Little known fact: I’m actually a marketer by trade and training. Yep. I studied marketing and communications for my undergraduate degree and then I spent more than ten years working in that field for both financial institutions and non-profits. My specialty became strategic planning and brand development and communications.

I do love spreadsheets and a clearly delineated plan.

I often banged the drum of “brand” for our organizations: what is the story we’re telling about this company? People often thought our brand was simply the logo or perhaps the colour scheme, even the look and feel of our marketing materials. But really, our brand was so much bigger than that: it is the story we are telling and it’s reflected in the way people think about us. And we can shape that way more than we think. Sure, we can shape the marketing materials but our customer service, our strategic planning, our products, our design, our website, everything we do tells a story about us to the world.

At one of the major banks that I worked at during my marketing years, we had a full book for our brand. Here is what we do, here is what we say, here is how we answer the phone, here is how we address letters, here is the exact pantone shade we use for the paint in the offices, here is what our logo can look like and you cannot crowd the logo with any type closer than 2 cms from the image, and on we went. 

A brand isn’t exclusive to corporations or non-profits. We often embrace a certain “brand” for our lives as regular people, we have a story we want to tell with our lives and we expect everything in our life – our food, our worship, our budget, our homes, our friends – to all reinforce that story. This isn’t always bad but it can be restrictive. We are often unconsciously thinking of what our choices communicate to the world about who we are and what we value and what our purpose is in this life. 

This is my brand, this is what I do, this is what I have always done, this is the way I work, this is the way I minister, this is the way I lead, this is the way I am in church, this is the way I parent, every time all the time.

Don’t disrupt the brand.

Sometimes the story we tell ourselves about our own lives can become a prison, it can keep us from the real life that is waiting for us.

***

When I first became a mother, I was in my late twenties. And the experience of becoming a mother changed me inside and out. I know it doesn’t happen that way for everyone and I’m not saying my way is prescriptive or normative but there it is: this is the altar where I met with God and I was transformed. I felt like I not only uncovered something true about my own self but that I connected with God in a whole new way, my ideas of God and life were hung out on the line in the bright sunshine of this new vocation. We quickly added another two tinies to the household and all of a sudden I had three kids four and under.

In particular, the experience of being pregnant and giving birth, while never easy, became the great metaphor for how I encountered God. The more I experienced pregnancy and birth in all its mess and glory, loss and life, the more I uncovered the devout parallels between how women experience birth and how the Holy Spirit often “gives birth” in our souls. Mothering was where I found God and even now it is where God continues to somehow find me, too.

When I spoke or wrote about birth, I always talked about how as soon as I had delivered a baby, I would break into joyous laughter. My husband would always cry and I would always laugh, tipping my head back with relief and joy and clutching that new life to my breasts. With my third baby, we gave birth in the living room of our house in a birthing tub of warm water, attended by midwives. I still look back at that day as one of the shining stars of my entire life – the whole experience from start to finish was so grace-filled, so healing, so peace-filled. What a way to end my experiences with childbirth, I thought. It was perfect.

And then there was breastfeeding. My mother was one of the early members of La Leche League, a breastfeeding advocacy community, and so I grew up in a home that normalized breastfeeding and distrusted formula companies. So I exclusively nursed all of my babies, never even pumping breastmilk for a bottle. (These are the very real benefits of living in a country with a year of paid maternity leave for mothers.) I practiced child-lead weaning, simply nursing my children until they decided to stop which happened right around 18 months old with all three of them. My children never knew anything different and neither did I. It wasn’t a burden, it was a joy to me.

This is how I mother. This is how I do it. Every time, without fail, this is the story I tell about myself as a mother.

And here is how that story ends.

***

Because when my three babies began to grow up, I began to truly enjoy them as little people. Toddlerhood passed, preschool, elementary school. I know I don’t write about my tinies much anymore out of respect for their own journeys but this season of mothering been good and hard, I like them.

And then we found ourselves unexpectedly expecting one last little baby, nearly nine years after my first. 

And it was just different. I was different, the pregnancy was different. I felt disoriented, like I was having to reorganize the story my life was telling. I thought we were going in one direction as a family and now we were regrouping. The big kids were all thrilled and so was I but I couldn’t help but feel I didn’t know how to do this. I had changed a lot in the past decade in response to being a mother: now my mothering was going to have to change to accommodate the whole rest of me.

Back when I had my first three, I worked full time, sure, but it was local and I had a full year of mat leave, I blogged during naptime for the fun of it. Now I was a writer with contracts to fulfill.The administrative side of my life is a bit overwhelming sometimes.  I travel for work at least once a month, sometimes more. I found myself gigantically pregnant and heaving carry-ons onto airplanes to watch my feet swell to twice their size. I remember finishing my last trip before the baby was born and thinking I would just have to walk away from my job, that I couldn’t continue to preach and minister and write while still parenting in the way that felt most natural to me. I thought that made the most sense. So when I preached one last time in Calgary and caught that late night flight home to Vancouver, I thought I was saying good-bye to an aspect of my calling. 

I was exhausted for most of the pregnancy. Three other kids will do that to a woman, I know, but my husband also had a job change that meant he was working longer hours. And having a baby in your late thirties is a bit of a different experience than having a baby in your twenties, I assure you. (My doctor called it “advanced maternal age” – thanks, Doc!) My next book was due right before the baby was due so instead of resting during the pregnancy even after my last trip, I madly wrestled words onto the page and wrote a vulnerable and searching book about faith. Any writer will tell you that writing a book can often feel like giving birth, it’s a wrestle to bring that work into the world. I struggled into the final weeks of my pregnancy to find the three big kids had decided to come down with the flu. 

And I kept admitting the truth in the back of my head: I don’t have it right now. I knew how it felt to go into birth feeling fully empowered and ready, strong and capable. Instead, this time I felt exhausted, depleted, and weak physically. The baby was bigger, I was older, life had been too full. I remember that I said to my husband that I was really re-thinking having a home birth again. I rather wistfully thought of a clean hospital with a capable anesthesiologist. But I quickly snapped myself back: this is not how I give birth! I don’t medicalize birth! I am a natural birth advocate! I will have birth the way that I always do! It will be beautiful, dammit!

