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In which I am learning to live with the ache

Evelynn newborn

Evelynn at two months old, photo by Rachel Barkman Photography

Our old baby crib is now sitting in pieces in the garage. We will take it to the dump soon (it has one of those now-outlawed dropsides so we can’t resell it or donate it). Whole sections of the bars are gnawed to bare wood by little teething babies, there are bits of sticker glue and swipes of Sharpie marker here and there, the screws are a bit loose. It’s in rough shape after nearly eight years and three big babies-to-toddlers in quick succession. There are a lot of sacred memories hidden in that dismantled old crib. The day we took it apart, I cried over that junky old crib. Goodbye, old friend.

It is likely that there are no more babies for us.

I was never one of those girls who wanted to have a houseful of babies, who just wanted to get married and have babies and stay home with them. I mean, I was okay with kids but it wasn’t my thing. I quit babysitting at 14 because I figured there had to be a better way to make money than that. And even after our miscarriages and challenges with fertility, I was unprepared for how completely transformative I found motherhood, how I loved even the mundane dailyness, how I found joy here.

I know that everyone’s experience is different, and I’m not saying that mine is normative but it’s real and I can’t deny it: I came into myself when I became a mother. I was reborn, all over again. The experience of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding my babies profoundly changed me AND it changed my view of God entirely.

So, of course, it’s hard to know that stage of my life is done now.

But it is.

It’s likely that I won’t ever be pregnant again, that I won’t carry a baby within me again, that I won’t ever give birth again. (Yes, I’m one of those awful women who loves pregnancy and giving birth.) When I think about not breastfeeding – one of the most real things I’ve ever done with this body – ever again, I catch my breath with longing.

And yet, I love this new stage of life with the tinies. Just when I think we’re at my favourite stage with them, something new comes along and I think, “oh, wow! no, this part is my favourite!”

People tell you a lot about how much parenting will change your life and they’re right. But usually they mean that you won’t ever sleep in again (you won’t) and a few other things about how much we “give up” to become parents. No one tells you how much you’re going to laugh. No one tells you how much wisdom resides in these small humans, how much they will teach you about love and life and friendship and forgiveness and worship. No one tells you how good and freeing it is to leave your selfishness behind. No one tells you about recapturing your own wonder and innocence, about re-reading the Ramona books, about playing football in the basement, about birthday parties and snow days and every day beauty. All the best things I know about the big nouns and verbs of a life came back into my life because of them.

But there likely won’t be anymore Bessey babies for us. Our family is complete, it seems, we’ll always be a Five-Family, as the tinies call us. There are many personal reasons why we’ve come to this decision as a family.

In my head, I know that this is the right decision. In my heart, I know this is the right decision. Brian and I are in complete agreement.

And yet there is The Ache.

Always The Ache, right underneath my lungs, in the pit of my gut, the ache of what that means and the grief of moving on, of love, of knowing: No more babies. No more nursing quietly in the night. No more flour sack of milk-drunk baby bliss. No more gummy smiles. No more tiny diapers. No more baby clothes. No more crib. No more baby wearing. No more new baby smell. No more of the millions of moments that knit your heart so completely to another small soul.

The season of having babies – the one that so radically changed me – is over. I’m okay with that. Most days, I’m even very happy about it, relieved perhaps. It’s an intense season of life, make no mistake. We’re ready for this new season, looking forward with anticipation to new things. Other days, it’s hard.

I know we like to pretend like we can have everything all at once. It’s a nice illusion. But there are transitions in our lives: times for certain seasons and times when those seasons end. Are we happier for pretending that we can have everything anytime we like? Or are we better when we acknowledge the end of one chapter of our lives, grieve and sing and give weight to the passing of it, and move forward? To everything, there is a season.

I am starting to think that, no matter how many children we have, no matter the reasons why, no matter how old we are, when you’re done having babies, we always carry The Ache.

I have a friend who had six children, and she said that she had The Ache when they were done. I have other friends who had two, who had The Ache. Other friends who had four or five or six. I have friends who are in their thirties with toddlers, in their forties with teenagers, other women in their fifties and menopausal, and they still talk about The Ache: I miss that still, they say wistfully. That was a nice time in my life.

I don’t know that we ever lose that ache. I don’t know if we ever get rid of it. I don’t know if we should. Maybe it’s meant to be there with us. So I’m learning to live with The Ache now.

I’m learning to let it be there, part of me, probably always a part of me, without justification or change of circumstance. When you have been given the tremendous gift of being able to have a baby, to give birth to that baby, to love that baby, it marks you. It should, perhaps, and so this season has marked more than just my stretched-out body, it has marked my soul.

The Ache reminds me of the great and terrible beauty I have seen, of what love I have experienced, of the sorrow and brokenness of loss, of all the love that is still here, of the wonder and miracle of life, of the sweetness of co-creation, of the labour and release, of transcendence.

Praise God, my babies are growing up and that is its own joy and beauty. I’ll miss toddlers in the same way, I’ll miss preschoolers, I’ll miss their kindergarten self, their Grade Two self, as well, and so on through their lives.

