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Thanks friends for coming along with me for 31 days in October. For those of you who started reading the blog because of the series, I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you stick around. I had no idea where I would end up when I started writing, but it has been a challenging, exciting, healing process the whole way through, so thank you for “listening.” I have a feeling I’ll be bringing this series back every now and then in the months to come with a few more Notes every so often.

I used a random winner generator for the Desperate giveaway, and the winner is Nayantara, so I will get you that book as soon as it comes via Amazon. Thanks to all who participated.

There will be quite a few blog changes coming up in the next week or so, but I hope to resume posting about the normal topics and of course some new recipes. Kale is in our supermarket for a few weeks so get ready to be inundated with easy kale, kale smoothies and kale brownies. Just kidding about the brownies.

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It’s a cold, rainy Geneva day – if one can call 4am “day” – and my pink ballet flats with flowers stitched on top are letting water in. I pull my arms around the 37-week-old child inside, wait for the taxi and wonder if today is the day that we will meet our new son.

Three years ago I stood on a sunny, warm pavement in front of 14 Chemin Malombre, a newlywed with a van full of IKEA furniture and heart full of baggage. Two years ago I paced our apartment floor for six hours of pain, walked down six flights of stairs, into a taxi that took me to the hospital where 50 minutes later I held my crying firstborn having absolutely no idea how to care for and love a baby.

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I am lying on a bed in Urgences (emergency), contracting every five minutes, and it feels fine. There is no way they will keep me here, I think to myself, I am not in labor. It’s early, these contractions are too weak, unless I’ve  forgotten what contractions feel like. 

But they keep me, I lie on my right side in the cold room, trying to cover my feet with useless hospital blankets. I close my eyes, trying to fall back asleep. Husband eventually arrives after our babysitter went to our apartment to look after Little Boy. We talk, laugh, just sit there and wonder how long this is all going to take.

I’m clearly much stronger this time around. Labor is really not painful at all, I marvel to myself and to him.  I don’t even need any of my pain management strategies. 

//

She walks into the delivery room like a warm breeze. She’s beautiful, my doctor, with wild, grey-brown, curly hair, she’s in top shape, I love listening to her Spanish accent. There’s the cervix check – the fifth, and there were at least two more to come.

I’m going to break your water now, and then we’ll see what happens, she says. I know from the way she is talking that she thinks it will go very quickly, but I know from what my body is saying that it won’t be happening any time soon.

It’s warm, amniotic fluid, I don’t remember that from the first time around when my water broke while I was throwing up into the toilet an hour before Little Boy was born, warm like a cup of tea falling from a counter top where it stood 30 minutes after the water boiled, falling down without anything to stop it. It’s gushing over the birthing ball where I sit, leaning on the bed, as I rotate my hips on top, hoping this means dilation of some sort.

We can see trees outside, all green, the sky is blue now, our room is eerily silent except for Husband, me, and the sound of the rubber ball squishing against the floor.

He pulls my worn blue Bible out of the hospital bag he packed before leaving our apartment this morning and starts flipping through it. He turns to Isaiah, and his eyes fall on chapter 66. He starts reading.

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Before she was in labor, she gave birth, before her pain came upon her, she delivered a son. 

This is incredible, Husband says.

“…For as soon as Zion was in labor, she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of labor and not cause birth?” says the Lord.

Neither of us knew the passage, but in one moment, God is standing in this white room like my own personal midwife, holding my face is his hands and saying, Did you think you would go through all of this difficulty for nothing? Did you think the three years of sorrow and pain would just keep going? Were you wondering if anything could come out of this? Would I, the one who took you through labor, not cause birth? 

And I know it in my heart, I will give birth to a son, but I also know that today I will give birth to something else.

This is the day when the three-year season of pain and difficulty ends; this is the day my new season of life is born. 

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I can hear her voice through the speakerphone in the delivery room, midwife to my left, Husband on my right and in a strange way I’m still captivated by the Spanish accent, You can get an epidural, the oxytocin will make your contractions more effeeeeeshyent, you haven’t failed, the sentences are running together, another contraction is coming, I can’t listen anymore.

It is 4pm, two hours now since she broke my water, 12 hours since I’ve been in the hospital, and 15 hours since the weak contractions first began. Labor is not progressing, the words no woman ever wants to hear. My cervix has been checked at least five times, a procedure I started hating after the first check in Urgences at 4am, and every time there are tiny movements toward effacement, but I’m not even dilated. In my head I’m trying to tell myself, Hours upon hours upon hours more of this, even though my body is saying, Please make the pain stop, please leave me alone. 

