Nearly six years ago, there was a boy and a rock that said, “You did it.” He was my then-two-year-old. We moved to Sweden early August 2013 with him and his baby brother, and it was a flurry of delightful, stressful activity. Driving on unfamiliar streets on the right side of the road, navigating new supermarkets, getting used to life with two children and the demands of a baby, the list of things I felt I could not do was unending. But there was this one morning when my two-year-old and I walked down to the water near our house with the baby in the stroller, we threw rocks into the water and watched the splashes.

My son tried to reach his favourite big rock, and he said he couldn’t do it. But he stuck with it, he tried, he reached further. He did not give up. And soon enough his tiny fingers grasped the edges of this rock, he grabbed it.

He did it.

The story became part of our family legend as The Rock That Says “You Did It,” the mantra I’ve repeated to the kids when they have to reach within them to find an extra piece of courage for whatever challenge they face.

That boy is almost eight now. He reads for hours and tells me how time travel could work one day. It took him a few years to learn how to ride a bike, he fell off, his confidence shattered, he had to find something else deeper inside of him. He did it. He can ride almost anywhere. He learned how to swim. He plays soccer. He learned how to lose at games and how to play people who are better than him so he can learn how to win.

I’ve watched from the sidelines of his life as he learned and mastered anything he wanted to learn. How did he do it? How did his brother (now nearly six) learn to do anything? They disappeared into a quiet, focused place. They set their mind to learn, it was like the world around them vanished while they repetitively drew letters, sounded out phonograms and pushed their bodies.

And I watch them with a silent envy. Why is it so easy for you? Where do you get your energy for this? Where did these reserves come from to work hard? How are you able to overcome failure?

I wrote about the 21-Day Deep Work Challenge yesterday, but if I’m honest, there is one group of people I thought about more than anyone else: Mothers of small children. Yes you, the one who read about this Challenge and thought, “Not for me.”

I can imagine that you thought the idea of 30 minutes of time without distraction is a fantasy, and that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Yes, both my children are in school in 2019. Yes, it feels like the absolute greatest luxury of my life. But no, I haven’t forgotten what it was like. When my kids were still with me at home, it didn’t matter what their age, the idea of undistracted time was a fantasy.

I started a load of laundry.

Someone needed food.

I folded a t-shirt.

Spilled milk had to be wiped up.

I read to my kids.

Their noses needed wiping.

I put one to sleep.

The other needed help on the toilet.

Then I stepped on a piece of LEGO with my left foot while my right foot landed in a squishy pile of breakfast oatmeal on the floor. Obviously.

In those early years of motherhood, I was distracted by something necessary every few minutes. A stream of activities that were constantly interrupted all day long, all week long.
Into this mix came my smart phone in 2014, and when I had a few minutes to spare, I had a piece of technology in my hand that connected me with family and friends around the world. There were beautiful things, like seeing photos of my new niece a few hours after she was born, but it only heightened my distraction. I found myself unable to pay attention to almost anything for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time My kids got older and had activities, but I would sit on the sidelines of a swimming lesson, bored, and scrolling through my phone for no reason. Fast forward to 2019, and I’ve found myself watching a movie on Netflix and looking at Instagram at the same time.

Ladies, there is apparently scientific evidence out there for the fact that this was killing my brain cells. In Deep Work, Cal Newport quotes late Stanford University researcher Clifford Nass’ NPR interview on the subject of multitasking. Nass studied behavior in the digital age. Newport says on page 158, “Nass’ research revealed that the constant attention switching online has a lasting negative effect on your brain.” To NPR’s Ira Flatow, Nass said in 2010:

“People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand…they’re pretty much mental wrecks.”

from p158 of “Deep Work”

I don’t want to be a mental wreck. I don’t want to multitask anymore. I want to take what time I have and devote it toward focused work, whatever that work may be.

Nass is talking about people who choose distractions while they are working. As moms, there are many distractions we don’t choose, our children are a natural, wonderful (and not) part of our lives, they are packages of distraction, and that is just fine.

But what about the way we choose our distractions? The texting, the apps, the cooking while filling out forms? The emailing while doing a bank transfer? The Netflix watching while social media watching?

