Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Birth of Nadia Charlotte

[This is a birth story, so words like dilation and placenta will be bandied about. Since apparently not everyone has dinner conversations about eating your own placenta, if this sort of thing makes you all queasy or shifty eyed, you have been forewarned.]

Nadia Charlotte

Born January 18, 2016 at 10:35am
6lb 5oz, 20 inches
37.5 weeks and no idea I was about to have a baby
was sure this baby wouldn't come early. All my wishful "early baby" thinking with Adalyn came to nothing, so this time I was determined to have realistic expectations. At 37.5 weeks I had made very few preparations, but Sunday night as I watched Downton Abbey, I started crocheting a hat I had been planning for baby's coming home outfit. I went to bed thinking, “Tomorrow I ought to start packing the hospital bag and think some more about birth.”

My stomach wasn't feeling great when I went to bed, which wasn't too unusual these days, and I woke from contractions several times during the night. This also wasn't unusual, although these contractions did seem a bit more painful than before. I didn't think anything about it until close to 5 am, when I realized I was having some semi-regular contractions.

I still didn't think it was labor, but out of curiosity I started keeping an eye on the clock. They were ranging from 8-12 minutes apart, but they were starting to feel deeper and more in the back, which was the main difference I remembered from real labor contractions vs. the months of braxton hicks. I lay in bed debating whether to wake Kevin. After barely making it to the hospital last time, I knew I shouldn't delay too long, but I wasn't feeling any urgency.

A bit before 6am I woke up Kevin and said, “I'm having some contractions...”
He sprang up. “Should we go to the hospital?”
“Well...I don't know yet...but maybe we should pack some things?”
He hurriedly packed our hospital bag and woke my mom, who was coming with us, while I lay in bed trying to determine if this was really labor. I had a few stronger contractions interspersed with weaker ones. Juliana came in about this time, confused and a little disturbed to see our light on and us packing up.

About 6:20 I decided we'd better go to the hospital, just in case. This time it was a peaceful drive. Kevin asked if I wanted music, but I just wanted to sit in silence and think about the possibility of labor. Contractions were around 6-8 minutes apart and still varying in intensity. I was halfway certain we'd end up getting sent home, mostly because I was so sure the baby wouldn't come this early.

I had to pause for a couple of contractions as we made our way through the parking garage and waited to register. During contractions I thought, “Okay, maybe this is the real thing,” but in between I didn't feel like I was in labor.
Settled in at triage; Kevin trying out his camera
I was settled into a triage bed for monitoring and was 5cm dilated when checked around 7 am. I settled back in the bed to rest as much as possible in case this really was labor. I kept thinking about the things I had still been planning to accomplish. I hadn't really gotten around to thinking about labor or preparing for baby, and I really wanted to get her hat finished!

I decided to give the girls a quick call since we left home just as they were waking up. Adalyn listened to me say hi, but she wouldn't say anything to me. I told Juliana we were at the hospital.
“Is the baby coming?” She asked.
“I'm not sure,” I said, “We're going to see.”
“Oh. Are you having a nice time there?”
I laughed. “Yeah, I guess so. I just wanted to say hi for a minute.”
“Oh. Well I could talk for longer!”

Contractions calmed down a little for a while, a number of wimpy ones interspersed with a few stronger ones. After a while they settled into about 5 minutes apart. I was still comfortable lying back on the bed, gripping the bed rails and breathing through the stronger contractions. Kevin sat by my side and mom offered me water and juice, but mostly I just wanted to lie there and be quiet and try to mentally prepare for labor.

When I was checked a little after 8 am, I was 6cm dilated. “You are definitely progressing,” the midwife said, “So we'll get you checked into a room.” While I was starting to feel like it was real labor, this was the confirmation I needed that we really would be having our baby today.

The L&D was completely full, so we waited while a room was cleaned for us to move into. I spent a few minutes talking to mom and Kevin about my labor desires and our plans for after the baby was born, since that was one of the things we hadn't gotten around to yet.

The contractions were getting too intense for lying down. I sat on the edge of the bed, leaning into Kevin and breathing through the contractions, the hymn words going through my head: “Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.” I imagined pushing the baby down with my breath which helped me feel I was working with the contractions instead of just waiting them out.

We were able to move into a room at about 9am, and I was eager to get in the water. I started in the shower but quickly decided to try a bath instead. The bathroom had a fabulous, deep birthing tub and as I sunk into the water, I immediately felt soothed by the water. I sat up and gripped the hand-holds during contractions and sank back to relax in between.

The midwife and nurse checked in occasionally but mostly they just let me labor in peace, which was what I needed. Kevin rubbed my back and mom brought me cold washcloths. They reminded me to breathe slowly and stay loose. The contractions were getting more intense and were 2-3 minutes apart, but I could still handle them well. I breathed loudly through each one, occasionally moaning but mostly staying pretty quiet. I was very inward focused. If I focused hard on breathing then the pain was quite manageable. In between contractions, I was still able to think clearly, very different from the exhausted stupor I felt as I got toward the end of my first labor.

Sometime around 10:20, I started having trouble breathing through contractions, and I realized I was feeling a little pushy. The nurse asked if I'd like to be checked but I said I'd wait a little longer. I didn't feel quite ready to push.