Right now, the Ache is for no more babies in my life. This was a beautiful time in my life, please notice that it’s changing. But the Ache changes and grows as we move through our years, I imagine, perhaps in proportion to the life we live, the love we gather and give. Someday, I’ll miss these very days, talk about them with the same language, perhaps.

And in another few years, the blink of an eye, I’ll be sitting in a house, alone: the laundry will be done at last, the house will be clean – and it will stay clean, and the floors will be quiet, no one will be asking me for anything at all, my time will be my own, and I will feel the full weight of The Ache for which I’ve been holding vigil at last. 

It’s simply the Ache of time passing, because this is what time does, and our souls are noticing the passing of a season, and it’s okay. It’s okay to let it Ache. It means we’re living and it means we’re loving our life as it stands, loving it enough to notice a transition away.

I am making my peace with The Ache, holding a bit of space for its presence in my life today. Someday it will be my old friend.

Continue Reading · baby, babywearing, family, giving birth, gratitude, journey, love, parenting, women · 307

In which I thank the Duchess of Cambridge

To Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge (or, as we all refer to her, Kate):

THANK YOU!

Signed,

Every woman who has ever given birth

kate2

As we’ve already established on this blog, I’m a raging Royalist. I know it completely flies in the face of my anti-establishment tendencies and my social justice wannabe self with a heart for the underdog. I can understand and affirm all the arguments against the monarchy with my reasonable brain and my theological education, absolutely. But in my heart of hearts, I’m still the little girl who grew up in the 80s in Canada at the height of the Princess Diana years and so God save the Queen and everyone else can bugger off. I’m letting the soft animal part of me love what it loves (with apologies to Mary Oliver….yet again).

And I love the Royal Family.

So of course I was elated over the news of the safe arrival of Prince George. I have grown to (embarrassingly) love the Duchess of Cambridge over the years. I didn’t think there was anything she could do that would make me love her more than her grace, dignity, discretion, and beauty had already accomplished.

But then she walked out of that hospital in her blue polka dot dress – which, of course, immediately reminded me of Princess Diana’s own polka dot dress at the introduction of Prince William to the world – and a delightful little baby pooch.

And women everywhere cheered.

Because in the face of supermarket tabloids that barely allow a woman’s perineum to be stitched up before they are gleefully asking “how she’s going to lose the weight” and a celebrity culture that plans a tummy tuck before even nursing the new babe for the first time, we have forgotten how having a baby actually looks on a body.

Here let me tell you: it’s a big deal to have a baby. After you have a baby, you are left with a softly pooched out tummy and aching nether-regions, sore breasts and your entire heart now laying beside you making noises like a kitten. You are weepy and exhausted, gloriously alive and powerful. You are a life-giver and so now you want both a nap and a hearty roast beef dinner for your troubles. Your skin is criss-crossed with stretch marks because you don’t participate in co-creation with God without being marked by the experience. You became a mother and, no matter how many sit-ups you do, your body will bear the imprint of that truth for the rest of your life in some way.

It can take a year, maybe longer, for a woman’s body to recover from birth. And right after having a baby, one’s focus should be bonding, nursing, sleeping, trying to figure out who the baby looks like, eating well, and healing – not on how soon one can fit into pre-pregnancy  jeans or appear on a D-list celebrity rag in a bikini.

Now Kate looked beautiful and well dressed, of course, unlike us peasants in our maternity yoga pants and nursing bras for weeks after giving birth. (I have my suspicions that she may have been standing there in her heels wondering how much longer before she could go back inside and sit on the ice pack again though.)  I’m no dummy either – I know she’s going to drop the baby weight quickly (and she likely has a nanny so she’ll look more rested than even those of us without infants any longer).

But still, she walked outside with her adorable baby belly on display and the world noticed. She did not hide her body and she did not demure from the truth of what she had just accomplished. I could have cheered because truthfully I’m a bit proud of my own pooch, I earned it three times over.

Related: In which I promise not to call myself fat

In which I write a love letter to my own body

 

 

Continue Reading · baby, giving birth, health, women · 52

In which our gentleness is evident to one first

 

We had a full house of friends the other night. It was a “serve yourself from the stove” kind of evening, and Joseph hollered and crashed dinosaurs together in the living room while the football game blared, tinies danced to music, and crumbs covered the floor. After most everyone had left and the dishwasher was roaring, I collapsed on the couch, overstimulation complete. I’d lost my temper earlier in the day with one of the tinies, and I was still stinging with it.

One young couple remained behind, intending to put their little baby down to sleep at our house so they could stay a bit longer and visit. My three were sound asleep, and the house was dark, just a few lamps lit, and I waited with my knitting in hand, enjoying the quiet while this beautiful young mama tried to put her baby to sleep. But, as any parent knows, many are the plans in a parent’s heart but often it is the baby who prevails. (“Sleep alone in an uncomfortable playpen in a strange house? No, thank you, Mumma.”)