I want present in my life today the same resilience and brilliance I see my in my children. The way they attack a task and focus? It’s how to learn. It’s why your kids and mine go from not reading to reading. It’s how they learn the monumental task of writing real words. It’s how they learn to ride bikes and swim. They repeat a skill they did not know over and over and over again without doing anything else at the same time.

They believe they can do it. You know why? You and I are on the sidelines cheering them on. Telling them to try. Encouraging them to move past their failures and struggles. Telling them to keep going, reach further, the rock is within your reach. You can do it, kiddo.

Hey Mum of small kids, that message is for you, too.

You can do it. You can reach further. That skill you want to learn that you think is too hard? You can learn it. It is not too late.

I want to dare you to take this challenge. However hard it may be for you in this season of your life. The care and nurture of your children is important. Your role in their lives is irreplaceable. But it is not the only thing in your life. Don’t let your mind go to waste. You need your brain to function for a long life of meaningful work, however you choose to define the word “work” in your life.

This is not the time to be more distracted because there are already things that will distract you. That should distract you.

Push yourself to do mental work that will challenge you. It doesn’t have to be for money. It doesn’t have to be for a boss. Make yourself think harder. When you’re bored (and lord knows, I was bored a LOT with small kids), push past the urge to scroll mindlessly through your phone. Pick up a skill instead.

Tips on How To Work Undistracted When You Have Small Kids

  1. Pick work that you genuinely want to do – don’t pick something that you feel you should do
  2. Talk to your partner if you have one – tell him about this in detail, ask him how he can help you
  3. Set aside the time – I think the same time daily is what will work best
  4. Wake up before your kids – be honest with yourself, can you really do this?
  5. Plan to do it after they are in bed (be honest with yourself – are you someone who can work at night? Don’t do it if you cannot)
  6. Give your kids 40 minutes of screen time
    1. Take them to the toilet before, put a large snack out for them and their drink bottles.
    2. Explain to them that Mommy is going to have alone time as well
    3. Go into a different room and close the door.
    4. You get 10 minutes to prepare, and 30 minutes to do your work. Set a timer and do your work until it ring. I wish I had done this when my kids were smaller.
  7. During the three weekends, ask your partner to take care of the kids while you do your deep work, maybe try to push yourself to 60 minutes.
  8. Find a friend with small kids to do this with – encourage each other, swap kids to help each other do your deep work

Now tell me: If you’re a mum of small kids, what could you focus on for 30 minutes daily for 21 days? What would you love to do? How could you do it? If you don’t have small kids, do you have a lady friend in that stage whom you could help out? Could you pass this on to her – encourage her to try?

mums first day of school shoes

Hey there, lady, I was just at Kmart buying a spare (cheap) drink bottle for my boys today, and they took 10 minutes to pick which one they wanted, and I was thinking about you and me and the first day of school. Here are a few things I want us to know.

They go to school, and you go to school. We all get schooled. They learn to read, we learn how to read them better. They learn how to get along with other kids, how to add and subtract, how to create and discover and write and learn. And so do you. It will be about how use your time, how to get along with teachers and parents, how to discover yourself as your time constraints change. You’re going to learn just as much as they will this year. 

When you walk up to your child’s classroom, expect to cut through a thick layer of invisible anxiety, first in yourself, then in everyone else. It is impossible to overstate the hopes and dreams and fears of every mother standing at the door as she releases her precious cherub into the ocean of the world. Every other kid looks like an octopus or a shark, and Nemo has a broken fin. Give her grace because this isn’t easy, and if you are honest, it’s not easy for you. All of us have invisible fears about our children that we hide behind our bragging and comparing. But you’re afraid, and this year you get to learn how to find your way out of the fear. You get to see the other kids as just kids who are all imperfect, all learning, and all on a pathway of discovery.

Speaking of bragging or comparing, you don’t have to do either. Protect yourself from this. When someone tells you something great about their child, it’s not an insult to your child or an invitation for you to tell a better story. You’ll find the women with whom you can connect who will have a genuine interest in your life and your kids, who don’t see your life as a threat to theirs. Wait for those people. While you wait, get rid of your own instinct to brag about yourself or your kids. There’s no need to fear, my friend. You are in process, and you are going to be ok, too. No need to come across as anything else to anyone else.  

