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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 · 110

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

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 · 53

A complicated peace

complicated peace

This surprise pregnancy arrived with more complicated feelings than I expected. I don’t think it makes me a bad mum or a bad woman to admit to that complexity, to confess the squirrelly, overwhelmed, and terrified feelings of a complete reorientation of my life.

Once we knew that the baby was healthy and all was well, the reality of the changes ahead hit me.

Whoa. We are having a baby. An actual baby.

Aren’t I too old for this? We were done having babies for very good reasons – not the least of which is my history of miscarriages. I thought my life was going in one direction and now it’s going in a completely new direction. I had thought I was starting one particular chapter of my life, one that brought me a lot of joy – tinies growing into marvellous big kids, finally emerging from the fog of babies-toddlers mothering, and a strong sense of purpose around my own vocation, for instance – but when I flipped the page, there was unprecedented change for us. A baby. Wow.

This baby was my cry-of-the-heart baby, absolutely. I longed for her life even as I made plans to move into our new chapters with gratitude. And a bit of disorientation is good for a person, I think.

The later-babies are a different sort of feeling, I’ve found, a bit more complicated and precious for that very thing. I was starry-eyed at the thought of one last little baby to treasure, one last time to experience pregnancy, birth, nursing, all of it. We’ve been washing impossibly tiny sleepers, reorganizing the house, borrowing my sister’s baby gear.

One of the best parts of this pregnancy so far has been sharing it with the tinies themselves. I had all three of them in four years so they were practically babies themselves as each one arrived. This time, they crowd around me on the couch, their hands spread all over my bump, shrieking in joy with each rewarding kick or push back from inside.

Me? I have full intentions of making an absolute fool of myself over this wee girl: now I know that it goes so fast, too fast.

And yet I believe that there is room for a bit of grief in the joy and gratitude. Throughout this pregnancy, I have felt disappointed in myself, too: disappointed that I wasn’t yay-happy-unicorns-and-rainbows-and-babies-forever at every single moment, disappointed that I felt both some disorientation and complication, even some grief, along with the joy.

I wanted uncomplicated pure joy, but instead I have spent this pregnancy grappling with faith and what it means to trust God, then with the realities of change coming our way, even with my own limitations. I can’t do it all. I can’t keep up the life that I had envisioned beginning and be the mother that I know I love to be, the mother I’m called to be, to this wee girl, let alone to the tinies as they grow up. I’ve heard it said that babies and toddlers are physically tiring but big kids are emotionally and spiritually tiring: so far that’s proven true to me. I’ve been admitting my weaknesses and limits, even my preferences and desires particularly if they are different than other people’s expectations.

I have been honest with my trusted ones over these months, confessing my complicated feelings and my occasional swings between sheer joy and sheer terror. I’ve also worked with my naturopath and midwife to make sure that I’m healthy and strong for birth and post-partum emotionally and physically. I’ve received a lot of encouragement and prayer, understanding and “you’re not alone” moments. The advice that almost every woman has given me, particularly from my friends who have experienced a surprise or unplanned pregnancy at any point in their life, has been this: just wait, let yourself feel what you feel, you get to be both happy and sad. Trust that the peace will come when it is time. Maybe not right away, maybe not at the moment you expect or want, but peace will come.

This pregnancy has become another altar for encountering God. For some reason, mothering is my place of surrender and trust, out of my control and yet such a sweet place of building trust and authenticity.

My friend, Wendy, who is an amazing seamstress presented us with a quilt she made for Tiny #4. I couldn’t even thank her, my voice was gone with gratitude, my eyes filled with tears. I already feel myself fighting for the little fourth baby, the one who gets the hand-me-downs and the seen-it-all-befores so this special and beautiful gift, just for our new wee girl, all hers and only hers, was powerful to me.

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Last week, we had another ultrasound. I have big babies and so our midwives always like to get a good idea of what’s ahead as we draw near to birth. I went to the appointment alone as we had the flu at our house last week so I didn’t want to risk bringing any germs. (And I just wanted a break from laundry and to breathe fresh air alone, can I get an amen?)

But as I lay there on the table for the procedure, the technician swiping across my belly with her wand, the images were flashing on the screen: here’s her spine, here’s her feet, here’s her heart beating, here’s her hands. She was sucking her thumb which is just incredible to me. Such a little person already.

And then she moved her hand and I caught a glimpse of her lower face. She was beautiful, she looked exactly like all of our babies, but especially like Evelynn to me. They have the same mouth, the big pout with impossibly chubby cheeks. My heart stilled.  I caught my breath at the sight of her.

