To the woman who isn’t sure if she wants kids

NOTE: Let me say right up front that having kids is not for everyone. It’s a calling that not everyone has on them, and that is fine. There are any number of reasons, ranging from the physical to the emotional to the mental to the spiritual, that one would not want or should not have children. This post isn’t about or directed at such people. This is about women who are on the fence about it. And apologies to men out there, but don’t know about the mental process to becoming a father, and can’t add much to that discussion. I can only speak to the experience of motherhood.

 

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Credit: Edward White

I get it.

You are just walking around Target, minding your own business, then BAM. A kid is screaming that his parents won’t let him get the super awesome toy he needs. His harried mother looks like she hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep or a shower in many weeks. You sigh, shake your head, you might even roll your eyes.

This, you think, is why kids are a terrible choice.


But then, on the other hand, your best friend’s baby is gorgeous. Well-behaved. Curls like an angel. And that baby smell, my god. Your friend tells you, “it’s just different when it’s your own.” Your friend says, “it’s all worth it.” And you think, “yeah, she’s probably right.”

But you don’t know. You think, “maybe” or “in a few years” or “when I’m ready.” You think, “I just want to finish school/get to this position in my job/see the world.” You think, “what if I’m not cut out for it?” So you debate and you go back and forth and friends and family start to wonder if you know that your biological clock is ticking, (of course you know).

So let me be real with you.

You’re never ready.

No amount of discussion or debate or pros and cons lists or books or listicles prepare you for being a mom. It is a whole being transformation. Your body changes. Your mind changes. Your life changes. You’ll have to make decisions and compromises. You may lose your freedom to travel as much as you like. You may not be able to bear the emotional or physical toll of returning to work. You may have to lay aside your desire to write that book or finish that degree for the time being. (Though, I will note, if you WANT to travel or meet whatever goal or work, you CAN. Having a kid does require compromises and changes, but it absolutely doesn’t mean your entire life has to be put on hold. Plenty of parents have successful careers or travel the world. Having kids just makes it different, but not impossible.)

And it’s hard. No lie. There are poosplosions and illnesses and sleepless nights and if you’re LUCKY you might not get postpartum depression. And your friends start to treat you differently. And your social circles start to close and contract around other people with kids, and your mind suddenly is more on whether your kid is eating enough and getting enough mental stimulation and you can’t remember the last time you could just take a bath in peace.

But, and here is the absolute, God-honest truth, nothing freaking compares. Yeah, blowouts and projectile vomit are not fun. Teething is a bitch and learning to breastfeed will take every ounce of will you have. But in the long run, in the grand scheme of things, these days don’t last long. Before you know it, that thing that took up so much of your time and effort is something your child already raced past. And your worries suddenly become that it is so ephemeral, so short-lived.

My son is going to be a year old soon. And for all of the hard days and times I dissolved into tears and felt like I wasn’t going to make it to morning; it’s all in the past now. He’s walking. He’s learning to talk. He even knows some sign language. He COMMUNICATES. He has WANTS and DESIRES and TASTES. He likes certain types of music. He likes certain movies and books more than others. He brings things to me and says my NAME like it’s his favorite word. He gives hugs. He tries to make you laugh. He’s become a little person with personality and his own unique identity and, no offense to dogs or cats, because pets are great, but that’s something that ONLY a human child can do. Only they can grow up to become people, people who, if you’ve done your job right, will contribute something to the world, who will, in whatever small but significant way, make the world gradually better and better.

So if you’re on the fence, if you really don’t know if you want kids or not, think about that. And consider what will be your bigger regret: that you didn’t get to live in the biggest house or make the biggest paycheck or see that one place that would have made a great background for a selfie… or that you didn’t help make and raise a unique human being?

I know, at any rate, what my answer was. And for whatever physical, emotional, mental toll it’s taken on me (and it’s considerable) there has never been a single moment that I’ve regretted it. And I never will.

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When you can’t muster outrage

I like to read. I’m not a fast reader, but I read every day. I read novels. I read the Bible. I read devotionals. And I read articles.

There’s a lot of articles out there. A quick scroll through my Facebook feed will produce dozens of thinkpieces on the latest politics (depressing), state of the environment (depressing), sex scandals (depressing), parenting trends (judgmental), health craze (unwise), pop cultural phenomena (with 2,000 words of analysis through whatever lens du jour) and so on and so forth. I like to read, I like to be informed, but I find it all so… exhausting.

