I've been watching on Facebook as a few of my friends approach their due dates. I remember the anticipation when I experienced it nearly five years ago. Last minute touches to the nursery, stocking up on any possible supply you could EVER need, 3rd trimester belly pics with hubs. I can remember the nervous anticipation of excitement mixed with fear of the unknown: you do everything you can to be "ready", yet you don't really know how to be "ready" for something you've never experienced.
I learned after going through it myself that there's no way to really prepare someone for what it's like either--words just aren't a substitute for experience in a situation that's so profoundly life-changing. So after I first gave birth I decided from my "why didn't anyone tell me??!!" perspective that I was going to be the one to inform every living soon-to-be first time mom on the planet exactly what they were in for, until I finally realized two things:
1--I was scaring people and/or killing their expectant vibes and
2--there are no words that can really prepare anyone anyway.
So I decided to stop being the childbirth vigilante.
The simple truth is that, prior to this miraculous experience, you just have no reference point for the magnitude of the overwhelming pain/exhaustion you will feel OR the magnitude of the overwhelming LOVE you will feel. The laboring process is perhaps the greatest feat you will ever perform that has the potential to also yield the greatest miracle.
I've found in my own life that good things are often birthed from struggle:
The harder we exercise--the more we exhaust ourselves--the more positive results our body produces.
After getting our heart broken, we meet our greatest love.
Through overcoming addiction, we find peace in a higher power.
Whatever the struggle, I believe that often the greater the miracle, the greater the pain required to birth it. And a miracle of this magnitude--bringing forth a new life into the world--is certainly no exception.
So, soon-to-be first time momma, it will NOT be easy. You may even legitimately believe that you and/or the baby aren't going to make it through. And, although very rare, the reality we don't like to talk about is that, for some mommas, she or baby does not. Such is the bittersweet nature of life--miracles, tragedies, and lots of things in between exist. So, even though I'm no longer attempting to prepare others for the experience, I DO still share my one word of advice:
Do your homework, create your birth plan, know your birthing rights and the kind of experience you'd like to have for both you and your baby--having a vision is important. But once you’ve done that
I do not mean that you should give up on everything you envisioned, what I mean is to let go of the illusion that YOU are ultimately in control. It took a power greater than you to co-create this miracle and it will take a power greater than you to help birth it. When it comes to the pain & the process, we can choose to collaborate or fight...surrender or control.
You may, like one of my friends, have your heart absolutely set on a natural birth and then find out that the baby's heart rate is dropping and opt for an emergency C-section. You may, like another friend of mine, have a successful water birth at home until the home stretch and then be told you need to be transported because the labor is not progressing, putting you in a setting you didn't plan for. And, it's also entirely possible and likely that everything will work out just as you've hoped and planned.
The point is, we have to be open to whatever could go down: that doing what's best for your baby may change at the drop of a hat and it may mean letting go of the way you thought it would go. It may mean making super fast decisions in the heat of the moment that you NEVER thought you would make in order to do what's best for this baby. This is what I mean by surrender: letting go of how you thought things would be in order to do what's needed, if need be.
And to those who are lucky enough to have the entire experience go exactly according to plan...I STILL say surrender, because there will be opportunity after opportunity even after the baby's birthed to choose when to fight and know when to let go. And the other miracle in all this is: you will know. That is the great gift of a mother's instinct. You may second-guess yourself, but you will always know deep in your gut what to do. We were born for this.
So, soon-to-be first time momma, my wish for you is that you'll be able to surrender to the magic of it all, whether the way it goes down is in your plans or not. I'm excited for you because you are about to embark on an experience that is so profound, it will change you forever. I'm excited not just for your baby's birth but for your own rebirth. Your strength and your faith will be tested and you will come out the other side knowing for the first time what true unconditional love feels like in a way you've never experienced before. And, as unbelievable as it is, that love will just get stronger over time.
Nearly five years later, I still study his little face as he sleeps--looking at every perfect eyelash, listening to his breath, taking in the perfection of it all and feeling SO humbled by the power of life...so humbled to have not only been part of bringing forth such a miracle but to also witness its continued unfolding.
These are the reasons I'm excited for you, soon-to-be first time momma...because you will get to experience the struggle AND the joy--ALL part of the magnitude of the miracle.
Confession: Summer break has not quite turned out to be what I envisioned so far. (Let me guess, you too?)
Don't get me wrong, there have been so many amazing moments that I'm thankful for, but my visions of happily playing at the park and splashing around in the pool with my 4 year-old have ended up looking more like a duel scene from a western at times. The strong will in this child is only met by my own, and although I know his smarts and determination will serve him someday, it makes for some loooong days now, with nearly constant struggles over the tiniest of requests. I'm not sure anything in my life has been such a test in patience--choosing to react in the way I want to model for my son, rather than in the way my ego would like to out of frustration.
