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, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Today has been a quiet, low kind of day. I’ve just been at home, working. It’s sunnier than it’s been all week, which of course makes so many things better. But I’ve been tired – physically tired, mentally tired, and emotionally tired. I don’t think it’s anything other than the tiredness everyone talks about experiencing this late in pregnancy. But I’ve been battling my demons in the midst of it nonetheless. The old and constant temptations have been on my mind – feeling like I’m not doing enough, feeling unsatisfied with what I am doing, worrying about whether I’ve missed and wasted my opportunities to do the things I do really love, etc.
But I’m not giving into them. It’s too quiet and I’m too tired to give into them. It is ok if I am small. I don’t have to be great. God has been faithful to me over and over and over again, and he has directed my steps. Whenever I’ve experienced success in life it has come clearly from God’s direction, not my own. Even when I’ve worked hard for something, and received it, it has been clear that it was not my own doing, but God’s. So in this moment, when I’m tempted to believe that the dreams I have will never happen, that panic is the only option, I turn to Christ and remember that he has brought me this far – to unexpected places – and I can trust he will continue to take me where he wants. And it will be good.
This will probably be one of my last entries and I wonder if I am any different today than I was when I started writing more than two years ago. Am I holier? Am I a better person? Am I more like Christ? Truthfully, I have to say no. I’m not and I know I’m not. The same sins of fear and doubt and selfishness that plagued me when I started continue to plague me today. I still fret and worry over who I am rather than living freely in my identity in Christ. I still flinch at any indication that I am not amazing, that I am not worthy of admiration. I am still vain and shallow and want things that are poison to my soul. I still need Jesus and I always will.
But I do think I have learned something about peace. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am a more peaceful person. I still yearn to grow in this area. But perhaps I have learned something about peace – what it is and what it means. Peace isn’t happiness, and it isn’t a feeling. It isn’t optimism. Rather I think peace is a cessation of our striving. A knowledge that with God’s hand resting in benediction upon our heads, we can stop moving and be still. When I understand it this way, I know I am at peace with becoming a mother. I will continue to struggle with many things about being a woman and a mom, and I will surely repent again and again as I grow in grace. But the restlessness with which I started writing – the sense that I could only overcome my fears through a mighty exertion of myself upon the world – that is gone.
Peace today, in this quietness, is an open-handed acceptance of where God has brought me and a cessation of my striving in the light of his blessing upon my head. Perhaps I will produce nothing more in my life and motherhood will be an end as much as it is a beginning. Perhaps God will continue to bless and utilize the gifts he has given me, giving me joy in my heart. Regardless, I will be still under his hand. I will accept the smallness such stillness requires.
For he has been good to me. Always good to me.
At Momma and Daddy’s, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Today was a really wonderful day. My mom threw a shower for me here in Pittsburgh and it was one of the most encouraging experiences I’ve had in a long time. It reminded me what community is. So many women from so many different walks of life were there – some of whom I haven’t seen for a really long time. And they all were so loving and excited. Many of them are older than almost anyone I spend time with in Boston. I always forget how stunted my life is in Boston – no one over the age of 40 spends time with me – but here, more than half of the group was older women and it was like a drink of refreshing water.
A. gave a really beautiful devotion/testimony and everything she said was exactly what I needed to hear. One of the most memorable points she made is that fear is not necessarily a bad thing going into parenthood. Fear is a natural human response to something we know is bigger than ourselves, out of our control. But what we do with our fear matters. As Christians, we are called to take our fear to the Lord. All in all, it was a very, very sweet day. Like honey to my soul. I feel so loved and refreshed, and am so thankful for women who remind me of what real life is like, far from the madding crowd of Boston.
At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Pregnancy is rough. I’m so tired of it. My body is tired, my mind is tired. Sometimes my soul feels tired. I know it’s not going to get any better when I have an infant, but nonetheless, I feel very ready to not be pregnant any more. I am just not a good pregnant lady.
Last night I couldn’t sleep and those are just always the worst days. It’s totally unpredictable when I will and won’t be able to sleep, so I haven’t really taken any steps to deal with the insomnia. I just lie there at night and everything aches. My back and hips ache if I lie on my back. My stomach hurts if I lie on my side, even with all of my pillows. I feel itchy. And my legs are starting to feel more and more restless. And as all of this is going on, my mind races over everything that I’m worried about. Am I just going to crash and burn next year? There is so much I want to do and this child is not going to let me do it all, so what do I choose to give up?