Instead on the day that I went into labour, I quickly realised that my instincts were right – I did not have it in me to do this well. I lost the mental game of birth early in labour. All three of my other babies had a very similar progression for a quick and straightforward labour. This baby was completely different. Just a few hours into labour, we transferred to the hospital because when my water broke there were indicators that the baby would need oxygen or at least a paediatrician on hand. In the ambulance, I agreed to any and all drugs that they would give me and by the time we got to the hospital, I was a hot mess. The rest of the baby’s delivery was a blur to me, a blur of pain and trauma and powerlessness. I only remember my husband’s voice cutting through my panic with his strength, I clung to him and somehow we kept going together.

By the time she was safely earthside and they announced her at 10 pounds 7 ounces, I was devastated by the birth we had just experienced. They put Margaret in my arms and I cried like we had just survived a war. There was no laughter on my lips this time: I shook with sobs and apologised to her over and over for how she had come into the world. My sister kept trying to get through to me: “Sarah, she’s healthy and you’re healthy, that’s what matters, you are being too hard on yourself!”

But the feeling was always there, even as I healed from her birth, even as I forgave myself for not following my instincts, the feeling remained that I had failed her.

All of my other children had a beautiful and redemptive birth story: by contrast, Maggie’s birth had been one of the most traumatic days of my life and I felt that it was my fault. It was my fault and I was failing her already. Her story was different than the other tinies’ stories and it was my fault.

***

It’s funny how we can say things to ourselves that we would never say or even believe about another woman. If another woman had been in my shoes, I would have said that this was a lie, that she hadn’t failed her baby, that she had done what she needed to do to keep everyone safe, that she needed to release the lies and welcome the truth over and over again. Of course the story was changing – this is normal and natural and even good.

We became a family of six. I gloried in Maggie. We all did – she became the centre of our lives. I tucked her into bed with us, I got out my old baby carrier, I was ready to do what I always did for babies because babies are my jam. I know babies. I am the baby whisperer, this is how I mother, this is the story that I know, this is the story I tell with my life.

Maggie has been the baby who changed the story.

It began with sleeping. I couldn’t get Maggie to sleep through the night. I tried everything even the things I had sworn I would never do. nothing worked. On a good night, we were up four times. On a bad night, we were up dozens of times and I went an entire year of my life at a level of sleep deprivation that meant I probably shouldn’t have been driving the mini-van or been responsible for other children. At about ten months in, I just surrendered to the nightwatch. I simply embraced the fact that this was Maggie and this is what we were going to do until we simply couldn’t do it anymore.

And then there was nursing. My supply was so much less with Maggie – a combination of my age and my stress levels, no doubt. So I had to nurse her much more frequently in order for her to be full and even a year into her life, I was still nursing 10 times a day and I was exhausted.

As the year unfolded, I began to realise that I missed my work. I missed writing, I missed preaching. And so we made plans to resume both with great joy. The truth is that I’m a better wife and mother when I’m doing the work I feel I was created to do. It makes me more alive, stronger, wiser, happier. Friends of mine who were in my line of work assured me that they had travelled with their babies at Maggie’s age and it had been fine. My mother retired from her job and planned to join us on the road in order to care for Maggie while I lead workshops or taught or preached. All of the plans fell into place: my husband and tinies are all dedicated to my work and send me out with joy, we see my work as our work. I worked with event planners to accommodate the nursing relationship, chasing back and forth from the events to the hotel to nurse the baby every two hours. Our babysitter came to our house to care for her while I was writing. I was willing to embrace the hardship of travelling with a baby for the sake of our nursing relationship. We were set for success!

But the story wouldn’t cooperate: every single trip, she fell sick with fevers. She slept even less than usual. She wouldn’t eat. She was not herself. Maggie is one of the happiest and most winsome babies I’ve ever encountered, to see her laid low and miserable was painful for both my mother and for me. My mum was the hero of every week, she just met us both where we were at and I am not sure if she ministered more to Maggie or to me on these trips. I nursed twice as much to help Maggie out but still I had nothing for her and with every trip we took it became more and more obvious that despite what worked for everyone else, this was not working for us

The nudge in my own soul said that it was time to wean her. She was more than a year old. I had been a mother for nearly ten years and I had never weaned a baby, true, but it wasn’t the logistics that kept me from making that choice, it was that old feeling left over from her birth, the feeling that I was failing her. I couldn’t wean her because that is off-brand. We both needed her to be released from nursing but I clung to the mothering story I wrote all those years ago and we boarded another plane together.

It was a disaster.

We made the decision to wean Maggie. 

I was sure that it would be an awful two weeks of trying to wean Maggie from the breast and onto a little sippy cup of whole milk. Instead, she went from ten feeds a day to just one in short order. She loved her little sippy cup and devoured food. By the fifth night, when I nursed her at bedtime, she was losing interest, ready to go to bed with a full tummy already.

Wasn’t this supposed to be terrible? hard? horrible? instead she was fine and I knew I would be fine if I could just release us both from the story I had tethered us to with such good intentions.

***

Going off-brand can be terrifying. Daring to change our story when we find our primary identity in that particular story feels like we are losing our own sense of self. It’s more than just changing an opinion or a way of life: it’s changing who we thought we were.

I thought I was always going to mother in one particular way always: instead I changed.

It’s the same way in many areas of our lives.

As I wrote in Out of Sorts, if we aren’t changing or evolving, then we aren’t paying attention. If we pay attention to our life, we will change. We will change in ways that we never imagined and even though there is grief to leaving behind that old story, there is freedom and life and space waiting on the other side of the threshold.

I always go to this church: but then you find yourself leaving.

I always believed that being gay was sinful: but then one of the most loving and Christ-like people you ever knew just came out and you find yourself changing.

I always knew I would live in this town for my entire life: but then you find yourself in faraway lands.

I always knew that marriage was the most important relationship and I judged people who got divorced: but then you find yourself signing papers and underneath the grief there is relief.

I always knew I was called to ministry: but then you find yourself in a regular sort of job and you have to figure out a new story.

I always knew I would get married and have kids: but then you find yourself single.

I always knew I didn’t want to have kids: but then you find yourself with a houseful of small humanity to care for.

I always believed I was in control: but now you know you need help to quit.

I knew that I would homeschool my kids: but today you dropped them off at the public school.

I knew that I knew that I would work in this job forever: but now you’re starting over.

I dreamed about the day I’d have a child: but that child has special needs and nothing about how you parent looks the way you thought it would look.