I was reminded of my labor with Juliana, when I felt the urge to push long before I was ready. I didn't recognize it at the time; I just knew that everything felt too hard to handle. Its hard not to feel a little panicky when your body starts to take over and feel beyond your control, but this time I reminded myself that I knew what was going on, and when I was ready, I'd be able to push.

After just a couple more contractions I said the nurse had better check me. “Oh yeah, you're complete!” The midwife asked if I wanted to get out of the bath, and I decided I'd better do it now if I was going to. Between contractions I got out of the tub and made my way to the edge of the bed.

“What position would you like for pushing?” the midwife asked. “You can stand by the bed, or you can lie down or kneel on the bed if you'd like...” “I'm not sure,” I said, “Maybe I'll just see how it goes.”

As the next contraction started, my water broke forcefully and I felt baby rushing through the birth canal. I wasn't consciously pushing but my body was bearing down on its own. I felt the impossible pressure of her head as she was crowning – then the head was out. I instinctively reached down and grabbed her head and then her body as it slid out a few seconds later. I felt the deep relief that comes with birthing a baby – plus surprise that she had come out so suddenly. The midwife dove down to grab the baby as well, so fortunately there was no danger of me dropping her. I always thought it would be cool to catch my own baby, though, so that was pretty fun!

“I thought she would come quickly once the water broke, but I didn't think it would be that quickly!” The midwife exclaimed.

I held the baby awkwardly between my legs as the midwife helped me bring her up to my belly. After a brief silence, baby started to wail loudly. I managed to get onto the bed where I could hold baby on my chest.
A few minutes after birth, still covered in a healthy coat of vernix
I kept her on my chest and waited for the placenta, which came shortly after. The midwife examined it, showed me the unusual cord attachment, and considerately asked if I wanted to keep it (I didn't, fyi). She discovered I had a second degree tear, something I was hoping to avoid, but the 30 second delivery meant there wasn't much of a chance to control the speed. That part felt like Adalyn's birth! Apparently I no longer push babies out; when they're ready they just barrel out on their own.

The nurses took the baby to the other side of the room to check her out while the midwife put in a few stitches. This really is my least favorite part of labor. You are so ready to be done and not have someone poking around at you. Also the afterbirth pains were starting up and by baby three, it almost feels like you're still in labor.

I heard them call out the baby's weight – 6lb 5oz. She was the smallest of my girls and almost identical to my size at birth. I was also born 2.5 weeks early.
The stitching was finished about the same time as baby's check up. Baby came back to snuggle on my chest where she nursed off and on while Kevin and I settled on her name: Nadia Charlotte. After a couple of hours I realized Kevin might want a chance to hold her too!

It was pretty much my ideal labor. Juliana's birth was 15.5 hours - not bad for a first labor I guess, but I found it difficult, overwhelming, and exhausting. Adalyn's birth was less than 2 hours and quite exciting - it happened so quickly I hardly even had time to process it. Nadia's birth was 5.5 hours and very peaceful. We had plenty of time to settle in at the hospital, and the only part that was rushed was her actual emergence. The labor was never unmanageable and I really felt in the zone, able to focus completely and breathe through the difficult contractions all the way to the end.
Later that afternoon, the girls came to visit, excited to see meet their new baby sister. Juliana was especially enamored – Adalyn was a little more interested in exploring the hospital room. They both gave lots of kisses and Adalyn practiced saying “Nadia, Nadia, Nadia” while playing hide and seek behind the curtain.

“So,” Juliana asked once again, “Did you have a good time today?”
“Yes,” I told her. “I guess I did.”
It wasn't the cute owl hat I had planned, but I did finish a hat for Nadia's homecoming!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Then There Were Five

Nadia Charlotte
Born January 18, 2016 at 10:35am
6lb 5oz, 20 inches

I was convinced that the baby would not come early, seeing as all my fervent early-baby wishes last time were futile.  So when I went into labor at 37.5 weeks, it took a while to believe it was actually the real thing.  I kept thinking, "It's too early for baby to come.  I thought I had at least a couple of weeks to prepare.  I was going to make a hat for her!"

My first labor was 15.5 hours and rather...laborous.  My second was 1 hours 45 minutes and rather adventurous.  This one was a nice middle ground: 5.5 hours that I would best describe as peaceful.  Plenty of time to get to the hospital and settle in, and when she decided it was time to come, she shot out in about 30 seconds, and I got to help catch her.  I will write up the full story soon, because I do love a good birth story.


Because Nadia was born earlier than we expected, and because these things seem to be harder to decide once you get to the third baby, Nadia was born before we had a chance to finalize the name.  So we spent our first few hours after birth getting to know baby and trying to settle on a name.  In the end, I'm glad we waited until we met her, because while she looked more like "squishy newborn baby" than any particular name, I think Nadia really fits her.

We both liked the sound and meaning of the name Nadia Charlotte.  We wanted each of the girls to have a meaningful name, not something to grow into and experience in their lives.  Juliana Grace means "youthful grace."  Adalyn Lucia means "noble light."  Nadia Charlotte means "hope free."