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From the always great xkcd.

In a given day, I may find no fewer than a dozen articles with varying degrees of outrage directed at GMOS, Donald Trump, formula feeding, climate change (probably also Trump), sex trafficking, abortion, and Star Wars.

It’s… tiring. I fit all of the textbook criteria for an HSP- a highly sensitive person. This is a real scientific definition for someone who processes information emotionally and is easily overwhelmed by the information they take in. In other words, I feel things. I feel a lot of things. I’m extremely emotional and extremely sensitive. Horrible news stories about children starving in Venezuela are very present and real to me, and my husband has found me more than once clutching our son and sobbing over something happening far away in the world that I have zero control over. And I don’t want to become desensitized. I don’t want to stop caring about these children in far away places. Just as I also don’t want to stop caring about the human impact on the environment or women’s rights or advocating for babies or minorities or the disabled. I don’t want to stop demanding better from the world and from myself.

But I can’t muster anymore outrage. I’m exhausted by it. I am up late caring for a child and meeting work deadlines. I can’t approach every topic with a default of righteous anger. I don’t have the energy.


Don’t get me wrong. I care about how Star Wars portrays women, I do. But I can’t work up the same amount of anger over it that I feel over starving children. When every article in my feed, every day, is spewing spittle with the same vehemence regardless of whether it’s over movies or global injustice, I find myself exhausted before we even begin. I want to close the computer and go lie back down. But I do want to have these conversations about movies too. I want to have intelligent discussions about WHY Star Wars makes us (or doesn’t make us) feel things. But I can’t have them with the same intensity as I want to talk about what is happening in Venezuela. When everything calls for outrage and boycotts and screaming matches, I want to quit. I want to give up on the internet and go hide in a nature preserve with a pile of books like I’m in friggin’ Walden.

But I can’t. Because I care about the world and what’s going on in it. I just can’t feel so much outrage. There’s got to be a more subtle range of emotions out there.

Do better

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When I was about 7 years old, my parents were hosting a ministry couple at our house for dinner and I was sent off to play with their daughter, who was a little younger than me. We played Barbies, because I had an extensive collection, but I had no Ken dolls, only my brother’s big GI Joes (which I preferred, because they were way better looking, to my mind). I paired my favorite Barbie (blonde, blue-eyed, with pink streaks in her hair and a guitar) off with the hispanic looking GI Joe, because he was the most handsome (ie. did not have a pained expression or scars on his face) and recommended to her the next-best looking, the black one with a cool scar on his eye for her equally blonde and blue-eyed Barbie. She frowned at the GI Joe and said, “Well, it’s fine to play, and I wish you could in real life, but you know that’s wrong.”
“What?”
“You know, black people can’t marry white people.”
Seven-year-old me was flabbergasted. “What are you talking about? Yes they can.”
She just looked dubious, but agreed to take the handsome black GI Joe for her Barbie.

It’s been 20 years and I still think about that incident. I don’t remember the girl’s name, or her parents, or anything else, but how shocked I was to hear her say that. I grew up in one of the whitest areas of the country, and only knew a single black person growing up (Suzie, who lived about 6 houses down and let me and my friends come over whenever we pleased, which was often, because she always gave us Tootsie rolls).

This wasn’t a singular incident. I remember a lot more.
-Getting my hair cut when I was about 8, at another neighbor’s house, and overhearing her nonchalantly discussing with her friend how black people were just descendants of white people who’d mated with monkeys.
-A cousin of my mom’s explaining that the pink skin on black people’s hands and feet were because that’s where God held them when he spray painted them.
-Staring dubiously at the black Jesus painting in the lobby of the only black church I’d ever set foot in at age 10 or so, thinking it looked wrong, even though I saw a blonde Jesus painting every week at my church.

Racism is pretty insidious. It gets under the skin of your culture and you don’t even realize it because you’re so permeated in it. And loving black people doesn’t magically make all of that go away. As much as I’m still very-much that little girl aghast at that kid’s comments about my handsome GI Joe, I’ve also struggled with unconscious prejudices and biases.

Even as I became a teenager and moved to California and became friends with people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, I still shied away from the black guys who flirted with me (white dudes never liked me) because black guys “weren’t my type” though I was, evidently, theirs.

I remember when the last census came out in 2010 my mom asking my brother and I, pointedly, “Do you see yourself as white or hispanic?” “White,” we both said. Despite growing up eating yellow rice and black beans, being part Cuban has always been a side-note, a minor exoticism for us.

