Daily Bread

There’s Garth in the kitchen again, saving me from myself. I tried to make our go-to brownie in a mug with almond flour–it didn’t work out. Actually, it exploded in the microwave, leaving me with boiling brownie-flavored goo in a mug. I shouted to him that it was a failure and sat down to sulk at my computer. He rubbed my shoulders, gave me a kiss, made grilled s’mores sandwiches with Nutella and marshmallow fluff.

It’s not his job, by the way–the saving. And, for a moment of complete transparency here, right now I’m struggling with this idea of marriage as a blessing. A friend of mine was recently widowed, and grief has taken hold once again. One of the ways it’s manifested is making every single thing about my marriage…well, sad. I love my husband so much. I love watching him be a dad. But it breaks my heart completely to know what my dear friend is going through. And I hate how this has affected our relationship right now too, how I know, how I feel. I am wife while she is widow, I am married mom while she is single. And sometimes I can’t go on a simple ordinary date with my husband without breaking down in the car first, because it is so completely unfair.

But I know the Beatitudes. I know how blessing carries weight. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom, the mourning will receive comfort. The thorns of life make us more aware of our weakness, and our weakness is where God fills us in with his unfathomable strength.

So I guess you can say in our weakness we become glorious.

Strahan’s words waft in from the kitchen with the smell of melted butter, “You are my daily, you are my daily, you are my daily bread…”

Not my husband. Not my child. Not what I have but to whom I belong. The rest is just dessert, a bonus. It’s not what we’re lacking but what we have that really matters. And it’s enough.

Daily bread.

More than enough.

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“Give us this day…” by Kris via Flickr

 

No Bad Babies: When Parenting is Hard

The last few days have been hard. The baby is napping and I don’t know how much time I have, hopefully at least an hour, so I sit down with my warm coffee and open Facebook on my phone. The first post I see is from a mom on my favorite mommy group.

“My baby is such a good, easy baby. I’m afraid to have another. What if the next isn’t this easy?” asks a mom, with what I have a hard time thinking is a legitimate concern.
“Good” baby? Easy, sure, but good? Are hard babies not good babies, too?

She has no idea, I’m sure, how this cuts into the hearts of mothers like me. Mothers with the reflux babies, babies with intolerances and allergies, the babies that cry for a whole day at a time and keep us up all night and make us wonder if it’s something we’re eating or if a new medication is in order or when this nightmare of child rearing will end.

If good means easy, what will keep me from resenting my baby?

I want to tell her how lovable hard babies are and how mysterious and sweet and strengthening it is to love a difficult child. Not that the baby herself is difficult, but that her start to life has been just as unpleasant as my entrance into motherhood, and that to be pushed to the brink together every day tugs our hearts a little tighter through each trial. We’re in this together, no matter how alone I feel. That hard baby is somehow a blessing.

I want to help her know what she can’t know without the experience I’ve had that a hard baby can still be a good baby. That “good” doesn’t mean easy or even enjoyable but that it makes us something better than we were. And I’m sure being the mommy to a generally easygoing baby makes you better than before you were a mom, but please, give me credit. Not pity, but credit. Give my baby credit, because her life so far has been hard, and it’s not her fault.

Being a mom–for me so far–has meant giving up control. So if “good” means “if I’m not in control I at least want it to be easy,” then I guess she has a good baby. But I think good means more than easy. I think good tests us, molds us, leads us to a new understanding.

Having a hard baby has left me vulnerable to the very depths of depression and anxiety. Most days it’s difficult to motivate myself to mother beyond I have to. I second-guess everything and sometimes have a hard time feeling like I really love my child. Some days I feel I hold and coddle her too much, other days I feel I don’t give her nearly enough attention and she and I will grow detached. And then Saturday happened.

It was an anxious day for me. One of those days that I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, I was just off. I was also very hands-off and left most of the parenting–comforting, diaper changing, entertaining–to Garth. He was on full-time Daddy duty for most of the day. As I had a break-down in the kitchen after spilling steamed half and half on the floor (and almost on my child), there was Clarabelle. My hard baby. My hard to love baby. This nine-and-a-half month old crawled into my lap, pulled herself up on me, smiled, gave me a hug, and pressed her head against my cheek. We sat that way for a good few minutes until a smile broke my sadness.

