Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Bump Pictures

Last week, I feared that I had just blown by my target weight gain of 40 pounds.

Although I had been gaining about 1 pound per week throughout the last trimester, in the last two weeks, I gained 8 pounds.

But, it turns out, a lot of that was water weight. Now that labor is drawing near and the baby is moving into position, I’ve now shed 6 pounds of that water weight.

My doctor tells me that this is going to be an average-sized baby, right around 7.5 pounds. I believe that.

Now, I’m not much of a selfie person.

Nor am I much of a sharing-pictures-of-my-stomach person.

But this is the last time I’m going to have a baby. And I have a feeling my future self would have wanted me to have pictures.

So here is a synopsis.

bump-pictures-2

It’s hard to tell in the pictures, but this baby is pretty much wrapped around me. It is head-down, butt usually resting on my left side while its feet push out of my right side.

Charming position.

People sometimes ask me if I have a feeling about what this baby is like.

Yes. Yes, I do.

One word: Feisty.

Week 39: What We Learn From Pain

I’ve been thinking a lot about pain this week.

Probably because I know that, very soon, I’ll be in the presence of the Mother of all Pains.

Labor.

I bow in its presence.

What’s that saying? Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know?

In that sense, labor is a devil that I know. But let’s be honest. It’s been three years since we’ve spent any time together. And having known labor, I’m left speechless.

I know its power.

I know that it will require every last piece of my strength and my will.

And I know that won’t be enough. I’ll have to go deeper into myself, into my reserves that I haven’t had to use for years, just to hold on to the belief that I’ll make it through.

Because that’s the only way that I can transform from a doubtful, anxious human being to a powerful vehicle that brings new life into this world.

That’s what labor does. It transforms you.

***

This weekend, I was reminded of just how transformative pain can be.

In Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir, Love Warrior, she says this about pain:

What if in skipping the pain, I was missing my lessons?

Instead of running away from my pain, was I supposed to run toward it? …

Maybe instead of slamming the door on pain, I need to throw open the door wide and say, “Come in. Sit down. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”

love-warrior

Glennon spends most of her life running from and numbing pain through bulimia and binge-drinking. When her husband confesses that he has been cheating on her for years, she is thrown into a crisis that she feels she cannot solve on her own. She finally enters therapy so she can figure out how to pull herself and her family through their quagmire.

In the most poignant moment of her memoir, she finds herself in a hot yoga class. While other women express that their intentions for their yoga practice are to “embrace loving-kindness” or to “radiate sunlight to all creation,” Glennon says that her intention is to “stay on this mat and make it through whatever is about to happen without running out of here.”

As she lies on her mat, she allows the pain of her life to overwhelm her. She sees memories of all the things that have hurt her and she imagines all the terrible things that might still happen. While everyone else participates in the yoga session, she lies on her mat, weeping. She allows herself to feel all the pain that she has been running from and numbing herself from feeling.

At the end of the session, her yoga teacher tells her,

That–what you just did? That is the Journey of the Warrior.

***

I cried when I read that. Because it is exactly how I felt after I gave birth the first time.

I felt that I had just confronted all of my weaknesses and flaws, all of my fears and failures, all of my doubts.

And I had come out on the other side.

Alive. Whole. Transformed.

Before giving birth, I feared that I wasn’t strong. That I was too weak. Too inexperienced. That I wouldn’t know my own body more than my doctors. That when push came to shove, I would get out of the way and let someone better handle the hard stuff.

I feared that that’s how it would probably be when I became a mother. That I would smile in deference and listen to everyone else who knew better than me about what was best for my child.

That I wouldn’t cause problems by raising my concerns.

That I would continue to be “the good little girl.”

That when my time would come, I would numb the pain so I could listen to the doctors respectfully, follow directions like a rational person, and push on command.

Even though I so desperately wanted to be that woman who wouldn’t be squashed and silenced by norms…

I suspected in my heart that that’s exactly who I was.

Another woman who would believe the limitations that everyone else had decided for her.

***

In her memoir, Glennon echoes similar thoughts.

I realize that I have allowed myself to see it all and feel it all and I have survived…

I’d been fully human for an hour and a half and it had hurt like hell. It had almost killed me, but not quite. That “not quite” part seems incredibly important.

Accepting pain rather than running from pain is not a mainstream sentiment in our culture. We’ve built an entire culture around numbing pain. Not just through medication, but through addiction. To drugs. To alcohol. To possessions.

And addiction to distractions.

Smartphones and constant Internet access have helped to create these personal mini-universes, free from empty moments in which we might otherwise feel boredom or pain or discomfort.

But what is the human experience when we don’t allow ourselves to feel pain, whether it’s physical or emotional?

When we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain, we rob ourselves of a rich understanding of who we are and what we can overcome.

As Glennon Doyle Melton puts it,

Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you.

Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.

Bring it on.

I’m ready.

Week 38: Paradoxes

Are you ready?!

This is the most likely comment that people will say to me in the next few weeks.

How do I honestly answer this?

Yes. I don’t want to be pregnant anymore.

No. I’m not ready for labor again.

Yes. I’m tired of all the fluid retention.

No. I’m not ready to breastfeed again.

Yes. I want to finally see this baby.

No. I don’t want to do all the night feedings.

