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.

 

Continue Reading

On my Parenting Bookshelf

These are my favorite books on pregnancy, babyhood, and parenting.

Mindful Birthing, Nancy Bardacke

So this is not exactly on parenting, but the mindfulness techniques for coping with pain in labor are just as relevant when coping with anger and frustration during challenging times with a toddler. I am rereading this as we get ready to welcome our second baby (in about 28 days!!) and once again finding it so helpful.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Mark Weissbluth

This is the classic on sleep training. If you’re wary of sleep training, you’ll probably avoid this book. If you’re looking for a science/evidence based look at children’s sleep needs at each stage of development, along with clear suggestions for helping children develop good sleep habits, you will welcome this book. I’ve fallen into each category at different times in my parenting journey thus far. This book helped my family establish regular sleeping patterns after our daughter’s 4-month sleep regression. It saved my mental health at a time when it was really suffering, and I have since referred to it as she has moved through subsequent sleep changes, whether it’s dropping a nap, moving to a toddler bed, or adjusting bedtime as she gets older.

Oh Crap! Potty Training, Jamie Glowacki

Loved this book. The author has a great sense of humor, which you really need when you start helping your kid learn how to use the toilet. We followed a sort of relaxed form of elimination communication with Sky starting at about 3 months, and that helped her get familiar with the potty early on, as well as helped me learn to “read” her signals. But in terms of long-term independence and toilet learning, none of the EC books were nearly as helpful and straightforward as this one. This book kind of breaks down the process into simple, manageable steps and helps you trouble-shoot.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, Laura Markham

We are just starting this book, in tandem with an online parenting course at Aha! Parenting, and so far I really love it. It’s easy to talk about not yelling, but it’s a whole other thing to actually be able to commit to growing as a parent and human being in the way you need to in order to change a habit. I like how this book focuses on how to manage your emotions as a parent, so you can teach your kid to skillfully manage their own emotions. It’s so so hard, and I really, really want to do the best I can for Sky.

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense, Ellyn Satter

This is a really long book about something as (seemingly?) simple as eating, but it was well worth the read for me. The gist is this: my job as a parent is to prepare and serve appropriate foods at appropriate times, and it’s my child’s job to decide if and how much she will eat. Period. Really simple, right? But tough in practice, especially when you’re worried about your kid’s developing preferences and habits. I like this author’s gentle, warm approach and learned a lot from her experience as a nutritionist and counselor.

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, Janet Lansbury

So good. I wrote about this earlier this year, but it bears a repeat mention because she is just so helpful. A friend recommended the RIE approach to me even before Sky was born, and Lansbury makes it pretty accessible. I also liked her earlier book, Elevating Childcare. Ultimately I’ve found the RIE approach a little more sensible than Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, which was a good starting point but left a lot of gaps and confusion for me.

Buddhism for Mothers, Sarah Napthali

Another supportive book for parents in learning to use mindfulness to parent calmly and lovingly. I also liked her follow-up book, Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children, and her book for couples. Napthali has a great sense of humor and an easy-going, clear way of explaining the nuances of Buddhism, woven into stories from her own and other mothers’ lives about putting philosophy into practice in the trenches of motherhood.

Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as Spiritual Discipline, Catherine McNiel

Last but definitely not least. This book was such a huge gift this year. McNiel brings a Christian lens to the interlocking circles of mindfulness, spiritual growth, and mothering. Reading it felt like drinking a big glass of fresh cold water. I’ve just been longing for good writing that situates motherhood as holy, fertile ground for spiritual growth within the Christian tradition, and this book does that so well. It’s both practical and lyrical; down-to-earth and inspirational.

 

 

Continue Reading

2nd Trimester Check-in

As I near the start of my third trimester (!!), I am checking in on how the second trimester of this second pregnancy has gone. I love reading comparisons of first and second pregnancies on other blogs, and I have a funny obsession with bump pics that show the full progression of mom-and-baby development. I just think it’s amazing what our bodies can do to accommodate growing a tiny human.

12 weeks: Some would say I’m still in the first trimester, but at twelve weeks I’m feeling brave enough to start documenting this pregnancy. I’ve been showing since about ten weeks (a full eight weeks earlier than my pregnancy with Sky), but this is the week people really start commenting.
Feeling: Still nauseous pretty much all day. This pregnancy it started at six weeks, and I’ve actually vomited several times which wasn’t the case with Sky. Seems like a lot of other second-time moms have harder second pregnancies, so I guess I’m not alone in this.
Eating: Cottage cheese with cold cantaloupe, plain bagels, cold water with lemon. Steamed carrots and plain rice; heated chicken broth and dry toast; plain pasta with butter and salt. I want to eat more green vegetables but I just can’t even get near them.
Noticing: Crazy dreams and insomnia.