The fact that Nadia decided to come early on MLK Day makes her name even more appropriate.  Our prayer is that her life will similarly be a beacon of hope and freedom.  I have been thinking of the words of Isaiah, echoed by Jesus: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Such words of hope, ringing with freedom - we ask that she will experience this reality in her own life and fight for freedom for others.

Baby is nearly a week old and doing well.  She got down to 5lb 11oz but has already started gaining back.  After a very sleepy start, she has been nursing well.  Her nursing schedule is something like this: Wake up and nurse a bit, fall into floppy sleep, wake up 20 minutes later and nurse some more, sink into a deeper sleep until alerted by a six sense that mama is trying to sleep, take a shower, or eat, wake up desperately hungry.  She has occasional alert spells but more often than not can be found sacked out in someone's arms.

Mama is tired and sore but enjoying her internal organs all returning to their usual place.  While Nadia has been sleeping semi constantly, there hasn't been a whole lot of sleep for me (shocker, huh?).  One of the real mysteries of newbornhood is how baby can sleep 20 hours while mama sleeps 4.  I don't get it. Last night Nadia slept for three hours straight - then she nursed for three hours straight.  I didn't know that was possible, but I'm actually not exaggerating.  I am enjoying lots of warm baby snuggles and trying to share some with baby's many admirers.


Speaking of admirers, her sisters are big fans!  Juliana keeps saying, "I really like the baby!"  At first she would say, "Nadia is just wondering where mama is," but after holding the baby for the first time, she changed it to, "Nadia is just wondering where her sister is!"  Adalyn alternates between shy interest, indifference, and rough love.  Nadia has also enjoyed lots of attention from her grandparents and aunts, including her doctor aunt who is the first to describe her as "anatomically intact." 

Miraculously, no one was harmed in the making of this photograph


Enjoying our first days with this squishy little baby!


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Grace in Retrospect

When I chose Grace as my “One Word” for 2015, I wasn’t sure how I would really go about growing in grace. I started reading a couple of grace-related books because how else do you go about learning something? I knew I needed more than head knowledge, but I didn’t know I would be learning about grace through forced-acceptance.

My year in review would look something like this.
- 8 months of pregnancy
- 1 violent stomach bug and 1 less violent, longer-lasting mysterious stomach ailment
- 4 months of mostly constant “morning sickness”
- 1 month of severe allergies
- 7 weeks of bad colds
- Lot of general pregnancy ailments like difficulty moving, digesting, sleeping, or thinking clearly

I spent a lot of time inside because I was sick or because it hurt to climb to the fifth floor or because I couldn’t go out without a mask and a large box of tissues.  I spent a lot of time on the couch because I was sick or because I didn’t want to throw up or because I felt like I really might die of tiredness.

If we actually had food to eat and nobody got buried under a pile of laundry or toys, that was probably a successful day. There were five students I saw on a relatively regular basis, and that was about the extent of my campus interactions. I taught Juliana as often as I had voice to do it. It was a year of great limits.

I spent a good deal of time feeling frustrated - not everyone has such a hard time with pregnancy, why me? I felt guilty for not doing more, for neglecting my kids and not spending time with students. I felt discouraged about feeling so bad all the time. I fought against the limits.

And then, eventually, I accepted them. I still got frustrated and discouraged (and did I mention irritable?). But I realized that actually, this was what I needed.

It’s impossible to accept grace when you still think you can keep it all together. Working hard to be strong, pushing through, thinking positive - that’s what you’re supposed to do as long as you possibly can. But sometimes, it doesn’t work. However hard you try to be strong, you still get sick. Pushing through means getting sicker. And pithy motivational sayings make you want to punch someone.

In the end, I learned about grace because I had to. It wasn’t an intellectual pursuit. I didn’t finish those books. I didn’t read through the Bible or even read through one book of the Bible. Instead I read the same passages, the same verses over and over again. I listened to the same songs over and over. I learned the same things over and over, and each time the truth sank in a little deeper.

When I think about what I accomplished - or mainly didn’t accomplish, it looks like a dormant year. I was a tree in winter: silent, stripped, waiting. But I think I will look back on this year as an important one. Not only because I grew a child, but also because I grew. In the deep, quiet places that cannot be reached in the busyness of accomplishment and self-reliance.

It hasn’t been my favorite year. I can’t say I want to continue in this period of sickness and pregnancy and limitation. But looking back, I am grateful. It has been a year of grace.

I haven’t yet settled on my One Word for the new year. It will be a year of newbornhood - of long nights and daily growth and constant neededness. It will be a year of potty training and the start of another three year old, God save us all. It will be a year of learning to read and changes at Chinese school and inexorbable growth. It will be long and full and exhausting and pass so quickly.

So I know my idea for the new year...something about seasons or slowing down and living the moment, about investing in what is right in front of me. But I haven’t yet decided on my One Word. But it’s only January. I’ve still got time.

[Linking up with Velvet Ashes: One Word]

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mother Mary

Perhaps it's not surprising that I’ve found myself thinking about Mary in this Advent season of being “great with child.” Some pretty amazing things happened to her - an angel appearance seems pretty spectacular, and it’s not every day a heavenly being says you’ve found favor in the eyes of the Lord.  Still, she had to put up with an awful lot of unpleasantness as well.  As I reflected last year on that “holy, messy night,” I imagine the whole experience looked less like a Christmas card and more like Imogene Herdman crying and crying over the baby Jesus.

