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Friday, June 9, 2017

For When You're No Longer Pregnant

He's seven pounds, 11 ounces, Mom.


The cheery nurse smiled a wide, 9:30 a.m. grin. And her words struck me. First, with pride and an unveiled layer of understanding: my son has gained a whole pound since we left the hospital.

This is why I stumble to his basinet at two o'clock for a feeding. This is why I squirm under a cover up when there is company, or when my husband and I are brave enough to shuffle into the world outside our city condo. This is why I change my outfit at least three times before we leave the house.

I am, at this time, meant to help him grow. 

And it works. It powerfully works. 

The second?

"Did she just call me Mom?"

There are a few things in the world that will change your life instantly.


Watching the screen on piece of plastic you bought half-panicked, half-hoping at the grocery store fizzle into good news is one of them.

The moment you have your child in your arms and you're no longer pregnant is another.

Everything changes. Everything. From your clothing styles (maneuvering pre-pregnancy clothes to nursing appropriate pieces), to your favorite tracking apps on your phone,  and, bless it, no longer having to run to the restroom every 25 minutes. (For the record, I would like to tell everyone who told me to "sleep while I can" that I am sleeping more now postpartum than I did the last 10 weeks of my pregnancy). 

Forty weeks go by. Forty weeks. You become the very literal definition of navel-gazer, watching your belly, your appetite, your hormones and annoyances with the outer world grow.

Everyone can see the changes happening to your body. Everyone knows: you're about to have baby.

And then it happens in a flash. A decision. A prod (or four) with an epidural needle. An incision. A muffled cry. No longer pregnant. Forever-longer a mother.


Though the change was instant, the realization seeps into your every day.


It happens at the grocery store when patrons no longer give you too-long side stares or let you pass through them in the line. The world doesn't know you're three weeks post c-section, and that's why you're walking a little more tenderly.

Seven pounds, 11 ounces, Mom.

It happens when you return to the hospital the night after you come home from having the baby. It happens in an embarrassing bout of anxiety and high blood pressure. Your first time away from your boys. Completely unprepared to nourish your child while you're gone for three of the longest hours of your life, just a half-hearted can of formula tucked away in the cabinets. Unused bottles still pristine in their Amazon Prime boxes. 

11 ounces, Mom.

It happens when you forget to bring a pie to your mother-in-law's house for dinner. One that you strategically placed by the door that you breezed right past in the flurry of buckling the car seat and tucking those tiny feet into a pair of still-too-big socks for the fortieth time.

It happens when you relay the forgotten pie anecdote to your brother in law who simply puts his arm around you, laughs and welcomes you to "the club."

It happens as I write this post on my phone while diffusing my wet curls, wondering if I'm doing either well: my hair frizzy, already tired from fighting the summer's humidity, my words misspelled.

Mom.

It happens in the moments beyond the gushing and starry eyes. It's packed with tangled, type-A thoughts: if I feed him now, will we make it through a two-hour church service? Will he need a diaper change at grandma's (heavens, yes)? Will he let our visitors hold him (most of the time)? Will he notice if I set him down in his basinet for the night (yes)? Will I wake up wake up frantically searching the sheets of our bed, convinced I was holding him in my sleep to find him safely tucked away in the corner? 

 All of this happened both in an instant and slowly. Like how you step into the ocean – you still get wet but you have to wade a little bit to get deep.


And that's how, I'm finding, you come into motherhood. Loving those seven pounds 11 ounces both all at once and bit by bit.
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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

To the Man Who Made Me a Momma

You're doing a great job, Daddy.

The past week and a half of our son's life have been both slow and fast. Slow in the sense that maternity leave is an adjustment for this task-oriented extrovert. Fast in the sense that no matter how much time there is in the stretch of a summer day, there never seems to be enough of it.

Through the past few days I've fielded a lot of questions from momma friends. [1]"How are your hormones?" [2]"Are you healing okay from your c-section?" [3]"How's breastfeeding going?"

And I'm happy to report: [1]they're there, [2]feeling great, [3]and very well.

But then I look at you. The man who made me a Momma. The man who is quick to grab me a water bottle, blanket, take the baby, burp the baby, change the diaper, and be a strong shoulder to rest my head on when those feedings seem to grow suspiciously closer and closer together.

You were there the moment we knew we were pregnant. You were there through the 40-week stretch. The changes, the growth, the wonder, the fear.

You were there in the hospital through two rounds of inductions. Helping me unhook myself from monitor after monitor to walk around the room, to wash my face or brush my teeth.