I have always encountered God in this particular way: but then that way becomes barren and empty and you find yourself walking new paths, as a new seeker of God.

I always knew I would hold this belief or opinion: but then you find yourself questioning everything you ever believed and knew.

I always thought that I would be one sort of person: but now I’m someone else.

Off Brand :: a post by Sarah Bessey

***

When I was debating whether or not I could bring myself to wean Maggie, my husband, my mother, and my sister reminded me of her birth. They reminded me that I had made my birthing decisions out of loyalty to the “way I’ve always done it” or to my ideology when my reality was demanding a change.

Life didn’t care about my brand.

I should have chosen life instead of my brand.

I stayed with my brand and it nearly cost us both dearly.

It seemed as if I cared more about giving Maggie the same story as my other children than I did about doing what was best for both of us.

***

That last night together, I sat in the darkness with her. I wanted the night to be meaningful, to be a sort of farewell to this era of my life. But underneath the sadness, there was relief. The very thing that used to bring me freedom had become a sort of bondage and now we were going to choose freedom together. She barely nursed that night, we rocked in that old creaky rocking chair, I tucked her into bed and left the room. I went to my husband and he held me in his arms while I cried in the kitchen.

“It was good,” I said to him. “This whole thing has been good. I know we’re doing the right thing but I think it’s good to be sad, too. I loved it. I loved everything about breastfeeding. But I’m so glad.”

Now my story as a mother includes this story too: I’m a mother who weaned her baby at a year old, a mother who chose to honour her own mental and spiritual health as much as she honoured her children, a mother who took too long to reimagine her life. 

The next day, I got on a plane to Raleigh. I left Maggie at home with my husband and my mother. She promptly slept through the night. And she has slept through the night almost every single night since then. I do the work I love to do.

In the mornings now I wake up to her laughing to herself in her little crib, we have both slept all night, we feel free. I open the door and she’s got a huge smile on her face, her arms are up and waiting for me just as I am in this moment.

image by Sharalee Prang Photography

Oh, girl, you're graduating? Read these!
What I'm Into :: Summer 2016
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  • Isn’t it amazing that the moment things don’t go as planned, we go into “failure” mode. Thank you for this, I know it will set many women free today.

  • Holly Keane Atkinson

    I was single for 36 years of my life.. I went the same church for 13 of them.. that was who I was.. and now I find myself married and in another state with a new church– and I’m wondering why I don’t quite feel like “me”. Or at least the me that I thought I was. Life is different (and better) that I ever imagined. Thanks for giving words to that feeling.

  • Alethea Allen

    Good for you, Sarah. I’m going off brand from being the one who had to make it a point to say, “I only work part time so I can be home with the kids as much as possible,” to now opening my own practice. Interestingly, all those long conversations I had with your mom at my house helped move me down this road. I’m grateful for that and for the way God forces us to let go of the things about ourselves that we think should define us.

    • I love hearing that, Alethea! I’ll be sure to tell her, she will be so glad as she loved those convos, too! xo

  • Beautiful.

  • Sandy Palmer Perry

    I totally understand this. I had every intention of breast-feeding my daughter but nature had a different idea. Despite having a porn-star sized bosom at the time, the milk never came. I tried for a week and nothing changed. I was miserable. My daughter was miserable. My husband and my mother finally had an intervention with me and I finally relented and gave her a bottle. It was glorious and peaceful and everything I had wanted. Praise God for the detours that make us whole.

  • Love this. One of many, many reasons I look up to you as a mama and woman.

  • Elizabeth Lehman

    oh, goodness. this is so good, sarah bessey… the truth you speak and how you encourage each of us to be free. brene brown talks about the stories we tell ourselves… i find myself doing it all the time.

  • Thank you for sharing this. Oh gosh, our youngest wouldn’t sleep well until weaned as well. I can relate a little bit to that part of the story for sure, trying to get a kid back to sleep in the middle of the night. Phew! I know that these things always feel a bit crazier when you’re immersed in it, but whatever the process has been on your end of things, it has been a blessing to myself and to many others to see you take up new directions and callings (“your lane” as you’ve said). I feel like your “brand” is faithfulness, but getting to faithfulness can feel a little chaotic from the inside of things.

    • That last line of yours both blessed me immensely and made me laugh. Ed, you’re the best.

  • This is one of my favorite things that you have written, ever. Sister, you are on a roll these days.

    All my life my brand has been very specific. I was the good one, the perfect one, the spiritual one, the leader, the one who was going to hit it big, do great things for God, “make something of herself.” I believed it, others believed it.

    Then, suddenly, and interestingly also with a story involving a traumatic birth, God took that all away in the past few years. I ended up washed out, my husband and I living with my parents along with our two kids, no plans on the horizon, no spreadsheets for the future, no career for either of us in sight.

    I had to take a good long look into God’s eyes and decide what I thought about all this, whether I was okay with off brand.

    Oh what a relief it was when my heart finally let go of the old story.

    Thank you, Sarah, keep writing. It is good reading along the pilgrim road. Can’t wait to hear more about book #3!

    • It is such a relief! What a beautiful story you’ve shared here – thank you!

  • mothering spirit

    Your last image of Maggie laughing – it comes full circle with the picture of you after birth with the other 3, head tossed back, full of joy. These babies, they birth us into their own world as well, don’t they? Absolutely beautiful.

    • Yes, indeed – glad you caught that. 😉

    • Sara Rooney

      It makes my heart so glad to see that you know each other (or at least read each other’s blogs) for you both are such an inspiration to me in my mothering journey! <3

  • Brenda P

    One week ago I finally let go of something that is no longer a good fit for me even though it’s a large part of my identity. I had been putting off that decision for a year because of fear, because the voice in my head constantly whispers that there is only one right way to do things and I dare not deviate. Change is not without loss, but there is freedom and excitement for what comes next. The more I try to be open to new things, new ways of life, the more full my life becomes. I hope I never stop trying to roll with the new things life throws at me.

  • This means a lot to me. Thank you.

  • I am very very grateful for these words today.

  • I always knew I was going to be in full time ministry, serving alongside my husband in church. I always knew that my dream job was to lecture in biblical theology.

    It was SO hard to let go of that brand.

    You’ve nailed it, yet again.

