At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Life is crazy. We moved into Harvard student housing last week and it was a zoo. By God’s mercy my mom came into town and helped us pack. I seriously don’t think we would have made it without her help. She pretty much got into town and power housed her way through our apartment. The only downside to having her pack was how excessively she tapes boxes. It’s given us a lot of laughter as we unpack.
Now that we’re in the new place, I feel both deeply grateful and am dealing with a lot of anxiety. The place is really great, all things considered, and will be great with a kid. It’s much more accessible to campus, there is a washer and dryer, and tons of areas for children to play in – as well as tons of children themselves. Baby V definitely won’t lack for playmates.
With that said, though, I’m struggling with my pride, my limitations, my doubts, and my worth in this move. My pride is rearing up because this place is just so small and so unglamorous. While everyone else is buying houses and moving on in the world, we’re choosing to live in cramped student housing. I find myself worrying not about the apartment itself so much as I worry about what other people will think of it and of us in it. I’m facing my limitations because I am working a ton in order to live here rather than a half an hour away, and I feel overwhelmed wondering if it’s really sustainable with a baby. Can I really work as many hours as I’m committed to working in a week and can Trey really get through his PhD excellently with a baby on the way?
This is the most I feel doubt about it. I know a lot the emotions involved have to do with the fact that I just moved, the house is still a disaster, and I’m really, really behind on my thesis. But nonetheless, I’m starting to better imagine the realities of adding a baby to our lives and am trying to reckon what I foresee with everything I’ve committed to. Lord, please let this child be a good sleeper! And of course, with it all, as with any time I feel emotionally overwhelmed or stressed, I am really struggling with my self worth and the decisions I’ve made. Am I making the wrong decision by not trying to do a PhD myself right now? Are we insane for continuing with school through our 30s? If I can’t have as much academic success this year as I think I need to be in a good position for applying to programs later was this whole degree a waste? Is all of this pure drivel and instead I should be thinking only and solely of my kids?
I just want the answers to life and more often than not, answers are the most difficult thing to find in the world.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Oh my goodness. I'm having an emotional meltdown and I'm not even really sure why. I was writing Dr. G an email to tell him that I won't be at the conference and that I won't be applying to grad schools this fall due to being pregnant, and I just started weeping. I'm sure a lot of it is hormones, but a lot of it was just the feeling of cementing the reality that I will not be doing a PhD any time soon. I know if God wants me to do it later in life it will happen, but I just feel so much in my prime right now and it really feels like it's all just going to be wasted. I have so many ideas and so much academic energy and I look ahead to ten years of wasting it all on jobs I’m not sure I like. If I could drop all of my other jobs and we had enough money or free housing or free childcare or something, I would do it. But that is such a pipe dream. We aren't trust-fund babies, and we don't have anyone who believes in our work enough to fund it fully. So we make due. And it's all ok. Really. I just have to mourn it for a while, that's all.
National Quemoy University, Kinmen Island, Taiwan
It is my birthday and I have only fully realized it because I wrote out the date just now. I am 32 years old and the past two weeks have been some of the most eye opening to my life that I've ever had. I am realizing that I am exactly what I never thought I would be – a successful, childless workaholic. I know I constantly worry about not doing something with my life and about having to give up my interests to have kids. But it has literally never crossed my mind what my life looks like to the outside world until this month.
It started during a phone conversation with my mom. She asked me if we were trying to get pregnant and I was floored. I assumed that would just be obvious to everyone since I am turning 32. Even my mom didn't think it was an obvious thing.
Then I actually heard myself speaking in some of my conversations with people – I was preparing to travel internationally for my job while also finishing up my school semester while considering applying to Harvard while publishing a paper while joining staff at a church. While living in the third most expensive city in the United States. I've been so focused on figuring out how to not lose my goals that I have been totally blind to my success in them and again, how I must look to the people around me. I have been addicted to success and work. I also have been legitimately trying to figure out how I am supposed to use my gifts and talents.
