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Here we are again

me and maggie love

Here we are again.

At the hospital, the pretty young nurse with false eyelashes tells me solemnly that they don’t really recommend swaddling for babies anymore – “we like for them to self-soothe,” she says. That’s nice, I say. And I go on swaddling my babies, carefully, safely, lightly, but still: I know how babies like to sleep, snuggled in and held tight in these early days. There are plenty of days for learning self-soothing, these aren’t those days. I believe in spoiling babies: in snuggles and anytime-you-want comfort nursing, in warmth and being held close while they sleep like I believe the sun rises in the east and the necessity of a year of maternity leave. Schedules are over-rated, I find my way in the rhythms.

Here we are again.

I’m sitting in the corner of the couch, a nursing pillow wrapped around my soft and stretched out belly. I’m holding a hungry newborn to my breasts, guiding her to a full tummy and me to a full heart. We’re skin to skin, her mouth is searching, and I am the answer for her.

Here we are again.

Dashing into the shower in the early morning, determined to get dressed, put on make-up, brush my hair. I’m my father’s daughter: I believe in the small dignities to keep life steady in the midst of change and chaos. I hear his voice in my head, look good and feel good. So I make beds, I put clean clothes on everyone in my care, I empty the dishwasher, we eat at the table. Normal structures, normal routines, all around an extraordinary newness. It’s true, I do feel better but now there’s a houseful of people who all feel better when I feel better. I’m accepting of my status as axis for this family now, watch me keep us moving through the nights and the days while holding us all together. The laundry will never be done.

Here we are again.

With a gaggle of bright eyed children enchanted by the littlest one. If I had known how much easier it is to bring home a baby to a houseful of big kids…. well. It is. Easier, that is. It’s easier than three-kids-in-four-years, for sure. The big kids either want to help or get on with entertaining themselves, heading outside the surprising spring weather, leaving me in the corner of the couch by the big front window to “keep an eye.” I knock on the glass if I see anyone getting out of line and the guilty party turns to the window to grin and wave, “sorry, mum.” They come inside with grubby dandelions and detailed schedules for whose turn it is to hold her. I have comfort books (Anne of Green Gables), comfort food (beef stew and bread), and I have comfort television: Saturday  night and we watch Hockey Night in Canada by lamplight. My son holds his little sister and whispers his chants of “fight fight fight fight” during the game, wary of waking her. Earlier in the day, a sister reads books to her and I’ll be darned if it doesn’t look like this six-day-old baby is intently listening to every word she says.

Here we are again.

Gingerly walking, slowly healing, taking all help that is offered. I remember the first-baby-me, the one who wanted to be seen as capable and together, and bless her heart. What a waste of energy on independence. Now I eat meals other women prepared for my family and I praise them at the city gates. I lean heavily on my mother and my sister for disciplining my children, for an extra set of hands, for help cleaning the kitchen. I am humbled and so I receive from my people. I cry when my milk comes in and I sort through our delivery, my recovery, my emotions, receiving prayer and wisdom from friends. One day again it will be my turn to make the meals, to lay hands and minister with prayer and perspective, and a folded load of laundry, I will be ready.

Here we are again.

The house is at sixes and sevens and so at my own early bedtime, I move through the house restoring crayons to boxes, turning off lights, sweeping the kitchen floor, loading the dishwasher. How did we get so many washed-until-worn receiving blankets out during the day? I tuck in babies and big kids. I restore my own soul by restoring the place where I am right now. I slide into our bed and stretch out on my back, I turn to my husband, “I’m so glad I’m not pregnant anymore. God, this bed feels good.” He’s already asleep.

Here we are again.

The days are already melting into each other, one after another, too quickly somehow. I am wearing the same clothes again today, praising Jesus that leggings are still in style. Everything in the world feels a bit far away in these cocooning early days. There is plenty of time to re-engage in the world, to remember to watch the news, to answer emails as they pile up, I know this now. But right now I want a bath and a pint of Guinness, I want to sit beside the man cradling our last little baby in his strong arms and lean my head into his shoulder, memorize this exact moment, I want to stay here in this pause for just a while longer. It’s quiet in my head when I’m fully here.

Here we are again.