Trey asked me a couple days ago if I feel ready for motherhood. The truth is I don’t. I don’t in the slightest way feel ready. In fact I feel afraid. But that is only when I think about it in the abstract. When I think about this abstract idea of motherhood and all that it involves, I’m very frightened and I feel very vulnerable. But when I think about my actual baby, when I think about actually getting to hold her and look at her, kiss her and welcome her into the world, then I don’t feel afraid. I don’t feel afraid because the concrete excitement and beauty of getting to greet this little person make all of the abstract fears and concerns step down and take a back seat. Motherhood is a scary thing, but what gives me courage is the chance to get to know and hold my child.
And she is there, she is alive. Every day there is something new to discover. Yesterday I put two and two together and realized that she starts to move when I’m playing music. I’m not sure how I missed it before, but I’ve noticed that she is pretty quiet when the house is quiet. But not long after I start to play music, that is when all of the sudden the kicking and jumping starts. I tested it again this morning and sure enough… she was silent all morning and then as soon as I put on some music, the rolling, rounding, bumping movements began.
How can I be afraid of these scary ideas in my head when I will soon meet a life that already dances?
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
I'm starting to think about how I'm going to publish this journal on our blog and it's starting to fill me with fear. I don't fear people reading it, and I don't fear the reactions of the people close to me – I fear the backlash I might get from the whole confusing host of "mommydom." It seriously terrifies me to think about how much I might be judged. I could be judged for not embracing my body enough. I could be judged for having a hard time easing into motherhood. I could be judged for my own sinful tendency to judge. I could be judged for my insecurities. I know I could be judged on all of these things because I have witnessed women judge each other on each count.
I'm also afraid to share my rejoicing. Somehow, these days it feels like the good push to acknowledge women's struggles with infertility and miscarriage have made it hard to rejoice when one doesn't struggle with those things. Sometimes I honestly feel guilty about it. I remember having a huge amount of fear that certain friends would shun us as news of our pregnancy spread because they have struggled and we had no problems. I ache for them and I long for their burdens to be shared and carried communally, but I don't know what to do when I know people who actively shun their friends who do have good news. Having to choose between rejoicing and being shunned for it is a terrible thing. I try to mourn with those who mourn, and it really stings when those who mourn openly declare their inability or unwillingness to rejoice with those who rejoice. Scripture admonishes both to live in discomfort - for those who rejoice to take on the discomfort of mourning and for those who mourn to take on the discomfort of rejoicing, all for the sake of Christ's body.
As I think about sharing this journey of mine, what I fear is the inability of people to recognize that this has been precisely that – a journey. I fear being told that my journey is harmful to others. I fear being shunned by people I love because they decide they can't handle my happiness. Those who suffer often claim an inviolable perspective on life, and sometimes the rigidity of that perspective terrifies me.
("Punishment of Eros by Venus.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
We're having a girl. There's part of me as I heard the news that leapt with joy. There's so much that I want to share with a daughter, give to a daughter. But there's also part of me that has silently mourned. There's so much brokenness and misery that the world is going to give this little girl.
For a long time in this pregnancy I really wanted a little boy first. There is so much pressure on the first child – they deal with the battery of their parents' indecisions and inexperience in often emotionally brutal ways. And little girls deal with it more severely. I have known so many mothers who simply cannot understand the stress that their little firstborn daughters live under. There's no one to tell these little girls they are ok, they are enough, they are protected, they don't have to compete to be accepted. Their badness and their disobedience is understood simply as just that, rather than the complicated vortex of self-will, misunderstood responsibility, and desire for acceptance that it is. First born daughters are so often tightly wound baskets of sorrow. They just often look like little tyrants aiming for command because they don't know what to do with who they are. For much of my life I longed for an older brother – someone who I thought would help me make friends, shelter me from the confusion of childhood, and help me with my parents. I longed for a male counterpart to just give me a wing to hide under through much of life's confusions. I grieve to think of our little girl having that same sense of dislocation. Being first is always a defenseless position, and I have known the hardness such vulnerability creates in little girls both personally and in the lives of women around me.
I want to share all that I have found to be good and true and beautiful about being a woman with my little girl, but it terrifies me to think that in reality there will be so much twistedness and brokenness to try to teach her about and equip her for. There is so much in the world that will want to hurt her, to use her, to belittle her – and that is not what God created her for. In this world gender and its systems are deeply flawed and a cause of immeasurable pain for women. But that is not the whole story. God is here.
And he gives us blessings in his graciousness.
This little girl may not have an older brother, but she does have a truly wonderful man for her father. One who will be gentle, and kind, who I know will try to listen and hear her heart because he has demonstrated the same with me. He may not be able to function as her guide through the drama of peer life the way a brother would, but he will always be a warm and wise shelter for her when it is time to recharge for the world outside.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I have been feeling so much affection for my baby in recent days. It seems like all of the warm, glowy feelings people kept asking me about are finally here. I'm sure a lot of it is feeling the baby move so much. I feel it move enough now that I do not feel anxious about whether it is still alive. When I first started to feel it move, it was infrequent enough that I had a hard time not having anxiety when days passed without feeling it. Now I feel it just about every day. It's like a little goldfish swimming around in there. Sometimes it makes my heart want to burst. I've never been a big baby person generally speaking, but when I think about my own baby, and about kissing its little cheeks, my heart swarms with a million happy thoughts.