While her cousin Elizabeth was celebrating a long-awaited baby and the removal of her reproach, Mary was facing shame, suspicion, and likely shunning. The turned backs of neighbors and friends may have seemed a lot more real than the memory of being highly favored. While she was busy laboring in a stable, the shepherds got the whole hallelujah chorus.

Mary experienced a whole lot of trouble along with the glimpses of glory, but after all she had no ordinary role.

After the shepherds and wisemen faded from sight, off to share their moments of epiphany, Mary was still there. She was the one to hold baby Jesus, to gaze into his face, to touch his pudgy cheek.  She nursed him and held him through sleepless nights. Imagine seeing the first of Jesus’ smiles, hearing his childish whispers of love.

Mary was there for the quiet years of his growth. The rest of us know so little about his childhood, but she was there through each moment of it. She knew his favorite food and favorite friends. She laughed at his silly jokes. She wrapped skinned knees and dried tears. He was hungry and she fed him, thirsty and she gave him something to drink, naked and she clothed him, sick and she cared for him - every single day.

Jesus’ closest followers got three years with him; Mary had thirty-three. There was much she did not yet understand, but by the time he started his ministry, imagine how much she already knew of him! She had known he was special from before he was even conceived.

She was there at his birth, and she was there at his death. She stayed nearby and watched him suffer, because how could she turn away now? Though she was helpless and brokenhearted, she gave him all she could: her presence in a time of abandonment. And even in his anguish, Jesus made sure his mother would be cared for.

I think it’s appropriate that Mary was one of the first to know of his resurrection. And how did she come to find out? She was going to fulfill her last motherly duty - anointing her son’s body with burial spices. She wasn’t expecting a miracle - she was doing what she could to care for her son, just as she always had.

How is it that she got to be a part of so many big moments - his announcement, his birth, his first miracle, his death, his resurrection? Certainly she was special, blessed among women. But I think she witnessed these things because she was there.

She didn’t miss the big moments because she was already there for all the little moments. She was already there washing his clothes and making his food, worrying if he was getting enough rest. She swaddled him at birth, and she prepared to anoint his body at death. She had the opportunity to see Jesus from the first to the last. After all, she was his mother.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Third Child

In most American families, the first and second children are more or less a given. Sure, there are some couples who don’t have any children, through their own choice or not. But since most people expect kids, they probably get a lot of inappropriate questions about why they don’t have any. And there are certainly people who only have one child, but in general after you have one, people are wondering when you’re going to produce the sibling and don’t you want one of each sex?
 
But plenty of families stop at two kids. It’s really the rational thing to do. You have fulfilled your obligation to provide a sibling and reproduce yourselves. You have quite enough insanity to keep your busy and you might as well stop before you are outnumbered. We are well past the age of needing help around the farm, we have access to birth control - there’s really no practical reason for that third kid. (Granted, one could say that having children in the first place is an insane decision, practicality wise.)
 
By the third child, you know what you are getting yourself into. I didn’t love my first pregnancy, but it was more or less a piece of cake compared to these later two. The second pregnancy was pretty much miserable, so this time I knew what I was in for.
 
Maybe you got lucky with a super easy first baby and thought, “I can handle this; I must be really good at this parenting thing.” But unless the universe is super tilted in your favor, the second child is bound to come along and prove you wrong. (I was fortunate to have the “high needs” one first, so the second seemed easy in comparison).
 
At any rate, by this point you have realized that when you finally get through the sleepless nights, you still have the tantrums and potty training and blatant defiance and education worries...and you have discovered that sleepless nights do not end with babyhood. This parenting thing just keeps being hard, so why in the world would you go and start over again with another baby?
 
Unless it’s a total surprise, the third baby is usually more of a decision. You weigh the pros and cons. The house isn’t going to get any bigger, which means three kids in the same room waking each other up. In America you will have three car seats. I know those things are live saving, but it's going to take 30 minutes just to get everyone strapped in. In China you will have to somehow rangle three children down five flights of stairs. Three kids sure don’t fit on a bike, and can you really get that many on and off a bus by yourself? You may never go out again.
 
While I understand the principles of addition, they don’t seem to apply to children. Each added child seems to multiply the laundry and mess and chaos and tiredness. You already rarely see the bottom of the laundry hamper as it is, and now you are thinking about adding 5x the laundry (because somehow, that’s how it works)??
 
So why in the world do you have that third child?
 
Just because you want to. It’s not for convention or practicality or obligation. It doesn’t make sense. But you look around at your two child chaos and feel like something is still missing. Your family is not complete. You have the third child just because you want them. (Hopefully and presumably you wanted the first to as well, but the third child is just special. Which I’m not just saying because I am a third child...) The third child is like a bonus.
 
Besides, you know what you are getting into. You don’t have to worry (too much) about all the weird pregnancy symptoms, and it’s going to take a lot more than a few stretch marks to faze you. You know that pregnancy will in fact one day end. You feel like you could probably deliver your own baby on the side of the road, if it came down to it.
 