At times it will feel like you are standing in a line with your child and every smile, every conversation with someone new, every invite for a coffee or playdate is going to feel like approval, the badge that says I am Someone, I am a Good Mother, I have a Good Child. Fight against this mentality. You don’t have to talk to another person at drop off. You have time to make friends. Friendship does not come easy. It takes time to lay down a groundwork of trust. You don’t have to tell the other mums you meet every deep, dark thing about your life. You don’t have to tell them the inner workings of your family life.

It takes a long time to find other women with whom you can genuinely connect who then you can deeply trust. Waiting is worth it. And if the women in your life end up not being in school, that’s totally fine, too.

Your kids don’t become magically different at school. The responsible kid will still be responsible, and won’t lose hats or jumpers or drink bottles. The kid with her head in the clouds, will still have her head in the clouds. Get this kid cheaper things. No need to feel guilty about that, this way you can replace their things without heaping shame on them. There’s a lot for kids to keep track of at school, they shouldn’t feel bad about losing a drink bottle here or there. We’ve all lost our expensive phones, right?

The teacher gets a version of your child, likely you get a different version. Both versions are real and true, and the joy of being a parent is working to understand all versions of our kids and helping them integrate their compartments into a whole. Your teacher sees a different side of your child, and you need their insights. Your teacher is your teammate, if you work together, your child wins. 

(An addendum here: There are I’m sure a tiny handful of terrible teachers out there – I’m sorry if you have one. Get on your child’s side, fill up their tanks with encouragement when they are down. Pray that the experience will teach them about empathy and perseverance. Talk to school admin. Hopefully next year will be better.)

Learn to see your child as one in a group, not the only one. The teacher has to attend to the group, and there are many others he or she needs to pay attention to. Your child is not especially deserving of unique attention. At least not more so than anyone else. Trust that every child will get the time they need. Trust that you are still your child’s number one influencer. Whatever their school cannot give them, you can fill in the gaps at home.

When you hear the thought, “My child deserves (a better teacher, a nicer table-mate, smarter classmates, more current technology),” replace it immediately with a list of what you can be grateful for. I’m thankful my kid gets to go to school. I’m thankful my child has food to eat. I’m thankful for clean water. I’m thankful for warm clothes in the winter. I’m thankful for a summer hat. Entitlement will cloud your judgment, entitlement will not let you see your kids for who they are, entitlement will steal your happiness.

Your child has unique needs that you can see more clearly than everyone else. But remember that there is a school full of kids. Every kid is there to learn, to develop as a person, to grow and to change. Learn to see other children. Learn to talk to them, appreciate them, learn to see your child as one in a group. We want them all to succeed.

Expect there to be issues between your kid and other kids. This may be the year you find out that your child isn’t as truthful as you hoped. It may be the year you find out that they like to steal or cheat or hit other kids. Maybe they started cutting class or failing a subject. Don’t let the disappointment you feel in your child become a disappointment you feel in yourself. Your kid gets to make his or her own decisions – this is true of a five-year-old and an 18-year-old. Their decisions are not always a reflection of your home or your parenting. They are their own people. Yes, you’ll have to lay down the necessary boundaries, but guess what? Your kid needs your love and your anchoring support in them as a person especially when they have disappointed you. And you and I need another lesson on how to dig deeper to find that unconditional love everyone needs.

Find the soothing words you need to use on yourself and your kids for specific stressful situations. For me it is this sentence, “We have enough time.” I always give us permission to be late. The irony of course is that we are almost never late, but giving all of us the permission to run late allows for a peaceful attitude in my heart and hopefully theirs.

You are going to need so much wisdom to know when you need to deal with something with your child and when you need to involve their teacher, other parents and members of the school. But trust that when you need wisdom, you will receive it. Walk into your decisions with a humble confidence. You can do this. Please tell yourself this every day, every week, every term. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. 

Trust that you will make mistakes.

Expect your kids to make mistakes.

Plan for the teachers to make mistakes.

See mistakes as the doorway for all of you to grow.