    I’ve been watching from the sidelines and sensing that something was different with you. But – oh! – different is still marvellous. Sending you a huge hug from over here.

    • You know this road so well and should write the book on it! Love to you, my friend.

  • I’ve been reading your blog for a while and have loved your other birth stories. You were just that step ahead of our family and I loved reading about the next phase. Our own birth stories were totally unlike what I “wanted.” We had been told that the only unnatural delivery was if the baby came out of your ear. I’ve laughed and told that story to other expecting mothers – but that’s not how MY story would go…. Of course, it did. All that to say, Maggie’s birth story is incredible. It’s vulnerability and honesty are the best kind of encouragement. Thank you for bringing us in.

  • This was riveting in the best way and had me in tears at the end. I may be not a mother, but I so get the idea you’re talking about – changing and making room to go off brand. It’s both hard and good and needed. Here’s to waking up sooner rather later. Thank you for sharing this story. It is powerful to read.

  • Erin Boyd Odom

    I.love.this!

  • Kelly Rae

    This is such an important post… I know I will come back to it over and over. I’m still learning that it’s ok to go “off brand” from my parents’ faith, what I grew up knowing knowing knowing, and then letting go of the whole brand thing, in general. Your words are always so encouraging and brave. Thanks, Sarah.

  • Perfectly, beautifully said. I’m working through some hard things right now, and your words have helped me reframe it and see my self and the life I anticipated in a different light. Thank you!

  • Brianna

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. Such a good reminder to me right now. (Also, I usually read your blog through feedly so don’t visit the site often–this is my first time seeing the redesign. It looks great!)

    • Thanks! Micah Murray did it – and I like it so much, too! Much easier to get around now.

  • This is beautiful. I am getting married in Aug and people have already started asking me about when we are having kids, if I’ll do a home birth, will I breastfeed. I’ve found that many times people project their “brand” onto me. Most of the time what works for one person won’t work for others. I try to keep this in mind when giving others advice!

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

    • Isn’t that the truth – a whole other “side” of this essay is how we are inflicted with other people’s brands!

  • There are so many ways I have parented differently with my second babe and I resonate so much with your story. Thank you for writing about your birth, thank you for writing about weaning. Birth & breastfeeding are my favorite metaphors for connecting with God as well (did you know I wrote some meditations on God as a woman in labor?), but I imagine that new metaphors will come as this season of mothering little children passes. Bless you Sarah, thank you for your words.

  • Beautifully said, Sarah. We do such damage to ourselves when try to create a still frame of our lives, when clearly the Potter is still molding, shaping, contouring as we spin. The story we are telling is to be continued…

  • Lisa

    Oh this is so good! I read but not sure I’ve ever commented but this. just this. My son won’t sleep either (9 months and every 2 hours or less is our game) so I ask myself if I should be driving – or even if I should be having a conversation! I’m so weary. Anyway, I was wondering the other day if Maggie’s sleep had changed. I’m glad for you it has! I’m looking forward to that day for myself. 😉

    Also, the part about being willing to change what’s always been… spiritually, this for me: “I have always encountered God in this particular way: but then that way becomes barren and empty and you find yourself walking new paths, as a new seeker of God.” I am in a season that I feel like He wants to do something new in my life and he *might* actually be speaking to me, the smallest bit. I’m so ready to hear and listen!

    • So sorry you’re in those trenches right now! It’s so hard. It is. Just so hard. Praying for sleep for you all! And excited to hear about the new season ahead for you!

  • pastordt

    YES, yes, yes, yes. Thank you for taking the time and care to write this all out and to connect the dots to how we all do this. All of us. Thank God for people in our lives who will call us to truth and encourage us to do what is right, not simply what is expected — even if the expectation comes only from our own screwed up heads. Glory here. Goodness and truth.

    • So true, Diana – so often the grief is self-inflicted. Thankful for you!

      • pastordt

        Smooches, sweetheart. SO glad you’re here.

  • How I love this. I’ve been going through I time where I know I need to make some changes, to do things differently, and this is what I needed to read. Thank you.

  • Tamryn

    Your story made me cry. Our 3rd, and last child, changed me too. Your story brings those emotions, feelings, and grapplings back fresh, and also leaves me feeling joyful about how I let her change me and embraced the changes that came.. it is a hot tension-filled mess of emotion 🙂 Thanks for sharing about something so vulnerable.

  • I’m stepping out of my brand this year- out of church ministry, moving to a new/old place (our hometown), out of the usual leadership and vocation I’ve done. It’s probably one of the reasons why your books have been so dear to me! I’m grateful for your voice leading the way for those of us who are behind you!

  • Kim

    So beautiful Sarah…this speaks deeply to my heart…..

  • Sara Rooney

    I applaud your courage to both go “off brand” and share this with us! Thank you for doing so and giving us permission to do so as well.

  • Thank you. This is amazing.
    “I always thought I would be one sort of person but now I’m someone else.”
    Yes and amen

  • Julianne Van’t Land

    Thank you for this Sarah. All of this. With the birth of my twins I became unmoored, off-brand and too weary to fight my way back or forward or where it was that rest could be found. I’m still struggling most days, but the light is coming and I’m trying to embrace the journey too. Your words are powerful encouragement.

  • Yes! I have always been a teacher. When I was 11 God told me I was going to teach Spanish speakers so at 11 I started working toward being able to do that well. All through college I taught and cared for children. Then I moved to the Dominican Republic to teach. For the past nine years I have been teaching and every job I’ve had has been with a ministry. In just over a month I’m moving to another city to work a regular ol’ job. There is no built in community. There is no church that everyone goes to. There’s just me and my dogs packing it all up, doing what God has asked me to do. I am so excited, but I feel exactly this. I am a teacher! I am a missionary! Except in a little over a month I won’t (technically) be those things anymore. It’s exciting, but just a little terrifying. Thank you for sharing your story. For the reminder that “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t always good enough. For the reminder that when we listen to the Spirit, when we listen to our very selves, we’re going to be more than okay.

  • Tonya Vander

    Sarah, beautiful as always. Bold as always. Your story reminded me of my son’s birth a c-section- I felt like a failure, I felt like I had failed him and my family. I can’t say I had a brand, for my previous birth was even more traumatic- but it was “natural” of course this was almost 23 years ago and I was only 23- so young. The weight we carry as moms is so much more than just pregnancy weight, we load ourselves down with such unrealistic expectations. I am so grateful you shared, it will help so many who may be struggling with an anunorthdox or unconvential or unexpected decision.