You already know about the heart-melting first smiles. You know how incredibly awesome it is to finally sleep through the night, and you will never again take it for granted. The first two have eaten an awful lot of fuzzy stuff off the floor and fallen head first off an awful lot of chairs without dying, so there’s a pretty good chance this next one will survive too. You know that one day this baby will be able to wrap its arms around your neck and say, “I wuv you, mama!”
 
You already know how much the siblings will enjoy each other, fighting and all. The first child is old enough to understand what is going on, to feel the baby kick and discuss again the mystery of just how it’s going to get out of your stomach. You know the coloring and block building and dancing around the living room will be that much more exciting with someone else to join the party.
 
You have seen how incredibly different those first two children are in looks and personality, and you cannot imagine either of them not existing in the world. You know this third will be a totally new surprise.
 
It doesn’t make sense. It’s not practical. You’ll lose a lot of brain cells and gain a lot of gray hairs. But you have that third child anyway, just because you want to.
 
This is the irrational season
Where love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.
-Madeleine L’Engle

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

41 Good Points of Pregnancy

So I’ve already mentioned (um...maybe several times) that there are a lot of things I don’t enjoy about being pregnant. I just have a hard time with it. But in the spirit of Thanksgiving and also because I’m feeling pretty miserable at the moment, I’ve been working on a list of things I actually do enjoy about being pregnant.
  1. The first glimmers of hope - “I think I might be pregnant! Maybe? Yes, I definitely feel pregnant. Almost certainly perhaps.” (Of course this is only enjoyable if you actually do end up being pregnant.)
  2. Seeing those two lines confirm your suspicions, and freaking out a bit no matter how “certain” you were.
  3. The first days when it is still a secret and you look back at the test about 100 times
  4. The first week or so before the sickness sets in
  5. Telling everyone about the baby and getting to enjoy their excitement
  6. The relief of a first reassuring appointment
  7. Hearing the sound of your baby’s heartbeat
  8. The first sign of an actual baby bump
  9. Knowing the numbers on the scale are supposed to be getting bigger each week
  10. The first time you realize you haven’t thrown up in a few days!
  11. Not having to fish stray hairs from the shower and comb
  12. Waking up in the morning feeling in awe of a rare night of restful sleep
  13. The ridiculously bizarre dreams
  14. The first time when everything is so new and exciting and everyone treats you like something super special
  15. When you've been through it before and don’t have to freak out about every tiny twinge
  16. Preparing a pretty nursery you will never actually use
  17. The way food really can be deeply fulfilling
  18. Finally getting your taste for coffee back and remembering how much it enhances life
  19. Thinking about baby names
  20. Feeling the first fluttery movements
  21. Making it out of the first trimester, then hitting the halfway point, then finally reaching the final trimester.
  22. The way you can really appreciate feeling good for a few days
  23. How good it feels to put your sore feet up
  24. Prenatal yoga. It’s so soothing. Except perhaps when two wild children are climbing on top of you.
  25. The first time you can see baby doing the wave in your stomach
  26. Feeling justified in closing the door and taking a nap. For the good of all humanity.
  27. Talking to your midwife about pregnancy and birth and whatever. Feeling reassured and supported in all things.
  28. Allowing yourself indulgences like more expensive milk and cheese
  29. Buying a really cute coming home outfit (for baby - you'll probably wear jammies)
  30. Maternity clothes - so comfortable and somehow more fashionable than regular clothes. Probably because they came from someone else.
  31. Commiserating with others who really do understand how you are feeling.
  32. Kisses and pats (and jabs) for baby from interested siblings.
  33. Reading birth stories (actually I do this anyway, but it’s even more interesting when pregnant)
  34. The sense of great accomplishment when another week finally passes.
  35. Not feeling too bad about giving random strangers icy glares. They probably deserved it.
  36. That one time when it really does end up being your last prenatal appointment.
  37. The way people are really nice to you at the end, partly because they feel bad for you and partly because they are a little afraid of you.
  38. Crocheting lots and lots of baby hats and booties because you’re still waiting for baby
  39. The people that don’t say, “It will go so fast. Get some rest. Enjoy the last days of pregnancy,” but instead say, “Oh I know, it totally sucks and will feel like FOREVER. Can I get you some chocolate?”
  40. Labor. No really, much as I dislike pregnancy I kind of look forward to labor. And I actually did even before my super speedy last birth. I wouldn’t say it’s fun, but it’s such an amazing experience.
  41. Finally holding your tiny wailing baby and realizing she already knows you because she has been a part of you. ...And also the happiness of not being pregnant anymore!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Respecting Limits, Releasing Guilt

I had just finished my second year in China and my whole life was in major transition. After months of long-distance dating and engagement, I was eager for my upcoming marriage. But sometimes the crazy changes felt too much to handle - moving back to the US for a year-long leave. Planning a wedding - decision overload! Living in a new, unfamiliar place getting to know a whole new group of people who already knew each other - being the outsider again. Figuring out marriage. Finding a job and a place to live.

