Tag Archives: motherhood

Fifteen years of longsuffering

It has been the month of patience.

Or, maybe more appropriately, it has been the month of patience being tested.

The last six weeks has held one broken leg (Dominic), two courses of antibiotics for intestinal infections (Mike and me), three trips to Thailand (all of us), and five colds.

It’s been more than a month since Dominic broke his leg and I still don’t want to write about it. Truth be told, I don’t even want to think about it. Because every time I remember hearing the crash after Mike’s mother slipped and landed on the stairs, then the long pause, then that awful, piercing shriek, it breaks my heart all over again.

And it hauls up – like a fishing net from dark depths – a whole slew of emotions.

The agony and helplessness I felt watching Dominic writhe and cry on and off during the thirty hours before we reached the hospital. Anger, because it feels like an accident that didn’t need to happen. Guilt about that anger, because accidents – unexpected and unintentional – happen, they are just part and parcel of this life. Guilt, also, that I didn’t realize immediately that something was seriously wrong. A great compassion for Mike’s mother, because I know she adores Dominic and would have changed places with him in an instant, and because I know how terrible I’d feel if it had been me that slipped on the stairs, and it could have been me. Gratitude that it was Dominic’s leg, not his head, that hit the wood so hard. Terror and an overwhelming desire to vomit whenever I visualize what would have happened if it had been his head.

And with this great mess of emotions – all slippery and flopping around and tangled up together – comes a question that is always lurking around somewhere: Is it worth it, living here?

Now, more than ever, I’m just not sure.

Dominic’s cast came off two weeks ago now. We got up early that day and caught the 7AM flight down to Bangkok. We found our way to a hospital that’s become more familiar to me than any hotel in the city.

I held Dominic in the taxi – me seatbelted in and him strapped to my chest in the baby carrier, my hand cradling the back of his head, my brain trying not to think about the likely outcome if we hit another car on the freeway. Mike held him as he screamed, terrified, while they sawed off the plaster, and then took the pictures that would tell us what was going on inside the reassuringly chubby leg.

Which meant that I was the one looking at the computer screens when the X-rays came up, and I didn’t like what I saw.

The front view showed a straight bone, but the side view showed the femur curved backwards – the spiky back part of the break still dense white and jutting out at an angle underneath the thin grey film of new bone.

The doctors told us that new bone was visible over the entire break site and that it was safe to take off his cast. They told us that bones (like so many other things in life, it seems) need to be subjected to normal daily stressors in order to prompt them to grow.  They told us that we should encourage Dominic to use the leg normally as he learns to sit, crawl, and walk.

They also told us, however, that there was no way of telling whether the femur will straighten out over time and grow normally. Because the break occurred so close to the knee, there is a significant possibility that growth will stall or, even more likely, that the bone will start to grow too fast in all sorts of funny directions.

We need to follow up via X-rays every six months for the next three years and then every year after that until the growth spurts of adolescence are over.

That’s at least fifteen years.

Fifteen years of explaining what happened to every new doctor and new school. Fifteen years of watching, of X-rays, of prayers, of keeping fingers crossed. Fifteen years of regular reminders.

It means that I can’t just leave that slew of painful emotions down in the depths and hope that if I don’t touch the thread of this particular story all those complicated feelings – starved of attention – will just wither away.

It’s early days yet, there’s no way of knowing which particular emotion is most frequently going to leap out of the morass and bite me when circumstances haul that day up from the depths of memory. Guilt? Anger? Frustration at the expense and the giant pain-in-the-ass-factor of all these follow up appointments? Grief over how this might limit Dominic’s mobility? Any of them are possibilities, but only one thing seems certain – this episode is going to push me to exercise patience in ways I’ve never before had to.

The Greek word used in Galatians 5:22 to refer to patience, makrothumia, comes from makros, “long,” and thumos, “temper.” It denotes lenience, fortitude, endurance, and longsuffering.

Before this month of patience started I thought that I had this one in the bag. Even Mike, who has a backstage pass to my life, would say that I am a patient person. I’m very skilled at controlling my reactions in the moment, at taking a deep breath and a step back, at not lashing out when I’m frustrated. It takes a great deal to make me really angry or upset.

But … the thing is … once I do get upset or angry I tend to stay churned up for a long time. Once the tipping point is reached, I hang onto all that dark energy and coddle it like a favorite pet. I feel justified in camping out under a cloud of self-pity. I have imaginary conversations during which I deliver perfect put-downs. I rehearse all the ways I’ve been wronged by others or the universe. I allow the misfortunes of the present to fuel fearful visions of the future.

