how i (slowly) became a mother

I signed up for a writing class this past summer, thinking that now would be the perfect time to explore this untapped gift. I’ve always had a knack for words–better or worse–and hardly use them sparingly.

So when Keegan came into this world and I was suddenly without words, I didn’t know how to handle myself. Friends would text me all day long, asking if I was okay, and I didn’t really know how to respond because I didn’t know if I was okay.

Back to the writing class.

In the beginning of June, I was in on a conference call with my other “classmates,” and our teacher gave us a prompt–twenty minutes of uninterrupted writing. Her question? When it comes to writing, what are you afraid of? 

And I discovered that when it really came down to it, I was afraid of what I would find in the dark corners of my soul. Because deep down, I felt shame. Shame about motherhood, shame about my selfishness, and shame over my sudden inability to cope in a healthy way.

I need to be really scary honest here: I didn’t become a mother right away.

I know, right? That’s despicable. How could I not be so grateful for this child? How could I not love him with every fiber of my being?

But see, that’s just it. I loved him, but I felt completely unqualified to take care of him, and I didn’t know how. I felt like surely there was some other woman somewhere else who was more capable than me. In the last weeks leading up to his birth, my due date kept getting further and further in the past. My OBGYN didn’t want to induce, because it greatly “increased the risk of a c-section.” I understood that. I didn’t want that! So we waited. And I did everything possible to make this baby come on my own. I mean, everything. Every list, every natural remedy, every-single-last-thing and there was NO sign of Keegan’s arrival, right up to the induction. So finally, when he was nearly eleven days past due (and no, his due date was not wrong… for the love), my doctor decided to induce.

And before you even go thereI know all the conspiracy theories behind induction. I watched “The Business of Being Born” while I was pregnant. We took birthing classes and I read every book I could get my hands on. I know that contractions with Pitocin are 3x more painful than contractions without. I packed our bags at 36 weeks, ready to go. I had a birthing ball that I bounced on endlessly in the last weeks leading up to Keegan’s birth. My due date came and passed. Nothing. I drank raspberry tea like it was my part-time job. Nothing. I ate every spicy thing I could find and put special, weird ingredients in my food. Nothing. I did lots of that thing “they” say makes labor start. Nothing.

So off we went, ten days after Keegan’s due date. We arrived that night to spend the evening in the hospital. I don’t remember a lot about that day. I remember eating lots of ice chips, and I asked my blonde nurse where she did her hair. Even in labor, I was thinking about my hair. (If this isn’t a window into idolatry, I don’t know what is.) I wore an oxygen mask all day because Keegan’s heart rate was dropping due to the Pitocin.

And you know what? It would be really easy for me to keep going here… to tell you about the pain that followed and the weeks of depression that quickly came after and how I battled through shame and guilt over how it all went down, but you know what?

I’m done with shame. I’m alive. Keegan’s alive. We’re healthy. I am done wondering if things could have gone different, should have been better, or whatever. I have a healthy, beautiful, happy baby and I through with shame and moving onto gratitude.

And for me? Gratitude has changed everything.

I didn’t instantly become a mom. It wasn’t as instinctive as I hoped, and it took extra time for me. If that isn’t you, you need to know, you have a gift. I am jealous. But if that is you, and you feel a little like me and a lot of crazy, I need to say something to you here. So would you sit down and let me whisper something directly to you?

You are enough.

It’s okay that you don’t have this figured out yet. 

It’s alright if it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be.

There is grace for you. 

There is love for you. 

And there is hope. 

I don’t know where shame has taken your soul captive, or how long you’ve let yourself believe something that just isn’t true, but I do know this: it’s not worth it and it’s eating you alive. Never before had I experienced what the true healing power of Jesus could do until I gave Him my shame and said, “Here, take it, I don’t want it anymore.” And slowly, I became a mother. I became a mother when I left it all there, in all its muck, and instead decided that this motherhood thing was designed to be messy, imperfect, and a little-bit-crazy. That maybe, perhaps, motherhood was created in such an overwhelming way that we would have no choice but to reach out our hands and ask for help, to come to the Father desperate for guidance, and to allow others to come in and love our babies in ways we cannot.

I patiently waited, Lord, for you to hear my prayer.
You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit
full of mud and mire.
You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm,
and you gave me a new song, a song of praise to you.
Many will see this, and they will honor and trust you, the Lord God.
(Psalm 40:1-3 CEV)
keegan.

granola and glasses of milk

On a Tuesday afternoon, a week after Keegan was born, my phone rang. I recognized the area code, so I answered, hoping it would be someone with answers to something.

“Hello?”

