Holding Hands with Wonder

I never chose to stop writing, but it happened, right around the time I became pregnant. My thoughts became transfixed on the little one my own body was suddenly home to. I was her shelter. My body nourished hers. I became entirely focused on taking care of myself and daydreamed about what the baby would be like and how my life would change. And every day that passed, it became easier and easier to ignore inspiration and be entranced by the impending arrival that I was certain would change everything. I told myself I’d get back to it. I didn’t know that my break from writing would be such a long one.

The thing is, consistency and discipline are very important when it comes to spending time at the page. Art is only possible when you come to it daily. You have to practice it. You have to take the time to create or else there won’t be a process, and there won’t be a result.

Emelia is two years old and a peculiar emptiness has crept upon me. It’s the feeling of something missing. Of not feeling quite content and then battling the guilt as a result. It’s an annoying game of tug and war. Dissatisfaction pulls and then self-condemnation lurches forward. So I chose some time to sit with it and think. Postpartum depression? Thankful, no. Boredom? Not quite. Selfishness? No. I love being Emelia’s mom. My role as a mother is the best one I’ve ever taken on. The sacrifice it takes stretches me in the best possible way and makes me the best me I’ve ever been.

But it’s not always exhilarating.

What did she say?

Mommies, I see you, and it’s okay to think it or even say it: motherhood is not always exciting. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your children. It just means that the 3 am feedings, the 2 pm tantrums, the 8 pm bedtime fights, the daily 9 am loads of laundry, the 11 am stranger at the grocery store telling you you’re doing it all wrong, the 1 am waiting for your teenager to call or come home or just tell you what’s going on is not always easy. Sometimes it just plain feels hard or even, dare I say it? Mundane.

But one thing is for sure – it is incredibly inspiring.

There are moments when I get a flutter in my stomach just watching her live and learn and be. When Emi wants to read the same book over and over, when she smiles at me, when she is sad and wants to cuddle, when she hugs me and pats my back, and especially when she practices make believe. The more I watch her play, the more I want to play.

It’s inspiration, nudging me, filling me with wonder and a desire to create.

The sea fascinates me and terrifies me in equal measure. The depth of it. The not knowing what is lurking in the darkness. During our recent trip to Kauai, I chose to leave fear on the beach and jump into the crystal clear water, holding hands with wonder. It was cold at first, and fear tried to talk me out of it over and over. It told me the sand was warm. That I should just lay in the sun and rest my tired momma soul.

But wonder looked at me in the eye. “Don’t you want to know what’s down there? What if it’s magical?”

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So I followed him in, hesitant but hopeful. And I felt free, floating with the current, slowly swimming farther and farther in. Soon, I saw a fish. A bright yellow one with a long nose, gliding gracefully. Then I saw a bright pink, blue and green one, darting quickly, almost too fast for me to get a good glimpse. Then there were dozens, swirling all around me. Long skinny ones, large ones as flat as paper and almost completely see-through. And suddenly I felt like I was flying, exploring a world I didn’t know existed.

I’m standing on the shore of the sea of stories waiting to be written. I know sometimes the work will be slow and sometimes it will be bright and fast. Some days I’ll be eager to jump in and others I will wade in slow and hesitant.

But I’m ready. I’m jumping in. I’m going to swim every day. It will be scary. It will be breathtaking. It’s my forever home.

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I Will Hear Freedom From Fear

Lately, Emelia has become quite attached to me. When I drop her off in the nursery at church, she cries for me. She panics and I see fear on her sweet, delicate face. The first time it happened, I was in a bit of a shock. She had been doing so well. She’d even wave goodbye when I left to go into the church service. But she’s entered a phase of wanting mommy all the time – wanting me close by at all times. And the first time it happened, a deep sadness took over my momma heart. I ran back toward her and picked her up and I didn’t even care who saw me do it. I didn’t care if the other moms in the room judged me for not being strong enough to just walk out or for being a pushover. I looked into her eyes and felt a familiar ache.

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I am deep in motherhood and deeply in love. And now that I’m her mom, I know what it’s like to have my daughter here. Every single day, I remember that this time together might not have happened. For this reason, the hurt runs deeper somehow. Now that I have her here in my arms every day, to care for each day, knowing that I almost missed out on our time together makes me hurt more at times. This part of my story – the part that makes me love deep and stretches me and exhausts me and molds me into the best, happiest me that I’ve ever been – might have been skipped over. Like a pivotal chapter torn out of a book.

But I cling to the fact that this is it – this IS my story. I hold onto the words and pages, the difficulties and triumphs so hard, that my knuckles turn white. I’m forever longing for the now, and that is the thing. If I’m longing for the now and the now is where I am, then what’s my problem?