Although I’ve always known that this is not my most admirable collection of qualities, I’ve never before wondered whether it had anything to do with patience. But perhaps there is more to patience than not getting upset, frustrated or angry in the first place. Perhaps true patience is also manifest in how we set about calming the storms once they’re raging?

I don’t exactly know what being “patient” with fifteen years of uncertainty about the future of that tiny, precious leg should look like. I sense, however, that it will need to move beyond not losing my temper when ugly, unwanted thoughts and feelings well up.

I suspect that weathering fifteen years of longsuffering with a patient grace will mean opening that net-full whenever circumstances haul it up and dump it at my feet. It will mean shaking loose its contents and naming these feelings, then naming the bedrock fears and expectations that have nourished them.

It will mean sifting out the thankfulness and then tossing the dross overboard.

Then turning my eyes from the depths and looking to the horizon.

Again and again.

And again.

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Practices of Parenting

EmergingMummy.comA blogger I read regularly, Sarah Bessey, has been hosting a Practices of Parenting Carnival this week, where she invited readers to submit posts on their practices of parenting via a link-up. (You can find all of Sarah’s original practices of parenthood posts here.)

The response was extraordinary – 117 posts and counting! I linked up my Peace Like A River post, and over the last couple of days I’ve looked at all of the other posts that bloggers linked to on Sarah’s site.  They were heart-felt and moving and some were gorgeous. Here are seven that stood out to me.

Making Mama (and Papa) Art: This is a beautiful post, one after my own heart, about writing notes and letters to our children, “because the written-words seem to go beyond the everyday-words.”

In which I assign beauty: “The best way I can make the world a better place is by sending my little people out into it as the most compassionate they can be, and so I tattoo this message beneath their skins, in their hearts and in their sights and in their bloodstreams: this world is filled with beauty. That person is filled with beauty. You are filled with beauty.”

I love the message of this post – a message so closely tied to gratitude. There’s something in me that jumps up and down and says a big “Yes!! It makes the world and our hearts a better place when we notice and celebrate beauty”

The practice of a happy bedtime: “Our happy bedtimes benefit both my children and myself.  It is a chance for all of us to let go of the failures and frustrations of the day, as well as all of the worries of tomorrow, and just remember how much we love each other.”

I love bedtime. I the peaceful grounding provided by all the little bedtime rituals, and the big exhale that comes when I crawl into bed and know that the busyness and demands of the day are done. I liked this reminder about the important role parents play in kids bedtimes when they’re young.

Parenting in our little village: “This is what joyful parenting looks like to me. Not just staying at home with my kids, but taking them out into the wild and woolly world and engaging with it.”

This post challenged me. I want this sort of rich and multi-cultural parenting circle. But as crazy as it sounds, given where we live, this is something we do not have going for us here yet. Or maybe I should say, “this is not something we’ve worked hard to get going for us here.”

Speak out love: “The idea that somehow it can get a bit old, or tired, to hear “I love you” too much doesn’t stick either – I would much, much rather be told it too much, and say it too much, than to spend each day longing to hear those words, or not knowing how to get them out.”

I was raised in a loving home and I can still find it uncomfortable to say these words out loud. Why is that? Mike’s much better at giving these three words away than I am.

The practice of creativity: “There is something sacred about the act of creating together. I wrote about why I want to raise creative children, and I know that the best way for me to do this is to live creatively in front of them.”

This challenged the writer in me. Writing is a solitary creative pursuit and it was a good reminder to start thinking about how to involve kids in creative projects that we can do together.

Watering weeds into flowers: “That day I didn’t want to pay the price for future fond memories. Right then, that day, I didn’t want to be yelled at about tightening the straps of tiny shoes. I wanted to do my work, alone.”

I liked the way this was written – a good example of storytelling without hammering home the message too hard.

Do you have a Practices of Parenting you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, or a link to your own blog post. Then head on over to Sarah’s blog and link it up there.

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Peace Like A River

Two weeks after Dominic was born, Mike announced that he was going out for a bike ride.

“Just a 50km loop,” he said. “I’ll be back within two hours.”

I nodded and told him to have a good ride, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to cry. I wanted to clutch him and beg him not to go. I wanted to demand that he tell me how I would survive if a car hit him – which happens to cyclists all the time, you know – while he was being so irresponsible as to be out riding for fun. Fun. What was he thinking to be indulging in something so very dangerous and call it fun?