Each day is a mix of the highest of highs...
"Mommy, how'd you get so beautiful?"
"Mom, I love you more than the world."
Hugs, kisses, cuddles.
And the lowest of lows...
Meltdowns before we’ve even had breakfast.
Alligator-wrestling-style attempts at napping that are unsuccessful.
"Mommy, you're not making me happy today."
I have a Master's in Educational Psychology and years of experience successfully working with students using Conscious Discipline and other strategies of positive reinforcement, yet, with my own child, I feel as if I don't know a damn thing sometimes. And that’s where the shame kicks in: Krissy, you know what to do...you know what works...how can you be more successful with another's child than your own? What kind of mom....
And so it goes.
The answer of course is that it's a whole different ballgame when the strong emotions of love for your own child are involved--they can trigger you like no other. Some days I'm on my game & we have a beautiful, peaceful day. Others, the stresses and distractions of life mount up, I'm not on my game, and we have "one of those days". Yesterday was one of them. I was frustrated, he was frustrated, and we were going round and round. The day felt like a sweater three sizes too small that I was constantly trying to wriggle out of. He was in resistance, I was in resistance, and I finally realized it was time to have a come-to-Jesus moment with myself if I wanted this summer to turn around. I also knew that moment needed to happen in the stillness, not in the chaos. I called in reinforcements--sleepover at Mimi's tonight (thank God for grandmas).
Once the house was quiet, I sat down and got still. The words of a friend of mine who had just had a baby immediately echoed in my head "I feel like I was just born to be a mom". The tears of guilt started to flow and the first thought that came out of the mounted frustration was "Maybe you do girl, but not me--I'm just not cut out for this."
I can recognize on this quiet next morning after a good night of sleep that I was feeling that mostly out of frustration. Just as I can recognize that my boy's not "bad" when he's frustrated, I can also recognize that I wasn't a "bad" mom for having these thoughts, I just needed a break. The truth is--sometimes I feel like I'm nailing motherhood & sometimes I feel like I'm failing motherhood. But I also think there's some TRUTH deep within that frustrated thought I had: the one where I thought to myself "Maybe I wasn’t born to be a mom".
The truth is, I think I was born—I think we’re all born—not to play a certain role but to live our purpose and, while I don't believe my sole purpose in this life is to be a mom, I do believe it's a huge part of it. I believe we are put here for two reasons: to try and make the world a little better in some way and to try and make ourselves a little better, too. To use our gifts to add good to the world and use the hard times to hopefully improve ourselves somehow.
I believe God made me a mom for a reason and gave me this particular boy--with all his big heart and strong will--for a purpose, too. I feel (hope) that I'm using my gifts through writing, teaching, helping students every day, and through my interactions with others (including my son). But I believe God is also working to improve my imperfections, my shortcomings, through my relationships with others, too--and of course the one I have with him is no exception. In addition to the reverse being true, he might just be my greatest teacher.
I've never been a patient person, it's been a struggle my whole life. What better teacher than my son?
It's my nature to give up on difficult things quickly--perseverance has always been a struggle for me. What better teacher than my son?
Asserting myself and standing in my power have never come easily--what better teacher than my son?
In other words, through my frustrations & difficulties maybe God is trying to develop the characteristics in me that need the most cultivating.
So, no, I don't necessarily believe I was born to be a mom--I believe being a mom is an enormous gift that I was allowed (and so very thankful for) that is part of a bigger purpose. If I believe I was born only for the purpose of being a mom, and not for a larger purpose, then I fail to see the lessons that are trying to emerge from the struggles--and start believing that I'm "bad" or "failing at life" when my mothering isn't going so well (which is inevitable). If I believe I was born only for the purpose of being a mom, and not for a larger purpose, then who am I when he grows up and moves out? Who am I if something, God forbid, were to happen to him? I've got to anchor myself to a larger purpose, otherwise I'm a boat adrift, being pulled to wherever the tide takes me.
Now when it comes to the second part of that frustrated thought...the part where I thought to myself "I'm just not cut out for this"? That part I can't agree with in the stillness of this next morning. Maybe I wasn't "born to be a mom", but I AM SO cut out for this. I will take on these struggles over and over for the privilege of raising this boy and growing into the woman that God would have me be. It might just be one of the greatest challenges of my life, but I bet it will also be the greatest reward. And, if God feels I'm cut out for this, then I believe I am, too.