Right now I have a choice before me – I cannot use all of my gifts and talents to their full extent without burning myself out. I cannot have a family while using all of my gifts and talents. So which ones will I use? I am 32 years old, have been working like a mad woman for four years, and am burnt out. It is time that I get my shit in order and stop trying to do it all and instead focus on how to live while using the gifts I care about the most and have the most peace about.
I grew up hearing yuppies referred to in only negative terms. Good Christians had children early and valued their families more than anything else. I have had no paradigm for seeing myself as a thirty-something, successful urbanite because I was trying very very hard to not be selfish in my decisions and I grew up thinking that yuppies were simply the result of selfish, immature motivations. I constantly heard yuppies referred to as the result of never being willing to grow up and be an adult, and I have tried very hard to work against that.
And yet, here I am. The very definition of a childless thirty-something-year-old woman who is doing well in her work. I am more the product of my society than I could ever have imagined myself being. I couldn't have imagined it because I never thought I valued the things yuppies value. But I do. And I do not think it is evil. I think it is cultural. And a result of trying really hard to use what's been given to me for God’s glory.
I don't even know what I am trying to say with all of this other than I just am at this totally bizarre place in life in which I both know where I want to go and believe I have the talents to do it (if I let go of certain other things that I've held on to), and I can completely recognize that I am not the person I thought I was. In other words, I feel like I am waking up to who I am and I am becoming more aware of my abilities. I guess what's really going on is that my vision is focusing. So much of the excess work, of the excess baggage, of the excess stress needs to fall away. I don't need to stay in this whirlpool. I know what I want - my husband, my children, to teach and write, and community ministry. The rest has to go. And that can be the value of finding myself where I am at 32 – the focus that I haven't been able to find until this point.
(Image by Nicolette Tomas.)
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.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I worked a lot on my thesis today. First day working on it! I finished the sections of Ann Judson's memoir I need to read and then got about halfway through Harriet Newell's. I think Harriet is my new hero. There is so much about her that is ridiculous, but only in the most human of ways. I feel like her type of ridiculousness is so much of my ridiculousness - over seriousness about things that do truly matter, but that maybe in the light of eternity could become a little more flippant. It does amaze me though how much studying the saints throughout the broad swath of time my degree covers has shown me the degree to which all people who love the Lord reflect similar traits. They all seem to have very deep longings in life.
Studying these women, and studying in general, makes my soul happy. It is hard - truly the work is difficult. But I like it. I feel very open to whatever the Lord has for me. If he gives me children, I excitedly look forward to it. If he withholds children from me, I think there are enough things I believe in doing to give me a full life.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
This is the year of transition and it is difficult. Good and exciting, but also just plain difficult. I've had 3 realizations in the last week and I'll just list them out below.
1) There is no way in hell I could be in school while having young children. I would go batshit crazy. I'm not sure what universe I thought I lived in, but it wasn't a real one. Now that I am back in school, I love it, but I also could not do it with babies. Any further educational dreams will simply have to wait until later in life.
2) I have an ideal birth order and number of children. Unfortunately, that is the absolute most impossible thing to control in life. But I'm still going to pray and ask the Lord for this order and number of kids. I would just be absolutely tickled to death if I had a boy first and then twin girls. I know this is absolute madness, but it makes my heart absolutely sing to think about having that family. I would name the boy W. C. and he would be just like Trey. The twin girls would be named V. A. and F. E. They would be just like Ruthie and me, but twins. All three children have a virtue name and a family name. Just thinking about this dream makes me dizzy. I don't think I've ever been so excited about the possibility of having children as thinking about these three mythological children makes me.