You’ve got a year of growing ahead of you, my friend. Here’s to the new branches in your life, and here’s to the good fruit.

Now it’s your turn: I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got a kid starting school in 2019 or continuing on in school? How are you feeling? Drop a note in the comments. Got any good tips to share with the rest of us? Just write it all out here – we need all the ideas, right?!?!

It was a piece of pan-fried white fish, peas and some pasta covered in cheese on his plate, the kind of dinner he would normally inhale without complaint. Seafood and carbs are his favorite. Tonight though he pushed it around with his fork, his frown deepening. I asked him to eat it, but he snapped at me saying he would not.

You know the feeling when you put something down in front of your child, and you’re certain, This will be a hit. The usual thoughts cropped up in my head, “He’s disobedient and needs to be disciplined. I can’t believe I’m having to deal with this. I’m going to make him eat this or he will be in trouble.”

“I won’t eat it, Mommy,” he whined at me, his voice getting higher and angrier by the minute.

I don’t know what made me do it, but I reached across the table and broke off a piece of his food and tasted it.

The fish was cold and unsalted. I would not have eaten it.

Continue reading at The Better Mom (if you’re reading in your email, please click here).

confessions graphic FINAL

spoon

There are people who say that motherhood is a profession, worthy of your time, your life, your all. You’re sitting at their kitchen tables, they throw out words like “high calling” while spoonfeeding their babies, I make my baby food from scratch, she says, and this seed takes root in your heart.

There is only one way to be a mother.

It looks like staying at home full time, breastfeeding, giving birth with no epidural, making your own baby food, delighting in playdates, meal plans, a clean and orderly home. It was God’s plan, they said, This is what it means to be a godly woman, wife and mother. You do it, you do all of it (except for the clean home part). No epidural, check. Breastfeeding, check. Staying at home full time, check. Making your own babyfood, play dates, meal plans, check, check, check.

You drive yourself hard, you push your husband and kids to perform. Everything needs to fit into this box where we look like The Ideal Christian Family to everyone around us, except there is no audience, you live on a continent that doesn’t know about The Ideal Christian Family enough to care, your audience is two oceans away happily living their life never knowing that you were on the other end of the world needing applause.

But something inside of you is dying, and you know it when the exhaustion starts to cripple you, and not because there are children waking in the night. You are breaking down because you cannot possibly live up to your own expectations, you feel daily like you are failing, and you know when you look in their eyes: Your husband feels like he’s failing, your children feel like they are failing.

Something inside of you is struggling for air, and you know it every time you pick up a book or put your pen to paper, there is an unspeakable mystery calling your name, begging you to listen, pleading with you to take notice. But you won’t do it, you can’t do it.

You can’t give up this dream, you’re so determined to be a good mother.

/

They sit with you in coffee shops sipping teas, cafe au laits and chai lattes and munching on chocolate croissants, babies bouncing on your knees holding their Sophie the Giraffes, drool pouring down your hands, and you’re talking about how much your lives changed. Most of them are back at work, their babies loving creche and eating three-course meals for lunch, everyone is still exhausted – as are you – but content with the pace of their lives. Eventually you move to Sweden where less than five percent of parents stay at home with children over 1.5-years and almost all kids over two are in state-funded dagis (daycare/preschool).

I need a space for myself, the woman tells you at the Oppna Forskola one Friday morning. You’re both feeding your one-year-olds, and in between bites of waffle fries, she tells you she loves her maternity leave and her time with her son is precious, and goes on to say that she will be back at work in September. He seems too young to be left in dagis, but I need to know that I’m doing something for myself, she says.

You nod and smile mechanically, and don’t dwell too long on the thoughts scanning through your brain, How incredibly selfish. This isn’t about doing something for yourself. It’s about the children. But you can’t ignore what’s cramping inside. You wish you could give yourself the same freedom. You wish you could do something for yourself.

You’re deeply unhappy but unwilling to see it because happiness is not a virtue of godly people.

//

So you find another group of people, these ones are mostly online, and they are preaching a message that sounds good. You have gifts, talents, abilities, the world needs what you have to give. Figure out with your spouse how to divide labor, so that you have time to do what you’re called to do. It’s not just about the future, it’s about living your purpose and living out of your passion NOW. Yes it may be messy, it may be hard, but it can be done, and it’s worth it.