And I see it, the days and the nights, the long days the even longer nights of waiting these last three years of waiting and waiting and waiting for something to change. A movie with scenes from the past three years of loss plays, of Husband coming home and me saying, I’ve had a moment, a revelation, I feel great now, everything will be different, and then it would last for a little bit and then fade away. The sadness returning, the heaviness still there.

It was a season of getting on with it, of getting up multiple times at night when I didn’t feel like it, of caring for people when I needed care myself, of feeding others when I needed food, of aching loneliness.

And there is no epidural that can take away that pain. There is no oxytocin that can make the process go faster. Sometimes you have to wait the season out, live in it and find ways to survive in it.

I ask her for a few more hours, Can we see what happens in two hours and can I make a decision then? She says of course, there is even a hint of laughter in her voice.

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IV

I expected it to be easy, if I’m honest, everyone says that a second delivery is easier and quicker than the first, and my first was easy and fairly quick at seven hours. I was so strong through the first one, so in control, no screaming, no crying, I was totally into it, like a well-trained athlete completing her event and being handed a gold medal at the end.

And I remember seeing Little Boy for the first time in the hands of the midwives. Two closed fists raised in the air, legs spread wide, face twisted in an angry howl. Strong, fierce, independent.

Little Boy was born of my strength, but today I know Baby will be born of my weakness.* 

God’s back in the white room again and talking to me out of Isaiah 66.

Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river…I will comfort you, you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like grass, and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants. 

Words that burn in my soul, the promises I hold in my heart, I will extend peace, I will comfort, your heart shall rejoice, your bones shall flourish. And I say yes to all of this, with Husband’s hand in mine, I say, Yesto this season, I receive it with eager, open hands.

The midwives are back in the room, I have to lie down in the bed for 30 minutes of contraction monitoring. I am cold, the contractions slow down immediately when I am on my back, but the pain is intense, and to get through it, I turn Husband’s torso into my punching bag.

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You have to help me decide, you can’t sit this one out, I’m your wife and this is your son, I turn to Husband, and we go back and forth, to get the epidural or not, to take the oxytocin or not.

Let’s ask God for a sign, he says, and so I do. If there is no change after the next round, I will take the epidural first, then the oxytocin.

We leave the delivery room and head for the stairs, walking up and up and up and down and down and down, focusing my mind on the sound of the pink ballet flats slapping against the concrete.

Another cervix check, and I feel so tense and tight, anticipating the discomfort and pain but not the surprise on the midwife’s face or her words, There’s a leeetle change. 

Still not fully effaced but only millimeters away, we have our sign.

Keep going.

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VI
Time, weather, these are details for which I have no memory in the last hour. There is only pain, a lot of pain.We go back to the stairs, climbing up at the start of the contraction into peak intensity and heading down when the pain is on its way out. Up and down. Up and down.After a day’s worth of cervix checks, I start to feel a second pain after the pain of the contraction subsides, it’s my cervix telling me where it is and that it’s not feeling so great. I force myself to labor in a way to make it hurt even more because more pain means my cervix is opening, I need the baby’s head to push hard down on it to force dilation, pain means transition, pain means something will happen, I know this because it was the story of my life, just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, more would come, and each dose of more difficulty, each wave of disappointment and pain was water against my rough patches, wearing me down, thinning me out, carving away at me on the inside, enlarging me. More pain brought more space, more life, more grace.Everyone says – I say – the only way to get through the pain of labor is to somehow stay on top of it through pain management exercises and sheer willpower, and that’s what I did with my first.But now I’m back in the delivery room and so out of control there is no way to get close to being over the pain, I am pulled under, deep into contractions that have me on my feet reeling around the room with groans and shrieks and hands slapping on the counters. It’s in these moments of desperate pain that I hear the words from an Ann Voskamp blog post I almost memorized from reading so much when I was pregnant with my first.

“You’re a bag of sand and there’s a hole in your toe — and the sand just keeps trickling out. Just let everything that comes on, trickle on through. Don’t hold on… Just breathe and let go.”

– Ann Voskamp, How To Breathe Through the Hard Times

I’m standing between the counter with all the official equipment and the bed when I hear the words, and realize all my muscles are pulled tight, so I let go and the force of the next contraction empties my bladder on the ballet flats, and then I can feel  him, the small lump in the small of my back, moving.

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You have to call the midwife NOW, it’s time to push, I tell Husband, RIGHTNOW, trying to convey the urgency even though I can’t believe it.

I run – well, it felt like running – to the side of the bed, hold on to it and start pushing through my contractions. Husband’s on the other side telling me I can do it, the midwife in charge walks in looking bewildered, You need to push??