I had expected my son’s birth to deliver love into my life. What I had not expected was that right alongside love would come something else, something that would assault me more often and more viciously than I had ever imagined.

Fear.

In the weeks following the miraculous trauma of Dominic’s arrival, I found myself battling fear at every turn. I would see myself dropping the baby, or accidentally smothering him while I was feeding him in bed. The thought of unintentionally stepping on his tiny hand while he was lying on the floor made me stop breathing. Whenever I left the house I visualized car accidents. I lay awake at night when I should have been getting desperately needed sleep thinking about the plane ticket that had my name on it – the ticket for the flight that would take all three of us back to Laos.

How, I wondered, am I ever going to be able to take this baby to Laos when I don’t even want to take him to the local grocery store? What if he catches dengue fever? What if he picks up a parasite that ravages his tiny insides? What if he gets meningitis and we can’t get him to a doctor in Bangkok fast enough? What if the worst happens?

What if?

One of my favorite hymns was written by a man who was living through one such horrific “what if”. After learning that all four of his children had drowned when the ship they were traveling on collided with another boat and sank, Spafford left immediately to join his grieving wife on the other side of the Atlantic. As his own ship passed near the waters where his daughters had died, he wrote It Is Well With My Soul.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

This hymn is one of my favorites because it puzzles me. I’m awed and confused by Spafford’s ability to write these words in the face of such loss. Because of the story behind it, the song demands my respect.

Plus, I really like that image in the first line of peace like a river.

I think of this line sometimes when I’m out walking around town, for Luang Prabang is nestled between two rivers. The Mekong is a force to be reckoned with – wide, muddy, and determined. Watching the frothy drag on the longboats as they putt between banks gives you some hint of the forces at play underneath the surface. Mike likes the Mekong, but my favorite is the other river, the Khan. The Khan is much smaller and at this time of year it runs clear and green, skipping merrily over gravelly sand banks and slipping smoothly between the poles of the bamboo bridge that fords it.

I used to think of peace primarily as a stillness – a pause, a silence, a clarity – but that sort of peace is not the peace of rivers. There is a majestic, hushed sort of calm to rivers, but they are not silent and they are certainly not still – even the most placid of rivers is going somewhere. They don’t always run clear, either. But all that silt that muddies the waters of the Mekong? It ends up nourishing vegetables growing on the riverbanks.

Dominic is five months old now and the worst of the post-natal anxiety appears to have subsided. I managed to get myself to board that plane back to Laos and it no longer terrifies me to see Mike head out the door to ride his bike to work (most days, anyway). My fear of what ifs never leaves completely, though – it’s always lurking around waiting to be nurtured by my attention and amplified by my imagination.

I used to feel like a failure that I couldn’t banish that fear altogether – that I never felt “perfectly” peaceful – but I don’t feel that way any more. I’m learning to greet that sort of fear respectfully without bowing before it. I’m learning to use it as a reminder to turn toward gratitude rather than worry. And I’ve stopped expecting peace to look like the pristine silence that follows a midnight snowfall. I’m coming to appreciate a different sort of peace instead – a peace that pushes forward, rich with mud, swelling and splashing and alive with the music of water meeting rock.

Peace like a river.

The Khan River, Luang Prabang, Laos

(Update: In an irony of the sort you never want to live through, the day after I posted this my mother in law slipped on our stairs here in Laos and Dominic broke his femur. We are back in Laos now, but must return to Thailand for follow up in two weeks. Continued thoughts and prayers for good healing appreciated.)

Other posts in this series:

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Follow the link to read other posts linked up at the Practices of Parenting Carnival hosted by Sarah.

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24 things that have surprised me about motherhood: I never thought I would…

Everyone says motherhood is full of surprises. They’re right. Here are 24 of mine.