Yes. I can’t stand carrying all this weight anymore.

No. The room still isn’t ready yet.

Yes. We’ll never be fully prepared anyway.

***

When I sleep at night on these bitterly cold days, I sweat. I throw the sheets off until I freeze. Then I pull them back over me. Repeat.

I have crazy dreams. Last night, I successfully managed to outsmart, outrun, and hide from a serial killer who had me trapped in an office building, much like the one in Mad Men (which, of course, I’ve been binge-watching lately).

At full term, a woman’s placenta generates as much estrogen as a non-pregnant woman will produce in three years.

Yeah.

Thus the sweating and crazy dreams.

In the weeks to come, the loss of these same hormones will cause me to shake with hot flashes and chills, to weep at the drop of a hat, and to constantly check to make sure the baby is sleeping.

Basically, their loss will make me feel completely undone.

This is the beginning of the ride down into powerlessness. This is when my individual will and desires start to bow their heads to my body’s processes and the needs of this tiny person, now coming forth.

This is when I become a passenger in my own body.

***

Dr. Robbie Davis-Floyd, a cultural anthropologist who specializes in the rituals of birth, points out that pregnancy is both “a state and a becoming.” If you translate the word “pregnancy” from Latin, it would literally read, “the state of being before being born.”

It is a kind of limbo. To be pregnant is to experience the world in flux. To see the world turned upside down and inside out. In her book, Birth as an American Rite of Passage, Davis-Floyd writes that,

“the near-constant inner and outer flux of pregnancy keeps the category systems of pregnant women in a continuous state of upheaval as old ways of thinking change to include new life” (p. 24).

So fluid is this state of being that I oscillate back and forth between wanting to be free of this pregnancy and not wanting it to end.

***

Labor also brings its own set of paradoxes.

In labor, the fastest way to progress is completely counter-intuitive.

You need to relax through the pain.

Try it the next time you burn your hand or stub you foot so hard you scream. Your first instinct is to clench and bear down. Not to breathe calmly through it.

Labor takes you out of the boat and throws you to the mercy of a series of invisible, crashing waves. At first, you might hold your breath through the pain and gasp for air in the breaks. But in time, the waves come at you harder and faster, leaving little to no time to breathe.

And that is when you realize that what you really need to do is stop fighting.

Let the water hold you down, down, down. Until you are still.

Because the more you resist, the longer labor is.

So surrender becomes your savior.

Surrendering to pain. Accepting it. Even though you don’t know when it will end.

That is the smoothest path through labor.

***

As a human being, I loathe this truth, that surrender is necessary in labor. I hate uncertainty and I cling to control. I avoid pain if I can.

But allow me to get spiritual for a moment.

As a Christian, I understand this truth.

Of all the symbols that Christians could have used to represent their most ardent belief, they chose a symbol of execution. Of Death.

Instead of choosing a symbol of humility (the manger) or peace (the dove) or bounty (the fish), Christians chose a symbol of intense pain and sacrifice. A sacrifice so crushing that it would obliterate body and mind, leaving behind only spirit.

They chose a symbol of death because they believed that it was only by dying to their previous lives that they would be able to embrace new life. They believed that before experiencing true humility and peace and bounty, they first needed to give it all up.

Because you can’t truly receive until your hands are empty.

Emptiness first. Then Plenty.

Death first. Then Life.

As a Christian, this is how I understand labor. I see labor as the most authentic expression of what I worship.

I follow a belief that Death comes first. Then Life.

Death to Self. Then, New Life.

***

As I’ve said before, January doesn’t seem like a month that goes well with birth. It stands in contrast to so many other months when we see evidence of life at work. In the United States, nature lovers will tell you that we are currently in Deep Winter, a period of seven weeks before Early Spring begins. In these weeks, we see nature as barren, perhaps even conquered.

But below the surface, the world is shifting and preparing for spring.

light-shining

I think about this as I walk in the mornings now, bundled beneath layers. Even though the winter air bites and stings, the winter light still warms me when the clouds break.

I went to church last Sunday and I was reminded that we are in the season of Epiphany, the time of year when Christians remember that God’s light doesn’t just shine on us. It comes down to light our way. Even though the darkness consumes so many hours of these winter days, the light is still there.

Even though darkness, light.

Even though Death, Life.

Even though pain, progress.

Even though two, one.

Even though being, becoming.

Even though ready, not ready.

Breastfeeding: It’s Complicated

That’s how I would summarize my previous experience with breastfeeding.

Before having my first child, I envisioned myself being one of those women who breastfed throughout maternity leave, dutifully pumped at work, and kept up the routine as long as I could. That’s how I always pictured that first year with my daughter. Nursing and pumping. As long as possible.

But my body had other ideas.

Although I’ve always been a strong believer in the power and wisdom of my own body, breastfeeding was truly not in the cards for me. We could talk about what it felt like to have postpartum thyroiditis. We could talk about my boobs, my nipples, how often we nursed, how her latch was, and the interventions that we tried.

But I’m kind of over that.

I’m kind of done explaining and justifying my experiences, anticipating all the nay-sayers who would just write off my truth as “one more woman who didn’t try hard enough.”

Yeah. Done with that.

Let me just say that, to me, breastfeeding was like trying to pull a dry, fraying end of a piece of thread through the tiniest of needles. Over and over again.