In the dark, in the wee hours, in the early light, nursing in the corner of the couch, the end of an episode of Gilmore Girls while the rest of the house sleeps and I lightly pat a baby’s diapered bottom into blissful sleep. We smell like baby soap, her hair puffs out like duck fluff. Her mouth is a triangle tent, her breath is an anointing. I could go to bed, I could go to sleep now, she’s ready for a long stretch of sleep. But instead I sit here in the dark, for just a few more minutes. She’s stretched out on my chest, curled up with her legs tucked under – she’ll only do this for another few days, I know, this newborn froggy-leg thing. I stay there, sniffing her hair, patting her bum, breathing slow with her for just a while longer. I can feel the earth turning, time is still moving.

Here we are again.

For one last time.

 

Continue Reading · baby, family, Maggie Love, parenting · 101

Introducing Margaret Love!

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Introducing our pearl, our gift of God, our Margaret Love!

On Sunday morning, I got up with the tinies to let Brian sleep in a bit before church. It was International Women’s Day and I decided that instead of laying around feeling sorry for myself because I was nine – NINE! – days overdue, I would make my tea and my toast, get the tinies started on the day with joy, and even take the time to do a bit of writing or social media work around the day’s significance. I had just posted a jokey tweet saying that I was hoping that this wee girl had been waiting for IWD all along when I had my first contraction. I hardly dared to hope this was it. I waited an hour to start the labouring process. I cleaned up the kitchen, woke up Brian, puttered around. My contractions quickly went to 4 minutes apart and Brian called the midwife, my parents, and my sister.

By the time the tinies were on their way to Granny’s house, my contractions were three minutes apart and growing in intensity. I got into the birthing tub and we laboured well there. Then our midwife offered to break my water. I wasn’t progressing as fast as usual which ended up being a blessing. When she broke my water, it was filled with meconium. This wasn’t a huge surprise since I was so far overdue but it meant that we needed to go to the hospital instead of having another home birth. Instead of risking a car ride, we called an ambulance but it wasn’t panic time or anything, simply a safety precaution.

I took a bit of laughing gas at the hospital which seemed to make me a bit loopy. I wouldn’t do that again. It seemed to take away my ability to focus which is so key to this process. I’ll be honest and say that some parts of this story I’m keeping to myself and my people right now, not out of shame or anything but because they are still so tender and precious, complicated and hard. I just don’t know how or even if I’ll talk about those parts of the delivery until I finish sorting it out.

But labour moved quickly and less than an hour after arriving at the hospital, she was safely delivered by our midwife at 2:16 p.m. after 5 hours of labour. She had some minor complications due to the meconium so I was very thankful that we had moved to the hospital when we did. After ten very long minutes, she was safe and sound and restored to me. And again, I know the truth: our most human, most raw, moments are our most sacred moments, too.

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She was 10 lbs 7 oz, 22 inches long, 22 inches long, her head was 38 cms. Then they brought her to me at last. She is beautiful and strong.

When they placed her in my arms, I began to cry from the centre of myself. I always laugh when I have babies but now was my time for tears.  She is the desire of my heart baby, my miracle baby, and it was such a battle in every way to bring her life. And now here she was in my arms. I sobbed and held her to my body, covering her bloodied hair with my tears. I clutched her and howled like we had survived a war together. Brian cried over me and I just kept saying, we made it we made it we made it.

After that, it was beautiful. We were cleaned up and left in peace. Physically, I feel okay but I am still reeling a bit from a few parts of the day, struggling with what it means or if it means anything, yet feeling like a warrior at the same time.

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I feel profoundly grateful and relieved. It’s never not a miracle, I know that. It’s never not the worst and the best at the same time. It might have been different or more difficult or a few wrong turns, but I did what needed to be done and we got her here safe and sound. I feel proud of that even in the midst of the gap between expectations/past experiences and this experience but here she is, beautiful and strong.

We named her Margaret Love. Margaret means ‘pearl’ or bringer of light and gift of God. She was a gift from God right from the start and now I know that she is my pearl of great price, too. Pearls are for tears, too, some people find them a sad reference but my tears when I finally had her safely in my arms tell me something so different and deep about our tears and the way we are baptized in them, too, even in the grief and the pain blending with the most powerful love and strength.