That was my second summer of intensive Wheaton masters classes. After packing and moving, saying goodbye to teammates, friends, and students, I flew straight from China to start classes. While I enjoyed the course work, accumulated piles of stress were getting to me. I wasn’t sleeping. I would go to a cafeteria full of (actually yummy) western food and try to choke down half a sandwich. I think I looked half-zombie. But honestly, I had been on this level of barely functioning for so long, I couldn’t even recognize it.

It wasn’t until my mom came to visit and expressed her concerns, immediately echoed by my roommates and fiance, that I realized I wasn’t doing so well. Looking back, I’ve probably never been closer to a total breakdown. Under great persuasion, I made the difficult decision to drop out of my second class and go on vacation with my family instead.

I would never have made this decision on my own. I was pretty sure that quitting was never the right option. The point was to push as hard as possible, as long as possible, and then deal with the end result later. This was surely the spiritual answer.

And sometimes it is. There are a lot of verses about pressing on, fighting the good fight, not losing hope, and all that. There are times to challenge our limits. But sometimes we forget those other verses, the ones about comfort and shelter and hiding. Those are alright for children, but they are not the words of a spiritual superhero.

There are times when God gathers us up in our weakness and pulls a Gideon. There are other times when God allows us to be weak and just cares for us like Elijah in the wilderness.

It can take some time to relinquish the superhero mask. It can take some time for the voices of “you should do more, you ought to be better” to fade. It’s hard to admit you can’t handle it all.

As I’ve mentioned, pregnancy is a place where I find myself running up against my limits a lot. And it’s frustrating. There are so many things my non-pregnant self can do so easily that my pregnant self finds exhausting. But I have decided that this is a season of recognizing and respecting my limits.

One of the parts of the limit setting process I find most difficult, and most necessary, is consciously choosing to release the guilt. I catch the voices of “I should, I should, I am not enough...” and examine their validity. Sometimes I turn them around. While my first response is, “I haven’t done that much, I shouldn’t be tired. I should be stronger,” if I think about it I realize, “My body is working much harder than normal growing a baby. I should be tired.”

How do we know when to challenge the limits and when to respect them? Sometimes we need guidance from others. That summer at Wheaton, I could not recognize how far I had run past my limits. It’s hard to see when you are in the middle of it. Listen to the people who know you, who can look into your life and say, “You’re not doing well. You need to step back.”

Sometimes it means listening to your body. I got sick a lot in college, and most of my colds turned into sinus infection, bronchitis, or even pneumonia. I thought I could keep pushing and doing everything, but instead I just got more sick. That summer at Wheaton, I could barely eat or sleep, and I should have paid attention to that. Right now, when I get sick or super sore, when I feel “deathly tired,” I realize my body is probably telling me it needs a break.

As an “intuitive” person, I also listen to those inner feelings of rightness. At the moment, messages about being stronger and trying harder fill me with anxiety and a weight of condemnation. God may speak with a voice of conviction, but not one of condemnation. So I know these voices are not the ones I should to listen to.

Instead I have been continually brought back to messages of comfort. One of my favorite rediscoveries in this season has been Isaiah 40:11: "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."

I have also been reminded of another verse in Isaiah 30:15: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” What I had forgotten was the rest of the verse: “...but you would have none of it.” How many times have we rejected the salvation and strength waiting because we are too busy for quietness and rest?

Are you in a season when you need to sit quietly and respect your limits? Don't miss out on these “gifts of mercy.

[Linking up with Velvet Ashes: Limits]

Friday, October 30, 2015

Losing the Illusion

I write about pregnancy a lot lately because I find it so consuming. Right now it is the most time consuming, physically challenging, energy demanding, emotionally draining area of my life. However much I feel like it should be a side thing I just add on to normal life, that is not my reality. It has also been my primary platform for learning, a lens that colors my whole view of life. Thus it’s pretty much always on my mind.

One reason I think pregnancy is difficult is because of the lack of control. Before you even get pregnant, the process begins. Maybe it is a surprise baby that you totally weren’t prepared for, or maybe it is a baby that was a long time in coming. Either way you may find yourself saying, “I did all the right things - why did it still not go my way?”

Then there is the first pregnancy scare or pregnancy loss, the frightening diagnosis - the first realization that you have so little control over this new life growing inside you. My confidence has actually decreased each time I’ve been pregnant, likely because I know more and more people who have experienced loss at every stage. Beginning this pregnancy I honestly felt like there was about a 40% chance I would actually end up holding a baby at the end. The actual odds are much better, but aside from a few obvious areas, there’s really not much you can do to increase them. 

We also have little control over how our body handles pregnancy. We can make choices that have an impact, but in the end, some people will throw up for 9 months despite their best efforts, and some people will feel great with very little effort, with a lot of variation in the middle. Things we used to be able to do, like get restful sleep or climb stairs without pain, slowly fall by the wayside. Which is unfortunate if you happen to live on the fifth floor.

And perhaps what I find most difficult, I feel out of control of my every day life. I try to make lists so I will remember everything, but things still elude me. Or I forget to even look at my list. More than one day of missed laundry means no diapers, more wet clothes than will fit on the laundry porch, and all that is remaining is 15 unmatched socks. It is amazing how fast the house descends into messy chaos. And darn it all, people expect to eat everyday! So many simple things that don’t cause much trouble in normal life start to snowball as soon as I am feeling bad. I have to ask for help or leave it undone, and I hate either of those options.