You kissed me when it appeared to us all that a C-section was inevitable. You waited patiently outside of the operating room in your white zip-up suit while they prodded me four times with the epidural needle.

And then you were there. By my side. Holding my hand. Listening to my jokes (which I'm sure were hilarious). You didn't even laugh a me when I asked, "Is that my baby?" when I finally heard a cry coming from the other end of the room.

Then promptly fell asleep. 

Friends from far and wide have welcomed me into the motherhood clan, and I'm thankful. Especially for the ones who read my fly by night texts that are peppered with heightened emotion and, yes, that ever-promised lack of sleep (albeit, still more than I got when I was pregnant), and don't blink an eye.

Our community has rallied, too. These wonderful people didn't want us to go one night having to make dinner for ourselves the first month into parenthood. I'm thankful and honored. It's been so nice not to have to think about feeding ourselves in the midst of learning how to keep another human being alive.


A lot of people see me: 

They throw showers and send bouquets and cards. A lot of people see the baby: they send onesies and knit caps.

But I'm not sure that you get the kudos you deserve through this season. And I want you to know that I see you. I see you with more clarity than I ever have. I see the tired in your cloudy blue eyes. I see the smile in the midst of a diaper change.

I see you putting forth so much more effort than what a new dad ought to do. 

No, you didn't carry a human in your tummy. But you carried me, my emotions, my fears. You prayed when I couldn't.

No, strangers don't stop you and ask you deeply personal questions about your body, or ask to touch your belly. But you entered this arena full to the brim with excitement. All enthusiasm. Fully committed, fully in love.

I became a momma week-by-week, inch-by-inch. Doctors appointments and meetings with my company's human resources department. I woke up every day thinking about motherhood. What it could mean, what it would make our lives look like.

You became a father in a flash. Within minutes in that operating room. What a change. What a topsy turvy season to cannon ball into.

You're doing it. You're doing fatherhood well and without a complaint.

And our lives: mine and our new little rascal's, are all the better for it.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

On Being a People Who Pay Attention

We were talking about the homeless population in downtown Norfolk, Virginia.

There's a group of 12 of us or so that meet in a dim city house that belongs to our church. The hardwood floors smell like a bookstore, and the couches are plush with history of countless Sunday school lessons and Bible studies.

That night was the end-cap of a very rough week, pregnancy wise. So often I forget that there is more to growing a baby than measuring your bump and making sure you don't eat soft cheeses or drink too much caffeine for nine months straight.

It's spiritual and overwhelmingly empowering on its best days. At its most challenging, it has a complete clutch on your emotions and the lens you see the world through.

That night our small group discussion leader was talking about his wife. How bold she had been on a missions trip to California, where they spent a good portion of their time on Skid Row.

The bad place. The place just adjacent to the lives of the rich and famous.

The place where so many are left abandoned because their addictions or circumstances are too far outside their control. The place where everyone wants to be, but no one wants to go.

We talked about our own city. What we were doing to take notice of the people around us.

I was slumped against my husband on the other side of the room, feeling my baby kick and wanting him so badly to be a man of action. Someone who shares, who is patient and kind, and does the right thing.

So often I don't. Not really. 

So often I mean to do something. So often I'm at the store and think about buying an extra box of granola bars and water bottles to store in my car. But I'm in a hurry. I'm budgeting. Always pushing off my intentions for later, later, later.

Next thing you know, you're pregnant. And you realize you've lived in a city you love with all of your heart for three years without really noticing the hurt around you.

And you start to cry.

There are those of us who are bold, the people who don't glaze over the hard and uncomfortable. Who notice to hurt on Skid Row, sure, but who hear the hurt in our coworker's sigh, or who pick up on the desperation of a friends, "I need to talk to someone about this," text.

People who notice.


I have a great number of those people in my life. Those who not only take notice, but work to make it better. Who pray and have the actions to accompany their faith in a whirling duet. And to me, it sounds so beautiful because it's so rare to hear.

I know this, because after group that evening these people in my life crossed the room. They held my hand and wrapped their arms around my shoulders. They let me talk through my emotions – the parts of my walk that I could explain, and the other parts. The parts that were overwhelm, joy, worry, doubt, certainty, stubbornness.

Changing the world starts right there.

I'm learning that it's not those who seek attention who make the world better, it's those who pay attention.

Because my friends could've chocked up my reaction to simple hormones, and predicted that my story would echo the same one I've spun over the last eight months.

But they didn't ignore it. They took notice and did their best to comfort the crying pregnant woman in the corner of the room.

