It’s not just me here anymore

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I’m now about 35 weeks pregnant- which means the end is in sight (I’ll be considered full-term at 37 weeks), and our Blueberry is about 33 weeks old, in terms of fetal development.

Blueberry kicks so hard it hurts. They respond to my voice when I talk to them or sing. They do what feels like flips when I eat ice cream.  So much happens in such a short time.

In some ways, it feels like it was just last week that we went in to an emergency clinic to confirm what my home pregnancy test had already told us. They took a urine sample, and we waited, Edward and I staring at each other anxiously, our hands clasped (mine sweating slightly).

“It’s positive, congratulations!” The nurse said. In my mind he just poked his head through the door on his way down the hallway, but I can’t be sure. I just know I looked at Edward, and burst into tears.

The news was terrifying. Hearing the nurse’s words snapped a cord in me that I didn’t realize was stretched so taut. Edward was outwardly calm, smiling even. “I was so worried,” I said.

“Would you have been more worried if it had been negative?”
I nodded, but kept crying. A million feelings- fear, and panic, but also joy and love and excitement. Having a child fills you with ambivalence.

The doctor who visited with us shortly after was sweet and enthusiastic. She congratulated us heartily and advised us to download a pregnancy tracker app so we could see how much the baby was growing every week. Then we got an ultrasound. The baby’s heart was beating, but too small for us to see it yet. According to the app, we discovered on the way home, the baby was only the size of a blueberry.

Not long afterwards we got on MediCal and I was able to get an OBGYN and another ultrasound. This time, there was a tell-tale movement in the teeny chest cavity that was visible to us. Blueberry was about the size of a strawberry at the time. More tears spilled from my eyes. It’s one thing to believe in the humanity of a tiny fetus, and another to face the reality of one growing inside you. Before that moment, I could believe that it was just about me, what I wanted. I could wallow in the sheer misery of morning sickness and fatigue and cry over all of the plans for my life that would now forever change. But then, that heartbeat. Oh my God. I was 11 weeks pregnant.

I began to feel butterflies only four weeks later- little flutterings in my stomach that felt like excitement- or terror- like the seconds before you plunge down on a rollercoaster. Many women never feel these because they’re so subtle. But it dawned on me after a few days that they were the kicks, flips, and jabs of tiny, fully formed limbs. Blueberry would have been the size of an apple, give or take. According to my tracker, they had finished growing every essential organ by that point, and the rest of pregnancy was about the details.

Now I’m heavy. Blueberry is currently the size of a pineapple. My back hurts. My feet and fingers are swollen. I’m having Braxton-Hicks contractions that are almost crippling in their intensity. I cry sometimes for no apparent reason. This is hard. 

I’ve always wanted to be a mother. In fact, I was experiencing a bit of baby fever in the months leading up to discovering I was pregnant. But Blueberry wasn’t planned. In fact, I was on birth control. I had hoped this summer that we could travel, take a few months or even a year to just enjoy marriage, free from the tether of Edward’s school. I wanted to have some time to work on a new novel. I wanted a better living situation. And financial stability.

True, a baby was wanted- but not right now. I understood, probably for the first time, what people mean when they say they’re afraid a baby will ruin their lives.

Becoming a parent, and especially, becoming a mother, who it takes such a physical toll on, requires so much of you. It’s more than just late nights and sickness- your DNA literally rewrites itself. You cannot go back to who you were before pregnancy, no matter how much you workout or how soon you go back to your job. Motherhood requires a level of selflessness that, even as I’m in the midst of it, I’m still not sure I actually possess.

Some women talk about it like they are filled with grace from Mother Gaia during the whole 9 months and beyond. But I’m not going to lie. It’s big, and it’s scary, and it honestly is not for everyone. But I’ve also discovered surprisingly deep wells of strength and courage, despite my doubts and fears. Some people mock mothers, minimize their sacrifice and strength. Some claim the world needs no more children, who are just more mouths to feed. Who are the unnecessary result of poor choices. And some women -and men- are terrified they will never find that strength or courage. Some are afraid that deep down, they are too selfish and awful to be parents.

I feel you.

But I knew, deep in my soul, that from the day we were told about our little Blueberry- and the day I watched that heartbeat pulsing on the screen- that there was no going back. It wasn’t about just me and my body, my desires, my needs. It’s not just me here anymore.

Bellies, bunnies, and insecurities

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I’ve been insecure for seemingly my entire life. And I remember the first time I felt really horrible about myself. I was eight. I had discovered a nest of baby bunnies in the yard next door and even though I knew not to touch them, I couldn’t resist putting out a hand to try and pet one. The whole nest immediately scattered, darting everywhere, terrified. I took a step back in surprise, and felt something softer than ground beneath my foot- I had stepped on one of the babies. People talk about time freezing for a second, but it really felt like it had for me. I remember looking down with horror at the tiny bunny struggling under my tennis shoe, connected to my pale legs clad in thick pink sweatpants. I felt like a giant; clumsy, destructive. In reality, I probably only stood there in horror for a second or two, and I lifted my foot up, and the bunny, unharmed, shot off to freedom. But it had a profound effect on me. That’s the first time I remember feeling like I was huge and clumsy. Like I took up too much space. Like I ruined good and lovely things, just by existing.

