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
I tried to write this letter last night, but couldn’t do it. It’s just so hard to put everything I want to say, everything I’ve thought about telling you, into words.
There is so much I want to say to you and so much I want to teach you.
Your name means “truth” and it is the deepest yearning of my heart that you grow up not only knowing, but believing and living the truth. You have been named in honor of our families. My parents started a tradition by giving their children virtues for middle names. Faith, Justice, Charity, and Valor. Now we add you to the family. From your father’s family, we chose A. for your middle name. This is your grandmother’s middle name and there have been many great women named A. Know what you believe in and understand where you have come from when you think about your name.
By the time you read this, you will know well my many flaws. You will know that I am human and as such, am only a shadow of what God desires for me to be. You, perhaps more than anyone else, will have keen insight into the sins of your mother and this is likely to leave you just as confused as it has done with every woman before you. Most likely you will not know how to reconcile the love and admiration you feel towards your mother with the hurt and frustration I have caused you. Please know that you are not alone in this confusion – it is spans back as far as the chain of humanity exists. Know too that I seek to repent of the ways I sin against you, even when I don’t know how to do so. I bring you into the world and I parent you only by the grace of Jesus, and my only hope in this endeavor is that you will see him before you see me.
Oh, if I could spare you from the ways I will sin against you by keeping you inside me forever, I would. But I can’t. Please forgive me for the things I will do and the ways I will hurt you that you may never explain to me or that I may never fully understand. Forgive me because Christ has forgiven me and because he forgives you.
Your God, the God you will be taught to believe in, is a great and awesome God. Sometimes his goodness is outright terrifying. My greatest prayer for you is that you will know the terror of the Lord’s goodness, rather than the terror of his judgement. I don’t believe it is possible to approach God and not know one of those terrors. May you live in the light of the first. To know this terror is the beginning of true life and true freedom. The world will tell you all sorts of things about how to find freedom in life. But true freedom, real freedom starts with the holy fear that accompanies knowing and being loved by the God who created you, who owns your life. It is a beautiful terror and I pray you know the same overwhelming joy that I have found in this God’s embrace.
You have already been the joy of my heart, baby. Feeling your kicks and squirms inside of me has been a trial, but more than that, it has been a time full of wonder and amazement. These days all I long for is to look into your eyes and meet the shadow I have felt growing inside of me. Your life has taught me, challenged me, and grown me already.
This is it. This is the end of my motherhood project. You are due to arrive in one week, and who knows what day you will actually make your entry, but it is time to draw this recording of my thoughts and experiences to an end. It’s time to come to an end partially because I have little more to say, and partially because a new thing is beginning. I grow more and more aware every day that this story is no longer mine alone. With you here and our stories intertwined it is time to draw a veil onto this world. Motherhood is no longer an abstract, but a real thing with a real person involved. This is now your story, too, and as such it is time for me to step aside and protect your little world.
Thank you for letting me write this. Thank you for helping me grow.
“I know so much more than I did about the woman who wrote it. What began the change was the very writing itself. Let no one lightly set about such a work… The change which the writing wrought in me… was only a beginning - only to prepare me for the gods’ surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound.”
– Orual in Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis
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?
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.