I could only nurse in Just This Way. And even then, I missed the needle over and over again. Only a tiny amount ever making it through the needle.

And then finding out that, hey, I didn’t even have a full spool of thread to work with.

breastfeeding

***

So here we are, just weeks away from the reality of breastfeeding another child. Wondering if this time will be just as awful as the last time. Hoping that this time, I’ll at least be spared the insomnia (courtesy of postpartum thyroiditis) that came with nursing our first child.

Maybe this time, I’ll be able to sleep between feedings.

Maybe this time, I’ll make at least 50% of what the baby needs, rather than 20%. 

Maybe this time, I’ll be able to make it three weeks instead of twelve days.

Maybe these seem like low standards, but they are monumental to me. I don’t have high expectations for what nursing will be like this time. I don’t plan on committing to a die-hard schedule that will increase my milk production at the cost of my own physical and mental health.

The truth is, for me, breastfeeding was much, much harder than childbirth.

And I gave birth with no drugs.

With childbirth, my body seemed to know the procedure. My hips cooperated. My uterus contracted and my baby responded well. I pushed like a pro. My blood loss was typical. And my body succeeded in making the slow journey back to its pre-pregnancy condition.

But with breastfeeding, my body couldn’t get the procedure right. It kept trying to drop into the process, only to be stopped by barrier after barrier after barrier.

Finally, I was forced to accept the fact that–despite everyone who assured me that I could breastfeed if I worked hard enough–I simply could not.

***

So this time, the internal dialogue will focus more on my own self-care.

 I’ll do this as long as I’m healthy.

I need to sleep at least 5 hours a day. At the very least.

If the baby is still hungry, I’ll consider formula.

If I’m not producing more than 1/2 ounce in a pumping session, I should consider whether or not I want to stick with breastfeeding.

If I stop breastfeeding, the baby will be fine. I will be fine. And if people judge me for it, I know they have no idea what I’ve been through. 

There was a time in my life when I would have thought that even thinking these thoughts would ultimately lead to me exclusively formula feeding, which–according to strong breastfeeding advocates–was the unhealthiest decision I could make for my newborn.

I thought that.

And I was all about the healthiest decision for my newborn.

But I did not factor my own health into my decision-making.

I thought that what I needed was not as important as what my baby needed. And while new mothers definitely experience a certain amount of humbling and re-prioritizing, it should never be at the detriment of her own health.

Yeah, you feel shitty in the newborn period. You’re sore and exhausted and overwhelmed. But there’s a difference between feeling shitty and feeling like you’re clinging to the edge of life.

Sleeping 1-3 hours per day because you’re nursing or pumping will do that to you.

So if you’re reading this and you’re feeling like a failure for not breastfeeding your child, let me be the first to tell you a simple truth: You are a good mom because of who you are. Not because of anything that you do.

These decisions about feeding, diapering, and sleeping don’t have “winning” sides.

Just love your child. And your child will love you.

It’s that simple.

Week 37: Endings

Last year, I began the year on an ending.

I woke up empty. Finally.

On New Year’s Eve, I had a D & C to put an end to the miscarriage that my body wouldn’t let go. We picked up my painkillers on the way home, along with a piece of apple pie from Whole Foods. (Sometimes, food really does make you feel better.)

That night, we watched Interstellar through Amazon Prime.

I thought about the moments in my life when I would want to reach back through time and space and tell myself to do something differently.

The truth is, I don’t have many regrets in my life.

But the regrets that I do have are moments when I couldn’t accept that a part of my life was ending and another was beginning. Even when the change was good change. Staying in a relationship that I knew was ending. Staying in jobs that not only sapped my joy but also my dignity.

Given the choice between embracing the unknown and holding on to the familiar, my heart wants to cling to the familiar.

But there is goodness in letting go and allowing the emptiness to move in.

It’s the emptiness that allows us to imagine a different future.

Beginnings cannot begin until the endings end.

So after closing the door on last year’s miscarriage, I gave myself some time to feel empty again. To regenerate and heal.

I got pregnant again.

Now, I’ll be giving birth this January.

The symmetry almost makes me laugh. Perfect bookends on a very strange year. It’s one of those odd parallels that seems too coincidental to be true, but there it is nevertheless.

***

As this pregnancy enters its final weeks, I’m thinking more and more about the art of letting go and letting it be.

To be clear, I don’t define “letting go” as forgetting the past. That is impossible. Even dangerous to our emotional well-being. When we divorce our present selves from the past, we lose part of our identities. Finding peace in yourself, I believe, requires that you make peace with every version of yourself, past and present.

If you’ve watched any of HBO’s new show, Westworld, you’ve seen how the writers of this show explore the relationship between memory and consciousness. To be human is to construct a present self that is informed by the experiences and decisions of our past selves. It’s this constant creating and recreating of our present identities that makes us human. In the absence of the ability to access memory, we lose our humanity. We become beings that move on pre-programmed “loops” of motivations and behaviors.

In that sense, a healthy respect for accepting endings in our lives helps us become the best versions of ourselves.

In a few weeks, I’ll be closing the door on this version of myself. Mother of one daughter in a family of three. The days of being concerned about only one child’s health and development will be over.