I went to a college with about 2 whole black students at it. I was dubious of claims of police singling out black drivers until I was in the car with my friend Marlon when he got pulled over and given a thorough once-over for, evidently, just driving around a white girl in a nice neighborhood.

When I started dating my now-husband, I once told him he “sounded white” and didn’t “act black”. I once asked him if watching movies like Lord of the Rings, one of my all-time favorites, ever bothered him because of how extremely white the cast was. I went to a family gathering with him and discovered how uncomfortable it was to sit in a room full of only black people, covered in pictures and figurines and memorabilia only depicting black people and black culture. I asked him on the drive home if that’s what being the only black guy in the room was like. “Pretty much,” he said. For some reason, he still married me.

I worried sometimes that our eventual biracial children might resent or hate me for being white. And he worried they might reject or be ashamed of him for being black. When they pulled our kid out of me, with shock, and just the slightest bit of regret, I saw that he was more pink than brown. I worried that might hurt him. I’ve had to steer the conversation with well-meaning people away from the color of my kid’s skin, as they make comments like, “His coloring is so nice” or “He looks more black when his dad holds him.”

There’s so many more anecdotes and incidents. There’s so much you don’t know because you don’t know it, no matter how well meaning you are. But, in the words of Maya Angelou, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

I’m gonna keep trying to do better. Not just because I married a black man, not just because I have a biracial son. Not just because I have black friends and family. Just because I’m a human being. And sometimes I’m as ashamed of myself as I was of that little girl I was playing Barbies with 20 years ago.

 

What do you grab when your house is on fire?

What do you grab when your house is on fire?

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How do you compartmentalize your life down to what you can carry out of the blaze?

Our house is not on fire- not yet. Our neighborhood is, though. The sky looks like the end of the world. It is an angry, wounded red, flickering on the horizon. Terrifying and awful. I imagine I can feel the heat on me- licking up my arms, blackening my feet, melting my skin off my bones, leaving behind nothing. I remember when I was a kid, seeing those perfectly preserved bodies at a science exhibit on Pompeii. The mother clinging to her child. Forever.

My husband tells me to grab what’s important as he dresses the baby in pajamas. We have time for that. My mind goes blank. The power is out. I hurriedly stuff things in bags- a handful of clothing for me, an armload for the baby. I shove a few pairs of socks and underwear for my husband in too- just in case he forgets to grab his ready-bag.

On second thought, I grab some toys- a stuffed Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Lex the lion, Sly the fox, Tortuga the turtle. All of my son’s favorite humanized objects. Pausing from stuffing underwear in my bag, I grab my wedding ring in its box from the side table, my son’s storybook Bible. Hurrying downstairs, I take in, just briefly, our life in photos- me and my husband, my husband and I, smiling on Catalina, at Disneyland, in Banff National Park, on our wedding day, on the day we got engaged, when I was 6 months pregnant. Photos of our son, peacefully swaddled. We don’t have more recently prints yet. No, everything is digital now. I grab my favorite book- a worn copy of C.S. Lewis’ underrated novel, Till We Have Faces. It is replaceable, but still. My Kindle, my phone of course. My computer, oh god, with the work I was doing just an hour before, when the power suddenly winked out. Our wedding cake toppers- cute wooden pegs painted to look like us. A single ornament from our Christmas tree catches my eye- a preserved maple leaf from Banff. Our honeymoon. Into the bag.

“None of it matters,” I mutter, racing downstairs and throwing our bags in the car, not sparing a glance at our books, our instruments, our home we’ve worked so hard to build. “It can all burn.”

My son is screaming now. His routine was thrown off. He just wants to go to sleep. I do too. I just want this to be over. He’s screaming like he hasn’t in ages- a scream of utter confusion and desperation. “It’s okay,” I tell him without conviction. I don’t forget the formula, the diapers, the wipes, or the nursery water. Those were the first things I grabbed in my confused race through the dark house. My husband, more methodical, has packed a bag quietly, selected a single guitar to save. He has his computer, his chargers. “We’re not in danger yet,” he says calmly, hearing my heavy breathing. “We have time to get what we need.”

“What we need is to leave,” I try to insist.

“It won’t do to leave in chaos and be left with nothing.”

We are very nearly fighting, my anxiety at odds with his calm collectedness. Finally, we are in the car. We watch neighbors fleeing. We are not alone in this exodus. “Where are we going?” my husband asks.