She checked me just an hour ago, and I wasn’t even dilated.

And I say something like,  yes it feels like that but I suppose I don’t know for absolute certain, and as much as I told myself I would never push without finding out if I was completely dilated, I knew I was going to keep pushing.

Activity all around us, I hear her in the background on speakerphone with my doctor who is kind of yelling and they have switched from French to Spanish, and Spanish sounds much better than French when there is high drama involved. Two other midwives materialise, green paper on the floor, I’m thinking I should get on the bed, but no one seems to care, so I push anyway.

This is it, ICANFEELHIMCROWNING, I tell them, wondering why I’m having to tell people what is happening, mystified as to why no one seems to be doing anything more dramatic than just standing there and waiting. With Little Boy, the midwives told me when to stop pushing, when to keep going, they told me everything, and I followed their instructions.

Today, I work with my body. I know when to stop pushing, when I need to pant, when the head emerges, then the body, the rush of water and blood and it’s finished. My son is crying, my husband is crying, and me?

I’m standing by the side of the bed, still holding the mattress and sheets, my legs are shaking.

Shaken but standing. Holding on because I will not let go of You. 

The midwives hand him to me, a shivering, huddled ball of white-coated flesh, head touching his knees. He was born three weeks early and a tiny ball with skin like tissue paper.

He curls into my chest, like he’s trying to go back inside, and after three years, I know today that this is what I must look like to God.

The girl who tried so hard to be strong and together and on top of it and in control, she’s finally where He wants her. Out of control, hands wide open to receive grace, strength all gone, I’m here in all my glorious weakness saying, Take me, please take me, feed me real food, give me back my life. 

So one season gives way to the next, life comes out of death, sadness flees and joy abounds, I was tested and tried, a crushing burden laid on my back, there was fire and water, but I am resurrected again, You have brought me to a place of abundance

*I take this phrase from my friend Kristen Frantz’s own birth story – I’ve tried to come up with a better one myself, but her line that I read years before I had my own children so perfectly captures my own experience.

I’ll announce the winner of the Desperate book giveaway tomorrow. This post is Day 31 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. (New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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There’s a post I tried to write to publish today, but it’s not going to happen if I want to get some sleep. And I want to get some sleep. Instead here are a few of my favourite parenting articles. Enjoy.

The Habit of a Mother Who Changes the World 

No, a mother duck plucks each feather out from the heart of her bosom.

She lines the nest with bits of herself — the best of herself.  

A mother cups her brood not with leftovers — but with her own sacrifice.

When You Can’t Figure Out What the Answer Should Be

This is the year of yes, to look in the mirror and say, “Yes, He made you this way and it is very good! Yes, you can try! Yes, be creative! Yes, laugh and yes, give it a whirl, and yes, it’s really okay, don’t be afraid!”

This is the year of yes, to kneel down and peer into eager faces and say, “Yes, you can, yes, that’s an ingenious idea, yes, make that, yes, yes, yes!”

Of Linen and Grace

We have great plans, grand ideas of mothering and care-taking and preparing a child for life, and at the end of many days we just feel like we’ve left it in pieces. What’s here for them to take is not near enough, we say. And we cry because we wish we had done it better.

We wish our fingers always zipped and buttoned the completed gown instead of staring at the remainders of our dreams for them.

Why You Never Stop Being Needed

Yes, boys – right to my end, I will be your witness.

God as my witness, I will be your witness, and you can climb and you can take risks and you can go east and you can go west and distance never stopped love from being a witness.

Go ahead, sign me up to witness the launchings and the beginnings, witness the dares you take, the challenges you rise to, the heartbreak you don’t want anyone else to see and the crazy you wish you could hide. The Lord looked down, from heaven He viewed the earth in all it’s crazy and God sees it all – and He sees to it all – and He doesn’t turn awayGod is your witness: You are seen and known.

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Thanks to all of you who have followed this 31 Days series. I’ll conclude tomorrow and announce the giveaway winner.

This post is Day 30 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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I‘ve mentioned before that it’s difficult for me to find my place in the evangelical Christian world of parenting resources because I disagree with so many of the extremes. In every stage of my life whether it was university, working days, dating, engagement, marriage and now parenting, I’ve had to discard the “truth” I was taught for a new way (note: not discard everything, just some things). More often than not I find myself charting a path in between ideas, ideologies, systems and beliefs. It was once a place of insecurity for me, but I know now that this is how it is – I do not fit in the evangelical bubble, and I will not force my marriage and family into this small space for which it was not intended.

