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 Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
God is near to the weak. I will let this comfort me, give me joy, and renew me.
I hit a new pregnancy low last night. I had a pretty good day actually. Slept in, walked a lot, didn’t eat too much. We assembled the crib which was so much fun. But I woke up at 1am and it was horrible. I had terrible reflux. Truly, truly terrible. And that triggered my asthma. I couldn’t sleep at all. My restlessness was keeping Trey up, so he decided to sleep on the couch, but I made him stay in bed. He doesn’t really fit on the couch and I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping for a while anyway, so at least one of should actually sleep. I watched TV and shopped for bed skirt for the crib until 3am. At 3am I just broke down sobbing. I had already eaten four tums and used my inhaler, but everything still hurt and was uncomfortable. I finally climbed back into bed and it took about another hour to fall asleep. I tried to sleep in this morning, but wasn’t super successful. Even napping this afternoon hasn’t been so great. It’s like my body has decided it just can’t take it all anymore, and even though it’s so incredibly tired, it refuses to settle down.
Jesus! Please, please help me. I have 10 weeks left in this pregnancy and I don’t know how I’m going to survive it.
Yesterday a pastor’s wife I know in the area was telling me about how the minute she actually delivered her child, she could feel all of her organs take a breath. As everything immediately started to settle with the removal of seven pounds of child, she could once again catch her breath, breathing deeply for what felt like the first time in eternity. She said it was a spiritual experience, reminding her of what it’s like to finally find spiritual release from a burden. This is all I want right now – that degree of release. A deep breathe. The ability to fill my lungs with hope. I know it’s coming, but it’s going to be such a long and miserable two months until it does come. Just as the world is waiting to take a gasp of air with arrival of renewal, so I wait, breathing but restricted, for the arrival of this baby.
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
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.
At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
As the day ends I am deciding not to be anxious about what people think of me, of us, of our life decisions. We are doing both what we love to do and what we think God is calling us to do. We live in a community where our lifestyle isn’t that unusual, and though everyone outside of this bubble might think we’re crazy, I’m ok with it. I like our life. This is what we’ve chosen, and I don’t want to change it for another.
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
Oh, my mother Eve, why did you bring this chaos into my body? I woke up this morning discouraged and sad, crying from being so overwhelmed with the physical reality that is procreation. And now I just feel this huge, gulfing grief as its full meaning and reality sinks into my consciousness. Things did not have to be these way. Things were not supposed to be this way. Eve, my sister and mother, why did you do this? The effects of your decision, of your sin, hurt in my body. They hurt every day. What should be rejoicing is not – it is the slow grind of nausea, and soreness, and exhaustion. Even the production of life is tainted by the pain which only death brings. In this world, for life to go on, life must be sacrificed. This is the consequence of my mother's actions.
The female body is a place of chaos. Once Eve let it in, everything we have striven for is to reduce the effects of chaos within ourselves. Attempts to conceive, attempts not to conceive, attempts to live through childbirth, attempts to ease the pain of childbirth, attempts to understand it and to study – all of this has been woman's collective attempt to regain what was lost in Eden. Just as the apple entered into Eve's stomach, blood stream, and very physical reality, so too did the chaos of separation from God. Many people speak of the brokenness of sin, but let's not forget that brokenness looks and feels like a chaotic mess.
A day is coming, though, when the chaotic work of women will be finished. Just as Eve’s digestion of the apple symbolizes the real reality of sin, so too does our digestion of the bread and blood symbolize for us the real reality of Christ’s redemption. Eating is central to our spiritual reality, for it is central to our very lives. Eating, holy and unholy, in the Biblical narrative reminds us of the physical parameters within which we understand both our fallenness and our redemption.
Matthew 22:30 says, "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." I used to find this passage overwhelmingly sad and I have cried many times to Trey about it. But it is only sad when read according to our post-Victorian romantic sensibilities. It's only sad when marriage is fundamentally about your own self-fulfillment. When it is read through the lens of Genesis 1-3, with an eye to the notion that marriage implies expansion, work, procreation – the establishment of something – then this pronouncement by Christ tells us, "It will be finished." The time of marriage as an act of creation will come to end, and with it, all of the chaos of this fallen reality. My painful work to produce life here on earth will be fulfilled and will be closed. I will not be subject to this chaotic reality for eternity – a change is coming.
Eve, the Lord will redeem you. He will redeem your bloody and cursed decisions; he has already redeemed your eating. He will redeem the passing on of such evil through all generations even unto my day. You ruined everything; God will restore it. And I very much look to that day with anticipation.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Still no period. I can't imagine I'm not pregnant. However, I have now taken three pregnancy tests and all have been negative. Three is extreme. And it's still pretty early. But I feel like I'm going crazy not knowing. Plus I realized this morning that I did the first two incorrectly and so I went to the CVS to buy another box. I was super careful on the third one, but no results.
This is starting to become really difficult emotionally. And if it's this hard without that much riding on it, I can't imagine what it is like for our friends who are struggling with infertility. It must feel like you are going out of your mind.
The problem is that if I think about it at all, I start to really want a baby. All of the warm fuzzy feelings that I've ever heard people talk about start to waft up through my body and I have to stamp them down pretty quickly. Because, I think it would be pretty hard to find out we're not pregnant. I would feel really, really sad. So for the last four days I keep wavering between these two emotions – excitement and joy when I think I probably am pregnant and disappointment and sadness when I think my period is going to start. And once again, it's just all so subjective at this point. These are all just feelings and can't really tell me anything about what's really going on.
I never thought I would be happier to see a little blue line, but man, all of this waiting is making that blue line feel like the victor's crown at then end of a long, slow, uncertain week.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Well I haven't written anything here for quite a while. I feel like I went off of birth control and just haven't been able to write. Not in any dark or bad way, but writing somehow just hasn't occupied much of my thought life. The topic of pregnancy and motherhood has – just not writing. The impulse hasn't been there.
But here I am, wondering if I'm pregnant. My period was supposed to start yesterday and as of 1pm today it still hasn't. I don't know. I don't think I'm pregnant, but it's not like it's a subjective matter. The funny thing is that every month I've been off the pill, I get to the point of starting my period and I think I'm pregnant. It's just this strong feeling I have, and what's even funnier is that it always makes me really happy. During the rest of the month, I still tend to think about the indefinite "later" as the best time to have a kid. After we've settled into our new work and school schedules, after we've gone to visit friends in New Orleans, after I go to Thailand for a work conference. "Later" is the looming word in my mind when it comes to having a family, but of course, "later" must some day run out. But in the moment, when I'm actually waiting for my period to start and think that it won't, I have so much peace and calmness, and all feels right with the world. It makes me happy.
Seeing H. and meeting baby J. was really good for me. H. is pretty much recognizable as herself now that she is a mother. And she's not psycho about it all. She's just normal – or at least what I've always felt should be normal. She hasn't lost her brain and she is still really fun and interesting to talk to. J. is a part of her life, not the sole summary of her life.
My mind can't stop thinking that maybe, right now, the process of creating life is already occurring. It sends bubbles all through me. I'm giving it until tonight and then I'm taking a pregnancy test.
(Image by srasteria, "50-2.")
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.