I think I’m waiting for healing. I’m waiting for the courage to look at the wound and be okay with it rather than afraid and frustrated and angry. I’m waiting for hope. To be able to write the story and not be afraid. To truly place it all at the feet of Jesus who gladly holds us and strengthens us and gives us hope.

And I’m okay with this. I’m okay with the fact that I’m still in the process of healing.

Recently I made a new friend. When I told her my story, she began to cry. I held my breath as she told me to give myself some grace  – that what I’ve experienced is actually a loss. I guess I’ve never really looked at it that way.

My hope is that one day, when I listen to my own story, what I will hear is freedom from fear. That I will hear about the mercy of Jesus that led me to healing. That I’ll know He gave me the strength I needed. Because here, in the now, I feel a little stuck in the fear and sadness.

But I am confident that one day I will tell my story and you will hear courage.

My ALMOST in His Hands

I lied again.

Walking into church, a woman stopped Emelia and I to say hello. She oohed and ahed over Emi’s dress and abundance of hair. Then she looked up at me and asked matter-of-factly, “Where is the second one?”

I looked at her, confused, and smiled to be polite.

“You know, number two. Don’t you want another?”

I looked away quickly and said, “Oh, well Emelia is keeping us so busy!”

She laughed, and thankfully Emelia was wandering away.

“I better go after her,” I said.

It was a lie because I was cheerful and calm even though my anxiety went from 0-10 in a second.

Do you want another baby?

This question floats around with me, ever-present. I don’t blame anyone for asking. She’s 19 months old, and it’s about that time…everyone is wondering. People raise their eyebrows really high when they ask when we are going to have a second child, and then they frown when I skip a beat. It always catches me off guard. I’m never really ready for it, but I’ve become a pro at changing the subject.

I’ve finally come to a place emotionally where I can think about what happened. I can mentally go there, which I think is a big step. I can remember tidbits of what happened in triage – the overwhelming fear, the dozens of nursing telling me to stay calm, the oxygen mask shoved tight over my nose and mouth, the sound of my daughter’s heart rate dipping dangerously low – and even what happened in the operating room without completely crumbling.

But when I begin to think about the future, when I see a beautiful, round pregnant belly, when I see a momma cradling a brand new baby, when friends give birth and we visit them in the hospital, when Emelia points at pictures in her books and says “beebee,” when I have a bad night full of flashbacks and tears, I become paralyzed emotionally.  And it reminds me of my actual paralysis in the OR – the not being able to move, breathe, or witness my daughter’s birth.

So I sit there, with the wound that begins to open up and hurt again and sometimes it feels like forever before I’m able to get up and walk away and keep moving again.

The thing is, I know that my God is here, right here with me, even if I’m not entirely trusting Him or leaning on Him. Even if I don’t welcome Him to weep with me, I have the knowledge that He is at a near distance, quietly sharing in this grief that takes a hold of me sometimes. I feel like maybe He’s been giving me some space so I can be angry and lament. Maybe it’s because He knows it’s what I need. Some distance so I can turn back to Him.

And I know that I didn’t lose Emelia and I didn’t lose my life. But we almost did. And the ALMOST is so real and so big. In the shadow of death – when the anesthesiologist repeatedly told me I only FELT like I wasn’t breathing, when my eyes rolled back into my head, when I heard everyone panicking and calling for help, when I felt my heartbeat slow down – I told God I was coming. I told Him I’d see Him soon and begged Him to save Emelia’s life and to give Mgo strength. In those few moments of darkness, I grieved over my loss of motherhood – for not ever meeting my daughter or being there to comfort her and be her momma.

The ALMOST is still with me, and some days, it feels so fresh and scary and heavy. And the repeated “well, all that matters is that she’s here and healthy” makes me want to scream. Not because the person telling me that is upsetting me, but because, truthfully, that’s not all that matters to me, because I’m still healing.

And so I have decided to carefully get on my knees and just stay there for a while. Quiet. Listening. Hoping that I’ll have the courage to extend my hands and place my ALMOST in His hands.

I am Your One and Only and You are Mine

It is one of those {rare} nights that I miss you just a few hours into your nighttime sleep. I wonder if you are feeling lonely or scared or are cold, all alone in your room. So I wait. I want you to wake up, needing me, and for one reason or another, you do.

I am happy to feel the weight of your little body on mine. You rest your head on my shoulder. I pretend to be upset that you are up in the middle of the night. I pretend that I am sleepy and whisper that we both need to go back to sleep.

But all I want to do is hold you.

I break our rules and let you sleep in our bed, between us. I listen to your breathing and watch your small form move around in the moonlight. Your hands fiddle with your small toes in the air. You can’t settle. You sing. You babble. You stroke Daddy’s back and kiss his head. And I am so glad.