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girl/afraid via Flickr

All of my questions about how I’m parenting just disappeared. How did I do this? How did we do this?

The baby who we’ve had to give up comforting and just let cry for 20, 30, 45 minutes at a time until she’s tired and will finally go back to sleep. The child who always needs to be held, who cries at our feet when we have to put her down just to wash our hands, who sometimes screamed through most of a day because of pain from reflux. This baby came to comfort me.

I must be doing something right. She must not be bad.

And actually, aside from all the stressful, fearful things that have happened this first year of her life, she is a good baby. She explores, smiles, laughs, experiments, hugs, cuddles, sings herself to sleep at night. I can’t even focus on all the hard things. I used to and it destroyed me. I forgot all the good things. As I paid more attention to the good things intentionally I noticed them more. She is a good baby, I was just too busy comparing my experience to those of others and feeling sorry for myself. But the good is there, all around.

There are no bad babies.

 

I Won’t Suffer in Silence

WordPress kindly notified me that my blog-anniversary was a year ago. Last week. And I missed it. Life gets away from me sometimes.

The last two and a half years has been an ongoing battle. Or an on-and-off battle, maybe. I don’t know. I have the test results to prove that the battle was at one point off, but recent tests show it’s most definitely back on. That sick intuition that something just wasn’t right with me was confirmed two months ago when I was diagnosed with post-partum depression. But no, not enough alone, this time it’s doubled up with anxiety.

I know the good memories are in my brain somewhere, I just can’t remember them. They’ve been buried under the stress, the sleepless nights, the burden of anger at a helpless little human who can’t communicate through more than tears and screams. Most of the time I can’t take it.

But I have to. I’m a mom now. There’s no vacation from being a mom. And my heart hurts.

As always, I’m finding the burden of mental illness gets lighter when I just talk about it. I need to dig out, and I can’t do it alone. By the grace of God I can say I know we’re not meant to do it alone. Don’t try to dig out alone.

I’m not just talking about prayer, about “casting your cares on the Lord,” about the yoke that is lighter than my worry. No. Heck, guys, we are the church. What does that even mean, anyway, to be the the hands and feet of Jesus?

I won’t suffer in silence because I can’t. It’s not safe there. It’s not safe in my quiet prayers that when left alone I feel fall on deaf God-ears. I need you. Yes, you, my friend. So what can you do?

Don’t tell me I just need more Jesus. I have plenty of Jesus. I know his love and his grace, his comfort, his mercy. I’ve found that often we need to receive those things in tangible ways to get out of our own heads. I’m sure it’s not just me. It has to be true for some of you too. Be those tangible means. I need you to come and show me through your actions and your words and your spoken prayers that God is listening. That he hears me and I’m truly not alone. Because this darkness is a damn lonely place and I know the love is there all around me but I just can’t see it most of the time. Don’t always wait for me to ask for help. Just come. Come wipe the grime from my mind’s window and show me the reality that lies on the other side. The love and the comfort and the peace and the joy. Be Jesus to the suffering, friend.

Most days I’m just angry. Angry that this is happening again— this time getting in the way of me feeling the love I know is there for my daughter. And I know with time I’ll probably get better. But what if I don’t? Does that make God less compassionate or powerful? Does that mean my faith is less than someone who fully recovers? I just don’t think so.

God has a purpose. And cognitively I know that he still loves me. My heart needs to get there, too. Because of my miscarriage and other little threads of life, I know that the commonality of experience heals others when we’re honest about our stories. The only thing holding me back from sharing is my own self-talk. Life isn’t about having everything you want anyway. It’s not about marriage or sex or family or money or even happiness. My happiness may be muted most days, but I still have joy. Love may not come easy for me all the time, but I know I am God’s and that he loves me. He delights in me, he delights in my daughter, and that cracks open my soul to receive his joy.

I’ll hold on to what I know is true. Though depression takes my happiness and anxiety tries to take my peace, I am saved and I am beloved and I am, somehow, free.