“Hi, is this Anne Wilson?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, Anne! I’m one of the nurses from your hospital. I was just calling to check in and see how you and your little baby are doing.”

“Ok.”

“So . . . how are you doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? Honey, are you crying?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, sweetheart. It’s going to get better. I wouldn’t go back to the first few weeks with my first for anything. I know it’s so hard right now, but it really does get better.”

When? When does it get better?”

I was standing in my kitchen, letting the tears flow into the sink with water running, hurling down handfuls of granola, forcing myself to eat something—anything—that resembled nourishment and substance. I was in full-on-ugly-cry-mode, the kind that makes everyone in the room uncomfortable, and all I could think was, “When will this baby sleep?” I was exhausted, nerve-wracked, and recovering from a serious surgery. All my hopes and dreams of childbirth, nursing, and motherhood seemed to be laughing back at me and the only word that came to mind when I looked into my son’s eyes was simply . . .

FAILURE.

Nothing was going like I planned. Nothing seemed to work. Where was this feeling of euphoric love mothers wrote about, spoke about, told stories about? I didn’t feel it; all I could think about was sleep. And now that I know him, I so desperately wish I could go back to that time, stare that woman in the face, and say, “You can do this. All those people who say ‘it’s going to get better’? They’re not lying to you. It really will.

A few friends have asked us since if there was anything that would have helped us through that time. And honestly, there isn’t. We just had to make it through. But, there are some words of wisdom I can share with those that are close to someone going through postpartum.

A few disclaimers: I am not a psychologist or a doctor.  I write this purely as someone who’s been there, not an expert. Also, every woman is different. Some may snap out of it (like I did), and for some, it may linger for months, if not years. If you are close to a woman battling postpartum depression, be her advocate and delicately tell her if you think she may be suffering from depression more serious than the first few weeks of baby blues. There is no shame in getting help.

1.    Love them well, and from a distance.
I don’t mean that you can’t go over to their house. I wanted to show Keegan off to the entire world. But try not over stay your welcome, as it can be very nerve-wracking for the new mother (and father). She’s just trying to keep her head on her own body, and the added pressure of hosting a guest for a long period of time can be quite overwhelming.

2.    Be specific.
Most mothers I’ve talked to aren’t sure how to brush their teeth during the newborn fog. So when someone says, “Just let me know if I can help you!” it’s overwhelming and quite frankly, goes unnoticed. We know the intentions are genuine, but we don’t know what to say back. Instead, offer to do something very specific, like, “Can I come rock a screaming baby for you?” or, “Can I come do your laundry?” or, “Can I come clean your kitchen?” followed by, “Give me a time and I’ll be there, no pressure to entertain me!” Then show up. One of my friends came over one morning, and after leaving her downstairs for maybe five minutes, I came down to find a clean kitchen and empty dishwasher. I could’ve cried. Another friend came one night while Keegan had been screaming 2+ hours and rocked him to sleep while we sat on the couch and stared at each other. Had we had the hydration necessary to produce real tears, Kyle and I both would’ve cried.

3.    Just go with it.
Your friend might not be recognizable to you for a month (or two, or three). Just go with it. You may go days (or weeks) without hearing back from her after you’ve texted or called. Choose not to be offended. Try to avoid comments (even joking) about how she’s “a little hormonal” or “going crazy.” She knows she’s not quite herself, and she wishes she was, and all she really needs now is encouragement, love, and support. Save the jokes for a year from now. They’ll (most likely) be funny then. But not yet.

4.    Feed them.
During our first weekend home with Keegan, Kyle and I went an entire day without eating real food. No, we didn’t eat paper, but we chugged down glasses of milk as substitutes for food because we really were that sleep-deprived. I was so grateful for all the people who brought us meals that took mere seconds to prepare. If I thought about it before, I would’ve drafted a letter to give each one of them about the meaning of food and how their gift was like a thousand birthdays. Because it really was.

5.    Give the husband a really big hug. And a cup of coffee.
I can’t speak to this, because I’m not the husband… but from the wife’s perspective, I wish I could go back to that time and write him hundreds of love letters. Because he did everything for us those first few weeks, and I didn’t have the energy to give him the thanks he deserved.

So there’s my non-professional input on how to help a friend who just brought a bundle of screaming love home from the hospital. She is going to be wearing different skin for a while, and that’s okay. Just go with it.

i forgot to brush my teeth

It was four in the afternoon, and suddenly it dawned on me:

I haven’t brushed my teeth today.

“There is nothing that brings you face-to-face with your own selfishness more than parenthood,” Amanda said sympathetically. “I never knew just how selfish I was until there was a little person that constantly needed me.”