I’ll have to accept that I cannot just fit this new child into the current patterns, behaviors, and structure of this family of three.

Everything will shift.

Everything must shift.

Accepting that shift is how I can keep all the heartaches in perspective.

Heartache? some of you may be asking.

Yes. Because I’ll need to accept that this is the last time I’ll give birth. The last time I’ll look down on that perfectly, unwrinkled face, just minutes old. The last time I’ll rub my hands over that soft, velvety newborn skin.

It takes courage and grace to accept that these moments are so fleeting. If I think about it too much, I feel paralyzed by the grief of watching all these moments pass and pass and pass, knowing that my child is changing, changing, changing.

It is all so brief. So very brief.

But everything shifts.

Everything must shift.

***

Before this pregnancy, January never felt like a month for giving birth.

The trees are bare. The grass is frosty. The birds don’t sing. The wind stings and bites your face. It’s the peak of the cold and flu season.

Nothing makes me think of the promise of new life.

But the word January comes from the Roman god, Janus, a two-faced god who could look back on the past while looking forward. His presence symbolized beginnings and endings and transitions. He was the god of gates and doors. People worshipped him in times of harvest, in marriages…

And in births.

janus

The Roman god, Janus

In these final weeks of pregnancy, that is what I will try to do.

To look on the past even as I move forward.

Into this new identity.

Mother of two.

Week 36 1/2: The Last Trimester Funk

Doug asked me to take Felicity to get bread at Trader Joe’s today.

That was the question.

That was what sent me into tears.

Because I don’t want to do anything today.

Because I don’t want to be around my daughter for the fifth day in a row.

And why does her daycare have to be closed this week?

And that makes me a terrible mother.

And soon I’m going to have two small human beings that need me.

And I just had to buy the next size up in maternity pants.

And the next size up in underwear.

And I woke up every hour on the hour last night. To either pee or switch positions.

And I don’t want to be pregnant anymore.

But I’m not ready to have another baby.

And after the miscarriage last year, I swore to myself that I’d never complain about being pregnant again.

And I am.

And I woke up to an email from a friend who just had her baby this morning and she was just so beautiful and life is so full of goodness.

And I’m so grateful that my body was able to do this without complication just one more time.

And I know a small fraction of the things that could have gone wrong so far.

And my legs don’t look like my legs anymore.

And I had to send out a family Christmas picture in which my daughter looks like an angel and I look like a puffed-up version of myself.

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And everyone tells me that I’m really not carrying much extra weight.

And I’m tired of thinking about whether I’m eating enough protein or vegetables or calcium or omega-3s.

And I just really want to have a Guinness.

And I don’t want to think about how much weight I’ll have to lose this time.

And all I really, really want to do is lie in my bed with my Snoogle wrapped around me and pull the covers up to my face and sleep and sleep and sleep like I won’t sleep for another year.

Because once this baby escapes, that’s pretty much the truth.

 

Week 36: Sort of Ready for Another Baby

I’m sort of ready to have another baby.

We bought a new car. The thought of shoving two car seats into the back of my Honda Civic was just… No.

We bought the Civic in 2006, shortly after we got married. So it is probably time to move on. Although, anyone who knows me knows that I’m a creature of habit and unless I see a real need to buy something else, I’m usually good with what I have. Indefinitely.

A larger car meant either a minivan (No), an SUV (maybe?), or a station wagon (Am I becoming my parents?).

In the end, I fell in love with a Subaru Outback. We bought one this past week.

subaru

Do I have to call it a station wagon? Because it feels a whole lot better than the Buick station wagon that I rode around in as a child.

buick

I think I’ll just call it a Subaru.

***

All year, Doug has had the goal of “getting the baby’s room ready.” Which is actually a three-step process.

  1. Convert the “overflow room” into Felicity’s new bedroom. (Run new wiring for a ceiling fan, redo/paint the walls)
  2. Convert Felicity’s bedroom into Doug’s office.
  3. Convert Doug’s office into the new baby’s room.

So far, we are approaching the end of step # 1.

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In the process, Doug’s office has become the “overflow room.” And the baby’s things (a combination of Felicity’s old things and some new things) are chillin’ in the hallway.

If this were my first baby, this would totally freak me out. Before Felicity was born, I needed–at the very least–the appearance that we were prepared to have a baby around the house.

This time, my checklist is much shorter.

1.) Is the car seat in the car?

2.) Do we know where the old baby things are?

3.) Do we have diapers and bottles on hand?

Doug, on the other hand, is much more freaked out than me. From his perspective, Felicity’s room and the baby’s room must be done. (And let us not even mention the last bit of mulch from last April that still sits in the driveway–it is his current bane of existence.)

***

What does freak me out is this obvious fact that is just now hitting home.

I am going to have to give birth again.

Oy.

Everyone tells me the second birth is easier.

God. I hope so. Really not looking forward to a 33-hour labor again.

Even if I wouldn’t change (much) about my first birth, that doesn’t mean I desire to relive a similar experience.

The thing that really sucks is that I know there’s not much you can really do to prepare for birth. We have a doula. We’ve done a tour of the birthing facility. I’ve been seeing my medical provider since the beginning of this pregnancy.

And having been through labor before, the best advice that I can offer myself is to just roll with it. Hour by hour and moment by moment.