And of course we named her Love because she was created in love, by love, for love, and we believe love wins, always and forever. Love is our calling card, our permanent residence, our home.

We call her Maggie Love.

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All of the tinies are over the moon. They have all shuffled to make room for her. They have decided that Joe is now the “middlest” child – a combo of “middle oldest” and Evelynn Joan gets to be “middle” child. Anne is convinced that the oldest and the youngest girls always have a very special bond because her Granny has that kind of bond with her big sister.

Nursing is going beautifully. Some of the most precious moments of my life have been spent nursing all of my babies and yet somehow I have next to no pictures of that time. It makes me sad and so with Maggie Love, we’ve decided to take more pictures of those moments, too. There is nothing like a milk-drunk blissed out baby, is there?

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I couldn’t have asked for a better family. My mother and father looked after the older tinies for most of the week to give me space to heal and establish nursing well. My mum and sister are here every day, helping and listening. Brian has cared for me so tenderly. My church has brought over such good meals to us. Our friends and family have celebrated with us so beautifully. I feel heart-full at the community and life and family that is now Maggie Love’s inheritance, too.

Brian and I have been in awe of our girl. She’s had a very peaceful start to her life. We have just quieted everything down and spent our time loving her, nursing her, holding her. She is sleeping well at this point and is nursing like a champ – well, or like a gigantic 10 lbs 7 oz baby! Big babies are hard to carry there at the end and hard to deliver but man, am I ever glad for how they are such good eaters and sleepers. She is so content and bright-eyed.

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We are drinking her in. Brian’s favourite thing is to lay with her on his chest, right on his heart, and just let her sleep. Her head is so delicate and fragile, he is so strong and yet so tender with her. And of course, she looks so tiny in his arms. I love having babies with this man but this wee girl in particular and her delivery was a milestone day for us and our love story. I feel like I could live for the rest of my life on what we experienced that day – that, or write a whole “Love looks like” book about it!

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And so our new normal is beginning. Thank you so much for your prayers and support, your congratulations and joy on our behalf. We are so grateful for each message and prayer.

Thank you for welcoming our new Maggie Love to the world with such joy.

 

Continue Reading · baby, family, giving birth, Maggie Love · 101

Homemade Mat Leave, or On Choosing to be Unproductive

Well, I’m days(ish) away from welcoming our new baby. With each of my babies, I’ve enjoyed and deeply appreciated a year of maternity leave from my places of employment. Of course now that I’m a self-employed writer/blogger/whatever this is, no one is giving me 50 weeks of mat leave at the moment. Womp womp.

But after talking it over as a family, we still deeply value the idea of creating a bit of space to welcome our new baby, establish nursing, and lean into our new normal as a family of six. The importance of maternity leave doesn’t change simply because I’m not working full-time in a more traditional job anymore.

In fact, sometimes being a writer/minister/self-employed in any capacity simply means you feel like you should always be working, always be productive, because there is so little separation between your “professional” life and personal life at times. So much – too much – of our identity is tied up in our vocation.

And so this is my little act of resistance for the next while: I’m taking my own little homemade mat leave from being productive and relevant and useful to anyone in the world outside of this little clan for a while. 

I have slowly cleared my writing and speaking commitments for the next couple of months without an eye on any deadlines for returning just yet. (People think you’re nuts for this kind of thing, just FYI.)

(Sidenote: I have a lot of thoughts swirling in that area now. I’m purposefully returning to a smaller and less obviously-influential life which comes with its own weird scarcity baggage but I’m letting those navel-gazing thoughts simmer for now. Being productive, to make one’s voice “heard” in the milieu, to work-work-work for your value, to pursue influence over a quiet life, to see your writing/ministry space as “yours” to defend or maintain, let alone the pull to see the Crowd as more important than the ones in our own homes is so tempting and so weird.  This is a real-life time for me to practice what I preach so often: we serve a God of abundance, not scarcity.) 

Anyway, I just wanted to post something here so that you knew not to worry if I’m rather slow to respond to email in particular, and if my blog goes radio silent for a few weeks. I imagine I’ll continue the tradition of sharing the news of our baby’s arrival with a completely TMI-type of birth story post – hopefully SOON!