Say Their Names

The month of October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I actually didn’t know it existed until the year I miscarried, and it inspired me to share my experience. The one thing that healed me the most while trudging through the depths of grief was hearing and reading stories from other women who had also lost their babies. In one sense, it made the pain lighter knowing others were carrying the weight of such loss also. But as I encountered more stories, I also realized how much someone can go through without breaking. So many women have had miscarriage after miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancies, stillbirths, babies with fatal defects both known or unknown before birth, babies lost to SIDS. I realized that my one miscarriage was something that could make me stronger, and at the same time that even if I were to successfully carry a baby to term, there are no guarantees that everything will be okay. I don’t think people realize what a miracle babies really are.

Another thing that helped me heal was naming the baby. It’s very hard to name a baby you never knew, especially if you don’t know if that baby was a boy or a girl. Garth and I didn’t like any of the gender-neutral names we could find, so we gave up. We couldn’t give our unborn baby a name we wouldn’t choose had the baby been born.

Some PAIL organizations are encouraging mothers to “say the name” of their unborn or deceased babies. Garth and I haven’t shared the name with anyone who hasn’t asked, but today I want to share that story.

A few weeks after my miscarriage, while I was taking a shower, the name Henley crossed my mind. I obsessed over it for awhile and moved on to thinking of something else. The next day the name crossed my mind again, this time more clearly as a name for a girl. I thought about it a little more and wondered why this name had come to mind. The third day the name came to mind, I remembered it was the name of my favorite style shirt on Garth, again brushing it off and moving on to think of something else. For a month I thought of the name Henley every day, each time more strongly convinced that it was a good name for a girl.

For our date night that month, Garth and I went the homebody route and rented a movie from Redbox, made some popcorn, and turned the space in front of our TV into a fort in our living room. We started the movie Now You See Me and snuggled into the each other. Probably about fifteen minutes in, the lead female walked down a hall holding her to-go cup of coffee, the name Henley sprawled across the top of her cup. I paused the movie.

“Did you see her name?” I asked Garth.

“Uh… no?” he said.

I rewound the movie and had him look again.

“What do you think of her name?” I asked. I could feel my pulse in my fingertips.

“Henley? Like the shirt? I’ve never heard it as a name.”

“I hadn’t either, until recently. What do you think of it?”

“It doesn’t sound like a girl name.” He said after chewing on the inside of his cheek for awhile.

I had actually thought it sounded good for a girl. I told Garth about how the name had been haunting me in the shower, how I thought it sounded good for a girl and I felt like we should add it to our list of baby names. He finally agreed with me.

Before we could make a decision on the name, we had to look up its origin and meaning. The name is English, and it means “high hill” or “high meadow.” We found it was actually a boy name, which conflicted with my feeling that it sounded good for a girl. We spent months bringing the name up and debating whether it should “go on the list.” When we finally asked his sister what she thought of the name, she was a pretty harsh critic. We held off officially putting the name on our list.

February rolled around and so did my empty due date. I grieved quietly and didn’t mention it to anyone until the next day. My baby was still gone, my womb was still empty, and we still had no name to call our lost baby.

“Henley,” I said to Garth one morning as he woke up.

“You want it back on the list?” Garth asked groggily.

“What if God gave us the name?” I asked, pulling the covers to my chin, shrinking in insecurities. “It’s the only unisex name we’ve actually liked. What if that is the name of our baby.”

He rolled over and nibbled his cheek for a moment. “Yeah,” he said.

“Our baby’s name is Henley?”

“Our baby’s name is Henley.”

Read This Book

Back in April I was trudging through the newness of parenthood. I had a one month old who never slept long, day or night, I was exhausted, malnourished, and rocking the baby blues. I desperately needed a friend and coffee.

Enter Truest.

I know Jackie Lea Sommers personally though not well. She graduated from the same undergrad program I did (years ahead of me), learned from some of the same professors, worked at my college, and went to my church. I had heard of her and encountered her a number of times, but I never really connected with her until I got to get excited that she was living the writer’s dream: getting published. And by Harper Collins none the less.

I have to say, when I learned about her success I was a little star-struck. I had so many opportunities to approach her, ample Sunday mornings to ask her about writing, about getting published, about her book itself. But I froze every time. And it was really silly, because she is really gracious, nerdy, and cool.

Well, our pastor and his wife have really cute kids. Jackie is close to the family, so she often comments on their Facebook updates. The kids are sassy, fun, and growing at the surprising rate children normally grow, so I occasionally leave a comment as well. Through ‘liking’ and responding to each other’s comments, Jackie broke the ice and decided to friend me on Facebook. Cue giddy little fangirl freakout.

