New year, waiting for baby, and an intention to pause

I have a complicated relationship with new year resolutions, with the subtle differences between setting goals and intentions, task lists and priorities. In my twenties I set goals like challenges, and with the fiery energy characteristic of that decade in life, I loved the feeling of the finish line. I wanted to push the limits of what I thought I could do, how far I could travel, what I could learn. In my thirties, I still nurture that same passion, but it’s a much smaller, steadier flame now, and I keep it closer to home.

Goals look and feel and sound different to me now that I have a family. Intentions seem more more nebulous. I tend to live most of my days chasing after an endless task list, my lifelong habit of journaling giving way to messy notebooks scrawled with crossed off groceries, appointments, questions and answers. And as much as I crave clarity when it comes to my long-term vision of how I’d like to shape these sweet family years, they are going by so quickly that I find myself at a loss to describe our family’s values or priorities articulately.

The thing is, I feel okay about all of that. The challenges I’ve faced in my late twenties and early thirties, since marrying my love and figuring out how to live on our own, have humbled me and shown me that goals and intentions and to-dos don’t define me, and can’t fill the deepest parts of me. I know my greatest desire is God, and that real fulfillment is mysterious, paradoxical, maybe even antithetical to the achievement-oriented culture I live in. I know I struggle every day to turn toward God, to seek true fulfillment by listening to the Spirit and serving Christ in others. Every year I think, maybe this will be the year I don’t feel like a fraud, the year I actually commit to following Jesus, the year I am truly transformed.

That’s the muddy, shifting undercurrent of my thoughts when the year turns and a week later I mark the passing of another year of my life. This sense of hesitation to set goals right alongside a sense of urgency to set them. There’s a feeling of needing to articulate my heart’s current state, and hoping to find that my soul is more focused somehow than the year before, that my desires are fewer and more pointed in the direction of God.

At the same time, this year I’m poised at the edge of a big unknown– two weeks from our baby’s “due date,”  an unknown distance to becoming a family of four. So I’m frantically making lists, preparing, puzzling over last-minute decisions. I’m sweating over the fact that the photos still aren’t organized, the closet is still too cluttered, and I haven’t filled in all the parts of both kids’ pregnancy and baby journals– I’m not “caught up.” Normal obsessive nesting behavior. A way for my anxious mind to try to wrest some control over a beautiful mystery: When will the baby come? Will I be ready?

I finished reading Mindful Birthing for the second time, and this go-round I was really struck by two paired phrases: the idea of Horticultural Time vs. Industrial Time, and the idea of Doing Mode vs. Being Mode. They’re interrelated. Nancy Bardacke writes about how labor and childbirth belong to Horticultural Time– a nonlinear experience of time’s passage that corresponds with biological rhythms rather than the clock of Industrial Time. As we near labor, women feel their bodies begin to shift into Horticultural Time. I really love this image– I think of the tendrils of a bean vine curling up around a sunflower stalk, how its wisdom turns it slowly and strongly toward the sun. How the sunflower blooms and tracks the sun’s arc across the sky, and how both record time’s passage but through leaf, shadow, seed, silence, instead of numbers.

I realize I’ve mostly been living in Doing Mode, and that I’m having trouble downshifting to Being Mode. I know that is where I will be spending most of my days after baby comes, and that part of the Horticultural mode of motherhood is a loosening of time, while the baby is waking and eating every few hours, dipping in and out of sleep as he adjusts to an earth ruled by clock time. Since I’ve been through birth and new motherhood once before, I think I’m a little anxious about surrendering again, and so I’m clinging to these tasks as a way to postpone the birth– even though I’m so excited to meet our son– and the shift to Being Mode.

At the same time, I can feel my soul is exhausted, and that Being Mode and Horticultural Time are exactly where I want to be. Part of the difficulty and challenge of motherhood in an achievement and goal oriented culture is that it’s hard to fully surrender to that state of being. It’s where we need to be, and where our babies need us to be, and yet the way we live isn’t set up to support moms and babies in that space.

I’m thankful for the support we do have– my mom and mother in law will each stay with us for a week or so early on; my brother in law is ready to step in and help with Sky, who adores him; and our friends are ready to cook us meals and help as needed. We will do the best we can do enter newborn time, and this phase of uncertain waiting is the first step.

I like choosing one word for the year. The past few years I’ve chosen “trust,” but this year the word that keeps coming to me is “pause.” I have more to say about that but think I’ll close this post there, and pick it up again tomorrow.


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