Week 14: I had my midwife appointment this week and got to hear the baby’s heartbeat again, always reassuring for this post-miscarriage mother. I’ve decided to go back to my regular OB and primary care doctor rather than the midwife practice.
Feeling: Starting to feel a lot better this week! Nausea hits me at about 4 pm and doesn’t let me go until I fall asleep, but it’s lovely to actually feel hungry in the morning.
Eating: Cottage cheese and cantaloupe, oatmeal, bananas, NO more cooked tomatoes (heartburn).
News: I got in touch with our doula to see if she’s available in January. She is! Knowing I’ll have these familiar faces with me throughout the pregnancy is a comfort. It’s starting to feel real!

Week 17:
Feeling: Caught a nasty cold, but otherwise I’ve been feeling really well. Nausea only hits me sporadically now– when I go too long without a snack, or spend too much time in the heat.
Eating: Salads are back! Eggs, beans, and raw tomatoes– all things I’ve missed and also been repulsed by for three long months. Oranges, chia pudding, and peanut butter.
News: I’ve started to feel baby kick! Maybe flutter-kick is a better word at this point. Mostly in the evenings, and sometimes during the day after I’ve had some fruit or cold juice. Speaking of which. Grapefruit! Where have you been all my life?! I can’t get enough.

Week 20:
Feeling: So good! I have way more energy, which is a blessing as I officially start writing grant proposals for a new client this week. Baby is kicking a lot and Lyle has even been able to feel baby’s kicks a few times.
Eating: Everything. My appetite is much better and we’re enjoying some of our old favorites: lentils and greens, grilled salmon, chicken soup, and veggie tacos with avocado. Still steering clear of alliums and going through about two cantaloupes a week.
News: We’re having a boy! I’ve had a feeling there was a little boy spirit waiting for us ever since we began thinking about having a second child, and now he’s on his way. We are thrilled, and looking forward to a new experience. Lyle comes from a family of brothers, and I have one sister, so neither of us really knows what it’s like to grow up with a sibling of the opposite sex. We’ll be learning along with Sky.

Week 22:
Feeling: Meh. This week I’ve had a return of nausea, possibly stress-induced or dehydration-related. I’ve also felt reeeaaaally tired. I think this may be due to officially returning to work for the first time in several years, even if it’s very part time right now. It’s also been hard to get regular exercise due to intermittent dangerous air quality from the 33 wildfires currently ravaging Oregon. BUT, baby is really kicking now, and I just love that. So. Much.
Eating: Cream of wheat, oatmeal, smoothies, homemade bread, oh, let’s see and some carbs.
News: We went for our baby’s echocardiogram this week, following up on what appeared to be a tiny hole in his heart on our anatomy scan. Everything looked normal and healthy!! What a tremendous relief. We also got much clearer pictures of his little feet and hands. He is still head up at this point, kicking my lower belly. I began to feel some relief from sleeplessness and nausea after getting the reassuring news. Also, I don’t fit in my non-maternity green tank top anymore, so stripes it is.

Week 25:
Feeling: More nausea. I had a good two weeks of feeling relatively normal, and then the queasiness returned. It’s different than the first trimester in that I’m not repulsed by everything, but it’s hard to read my body’s cues. Am I hungry? Too full? Oh, I’m starving! Quick, eat something. Hm, guess that was the wrong thing? Maybe I’ll try some ice water… whoops, starving again. Nope, now it’s heartburn? Or am I too full? I give up! I tell you, eating is a a chore right now. On the upside, lots of good kicks that I can see from the outside, which is so reassuring and funny and strange. I had some SI/pelvic pain that resolved with a trip to the chiropractor and being more conscious about how I get up from seated or reclining positions.
Eating: Whatever. Doesn’t seem to matter much. See above.
News: The days are getting shorter and colder now. 100 days until our due date! According to Babylist, baby is now the size of an Academy Award trophy. (Love their quirky alternatives to the fruit comparisons.) I’ve been planning a low-key baby shower with my sister, finishing up the mini-nursery in our bedroom, and sorting hand-me-down onesies from friends. Lyle and I are having a hard time deciding on a name this time. We checked out a 2017 name almanac from the library, but most of them are a little too out there for our tastes. (Yes, even for parents who named their first child Sky.)

Week 27:
Feeling: Last week of the second trimester. We’re heading into the last stretch. I’m wondering when baby will arrive, enjoying his kicks, and feeling like I’m starting to slow down a bit. The light is leaving us a lot sooner in the evenings as we head toward fall, meaning it’s a scramble to get this weekly pic done, and no time for a costume change. 😉
Eating: Pretty normal stuff, in small snack-sized portions, with occasional nausea.
News: We have one name that we both like. No middle. I’ve started thinking of this as his name, and talking to him with it, just to see if it feels right. I got a haircut from a friend, and I love it. She took out a ton of weight, so it feels better and I can actually get it into a swim cap now. Plus I love having bangs! Instant style for this low-maintenance mama. I just spray on some coconut sea salt spray and go. Looking forward to a cozy fall and winter with Sky and Lyle as we get closer to our due date.