Just deal with the pain that you have in the moment and don’t worry about the pain coming down the line.

***

My body, on the other hand, is totally ready to do this.

I’m burning about 600-700 extra calories per day, just because I’m existing and moving.

After about 15 minutes of standing, I need to sit down. My lower back hurts too much. So I end up wearing the pregnancy belt a lot when I need to walk for periods of time.

My belly is–yet again–getting tighter.

At my last appointment, the doctor told me that the baby is head down (good) and sideways (a little weird this late in the game?). Its butt is pointed out to my left side. Its feet are jutting out from my right side. It’s about 5 1/2 pounds now, according to my pregnancy app.

My pregnancy app also tells me that my placenta is starting to age and my amniotic fluid is decreasing. That makes sense. The baby’s movements are much more pronounced now. It feels like the cushion between the baby and my bones is much thinner. A foot in my ribs is very uncomfortable.

And… I just feel so much pressure.

I forgot how much physical pressure you feel in these final weeks.

I remember that in that first moment after Felicity was born, I said, “It’s over. I’m so glad it’s over.”

I was talking about the pain, of course, but I was also talking about the pressure. To shift so suddenly from fullness to emptiness. To breathe again. An honest-to-God full breath.

But this time, with that full breath comes the knowledge that it’s over for me.

This is it. No more pregnancies after this.

So I’m caught.

Between the desire to be free from this pressure and the knowledge that being free of it will make me wish that it wasn’t over.

I absolutely know that when the dust has settled,

and we’re back at home with a new baby,

and I lie down for the first time in my own bed,

and place a hand where my belly once was,

the emptiness will creep in

and I will realize how much this baby has become a part of me

and we will never be that close again.

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The World is Good Because it is Bad: A Letter to my Unborn Child

My Child,

When I was five years old, my family’s house burned down. To the ground. What was left was a smoky, black carcass that used to be our home. I still remember returning to the site where our home once was.

I didn’t understand. Not really.

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Me: Easter, 1987

We walked through the safest part of the site, our toes nudging burnt, sooty items. A comb. A jacket. That one stuffed animal that looked like a cat, but was really a mouse.

The smell. Oh. The smell. I will never, ever forget that smell. Smoke and soot and water and grass.

While our house was still on fire, flames still clawing at the windows, the fire trucks and ambulances arrived. I saw my oldest brother, Phillip, throw my youngest sister, DeAnna, from a window on the right side of the house. A firefighter caught her. She was just a toddler. I can still see her sobbing there against the backdrop of flames, wobbling on rubbery legs.

I saw my father climbing out of a second-story window, still in his T-shirt and boxers.

I wasn’t thinking about where my other brother and sister were.

I remember thinking,

“I wonder when the fire will be over so we can go home.”

I remember thinking,

“Mom is so going to be so mad when she comes home to see this.”

That’s the way a five-year-old thinks.

My mother worked as a part-time cake decorator for a grocery store on Saturdays. I never knew who called her that day. Someone had to make that call. I wonder now what was it like to put aside the bag of icing that she had been using to decorate a cake for someone else’s celebration… only to pick up the phone to hear that her world was on fire.

***

That night, we stayed in some stranger’s home.

I don’t remember the people, but they lived in a large, well-kept home in old North Dayton, presumably a family who had signed up to provide temporary housing through the Red Cross.

In the middle of the hardwood floor of their living room was a large, oval, braided rug. While my mother talked to the homeowners, my eyes traced the outer edge of the oval rug, around and around and around. Until it ended in the center.

I wondered what was there in the center, holding it all together.

oval-rug

Someone handed out some canvas bags from the Red Cross. Five bags. One for each of us. The homeless kids.

Inside, there were crayons and a coloring book. A toothbrush and toothpaste. Some soap. A towel. There might have been a T-shirt and sweatpants. I don’t remember for sure.

But I remember the smell of those bags. Sterile.

Like the smell of the hospital where we had just been. Where I had just seen my father hack and cough black mucus into a beige dish just minutes before he was officially discharged.

I remember holding that canvas bag, thinking that it was the only thing in the world that was mine.

Hoping that my parents could afford to buy it for me.

And then the surprise and gratitude when I realized that we didn’t need to pay.

***

We went to church, and the Sunday School teacher looked at me with wet eyes. In her quiet, shaky voice, she told me that everything was going to be just fine.

She pulled out some paper figures from a crinkled envelope. They were dressed in robes and sandals. One of them fell to the ground and I picked it up, feeling the fuzz on the back side. Then, she handed all the figures to me and I helped her arrange them on the felt board as she told the story of the Good Samaritan.

good-samaritan

My child, here is what I want to tell you.

Believe in the goodness of people.

Certainly, not every person will be good to you. Some will bully you. Some will mock you. Some will see you hurting and walk to the other side of the road to avoid you.

Do not expect kindness and empathy from those who have never suffered. Too often, they will find a way to either minimize your pain or blame you for what has happened to you. In their eyes, it will always be your fault. And if they cannot blame you for what you have done, they will blame you for what you have not done.

You really didn’t have it that bad. You should have tried harder. You should have asked. You should have done this. You should have done that.

But always, always, always remember this:

As long as there is injustice and trauma and pain and tragedy in this world, there will be empathy.