“I just want to get away. I just want us to be safe,” I repeat. “I don’t know, but away.”

A few agonizing moments where he tries to figure out a plan. How I want to strangle him. But I am feeding the baby, strapped, exhausted, in his car seat, bewildered and tired and hungry. At least I have a task. Just another ounce, sweetie. It’s okay.

My husband senses my panic, drives us down the road to a parking lot to reconvene. Others do the same around us, I see. My husband makes calls, has me make calls, send texts, on dying phones- I forgot my damn charger.

He lines up a place to stay.

“I still have work tomorrow,” my husband, the dedicated teacher says. “I can’t abandon my kids.”

Fuck them, I think. I want to get away. But he has their respect, hard-won. He can’t lose it now in a crisis. He figures out accommodations near the school. Accommodations that, after an agonizing day I would spend alone in the house of strangers with nothing but the baby and terror to keep me company, we would quit. We would check on our house- it would be fine, but the air quality would make us sick. We would flee further south, to fresher air, far from the fires. We would sleep in the bed all together for the first time since our son was born, united by love and fear. We would wait for days.

I would say, as we became calmer, more secure, “Your level-headedness makes me want to slap you in the face, sometimes.”

He would say, “Your panic makes me want to slap you in the face, sometimes.”

We would kiss and cuddle and laugh, so glad to have each other and our son and be alive and safe. Our son would giggle and smile and clap his hands.

But that night, we drive in the dark, down the desolate highway, surrounded on both sides by fields of abandoned crops. We see the mountains lit up like volcanoes, throwing bright yellow and orange flames into the air. It is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Our son is now fast asleep, peaceful, in his car seat. I think of Pompeii, and start to cry.

If I don’t make it, I think, I just need them to be safe. I could immolate if they were safe.

And I knew I meant it, too.

 

Me too?

Last week, millions of women posted to the hashtag #metoo, sharing their stories of sexual assault and harassment to let the world know that situations like the publically splashy Weinstein allegations are not isolated incidents.

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When I first saw this post I thought, “I can’t post to that, I haven’t been raped or assaulted… and harassment…? That’s so tricky to define.”

But I saw who had posted it- my sister-in-law. And I know her. Well. And I thought, yeah. Me, too.

When I was about 4 years old, a wheelchair-bound, elderly man at our church liked to give out candy to the kids. Once, at a visit to his house, me and a friend the same age were asked to go visit him in the back room since he couldn’t get around well. He had candy necklaces for us. He sat me on his lap and kissed me- sloppily. With tongue. I remember his tongue, thick and large, swiping across my teeth, and how baffled I was by it. This was not, by any definition of the word, what I knew as a kiss. It seemed to go on and on and on, though it really couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. I was rewarded for my endurance with the promised candy necklace. My friend received a similar kiss and necklace. I remember afterwards discussing with her how gross the kiss had been, but nothing else. We didn’t know any better. The man was disabled… maybe he’d forgotten how to kiss?

It wasn’t until some days later that the man’s adult-daughter- the mother of other friends of mine- came into my room, obviously upset. “Has he ever kissed you in a way that you thought was weird?” She asked me. I cried. I thought she was upset at me. “You’re not in trouble, Karly,” she said. “But you have to tell me if he ever kisses you like that again.”

To my knowledge, I was never left alone with her father again, and it never happened again. As a kid, I brushed it off. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I seriously began to realize what had happened.

And by then I was so sexually confused I didn’t know what to think. At 13, a friend introduced me to Yahoo! Checkers, an innocuous online game hosted by yahoo where you could chat with the person you were matched up to play against. Privately. She thought it was funny to find people who were interested in cybersex, to play with them, flirt with them, and then leave the chat. I became fascinated. I was young and hormonal and ugly. It was nice to be the belle of the cyber ball. Some men, I discovered, wouldn’t play with you unless you said you were at least 17- but some of them relished the idea of your youth. It was men who thought I was 13 who began sending me pornography. Sometimes it was links to other websites- the first video I ever saw was pretty hardcore girl on girl that someone sent me to, I guess, get me, a child, in the mood. And sometimes- increasingly often- it was just pictures of their penises.

