Family, Motherhood, Pro Life

Not Damaged – A Note to Moms

Today, I came across an online article about a mother who photographed her torso after the birth of her second child. She took a photo at 24 hours post-birth, then a new one at 1 week, 4 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, and so on. As opposed to yet another “look at me, I look amazing in only a short period of time” sort of social media post, this mom wanted to show the public a realistic, normal transformation post birth. When I clicked on the article to read it, I felt proud of this woman. I was glad that by her brave choice to share those photos, more people might understand the reality of a woman’s body.

While I was proud of the woman and her intention though, I was disappointed in the author of the article. Not only disappointed, I was angered. The brief paragraphs written to accompany each successive photo were filled with the same language that I see in every article about a mother’s post-partum body.

Damaged. Fix. Ruin. Recover.

The word choices in this and other articles make clear the accepted perspective that a woman’s body has been damaged by pregnancy. Her body is flawed now and needs to be fixed. The appearance of her physical form was good before pregnancy and bad now. I have even seen it stated as strongly as saying her body has been ruined. Every bit of body advice post-partum is geared toward recovering your pre-pregnancy form.

It took until my second pregnancy before I fully realized the error of this way of thinking. It bothered me before that, needling at my brain that there was something off. Somewhere along the way my second time around though, it clicked. Plain and simple, if you’ll allow me to say so, it’s bullshit.

Pregnancy did not damage your body; pregnancy changed your body. You don’t need to be fixed. Your physical form is not ruined. Lastly, now that you’ve had a child (or two or four), nothing else in your life will ever be the same as it was pre-pregnancy, so why, oh why, are you told your body should be the exception?

Your body was specially designed to accomplish pregnancy, to carry and deliver a child. Many women are unable to do this since there are many factors that contribute to it occurring, so please, when you are blessed to be one who can and does accomplish this great feat, do not fall into the trap of believing you’ve ruined your body in the process! Our culture claims that we must teach girls to accept their bodies as they are, to be proud of their figures and not succumb to the pressure of airbrushed supermodel expectations. How can we ever instill in our girls a genuine, lasting respect for their bodies while perpetuating the current attitude toward the changes caused by pregnancy? Pregnancy and birth, while far from the only incredible abilities of a woman’s body, are the pinnacle of the unique, amazing design of a woman.

Stop comparing yourself to other mothers whom you think have ‘recovered’ better than you have after pregnancy. Scoff at those who would label your stretch marks as flaws. Tune out those who wonder why you haven’t fixed your abs yet. And please, please, correct those who refer to the physical effects of pregnancy as damage. Aim for health and strength, but do so with your eyes open to the reality that having a child has changed your body just as it changes everything else in life.

Family, Motherhood, Scripture, Worthy

To Annabelle, Now and Every Tomorrow

Dear Annabelle,
Look at you. Football jersey, princess slippers, can’t-sleep-without-them animals, and a smile brighter than a sunbeam. Lunging at me in jubilation. Certain I will embrace you. Certain I will laugh with you. 
You didn’t see it but last night as I laid you in your crib, relaxed and content after our mutual favorite lullaby, there were tears in my eyes. You didn’t notice the catch in my voice as I said goodnight. Something in the sight of you at that moment clarified reality. You are finishing up being my baby. You are ready to be my little girl instead. My little girl who will grow into my big girl and my young lady. The realization filled my chest with a wave of panic. The wave passed, swept out into the ocean of mixed emotions in a mother’s heart as she watches her child change right before her eyes. There’s no stopping you and so there are some things I must say before my voice isn’t the one you’re most eager to hear every morning, noon, and night.
Your face in this photo, along with a million instances of the privilege I have to see your smile, gives me a flash into the future. I am convinced you will be a woman who is “clothed in strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25). Please don’t lose that light that fills your features. Keep your hair out of your gorgeous eyes, so you can see clearly but also so you may better be seen. You ought to be seen. When you feel the kick of an urge to smile at someone across the room, the way you do for me, don’t resist it. You have no idea the kindness it is to offer that smile to another. And the way you never doubt that I and your Daddy will hear your calls? Have that confidence in your heavenly Father and the days to come won’t be able to silence your laughter.
The time will come when you doubt this so I’ll try to remind you of it often: you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Your soul, your mind, your body. Every aspect of the whole Annabelle is a wondrous gift from God. Do not belittle any part of that gift, nor listen to those who would try to tell you otherwise. Know that you deserve what is true and beautiful and good, then seek it out fervently.
Among my greatest hopes for you is that you become a woman who, like the very breath and wisdom of God, “is more precious than rubies, and nothing [anyone might] desire can compare to her” (Proverbs 3:15). Your character is a wellspring of untold worth. The potential for generosity and kindness, humor and boldness, passion and earnestness, understanding and creativity – unearth that treasure, my girl. Every person you touch will be better for it and you will pass your years living instead of waiting to live.