Because those who have lost and suffered and cried and bled will be the first to reach out to you when you need help.

Every. Single. Time.

Do not wish away misfortune and pain.

Because a life without either of those is a life without true empathy.

And empathy is what has kept the human race from extinguishing itself.

***

Have faith, my child.

Paradoxes abound in a world where we lean on logic to make sense of the hard times.

This world is good because sometimes it is bad.

Goodness and tragedy can exist at the same time.

God is both light and darkness. Fullness and emptiness. The loud, booming voice and the stillness beside you.

It is all so hard to understand now. Even as you grow and learn and experience, it is still hard to understand. Even I don’t understand it.

But my prayer for you is that you remain open. That you are always looking for more answers. That you never feel that you have arrived at the truth. Because your truth is not someone else’s truth.

But that doesn’t mean Truth doesn’t exist.

***

Some of us are lucky enough to have a life that gets better and better, from beginning to end. As Americans, that is what feels normal and right and just.

But the truth is, most of us don’t.

The truth is, much of the time, we don’t get what we want.

Most of us struggle. We fall. We’re pushed back. We lose. We become sick. We grieve.

And this can make us feel that something has gone tragically wrong. It can make us feel that life is unfair and has no meaning. It can drive us to determine that God isn’t real.

How could God be real when there is so much suffering in this world?

How could God be real when I am suffering so much?

What I want you to understand is that believing that life always improves from beginning to end is an illusion. In fact, some cultures in the world do not plot life’s path as a line, rising at equal intervals, ever into the horizon.

Instead, they see life as a spiral.

A constant moving away and returning.

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Photo credit, Jeff Krause, http://www.flickr.com

Moving away from what matters.

Returning to what matters.

Moving away from truth.

Returning to truth.

Around and around and around.

Until we arrive at the center.

Until we return to God.

What you’ll learn as you walk this path of life is that over and over again, every time you return, you will be caught by the hand of God.

That hand of God is your mother’s voice when you come home with a broken heart.

It’s the friend who sits with you at your father’s funeral.

It’s the doctor who tells you that there is no heartbeat. But it’s not your fault.

It’s the teacher who tells you that everything’s going to be just fine, even when her eyes say otherwise.

It’s the non-profit organization that steps in with a bag of normalcy on a very strange day.

It’s the stranger who opens their home to you when you’ve lost everything.

My child, be that hand of God.

Be the one who gives and comforts and heals.

As Mother Teresa has said…

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

My child, welcome to this wonderfully complex, sometimes painful, but always beautiful world. It is my hope for you that when you face the hard times, that you are still able to see the larger Truth.

With all my love,

Mom

Why Women Have 20-Week Abortions

You are pregnant.

(Just go with me.)

You met your husband in your 30s. It took a while for you to find the right one, but you did. You waited a few years before thinking about having kids. Then, you started trying. Everyone else was getting pregnant so easily, so you thought it would happen without much effort.

Six months go by.

Then a year.

You’re 35.

You start visiting the experts. You take medications and injections. You and your husband are put through the wringer. You spend $20,000 of your own money.

But it works.

The two lines on the test confirm it.

You are pregnant.

But now, the anxiety sets in. You want to know that everything is okay. You wonder why doctors haven’t invented some special at-home ultrasound for you to check out your uterus everyday. Your bloodwork is normal. The genetic tests have come back normal, but you ask them not to tell you the baby’s gender. Not just yet.  You want to have that moment at your 20-week ultrasound.

When you’re 18 weeks pregnant, you finally feel it.

The baby moves. It kicks you. You rush to your husband so he can feel it too, but it’s still too early for him to feel anything.

You relax a little.

When the day of the 20-week ultrasound comes, you are more excited than nervous. You both stare at the ultrasound screen, not quite sure what you’re seeing. You’re smiling. You’re ecstatic even. Waiting for the technician to tell you if it’s a boy or a girl.

But she is quiet as she moves the wand on your belly. You see feet and legs, kicking and squirming. You see hands and a chest.

“So, you’ve got a little girl,” she tells you.

You cry. Because you were hoping for a girl.

But the technician is still quiet.

“I need to run some measurements by the doctor,” she says as she places the wand in its cradle. “Just one second.”

Your heart bottoms out.

***

The doctor says a word that you’ve never heard before.

Anencephaly.

…baby has no brain… incompatible with life… cannot survive…

But you’re not listening anymore.

Your thoughts are running wild.

You know it’s your fault. You should have gotten pregnant earlier. Why did you selfishly wait to try?

You should have taken more folic acid. That’s what causes brain defects like this.

And then there was that time that you went through those full-body scanners at the airport when you flew home to see your parents for Christmas. All that radiation couldn’t have been good.

And didn’t you have a spicy tuna roll in those first few days of pregnancy, before the test came back positive? That was careless.

You don’t deserve to be a mom.

Get a clue. Spend your energy elsewhere because you’re not cut out for this.

But…

When can we try again? Maybe it will be better next time. Next time, I’ll be more careful. Next time, I won’t take any risks, no matter how small they seem. I swear.

Somehow, you manage to ask the question. You’re not crying. You’re completely numb. As the words come out of your mouth, it doesn’t even sound like you saying them.