Sometime, not long after this incident, was the first time I said aloud that I was ugly. I was staring at myself in the tiny mirror on my bedroom wall. I don’t know why I said it. I didn’t really believe it at the time. I wasn’t overly concerned with my looks one way or another until I hit puberty. But I remember saying it, in a fit of anger, taking out the way I was feeling on myself.

And that’s lasted more or less forever. Puberty hit me hard, and I gained a lot of weight. I spent most of my teen years and early 20s somewhere on the spectrum from chubby to overweight and I felt it keenly. My family made comments about my weight, or about how much I was eating. I started to blame my appearance for my loneliness in school, where I struggled to make friends and shied away from getting involved in anything that would help me make friends because I was terrified of rejection. I started to gain more confidence by senior year, and had even formed a small group of three friends, but then freshman year in college hit, and it was like a social relapse.

I started out at ground zero in confidence again. I struggled even more at my tiny, conservative Christian university to make friends, always too nerdy or too countercultural or too something. I tried, sometimes forcibly, to come out of my shell- I brought in baked goods to finals, even. But I still hid myself and kept my head down, focusing on getting out as fast as possible. I would sit on couches in the humanities building, literally hiding as much of my body as I could behind pillows, because I didn’t want anyone to see my largeness. I still blamed my loneliness, my inability to make friends, on my size

I have a distinct memory of a discussion in my Critical Theories class during my junior year of college. The one thing I never hid from was literature. I’ve always been a voracious and thoughtful reader, and in my literature classes, where I often formed a decent rapport with my professors, I felt like I could voice my opinions. I liked thinking about and analyzing literature and was fascinated in how a piece of writing could bring out so many different opinions and thoughts and ways of viewing the world. But I’ll never forget during this particular discussion, a guy in the class literally leaned forward and asked me to share my thoughts on that day’s topic. I don’t even remember the topic, but I remember how he looked at me- like he valued what I had to say, on its own merit, because what I had to say was worth sharing. Like I didn’t have to hide behind a mountain of pillows.


I’d love to say that I became self actualized after that and was able to see my own merit, but I wasn’t. I grew more confident in my opinions and writing, perhaps, but after college, while I spent a year working on a novel, I also took a look at myself and didn’t like much else I saw, particularly in my body. I started restricting my food, first doing practical things like cutting out soda and desserts. But it shortly grew into an all-out obsession with calories and a war against my own body that I started to badly lose. I dropped weight like crazy. I also became very, very sick. I know I’ve shared about my struggle with an eating disorder elsewhere, but I try to be earnest about it because it was a huge turning point in my life. For the first time I remembered, I was considered objectively pretty; constantly complimented by well-meaning people on my weight loss* and pursued, for the first time in my life, by guys.

I, a girl who had never attracted more than an occasion socially awkward geek in my life, who had never been asked on a date that involved anything more romantic than a discussion about Sailor Moon fan fiction, was desperate to feel validated in this way, to be pursued by a man. To be considered beautiful and desirable, like every other girl (or so I thought).

It more or less backfired. Several men did indeed come forward, only to back away at the last minute. It broke my heart. I had thought that losing weight would solve all of my problems in this area. But something was still wrong, it seemed, with me.  But then my now-husband came along. And he thought I was awesome. He leaned into my opinions AND he thought I was beautiful. But I got really sick a month after we started dating. Watching me laid out on the couch, pale and in pain, he was really afraid I would die. He started encouraging me to get better. He didn’t want to lose me. I refused, for a few months, to listen. I was sure that the me he wanted was connected to my thinner body. But I caught more illnesses, some form of malaise always clinging to me. My nails grew brittle and broke. My teeth weakened. He brought me food to eat, begged me to eat it, watched me sob if I ate a single calorie too many. But eventually he broke through my stubbornness, convinced me that he wanted something more than how I looked. And I had fallen in love with him too, and realized, as I continued getting sick and feeling weak, that if I kept up my eating habits- or lack thereof- I would die, and that would mean I wouldn’t get to spend my life with him.

So I stopped. And I got bigger. I also got healthier. I had more energy. I didn’t get sick anymore. He told me I was beautiful. And I desperately wanted to believe him.

I still do. I’m still, two years into our marriage, and almost four in remission from the eating disorder, afraid that I take up too much space, despite having been invited by him to share it. I’m still afraid that some day he’s going to compare the girl he fell in love with to the woman I am now and find me lacking. I’m still trying to hide behind pillows, to make myself smaller and less noticeable so that maybe I won’t ruin something good and wonderful. And I think, sometimes, that I’m still that 8 year old, still forever looking down at myself in horror and afraid I’ve hurt something beautiful by being too big, too clumsy. Too much.

Pregnancy has presented me with a weird paradigm in this slow, often excruciating, journey of self acceptance. I am actually very proud of my big belly, in a way that I’ve never been proud of my body, whether fat or thin. I’m amazed at what I can do, at how I can sustain life. But I’m also frightened of what motherhood will entail, and about not being able to instill proper confidence in my child because I don’t feel it myself. I’m not sure what the way forward is. But I’ve made it this far. I have to keep, forever, reminding myself that I can always lift up my foot.

