be afraid of motherhood when I love my child so much? How can I be afraid of change when God has given me so much? There is no punishment for me. I am free to love, and it is love that makes me brave.
During one of our nights in the hospital I got up to go to the bathroom. It was the first night without the catheter, so I had to make myself walk despite the very painful incision and my abs that could barely support sitting on the toilet. I stood in the bathroom and thought about my beat up body. It made me feel very very small. I hadn’t felt that way since I lived in China. The only other time I have ever felt that small was during a bus ride across the vast expanse of a Chinese megalopolis. I sat by the window, looking out at thousands of people passing by, knowing they were only a small portion of China's billion, and I and my problems became small. I was lost among these people, invisible. And the small sufferings I faced living in their country were small indeed. But as I rode on the bus, I knew that while smallness most often means vulnerability, it can also mean hiddenness. On that ride I knew myself to be hidden in God’s hand. To be small can be frightening, but only if you are exposed, abandoned. When something small is hidden within something large, when it is sheltered and protected, it is not a terrifying position.
Since becoming a mother, I have felt very small. But I am learning that is ok, because throughout scripture it is the small to whom the Lord promises to be near. The weak, the vulnerable, the scared, the hurt, the uncertain - these are the people who receive the promises of God. In the recent weeks, the birth of my daughter has given me the privilege of knowing myself included.
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.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
"'But, Sister, you will follow me soon. You don't think any mortal life seems a long thing to me tonight? And how would it be better if I had lived? I suppose I should have been given to some king in the end - perhaps another as our father. And there you can see again how little difference there is between dying and being married. To leave your home - to lose you, Maia, and the Fox - to lose one's maidenhead - to bear a child - they are all deaths. Indeed, indeed, Orual, I am not sure that this which I go to is not the best.'
'Yes. What had I look for if I lived? Is the world - this palace, this father - so much to lose? We have already had what would have been the best of our time. I must tell you something, Orual, which I never told to anyone, not even you...'
'What is it?' said I, looking down at her lap where our four hands were joined.
'This,' she said, 'I have always - at least, ever since I can remember - had a kind of longing for death.'
'Ah, Psyche,' I said, 'have I made you so little happy as that?'
'No, no, no,' she said. 'You don't understand. Not that kind of longing. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine... Where you couldn't see Glome or the palace. Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey Mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I couldn't (not yet) come and I didn't know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home.
'...The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing - to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from...
'- my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. All my life the god of the Mountain has been wooing me... I am going to my lover. Do you not see now-?'"
I am rereading C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces and I've just read the above passage. There are probably no words out there that better describe how I have felt about my life for as long as I can remember. It's not morbid and it's not dark, but I've longed for what Psyche describes for so many years, and it has always been when I am happiest. When I am sad or depressed, I become controlling and feel the need to try to make everything right. But when I am happy, I am ready to be away. Ready to be home. It is the beautiful things in life that often feel the most unbearable.
They are all shadows. Last night Trey and I had the most perfect sex we've yet experienced. It was everything I could have ever imagined sexual intimacy being. But if I was given the opportunity to leave now and enter into eternity, I would take it. The beauty of last night makes me ready because I know last night can't be repeated. It was good and whole and perfect – it was release from desiring something better. Now that I've tasted it, I feel satisfied and satisfaction is the end of things, not the beginning.
In the above passage, Lewis states a truth that he seems afraid to understand, or at least to state in his other writings on the topic. Sehnsucht is in reality a longing for death. It is a desire for what cannot be obtained in this world when we are confronted with what the world has to offer. Lewis is indeed right when he says that our desires are too small. But if we desire aright, how can that desire be contained by this world? To desire what this world cannot offer is to desire that which requires my departure from this world.
I am crying as I write this, but I am not sad. I simply am longing. And that longing aches so greatly. God, I know that, I, as a child of the promise, have you now, here. But I do not have the redeemed world yet. I do not have heaven – complete unity with you. I am still tied down by all of these things around me and when they are good, when they are everything I could ever want them to be, they only make the ache worse, because they only refresh the longing for everything else to be as right as they are in that moment.
When Lewis says that marriage, and the loss of virginity, and the bearing of children are all a certain kind of death, I wonder how much he knew he was right on the subject. Did he accidentally stumble upon a truth all women known within their souls? Or did he understand the depths of this statement? Death involves the taking away of life, and for a woman much about the experience of creating life comes through ending some part of her own life. She does not become a wife without giving up independence. She does not become sexually active without being invaded. She does not become a mother without physical destruction in her body. But these all offer life, living, being alive as a result.
I have now experienced two of these three things, and I hope soon to enter into the final and third. Might I see in these the same longing for death that Lewis describes with sehnsucht? In each of these experiences, am I not entering into a greater good, a better reality through that which is a kind of death? God, have you created woman so that what she longs for now requires in some parts her negation? Is the pattern of this fallen world so much replicated in my lived reality?
When I receive the most good, I long the most for heaven. When I receive the most good, I am the most ready to bear children. But ultimately, to attain both requires a death within me.
(Image by Surian Soosay, "Alternate Mother Nature, Internatal Internet.")
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
My poor Norfolk Island pine is dying. I bought it in December to use as a Christmas tree in the grand Snoke tradition, but it hasn't fared well in the months since. I want it to live so much.
It needs to live. Not only do I hate letting living things pass away needlessly or due to negligence, but I also want it to live because of my mother. There is no single object on this earth that carries stronger associations with my mother for me than a Norfolk Island pine. Some of my earliest memories involve her love for her own pine and in my head I can clearly hear her voice rapturing over the pretty plants.
My mother causes things to grow and live, and she is a nurturer to the core. Sometimes this scares me. I don't see in myself the same intense desire to nurture. Sometimes there is so much more of my father than my mother in me, and he is the complete yin to her nurturing yang. For a while, I thought that centering everything in my life on the gift and desire to nurture was what I wanted to do, and ultimately what God wanted me to do. It's much of what took me into ministry. But it has completely drained me. For a while, I thought I was so much like my mother in this way; but in recent years, I've had to realize that I am much less so than I once imagined.
But my dad associates my mother's particular gifts with womanhood generally. In his mind, what she is is what all women most naturally are or want to be. Because my mother is a natural mother to all, he imagines that somehow these are the gifts all women have within themselves to bring to the table of God's economy. But I don't know if I can do it. Both my mom and my dad are inside of me, but everything in me that reflects my dad so often feels illegitimate.
And so I often end up afraid. I am afraid of becoming everything that my mother is because it's not everything I want to be or know myself capable of being. And I am afraid of not becoming my mother because she is to my mind, and to so many other people's minds, everything that a woman should be.
In the space that occupies these conflicting fears, I find my houseplants. They are small expressions of my attempts to be my mother. They allow me to connect to her, to feel I have something in common with her. But they are small, and in the end, extemporaneous to my life. They somehow allow me to be like her without really addressing the bigger callings of my life.
So they need to live. My Norfolk Island pine needs to live. Otherwise, not only am I lost to who my mom is in the larger, spiritual gift of nurturing, but I am also lost to it in the small, tangible spaces.
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.
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.