Anxiety is a funny thing. Throughout so much of this pregnancy, and really throughout so much of my life, I recognize in myself the thought that I should feel anxious. Sometimes it feels like all of modern life is conspiring to make sure you are informed about the thousand reasons why you should be anxious. Have I eaten the right things? Did I eat something that might hurt the baby? If this happens what does it mean? If they do all these tests, doesn't it mean this many things can go wrong? There are literally thousands of things to worry about in pregnancy if one chose to do so. And it's not even pregnancy itself as a medical condition. Parenthood is an even bigger landmine. Do we live in the right place? Do we make enough money? How can we guarantee our income? How can I work and still be the mother I want to be? Again, there are thousands of things to worry about it if one chooses to do so.
Oddly enough, I have felt less anxious, or at least less tempted to be anxious, during this pregnancy than maybe ever before in my life. I'm sure that will come and go – I'll have peaks and valleys as always – but being pregnant has made me have to just accept the flow of life and go with it. Sometimes it feels like I've stepped into a river and I have to put my feet up in order to let it move me forward. There's less anxiety in that than in trying to keep my feet stubbornly rooted. I don't know that we've made the best choices, I don't know that we will in the future. I don't know how to do everything I want to do. I don't know how to make it all work out. But I also can't pretend like God hasn't faithfully guided us already and will do so in the future. Our decisions very well could hurt us at some point in life, but God never will.
The best antidote I've found in recent weeks to the temptation to worry is that of thankfulness. I'm sure to a million people wiser than me that seems like an obvious statement. But it's something I am only really experiencing now. I am so deeply thankful to God for the life I have. I am thankful for his material provision in our lives. I'm thankful for how easy it was to get pregnant after all of my fretting. I'm thankful for my work and the jobs he's given me. I'm thankful for the brain he has given me and the education I've received. I'm thankful for my friends and for my family. I'm thankful for Trey. These are all things I worry about so much, but when I stop and reflect with a thankful heart, I truly feel differently. At times I'm overwhelmed with the goodness God has given us. He has even given me a washer and dryer in the new apartment – something so small and trifling and yet so big in my mind as a blessing. There are times in my life when I can't help but consider the ways in which God not only blesses, but blesses abundantly through the little trifles which can seem so important.
Tomorrow we find out the baby's gender. I can't wait. It feels like our first introduction to a new friend. I am so thankful for this little life and I pray that God will protect and bless it, just as he has done for me.
(Erik Cleves Kristensen, "Painting of a Madonna.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
There is so much to fear in life. Or rather, so much my brain tries to tell me I should fear. I don't necessarily think I feel anxious all the time, but I know I must, because my brain is constantly going over and over all of the things that I want to change or think should be different or am concerned about.
I feel like there is so much that is telling me I should be anxious about whether my baby is still alive or not. Maybe I've done something or eaten something that was harmful. So many other people I know aren't making announcements until much later in the pregnancy – did I announce too early? Will I reap the consequences? Sometimes my body just aches in weird ways and I wonder if something is going wrong. I don't generally feel anxious, but sometimes I feel like I should be anxious and then I am.
On Saturday I was driving home and I felt this really funny sensation in my left side. It was a feeling I don’t remember having before. It kind of felt like gas or when your muscles ripple from cramping up. But it also wasn't quite the same. It went on for a minute or so. I didn't think much of it, but at church yesterday someone asked me if I've felt the baby move, and it came to mind. I told her about it and she seems to think it was the baby. If so, it would be wonderful. I keep wanting to feel it again – then I would know it was the baby. If I could start feeling it, maybe then I wouldn’t worry as much about whether it's still alive or not. I'm sure that doesn't mean I wouldn't worry. I always seem to find something to worry about. But maybe at least my worry for my baby would subside a bit.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I am feeling so anxious about my baby these days. We hit twelve weeks yesterday, which is great, and of course there are no signs whatsoever of miscarriage, but I still worry that something has gone wrong and we'll find out at our next appointment. Thankfully, we have a sonogram on Friday, so we will find out if everything is ok then. But it's still so scary, not knowing anything about how your baby is forming. Is he or she ok? Does she have all of her or his pieces? Is he healthy? I have to keep myself from thinking about these questions too much because they can totally drive me crazy. I just have to trust the Lord and pray.
Thankfully, Trey and I finally had sex last night. I've been so sick that it had been about three weeks since we last had sex. I still didn't feel great last night, but wow, did it feel good to have sex.
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.