*Seriously, don’t tell people they look “so skinny!” as a compliment. You have no idea how harmful that can be. Some people need to lose weight, yes, but compliment them on becoming healthy, not skinny. They are not the same thing. If someone is dropping weight as dramatically as I did, it’s very likely they are not healthy.

This is the worst

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People like to say that God never gives you more than you can handle. However, it never says that in the Bible. It never says that anywhere, except in platitudes that are shared to help you feel better in a rough situation.

We’re in a rough situation now. My sister is currently in the hospital. We don’t know yet when she’ll be coming home. It’s a complicated situation, and has really shaken my entire family. She’s miserable, she hates dealing with medical personnel, and is not communicative about her needs. It’s distressing for her, and distressing for us to watch, as a family.

This comes, too, during a fairly difficult season. Not only am I six months along with what has been, thankfully, a fairly textbook pregnancy, and experiencing the mood swings and physical discomfort that comes with that, but this past week a friend of mine messaged me out of no where to inform me they did not want to be my friend anymore. As an introvert who is highly selective with their friends, this was a horrible blow to me, even after going several months without contact with this person.

And my dog, an ungrateful, difficult little chihuahua who is nearing 14 years of age, has starting having seizures so regularly that every day I wonder if I’m doing the right thing in not having him put down. Every day I try to weigh his perceived quality of life with his health issues, and I’m doubtful of whether I’m making the right decision.

This I could, perhaps, handle, except that two weeks ago, my job announced that, due to financial difficulties, all of the employees were now independent contractors, and our pay was being cut, meaning our tight budget has now almost entirely bottomed out. I don’t honestly know how we’ll pay some of our bills right now. I don’t know anything. This is more than I can handle.

I am reminded of the line from Shakespeare’s King Lear, “The worst is not, so long as we can say, ‘this is the worst.'”

I felt, two weeks ago, like the news about my job was the worst. It turns out it was not. It turns out that, in the face of the difficulties with my dog, my friend, and now, my sister, that financial problems were not the worst.

How little and petty now worries over bills and rent feel when you’re faced with the pain of losing a pet. How little that feels compared to the pain of losing a friend. And how small that feels when you see your sister in very real pain. And how helpless you feel in the midst of each wave of distress. How helpless and small and useless.

But even your  helplessness will eventually feel small when you hear God saying, “all will be well” and despite your misgivings and doubts and fears, you have no choice but to trust Him. When every phrase of His is punctuated by the steady kicking (and punching, my god) of your healthy, viable child, you know that you have no control over anything. It’s all been in His hands from the start.

I know, on some level, this, right here, is why God puts us through such trials. To strip us of what we think matters, until we see, in the bare flesh, what is really important. The truth is, despite what well-meaning people say, God does give us more than we can handle. He always does, and it will always be too much for us, so long as we think that one second of worry or effort on our part will change anything.

But He never gives us more than He can handle. And He will. That’s the whole point of the Gospel story. He can handle it. In fact, He already handled it, taking your trials and tribulations upon Himself. This is not the worst. The worst already happened. And we know how it ended. We won. No matter what it looks like from this angle, this tragic looking story has a happy ending. The worst is not.

Finding Strength: Starting a Blog

The internet, as is obvious even from this website, is positively inundated with blogs, on any topic imaginable. I can’t imagine that anyone is particularly interested in what I have to say.

But the idea has been nagging at me, worrying at me like a dog at a bone, or some other cliché. The clincher, I think, came yesterday at a work meeting when we took the Gallup StrengthFinders 2.0 test. If you’ve never heard of this test, it’s basically a highly specific personality test that assesses your personal strengths based on a series of questions you answer in a given amount of time. The interesting part about this test is that it assesses each individual strength in light of how you score in other areas. I scored highest for areas related to intellectual pursuits (reading, writing, debating, collecting data, research) and for relational skills- in particular, skills relating to building other people up and encouraging them. This is in keeping with other tests I’ve taken recently for other job-related issues (the Plum personality test, for example, said I had “Conflict Resolution” skills), and even my gradually changing Meyers-Briggs definition– over the past few years I’ve slowly slid away from a textbook INFJ to a solid INFP- sometimes called “The Mediator” personality.

So what do these fancy tests have to do with starting a blog? After all, even with well assessed data, they are, after all, just personality tests.

Well, I, for one, have never seen these relational strengths in myself- most people, I suspect, are blind to their own true strengths, and especially so when you combine a naturally introverted and introspective nature like mine, which can, at its toxic worst, be highly self critical. I often don’t focus on my strengths at all, in fact. I had no idea that I had relational skills, or that they were apparent to others. And the one common thread in all of these silly tests? That the ideal jobs for me were teacher… or writer.

So perhaps I will share some of my thoughts here, in my most natural form: writing. And perhaps those thoughts will be enlightening or useful or funny, or insightful. Perhaps they can even build others up and help them discover their own hidden strengths. It can’t hurt to try, right?