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
Recently a friend sent me a recommendation for a book written against the natural child birth movement. I haven’t read it, but whenever in life I actually have time to do so I want to read it along with the book I keep hearing about from the woman who started the natural childbirth movement on a farm. I’ve become pretty intrigued at trying to understand how these women come up with their philosophical positions concerning childbirth. On the one hand, the natural childbirth movement argues that the process is totally natural and should be left alone. On the other hand, the doctor writing the book my friend recommended argues that pain is not natural, nor is it considered a human good; therefore, the pain of childbirth should not be considered natural and something to leave unmedicated. Suffering is not something people should view as “normal” or “natural,” and we should attempt to alleviate the suffering a woman experiences in childbirth. I find this ideological divide fascinating, particularly for what it says about the secular world we live in.
Apart from an understanding of creation that maintains it was designed to be good, and apart from a belief in the fall and resulting curse of that which was designed to be good, I’m not sure how you would navigate the conundrum of childbirth. Apart from the seemingly Biblical idea that pain in childbirth is not natural, I think the natural birthers have the philosophical upper hand. Totally apart from the fact that the natural birthers only get to focus on the experience and believe the things they believe due to historical privilege (natural childbirth can only be romanticized the way it is given the availability of medical intervention for situations that go wrong and our dramatically low mortality rates compared with the rest of history), I think they are at least ideologically consistent in promoting the idea that women should not be afraid of something that is at its most basic level natural to their bodies.
And yet, the natural childbirth movement is inconsistent in their idea of pain. Where else in life do people glorify natural pain – as opposed to chosen pain in order to achieve such as an athlete would endure – and make it meaningful and transcendent? To believe that everything about childbirth is totally natural, and therefore totally good, you are pretty much left with concluding that either women are the most screwed over biological entities on the face of the planet evolutionarily speaking, or that pain and suffering in childbirth is somehow the only place in the world we believe physical pain to be a holy, meaningful experience. If the pain and threat of childbirth is truly natural, then women are the biggest losers of the evolutionary game. If not, and we still want to maintain that childbirth should be left unmedicated for the natural spiritual experience it provides, might we not call it masochistic?
Pain seems to be a reality that neither side of this debate really knows how to adequately grapple with. The natural childbirthers make it integral to the identity and substance of womanhood, accepting evolution’s luck of the draw and attempting to bequeath it with meaning. The medical system rightly understands that suffering should not be inherent to anyone’s identity and that in order to protect the dignity of women, it is good to prevent or limit the pain which can so easily reduce women to vulnerability and misery. Yet in the process, the medical world so often forgets and overlooks what is good and beautiful about childbirth – that in some shape or form it is what women were created to do. The medical profession, as represented by the doctor writing this book, equivocates childbirth and a broken arm in order to suggest we are foolish not to offer women medical intervention; but arms don’t naturally break and women’s bodies do naturally produce babies.
Only the Biblical idea of fallenness seems really adequate to hold both realities together – that women’s bodies are made to do this thing and should be given room to make it work (natural childbirth) and that along with so many other things about our physical existence, childbirth is fallen and can do real, serious, and lasting harm to women, which we should try to prevent (medical intervention). More than anything else I can think of, childbirth stands at the crossroads between the glory and the shame of humanity. Only in childbirth do we catch such a crystal clear glimpse of what was meant to be – the power and strength of humanity exerting, maintaining, and producing life. And only in childbirth are we confronted with the futility and misery of life severed from fellowship with God, smashed into the fragmented remains of his image. For both woman and child, birth is a beautiful, glorious, God-imaging moment that cannot escape from the confines of suffering and death, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves of its transcendence.
Oh the beautiful, breathtaking mystery of the incarnation and the redemption it ushered in. The glorious marvel of Jesus is not only that the incarnated Son of God suffered death, but also that he suffered birth! How often do we contemplate the mysteries of the incarnation, marveling at Christ’s embodiment without thinking about his birth. His birth was not romantic and transcendent for Mary; and this is not because it was in a manger, but rather because it was just like every other birth. It involved the same mundane, banal pain that every woman and every baby has felt since Eve. The mystery of the incarnation not only involves the mystery of Jesus’ smallness; it involves the mystery of the God of the universe experiencing the banality of birth itself, since what was intended for glory can only ever offer pale reflections of the original design once it is fallen. In the cross Christ paid for sin. In the resurrection Christ finished death. And in his birth Christ redeemed the very idea of life itself.
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 just kind of a demoralizing experience. There is so much about it to love. I love feeling my baby move inside of me. I love the way it has opened my eyes to the realities of being a woman. I love the way pregnancy puts so much into perspective, not quite drowning out my goals and interests in life, but providing a reprimand to the ways I can obsess over them. I love the way I am being forced to consider my body and accept its power and limitations. But despite all of these things, there is still so much about pregnancy that I find to be humiliating and demoralizing.
To start, there is the persistent physical discomfort. Even my second trimester was marked by it. My body aches and groans and at times it rears up against me in violent protest as it simultaneously stretches and squashes. Every night I go to bed with a whimpering body trying to digest what it needs but is unable to take in and process. I wake up in the middle of the night and my hips are sobbing as they try to slowly unhinge and loosen to make room. The walls of my belly exist in shocked protest as an ever bigger and bigger foot or elbow thrusts newfound weight against them. My body often can’t seem to decide if this is the best thing ever – because it is what it was made to do – or the most embarrassing, as it struggles to figure out how to make it all work. It doesn’t feel like failure – not at all. But it does feel like a slow, nine month long study in confusion and mayhem.