I hate feeling out of control. And as I’ve mentioned, I don’t love pregnancy. But I have decided - it’s probably good for me. Sometimes we all need to come to a point (or many points) in our lives when we can’t control it all. The illusion is up. We’re not as great as we thought. 

The realization comes in all kind of forms. Illness. Infertility. Moving overseas. The “why are you still single?” question. The first time your child acts like Ruler of the World. Unemployment. Returning ‘home” from overseas. Honestly, there are so many things in life that humble us, that make us cry out, that bring us to the place we perhaps needed to be in the beginning. A place of realizing “I can’t do it all” AND “It’s not all on me anyway.

I just finished re-reading a memoir called As Soon as I Fell, by Kay Bruner. I read it last year for the first time, but it already merited a re-read. There is one particular section at the end I read through several times. Kay was an overseas worker, working on translation and raising her family in the Solomon Islands until her whole life fell apart. As she walked through a painful process of breaking and healing, she shared an experience of talking to a pastor at a retreat.

I went and sat down in front of a pastor I’d never met before, and haven’t seen since. I wanted to tell him a little of my story, but all I could do was [tell him my work] before I started sobbing.

I sat and cried for a long time, and the only other thing I could get out was: “When will it ever be enough?” It was as if I hoped that, one last time, I might seize back control.
That man looked at me and said, “It is enough already.”

With those words, a sense of freedom and peace came over me, like I had never known. For the first time I actually experienced the reality of Jesus’ words, “It is finished” on the cross. Those words covered everything. Everything is done already. God has taken care of it. Sure, there is work, and I can participate. But I’m going to walk in the cool of the evening and know that it’s not all up to me. God is in control. I am not. It is good.

[Linking up with Velvet Ashes: Control]

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Chinese Style Check-Up

When I was pregnant with Juliana, we made several overnight treks to Beijing for prenatal appointments. It was our first baby, and I thought they actually did important things at prenatal appointments.

The next time I was pregnant, trips to Beijing seemed costly and highly inconvenient, so I decided the local hospital would be fine. But I did go to the newer hospital where you have to pay almost $2 to see the doctor.

But were always tons of people at the newer hospital, plus the 20 minute taxi ride is kind of inconvenient, so this time I decided the older, closer hospital with the 80 cent doctors was sufficient. Third baby, right?

Wherever they happen, I don’t look forward to doctor visits in China. Today I was scheduled for a 25 week check-up and 4D ultrasound. Apparently 4D ultrasounds are standard procedure to check the baby’s facial features. It seemed like it could be interesting, so Kevin decided to come along as well.

We arrived at the hospital for an 8am ultrasound appointment. That’s right - I guess 4D ultrasounds are fancy-smancy enough to warrant appointments. First we had to go pay the money (you always pay up-front), but fortunately it was early enough the lines were still short. Often there are 20 people in line - and you may have to go through the line several times to pay for each separate procedures.

We didn’t have to wait too long for our appointment either. The ultrasound tech scowled when Kevin entered the room.
“You have to wait in the hallway.”
“Why?” We asked. “In America the husband is allowed in.”
“This is China,” she said.
Kevin retreated to just inside the door where he could still see, and the tech apparently decided it wasn’t worth fighting over.

You would think a 4D ultrasound would be interesting, but you know what’s not interesting? Lying on a table for 40 minutes when you can’t see anything and the doctors don’t tell you anything. The monitor is positioned so the tech can see it, the only one who needs to be in the know. I might have fallen asleep except it was very uncomfortable to lie on my back for that long.

At one point we tried asking what they were looking for in this ultrasound. The tech gave me a Look and didn’t talk to me the rest of the time. Oh right, it is not the patient’s job to ask questions or receive information. Every so often the tech gave me an unpleasant look and pushed down a little harder on the ultrasound wand. I contemplated whether this was a “something is wrong” look or just her permanent facial expression.

For about half of the ultrasound, we could hear a woman crying just outside the door. I wasn’t sure if she was in pain or distressed, but the ongoing, animal-type moaning was rather disconcerting.

After a long while, she called in the head tech to take a look. Apparently she couldn’t find something, although I’m not exactly clear what. The head tech also ignored me completely, but she did look moderately pleasant while doing so.

When finished, they sent us out into the hallway to await the report. Since they didn’t say anything, apparently everything was okay? Kevin used my phone to quietly video part of the ultrasound, so at least I could see it in retrospect. Most of it wasn’t 4D anyway, since they were also doing the anatomy scan.

They handed us a report with a couple of cute pictures of the face. My student friend, who came with us to help with translation, tried to make sense of the report.
“This is the size of the head...the length of the arm. The heart looks okay. They could see the kidneys but not the liver. I think everything else is okay, but I can’t understand some of these things.”

Kevin headed off to teach while my friend and I went to get the glucose blood test done. More waiting in line to pay (16 cents), then upstairs to the laboratory. They said we first needed to go back to the OB doctor.