I never thought I would…

  1. Leak milk at the sight of a puppy.
  2. Wipe up baby spew with clothing that I am wearing.
  3. Consider 6 a.m. on a Sunday almost a sleep-in.
  4. Refer to my spouse as “daddy” more frequently than I call him by name.
  5. Still have my child sleeping right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  6. Still want my child to sleep right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  7. Catch poo with my bare hands.
  8. Find myself physically incapable of letting the baby cry for longer than 57 seconds without comforting him.
  9. Find myself physically incapable of concentrating on conversations, tasks or oncoming traffic when the baby is crying.
  10. Understand why the manufacturers felt it necessary to print the following warning label on pacifier packaging: “Warning: Do not tie pacifier around a child’s neck as it presents a strangulation danger”.
  11. End up with a red-headed baby who is below the 40th percentile for weight and height (I mean, we’ll keep him because he is the most adorable baby ever, but I seriously think he may have been switched at birth).
  12. See regurgitated milk land in my (brown) hair and think, “it’s only a little bit, I don’t need wash it out today.”
  13. Find myself speaking in a high-pitched musical tone even when I’m not talking to the baby.
  14. Ricochet emotionally from extreme highs to extreme lows within half an hour.
  15. Change four diapers in 20 minutes.
  16. Feel guilty for leaving the baby with someone else for an hour so I can do some work.
  17. Function adequately (most of the time) on this little sleep.
  18. Say everything twice (“What’s the doggie doing, Dominic? What’s the doggie doing?).
  19. Allow the dog to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  20. Call the dog over to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  21. Allow the baby to lap up milk that the baby has just spewed up. (Off my shoulder, people, not the floor. Hey, I work hard to make that milk, if he wants to drink it twice, that’s fine by me).
  22. Feel the urge to sneeze and think first of my pelvic floor.
  23. Think of household items such as bed sleepers and rocking chairs with the same acquisitive lust heretofore reserved for ice cream makers.
  24. Feel so immediately, incandescently and uncontrollably joyful when the baby laughs.

What about you? What surprised you on becoming a parent?

If you enjoyed this post, stick around! Subscribe to my blog by RSS or by email (enter your email address top right) to receive updates about our adventures in parenthood and in Laos, and check out some of the following pregnancy and parenthood-related posts:

  1. Koi Maan Luuk: Or, I Am Pregnant
  2. Finding Out You Are Pregnant, In Slow Motion
  3. Life Lessons on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Cows
  4. It’s a…
  5. Ten Good Things About Boys: Attaining Synthetic Happiness One Gender Stereotype at a Time
  6. Lessons in breastfeeding from cows, take two
  7. Tough Love Take One

More than a brighter shade of happiness

“What have you been thinking about joy recently?” Mike asked me over lunch the other day.

“I’ve been thinking about that research suggesting that people are happier before they have children,” I said. “And about how happiness and joy are different.”

“Are you going to write the easy post about how you often feel less happy on a moment to moment basis since Dominic’s birth, but you have more joy in your life?” Mike asked.

“No,” I said. “Because, although I would like to think that this is true, I’m not actually sure that it is.”

Despite the fact that joy is the theme of this month, I’ve been trying not to think too hard about the difference between happiness and joy. This question confuses me, and thinking too hard about anything confusing in the face of this enduring sleep deficit is still a struggle. But there’s no getting around it, if I’m going to exert even a half-hearted attempt to grapple with the concept of joy, this particular question must be confronted.

Mike and I first started talking about joy a couple of weekends ago when we were hanging out at Zen and I was feeling low low low. Mike asked me what I was thinking about regarding joy on that day, too. As I recall, I told him I didn’t feel at all joyful and I didn’t feel like talking about it. Also as I recall, Mike being Mike, he persevered with the conversation, anyway.

“Happiness is present focused,” Mike said when I gave in and asked him what he thought about the difference between joy and happiness. “Joy is more future focused. Also, happiness is more self-focused while joy is others-focused.”

“Like how we feel about Leslie’s and Ryan’s engagement,” Mike continued. “Objectively there’s little in it for us other than a kick ass party, so why do we feel so elated by this? I think that feeling of gladness we feel at their good news, that’s less happiness than it is joy.”

I don’t agree with Mike about joy being tied to anticipating future good things, but then again I don’t think that I’m a very future-oriented person. If anything, I get more joy from remembering past blessings than I do thinking about the future.

However, I think Mike’s point about joy being related to empathy – being rooted in an appreciation for the “good” in life even when that good doesn’t directly benefit you – is fascinating.

Many dictionaries define joy as intense or especially exultant happiness, but this doesn’t seem nuanced enough to me. Even if I don’t find it easy to pin down exactly why, I feel as if joy really should be something more than just a brighter shade of happiness – something wider and deeper, something that stems from beyond myself and my pleasures.

I think the man who listed joy as one of the “fruits of the spirit” in Galatians 5:22 would agree. That man would probably say that true joy is a by-product of our appreciation for, and relationship with, the divine.