Book edits will continue, of course – Out of Sorts is still coming out on August 11 – but I imagine that will take most of my “free” time this summer, leaving precious little for the rest.

As far as speaking engagements go, I’m tentatively committed to only one event post-baby at the moment: Praxis Conference in Houston on May 15-16. I loved this gathering last year – these are my people from way back – and so we’ve pencilled it in again this year with intentions to bring the baby along with me. In fact, Chris Seay has promised me that I can nurse and preach at the same time if needed! I am holding this event a bit loosely though, just in case, so don’t be surprised if I drop out at the last minute. Right now, Brian is planning on joining me on this trip to try and make it work.

I use Instagram to document a bit more of my “daily life” so you can always keep up with me there as well as my Facebook page and Twitter feed for little snippet updates but, like I said, I am slower and more absent there, too.

Thanks for your prayers and messages of encouragement, my friends. It means so much to us to know that so many are praying for us as we figure out the new season of my life  in almost every area right now – woman, wife, mother, writer, minister, whatever and all of it.

Love S.

 

Continue Reading · baby · 34

This is my metaphor

Birth is my metaphor

Birth has been the hardest work of my life and the best work of my life.

In these final days, I’ve realised afresh that experiencing birth has been – and continues to be – the greatest altar of my life for encountering God. This is my thin place between the Spirit and my reality, it’s my favourite metaphor. The more I experience pregnancy and birth in all its mess and glory, loss and life, the more I uncover the devout links between how we as women experience birth and how the Holy Spirit often “gives birth” in our souls.

Sometimes when I was preaching here and there, I would use the metaphors of birth to explain what happens when we are growing or developing or evolving in our journey of faith. But then I realised something a few months ago that ticked me off: I was apologising for my metaphor. “I’m sorry, here’s another story about having babies to explain what I mean.”

This bothered me. Why was I apologising for my metaphor, for my experience, for the place where I met God so clearly? I know my metaphors don’t belong to everyone, that’s kind of the point. My situation and learning is unique to me, just as a football player’s metaphors are unique to his experiences or a business-woman’s metaphors are unique to her experiences. We each have our own metaphors for how we understand our faith journey. Some people find theirs in literature – I do that, too. Others find them in nature or in great acts like climbing mountains. I’ve heard many a sermon using sports or war as metaphors for the journey of a soul. And more, every mother’s experience with birth is unique because her situation is unique, her body is unique, her story is hers.

What was it that made talking about birth so taboo from the pulpit? It is too much, perhaps, too uniquely feminine to others, too messy, too real. The  braiding together of pain and joy and love is too powerful, perhaps.

But I believe right in my marrow that the voices and experiences of us regular mamas, having babies, are just as valuable, just as real, just as spirit-filled as any other metaphor.

I’m nearly 38 weeks pregnant right this blessed moment: God is very near to me right now. In my fear and exhaustion, in my waiting and my hoping, in my swollen ankles and my interrupted sleep cycles, in my preparations and my dreams, in the disappearance of any protective armour between me and the rest of the world, Emmanuel.

So I won’t apologise for my metaphors anymore. 

This is where I find God and this is where God continues to somehow find me, too.

I’ll write about how the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle of labour mirrors the fear-tension-pain cycles of our transformations. I’ll talk about leaning into the pain, however counter-intuitive that may seem, because it’s in trusting our pain, letting our pain teach us, that we find life waiting and a trust-worthy path to release. We fight against the very thing that will free us.

I’ll write about how transition is identified by the feeling that you can’t go on, it’s too hard, you need to quit. And it’s transition because it’s in that moment, right when you want to give up in defeat, that you are nearing birth at last. My desire to give up is the very signal I am longing for that it’s almost over.

I’ll write about how the Industrial Revolution and modernism gave rise to a techno-medical method of birth that treated women like machines to manage, problems to solve, and how we forget that the very work of birth is the the thing that makes life after birth richer and healthier. And then let me draw the parallels for how we’ve techno-medicalized our souls, we treat our spirits like machines, full of shortcomings and defects, patiently awaiting the formulas to make it quick, make it easy, make it painless, make it simple. We deny each other the precious struggle which often makes healing, bonding, nourishment happen.