3) Negotiating work while planning to have kids is really really hard. In fact, everything I've ever heard about it all of the sudden feels very real. It is true women can't have it all. We don't live in a reality where working and mothering go hand in hand.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Yesterday someone close to us let us know she is pregnant again after miscarriage. Her voice sounded happier than it has in a long time, but she still seems unsure of everything. I am so incredibly excited for her and her husband, and I want them to also know joy. I've been praying that they would be able to try again without any difficulties. I pray that the Lord will be kind to them, and lavish them with goodness. I mostly pray, though, that she will be able to hide her heart in Christ and with it hidden there, that she would be able to rejoice even when it seems like God's face is hidden.
After talking with our friend, I felt old. It was the first time I've ever felt that way. Since I turned sixteen, I've always struggled with my age and the process of time. But this was different. It was so much an emotional fight against the inevitable. It was just feeling old.
Over the past week, my body has been hurting. I did something to my knee first and then yesterday I woke up with back pain. Both have kept me from working out and both have been incredibly unpleasant. I'm thirty one years old and yesterday, I could physically feel the process of decay beginning in me. Most likely, I have years left in my life. But my body is already starting to groan and creak in ways that I don't like.
But what really made me feel old is the same question I've been struggling with for more than a year – what have I done with my life so far? I'm thirty one and I haven't had children, I'm just now working on a master’s degree, we don't own a home, we've barely made any money, and I'm not sure any of the things I've worked at for the last decade make a squat of difference. Almost all of our friends and family are solidly in the stage of life in which kids, homes, and careers are well settled and flourishing. I feel like Trey and I have been held back a grade, but it's completely unclear for what purpose.
So I felt old. Not because I really am old, but because I'm so far behind where everyone else my age is. And I'm not sure I'll ever be able to catch up. And what's worse – I now consistently have people in my life telling me I should catch up. I have friends who reprimand me for not having babies and I have friends who wonder when we'll ever have "real" jobs.
I've tried so hard my whole life to live according to what I've believed God is calling me to do. And for many years, I thought it was possible to do that. I did a lot of things I didn't want to do because of it. But now, I don't know that it's not all somewhat arbitrary. That all of the decisions have been mine, only mine, and not some great calling from God. God communicates in his Word and there is nowhere in his Word that spells out the intimate details of my life. I know from the Word what God desires people to be. How he has designed them to live. And I know that his Word applies directly to my life. But it has not told me where to go and what to eat every day.
And yet, I do believe God has directed me here. And I do believe that many of the decisions I made were right. Not because God told me so directly, but because the alternatives would have been taken up out of mistrust and selfishness. The things I've done themselves aren't as clearly good or bad as the reasons for which I've done them. Was there something about each life choice I've made that was clearly God's will for me? No. But in each of those moments of decision was it clear that one choice involved trusting God more and the other involved seeking my own interests more? Yes. While I don't know whether or not the particular things I've done in life "mattered" or were God's plan for me, my conscience is clear that at each turning point, I attempted to my best ability to choose the path that required obedience.
I can't look back on the last decade and know that the things I've done have mattered, or that they will bring me any degree of prosperity. But I can look back on my life and know that throughout it, I was trying to follow God. I may be "behind a grade," but if that's the case, will I be content in knowing I'm here because I've tried to obey and this is seemingly where the Lord has brought me? Is it enough for my life to be defined by attempted obedience, even if makes everything unclear and even if I don't always get it right? When I feel old, can I find my comfort not in the things I've done or made, not even in the places I've arrived at, but rather in the knowledge that in my heart, I'm here because I have tried to obey God? If we never own a house, if my academic aims never pay off, if I am not able to have a baby, will I be ok knowing that what validates my life is not all of the other things that can be substituted for these achievements, but rather the succession of attempts over my life to do as God wanted me to, even if hasn't ever been clear exactly what it is he wants me to do besides love him?