I listened to her sing soft and slow, she has a lovely voice. I couldn’t discern a word she sang, but the sound and melody of a mama-lullaby overheard melts armour, unfurls muscle knots, exhales the lungs, and releases tension. Eventually, my friend gave up to the inevitable with good grace, carrying a bright-eyed small baby back out, and she rocked her girl slow in my old red rocking chair until the baby blinked longer between yawns and lolled back. She said something so wise while she rocked, I wanted to write it down: “Paul told us to let our gentleness be evident to all*, and I want my gentleness to be evident to our baby girl, too, even when no one is around to overhear or notice but her.”

 

*Philippians 4:5

 

Continue Reading · baby, friends, moments, parenting · 35

In which we get this part of the Incarnation

 

If more women were pastors or preachers, we’d have a lot more sermons and books about the metaphors of birth and pregnancy connecting us to the story of God. (I am rather tired of sports and war metaphors.)

The divinity of God is on display at Christmas in beautiful creche scenes. We sing songs of babies who don’t cry. We mistake quiet for peace. A properly antiseptic and church-y view of birth, arranged as high art to convey the seriousness and sacredness of the incarnation.  It is as though the truth of birth is too secular for Emmanuel, it doesn’t look too holy in its real state.

So the first days of the God-with-us requires the dignity afforded by our careful editing.

Because this? This creating out of passion and love, the carrying, the seemingly-never-ending-waiting, the knitting-together-of-wonder-in-secret-places,  the pain, the labour, the blurred line between joy and “someone please make it stop,” the “I can’t do it” even while you’re in the doing of it, the delivery of new life in blood and hope and humanity?

This is the stuff of God.

There is something Godly in the waiting, in the mystery, in the fact that we are a part of it, a partner with it but we are not the author of it. How you know that there is life coming and the anticipation is sometimes exciting and other times exhausting, never-ending. How there is a price that you pay for the love love love.

I was fortunate to give birth to three of my tinies without complications. I find myself thinking of those experiences often during Advent; they are still very fresh for me. My eldest daughter was born in the hospital in a fairly usual way. My littlest girl was born at home, in water, with midwives, a beautiful and redemptive experience for me.

But it’s the birth of my son, my Joe, that stays with me in these winter months.

Joe was an unintended free birth in our building’s parking garage while we were on our way to the hospital. We were alone – no midwife, no doctor, not even in our own home with a clean floor but instead a garage filled with gasoline and tire smells.

My husband was scared; a lot of things could go wrong in this scenario (he had the good sense to act like he was in control though). And we were surrounded by strangers – helpful, concerned strangers but strangers nonetheless – and they were witnessing me give birth.

And yet my body had taken over and all we could do, all I could do, was surrender to that moment fully. Every muscle in my body was focused, my entire world had narrowed to that very moment.  And then there he was, born while I was leaning against our old truck, standing up, into my own hands, nearly 9 pounds of shrieking boy-child humanity, welcomed by my uncontrollable laughter and his father’s uncontrollable relief-tears. A few people applauded.

There wasn’t anything very dignified about giving birth.

And yet it was the moment when I felt the line between the sacred and the secular of my life shatter once and for all.

The sacred and holy moments of life are somehow the most raw, the most human moments, aren’t they?

But we keep it quiet, the mess of the Incarnation, because it’s just not church-y enough and men don’t quite understand and it’s personal, private, there aren’t words for this and it’s a bit too much.

It’s too much pain, too much waiting, too much humanity, too much God, too much work, too much joy, too much love and far too messy. With far too little control. And sometimes it does not go the way we thought it was supposed to go and then we are also left with questions, with deep sadness, with longing.

My entire concept of God shifted in that moment, leaving my brain and my life and my theology to catch up with what my soul now knew deep. I could never see God as anything other than through the lens of the Incarnation, of his Father-Mother heart and his birth now.

No theologian or counter-circumstance-experience can take away from what I know, what many mothers the world over know in their heart of hearts about loss and birth and raising babies and real transformation: it’s Love and it is sacred and it is human and it all redeems.  The very truth that God put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood through birth, even – especially –  that experience of birth, now showing us what it means to be truly human.

Women can tell this part of the story this Christmas, the glimpse behind the veil, the life lived in the in-between of the stuff of God.

There is a story on your lips, isn’t there, mama? of how you saw the face of God in the midst of fear or pain or joy and understood, really understood, Mary, not kneeling chastely beside a clean manger refraining from touching her babe, just moments after birth but instead, sore and exhilarated, weary and pressing a sleepy, wrinkled newborn to her breasts, treasuring every moment in her heart, marvelling not only at his very presence but at her own strength, how surrender and letting go is true work, tucking every sight and smell and smack of his lips into her own marrow.

God, Incarnate, Word made flesh, born of a woman and the Holy Spirit.

We can tell the true, messy stories of the Incarnation.

Emmanuel, God with us.

May we recognise the miracle of the Incarnation, not in spite of the mess, but because of the very humanness of it.

This is an edited post that originally appeared on 14 December 2011 at A Deeper Story.

Continue Reading · baby, christmas, church, faith, giving birth · 81