I discovered Sally Clarkson’s writing about parenting through links Ann Voskamp posted to her site. Ann’s writing about a variety of topics significantly impacted the way I think about my life and parenting, so I was curious about Sally’s thoughts. That was over a year ago, Sally’s blog is now one of my must-reads, and it has been a particularly encouraging place when it comes to the topic of mothering. I have left encouraged, challenged, comforted and inspired, and I’ve often left with new ideas. What I love most is that she does not prescribe specific actions or fall into the “do this and you will get perfect kids,” instead I am thankful for the stories of her own family life and the traditions and ways that underpin their home life.

I knew Sally had written a book, but did not buy it until my friend Kara wrote about how the book was impacting her life, and then I knew I needed it.

I started reading it in the days after Baby was born. My mother-in-law was with us to help with Little Boy, so I spent my days in bed, resting, sleeping and reading. This is one of the first paragraphs of the book:

I stared at the wall, then fell back down into my bed. I pulled my knees to my chest and the blanket over my head as tears came down and these words tumbled out to my God: “I can’t be a mother today, Lord, I’m just too tired.”

– Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson, Desperate, (p XV)

Well, I was in tears and the book had not even begun. I can’t be a mother today, those are words I have uttered time and time again to Husband in the early hours of the morning when little people were awake too early, and I was exhausted.

The book is written by two women, Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson, Sarah is younger with three small kids and Sally is older with four grown children. Both perspectives are represented in the book almost like a conversation between the two.

I devoured this book chapter after chapter, answering questions at the end, taking ideas to heart until I had to take a break because of the packing and moving process. I’ve been reading it again now, but slower, to savour and take in the thoughts and ideas, and also so that I can take time to think about what I want to do differently and what I am already doing well.

This is a wonderful, life-and-freedom-giving book. You will put it down chapter after chapter, encouraged and inspired to be the mother you want to be.

If you’re a mom with small kids especially and you need some empathy, comfort and support, this book is for you. Promise. It will not condemn or give you a one-size-fits-all plan (or promise to make your kids come out in a certain way), but on every page I heard the words of women who live and have lived the life that I’m living today, and it was a nice feeling to be understood and then also to be given new tools, encouragement and ideas.

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Here are some of the main ideas I’ve taken away from the book:

  • Create the community I want to have – instead of waiting for other people to initiate friendship, connecting points, catch ups, I can be the one to create a place for women, kids and families to connect (chapter 2)
  • Think about what legacy I want to leave with my kids, what things I want them to take away from their years at home, and begin making those things happen through daily, weekly, monthly and yearly traditions (chapter 3)
  • Speak hope to my kids, cast a vision for them of the kind of people they can become, give them strategies for how to win (chapter 4)
  • Be yourself. This point – echoing throughout the book – has brought so much freedom to my life and my parenting.

God gave me a personality. I am one who loves adventure and travel. I’m a social person who loves friends. I am a reader, thinker and have an artist sort of soul. God does not admonish us to sacrifice our personalities in order to please Him. Instead He calls us to uphold His ideals and designs. He wanted me to grow fully into the person He created me to be, in order to give to my children what they needed. The more I have learned to cultivate a life that is interesting to me, the more interesting my home has become to my children.

There are so many voices and opinions about motherhood and parenting today. You can become neurotic if you try to follow every bit of advice. It will kill your heart for motherhood if you compare yourself to everyone else’s ideals. You have to be yourself and live within the limitations of your personality and needs as a woman.

– Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson, Desperate, (p87)

The main point I took away from page after page of the book is that the more free I am to be myself as I parent, the better is it for my family. I have mom friends who think of creative crafts for their kids, others play lots of sports together and others turn their homes into kid clubs and meeting spaces. Instead of doing what other moms do, I now live within my zone, I look at what I care about, what I’m good at, and I try to do those things as much as possible in our home. The more I do this, the more joy fills my heart, and more than anything, I want my sons to grow up in a home that is full of joy, not a home that is full of trying to be something or someone else.

If you would like a copy, I would love to give one away to you this week. Just leave a comment with your name and something you love about who you. That’s it. I’ll pick a winner on Thursday.

This post is Day 29 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. 

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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This final guest post is from my friend Myra. I worked with her and her family in Kiev, Ukraine right before I went from single to not-single-anymore, and they quickly became like family to me in that time. She is a lovely woman who appreciates beauty, art and words, a deep thinker with an equally deep, soulful laugh. We shared many mochas together in Kiev, and I treasure our conversations and her words closely in my heart. 