If I can't say “yes” to all of these questions, then I will never find satisfaction as I age. But if I can say “yes,” then it doesn't matter whether I am ahead or behind in life. It doesn't matter if God advances me or keeps me behind. If my peace is in the pursuit of God, then it doesn't matter where I live or how many children I am or am not able to have because they are all just testing grounds, gifted opportunities from God to try to obey him once more.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I'm reading a book for my Jonathan Edwards paper on siblings in colonial America. I love it already. There's so much to chew on in it. An off-hand comment from the author really caused me to pause and think though. She was discussing childbirth rates among the early colonists and in discussing one particular woman as an example, she mentioned her "childbearing career." At first, I was disturbed by this comment; women gave so much in those days to motherhood and everything about their lives was consumed by children.
But as I considered the description further, I actually started to really like it, and not just that, but I started to see in it a healthy perspective on childbearing that I need to take on. Childbearing was considered a woman's career. It wasn't just an obligation, or a duty, but it was work on which she embarked and in which she could take pride. She could do it well, or she could do it poorly, just as with any other career. It wasn't so much about her fulfillment, but it could be a great deal about her success and pride.
I think many women today would find it vulgar to think of motherhood as a career, but I find it liberating. I love work. I love strategizing about how to succeed and do well in life. I love having my days full with work that has an objective. In many ways, part of the burden of being a mother in my mind has been the need to give this all up. I don't think of having kids as something that will fulfill me – I already feel fulfilled. I don't need children. But if I think about it as work, of motherhood as a career, then it takes on interesting features. It's a project that I can be creative in and with. It's work that has an objective other than my own fulfillment. I don't ever feel the need to have a baby to be happy. But I can get excited about having a baby to create something good.
Of course, family is family. It's relationships, not tasks. But I also think it could be healthy for us to remember that it is also work – that bearing and raising children is a career of sorts. And it's not so because it's some special task for women alone. Though part of our career is the physical bearing and feeding of the young, the career of childrearing belongs equally to fathers. When we remember that having children is one career out of many that we undertake, it reminds us that all things exist in unity under the authority of the Creator. Just as our work must always involve relationships, so our relationships often take on the nature of a job. God's cultural mandate did not divide these things – all that God has given us to do intersects and weaves together.
(Image by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, "Motherhood.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I've been thinking a lot about how scary it is for me to think about giving up work to be a mother. I know that all mothers don't stop working, but most at least significantly alter their working life. At the minimum, I believe that as a mother, I would need to hold all of my work very loosely, willing to give it up if necessary for the good of my family. I think the recognition that having children could very well end my work identity is part of what scares me about having children.
The truth is, I am not the same person I was ten years ago. I once saw marriage and children as an escape, as a creative outlet for a life that I wasn't happy with. Everything in my life professionally made me afraid. Everything. The idea of pursuing something, sacrificing for something, and loving it, could never have entered my mind. I wanted many of the same things I want now concerning family life, but I wanted them for the wrong reasons - for meaning and fulfillment, for justification of my existence.
But I remember the time in life when all of that truly changed. I was 25 years old, living overseas, had experienced heartbreak, and had not a single romantic prospect. It was the most single time of my life. I was single and more than any other time in my life, I knew that singleness was truly what the Lord had called me to that year. And I was deeply and richly fulfilled. I loved my life and for the first time ever, I understood what joy in work was. I found work pleasant and meaningful. It was hard, but it was fascinating and I simply enjoyed it like I had never enjoyed it before.
Since that time, work is something I value. It's something that I like. I like my work. I don't need to run away from it into the fulfillment of a family. I don't need children and pregnancy to feel fulfilled. I am content and joyful now. This doesn't mean that I don't want a family, but it does mean that I don't feel the need to be a mother in order to find something that I enjoy doing. Once I did need that, now I don't.
The truth is that people do change and it's not always a bad thing. Of course I want children and a family, but just because that desire has been complicated by the discovery of my identity professionally, it does not mean that the changes in my life are for the worst. No one is stagnant – God is constantly giving us new experiences and new things to ponder and discover. I found out that I actually enjoy work and can find it quite fulfilling. Just because other women don't have this experience, just because it complicates my life, just because it changes things about who I am, these do not make me a bad person. People change. That's not always a bad thing.
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.