I try to memorize how small you look in our large bed. How soft your seventeen month young skin feels on mine. How your hair looks so frayed after a sleep. In the middle of the night, I let myself love you wholly and freely. I let myself obsess over how you always smell like strawberries. I let myself admit that I don’t love being a mom but I love you more than anything else in the world. Even more than a clean house. Even more than eating ice cream and watching a whole episode of Gilmore Girls without interruption.

I think about how small you looked standing next to the swirling slide at the park the previous day. How instead of playing on the monkey bars you wanted to know what grass felt like on the palm of your hand or try to pinpoint what was causing the leaves on the trees to rustle.

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You say mama in the dark and nuzzle your face against mind. You pat my face, my arm, and put your fingers in my hair. You kick my stomach as you try to get comfortable between us, and I suddenly remember you kicking me from inside, when we were still one. I remember me wondering what you’d look like or what motherhood would be like. You say mama again and I realize I am your one and only and you are mine.

Our time is fleeting, sweetheart. Soon you won’t be so little anymore. Soon you won’t need me so much. Soon you won’t be my baby. But this. This moment in time in which you are so small I can curl my body around you like a cocoon, letting you sleep in my arms so that you’re not all alone in your room, listening to your sweet inaudible whispers. In this moment you are comforting me. You are giving me a gift, a memory that will stay with me forever.

So when you are older, when you get your wings, I will let you go, and I will cling to this moment. And when the winds pick up and it’s hard to fly, I will be right here, waiting.

When Motherhood is a Harmony

Last Monday, I woke with a start.

“It’s so quiet,” my husband said from the other side of the bed.

I felt strangely rested. I checked my phone. It was 8:00 a.m., two hours later than my usual wake up call.

I brushed my teeth, went into the hall and saw that my daughter’s bedroom door was open, and her crib empty. I heard muffled giggles. I slowly pushed through my morning brain fog and remembered my mom was visiting.

I went to the kitchen, and there, sitting just outside the back door, was my mom holding my daughter. It’s rare to see my toddler so calm and quiet. She was pointing at something. When I looked up, I saw birds perched on our back fence, chirping. My daughter continued to point and my mom explained that they were just doing what birds do. They were singing.

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When my mom noticed I was watching them, they came inside and we started our day. As we went about our day, taking care of my daughter – getting her dressed, feeding her, reading to her and playing with her, running errands together – I realized that our motherhoods were merging.

There is no loud crash as they join. Just a simple, magical meeting. The intersecting of two stories.

Yes, we are in different stages of motherhood, but we are mothering at the same time. One of us is reminiscing while the other is looking to the future. One of us is missing the early stage of constantly being with her children, and the other rejoices when she gets a minute alone. One of us contemplates her identity in the midst of physical and even emotional separation from her children, while the other wonders if she can ever distinguish herself as someone other than a mother ever again.

She’s in the slow uninterrupted part of motherhood. She spends her days praying for her children, yearning to be with us, remembering what it’s like to mother a young child while taking care of mine. I’m in the fast pace of it, just barely keeping my head above the tumultuous waters of toddler hood, trying to keep the house in order and her alive.

What I’m learning is that what is most beautiful about motherhood is its disarray. It’s in the face of misadventures that I’m discovering my imperfections and rejoicing in them, because they’re what make me mature and flourish. In the midst of the clamor, we as moms are the ones who have the privilege of watching our children make mistakes, learn and grow. And when the world gets a little too overwhelming or they come across hardships, we get to be the ones who hold their hands and guide them through. We get to point at our own flaws and tribulations and show them living proof that they can and will move past them. That is the beauty of it – that I can turn to my own mom for comfort and see that she has overcome the obstacles I am facing today, right now. And in her kindness and love, she continues to hold my hand through it all.

And it’s a harmony. Though we are at different junctures of motherhood, we are singing the same song.

Ever-Present

As I sit here waiting for my pain medication to kick in, keeping my eye on Emelia’s monitor, going through my mental to-do list, wondering how I’ll pull through the day, I’m realizing there’s an issue bigger than my pain and bigger than my anxiety.

On days like this, my pain brings me to tears and makes my mind wander into a deep abyss of anxiety stemming from my time in the OR. Murky waters clouded with “what if’s” and “why me’s” seep into my mind and a strange panic sets in. Between diaper changes and story time and running errands, there is a question that lingers, suspended:

How will I get through motherhood today?

I wonder how I will take care of Emelia when I’m feeling so sick. When the pain is unrelenting, makes me dizzy and nauseated, and rolls into a fatigue that causes brain fog. It all quickly cascades into self doubt.

And the guilt is immense. The frustration escalates. I get angry when simple tasks are difficult for me, such as doing the dishes, meeting up with a friend for coffee, carrying Emelia, standing up long enough to make a meal, and having a conversation with Mike after dinner.