  • Liz Milani

    Our stories are similar in so many ways. So many of my “this is how its going to be” things have been burnt to the ground. But now, new life is growing. And its been magical to realise that I’m relieved that life isn’t going to be what I thought it would. THANK YOU for sharing your story. Here’s to going “off brand.” I’ll drink to that. xo

  • Oh wow.

    “I always thought that I would be one sort of person: but now I’m someone else.”

    By this point I was weeping.

    I’m learning to let go of my story. But what do you do then, when other people hold that story for you and won’t let you out of it? When you’re going off-brand and other people just want you to get back on?

  • Stephen

    Thank you! I’d lived a monastic life for 32 years and found my “brand”no longer fit. Wondered if my faith was more muscle memory than something alive. So now I I find myself in the middle of the country 2000 miles from “home” starting fresh – wondering what landing on my feet will feel like. This was perfect. Gave me hope that maybe the road is wider and God’s bigger. Thanks

  • Alyssa Sampson

    This is exquisite. I am so glad you waited to share this story, and I’m glad you’ve found (and shared!) the grace to go off-brand. I’ll be rereading and sharing this post many times, I know.

  • Marlena Proper-Graves

    Thank you Sarah for speaking freedom. Each of my daughter’s births killed the life and story I knew. None slept through the night until well after a year. My last one, Isabella, I think a little older than Maggie, maybe? Maybe not. I almost died in childbirth with her. So, we had to do what we had to do for her and with her. As with you, the last was harder. I was 36. And she was a sweet surprise. Every day I think about how we love them dearly and about how we are so glad they are in our lives. I love being a mother to these three girls! But this piece, it breathes freedom, oxygen, into situations where we are ruled by ‘should’ instead of grace. Thank you for allowing the Spirit to move through you.

    • Tracey Jacobsen

      I was a;sp 36 with my last baby… a rainbow baby who came after two miscarriages and I had gone back to work. It was a uterine rupture during labor, and graciously we were kept safe, but this year has looked so differently than expected. I love the way you sum this up — ruled by should instead of grace.

  • krista

    So encouraging… thank you for it.

  • Sara

    I cried tears of joy when I got to the line “she slept through the night”!! Oh I’m so glad for you both!!

  • Lauren Nelson

    I’m sitting here with tears rolling down my face. For 10 years, my brand was “missionary.” I lived in London and loved what I did, but somewhere along the way, I lost the plot. So now I’m back Stateside, and on the verge of getting married (something for which I prayed fervently for many years.) I’m in a “normal” job, and at the same time, heartsick over the place and people I left behind. Just this evening I confessed to my fiancé that I had made an idol of the place where I lived, and had tried to direct God about where I wanted to be instead of understanding His will. My brand was changing so I could meet my very dear, very unique soon-to-be husband. Thank you for this article. It puts a seal of confirmation in my heart that is time to release the past and move into this new season joyfully.

  • Katie

    Sarah, this is amazing and has touched me deeply. I can’t really express it properly in a comment but thank-you for your honesty. I feel quite privileged to have read this.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Oh this brings tears to my eyes. I had a similar story. I had to wean my last baby — I knew she was my last after her deadly scary birth — I had to wean her early to go on a missionary survey trip. It wasn’t my “brand” to wean at 13 months either. My brand nursed longer, and since I knew she was my last, I probably would have nursed even longer than the others. But I had to go on the trip, and I had to wean her. I made the last day special (for me) and cried buckets on that trip when it sank in that I really had weaned my last baby. Then I came back and after encouragement from my LLL peeps, I tried again. But she would have none of it, couldn’t remember how, looked at me like I was an alien. I was so glad I honored that last nursing and grieved its heavy grief, because I really never did nurse again.

    So glad your daughter didn’t mind her weaning either 🙂 And glad you feel free to pursue your passion and calling.

  • tosha

    Girl, I get this! My first birth? I had to be induced, but was otherwise totally natural and midwife attended. My second? I as you say “lost the mental game” early, but it’s because I knew I wasn’t progressing. Something was wrong, and I could feel it, but neither my midwife nor I trusted my instinct. I called for a C-section (me, the woman who gave natural birth on pitocin – PITOCIN – wanted a C-section?) After hours of laboring we were losing the heartbeat and the panicked midwife called in the emergency ped team (both births were midwife attended but at our local university hospital). The doctor wrestled my boy from my body with the help of a vacuum and then took him directly to the NICU. It was awful. I loved my first birth. Prided myself on that first birth. Held my daughter and relaxed and she nursed and….but no natural birth, no skin-to-skin with my boy. Eighteen months later it still makes me cry.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    This met me at every level – mothering, breastfeeding 5 kids and weaning the last as we left Egypt to get on the plane and move to U.S., faith and my journey to the Eastern Orthodox church, mostly that I never imagined living in the West – it wasn’t my brand. And yet here I am. This: “Going off-brand can be terrifying. Daring to change our story when we find our primary identity in that particular story feels like we are losing our own sense of self. It’s more than just changing an opinion or a way of life: it’s changing who we thought we were.” I love the challenge to choose life instead of our brand. Thank you so much.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I didn’t know you weaned your last as you left Egypt. Talk about trauma!

  • Tricia Wilson

    Beautiful. When we adopted two daughters after having 3 biological sons, a major re-branding happened in me. Best and most painful thing ever. I am so glad you came to Raleigh. I got to see you there. Thank you for sharing your soul.

  • Our two, only 19 months apart were night and day nearly from the beginning. From the first who wouldn’t sleep more than a few hours at night to the second who, mercifully, would sleep a full 5 or 6 from the beginning. They changed me, both times, changed me and helped me understand God’s love for me. Now, in their 30’s, they are still teaching me of his love and grace. Loved this post Sarah and going off brand. So important for all of us, no matter if we birthed babies or not. May we always choose life over our brand.

  • kathleen greenwood

    Have been reading you since the “Great Rob Bell’s Going to Hell” controversy of 2010, and it’s posts like these which make me wish I was a more faithful commenter, this is one of the best posts of yours I’ve ever read.

    • Ha! Those were the days, Kathleen. 🙂 Thanks for reading and sticking around. I love my lurkers – my sister is a non-commenter, too.