You watch a video of woman talking about how to balance motherhood, calling and family life; she stayed at home for a while until she found her passions. But now she’s written a book, speaks, and she says she and her husband share homeschooling duties and trade off on office times. They lead a non-profit together. I used to have a clean home, she says, but I didn’t have a voice. 

And you look around your messy home and wonder if you can have a messy home and still not have a voice. Do these North American dichotomies somehow apply to you, and how does it work when your husband is a businessman who loves his work and you love that he loves his work?

But you try anyway. It sounds good, you admire them, you are grateful for them and for their place in your life. You try to find the time to live out your calling, and a nap time gets interrupted. You try to start something in a new city, and you can’t figure out the culture. Your husband gets up at night with your kids, does almost everything you do at home, and is unceasingly gracious about it all, but he still works full time in middle management. And you have no desire to divide labor equally.

Because as much as there are longings in your heart, you can’t ignore one simple fact: You are loving your time with your children. Yes, the dirty work is no fun, but the relationship building, the conversations, the cuddles. You don’t want it to end. Ever. You want to soak it all up. You can’t get enough of it. The days slip by one by one, they are growing, changing, you are growing and changing, you have no desire for it to slow down even as you desire to write more, to let your voice and story be heard.

Even as the drum beats in your heart for Gaza, Ukraine, Syria and Australia, even though there are words that long to escape your fingers and fly into the world, you are intoxicated by the chubby fingers eating strawberries straight from the bushes and giggling with a toddler while wading deep into sea water still seems like the best way to spend the afternoon.

///

So this is where you find yourself – you’re not mom enough for the Godly Wife crowd, you’re not success-oriented enough for the Work Crowd, you’re not calling enough for the Live Out Your Calling people, but you’re trying to fit with all of them, keeping an orderly life, enjoying the kids and making pinteresting crafts while carving out time to write and read and think, exhausting yourself at both ends and coming up empty on all accounts, unable to enjoy any of it.

It’s this feeling of failure that is so deep, eating slowly away at the core of who you are because nothing it finds there is good enough.

You sit down with your kids for a meal, and what you hear is, It’s not healthy enough. You failed. You haven’t been reading to them enough. You failed. You lost your temper. You failed.

Nap time starts and you sit down to write, and what you hear is, You haven’t been writing enough. You failed. You haven’t been stewarding your words. You failed. You don’t have enough readers. You failed.

The yoke around your jaw is heavy, its eating into your mouth, disabling your ability to speak, and for a long time, you do nothing at all.

oil

He finds you where you are, bends down and eases the yoke off your jaw and anoints your head with oil. There is a quiet whisper. Most of the time, you’re too busy to hear it, but there are a few silent evenings, moments gathered when its shocking truthfulness is there in simplicity, freedom and grace.

You belong to me.

You’re not a mother or a writer, a woman or a wife, stay at home or work at home or work outside the home.

You are mine.

Women and men will try to pull you into their way of life, their books line your shelves, the blog posts and status updates echo in your mind, offering a list of ways to become something, to be part of the group, to perform for an audience who will applaud or boo; their way always involves an audience.

I offer you something else – belonging. A green pasture and still waters, a place where you can rest your head, where I will gently lead you through dark valleys and up high mountains. There won’t be a list of right and a list of wrong, only my voice, my Word, my presence, and only a living in that place of belonging where you can hear my words. And live.

You want a prescription, I’m sorry I have none. It’s going to look different for you than it will for another woman. I offer you no opportunity to feel better about yourself than anyone else. My ways afford no time and space for you to look down on others. It’s an invitation that I offer you – to belong, to live as Mine, to lay down and rest in this green pasture, and to enjoy those who are in it with you because my pastures stretch on forever. There is room for everyone.

So come. Come, daughter. Come and rest. 

This post is part of a series called Confessions of a New Mum. To find out more including how you can contribute a guest confession, please start here.

confessions graphic FINAL

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.

birth 1

/

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.

IMG_1215

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. 

///

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.

birth3
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.

V

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.

birth 4

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.

VII

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.)