Never mind how confusing and disturbing and frightening this all was to me as a kid.  This was how the internet was. These weren’t isolated incidents. I experienced this kind of behavior online for all of my teenage years. Sometimes willingly, because I was lonely and felt horrible about myself. And sometimes it was totally unasked for and unwanted. I got it from men. And from women. I was sent graphic descriptions of rape fantasies, bondage scenarios, you name it. I was sent more videos featuring more grotesque, inhuman sex acts than my brain could fathom. Sex was horrifying and fascinating and I was deeply, hideously ashamed. Liberating, my ass. I felt enslaved. Sex was not enjoyable. I was not experiencing an awakening. I felt like I was staring into a dark, roiling void and wanted nothing, at all, to do with it in reality.

But there was bleed over into the real world occasionally. Like the guy I befriended online- a friend of a friend who claimed to be Christian- who started an innocent enough flirtation that led to phone calls. And demands for me to perform, or simulate, borderline acts for him. Not masturbation. But close enough. Wear such and such outfit. Do such and such while I listen. Listen to me describe to you exactly how I would tie you up. I was 17. I thought it was funny at first, as I held no actual attraction to the guy- but it became frightening when his calls became more insistent and he wouldn’t stop. I turned my phone off for a final in my freshman year of college and he had called me 12 times during that time, leaving increasingly demanding messages. When he started talking about coming to visit me, I broke off all contact. I remember asking my friend, who had introducing him to me, why she hadn’t told me what he was like. “I thought you were smart enough to figure it out,” she said. And of course there was that one guy I met at a coffee shop who immediately demanded nudes as soon as I began talking to him online and became threatening when I of course wouldn’t comply. But that hardly feels worth mentioning, it’s such a side note.

More impactful were the guys I really did like, who I really did want a relationship with. I found myself, in high school and again in college, in situations where I was growing close to a guy who manipulated me, used me emotionally, and was verbally and emotionally abusive. I rationalized their actions, knowing they struggled with their home lives, or their psychological issues, or what the hell ever, but the truth was… I just figured that these were the kind of men I deserved. I pined for one of them throughout all of my college years. I loved him almost right up until I started dating my now-husband.

Looking back, I can ask myself in every single one of these instances what was wrong with me? I can look back with shame and embarrassment at the situations I willingly walked into. But how willing was it really? I felt, and sometimes still feel, corrupted in some way by these experiences. I still feel sometimes like I walked away with the wrong husband- mine loves me too much and too selflessly, he must be defective. Surely, I deserve one of those “calls me at midnight blind drunk to demand we have sex” models, because those were certainly what I envisioned myself with for many years.

But I still don’t know if I can really say “me too,” you see. I wasn’t really abused. Or harassed. I wasn’t given anything I didn’t, on some level consent to. I know people who’ve been raped, and abused for real. That’s not my story.

But this is. And I know it’s plenty bad that I can look at all of this and still wonder if it counts.

Gun Worship

 

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It was Sandy Hook that did it.

I grew up in West Virginia. Almost every home I visited as a kid had a gun case in it, proudly displaying its wares. I didn’t like guns, but I respected people’s right to own them. It was part of long American tradition.

Raised in a politically conservative household, I believed- and still believe in- the need for small government, that the government shouldn’t tell people how to live their lives or take rights from them. I believed that being conservative and upholding conservative ideals was Christian.

That started to change for me once I entered high school, and befriended many LGBT students. It had altered irrevocably by college. I realized the conservative stances on many things were extra-Biblical and incoherent… how can we be pro-life if we are also pro-war? Didn’t Jesus say that those who live by the sword would die by the sword? Wasn’t He for peace? I began to question.

But I still believed gun ownership was every American’s right. If we allowed the government to take away our guns, then where does it end? They could take away everything.

Then Sandy Hook happened. 11 days before Christmas, a man with mental health issues stepped onto the Sandy Hook Elementary School campus in Connecticut and began gunning down six-and-seven-year-old children with a semi-automatic rifle. 20 children died (along with 6 school personnel, many of whom heroically tried to protect them).

The horror was immense. There had been so many mass shootings in the last several years in the United States but none had involved small, helpless children. Everyone all over the political spectrum was shaken. I called my brother that day and he told me he couldn’t do anything that day, he just needed to stay home with his daughters. They were about the same age as the victims.

I still tear up thinking about it. About the kids who went to school that day, perhaps excited for today’s science lesson, perhaps hoping to borrow a cool toy from a friend, perhaps ready to trade the disliked bologna sandwich in their lunch for a friend’s PB&J. Those kids would be turning 9 and 10 this year.

