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.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
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.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!
May he grant you your heart's desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.
O Lord, save the king!
May he answer us when we call.
- Psalm 20
Monday, February 9, 2015
At Home, East Arlington, Massachusetts
We're in the middle of a snowstorm, again. Even though it's completely unnecessary, we took time to sleep in and cuddle this morning and now I'm giving myself part of the morning to enjoy a longer time in scripture and then read some of the book I'm trying to get through. It's absolutely delightful.
Yesterday, I started having anxiety about the future again. What school should I pursue? Is it realistic to try to do all of these things? Is it selfish to try to finish a degree? Will I be a messenger of peace if I'm that busy or will I be an ogre among my loved ones? And ultimately, will we be able to have children?
This morning, my reading plan had me in Genesis 17 and the passage of Sarah laughing at the Lord really struck home. I can see that all of my anxiety about the future and schooling really comes down to two questions. Is there a right or wrong decision for me to make? And do I actually believe that the Lord intends good, not evil, for me?
Though I've never thought of it this way, I can look now and see all of my stress and anxiety about the future, about my life, about my purpose and meaning, as me laughing along with Sarah at the promises of God. The Lord told her he was going to do good to her and she laughed at him because it seemed too unbelievable. When I stress and worry it is because in my inner heart, I am also laughing at the idea that the Lord is going to do good to me. I just can't believe it, and therefore the weight of responsibility for figuring out how to have the good in life is on my own shoulders.
My greatest desire for myself once I start having children is that I will not be stressed and anxious all of the time. I want to be a bearer of peace in the life of my family, not of worry and discontent. I want to be a mother who laughs and delights in life, laughing along with the Spirit about the things that are truly laughable, not laughing at the idea that God is good. If I want to be that mother, I need the Lord to start retuning my heart now. I can't wait for the crying and dirty diapers and sleepless nights to seek a peaceful heart. I need to seek it now, when my greatest anxiety in life is which blessings of the Lord's to accept.
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.