And if they noticed me. The one who tries to have it all together, who's at times too stubborn to let her vulnerability show, who else do they notice?

Who else do they reach out and show love to? Because the people in their lives, the friends, family members and total strangers that they serve, are made better by their presence. By their actions. By their noticing.



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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

4 Things Expecting Mothers Have Already Heard

Unsolicited advice in any season will make your head spin.

But in a place where you're preparing for a newborn, with all of its unpredictability, advice - especially conflicting advice - can do a lot more damage than good.

As my husband and I head into the last eight full weeks of pregnancy, we're focused on readying our home and hearts as best as we can with the information we have. The truth is, other than the fact that he jumps around every time I eat a PB&J, we don't know our little fella yet.

It's hard to make decisions about pack-and-plays and 300-dollar jogger strollers and tacky plastic gadgets when so much about dealing with life as an expecting mother is unknown.



Here's what most of us do know: we will hear a lot of the same tired phrases and woes from the people who've been there.

This has been a season of guarding my heart and listening to the short list of people in my life who I trust to approach with my questions and concerns. Mostly my mom, aunts, grandmothers, sister-in-law, and the mother of my godson.

I ask them about nursing and burping cloths, sure. But I lean on them more for advice about raising good children. About matters of the heart. About becoming leaders in our homes. About wrestling with the tension of working in an office and making it home two hours before bedtime.

I'm already so thankful to know that there are women who will speak life, encouragement over our family as my husband and I become parents. 


For the rest of you, the strangers at the grocery store, kind-hearted acquaintances, here are a few things that we expectant mothers already know (and what you can kindly stop reminding us of):

Sleep While You Can!

"This is it. The last time you'll ever sleep. In your life. You will forever be a walking zombie, that is, if you can muster the strength to walk in the first place."

Do you know what's really not helpful? Someone telling you to "sleep while you can!" in a chipper Mary Poppins voice when you're already wide awake at 3 a.m. for no good reason.

We're likely battling fatigue, a bump (that moves!), restless legs, getting up to use the restroom every half-hour, or our minds are just racing trying to picture baby's face.

The time for adequate sleep is long gone and we know it only gets worse. We have the internet, too.

Being a New Parent is So Hard!

The ever-complicated 40-week process of becoming a parent and then the little detail of incredibly painful labor clued us into that.

But in all seriousness, we know. We know it changes everything. We know it's a blend of hard and wonderful. We've been strangely happy and scared about this since we became pregnant.

There's a tiny part of me, I confess, that can't wait to have the baby so that everything can "finally go back to normal." The realization that there will only be a new normal from here on out is jarring at best.

But there's no turning back, now. So we may as well embrace the difficulties. Solidifying a narrative we're already battling internally only makes it more difficult.

 

You Will Get Depressed

This is something we need to have a serious chat about.

First and foremost, those brave writers and bold women who have had the courage to speak up about their experiences - please don't stop. The information and rawness you provide can only help other women identify their own struggles.

While I am thankful for the lifted stigma (though I realize there's still some work to be done in this area) and the women who have spoken out about their experiences, depression or anxiety isn't something anyone wants or needs spoken over them.

To those tempted to project their experience onto an expecting woman, trust that your new mama friend is receiving all of the details that she needs. Her doctor should be tracking her emotional and mental progress throughout the pregnancy, and she's likely very aware that her emotions will be haywire after delivery.

If she's anything like me, she's already crying for no good reason already.

Depression and anxiety isn't something that you can always see from the outside. But if you have a friend or family member who you're concerned about, reach out by all means. Offer to help her get counsel. Intervene, respectfully and make sure she knows it's out of love and respect.

However, please think carefully before speaking the words, "You will be depressed," over another woman. Especially when she already may be battling the anxiety that comes with being a new mama in the first place.

I Was in Labor for 434,000 Hours

And you wouldn't believe what happened to my...

Nope. Nope. Nope.

If you're tempted to share any details of your unplanned C-section, show us your scars, tell us the details of your changing lady parts, or to tell us that you're still losing "the baby weight" 10 years later, pump the brakes. Seriously, back up the train.

My response to anyone who has word-vomited about their labor, delivery and traumatic "fourth tri-mester" experiences have received my canned response:

"I am so sorry this was your experience."

Our bodies are different. Every baby is different. And just because something unraveled the way it did in your experience doesn't mean that ours will be a carbon copy.

Do I want an unplanned C-section? No. Do I realize it's a possibility? Of course.