With social media, It seems that we're living in a time when great deeds--and not so great deeds--get noticed. EVERYTHING gets noticed. When a person or group is treated unfairly it's called to the world's attention and it seems the whole online world is "on it" (at least until the next thing...). And when someone goes out of his or her way to do something above and beyond, or even heroic, they get ten minutes of Twitter fame. I'm not arguing whether this is good or bad--I think it can go both ways. I'm simply making the observation that little goes unnoticed these days.
Except for you, my love.
You--my husband, my son's father--do so much good that goes unnoticed by the world every single day. But it doesn't go unnoticed by me. You are our family's unsung hero.
I see the way you work six eleven-hour days a week and then come home to take on your second job as husband & daddy. When you walk in the door, we greet you with smiles and hugs and "how was your day? " and then promptly put you to work again in some way.
"Daddy, can you fix my monster truck? "
"Babe, can you keep an eye on him so I can go for a run? "
"Daddy, let's race in the backyard! "
"Babe, can you get dressed, we have that thing tonight? "
And, even though you're tired to the point of being weary, you go get the screwdriver or put on your running shoes every time because you put your family before yourself. I know deep down all you want to do is put your feet up and zone out on the couch after being on the go all day--and you eventually do some days--but never until we have what we need first.
Never have I wondered when you'll make it home because you stopped by the bar to grab a drink on the way home (you're way too excited to see our son's face light up when you pull in the driveway).
Never have I seen you turn your head at another woman (I know you've noticed, but I haven't noticed you notice, and that's what counts).
Never have I seen you choose anything or anybody over me or our son.
You are the fixer of all things--both literally and figuratively. You seem to always have the tool or the answer. You make life feel secure and safe for the two of us. In my single days, I used to think the same taste in music and what a person does for a living were important to consider when looking for a life partner, but I've learned after nearly ten years and a child together that what matters most about a man is who he is when the going gets tough--in crisis, in grief. It's in these times that you step up rather than fold.
And, here's the really crazy part--of all those good things you do, you've not done a single one for the glory. When you teach our son to pick me a flower, you don't post about it on Facebook--shoot, you don't even have any social media accounts. I'm not saying it's a bad thing if you do, I'm just saying that what I love most about you is how you do good behind the scenes...how you live quietly for God, for your wife, and for your son. In a world of sung heroes, you are our unsung hero.
I've never cared for small talk.
Small talk in the dentist's chair is even worse.
"So where do you work?"
"Where do you live?"
"Do you have kids?"
Meanwhile, I'm thinking the answers and then spitting them out in between suctions. Lovely conversational flow.
Through the broken small talk I manage to answer that I have a four year-old son and then the inevitable next question comes...the one I never quite know how to answer correctly:
"So, any plans for a second kid?"
I think to myself "Yes, there were plans and there was another child but he didn't arrive. And, yes, I still want another, but I'm scared."
I know this is NOT the answer she (or anyone else who asks in small talk conversation) is looking for. I know it would be too much and so I usually push the real answer away and, for the sake of keeping conversation going, just say what's easier: "oh yea, sure, probably one day here soon."
But I hesitate this time giving the canned response because even just thinking it brings up that familiar pang of guilt: I've glossed over my experience with my unborn (but not non-existent) second son as if he didn't matter--exactly what I feared would happen when we first learned we had lost him.
Maybe I had too much time to think in between suctions on this one or maybe I was just tired of trite conversation, but I decided to respond differently this time--to risk her possibly feeling uncomfortable in order to honor him and my own feelings. "We did want another and were expecting him this past February but we learned that we lost him early in the second trimester."
She didn't stiffen or stumble on her words; instead she stopped what she was doing, pulled her mask down, and leaned in close. She whispered, "I'm so sorry, I know that feeling, I had the same experience in between my two children. I'm so glad you said something because no one ever wants to talk about it." And that's when the REAL conversation began. The energy between us became completely different, we talked like two girlfriends at a slumber party: wide-eyed and leaned in close and finishing each other's sentences. Not because we're excited about what happened but because we found someone who could not only relate but was willing to talk about it.
When I headed out to leave we smiled and nodded to each other. We were no longer strangers but connected in some unspoken way.
The point is this: had I passed on TRUTH in favor of small talk and surface-level conversation, we could've talked for twenty minutes yet still left strangers. It makes me wonder if this is part of why so many of us feel disconnected from each other. It makes me wonder what would happen if we all traded small talk for being a little more real and vulnerable with each other. We'd probably find we have a lot more in common than we think.
If you're a teacher-mom like me, you know there's no sweeter feeling than the very first morning you open your eyes and realize it's summer break! When it hit me this morning a big smile spread across my face--not because I'll be away from the kiddos I love to teach or the coworkers I love to laugh with, but because summer means...
HAPPY SUMMER TEACHER-MOMS, ENJOY! 😎