As the grief and shock wore off, political debate took center stage. Everyone had an opinion on gun control, on mental health, on school security. I remember, in the wave of disbelief I had, hearing pro-gun proponents make arguments like, “Imagine if a teacher in that school had had a gun.” Imagine, I kept thinking, if the lunatic didn’t.

I really thought it was a no-brainer. No one could stand for or justify that level of violence on innocent, helpless children. Especially no one who claimed to be Christian. On college campuses, maybe. In shopping malls, maybe. But not at an elementary school. I thought it would be the end of the gun control debate in our country. Or at least the beginning of rational reforms. Something.

But nothing changed. As the shooting faded in our memory, to be replaced by other news and other shootings… I realized that our country had come to a moral crossroads and chosen the wrong path. We, as a country, decided that we valued unrestricted access to personal artillery more than we valued the lives of children.  We didn’t even want to improve the background check system. Nothing.

Nothing.

I bring up Sandy Hook  to make a point, not to minimize the horror of the latest tragedy- 58 dead in Las Vegas, innocent men and women attending the last night of a country music festival, prepared for what was to be a fun and exciting night out. The perpetrator fired wildly into the crowd from a window in Mandalay Bay. He had a small artillery in his room. Legally obtained. Everyone acquainted with the perpetrator, this domestic terrorist, said he was behaving normally, didn’t seem murderous in the slightest. They pretty much always say that, I’ve noticed.
It’s true that humans are sinful, fallen creatures. As we’ve seen over the last few years, with the Boston Marathon bombing, with the Barcelona massacre where the perpetrator drove a van into a crowd- or most recently, in Edmonton, where a U-Haul truck was driven into a crowd, one doesn’t need guns to commit acts of violence and horror. But God, they DO help.

I realize that the situation in the United States with gun control is more complex than it was in England (where handguns have been illegal since the Dunblane elementary school massacre in 1996), or in Japan, (where firearms have always been illegal to own-with very few exceptions). It’s in our constitution after all: the right to bear arms. But the how and the why of that are worth considering. In 1776, a man with a musket could likely defend his home from the encroaching government, if they came in the night to steal his home and his woman and his livelihood. But in 2017, even a heavily armed citizen’s militia cannot resist the government, if they were to turn on their citizens. The government has the bombs. The tanks. The drones. The military.

Even if the government does indeed come someday to seize our guns from our cold, dead hands, (and they would be very dead indeed), I can’t imagine a dystopian world worse than this one, where we must accept mass shootings as a part of life, tragedies that are completely unpreventable. Where we can say, “sending positive vibes” to the families of dead innocents and just move on.  

A semi-automatic is never going to resist the overwhelming tide of violence the government could bring, should it turn on us for some reason. Guns are never going to be the article that saves us from oppression and fear. Guns will never save us from violence. Guns will never bring us peace and security. Guns will never bring us freedom.

But they can mow down fellow citizens just fine.

Breast is best- except when it isn’t.

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This is a beautiful picture, taken when our son was about 6 days old, our first day home from the hospital. But what this doesn’t show is that, shortly before Edward took this photo, I was sobbing from exhaustion and the effort of breastfeeding. It’s apparently World Breastfeeding Week and I think it’s time to talk about it, because there’s little nuance to this conversation.

I came in to this as a huge advocate of breastfeeding. The evidence doesn’t lie: it’s the superior choice for your child, filled with all of the nutrients and calories baby needs to grow healthy and strong as well as properties that boost your child’s immune system and prevent various illnesses. Plus, it’s completely natural, and free. What’s not to like?

So there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to breastfeed our son when he was born. And for the first week or so, it went fine. But then he didn’t urinate for two days. And he didn’t poop for a week. And the nurses and consultants all told me that I needed to supplement him. So I did, but I tried to keep breastmilk as his primary sustenance, just until “my supply came in”.

And that went well for a while, but then at about 3 weeks old our son became “fussy”. He seemed to be constantly angry and touchy, and started fighting me at every breastfeeding session, screaming, seemingly, at me.

So, I went to see a lactation consultant, who determined that, while our son needed about 3 ounces of milk, I produced about one. I started supplementing him more consistently, and what do you know? I had a happy baby after all.

Still, I was determined to exclusively breastfeed. But after weeks of pumping, SNS, fenugreek supplements, mother’s milk tea, breastfeeding workshops, I found myself both physically and emotionally drained, feeling like a supreme failure who couldn’t perform the most basic of tasks to care for my child. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for a breastfeeding session to end with both of us in hysterics as I handed the baby off to Edward to finish his feeding with a bottle.

