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motherhood musings

It's Ivory's birthday today, and so here are some reflections from childbirth and motherhood in general.

A while ago I returned from a place I hadn't been to for a long time, and it brought me face-to-face with change and the passage of time. There is the “who I used to be” – the one who wrote a college entrance essay on “why I do both”, lived freely and chaotically, the one who never said ‘no’, the one who never slept. She’s the one who believed that people were good, and that she was good. She’s the one who found her identity in who she knew, the photos she was in, her family and who knew them, and her lists of favorite things. She’s the one who married on faith at age 21 and moved on faith more than 2000 miles across an international border and never saw it coming that a good God would ever lead her into anything hard.

She’s the one who naively gave birth to her first child in a foreign hospital with no background information, and who struggled to breathe along with that baby from that point forward… suffocated by the weight of the actual reality of the world, weighed down by worry, and fearful of the future. She sat in a coffee shop and stared at the sign that said “Jacona” with an arrow, and asked God a lot of questions. Her body and spirit both began to heal with time, but neither would ever be the same.

The baby did learn to breathe, and grew up with gifts specifically given to her by God, so that she could survive and thrive where He had placed her. Today she turns 11 years old, and through her whole childhood she has been noticeably adaptable and flexible, able to sleep anywhere, quick to notice and catch on to things, and always viewing things through a God-given lens.

The next childbirth nearly ruptured me apart, but he arrived surviving and thriving, much more than the first had. Covered by medical care, the surgery that brought him into the world was worlds different than the first, both geographically and methodically. He came out crying and 9 years later, that’s something that he still does kind of a lot. I must learn to see it as an answer to prayer though; I prayed and prayed that he’d come out crying.

The next childbirth interrupted a stage of life that I actually don’t remember much about. All I remember is that when my water broke at 31 weeks, along with the fear for his little life there was also a sense of relief that I could lay in a hospital bed for a while. I was exhausted and desperately needed to catch up in life. My body sank into the much-needed rest and two weeks of hospital bed rest flew by until it was determined he was safer outside than in. They put me under general anesthesia, took me back for a c-section, and he didn’t come out crying. In fact, if you read his birth report and APGAR scores and only look at the stark black words on a piece of paper, it’s a pretty scary report. But again, we were covered in medical care this time, taken care of and provided for, and after 18 long NICU days he did come home. Attached to a monitor that promised to notify if his little lungs ever stopped their rhythm, we spent the remaining gestational weeks until his actual due date still helping him to grow and develop outside in a world that wasn’t as protective and snug as the womb. He grew stable, but still slow… it was such a long time before he learned to smile, or to interact at all. Today, he is 6 and has the biggest and most contagious smile.

The last childbirth was scheduled, and that’s when she was born. She was perfectly healthy, and came home on the right day with no feeding tubes and no special instructions. Today she is 4, and we actually need to start giving her more special instructions because we have apparently become somewhat lackadaisical in our parenting with the youngest child.

Maybe I write through my identity in childbirths because that’s kind of how it is in motherhood. We mark time by announcements and due dates and those first hospital pictures. And maybe that’s why now that God seems to have finished our family, I’m stumbling blindly on this motherhood path, with my time-markers absent and my goals elusive. Raising children to adulthood and to Jesus is a vague path that can only be forged through faith, but my faith has been tested and found wanting over time. Ironically I’d rather my children had a scheduled surgery that would lead them to the Lord, instead of an unknown series of events in their lives that almost certainly involve pain… the inevitable risk of hardship they will experience should drive me to my knees. Instead, I think sometimes it just drives me to tighten my grip on whatever is around me to grasp onto, and refuse to let go. I’m drowning in my own desires and plan again and fighting for control and answers, the same way I was as a first-time mother still learning how to breathe along with her newborn baby.

I remember I pumped milk for her because she couldn’t nurse, and not knowing anything about milk production and not having any lactation consultants available, I pumped and pumped and pumped. So much milk that it couldn’t all be preserved; couldn’t all fit in the tiny Mexico-private-hospital refrigerator. It caused my body pain but I pumped and pumped and gave and gave and then ended up dumping a lot of it out anyway. The inherent truth about so much of what we do in this life is that it is wasted. Or at least, we feel like it is wasted. But I wonder if actually my scale needs re-calibrated, and I need to re-learn to see these things as ways that God is growing me… that nothing is wasted in His perfect economy.

Overall, it has worked fine to define myself by my motherhood, up until now. Now, when I am four years postpartum with baby number four, and advised against having more children by reason of the four c-sections, and I look around and begin to accidentally believe that the most faithful women are the ones who have the most children. I begin to assume that God made that first c-section in Mexico happen in the first place in order to limit me to four children because He knew I wouldn’t be holy enough to handle more. And it’s the same lie that’s always been there from the garden, that God’s limits are there to destroy me, and I’m ashamed to write it down right now but I have believed it sometimes. But anyway, it's not working well to define myself by my motherhood.

But it does work well to define myself by my daughterhood - by my position as a daughter of the King. For everything He has led me out of in the last several years, He has gently lead me into something else. He has shaped my days with clarity and love, and He has shown me what it looks like to faithfully use the time and resources He has given for His glory. There are still question marks in my days -- a lot. There are seasons where I'm still feeling suffocated and trapped. But so much of it is about seeing things differently, not things actually being different. Once my role as a daughter is well-established, it's my daughterhood that becomes the basis for my motherhood and not the other way around. You cannot become a mother without being a daughter first, and that applies spiritually too. Christ has made me His first, in order that He might work through me, and He is the one on top. If I can accept my position as His, all the other things fall into place better. It was never my job to make my babies breathe, and it never will be. They are the Lord's first, and so am I - and His will is that we would live submitted and securely in that knowledge.

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