      • kathleen greenwood

        I don’t think it deserves to be elevated to the level of ‘spiritual practice’ but I’ve decided I have an obligation to de-lurk online. I spend *alot* of time reading blogs, some of which (like yours) have been especially informative in my formation, and I don’t think it’s fair to keep on consuming without showing any gratitude. (Have bought your books too)

  • Ashley

    Thank you for sharing this experience in all of its beautiful, raw, vulnerable beauty–and for entrusting a part of your heart and your story to us in the process. I am so honored, and so thankful for this message.

  • Bethany Parker

    What beautiful words, Sarah! Thank you so much for sharing. As a childless 32 year old, I am just now becoming serious about having children & this gives me hope that my story doesn’t have to be the same “brand” as everyone else’s. I’ve always felt like a rebel, making my own path so very different from everyone around me and while I have loved that, I have also felt very isolated because of it. Your words always give me hope at my most vulnerable times. Thank you for opening your heart & life to make Jesus known & for allowing so many of us to breathe a collective sigh as we identify with you.

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    So so so beautiful and powerful, Sarah. I lost my job a year ago and have had to rethink a lot of things – and it’s painful. And hard. But it can be good. xoxo

  • Powerful words, beautifully crafted, Sarah. Our stories are different of course, but the theme of going ‘off brand’ isn’t. Sometimes we craft those life-brands ourselves, other times adopt them from our culture (the ‘brand’ metaphor is apt in so many ways), and sometimes they’ve been, godly stories that we’ve now needed. Thanks for this insight. Am writing on this theme at the moment.

  • Amanda

    It was the opposite for me, I had the experience you had with my first child and it changed me for the better in the long run once I quit fighting it. Now I am much older trying for another and I think it would be as smooth as your first three times this go round or I hope so 🙂

  • Alicia Buhler

    Yes, thank you. Thank you for reminding us all to live our ever-evolving stories. I needed that reminder today.

  • gwally

    Sarah, thanks for sharing all of this – every bit spoke to me. I weaned Kate at a year for some of the same reasons and felt guilty about it for a long time as I had nursed my boys past the two year mark. I love the reminder that each of our children deserves their own story – and they are going to make it their own anyway, probably 🙂 Love and hugs!

  • Stephanie

    Wow this is hits home. Three kids ages 9, 7, & 5. And surprise baby #4 due in 6 weeks and I’m grappling at how I’m going to do it all. I’m exhausted as it is because yes, pregnancy in my 30’s ..way different than in my 20s. How am I going to do this mom thing now? Reading this was very helpful. Thank you!

  • Linday

    I agree with the others; it’s probably my favorite post you’ve written. Our stories have many similarities. We had a surprise sixth baby in December 2015. When I found out I was pregnant again, I too knew that “I didn’t have it”. My previous births were with a midwife at our home and were so peaceful. But I wasn’t the same person anymore; I had changed, and I was tired! I decided to see my regular family doctor and I slept wonderful my whole pregnancy knowing that I had given myself permission to get an epidural this time around if I wanted, and not have to do the “hardest” or “best way”. My labor was awful. My water broker and nothing happened. I ended up being induced and I got an epidural. After the birth I too felt like I had let my baby down. It was the worst labor and delivery I had ever had. I hated ending on such a bad note when I had beautiful labors before that. But a part of me also didn’t care…because like I said, I had changed. I used to have my brand figured out and home-birthing was part of that. I was about 3 years into a major faith shift when I found out I was pregnant again. My faith shift began when I read Wayne Jacobsen’s book, “He Loves Me”, and progressed from there. As some of my long held beliefs unraveled, so did my brand. Sometimes I really miss having “my brand” figured out, and a place to fit in among others of the same brand. But shedding the brand has been beautiful too, and answered my prayer to experience Psalms 23.

    • I love that book, too! Lifestream Ministries was such a gift to me, too.

  • I don’t comment, but I love your writing, and this spoke right to my heart. I am a type-A, organized to the gill, planner loving, recovering perfectionist.

    This year, my youngest came out as being transgender, and I am losing my brand of being the mother of 1 son and 1 daughter, to become the mother of 2 sons, and it has been a huge adjustment. As I mourn the loss of my daughter, I have had to learn about me, and who I am as a mother, as a parent, and as a person. I love my children, and I fully support my son in his choices and love him, but my heart is broken for the daughter who is gone.. though fundamentally my child is still the same person.

    After 18 years, I am letting go of dreams and hopes, and changing my vision. I am packing up memories and the past, and looking to a new future, and allowing God to shape this new reality. As much as I thought I was in control of it all.. I never really was.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story here, Beth – you are such a good mother, it’s clear from your pronouns to your honesty to your faith. Bless you all!

  • aninchofgray

    Wow! This is so powerful! I’m feeling myself going “off brand” as well, as at 46 years old, I find myself with a surprise baby sleeping on my chest. I don’t know when or how I’ll get back to writing and speaking, but this gives me hope!

  • Yes to all of this.
    I have homeschooled my 6 kids from the beginning. It was who I was. Last fall I let my teenagers go off to an awesome environmental science school. It was okay because I still had four little’s at home.
    But now I am sending all of them off to school in the fall as well, including my little 6 year old, so that I can go back to school. I have wanted to go back since my second, but knew it wasn’t the right time. Plus, my kids NEEDED me.
    Now, I am ready to let others, professionals, take the helm.
    3 of my kids have autism, and I had made myself some sort of martyr. That only I was able to handle their needs, no one else would be good enough.
    But if I don’t do this, I risk my sanity. Autism is hard to do all alone, on everyone involved.
    So this fall my kids will all be in school, and so will I. Several years from now when I graduate with a PhD in neuro science I will hopefully be able to help other families in the choices they make for their autistic little’s too.

    • Eshet chayil, mama! Woman of valour! This is so good to read and you are setting such a good example!

      • It’s funny, because I tried SO HARD to make my calling fit my brand for so long. Whether it was preaching, writing, leading, organizing, administrating and more, as long as it fit my brand than it was okay to pursue.
        I still longed to go back to school and enjoyed friends that did, but just couldn’t let go of the brand.
        It took just being completely overwhelmed with special needs issues (3 of my kids have autism) for me to let go of the brand. Now that I have I can finally start pursuing my hearts desire!