Amanda wasn’t the only one that lovingly warned me about the soul-refining process of parenthood. Everyone tried. But there’s no context for understanding just how much, in the most beautiful and bittersweet way, parenting takes the life right out of you.

About a month ago, when Keegan was almost three weeks old, we took a Saturday trip to Trader Joe’s. Keegan was asleep, I needed to leave the dungeon formerly known as our home, and Kyle–well, I think he just needed to see daylight. As soon as we pulled up, Keegan started fussing, so Kyle motioned for me to go on in, solo, while he stayed in the car with the boy. I wandered around the aisles, with lots of phrases popping up above my head…

So this is what society is like…

Am I drunk?

Did I even make a grocery list?

I wonder if I’ll have time to eat that.

Is this a banana?

Am I dreaming or is this real life?

The sleep-deprivation was insurmountable at that point, and if anyone contacted me in those first three weeks, well, I’m sorry. There’s no excuse other than I didn’t know my name most days, and the physical recovery of a major surgery + a newborn that wouldn’t eat was, well, a lot tad overwhelming. Looking back, it’s actually pretty funny. I am positive the people who passed me in the fruit section were questioning whether I was sober/alive/not homeless.

Some women waltz into parenthood, singing lullabies to their sleeping angel and asking themselves how life ever existed before him. If you are this mother, you are going to want to stop reading now. (I am so happy for you, by the way, I just know you’re probably not going to like this next part.) Will you allow me some space to be this honest? That was not me. I wish it was. Don’t get me wrong: I instantly loved Keegan. I constantly just stared at him, morning and night, putting my hand on his chest to feel him breathe.

But I also cried. Every day. Every hour. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t recognize myself. The baby blues were no stinking joke. I’m pretty sure hormones were flying out of our windows.

And then one morning, like the spring that should have arrived a few weeks ago, I woke up and said I can do this. God has equipped me to do this. I am woman, hear me mother. While feeding him that afternoon, I said aloud to my son, “Keegan, buddy, we’re going to make it.” Amanda was right; there’s nothing like it. Parenting is painfully, unpredictably beautiful. So I told him that day how hard this had been, how sorry I was for not being fully present just yet, and how much his little face made my heart swell up to the size of a hot-air balloon.

Then I went and brushed my teeth.

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Photo credit to Nathan & Ashley Siner Photography & Design (www.thesiners.com).
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the (good) details

I’ve written so little about our birth experience because frankly, I needed time and space to process it all. Not only physically–but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am different because of my childbirth experience, and I knew I was different when I woke up the next morning. So, here is our story, from what I have gathered so far.

We went in on Sunday, February 3rd at 8pm to start the induction. I will spare you the grimy details of everything involved, but by 5am the next morning, contractions started and were coming on strong, so we moved to the next step in the induction process. At around 3pm on Monday, I had hardly progressed and Keegan’s heart rate was all over the place, so my doctor talked to us about the possibility of a C-Section. Around 4pm, she broke my water and within two hours, I had fully progressed and was ready to push. Once again, I will not make you endure the details, but three hours later, Keegan had not budged, and a C-Section was no longer a hypothetical but a necessity, and we prepared ourselves for surgery.

There are a lot of details about that day that I will never forget, but there are two that stand out so crystal-clear in my memory that have forever changed me. One has to do with a little green line, and the other my husband’s right hand.

From the time we started the induction, our nurse pointed us to the monitor which showed Keegan’s heart rate, my heart rate, and my contractions. Keegan’s heart rate was bright green, and mine was a vague taupe color, directly below his. All evening long, and all day Monday, it was all I could do to not watch that little green line. I knew in my mind that nurses were keeping track, and that alarms would go off if anything went wrong, but I could not–for more than a few minutes at the longest–keep my eyes and mind off that little green line. I needed to watch him, to see him as I prayed for his little body to be healthy and whole. In a time where I felt absolutely out of control, the only thing I could manage was watching that green line.

And the second? My husband’s right hand. Throughout the entire process, he sat to my left and held my left hand with his right,  coached me through it, encouraged me, and prayed over us.

I became a mother while watching that little green line. Over 9 and 1/2 months of pregnancy, my heart slowly began the process of nurturing and protecting this little one. But in watching that green line, my heart became consumed by it. And I have never been more in love with my husband than on that day, and will never forget when we heard his first cry in the OR. It was the sweetest moment of relief that I will forever cherish, and he is the only one that can replay it with me.

When I look back on days of my life, I hope to remember the small details that affected me greatly. And on this day? It was a little green line that became my son, and my husband’s right hand that became my strength.

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