Back to a different section of the hospital where the OB nurse said we needed to pay the fee again. I was feeling a little woozy since I was fasting for the test, so my friend kindly told me to sit and wait while she went downstairs again to pay the money.

Like most doctors, there were no appointments, strictly a first-come-first-serve basis, so we were pretty far down the list. The waiting area was filled with women in various stages of pregnancy and a few of their mothers. Men aren’t allowed even in the waiting room of this area.

Eventually we were called back to the doctor. We crowded around the desk with 10 other people. Privacy...not such a big concern. The doctor asked the women to weigh themselves and then call out their weight for her to record. I can imagine that going over well in America! Fortunately I have been in enough embarrassing hospital situations that it takes a lot more than announcing my weight to a group of strangers to faze me. (Besides, one the other ladies weighed more than me.) While the doctor measured waists, listened to heartbeats, and prescribed medicines, I examined the cheery posters showing pictures of babies with various birth defects.

When my turn came, she carefully examined my ultrasound pictures. “It looks like a foreign baby! Look, it has big eyes and a big nose!” After she asked several simple questions I could easily answer, she told my friend, “I don’t know why she brought you! She can understand everything fine!” Yes, but there is a little difference between understanding “How many weeks are you?” and other medical details!

After a 3 minute check-up, we said we needed to do the glucose test. Well, apparently at that point it was too late to do it (that’s my guess, who really knows) and she said we would have to come back another day for the multi-hour extravaganza. I’m so excited. So much for fasting.

When we finally left at 11am, I was glad for my granola bar. Also, I was happy I will not be having my baby in Yinchuan.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Self Care is not Selfish

[While this is addressed specifically to mothers, the ideas are all pretty universal.]

Dear Mothers,

Self care is not selfish. It’s understandable that we get confused, when advertisements tell us things like “Take care of yourself (with our $30 skin care product)” and “You deserve the best (aka. our cruise to the Bahamas).”

On the other hand, we are continually inundated with stimulating activities for our children (only 90 minutes prep required!), the newest current-most-important-health-ingredient recipes which will require every pot in your kitchen, and incredibly important causes to which we really should devote our whole heart and soul. Who on earth has time for self care, when our children’s health and development, and possibly the state of the world, rests on our shoulders?

It’s tricky because some of those basic human needs and desires take a back burner when children enter the picture. Things like sleeping all night or sitting through a whole meal or being able to lock the bathroom door (without anyone screaming outside it). We do have to give up some of our pre-child expectations. In light of children, they do become selfish.

And yet we still have needs. Our bodies need sleep and food and exercise. Our minds need adult stimulation and an occasional quiet moment to air out. Our spirits need space to connect with God. Our soul needs emotional health.

Neglecting these needs is not selfless; it is foolish. We have limits, and if we keep pushing we will reach those limits. We will eventually crash and burn.

If we are paying attention, we will recognize the warning signs as we draw near the edge of our limits. Warning signs like being irritable all the time. Yelling at our kids. Ending every day feeling drained and exhausted. Feeling disconnected from God. They only become stronger when ignored - resentment toward our children or spouse, illness, feeling depressed or out of control, dreaming of escape (if only to a really quiet hotel room). We all have warning signs: what are yours?

There are times when we are pushed to our limits by circumstances outside our control, when we operate in what my mom calls “survival mode.” There are times when health is just not a reality - say if you are pregnant and throwing up for months. There are times when your needs will definitely move to the back burner, like when you are up every 2hrs with a newborn or when your children are sick. There are crises and deadlines and moves and jet-lag. But these times should not be all the time.

So how do we make self care happen? It might look very different for each person depending on our circumstances and our personality, but some good question to start with are “what are my most important needs?” and “what fills me?”

I need sleep. Even when I am not pregnant and tired all the time, I need more sleep than some (I like to think it’s because I use my brain so much...). If I don’t get enough sleep, I am cranky. It takes twice as long to complete tasks because I can’t think clearly. Right now especially, I need adequate nutrition and protein snacks to feed my body and baby. I need exercise, especially yoga to calm my mind and stretch aching joints.

Even if the “30 minute daily quiet time” (not a biblical mandate) doesn’t often happen, I need connection with God throughout the day. Maybe that means listening to music, writing out verses, reading the same chapter for a month and letting it sink in, appreciating beauty in nature, reciting prayers or verses with my prayer beads, journaling, reading a short devotional...many small, scattered moments of “practicing the presence of God.” I also need consistent time apart to focus and go deeper.

I am an introvert. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly), that did not change when I became a mother to an energetic extrovert. I need some quiet and space. I need tiny moments throughout the day, and I need chances to get out of the house or be in the house by myself.

If I continually ignore these needs, my well-being suffers. My family also suffers, because I cannot care for them well when I have nothing to offer.

Refusing to accept my limits and take care of myself is not selflessness; it is pride. It is working really hard to show I have it together in every area. It is trying to show that I have super-human strength. It is claiming that I am so very indispensable my world might fall apart if I take a break.

Don't ignore the warnings in your life. Allow yourself to have needs and limits. Figure out how to make self-care a reality in your life.

[Linking up with Velvet Ashes: Warning]