And this question is ever present: Why can’t my body just behave?

Recently, I was faced with a medical emergency. It caused intense pain and nausea and I waited a long time before I finally told Mike we needed to go to the ER. I was upset that, yet again, my body was misbehaving and that I was going to become an inconvenience. I didn’t want to bother anyone to take care of Emelia in the middle of the night. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Of course, the moment he woke up and saw the pain in my face, he got dressed and we got in the car. He was upset that I had waited so long. And tests showed I had a very good reason for being doubled over in pain all night. Thank God, it wasn’t anything serious.

Aside from not feeling well, I was hit with intense anxiety as nurses wheeled me up and down the long hallways that felt oh so familiar. I had flashbacks of the many times I was in triage, being given injections and tests and fighting for my baby’s life and of the few moments in the OR before I stopped breathing. I handled it better than I thought, but I threw a secret pity party deep inside: why me? And laying flat on the table for a CT scan, practicing my breathing exercises, I finally prayed.

God, I can’t do this. Why are you letting this happen?

And then I heard my therapist’s voice in my head. “Positive talk. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do something. Remember that the physical discomfort of anxiety will end at some point. It won’t last forever.”

God, with your help, I can do this.  

To anyone who suffers from chronic illness or pain, whether physical or emotional, you’ll probably understand and relate when I say that sometimes I say I’m “giving it to God,” but in reality, I’m relying on myself for strength and stamina.

This is the bigger issue. My pride.

But God is never weak, and His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Psalm 34:17-20

In the midst of the pain and anxiety and frustration and guilt, the question of why my body constantly misbehaves is ever-present.

But so is my God.

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When I Am Weak

Emelia is one year old.

As I process her birth, I’m remembering things about that day that make me happy.  A week before, my doctor called me and told me I could stop taking the medication that kept my contractions under control, and that I was off bed rest. She said it was safe – she could come out now. We were in Emelia’s nursery when she called, and immediately I stood up. My doctor made sure I knew contractions would come on, stronger, more frequently, and I could go into active labor within hours. I was so ready. After weeks and weeks of praying that she would stay put, I wanted her out. I wanted to meet her. So I walked and walked and walked and walked. I cleaned the house from top to bottom. I bounced on my exercise ball, breathing through intense contractions that never stayed consistent. My family was all around me, cheering me on, telling me to be patient, but I knew they were all ready for her to be here, too.

I remember waking up on that Thursday morning, and that impatient, anxious, “get her out, get her out” feeling was gone. There was a strange calm that washed over me as we got ready for our weekly non-stress test appointment. I distinctly remember applying eye liner just in case she made her debut so I could look semi-presentable in my first few pictures with her. I remember smiling at myself in the mirror and placing my hands on my huge belly, trying to savor that feeling of having a little human being growing and thriving inside of me.

I remember realizing she wasn’t moving so much that morning.

Mgo was ecstatic when she was born. Seeing his joy was the best part of that day. I’ll never forget watching him sit at the end of my hospital bed, cradling her, smiling, watching her sleep. It’s really what made me go through the motions of caring for a newborn in the midst of the shock.

On the days leading up to April 3rd, I tried so hard to put all that bad feelings and anxiety and sadness aside. It was so incredibly hard. I felt so guilty for not being solely excited to celebrate. The guilt was immense because I was happy, but I was also grieving – the day Emelia was born was both the best and worst day of my life. That day, I became a momma to the most amazing little girl. That day, I kept my cool even though I nearly lost my life.

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh…Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

I am drinking this verse in, because I am so parched emotionally and spiritually as I walk this path to recovery. I do it because I want to be healthy and strong. One day, I want Emelia to look at me and see someone who is made strong, not because of earthly things, but because of Christ’s amazing grace.

I am trying to face this head on. I am not running from the flashbacks of unpleasant details of my time in the OR, which seem to be more frequent as I process what happened. I’m letting the tears flow when they come. I’m spending a lot of time holding, hugging, and kissing Emelia and letting myself be as overprotective as I need to be.

I’m praising God for sparing my life so I could spend this year taking care of her and watching her grow into a sweet, spunky, smiling one year old.

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There hasn’t been a day since she was born that I haven’t thought about how all of this might have not been. I might not have had these happy days that feel like a dream, because it feels too good to be true. And I have to tell myself that it’s actually happening. The same way I was wheeled into the hospital time and time again, praying God would spare her life, I was wheeled out of the automatic double doors, out into the sunlight, carrying our baby girl who made it. I made it.

Emelia is here. She’s okay. She’s healthy. She’s a gift.

Today I am on my knees, and it’s where I plan to stay.

This is the only place I find rest – in Christ’s unrelenting, sufficient, undeserving grace for me. Weak, scared, hopeful me.