Be the princess you are, Annabelle, and be that only in the truest sense of the title. Be a daughter of the King. There is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4), Annabelle. Rather than sacrifice it for anyone, be a reason they look for theirs too. Seek the good of every soul that crosses your path. Know your worth and convince others of theirs. 

I love you.

Mamma
Motherhood, Photography, Pictures & Words Challenge, Writing Prompt

Pictures & Words Day 5: Sweetness to the Senses

Day 5 Photo/Writing Prompt: Sweet

My daughter was full of protests, tantrums, and screaming toddler attitude tonight. There was no patience and no use of the bits of sign language we’ve been practicing. When I laid her in her crib, she reached around for her lamb who has long been her source of extra comfort when she’s tired. That lamb has been missing for a couple days, sadly, and as her disappointment brought tears I felt the guilt creep in. I chided myself for not looking harder for it today. Nevermind that I’d spent a considerable amount of time combing through every room in the house the day before. Forget the fact that she would undoubtedly sleep just fine once she relaxed despite the absence of her favorite little stuffed animal. There was the mom guilt ready to climb on my back.

A couple hours later I snuck into her room. She stirred a little then stilled. I stood at her crib, a shaft of light from the hallway allowing me the sight of her back rising and falling as she breathed. My eyes fell on her mouth, so tiny and pink. Where earlier there was the high pitched crying of a one year old who wants her dinner right now, there was only quiet. Steady inhales and exhales. My own breathing slowed as I listened. I caressed her soft cheek and let go of the guilt; the “I didn’t play with you enough today” and “I forgot to read books with you before bedtime” and “I shouldn’t have lost my patience with you” guilt. She was resting well, in all her inherent sweetness, and tomorrow I would try again.

Motherhood

After Twelve Weeks

The last time I posted, I was pregnant. Pregnant and proclaiming that I was back to the blogging world. Ha. I am now the happy mama of a 2 1/2 month old boy. Timothy Michael was born on September 27th after a blessedly simple labor. He came home with us on my 32nd birthday and I have enjoyed almost 12 weeks of glorious time with him.