A good friend recently made a similar point by email.

“Joy is hard to quantify, no?” she wrote. “I think that joy doesn’t always make you happy, because the fruit of the spirit is the result of the work of God in your heart and experience shows this to be not exclusively a blissful journey. (Maybe sometimes we are more like in the stage of ‘the flower-bud of the spirit’? I mean, fruit will probably come, but not for a few months yet…).”

“I love that image of a flower bud of the spirit,” I wrote back. “I will hold the image of jasmine in my mind. At least, I’ll hold it in my mind until Mike teases me that I’m really more one of those carnivorous, meat-eating flowers you find in the Amazon. And then I might wonder aloud what sort of poor marriage decision that little flower made to end up having to adapt to living in the tropics, and tell Mike that sometimes flowers just do what they have to do to survive. Then we’ll both laugh. Thank goodness that, most days, we can both still laugh.”

We did plenty of laughing this morning when Dominic suddenly decided that our dog scratching himself was the funniest sight he’d seen in his whole little life and laughed until he turned bright red and started hiccupping. Today’s so far been a good day full of long baby naps and bright baby smiles and leisurely walks under cloudy skies to pick up groceries. Today I think of Dominic and smile. Today I can say without hesitation that Dominic’s birth has brought great joy into my life.

But today doesn’t tell the whole story of this last week.

Last week at this time I was alone in the house, exhausted from several nights in a row of broken sleep, unable to escape the screech of power tools right next door, and trying in vain to settle a grumpy baby who didn’t want to put down (or to sleep). I was walking the floor of our bedroom with Dominic in my arms, crying, thinking that this could not possibly be the point of life.

I would like to be able to say that even in that desolate moment I felt that the demanding, wailing bundle in my arms had brought joy with him when he burst into my life four months ago. Yes, I would like that. But the truth of the matter is that I simply felt so bereft of happiness and joy that I had a hard time conceiving that I would ever really feel either happiness or joy again.

I would also like to be able to say that even during that moment that felt so joyless, I still knew that the demanding, wailing bundle in my arms had brought joy with him when he burst into my life four months ago. Yes, I would like that. But the truth of the matter is, the only thing I knew for sure in that moment was that I still wouldn’t wish his birth undone. If the Archangel Gabriel had appeared in that instant and offered me the chance to hand Dominic over, I would have refused (unless Gabriel had promised to bring him back markedly more cheerful in a couple of hours – then I would have relinquished him with great haste as well as both happiness and joy).

Perhaps I still don’t have this difference between joy and happiness all sorted out in my mind because they’re impossible to completely untangle in real life. Sometimes, I think, joy does feel like a brighter shade of happiness. But sometimes in moments when happiness is nowhere to be found, I think it can feel like peace instead. And perhaps sometimes it’s not really a feeling at all, but more an attitude, or even knowledge.

I don’t think that knowing you don’t really want to push the reset button regarding the existence of your child – even in those dark, exhausted, tear-drenched moments – quite reaches the lofty heights of joy. Perhaps, however, joy can sink its roots deep into this knowledge and continue to grow even when the fertilizer of happiness is in short supply. Because I believe now that what I discovered last month about love is also turning out to be true of joy.

Last month I wrote about how love for Dominic hadn’t swamped me like a tidal wave but was creeping in slowly and inexorably, like a rising tide. I don’t know why I expected joy to be a different kettle of fish in this regard, but I did. Subconsciously I’ve been thinking of joy as something you either have – flowering full and perfect in your life – or don’t have at all. It took my friend’s letter to make me realize that I had missed a foundational implication of the fruit of the spirit analogy – the fact that fruit, uh, grows. Slowly. As in weeks, months, and entire seasons slowly. This much I do know about the process, despite the fact that I’ve never been all that talented at growing things and prefer to buy my fruit from others who have done the hard and careful work of tending.

Gosh, wouldn’t it be easier if we could buy joy from our local grocery store or, better yet, instant-download it directly into our lives using the buy-with-one-click button on Amazon?

Easier? Maybe.

Better? I can’t articulate exactly why, but I suspect not.