“Do you know when we can try again? Because… I’m going to be 36 soon. It took us a few years to get pregnant… and I just…” You can’t finish your sentence.

He tells you that you can start trying again when you’re ready. After you deliver this baby.

Right, you think. I still have a baby in me.

***

You spend the evening sobbing, your thoughts still running wild. You google anencephaly and you almost throw up. You google pictures of babies that have it. Actual babies who are born with it. You read miracle stories of babies surviving anencephaly.

Your husband holds you, but he has nothing to offer except his own tears.

Your head is throbbing, but you don’t want to take any medication because… Then you realize that you no longer have a reason to be careful anymore.

You toss back some Excedrin. You think about having some wine, but you can’t bring yourself to do it.

When you wake up the next day, you lie there in the morning light, your hand on your still-so-small belly. You talk to your baby.

You tell your husband, “I cannot do this. I want this to be over.”

You call the doctor. You talk about abortion. You want to know whether they use anesthetics so the baby won’t feel any pain.

And that is when you find out.

You don’t have a choice.

You will have to give birth to this child–because in the state of Ohio, it is now illegal to end the pregnancy.

You cannot believe it. Your child won’t live. You are suffering. You cannot do another day of this. And now you might be carrying this pregnancy for another 20 weeks.

***

But that’s not what happens.

That would have been much more merciful.

At 23 weeks, your water breaks.

You give birth.

Your baby tries to breathe, but she turns blue. Her lungs are underdeveloped. She makes a horrible noise that no mother should have to hear.

But she keeps trying.

It takes your little girl three hours to die.

In your arms.

***

On its face, this is a fictional story. But it is made up of a collection of stories that I have heard and read from other women who have walked this terrible path. A story like this can, and probably will, happen in the state of Ohio next year.

Because on December 13, 2016, Governor Kasich officially signed a 20-week abortion ban. No exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomalies, and “only very limited exceptions for women’s health.”

Twenty-week abortion bans have become more and more common. Seventeen states now have similar 20-week abortion bans.

I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, Please. This emotional, fictional story that you just told doesn’t represent all 20-week abortions. I know a lot of those babies didn’t have any problems at all.

So, let’s look at some facts.

How many women would the state of Ohio stop from having abortions after 20 weeks?

In 2014, it was 510 women (Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions, p. 9).

That was 2% of all abortions performed in that year.

Out of those 510 abortions, how many do you think were performed on viable fetuses?

One.

One abortion.

The other 509 abortions were performed on non-viable fetuses.

***

One of the main reasons that women have abortions after 20 weeks is because they have just learned that their child has a terminal diagnosis. And carrying these pregnancies can put the mother’s life at risk.

This is Mindy Swank. Here, she talks about how she was forced to carry a non-viable pregnancy because her Catholic hospital wouldn’t perform an abortion.

“…he tried to breathe, he was turning blue… he wasn’t conscious. It wasn’t a magical time, like people think.”

Or how about this interview with a woman who had an abortion at 32 weeks?

Or this woman who had an abortion at 21 weeks because her baby had half a heart?

Or the women mentioned in NARAL’s 2016 report entitled “Abortion Bans at 20 Weeks: A Dangerous Restriction for Women”?

These are just a few women who have had to face the reality of how 20-week abortion bans affect women’s physical and emotional health.

***

But let me be pro-life for a moment.

Let me acknowledge that some of you are reading this and thinking, Okay, fine, but I’ve read articles that have talked about women who get third-trimester abortions on perfectly healthy babies! And I won’t stand for that! It’s not right! If those women weren’t so selfish, someone could adopt that baby, someone who could give it a wonderful life!

Let’s assume you are right. Let’s assume there are women who are ending viable pregnancies after 20 weeks.

You know what?

That woman’s right to end her viable pregnancy is intertwined with another woman’ right to end her non-viable pregnancy.

The truth is, not many of these 20-week abortion bans that have been passed in individual states make a distinction between mothers seeking abortions for a non-viable versus a viable fetus.

They’re all lumped together.

Just as they are in the state of Ohio now.

Banning 20-week abortions isn’t simply a matter of “protecting life.”

At least in Ohio, a ban on 20-week abortions doesn’t save babies from certain death because many of these babies will not survive.

Instead, a ban like this amplifies the already unimaginable grief that some pregnant women bear.

The truth is, women in Ohio will soon be forced to carry non-viable pregnancies, regardless of how they feel about it.

There’s nothing pro-life about that.

A Response to Ohio’s New 20-Week Abortion Ban: My Letter to Governor Kasich

abortion

December 16, 2016

Governor Kasich,

I recently wrote you in regard to the Heartbeat Bill, which was part of HB 493. I’m so very glad that you line-item vetoed it. I understand that you had different reasons than me for disapproving of it. Your rationale for your veto was based on the likelihood that the law would be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, as was the case in laws passed in North Dakota and Arkansas.

But, as you wrote in your statement, you have “a deep respect for the pro-life community and their ongoing efforts in the defense of unborn life.”

You presumably demonstrated this respect for unborn life by taking a different action.

You signed into law a 20-week abortion ban. With no exceptions for rape or incest. And very limited provisions for abortions that endanger the life of the mother.