A friend reminded me, shortly after Timothy was born, of a blog post I’d written a few years ago. It was when Matt and I were first getting serious and I was adapting to being involved in (my stepson) Nethanial’s life. I shared how, compared to my closest friends and plenty of other girls I knew, my desire to be a parent was weak. I didn’t have a strong urge or longing for it. I feared it wouldn’t come naturally, that I wouldn’t be able to do it wholeheartedly as it should be done. I couldn’t help smiling to myself when she brought that up. God be praised, I can honestly say that nothing has felt more natural to me than being Timothy’s mom. Nothing. Being Matt’s wife is an extremely close second but otherwise, I can’t think of anything that didn’t feel forced or awkward or unsuited to me in at least one way or aspect.
Twelve weeks of cuddling, rocking, diapering, breastfeeding, learning, laundry, dishes, house cleaning, cooking, singing to sleep, cooing, marveling, and praying. Praying I’ll do it right. Praying it all doesn’t go too fast for me to handle.
But it has gone too fast. I return to work this Thursday. Only part time; 3 days a week instead of 5, for which I’m so thankful. For the last few weeks, it is everyone’s first question: “When do you have to go back to work?” Usually followed by “who will be watching him?” and “are you ready?” Day after day, I answer each of them with a calm manner and as much of a smile as I can manage. Then I sneak to another room or get in the car or hang up the phone, and I cry. I cry and I hug my boy. I cry and I talk to him. I cry and I snuggle him to my chest and feed him. I give myself a few precious minutes to stare at him and caress him without thinking about the laundry to be folded or the dinner to be planned.
I’ve never had my heart broken. Not truly. I had one boyfriend before Matt, and that was a simple junior high/high school relationship. Matt and I never broke up along the way, despite some extremely difficult times. I have not lost one of my parents or a sibling or a best friend. I’ve been disappointed, wounded, hurt, yes, but never has my heart been broken. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say the same come Thursday.
Mothers have been doing this for years, many of them for far more hours per week than what I’ll be doing. It’s necessary. There’s no way around it. I’ve found a great situation for him as far as care while I’m at work. There is every logical reason for it all to be fine. I am so far from being unique in this necessity and difficulty. Even my pain over it feels shameful at times as I know so many women have gone through it (and survived it) before me. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less gut-wrenching.
With each day that brings me closer to leaving him in someone else’s care, I feel a desperate, unanswerable need to apologize to him. To explain and reassure. There’s no release from it as there’s no way to actually do this. All I’ll be able to do is count the hours until I bring him home, wrap him in my arms and tell him I love him.

Family, Intentionality, Motherhood, Personal Reflection

The Waiting

The scent of warm pear bread – cinnamon and sweetness – hangs in the air of my kitchen. There are dishes to wash and a floor to sweep but they can wait. There is a to-do list beside this computer, its uncrossed items lifting off the page to remind me there is still much to be done. However, much can wait. Even as I assess whether these are real contractions I’m experiencing or simply more Braxton Hicks after a long, tiring day, I am pulled toward quiet thoughts. There simply haven’t been enough of them lately. They are stolen, pushed aside, stepped over, or buried under heaps of mental activity. They wait. They wait for me.

Do yours do likewise? Are the edges of your mind lined with subtle, patient, quiet thoughts? Wallflowers in the spinning ballroom of your head. Do they wait for you to sit out a dance?

Mine wait. Patiently, perseveringly, but not permanently. Eventually, they do go. They slip regretfully out the door like the party guest who will not intrude upon others’ conversations but could’ve been the highlight of the evening if anyone had taken a moment to look them in the eye and invite them into their circle.

During weeks of tiredness, my body longing for sleep by seven p.m yet not finding it until much later and then only intermittently, my brain is aching for energy. I get caught up in despondent reflections of ‘I used to write,’ and ‘I used to teach,’ and so on. Not that they last long. They are overrun by the joy I have at what my life has become. Wife, stepmother, and now mother. I feel my child turn over inside me and I imagine holding him in my arms. How can such regrets withstand it? The negativity is polished away by my blessed reality and what remains is only the root of the regrets. That I do still long to be a writer, a teacher, a thinker! That those should be woven into marriage and motherhood for as many days as I’m given. It’s the figuring out how that is the challenge. Challenge does not equal impossibility though. In fact, a challenge must be possible to achieve or it is merely nonsense and nothing else.

Yes, this is a genuine challenge. One that I will take up each day – sometimes setting it back down after only a moment and a sigh, certainly, but other times engaging it with strength and wit and success. It’s my belief that the engagement must begin with quiet thoughts: the ones waiting on me, eager but calm, ready to pull me deeper into truth, beauty, and holiness. Anything good must begin there.

Family, Motherhood, Personal Reflection, Writing

On The Way

“What is on the way?” you may be wondering. A baby! Well on his way, actually! A few months into our marriage, Matt and I were thrilled to discover we were expecting a child. Timothy Michael is due October 4th and I’m having trouble believing how quickly that day is approaching. I can hardly wait to hold my son in my arms. To touch his skin, hear his voice, stroke his hair, kiss his nose. He is in constant motion lately, a thrilling sensation of flips and kicks and stretches.