Maybe you remember how difficult the last few weeks of pregnancy were?

 Let us get through those, first. We can swap war stories after we've stormed the beaches and returned home with our medals of new parenthood.

Until then, repeat after me: you look fabulous, you're going to be a fantastic mother, and get ready for the best, most special years of your life.
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Sunday, February 26, 2017

How to Lead With Authenticity

Once upon a time (okay, last week), I cried on a podcast.

We were talking about the big moments in our lives; and when I began to share about the moment my husband and I discovered we were pregnant, my voice cracked.

"Our world turned upside-down," I said. And I couldn't keep my emotions at bay.

Upon listening to the raw audio file, I almost asked my co-host to cut it. To strip it from the record. After all, who wants a high-pitched bird-voice chiming into their earbuds?

Not me. Cue all the eye rolls. Lock it up. Chin up. Stay strong.

And if you can't in a moment of weakness?

The solution is simple: cut the audio. Erase it. Pretend it never happened.

After all, you can't hold yourself to something that was never spoken out loud.

But in that moment, those emotions were real. I couldn't keep them together; I didn't even have the energy to try.

As I listened in later, I fell into panic mode. I forgot to clean up my act. I forgot to cover my tracks and breeze over a real-life moment.

Even it was the most truthful thing I had confessed that day – or in a long time.

There's a lot of buzz about vulnerability these days.

There are extremely smart women who give great Ted Talks about it. And who write magnificent books, and manifest great podcasts about the matter.

They encourage us to live with arms and thoughts open. To make ourselves available to empathy and to relinquish control for how others perceive us.

For many of us, yours truly included, this can be a difficult mountain to climb. Especially when your own standard of vulnerability isn't matched heart-for-heart.

Further, how vulnerable is too vulnerable? Do you open your heart up to a man you just started dating? Do you share with a friend you've only just met the month before about the demons of your past? Before trust is truly established?

Can you guard your heart while being truthful with your words, actions and your thoughts behind them?

This is a pretty gruesome and exhaustive place to start. 

Like anything, we can't reach expert-level without some practice. Without some hours clocked-in. Without stepping into the shallow end of vulnerability – authenticity – with the people around you.

Like most everything, someone has to start. Someone has to make the first move. Someone has to be the one in relationships (or podcast episodes) to start.

And it might as well be you. It might as well be me.

I don't anticipate crying in every podcast episode. Or laying out my deepest, darkest secrets in the form of blogs or other blips-by-night on the internet.

But I think, for now, I'm going to start practicing being content with leaving in the bits of my life and story that aren't curated in hopes to lead, in all things, with authenticity.

Perhaps, then a community of vulnerability will follow.




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Monday, February 6, 2017

Fabulous Finds: An Out-of-Date Update

There is freedom in letting go.

That's what it's all about, it seems. To find peace, to find spiritual health, to find courage and strength. It's a game of taking up thankfulness in all things and blocking out the voices that demand you need more, more, more.

As my baby bump continues to grow and I feel my little man kicking and squirming around, I'm realizing this more than ever.

I'm also realizing that the world/Target will tell you that you need $200 gadgets and plastic light-up junk and kitschy t-shirts in your child's first year of being in the world.

I'm not playing those games. Not this time.

In my 28 years, I've had way more regrets adding on than I have paring down. I've regretted too-full schedules and indulgences in my bank account, food choices and, let's face it, margaritas. Because I like to party.

But I can't recall a single regret from letting go. From weeding out the unnecessary. And from taking up what truly matters in life: love, friendship, community, encouragement, patience, kindness.

That's what I'm keeping close. That's what I'm hoarding these days. I want to stock them away for the seasons that change or don't come as easily.

What We Chatted About

Sarah and I are about to become 20 episodes deep in our podcasting adventure. It's been a lot of fun to have another outlet and medium to chat about topics that are near and dear to our hearts.

This month we tackled:

New Year Resolutions

Patience

And we kept it super casual (thanks to the suggestion of one of our lovely listeners) in the first installment of our Casual Wednesday segments.

What I Read

My reading habits lately have been a little scattered, but I've been sinking into Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely. I'll be honest: wrestled with the opening chapter, which basically breaks down every problem a woman could ever have back to how she was either accepted or rejected by a male figure in her life.

Is this really true, or is this a stereotype that Christian circles perpetuate? Are the statistics that back up this argument skewed, or based on broad assumptions? I'm not sure. But it was difficult to get through.

It did start to pick up for me eventually, though.