And I feel this all the most when it comes to sex. My body seems to be so distracted by everything else it’s trying to figure out that sex is pretty much the last thing it wants. I often grieve over this reality for my husband, but in truth, it’s just as sorrowful for myself. I love sex, but I do not love it with a bowling ball strapped to my midsection and hips that scream when twisted. I don’t feel like myself. I don’t not feel beautiful; in fact I love my belly and the shape it’s given me. I just feel like my body doesn’t know what to do with itself.
I remember thinking before we got pregnant that the whole experience would be so romantic. Sex to try to conceive would be so hot and we would have nine months of googly eyes before the baby came. Trey and I have had many wonderful moments throughout these months. We have had some beautifully intimate and special times, and I have never felt more protection, concern, and affection from my husband than during these months. He has served me sacrificially the whole way through. But it hasn’t necessarily been romantic – getting pregnant was more funny than anything else and my body has generally not been well disposed to food and late night activities. The idea of a babymoon sounds more exhausting than rewarding. Survival has been the goal more than anything else.
I don’t want to complain. I really, really, really don’t want to complain. All of this is worth it and more than anything else in the world I can’t wait to meet my daughter. But I also just wish I could have better understood how much the sacrifices of motherhood would start with pregnancy, not birth. My expectations weren’t right. The challenge parenting presents to your sense of self starts at the very beginning, at conception. From that first moment, the call to give of yourself begins, and though the physical reality of my life will soon start to improve once again, the need to die to self has only just begun.
(Image by Wolfgang Sterneck, "A Reality called Boom."
At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
“But your setting up a fundamental conflict there. This is a 0 sum game of rights. Either a woman has a right to not be forced into pregnancy or a fetus has a right to be born. You either commit violence against women or violence against the unborn. It's debatable whether a fetus is human, it's not debatable that a woman is.”
This comment I saw on Facebook is exactly why we need better theology concerning womanhood.
Also, I started posting this journal to the blog and am feeling pretty terrified. I just really don’t want to get slammed and social media is a minefield these days. No, it’s not a minefield. It’s all out nuclear wasteland.
At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
I watched this video today and wept. I’m crying inside over the Women’s March and I’m crying inside over the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and I’m crying because I see so few places for women to turn to discover beauty. Though I don’t begrudge anyone for going to the march, I just can’t find in it the beauty creation promises. It offers togetherness and unity, but demands the price of glorifying a shattered and broken image of womanhood. Is performative political posturing the best we really have to offer women? It doesn’t matter how many women scream together. If what they scream is empty then beauty won’t be found there. You can collect a million shattered mirrors and still only see a fractured and dim image of what is supposed to be. Control is what the world wants; control is what women want. The promise the world offers is that through power, women will finally gain control over the chaotic dissonance of their earthly bodies. As long as this is what we believe, true community between mother and child, between the generation that produces life and the generation that receives it, will be lost. Wholeness – the pushing back of the chaos of the womb – begins not through autonomy, but through community. It is only through the promise of the gospel, the restoration of creation, that peace can be found between my body and the life that it was created to produce.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I pooped today. I truly feel God's eyes upon me.
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
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.
The Red Farm House, Dresden, Maine
I feel like I am dying and have been for a week. Every day I think, "I should start feeling better soon," because my mind only naturally knows how to think in terms of NORMAL illness, and then I have the horrible realization that, no, I am going to feel this way for a minimum of six more weeks. My boobs hurt, I feel nauseous all the time, I don't want to eat anything, when I do eat I get bloated, when I don't eat I get bloated, eggs make me want to puke, I am exhausted more than I ever have been in life, and I am at my wits ends as to how I am going to work two part time jobs and write thesis and take my final class. That is a lot to try to do just in normal, real life. Thinking about trying to do all this pregnant has put me into tears twice already in the last five days. And none of this even gets at trying to be there for my husband, family, and friends.
Trey has been a champ. He's taken care of me and run around to do random things for me. I just wish I could stop belching in his face every time I open my mouth. He is for sure enjoying all of this a lot more than I am so far. I think he's already got the pregnancy glows – I just want to curl up into a ball and survive.
When I am able to come above surface, I still don't have any glowy feelings. I worry about how I'm going to have the energy to get everything done and then I worry about my worrying – I don't want this baby to come into the world through a mom who is a stressed wreck. When I don't think about all of those things, my mind starts to wonder about the chances of my baby forming with problems. So many things are going on inside my body – how in the world does it not go wrong? How is it that so many babies do come out normal?
We're at an Airbnb in Maine and, thankfully, it's been a good 36 hours to reset and recharge. I am starting to feel a little better – a little – and it doesn't totally feel like weeds all around me. We pretty much have just sat in bed and read for the majority of our time here and it's been wonderful. That and walk to the water to just sit on a rock in the sunshine and gaze.
Two nights ago, I lay in bed and felt like I was truly at the end of my rope with this new physical reality. Everything felt horrible and I couldn't think of what to do to make it better. And then I remembered – God has always been the God who hears pregnant women. God created this chaos and ordained it – and he has been the intimate friend of Eve, Sarah, Leah and Rachel, Hannah, Mary, and so many others before me. Now, if ever, God is with me. I cried out to him. I didn't get instant relief in my body, but my soul was sweetened. All I can do is accept this reality and accept God's closeness to me in it as I suffer. Perhaps I will not be able to do everything I have on the agenda. Perhaps this is the end of my rope – the end of my plans, projects, and aspirations – but it is not the end of life. It is the beginning of life and that is something God smiles upon and holds me in.
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.