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, Arlington, Massachusetts
I've been working on my Jonathan Edwards paper for my Harvard class and I came across the following passage on Sarah Edwards. I started crying reading these words because they were just so convicting. And beautiful.
Oh, Lord, please move in my heart to have this same concern for my baby. Please, I am so selfish. Please remind me to pray more for this little baby. People say that having a child will teach you to be less selfish, but that doesn't strike me as inevitable. There are many selfish parents out there in the world. Please move in my heart to think more of others than of myself. Amen.
“But this was not all, in which she express’d her care for her children. She thought that parents had great and important duty to do towards their children before they were capable of government and instruction. For them she constantly and earnestly pray’d, and bore them on her heart before God, in all her secret and most solemn addresses to him; and that even before they were born. The evidences of her pregnancy, and consideration that it was with a rational, immortal creature, which came into existence in an undone, and infinitely dreadful state, was sufficient to lead her to bow before God daily for his blessing on it; even redemption, and eternal life by Jesus Christ. So that thro’ all the pain, labour and sorrow, which attended her being the mother of children, she was in travail for them, that they might be born of GOD by having Christ formed in them.” - Samuel Hopkins
God, part of the problem is my selfishness. But part of the problem is that I just don't pray. Apart from sporadic mornings, I don't set aside time to be quiet before you and pray. How can I have such a heart to pray for my child if I don't have a heart to pray in the first place? Maybe it's not two problems, but really just one – selfishness. Maybe my inability to pray consistently and to spend time with you is just that – selfishness. I don't want to give up my time, my control, my mind. I don't want to work at it. Is that just selfishness? Lord, please, teach me to pray.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Please, Jesus, please let me poop. I haven't pooped in 3 days and I feel like shit is taking over my entire body. This body belongs to you. You own it. Please let me poop.
I hate being pregnant.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I am no superwoman. That much is clear. I had a really great week this past week (relatively). In fact it was so good I took a long walk yesterday to get a decaf vanilla latte and a scone from Kickstand. Turns out that was a horrible idea. By the time I got home I felt terrible, and I have continued to feel terrible throughout today. I slept almost the entire day, only stopping my intermittent napping around 3pm. Then tonight I barfed up the entire contents of my stomach. Everything feels like shit.
It is still so hard to remember to pray for the little one. Mostly because I am barely holding it together myself. Already, I see my innate selfishness being challenged. I need and want to be praying for this little one, but all my mind is occupied with is simply keeping myself upright instead of doubled over. The complicated and eternal conflict between the mother and the child's needs starts immediately.
Jesus, I need you so desperately. I need you to sustain me physically – especially in times like this when I can still smell my vomit in my nostrils despite washing, brushing, and gargling. I need you to keep me from withdrawing into myself, nursing my selfishness when everything hurts so much. I need you to be my joy and my comfort. I need you to remind me to keep my eyes on you, remembering that even now, when everything about my body discomforts and consumes me, my hope is not in the arrival of the second trimester, but it remains, as it always has been, in hiding my life in your hands, receiving the strong spiritual support and succor from you that you promise. You are how I can make it through this period – not the right foods, medicines, or routines. So I call on you, now – please support and sustain me. Please comfort this one small body of mine that persists in reminding me of my weakness. Please encourage my heart and give me hope. Please be my God tonight and through coming weeks. Amen.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Last week we had our first sonogram. It was amazing. First off, there's only one in there, which is good. I was feeling so sick that I had half convinced myself I was having twins. We could see the baby's heartbeat on the screen and at one point, the baby moved. Otherwise he sat pretty still.
I've been having a difficult time not feeling anxious. This is the period in which a friend had her miscarriage, and even though I know everyone is different and all of my sickness is only a good sign, it's still hard not to worry. We have another appointment in two weeks – it's a Downs screening and we'll have a super high tech ultrasound. I feel like I just have to get to that appointment and then we're probably pretty good to go. But it's hard to not worry.
I haven't been feeling as sick over the weekend (even though I still threw up on Saturday night like clockwork), and even though I absolutely know it's not the reason, I find myself worrying that I'm feeling less sick because I've miscarried. The really stupid thing is that I keep thinking, "I don't want to miscarry because then I'd have to start over with all of this sickness!" As if by being so sick I'm due a healthy baby. I'm not of course, but man, it is the most demoralizing thought to think that I could be so sick for so long with no results and then have to start over with all of the sickness all over again with no guarantees of success.
And this, this, is where I start to see the depths of my self-focus. I struggle to remember to pray for my baby because I am so focused on praying for myself to feel better. And I don't want to miscarry because I don't want to have to endure another first trimester without a baby. I don't think these feelings and desires are bad in and of themselves; it's ok for me to want to feel better and it's ok to recognize that a fruitless morning sickness would really suck. But at the same time, this is a new life we are talking about and all I can think of is myself.
Oh Jesus, please rework my soul.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Oh my gosh. Why haven't I been praying for this kid every day? All I can think about is how sick I feel and I haven't started praying for this child.