Finally, my consultant told me what my husband and loved ones had been trying to tell me: it was okay if breastfeeding didn’t work. I wasn’t a bad mom. If my supply never increased there was nothing wrong with formula. And there was nothing wrong with me.

I think breastfeeding is great and wonderful. But it’s also hard. It’s tiring, and at the beginning it’s painful. No one is told that out the gate.

And there are any number of reasons a person can’t- and possibly shouldn’t- do it, both emotionally and physically. I agree with the mantra that “breast is best”- that’s why I’m still working at it, 3 months later. But I also agree that fed is best, because my baby and I are both a lot happier when I accepted that formula was a part of this equation, whether I liked it or not.

The language surrounding breastfeeding is meant to encourage those who are in doubt, and I get that. But it also made me, unable to make it work despite my very best efforts, feel like a horrible mother. If you have struggled, please know that you’re okay. You’re not horrible if it doesn’t work for you. Despite the us vs. them bottle vs. breast debates, at the end of the day it has to be about what’s best for both of you.

There’s a lot of things I’m not great at, a lot of things I’m not proud of. But I’m happy to say that feeding my child is no longer one of them.

The (Disappointed) Birth Story

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On April 25th I gave birth to our son. He’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Being a new parent is a mind-blowing experience. I can’t believe the way the love I had for this unknown, unborn child transformed into loving this very real physical presence. If you’ve never experienced it yourself, I can’t really describe it. Our son is nothing like what I expected- and that’s a wonderful thing (even when he’s in inconsolable hysterics). 


Nothing about this journey has gone how I thought it would. As I wrote about before, my pregnancy was unplanned. We were not remotely trying for a child- in fact, I was on birth control. But pregnant I became anyway. We took that to mean that this child truly was meant to be. My pregnancy, as uncomfortable and unpleasant as it could sometimes be was, thankfully, fairly textbook and our son was healthy at every step. There were no complications, for which I am immensely grateful.

But then came delivery. When I found out I was pregnant, one thing I knew I didn’t want to write about was “the birth story.” It’s become trendy to write about the nitty-gritty of birth in certain circles, but I’ve always thought a birth experience was personal and too often birth stories read with a level of smugness that I associate with the “mommy wars,” as a way for new moms to commemorate how they gave birth- and more importantly, how they gave birth the “right” way. For me that was never the point. I just wanted my child to get here safely.

But even without a detailed birth plan, and even without desiring anything but a routine hospital birth, things didn’t go the way I wanted them to. After laboring unproductively for almost a full day at home, I went to the hospital at about 2 AM on the 24th.


My body continued not to cooperate. My contractions were unproductive and painful. They gave me Pitocin. My blood pressure started dropping. The baby wouldn’t descend. My dilation plateaued after many hours of hard contractions. My doctor decided we should break my water. My blood pressure continued dancing up and down, and when it dipped, the baby’s heart rate did too.

I wound up hooked up to countless IVs and monitors, uncomfortable and exhausted, with wires streaming from me in every direction. I felt like a robot. I began to understand the appeal of unassisted labor, without the invasiveness of all of the cords and tubes. Hours continued passing as hopeful family members who’d stopped by to await the baby began to grow weary and leave. I felt like a failure. And I was exhausted. It’s true that the epidural numbed me to the pain of contractions, but I was still very aware of everything I was hooked up to, and the fact that I couldn’t roll over without assistance. I was still doing hard work and my body was worn out. 22 hours in, I looked at Edward and told him I couldn’t do this much longer.

Turns out I couldn’t. The nurses came in to check on my levels and in the midst of trying to make me more comfortable, their routine suddenly flew into a high flurry of activity. Suddenly everyone was rushing around and I was being unhooked from my monitors and my bed folded and ready to move. “We have to do a c-section right now!” I was informed by our suddenly anxious nurse. “The baby’s heart rate has dropped too low.”

I quickly signed a document for permission that was thrust at me and was rushed down the hall. I didn’t know where Edward was, I didn’t know where they were taking me. I was in tears, terrified for my baby. They wheeled me into a bright white operating room and hooked up the fetal monitor immediately. “He’s stabilized.” My nurse said, relieved. I saw my OBGYN, a friendly woman I’d seen so often throughout pregnancy. She was calm and comforting, even in her scrubs. “Karly,” she said. “The baby’s heart rate is stable now, but the baby isn’t tolerating labor very well. I think we still need to do the c-section.”