And through our little online interactions, I gained the opportunity to read an advance electronic copy of Truest.

Oh, what a friend! West, Silas, Laurel. I lived in the town of Green Lake for a week and forgot a little about how absolutely hard taking care of a baby was.

I spent one afternoon with a not-napping Clarabelle (what else is new?) on my lap while I read a few chapters out loud–swear words and all. That was the moment I learned what an attentive listener Clarabelle is. She watched the words scroll across the computer screen, hearing every word I read. My girl is a reader, I thought. A listener and a reader.

When I finally finished the novel, I scrolled to reveal the next page–it wasn’t there. It was over. And I thought, yes. The ending didn’t tie everything up in a pretty little bow. It was more like a fade-out, cue the soundtrack crescendo, roll the credits. So satisfying.

But I missed my friends. I missed Silas’s quick wit, Laurel’s philosophical ponderings, Gordon’s sessions of wise advice. I missed the Harts’ den, the rooftop, the beach, the bell tower.

And that was all before the final edit. Still good.

Soon, I will have my hard copy. The final cut. I can’t wait to take it to a local coffee shop and read it there, revisit Green Lake and my friends, see what the story became.  And read it again. And again.

Good things are coming from Jackie Lea Sommers. She is definitely an author to watch for.

Guys, Truest will be available for purchase at your local bookstore on September 1st. Go check it out. It’ll be a good addition to your home library.

In the meantime, you can read reviews of Truest here. (The worst I saw were 3 out of 5 stars. Not bad, Jackie.)

Truest book cover.

Look for this cover.

*Edited 7:10 pm 8/29: I realized I wrote that Truest comes out on Monday when September 1st is, in fact, Tuesday. The original post has been changed to say the date rather than the day of the week. Ugh, Mom Brain strikes again!

How to Get a Baby to Nap When She Hasn’t Napped All Week

I haven’t been present here lately. Normally I wouldn’t post on a Sunday, but when your schedule clearly isn’t working, sometimes it does good to do away with the schedule and just do what works for now until you can figure out something more reasonable. So today, I write what I have to write about, because instead of crap I have some actual ideas that are coming together nicely.

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Image mine.

Every Sunday Garth and I face the question of waking our daughter from her nap an hour early to go to church, or to stay home and let her sleep. On the one hand, we really want a well-rested baby; on the other hand, we don’t want to “make an idol” of her sleep–as I’ve heard other parents put it–and miss out on worship and fellowship.

We walk the balance of trusting God and relying too heavily on our own flawed intuition. Fellowship is important. Children’s sleep is important. Which one matters more to God? Which one do we give up for the other?

C.S. Lewis said children are the most important work. God wants us to be faithful with the things he has given us. Children are a gift from God–one which we must raise with great faithfulness and great sacrifice.

We try be faithful, to trust God. We pray and pray for our daughter to get good sleep, then we wake her up for church or keep her up hours after her bedtime to go to small group nights. We ask for good sleep habits to develop while simultaneously destroying them two to three times a week.

Sleep specialists say it takes a minimum of two weeks of consistency for an infant to develop good sleep habits. These habits would be taking two to three good naps (1.5-2 hours each and a catnap in the evening) daily, going to sleep without crying or without crying much, and sleeping through the night without waking, or at least without needing help getting back to sleep. Any deviations from their routine or from parental response to crying can cause set backs, which is why consistency is important.*

Lately we’ve been working on consistency. From the time Clarabelle was six weeks old until a month ago, we had been out of town every three weeks. It was extremely disruptive to Clarabelle’s sleep. We thought traveling and forcing her to sleep in new places would make her a more flexible baby, but we were so wrong. She became anything but flexible, and we all paid for it. We decided to start sleep training.

On day three of sleep training, which is often kind of the magic number–the point where babies are supposed to “figure it out” and accept the change and parents are supposed to feel less stressed–Clarabelle woke up with a fever. I had just caught a cold, and it appeared she had caught it as well. After a visit to the doctor, I was told she was healthy but getting more teeth (yes, she started teething at four months old! Oy.). Sleep training was put on hold yet again.