  • Courtney Foster

    I am in this right now. Third baby almost 10 years after the first. Weaning at 11 months (Who does that? Not me, the natural birth and nursing champion), tough birth, and no sleep. All this combined with a cross country move at 9 weeks postpartum. I used to say things like “neither of my kids ever had a drop of formula” and totally judged those that did. I now understand that in this space of discomfort and “re-branding”, the learning happens. Our hearts and minds need to be open to new/different paths and allow ourselves some grace!

  • Erica Simon

    Thank you. While we are not having more babies, our life looks very different than our former brand. I needed to hear this as part of my movement forward. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing this freedom.

  • I love reading about how you make things work as a mother and writer.

    I am expecting baby #4 and there will be an almost-10-year age span between my eldest and youngest. You’re right that pregnancy is different as a 30-something-year-old. 😉

  • Brandi Goff McElheny

    I always thought (when I was 16 and had kissed dating goodbye) that I would marry someone who loved me and stay married all my life —- until I was a 35 year old single mama so thankful for the freedom that the decision to leave brought me. <3

    Oh and about 10000 more of those. I never knew I would be THIS girl — and yet I love her because she is the me Jesus always wanted me to be <3

  • mydoveseye

    loved this Sarah! so close to my heart.
    the story of your tiny maggie nursing for her last time brought tears to my eyes. i remember when that happened with my first. i was pregnant with my second, and she just all the sudden lost interest around 14ish months. i felt like i had taken something from her, but everything had happened so naturally! i was so very hard on myself with the first little, but the second has brought so much joy and appreciation. thank you so much for writing this. i really needed to read this today. it’s not about the brand. it’s about being a living breathing human being. the seed does not need to be told how to grow. it just does. that is the beauty of it all. much love!

  • Susan G

    I’m also a mom of 4, the first 3 in 2 1/2 years (twins!!) and then my wonderful tag-along right before the twins turned 5. it was my boy twin that taught me that you parent each kid differently & shattered all my preconceived notions about how I parent. He slept through the night at 9 years old (once we got him a dog to sleep with him.) He’s now a 31 year old man who will become dad himself this year. He gave me such a gift. it’s freeing to be able to parent as needs dictate. Good luck on this marvelous journey!

    • What a wonderful perspective – thanks for sharing the view from a bit further up the road.

  • erin

    Thank you for sharing this. I always knew my somewhat crunchy, skeptical of traditional medicine healthy lifestyle would be keep me well. And I’m recovering from a surgeon’s knife and radiation while making choices about further treatment because at 36 breast cancer is a part of my story. These words you’ve penned: freeing. Thank you.

    • Praying for you this morning, Erin. Eshet chayil! Woman of valour!

  • jennwhitmer

    Vulnerable and so true.
    We realize sometimes we have so much less control than we think.
    I too had my plans of sharing the room with the baby and nursing for at least a year and maintaining that while working. And the this beautiful boy lost 10% of his body weight, twice. I was starving my child because I had such little supply and I was going to nurse. I cried every time I made a bottle of formula for at least a month. It was hard to give up (especially in a community of exclusive breastfeeders) and I found myself justifying the off-brand choice more than I should. And then this smiling, even chubby, baby appeared. My brand had been shattered, but God had given me life to care for and the blessing and weight of glory was immense. I had no control, but I clung to God who is ever on the throne ever the more.

  • This seems like it could be the next chapter of your mothering book. Thanks for the reminder of grace.

  • Amazing and beautiful.

  • Found myself in tears reading this. It is so so true. I’m not the woman I thought I would be, and I’m sure I’ve chosen my brand instead of life multiple times. Thank you for this beautiful, vulnerable piece.

  • Thankful for the ones a bit further up the road who tell us these truths!

  • Jamie

    Sarah, this so beautiful. I’m not a mother, and never fancied myself to be one, but that is changing and letting that kids-are-great-but-not-for-me part of myself go has been a huge transition for me. Many things have been a huge transition for me lately, and it’s definitely a grieving, even when you know the steps you are taking are for the best. “Changing who we thought we were” is so much about letting go of our own expectations of ourselves, and it’s hard, but yes, freeing. Thanks for the beautiful reminder. (Also, I’m a marketer/communications person myself– I defend my companies’ brands all day long! It’s good work, but even companies need to let go sometimes and rebrand, which is even more exciting work to me. I’ve loved being involved in the intentional who-do-we-want-to-be-for-the-world work that that is at a nonprofit).

  • SAHM1974

    I stopped cold at “I always believed that being gay was sinful: but then one of the most loving and Christ-like people you ever knew just came out and you find yourself changing.” This may be a rhetoric example, but… what? Is this how our moral compasses work? We believe something but then we meet someone who is nice and then that’s the end of that belief? Where did the notion about what is sinful originate from in the first place? If I substitute this for another example, it becomes obvious that that’s not how it works: I used to consider theft wrong, but since one of my sweetest and helpful neighbors has been found to have stolen a ton of money, I now look at it differently. Because before, thieves were faceless criminals. Now that I know one personally and she’s so nice, I have to rework my belief about theft? I am really stumbling over this example. One not only can but must differentiate. God’s word is not rendered null and void because someone who strays from it is a wonderful person.

    • Bill Neilson

      I applaud Sarah’s position on social justice (that’s very Biblical) and I certainly related to the comments on life going a totally different way than we expected. (That’s my story too, and it’s led me to adopt the motto “Never Underestimate God.”) Though, as a guy, all the moving experiences with pregnancy left me feeling a bit like a prairie dog in the wrong burrow.
      But on this point I agree with you. (And am impressed with your varied, interesting past, per other blog comments). Though God clearly teaches us to love everyone (saint or sinner, straight or gay, those we approve of and those we oppose), and though Jesus died for us ALL, if anyone wants to know how God looks on homosexuality, all he or she has to do is open a concordance and a Bible, and look. What they’ll find is very consistent, and very clear – and doesn’t change, even when we wish it would.
      Not that some of our preconceptions aren’t misconceptions. Did homosexuality cause Sodom’s destruction? Is it the “worst” sin? (Many people who travel miles to demonstrate against it seem to think so.) But Biblically? Without downplaying the issue, both answers are “no.” Ezekiel 16:46-50 answers both questions. It says “Sodom’s sins were pride, laziness, and too much food, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She worshiped many idols . . .Therefore I crushed her. ” No, not homosexuality, though I’m sure God wasn’t pleased when Sodom’s gays tried to gang-rape two angels. In God’s sight, those other sins were worse.
      Was Ezekiel alone? No. Three other prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos) promised God’s judgment on Israel and Judah for the same reason as Sodom’s: neglecting their poor and needy. And ALL of the “sins” of which Job’s “friends” believed he was guilty were failures to love or help his neighbors. (That’s why I applaud Sarah for her social justice ministry, and fear conservatives in the US, of which I was one before studying my Bible changed me, are taking us straight down Sodom’s, Judah and Israel’s, and Job’s friends’ paths toward judgment.)
      Pray for us down here that we’ll read our Bibles and learn God’s priorities.