Oh, I exhaled. Oh, there you are. There you are.

You belong, you’re ours, you’re beautiful, there you are. 

The peace flooded into my heart at the sight of her mouth, just her mouth. Peace that she was ours, she belonged with us, we longed for her, we need her, we love her, we cherish her, we are so privileged, so blessed.

The complicated feelings might still be real, still there, sometimes even primary, but it’s a complicated peace now, a trust that the disorientation is part of the gift. Her mouth was enough in that moment.

Yes, life is changing. Yes, this is not what I expected at this point in my life.

And yes, that very thing is the greatest gift, the greatest joy, at the same time. She’s ours, we longed for her, and against all the odds, she’ll be here, real and alive and complicated herself, so very soon.

 

Continue Reading · baby, faith, family, journey · 57

Flutters and faith

Faith and Flutters

I have three tinies and this is my eighth pregnancy. Those kinds of odds can mess with a woman.

As I said a few weeks ago when I first told you about this baby, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. I spent the first four months of this pregnancy convinced that it wasn’t viable, unable to muster up any hope that Tiny #4 would actually be in my arms in February.

I spent those days waiting for a sign, just one sign, to demonstrate to me that this baby had half a chance. I prayed for it. (I never had a single sign.) Then came no heartbeat and then another non-heartbeat and then finally, crazily, 173 beats a minute and the assurance that so far, so good.

I had a heartbeat confirmation. And that was it.

You name the pregnancy “symptom” of your choice – morning sickness, sore breasts, exhaustion, mood swings, food sensitivities or aversions, whatever – and I had it with the three babies I carried to term. More tellingly, I did not experience them with all of my losses. That was always my first indicator that something wasn’t quite right with the pregnancy – my body quietly returned to normal and so I quietly began to grieve.

Tiny #4 continues to defy my script.

I have longed for morning sickness in a way that must baffle and offend women who are severely struck down during pregnancy. I don’t mean to make light of those who suffer in this way. But I went through my days perfectly fine, bright and energetic – and I hated every minute of it. My body still felt, well, not pregnant.

Come on, I would bargain with my body. Let me be sick today. It would sure help my anxiety.

When I carried Anne and Joe and Evelynn, I leaned heavily on those little indicators like morning sickness or migraines, swollen feet and exhaustion because they meant that something was still happening. Someone was still there. Someone was taking up space in my body and making their presence known. With Tiny #4, I have not had those reassurances.

My last rung of the hope ladder was this one: feeling the baby move. I always feel my babies moving very early, perhaps because I’m paying such close attention. As I passed day after day of this pregnancy without a single indicator to justify any hope, I waited expectantly for week 14. (I felt Anne at 16 weeks, both Joe and Evelynn as early as 14 weeks. This is uncommonly early but it’s usual for me.) This is a sure one, I thought, soon I’ll know I can relax and just enjoy this pregnancy instead of always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Surely, surely, surely with a fourth baby, I would be feeling this one move at the same time, possibly even earlier. Then I would know what to expect, then I would be bold enough to pray with assurance.

Week 14 passed, no movement.

Week 15, then 16. I voiced some concern to my family.

Then we passed week 17, then 18, then 19 weeks.

Still no movement within me, still no flutters, still no someone making their presence known.

As Week 20 drew near, it seemed that I was even being denied this milestone. The books and my midwife all said it wasn’t time to panic yet and so I waited (not-so) patiently for my next ultrasound appointment, this deviation from my expected script sent me reeling. Even if it wasn’t a big deal to anyone else, to me it meant everything.

Every small thing that I have used to justify my faith and confidence and hope during a pregnancy has been denied to me during this pregnancy. I don’t know why.

The days are a bit long when you’re waiting without assurance.  I think I used to confuse faith with my longing for control, particularly of outcomes. Even now, it’s a lame sort of faith, mine, the kind that waits for a sign before taking the risk. Faith feels like a release to me, it’s safer to put my confidence in my abilities or in hard work or proper behaviours or whatever new thing I’m using to wrest control in my life.

Like so many aspects of my spirituality, I am still a bit in-between, figuring out what I reclaim and what I relinquish, living with a few unanswered questions while relying heavily on the few things I do know – and almost all of those can be summed up in my complete and utter confidence in Love. God is for us, who can be against us?

Over these weeks, I felt like a fragmented woman, believing and unbelieving all at once.