Continue Reading

On Worry and Motherhood

 

“Worry is the work of motherhood,” Pam England writes in Birthing from Within. For me it began well before birth, before I ever held my first child for the first time.

My first pregnancy was ectopic, so when pregnant the second time with Sky, I experienced a lot of anxiety in the early days and weeks. I was afraid it would happen again, and even after early ultrasounds showed a healthy pregnancy developing in the right place, I worried I would miscarry. My first experience of pregnancy changed how I thought about its relative risks. I didn’t share the same kind of innocent confidence many of my friends seemed to enjoy when pregnant for the first time.

But the more I’ve moved into the wilderness of motherhood, the more I’ve come to understand that worry is part of the territory. It isn’t the only part, and it’s certainly not the characterizing trait. But I think my pre-birth self would have been surprised to discover that many of the women who seemed to sail fearlessly through their pregnancies also worked with shadows and fear. Even when you haven’t experienced loss or complication, pregnancy by its very nature is powerfully vulnerable and mysterious.

A few weeks after Sky was born, on our first outing together in the car, we were T-boned by a driver who ran a stop sign. Sky slept safely through the accident in her car seat, but my door was rendered inoperable by the collision, and I panicked trying to get out to check on Sky. That was my first and only thought after we were hit, after my car stopped spinning. Though my car was totaled and I went through several months of physical therapy, we were more or less fine physically. Emotionally is another story. I still have nightmares about that feeling of powerlessness in trying to get out and get to my baby.

And I still think about the woman who hit us, seven months pregnant at the time and unsure if her baby was okay. She couldn’t see her baby, and I think it’s that quality of the unseen that impresses on us how completely outside of our control most aspects of pregnancy really are.

I read this poem by Kelli Russell Agodon not long after the accident, and it has stuck with me. She has generously allowed me to print it here. Thanks, Kelli.

 

Patron Saint of Worry

For an hour we complained
about everything, about saints,
about the fact no one had invented
a babyproof lock for the bathtub faucet.

You said one morning you found
your two-year-old waist deep
in the tub; you were still

in bed—you had slept late—a tired mother
who three years later, still carries this guilt.

We hadn’t even considered the hot water,
the chance of third degree burns.

For an hour, we said much
of our anxieties are from
being Catholic, from our mothers

who grabbed for baseball bats
even at the slightest sound.

You said your mother made you keep
your two fingers on the panic button

of your home’s alarm while she explored
the basement to make sure no intruders
were around.

We still hear the noises.

We still say grace
at the holidays.
We still pray though worry that God
thinks we’re hard to please.

In the middle of dinner,
you asked me how my daughter
knows her spirit animal is a heron
and how mine is a kingfisher.

I said how sometimes I trade saints
for totems, though

I still wear a St. Christopher medallion
around my neck: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.

Tell me if one day we will live
without carrying our history of grandmothers
next to the mace in our purse,
the other life of a bathtub drowning,
how that might have felt?

Will we ever sleep without wondering
if there’s a door we forgot
to lock? You wear a locket of your son

and think up inventions
for hazards. I keep finding new deities
to keep our family safe.

I want us to invent a god
who hands out winning lottery tickets,
who wakes us each morning
from a dream about a solstice

party with good hummus and red wine,
and tells us there is a forest
of doors we never need to lock.

Kelli Russell Agodon


This poem was one of my first inklings that maybe this specific texture of worry wasn’t confined to pregnancy, but was something I would deal with for the rest of my life as a mother. And in some ways, that’s been true. We worried about SIDS her first year, about choking hazards when she started eating solid foods, about our choice of a first baby-sitter. She’s just over two, and I still go into her room to check her breathing after bedtime most nights.

Each milestone brings new worries along with new joys, and for me that is just the pace of motherhood: a steady walk with worry on one foot and enjoyment on the other. I don’t think it’s really possible to abandon fear entirely– it’s part of our brains, our history, our being made in the image of God. I am interested in simple, practical ways of working with worry, though. And that’s where this phrase, “Worry is the work of motherhood,” has changed for me as Sky has grown. I’ve had to learn to work with my worry, to allow it to be part of me without letting it consume me. Prayer is a big part of that for me.

Lately I’ve been ruminating on Hebrews 11, thinking about how through fear God draws us closer to him. We learn to lean on our faith and trust– our belief in the unseen– to move through fear of things seen and unseen. And it’s startling for me to discover that this is for our good, that we are rewarded in choosing to trust God– by a deepened relationship with him, by the experience of his response to even the smallest details of our lives.

Maybe the forest of doors Kelli writes about is the place we enter after we leave earth. Or maybe the forest is part of our world here and now: God’s kingdom where it interrupts and overlaps with this world. I lock my doors but I try to keep my heart unlocked, to feel both my fears and the intensity of my love for my children. I’m not sure we get to have one without the other in this life.

Continue Reading