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.
Friday, January 20, 2017
At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Oh my goodness. I just read a woman’s post on the baby app about her baby boy who was born with severe birth defects. He lived for only 20 minutes before passing away. Her feed had his sonogram pictures and the pictures she took immediately after his birth in the hospital. It was too much emotionally. I start sobbing. These stories are always heartbreaking, but reading them while expecting and with all of these hormones going through me, I thought that I was going to pass out. The emotional weight of it was too much.
I had never heard of the whole “rainbow baby” thing until starting to follow this app. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what all of the rainbow emojis were for, but once I did figure it out, the weight of them really hit me. It’s chilling how many women use the emoji.
Oh our broken world! What a sad place the world sometimes is. The weak and vulnerable are truly that in this world – too small and too fragile for those who are strong to know how to protect and preserve them. The small things are the most easily neglected, forgotten, trodden on. But we serve a God who became small. The biggest thing became the smallest thing, the weakest and most vulnerable. His birth was the ultimate rainbow – the sign to this world that the destruction of the small and fragile will not go unnoticed, will not go forgotten. The suffering that has been hidden by its smallness will be revealed, and then justice and redemption will arrive.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Today I sat on the couch and wept. I'm not even sure why I cried so much, but I guess I do know the long litany of problems that led to it. The past week has been pretty horrible. Trey has been sick and emotionally stressed and worried. Work is full of pressure as I find myself the go-between for coworkers struggling to communicate with each other. Ruthie and I are having dumb arguments over who knows what.
But the real issue of the week has been my surprise not-pregnancy. By Saturday night I was pretty sure I was actually pregnant and thought I just needed to wait a little longer for the test to come out positive. I only sipped a little wine at dinner club and was so worried that people would figure it out. Ha. Little need for that. On Sunday I woke up and felt really nauseous. I had to sit through the panel I was on for Sunday School without throwing up – something that seemed pretty difficult not to do at certain moments.
But, then after church my period started. I was so shocked. I quickly told Trey, and then went directly to missions prayer. I didn't think about it too hard. And I didn't think about it too hard on the drive home. Nor did I think about it too hard during Bible study with the Chinese students. After everyone left I thought about it a little bit, but I didn't want to think about it. So Trey and I ate prosciutto and drank beer and watched Inspector Morse. It felt OK, until I got ready for bed that night. I sat on the toilet and wept.
Five days late. What a horrible amount of time. Was it a late period? Or was it an early miscarriage? Five days of growing excitement. Three false pregnancy tests. One morning of nausea. There is no way to know.
Yesterday I woke up after a good night's sleep and felt like everything was totally ok. I had cried the night before, but it wasn't a big deal now. I got ready to go for a run and headed out the door. Usually running on the second day of my period isn't so bad. But I started to run and all I could feel was a strong, dull, silent pain on my right side. It wasn't cramps. It felt a little like a side stitch, except I wasn't out of breath and it felt more like something was tearing. I couldn't run and had to walk the whole way. But again, who knows? There's no real reason to go to the doctor. But just such a sad feeling.
By mid afternoon today I felt distinctly depressed. It was hard to focus on work and everything felt heavy. My heart felt heavy, my body felt heavy, my eyes and brain felt heavy. Now of course Trey started to pay attention.
As I sat on the couch with him, crying, I couldn't find the ability to express all of this. All I could say was just how sad I am. And how much I feel like I don't have any friends.
After all, I find myself at almost thirty two years old and I wonder – do I have any friends? Sometimes I really don't know. I have enough community to find plenty of people to spend time with. But I don't have any friends who know me well enough, or talk to me frequently enough, to know when something is very wrong. I live in a world where if I were drowning I would have to yell for help, but we all know that drowning people don't yell. They die silently.
And that is exactly the problem. Plenty of people want me to be involved with things. Plenty of people want to spend time with me. No one has made the effort to actually know me. No one knows where and how I struggle. I do not have friends here.
When is the church going to realize that people are nomads? When is it going to realize that it cannot change the tides – people will be transient. We are caught up in tides that are larger than our life decisions. As such, the church needs to pastor like it would pastor wandering nomadic tribes. It needs to be aggressive in pursuing people. It cannot expect people to volunteer their hardships. The hardships of the laity must be sought out. And sometimes, all that would take is a simple question. "How has life been treating you?" I do not remember the last pastor who asked me this question.
And so my nomadic life continues.
(Image by Carolyn Hall Young, "Gratitude and Grief in Equal Measure.")
Sunday, July 17, 2016
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Why is this so hard? A week ago I still wasn't sure if I really wanted children. Now I can't stop crying because my period started five days late. But I feel so sad. For no clear or explicable reason. I just feel a deep sadness – like something was abruptly lost that I wasn't really sure I even had, but wanted profoundly.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
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.