  • Kyanna Joseph

    I never post in blogs but today I sat down in my college cafeteria and bawled my eyes out as I read this. Jesus is restoring something important within me and is using your words to show me grace and hope. I’m a college student (who is so very far away from motherhood/ marriage), but feel like I can relate so much to this post. My “brand” as the “good Christian girl” was tainted this year and I’ve been trying to figure out who I am; what my brand is…. I have hope again. So thank you. I love you.

  • oh so beautiful..how life (and babies) can teach us to let go and change..branding doesn’t work with children, does it..it’s never a neat package when God gives us the gift of mothering a human being formed uniquely in her mother’s womb! Maggie is such a love and a teacher, and you are such a beautiful, full-hearted, talented, mom who God is stretching in so many ways for so many people and you’re doing an amazing job.

  • Shelley Knoll-Miller

    Oh this is just beautiful.Thanks to @motheringspirit:disqus for the facebook link and thanks for your words. -Shelley

  • Lizzie Goldsmith

    This is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing, Sarah.

  • Jessy Burk

    Wait, you get a YEAR of paid maternity leave?
    How do I move to Canada?

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  • Lindsey Paulson

    You’re such a great writer. I enjoyed this post so much.

  • Jill

    Reading between the lines, you have given grace to all of us who are working mothers. The brand that women of faith is supposed to buy is that, once you become a mom, you’re supposed to cheerfully give up paid employment and stay home full time to breastfeed and homeschool and all that kind of stuff. But a woman’s happiness is an essential part of being a great mother. Not all women feel fulfilled being a full time homemaker. And clearly children don’t suffer any if mama is away at work. So thank you for being honest about the fact that you are HAPPY working outside the home. You clearly have a happier baby now that you are happier yourself!

  • Heather

    When I find myself internally screaming “It’s not supposed to be this way. . .” or “I never thought I would. . .” that’s my cue! Time to go off brand. Thank you for giving language to the process and ultimately, acceptance of change. I will be borrowing this phrase often!

  • LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this! Nothing in my adult life has turned out the way I thought it would turn out, but there is still something so wonderful and perfect about it. I’m constantly learning to let go and and this puts everything into words perfectly. The unpredictable nature of having a child really helps with learning this lesson.

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  • Rose

    Just beautiful, Sarah. I am awed by your realization about giving up the old “story brand” and embracing the change…Isn’t it funny how we think life should be and then things turn out just exactly the opposite? Glad you realized you need to keep writing, and you do! Wow…

  • Michelle

    I wonder if, for most of us as new beginning moms, we tend to defer to our idealisms more as we don’t really know or trust ourselves that well, and particularly don’t know ourselves as a mom. Then life starts to chip away at our idealisms (teaching us that our ideals are not always ideal in every situation) and who we really are begins to emerge more and more, so we begin to give to and love ourselves and our children more then our idealisms. Our ‘truer’ self babies may look like having a less ideal childhood, but in fact I would wager their reality is more real and thus more evolved. This sounds like what you are saying, just different words.

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  • gwally

    I had a similar experience with Kate, who is my #3. Weaned her at 13 months when it just wasn’t working. And just look how she turned out 🙂 Love and hugs, Gail Wallace

  • Carol Coe Pugh

    Sarah – Kudos to you for giving yourself permission to make the right choices for you, for your whole family, and for Maggie! Not an easy decision or process; letting go of what worked for the previous child or the previous age or the previous Sarah is hard. What a good reminder that as we parent our children, things change and we have to choose differently depending on the circumstances. Thank you for this beautiful writing and vulnerable honesty.

  • Patricia Besseling Holgate

    What a courageous and truthful experience of change and growth. Thank you for posting about it. We all like a formula (pun intended!) to make our lives easier, but God wants us to be in communication with Him each day instead. This is what makes life both adventurous and scary! To live by grace, rather than relying on our own habits, is what God desires for us.

  • Laaur

    I am not even a mother (yet), and I cried reading this. Sarah, your writing is just incredible. And I know you write and speak and preach because you want to and because doing so is a gift to yourself, but just so you know : it is also a gift to so many others. You came to my town and preached when you were pregnant with Maggie, and you and I spoke briefly in a café afterwards and I still think about that little conversation and how it made me feel safe & alive. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with the world.

  • Sonja Bachl-Weber

    This touches me in such a deep place that I cannot read this without tears. Thank you for sharing this part of your life!

  • Yes. This.

    I keep trying to find what else to say, but I don’t have anything–just a resonance in my soul with all you’ve written here.

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  • Jenn Minerva

    Thank you so much for this. Even just reading the sentence you quoted in your tweet gave me this instant feeling of relief, and as I read, it grew and grew.

    I grew up fundamentalist in the Deep South. I always believed that I would and should marry young and have lots of children. If I had to work, I certainly shouldn’t/wouldn’t be a career woman. My family would be my life. Fast forward to age 32 and I found that I was not married and have no children and had reached a point where I realized I needed a career, because a husband might never come along, and I needed to set my own self up for life. So I set out for Seattle and a career as a web developer, and even two years later it all feels a bit off, and in a dark quiet corner of my soul I feel like I failed at the life I was supposed to have and am now relegated to the life of a single career woman. It has been gut-wrenching. I never wanted this life. I wanted something different, something better, something holy and fulfilling.

    But, now… I don’t know. Reading about your journey with Maggie and how she was never supposed to have the same story as your other babies, how that’s not what was best for her or for you, makes me think maybe I didn’t fail at life. Maybe I was just trying to live a life that wasn’t mine at all. And, oh! the tears of relief at that thought!