I will strive to remember that as I rue the irony of spending the next month thinking about peace in the midst of our ongoing negotiations with our noisy neighbors. I will remember it tonight when I wake up in the wee dark hours, as I will inevitably do, to reach down and place a hand on a stirring baby. And I will remember it this afternoon as I go soon to get him up from his nap, change him, amuse him, feed him, love him. If part of deep joy necessarily springs from focusing on others, this mothering thing surely means that my emotional greenhouse will eventually be a fruitful, joyous, sweet mess of color. And in the meantime, there are fresh mangoes and tamarind available at the little stall just down the street. Maybe I’ll take Dominic for a walk in that direction this afternoon.

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Seeking The Fruits Of Motherhood

Three weeks after my first child was born, my uncle leaned towards my husband, Mike, over the dinner table.

“It would be nice,” he said, “to see something positive on Lisa’s blog about the baby.”

This comment was directed at Mike because I wasn’t actually at the dinner table with everyone else; I was sitting on the couch with my breast firmly planted in the mouth of the small and needy mammal that was under discussion. And the reason I was sitting on the couch was because the little mammal had been almost inconsolable after we fed him just before leaving for dinner, let him sleep for 20 minutes in the car, and then woke him up by carrying him inside. When he started to scream and I went looking for the pacifier, I discovered that we’d left it at home and I was the only effective pacifier available. Parent fail.

Mike and I talked about my uncle’s comment driving home that night.

“Do people actually think I’m serious when I say things like, ‘Last night I almost left the baby in a basket at a bus stop’?” I asked him.

“You haven’t put that on the blog, have you?” Mike asked.

“No,” I said. “I only said it to our obstetrician. And maybe a couple of people from church.”

“I think most people know you’re not serious,” Mike said. “But perhaps a few are a bit worried by your flippancy.”

“When you’re still recovering from a difficult birth, you are suddenly responsible for a small being who sucks up every shred of time and attention you have to offer, you’re running on less than four hours of sleep a night, and you’re facing the prospect of yet another month apart from your husband when he returns to Laos early,” I said, “it’s sometimes easier to see the negative than the positive.”

“Well, have you had positive moments during the last week?” Mike asked.

“Of course!” I said, a bit shocked that he even had to ask. “I love lying sandwiched between the two of you when you’re both sound asleep. I love feeling Dominic settle into my shoulder with that happy little sigh – all warm and suddenly limp – when he’s milk-drunk. I love watching you talking to him so tenderly as you scoop him out of my arms to take him off and change him. I especially love knowing that I don’t have to change him that time.”

“Maybe you should push yourself a little,” Mike said. “Write about some of those moments. Make it a spiritual discipline to identify and articulate the positive in motherhood.”

I thought about this later that night while I was feeding Dominic again at 9PM. Then I thought about it at 3AM. And again at 4:30 when he started stirring and grunting less than half an hour after I’d put him back in his bed, at 4:45 when I brought him into bed with us, and at 5:15 when he started wailing and I had to get up and feed him again. It was not a night packed full of positive moments. In fact, by 6AM, I was tempted to leave the baby in a basket at a bus stop.

But maybe, I thought, this is where the spiritual discipline part comes in.

The name Dominic means “of our Lord”, and I’ve been startled during these early weeks of his life by how often my thoughts have turned into prayers while I’ve been feeding him. There is something about being up in the wee dark hours that nudges my mind toward friends and family, toward the blessings and challenges of life. And all this midnight praying has made me think of Bible verses that I memorized in younger days.

One that came to mind that evening was Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

That night I decided to try something new this year – to take a different word from that verse in Galatians as my theme of the month. I would seek to find that theme, to live it, and I would write about how that word was playing out in mothering, marriage, and the miscellaneous of life. I would purposefully seek the positive. And I would mostly refrain from joking about leaving the baby in a basket at a bus stop.

Mostly.

Help me out here as I start to think this through. What helps you be purposefully positive in your life?

PS. For those few of you who are concerned that I may actually leave the baby in a basket at a bus stop, never fear. If I do I’ll wrap him up nice and warm, just like this…

Photo credit: Mike, day six, minding Dominic while hanging out the laundry

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It takes a village

I wrote the following on Tuesday. It’s now Thursday. C’est la vie at the moment…

This time last week I was still two hours and 15 minutes from giving birth. Last night as I was up between midnight and 2, and again from 5AM, I was somewhat comforted by the thought that as hard as the night was feeling, it wasn’t a patch on how difficult that night of labouring had been the previous week.

Mike and I have been flooded with cyber love in the past week – receiving hundreds of notes and comments congratulating us and wishing us well as we embark upon parenthood. One of those emails said, “I’m sure Dominic will give you a whole new way of thinking, living… and writing!”