On its face, this law can seem more reasonable than the Heartbeat Bill. After all, 20 weeks? That’s five months of pregnancy. What kind of woman waits that long to make the decision to have an abortion? And what about all those pictures of aborted 20-week-old babies? Awful. Just awful.

Certainly, such a ban stops the most atrocious acts of violence that are being committed against thousands of innocent, unborn children?

Right?

But this rationale is a myth.

It’s not grounded in reality.

I read the Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions. If you pay attention, a quite different picture of a typical 20-week abortion emerges from this report. Here are some quick facts:

  • Only 510 of the 21,186 abortions that were performed in 2014 happened after 19 weeks of pregnancy. That is 2% of total abortions.
  • Of the 510 abortions after 19 weeks, only 1 was performed on a viable fetus.
  • 509 abortions after 19 weeks were performed on non-viable fetuses.

Those are facts, collected and compiled from your own state agency.

In other words, only 1 abortion in the state of Ohio was performed on a fetus that could have survived outside of its mother’s womb.

Unfortunately, the exact reasons that women obtain abortions after 20 weeks has not been widely studied, possibly because they make up only 2% of total abortions in the United States. (Even though they garner the most public outcry.)

But let me point out one clear reason why some women have abortions at 20 weeks.

It is at this point that some women first find out that their child will not survive outside of the womb. They have anencephaly (no brain) or bilateral renal agenesis (no kidneys) or severe omphalocele (all organs are growing outside of the body).

This is the reality of the 20-week abortion ban: It means that next year women who would have chosen to end their pregnancies because their child was not going to survive, now have no choice about how to deal with their grief.

They must carry their dying babies as long as their bodies will allow and as long as their babies’ hearts continue to beat.

Yes, I know. Some women have told you remarkably moving stories about how they persevered through their grief and gave birth to their babies and held them for a few hours before they passed away in their arms. Their stories are regarded by many as both honorable and heroic. Even in the certainty of tragedy, these women pressed on and allowed their children the great blessing of being born into this world. Even though they died shortly afterward.

These experiences are beautiful stories. And for some women, these experiences are the major catalyst for their own healing.

But–and this is truly, truly important–not every woman grieves in the same way.

Grief is personal. It is highly dependent on our individual personalities and coping mechanisms.

What I am saying is this: We should not create one acceptable path for how women are allowed to process the grief that follows the devastating knowledge that their child will not survive after birth.

It is no less motherly to want to end your child’s suffering inside the womb so he will never know a life of pain. It is no more motherly to carry your child to term and hold him in your arms as he passes.

They are just different ways of grieving.

But this 20-week abortion ban takes away one of those options.

Now, women who are carrying babies with terminal diagnoses will have no choice about how to deal with their grief.

Can you imagine what it feels like to carry impending death with you? Everywhere you go? Every moment of your life?

Can you imagine just trying to live a normal life, without having to remember every moment of it that your child is dying? Even as your body continues to grow and grow?

Can you imagine trying to go about your day without bursting into tears when someone tells you “congratulations?”

Can you imagine all the strangers’ comments, every day, all day? How far along are you? What are you having? Is this your first? Are you excited? You look great! Do you have the baby’s room ready?

Can you imagine trying to get out of conversations about the pregnancy? Because you don’t really want to explain the whole situation to your mechanic. Or the cashier. Or the visitor at your church.

And every time, feeling that you are just betraying your child once again.

Can you imagine the tension of wanting your child’s life to end so you can finally move on?

Can you imagine the unspeakable guilt? Can you imagine these feelings that you don’t dare utter aloud because people will think that you don’t love your child?

Can you imagine your absolute rage that you have become a prisoner to your own body, stamped and approved by the country that you love, but whose laws you so passionately disagree with?

Can you imagine… reaching a point when you look for an alternative?

Maybe someone can help you out. Off the record. Maybe you could get this process going with some medications that you order on-line. Or maybe you could go to another state? Not Indiana. But maybe Pennsylvania?

That is how women find themselves looking at ways to have abortions at home. Without medical help.

That is how women die.

Governor Kasich, I don’t believe it is your intention to put women into such a situation. You seem to be a reasonable man, but perhaps a man who isn’t familiar with the perspective of pregnant women.

I am currently 34 weeks pregnant with my second child. At this stage, this pregnancy is consuming my life. I’m carrying around 35 extra pounds. I can’t breathe normally. I can’t eat a full meal. I can’t sleep comfortably. I pee about 18 times a day and constantly through the night. In every conversation that I have with strangers, they comment on my pregnancy. I cannot avoid it without being rude.

So I just take it.

As will these women who won’t be able to have abortions after 20 weeks.

To carry a pregnancy doesn’t just mean to keep living and breathing. It means that you slowly conform to the child. You let go and let go and let go. The child grows and grows and the only way to get through it is to surrender.

That is hard enough to do when you know your child is healthy and will very likely survive.

Can you imagine how hard that is to do for women who know their child is going to die?

Governor Kasich, I ask that you carefully consider the reality that this law will now have on women. We’re not talking about saving thousands of perfectly healthy babies from selfish, horrible mothers that want to kill them. We are talking about a group of women who are making the most incredibly difficult decision of their lives while immersed in grief.

Respectfully,

Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Dayton, Ohio 45459

 

 

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