Lord God, this may be a relatively small and insignificant thing, but it is significant in my life and is in Trey's life. Lord, tonight I ask that you would bless our child with a different stomach than his father and mother have. Lord, I pray for a physically resilient digestive system for our little baby, because not having good stomachs has brought so much ridiculous grief to Trey and myself and I just really, really do not want our child to inherit how terrible our stomachs are. Lord, as you knit together this little one, please bless him with digestive health and vigor. Please. Amen.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
No one could have explained to me the realities of pregnancy before I actually fell victim to it.
I feel like shit.
Jesus, please aid me. I am calling out to you! Please give me some relief. I am weak and wasted and it's only been one week. I don't know how to cope with this for another six weeks. Please hold me in your bosom and give me rest. Please touch my body with your healing – restore my energy, ease my pain, soften this blow so that I might faithfully do the work you have given me to do. Amen.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Fallen human nature is a beast.
We know how to take all good things and turn them into twisted, horrible echoes of their former selves. My friend just had her baby and despite every inch of excitement and joy that I felt, I managed somehow to find a way to wallow in self-pity. Self-pity when there is new life and new joy in the world!
I can come up with any number of excuses and explanation. It's not like I have a great track record with mothers, or really women on their own paths to motherhood. I’ve had friends who suddenly never talked with me about anything other than their babies. Other friends have decided that because they are pregnant or mothers they have the right to judge and pressure me unless I also followed their life plans. And once I was embraced in the bear hug greeting of a woman while she yelled across the room, "Now, there's the person I really want to see!" to a visibly pregnant acquaintance.
If there ever was a symbol of the world and church's preference for the pregnant, that was it. A clear, visible reminder that among women, what counts is having a baby. Nothing more, nothing less. From my perspective, becoming a mother is the point at which all women's gazes turn inward. Damn the rest of the world. The ranks are drawn together, the lines drawn, and the people they all really want to see are those that are just like them. Insular, they now are supercharged to command the stage, and to let every other woman know that they are waiting, and expecting, their quick assimilation into the line.
But no matter how much of this is true, none of it, absolutely nothing from my experience, justifies my own turning of my gaze inward during the arrival of new life. If anything, it should draw my gaze upward, and outward, resting upon the face of the Father. He has given this life, he has seen it to fruition, and I give him praise.
I woke up on Tuesday morning and for some reason, I believed I was pregnant. My period hadn't yet started and for some reason it felt like it just wasn't going to happen, like my body was telling me it was producing life. Later that day the cramps kicked in and the illusion popped, but for a few hours, I felt so happy. The timing wouldn't be great, but I didn't care. It just would have been happy.
I have a hard time with mommies. But I'm starting to remember how much I like babies. Of all the pictures of this new baby that we've been sent, my favorite is the one where she is trying to open her eyes. She's squashed and bleary-eyed, and a little grouchy looking – and I love her. Her face in this picture is exactly how I feel every day of my life. Like if I could only get my eyes open enough, there might be some real things to see. But it's hard and painful and my eyes just can't get used to the bright light. They aren't used to working yet. One day they will be fully adjusted and reality will enter my perception and mind and self, but for now keeping them closed is the best way to cope.
Jesus, you are the light of the world. You have given my heart new eyes, but I can't keep them open. It's too bright. Please, please help me.
Athenaeum, Boston, Massachusetts
I love the Athenaeum. I love spending days here, lost in the silence and the coating of whispered sounds that tingles my skin and soothes my mind. I love losing myself in the world of my thesis, fellowshipping with my sad, beautiful sisters across the centuries who desired usefulness for their Creator and gave themselves up for it. They feel like my friends, their voices so clear and challenging. They were platinum – priceless and hard.
I love being able to pick books off the endless shelves and find delight in them. Tonight I picked up a book of five hundred self-portraits and I could look at it all evening long. I love being able to walk out the door to grab lunch or dinner, and a coffee. I love the rain against the huge windows and I love the lights on Park Street. I love the romance of this place.
As I sit here enjoying my little pool of warm lamplight spreading across my wooden table, I sorrow over the reality that once I start having children, all of this will go away. The silence, the mental space, the communion with women across the centuries, the freedom, the romance. I no longer struggle to want to have those children that will take all of this away from me, but I still find myself mourning the inevitable.
Will I keep my mind? Will this world of thought that I have been building and growing dissipate like the morning dew? It feels too tenuous to remain – like it will disperse in an instant. Right now all of my thoughts, all of my ideas float with me throughout the day. But it seems hardly likely that they will be able to collect around me when there are other people connected to my being, my reality. The mists of thought will vanish, and in the light I'll look down to find a pack of little faces clinging to me for life, requiring me to die so that they can live.
They will be my parasites and I will love them. Lord Jesus, please help me to love them. Please enable me to delight in them, to find sublime joy in what will be required of me to give up for their sake. But please, Lord, please also don’t let all of this go away. Please, let me keep some small corner of mist. Let me retreat there every so often. Please don't take my mind away.
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.