What I Watched

My husband and I are in an ill-fated showhole. But we did get in a few great movies this month:

Hidden Figures. Inspiring. Eye-opening. Funny, at times. And spectacular acting across the board.

The Founder. A movie so good that it will make you feel sick to your stomach. Michael Keaton portrays the man responsible for franchising McDonald's and simultaneously takes on the role of one of the most unethical and terrible businessmen/humans to ever walk the planet.

Fair warning: you will want a hefty burger and fries after. So plan accordingly.

What I Tried


Seeping into this strange world of crafting (who am I?) by getting our nursery ready (follow the #nestfest story on my Instagram page).

I'm not sure my friends who actually craft would agree that painting furniture and walls, and meticulously placing little blue anchors in the room would count as crafting per se. But I think it totally counts!

That about wraps us up for this month!
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Monday, January 23, 2017

I'd Be So Much Happier If I Had What She Had

It started a few years ago.

We sat together at a folding table, metal chairs pulled up to its brim in a borrowed church basement. Our Bibles were unfolded to some innocuous chapter in Mark or Matthew, the pastor's wife of our growing church plant led the discussion.

Then, like most conversations with a group of women do, our subject diverged into complaints about husbands and dishwashers and children and mounds of laundry that no one else in their household seemed to notice.

I bristled within the boundaries of my own loneliness. Silently wishing for a husband. Silently aching at the thought of what I wanted in life and how far out of reach and my control it seemed.

These women had everything I wanted: they had community, a sense of belonging, a place where people were happy to see them. They had a life outside of earning a paycheck and binge drinking with acquaintances.

And all they seemed capable of was to complain about it all.

The pain of hearing a group of women disclosing embarrassing details of their husbands was too heartbreaking for me -- a girl who was still single, still searching for a man who wouldn't break her heart or spirit, and couldn't understand why.

It was in that moment, in that metal chair that I remember thinking: I'd be a much better steward, if only I had what they had.

Now I'm one of these women.

Not the kind that complains incessantly about her life or unfolded laundry (hopefully). But, perhaps, someone with a better understanding for these women who I tried and failed to have community with years ago. I'm living within the grooves of exactly where I wanted to be.

Most of the time I am present enough to be thankful in every moment. Most of the time I remember how petty the complaints we passed to each other sounded. Most of the time I stop myself before I get too carried away when pressures of my job mount, or there never seems like there's enough time in the day to be the woman I want to be: a dream-chaser, a communicator, a fun-loving friend and a devoted wife.

Or just someone at the very least who keeps the popcorn kernels off her living room rug and has a reasonable arsenal of clean underwear. (Just saying).

But in my weak moments, of which there are many, I'm tempted to fall into dissatisfaction. I'm tempted to become a woman who forgets where she started. I'm tempted to write off the blessings in my life, the things I wished and hoped for, in search of bigger and better.

I'm tempted to want more, more, more on top of what I've already been granted.

Sometimes our blessings become disguised as our mere realities. And sometimes even the best-case scenarios of our lives become just another plateau we mount to strive ever-upward.

A long time ago, I knew a woman who wanted to have a baby more than anything.

For years and years she struggled with fertility. Every prayer request, every aching, vulnerable moment we had together was about her struggle. Her longing.

And then she became pregnant.

Joy. Disbelief. Contagious wonder. Until about 25 weeks in. When the tiredness and the backaches became a hurdle. When the world told her to "sleep while she could," but the baby's punches and jabs in her ribs kept her wide awake at 3 a.m.

Anxiety crept into her thoughts. She couldn't seem to crawl out from under depression. The reality of pregnancy, no matter how much she'd wished for it, was hard.

And she was honest about it.

Her friends noticed this as she began to settle into her nine-month journey preparing her for motherhood. Women who longed for babies of their own. The conversations swirled around, landing on comments along the lines of:

"If I were pregnant after wanting it for so long, you wouldn't hear me complain."

In other words, if I had what she had, I'd be better at it. I'd be more thankful. I'd be able to handle it. I wouldn't utter one complaint. Not even in the interest of being open with her friends about how I am really doing.

What I've learned is this: we need grace for the parts of our past, the pieces of ourselves that didn't know any better. The versions of ourselves who wished and waited. Who have arrived in some ways and still feel like we're waiting in others.

We need permission to be honest. To, of course, watch what we say and keep our nit-picking at bay. To become women of resilience.

But to realize with gentleness that dreaming for one season doesn't cancel out the challenges in another. To always strive to be content in our current seasons. And to remember when they were the ones we reached for.

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