I’ll write about how the professionalization of bringing babies moved traditional wisdom away from us, collective story-telling disappeared, how we bench our wise women because what could they possibly have to teach us? I’ll question, oh, yes, I’ll push back a bit on authority, I don’t mind. I can’t surrender my soul or my body to the ones who want to make a buck off of me anymore. I’ll be wary of the slick promises and the easy roads, I’ll be suspicious of the ones who promise too much and cover the fine print with their jocular assurances.

I’ll even write about miscarriages and loss, about how it feels to labour only to end up with death and longing, sorrow staining backwards and forwards, changing everything.

I’ll write about how I withdraw when I’m labour, about how I need my safe place, my home, my smallest circle around me. How I crave silence and darkness, about how my very self goes deep deep deep within to draw the strength for the work ahead. And I’ll connect it to the ways that when we are in the struggle of our new births how we often withdraw from the strangers, from the bright lights, from the noise, from the unfamiliar or untrusted or untried, how the Spirit hovers over our darkness and causes new life to begin to rise from that place of silence and darkness, relentless, inexorably holy. I’ll probably think too much about how I love to give birth in water, how baptism and water pull me into relief like nothing else.

I’ll write about learning to think positively about my body, to honour the strength of my thighs and my hips, to let myself make the noise I need to make, to be unashamed about my own strength, how our bodies can hold the truth if we learn to follow. I’ll tell you about trusting our souls and our bodies, about believing in the inherent goodness of our physicality, about the lie of dualism separating our spirits and our bodies. I’ll tell you about how learning to let my body lead me gave me beautiful experiences in birth.

And I’ll write about how much I love the midwives of my life, how it feels so right and holistic to work in partnership with someone who trusts me and my body, my capacity and my spirit. I’ll echo Brene Brown who admits that she thought faith would be like an epidural, taking away the pain, but instead there she found a midwife, whispering in her ears, “push, it’s supposed to hurt a bit, you’re almost there.” I’ll write about how tenderly they cared for me, like a daughter or a sister, how they ministered with their hands and their wisdom, with their strong leadership, and then with tea and toast and clean sheets.

I’ll write about how the Apostle Paul himself never shied away from the metaphors of pregnancy and birth, finding rich parallels in our stories for life in Christ.

I’ll be honest about the ways that birth slows me down because I’m no longer afraid to be slower, to be out of step with the evangelical hero complex anymore. I’m not afraid of taking time to heal, of taking time to nourish both baby and soul. I’m done with proving myself, with acting like having a baby doesn’t affect me or change me. It does change me, it will change me, I am different already. I practice rest and healing, slowness and sleep after birth like resistance. I’ll write about how important maternity leave is and how important it is to give ourselves space to heal and mother after we do something so momentous.

I’ll tell my stories because, as Ina May Gaskin tells us, “stories teach us in ways we can remember. They teach us that each woman responds to birth in her unique way and how very wide-ranging that way can be. Sometimes they teach us about silly practices once widely held that were finally discarded. They teach us the occasional difference between accepted medical knowledge and the real bodily experiences that women have – including those that are never reported in medical textbooks nor admitted as possibilities in the medical world. They also demonstrate the mind/body connection in a way that medical studies cannot. Birth stories told by women who were active participants in giving birth often express a good deal of practical wisdom, inspiration, and information for other women. Positive stories shared by women who have had wonderful childbirth experiences are an irreplaceable way to transmit knowledge of a woman’s true capacities in pregnancy and birth.”

And our stories do that, don’t they? When we are active participants in the transitions of our soul, we emerge from the experience with practical wisdom, information, inspiration. We have tremendous capacities for hearing from God, for wrestling with our past, for leaning into the pain, for finding truth in the darkness, for discovering our true selves there in the blood and the pain and the beauty and the joy.

And then, then, we see that the struggle, the very thing we had been trying to avoid, is the very thing that sets us free, gives us life, helps us heal, restores our joy.

You have your hard-won and unique metaphor, I know.

This is mine.

 

 Photo by Rachel Barkman back in 2011 (38 weeks pregnant with Evelynn)

 

Continue Reading · baby, faith, giving birth, journey, Uncategorized · 52