All this illness and congestion has resulted in a baby who went from two hour naps to napping less than an hour. Luckily, she’s been sleeping a little later every morning. Last night Garth and I decided since Clarabelle wasn’t taking good naps anyway, we would just get ready and leave when she woke up.

When Clarabelle got up this morning we changed her into her church clothes. After putting her down for her first nap, Garth and I got ready. I even put on a skirt and did my makeup. Of course, this induced a deep and long sleep from our daughter, and she took a two hour nap. We missed church. But we were ready anyway.

All this finally made me realize: isn’t that what we as Christians are called to do? To be always ready even if we don’t know, even if we don’t go today. To get up and get ready, every day ready for his call. Not to make decisions based on what we think will be right (example: let’s just stay home from church tomorrow so our daughter can sleep). That’s when we find ourselves in a situation where we could have gone if only we had been prepared.

This is the better way. We may not have made it to church this morning, but we were faithful. We were prepared to go if only we were called to it.

Today our daughter was blessed with good sleep. Next time maybe we’ll be blessed with an opportunity to join our church in worship.

God will lead. He’ll call us when he wants us–we need only be ready.

*I planned on citing some sources for the infant sleep facts, then realized most of what I know comes from conversations with a sleep specialist. If you’re a parent and interested in getting your baby (or toddler) and family better sleep, I’d encourage you in the direction of a sleep consultant from the Family Sleep Institute, like Baby Sleep Well. (I have not been asked to endorse these services. These are merely where I get my infant sleep information and help, and I provide the links simply to give other parents access to a sleep philosophy that has helped my family.)

Nobody Told Me Motherhood isn’t Magical

Everyone makes it sound like as soon as you hold your baby you fall so deeply in love that it makes all the hard stuff somehow not hard. That even though your boobs are sore and your baby is hungry at 2 am the big love somehow makes it so easy. That pacing the floor for two hours in the middle of the night to calm your crying newborn won’t bother you because of that big, huge love. Because of these people I was not prepared.

Nobody told me that being a mom wouldn’t be magical.

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This is my every day. My joy.

It took awhile to get to this place. I didn’t know it would.

I thought motherhood would come with that big love. Especially for me–I wanted her so badly.

A friend described the birth of her son saying she could feel her heart grow at his first cry. That’s what I expected: the promised supernatural bond between mother and child that makes sleep deprivation “so worth it.” I knew having a baby was going to be hard, but I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to cope, so I felt wrong.

Why didn’t I love my baby right?

The tears came. That first night through the midnight cluster feed, the day we left the hospital and I watched all my help fade into the distance, that third day home alone with a baby that wouldn’t sleep unless she was in my arms–the tears came and they came and they came. The mixture of hormones and shock and loneliness had me in a choke hold for three months.

One day I got away. I left for just half an hour to drop a friend off after a visit. Clarabelle woke up while I was gone and Garth held her for half an hour, putting her back to bed just before I returned. “We have a hungry baby,” he said when I got back, so I went in to feed her. And, oh.

I picked her up and sat in the chair with her. She reached up a hand and traced my face over and over in the dark. She ran little grimy fingers through my hair. She stroked my arm, cooed, and fell asleep.

She just wanted me.

Love came. It bowled me over. It wasn’t magical, but it was real.

I loved her all along, but it was conscious love, clearly a choice, and a hard one.

The other night when I put her to bed, I realized I was going to miss her. I used to look forward to it, now I feel a little sad as I lay her down for the night.

Love comes. Just not always right away.

I’m still terribly sleep deprived. I still get intensely angry when she wakes up two hours early and won’t go back to sleep. I still cry when she cries so hard and is inconsolable. But I’ve learned that the anger and the crying are not from my frustration with her but with the situation (like when she’s so overtired she can’t get to sleep and cries for half an hour). I get so concerned about every aspect of her life that it comes out in anger and tears. It’s my love for her that drives me completely crazy.

I try not to feel guilty for not enjoying her newborn stage enough. I was too anxious to put her down, to get her sleeping alone, to get work done without her crying for me. I should have enjoyed that time, it was so easy to get her to sleep. She no longer sleeps on me, or anywhere really for that matter. Instead, I’ve tried to learn from that mistake and enjoy her now.

My love for her is growing every day, and so is she.