Myra is a writer, thinker, church worker and speaker, she’s married to Mike, and they have two grown daughters, Abigail and Rebecca. She spent the majority of her time after marriage in Ukraine but now lives in Tennessee. Myra blogs at Encouraging Thoughts, and here are her encouraging thoughts for us new mums today.

If I have any sage advice to offer young mothers, I will have to travel back five international moves ago and try to remember what life was like when I was a new mother. When you have a baby, not only does your world rock cataclysmically, but also your body has just been inhabited, used as a rocket launcher to usher new life into the world, and become exhausted in the process. No experience in life is remotely similar. But shouldn’t the heralding of a new life into the world be, well, intense? The passion that let up to it was also probably intense.

As amazing and transformational as it is, the mundane settles in quickly and your world suddenly shrinks to the existence of two people: you and your baby, with an occasional, tired nod to your husband. While you are trying to navigate new waters, the doting grandmothers and others are sure to offer their help and advice. Usually you welcome it, but sometimes you realize differing views have formed from poring over pages and pages of books while pregnant. You are not a know it all, but you do want it recognized that you have done your homework. You experience unsurpassed, holy moments as you hold your adorable baby and witness many “firsts”. But you also experience the uncharted territory of emotions brought on by sleepless nights, a body that doesn’t seem to bounce back quickly enough to your pre-pregnancy figure and perkiness, and a sense that you have lost your freedom.

When you watch your husband tenderly love your child, you discover new facets of him that cause you to love him more. And when your child is sick or in danger, your heart stops as you experience a greater degree of unselfish love than you have ever known before. In this way, you catch a greater glimpse of the love God has for us.

But before I offer advice, let me address the idea of “normal”. Normal is derived from a frame of reference and many women are facing unprecedented new normals such as parenting alone, becoming a mother later in life, trying to balance motherhood with one or more jobs, or finding themselves jobless when they need to work. Some go through depression. Some experience long-term fatigue. Still, God’s grace penetrating our individual worlds is the primary and lasting answer. My normal was mothering our two girls as babies and toddlers while living in Ukraine during its chaotic infancy after it became independent from the Soviet Union. I was stretched beyond my own strength many times. Far from extended family, our little family unit bonded closely while we forged community with people there through doing life together, serving God together and walking through hardship together. My greatest adventures did not end with motherhood, they had only just begun.

Here is my advice.

Give yourself and your marriage grace

Adjusting to this new stage in life takes time. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself or your husband. You may have to pare down your schedule and say no to things. Only a few things are really essential and important. As you settle into a routine, hopefully before your child is five years old, you do have to make time for your marriage. We had a date night every week when our girls were young. When we lived in Ukraine, our dates were very romantic since we could afford ballets and our favorite café’s with live music. At other times, we carved out a date at home, which could be just as nice.

Embrace the season, it passes quickly. I know this sounds cliché, but it does.

This stage in life is only a season. I often look back on the years when my children were young and remember how precious and fleeting those years were. This may not help when you are tired or overwhelmed, but you may have younger or older friends who are in a different season that can offer help and encouragement. The multi-generational family of God helps us gain perspective when we are losing it. And we all do sometimes.

Even though you are new a mom, be yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.

You probably go through more changes during your twenties than any other time in life. For many modern young women, you pursue your dreams in college, find your soul mate, marry and become pregnant over a relatively brief period of time. This was my experience. I became a mother at twenty four. I remember worrying that I would have to morph into a domestic diva. Even though I cook, enjoy hosting people, and can decorate my home nicely, when I spend time with friends I don’t want to talk about those things. I want to talk about books, the news, or some aspect of faith. I had to learn not to feel guilty about this and to find friends who will connect with me over these things. This became easier as a missionary living overseas. I asked one of my favorite people, Nadia, a Ukrainian who is my mother’s age how she stays so vibrant. She said she doesn’t care what people think. She doesn’t bother with comparisons. I also know she pursues her passion as an artist and serves people through her ministry to the poor in the Carpathian Mountains.

Express gratitude and appreciation daily

I cherished the moments I spent with God in the mornings when my children were young. Sometimes those times were pushed into the evening when my husband was home and available to help, but God was and is the anchor for my soul. Sometimes I would go to a park bench in Lviv, Ukraine near our flat to read, pray and take in the beauty of my surroundings. The simple truths, wonder of life, and the daily adventure I was on with God gave me joy. And many joys came through the uninhibited wonder and discovery I witnessed in my girls.

Lastly, no matter what you accomplish in life, you will never regret the time you spend with your children. Because of it, your children can be some of your greatest joys throughout life.

This post is Day 28 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. 

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)