One old-school part of me was going all word-of-faith on this baby: praying Scripture, declaring the Word, binding and loosing all sorts of things, declaring life and not death, you name it, I’d claim it. Another part of me was already grieving and giving up. Another part of me prayed for belief even while acknowledging my own unbelief. One part of me wondered how I even dared to pray and expect God to move for me when I already had three beautiful children and there are far more important things in the world about which I should be praying, how selfish could I be? Another part of me relinquished outcomes, trusting God implicitly no matter the outcome while simultaneously raging against that very thing.

I am a woman of prayer. It sounds bold-faced to write it down, but there it is. I write it anyway. Prayer comes easily to my spirit – perhaps it is because a former pastor of ours once told us that the same part of us that worries is the part of us that prays. I knew I could worry constantly, so that meant I could pray constantly.

And so I do. I always have. I move through my day with an awareness of my companionship with the Spirit and we talk always, sometimes even with words. I pray, this is what I do. It feels small, so small, in the face of great pain or sorrow or injustice or uncertainty or even joy, but I pray anyway. I carry people and movements, requests and hearts within me like candlelight that I revisit often to hold in my hands and breathe over in prayer.

I don’t believe I can control God through prayer or through faith, I don’t believe God is waiting for me to “prove” that I have enough faith or know enough Bible verses to argue the points. In fact, I don’t believe in praying with an agenda most of the time. Yet as the days of my waiting for this baby to just move already went by, I prayed to or wondered at God, grappling with my questions and my doubt, with my beliefs about the nature and character and heart of our God and the very real reality of our fallen world.

Fearlessly, fearfully, I prayed for life.

And I prayed for faith. I prayed for faith to believe for life and for health for a small person. I prayed because who else was going to keep praying? who else was going to stand guard over this small one and hang on for dear life, who else but her mother? this is what we do, we stay even when it would make more sense to give up. I prayed because I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to be the one to back down from a fight over my child.

I felt more like the annoying woman of persistence from one of Jesus’ parables, she who stood outside the door of a judge pestering his life out until he gave in with bad grace. Jesus called her a woman of great faith, I call her my only hope.

I couldn’t muster up my old definitions of faith but I could keep relentlessly hope-knocking as my radical act of faith.

Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I was laying in bed alone (a rarity) when the baby finally made her presence known: I’m here. She shifted and moved within my womb with a small whoosh, and my heart throbbed. There you are, I breathed. There you are. I’ve been waiting for you.

Then she moved like a fish in water, a rolling and a stretching with natural ease that seemed to say, what? you were worried?

I stayed in bed, silent, feeling her move within me, like faith, a flutter of a presence, growing. There was plenty of time to tell my husband, my mother, my sister, my friends. Right then, it was time to pray and every word in my mind and mouth, every flutter was thank you thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Still I wonder about faith and the nature of prayer, I still hold my understandings loosely. Faith isn’t certainty, I know that by now. If I was certain, I wouldn’t need faith. I think it’s a gift and a choice, sometimes at the same time. I think it’s a confidence in the midst of doubt, it’s work and it’s rest. Faith is a risk and it’s gorgeous to let go into the free fall.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her book, Animal Dreams, “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”

These days, that sounds a lot like Hebrews 11 to me. So right now I think faith is figuring out what I hope for – redemption, wholeness, shalom, justice, love, life, one small baby to live and not die, all of it – and then fearlessly living under that roof.

It’s been a couple of weeks since that Saturday. As I write these words, this baby within me moves and kicks and pokes mercilessly, stretching and growing, I still nearly exhale with relief every time. Our baby is alive and well and growing stronger still – I take no credit and I am still wary of proclaiming anything definitive.

After all, if I say that God performed a miracle this time, what does that mean for my other babies, the ones I never got to hold except in my folded-up tea towels? I can’t forget them. Yet if I say that it’s just a happy coincidence, am I taking away from the miracle and the glory for God’s mighty act for a seemingly small and ordinary woman and her unborn child? It’s both and it’s neither, it’s holy ground for that very reason, for the uncertainty and the praise, one in each hand. I can only say that fearless prayer did what it always does: it changed me.

I still pray and will always pray like that one thing is true: God is for us. And it’s worthwhile to keep knocking.

That’s about all I know about faith for sure.

Just a couple of days later, we had our ultrasounds. It confirmed what I already knew well by now: our wee one is healthy and whole, all is well. The technician might as well have hung a big neon sign up that said: Chill Out, Sarah. And Congratulations.

Because, didn’t I mention? …. we’re having a girl.

photo by Rachel Barkman Photography (from back when I was VERY pregnant with Evelynn) 

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