I can already see the truth in that statement. Dominic has definitely given me a whole new way of living – I have done very little but feed, sleep, and eat what has been put in front of me since we came home from the hospital on Friday. And not having had more than three hours sleep in a row for a week now is certainly doing some funny things to my thinking.

As for writing… yes, that’s going to have to take a backseat for a while. And what writing I can do, I suspect, will be along the lines of vignettes that I jot down when the odd free moment pops up. And most of those vignettes in the next little while will probably be baby-related because, well, there isn’t really much life outside of baby for me at the moment. I trust that that will change again at some point in the future (possibly when my body is not being used as an all you can eat buffet for eight hours a day). In the meantime, however, I’ll try to continue posting the odd story or random thought of the day now and again.

There are a lot of things I could write about at this point – labour and delivery, post-birth surprises (both good and bad), and the emotional roller-coaster of this last week, to name just a few. And perhaps I’ll get there eventually on those topics. But today’s thought – and the thought I’ve had pretty much every hour since arriving home – is that I really do not know how single parents manage this.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and now I have a new appreciation for why. When you’re trying to feed a baby every three hours, it seems more than one person can manage well to feed, burb, and change the little being, as well as get enough sleep yourself to stay sane. And that “caseload” doesn’t leave any room for eating, drinking, and showering, much less grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, filing the paperwork for the baby’s birth certificate, and learning how to assemble a breast pump. I have never been more grateful for a proactively supportive spouse and parents as I have been this week, or for hot running water and a warm bed. I get completely overwhelmed thinking about the challenges faced by new mothers in refugee camps and rural villages. And I have no idea how single parents do it, either.

That’s it for now from the McKay newborn nursery (where we saw a wallaby eating in the garden this morning when we were nursing). It’s now 11AM and I hear a baby starting to stir and make the “I’m a hungry guinea pig” sounds.

A baby-shaped hole in my heart

Last night, after I got up to visit the bathroom for the third time, the baby woke up and started squirming. Then he got the hiccups. I lay there in the dark with my hand on my belly – feeling those small, rhythmic twitches just underneath my fingertips – and thought about how it was impossible now to forget, even for a minute, that I am pregnant.

Twenty years ago I remember wondering why miscarriages were quite such a big deal. After all, my teenaged self puzzled, the baby hadn’t even been born yet. How could you grieve over something that never was?

It was, I now know, an epic failure of imagination.

I am not one of these women who has wanted to be a mother from the time that she was twelve years old. At times during this last decade I have said that I wanted children, but this was mostly an intellectual and theoretical desire not an emotional longing. Even now, ten weeks from giving birth, I am ambivalent about being pregnant.

This is one thing that has baffled Mike. After I wrote the blog post announcing my pregnancy Mike asked me whether I really was as ambivalent as I’d made myself out to be, or whether I was just being a drama queen.

“I’m totally ambivalent,” I said, surprised. “You’re not?”

“No,” he said. “You’re pregnant, the switch is flicked, I’m 100% on board. It’s great!”

Yeah, it’s great. It really is. I am happy, I am content, and I am grateful.

And, yet.

I am also anxious about labour and delivery. I am worried about how my life will change, how I’ll juggle the different identities that are important to me – writer, psychologist, wife, friend, and now mother. I am mourning the upcoming loss of long, lazy dinner conversations with Mike and of quiet and time that has, before now, been mostly mine to use to work, create, or connect as I pleased. My horizon feels as if it’s narrowing.

But.

As I’ve grown physically this last seven months so has the baby – this baby who hasn’t even been born yet – been creating space for himself in my heart and mind. I still can’t fully imagine what motherhood will be. What I may be losing still often feels more concrete than the new experiences and joys that may be coming my way. But, slowly, that balance is shifting. As the little boy inside me wriggles, twists, and stretches he’s not just enlarging the boundaries of my belly, he’s also fashioning a baby-shaped hole in my heart.

I now understand what my 15-year-old self could not – that a baby can be a vital, living, tangible presence in hopes and dreams and visions of the future long before it even comes close to being born. For even as I get bigger and more uncomfortable every day I am starting to catch glimpses of a brand new horizon as it’s opening up in front of me. And, sometimes, that new vista even looks as a little like the view from the back deck did last night when the clouds parted and sun poured through, drenching the sugar cane fields nestled between the river and the sea in gold.