I’ve had a healthy, ordinary-in-the-best-way pregnancy. Predictable symptoms, expected progressions, and no scares. About the biggest complaints as this third trimester gets underway are hatred for humidity and a longing to be able to sleep on my back once in a while. And a wistful pining for a chilled glass of moscato, I suppose.

In the 10 months since I became a wife, I have frequently thought about getting back to blogging. Of course, it was usually a passing thought in between “what should I make for dinner” and “maybe I can get these last boxes unpacked this week.” (They’re still not unpacked.) Then came pregnancy and instead of there being one or two things I could more sensibly do instead of blogging, there were three or four or more.

Oh, silly me. Falling into that age old trap of practically every writer who ever lived. There are always things to do instead of write! Always! My first book didn’t get written because I had nothing else to do. It was written because I chose to write it. All my prior blog posts weren’t written out of boredom. They were written because I needed to transfer the words from my brain to the world.

So, I hope you’ve missed me. I’m back. Giant belly blocking the keyboard and all.

Motherhood, Pro Life

The Desire & the Decision

I’ve never held a dear desire to have children. Making that statement inclines me to hide my face for a moment. I’m well aware that it doesn’t fit. It has long felt like something ‘wrong’ in me. I’m Catholic, wholly pro-life and pro-family. I don’t believe in the use of contraception of any sort and I celebrate the beautiful gift that is our cooperation with God in creating His most precious creatures – human beings. I hold children to be among the greatest gifts bestowed by God, never burdens and never unwelcome. I am the youngest of 7 children and those siblings… well, there’s little I wouldn’t do for them. When friends or family members announce pregnancies or introduce me to their new little ones, I rejoice with them. I relish the tender snuggles and vivacious antics of my 11 nieces and nephews. I mourn with those close to me who have lost a child or struggle to conceive. I love children. And yet…

For years I’ve been aware of my lack of desire to be a parent. It hangs about in my mind in disconcerting contrast with most of my peers. It leaves me wriggling uncomfortably under the expectations that are voiced by those who know me. I feel a bit ashamed of myself as I hear the hopeful remarks of others, longing for the day they will have children of their own and eager to embark on that journey. Meanwhile, I have longed for marriage, praying for God to prepare me for that vocation and prepare my spouse in the years before I would even meet him. But children… I’ve wanted to want them. That’s not the same though, is it?

There have been stages to my self-assessment in this regard. First, I wrote it off as nothing to be troubled over. “I’m sure eventually God will put that desire in me.” “When I meet the right man then I’ll begin to long to have children with my spouse.” “Of course I want a family. There’s no reason to be impatient or desperate about it.” More recently I moved into a state of worry as I admitted the fears I hold about being a parent. I worried that deep down I do have a strong desire to be a parent but I’m too scared to acknowledge it. How can I possibly be capable of raising children? This world is so full of influences and events that will inevitably undermine my efforts. Families are too capapble of hurting each other. There’s so much pain and disappointment involved. The fears piled up and I wondered how I’d ever admit to my spouse how afraid I am of having children.

Then I met Matt. No, he has not ushered in an era of longing for motherhood. Our attachment to each other didn’t act as a magic wand casting a spell on the parental part of my heart. What Matt did bring was his son. Matt brought reality to me in the form of his six year old, tow headed, rambunctious, eager to please, says-the-darndest-things son. Matt invited me into his life, at the heart of which is his son. I stepped hesitantly inside and took a look around. There was plenty to see, even if I kept to the wall. What I saw was parenthood. The daily choice to put another person first, a person entirely dependent on you for his well-being. This fundamental decision of parenthood, to love and do so unrelentingly captivated me. I saw a man who was shaped by his fatherhood, who was on the path he was on because he was a father. I knew this wasn’t how it had to be, wasn’t the ideal or the convenient or the easy or the carefree way. Yet it was what he chose day in and day out.

It was startling. And like nothing that came before, it took hold of me. Essentially, Matt gave me a new lens. I have long seen the beauty and goodness of children but now I began seeing the beauty and goodness of parenthood itself. In all its struggles and sacrifices, joys and encouragements, unknowns and questions, it is good. I don’t know how I missed it before, or not missed it so much as left it uncomprehended.