I was utterly terrified. But I’d rather have had the surgery than risk harm to my baby. They began prepping me. I felt alone and frightened as activity went on around me, as my anesthetic was upped and curtains were drawn so I couldn’t see my own belly. I tried to pray… but received only a violent wave of anxiety. I pushed it away and shook, with fear and anesthetic.

Finally Edward was led in and he sat next to me. “I’m scared,” I told him. “Pray for me.” I couldn’t do it for myself. “I’ve been praying this whole time,” Edward said.

Then the cut- I felt my skin tearing- I was numb to the pain, but there was a hideous ripping pressure… and then I heard the baby crying and the pain went out of my head. I began to cry with relief. The baby was fine.

Then the baby was taken away to the NICU- I got to glance at him, to find out he was a boy and that, to my surprise, he looked a lot like me. Edward followed him out of the operating room. I was alone for several awful minutes while I was stitched back up.

I was taken to recover and waited for what seemed an eternity to regain feeling enough that I could be taken to see my baby. I had longed to have him laid on my chest after birth, to breastfeed him and spend the “golden hour” bonding with him. That was all taken from me. It had been an hour and I still hadn’t really seen my baby.

We were finally taken to the NICU after an hour or so. We got to hold our baby. We didn’t know how long he’d have to stay there and our hearts ached to take him with us. He was tiny. His dark hair had a little curl to it. His tiny hands and feet were perfect. The worst part of the whole event, worse than the 24 hours I labored in vain, worse than the unexpected c-section, was leaving him there. We wept.

Our son was able to join us later that same day in our room, but we didn’t know it at the time.

I was in the hospital for five days. Recovering from surgery while trying to navigate taking care of a new human is a gargantuan task, one I felt unequal to, especially when I began to fever and could barely control my body when I first tried to walk to the bathroom. At times it felt like a nightmare, offset by the sweetness of holding our beautiful child and the love poured on us by our family and friends. I slept fitfully between nurse visits, my dreams anxious and frightening. I was shaken awake at least once by Edward because I’d been crying out in my sleep.

When we got home the anxiety actually worsened for a time. Our son wasn’t producing enough waste and the nurse advised I either pump (I did not have a pump) or supplement him with formula. Tearfully, knowing the good of breastfeeding, I opted to give him formula after every breastfeeding. He began to thrive, and by the time his one week pediatric appointment arrived, he was doing splendidly. I no longer felt as anxious, but I still caught myself on the verge of tears.

I wanted to stay by him constantly, watching him fearfully, and fell into sobbing once when he started to choke before spitting up. I kept replaying the moment before the c-section in my head, when they told me his heart rate was dropping, the terror I felt had taken root and I couldn’t shake it. I was terrified of losing him.My body was healing but it was slow and my physical being was exhausted. I needed rest.

But what I needed more than anything was to trust in God. I couldn’t let myself. I had prayed and prayed for the baby to be safe and healthy- which he was- but I felt betrayed for having to have the c-section. I felt like God had ignored and abandoned me to the most awful experience of my life. He had promised me that everything would be okay- and it was- but it wasn’t “okay” in the way that I would define it. I was hurt. I was hurting. The anxiety that made it impossible to pray before the surgery made it hard to let go of the trauma I was feeling, physically and mentally.

I didn’t get to have the golden hour after birth, or to cradle my son in my arms after he was born. I didn’t get to feed him only on the nourishment my body could provide. I was upset about it, feeling like a failure that my body hadn’t cooperated to give my son the experience that was best for him. Or rather, that I hadn’t had the experience that I wanted.

Wait.
Ah.

I was making it about me. About my expectations and desires and fears. My son was- is- fine. He is healthy and beautiful and happy and everyone who has met him delights in him, none less than us. He’s fine.


But the truth is, I’m still not completely okay with everything. I still feel upset and traumatized by the delivery experience and frustrated that feeding hasn’t been idyllic. But it’s getting harder to stay that way. God keeps reminding me that He did come through for me, even if it wasn’t what I wanted. Even if in the 11th hour I was too anxious to pray.

Today I got to tickle my son and see him crack a half smile every time I did it. He’s too young to laugh, but I did it for him. Everything is okay. Just like God promised.

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.