In which working full-time isn’t so bad after all.

Ellie was 8 weeks old when I went back to work full-time, and my emotional response to that has been rather inconsistent.

When I was pregnant, I looked forward to maternity leave, but I also looked forward to going back to work (and going back to school). And then she arrived. Ellie shook my world and my expectations. She opened up my heart to love I didn’t know was inside of me. Her presence – my motherhood – gave me cause to question everything I once dreamed of and planned for. I no longer wanted to go back to work; I didn’t want to miss a moment of this little one’s life. I cried and mourned. Greg and I even tried to find a way for this breadwinning mamma to quit or cut back on work. But eventually I had to return.

That first day back was hard. And the second day back was hard, but not quite as bad as the first. But by the third and fourth and fifth days, I began to remember a few things about my passions and my identity: One, I do actually love being a nurse. Two, there are people in the world who love Ellie as much as I do. And three, motherhood is not my identity.

My identity is bound in something that transcends my profession and my marital status and the number of kids I have. And yet my identity, in some way, is formed by all of those things. But it is done so equally. I am equal parts wife, friend, mother, nurse. I am called to be equally kind and compassionate and loving and servant-hearted in all things I am and do.

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I still mourn the loss of unending time with my daughter. She is growing so quickly, and there’s a chance I will miss her first words or her first step. But when she gets old enough to recognize my absence, I don’t want her to mourn like I sometimes still do. I want her to see me as a hard-working momma who takes pride in her work. I want her to see me loving my job. I want her to know that its okay and good and possible to be a full-time mom and also have a full-time job. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I want her to know about my patients and their stories, to know about life and death and the beautiful mess in between. When I miss an occasional soccer game or choir concert, I want her to know it was because I was holding the hand of someone as they took their last breath.

I want her to know that women are hard workers and fierce lovers and world changers.

And I hope and pray that someday she’ll see the trails that working mothers are blazing and know that the world truly is at her fingertips, wide open and waiting for whatever it is she has to offer.


The birth of Elizabeth Anne

I had fully expected to go past my due date (February 4th) with Ellie. I knew that first time moms usually do, so I prepared for the worst : 42 weeks pregnant and still working full-time. But Ellie had different plans. Her story begins a few days before her arrival:

On Saturday, January 17, my family threw me a baby shower. I woke up that morning not feeling well, but couldn’t skip my own baby shower, so I sucked it up and went. Afterwards, my cousin and mom came over to help me set up Ellie’s room (read: “Set up Ellie’s room for me”). Up until this point Ellie’s room was a storage room with a crib and dresser in it, and most of the gifts we had received were still in their gift bags.

On Sunday, the cough began. The cough led to congestion and a sore throat, and then all three continued to get worse. By Sunday night I was miserable. I broke down. I was tired. So I called in sick to work for Monday thinking I could just sleep it off. But my cough and sore throat kept me up all night Sunday, so I went in to the doctor on Monday. All the tests came back negative, so I was sent home with medication that ended up not working. I was just desperate. I ended up doping myself up with a muscle relaxer, pain meds, and Sudafed, and finally fell asleep around 10pm on Monday.

At 2am on Tuesday I got up to pee, walked back to bed, and then it happened.

My water broke. Out of nowhere, it just broke. Not enough to soak the floor or anything, but enough to know that it wasnt just me peeing my pants. And you know what my first response was?

You’ve got to be effing kidding me.”

I had big and wonderful plans to have an all natural birth in the comfort of a birthing center, and I immediately starting doubting whether or not I could do it while sick and exhausted.

Greg woke up to me trying to fumble through the drawer for new undies. I told him my water had broken, then I went back in the bathroom to call the midwife. She told me that it was going to be a long day and that I needed to go back to bed and get as much sleep as possible. So, Greg and I packed a bag (’cause ya know, we still hadn’t packed a bag even though I was 38 weeks pregnant), and I went back to sleep for a few hours while Greg e-mailed his professors and boss (it was supposed to be his first day of class).

Come 9am, I still didn’t have any contractions, so I called the midwife to update her. She encouraged me to go for a lot of walks and to consider taking castor oil at about 11am if I still didn’t have any contractions. Eleven o’ clock came and went, and so I downed some castor oil. (That’s some nasty, nasty stuff, by the way). But still nothing. At 2:00pm I went in to the birthing center so that the midwife could verify that my water had actually broken (since we were now at 12 hours without a single contraction). Sure enough it had, so she sent me back home with some herbal pills to take every 2 hours, and I was to come back at 8pm for some IV antibiotics since my water had been broken for so long.

So, we went back home. I was afraid to go for walks around the neighborhood since I had taken the castor oil, so I settled on cleaning the house instead. And I think it was somewhere around 5pm when I got my first contraction. It just felt kind of like a cramp, and I thought it was probably just the castor oil. But eventually I started timing them. They were short, but regular. 15 hours after my water broke, I finally had contractions!

At 8pm I went in to the birthing center and got my first dose of antibiotics. Contractions still weren’t very painful or long. I was only 2cm, but 90% effaced. Since it was approaching nighttime, the midwife let us just stay at the birthing center. At this point I was aware that the birthing center’s policy is that they only allow your water to be broken for 24 hours before they have to transfer you to the hospital to speed things along (unless you’re very, very close to giving birth). So by the time we settled in to the birthing center, I knew I only had 6 hours to dilate another 8cm and push a baby out. img_8920

Which basically meant I could be expecting to end up in the hospital. First time moms rarely progress that quickly.

But I did all I could do until 2am. I walked laps and laps around the birthing center, went up and down the stairs, took a shower, rocked back and forth. Eventually I ended up on hands and knees on the bed, leaning over a pile of pillows, so that I could sleep in between contractions. I was so exhausted already and still sick.

img_8933At 2am the midwife checked me again. I was only 3cm. So she gave me one more dose of antibiotics and we packed up and went to the hospital.

Even though I had already expected to end up here, I was still pissed. I was angry that they bossed me around when I got there (“Everything off, put on this gown, lay in this bed, no eating or drinking, only one person back here at a time…”), so I broke the rules and ate trail mix and left on my pants and bra, and invited my whole family back with me.

Everything was pretty slow at first. We didn’t get to the hospital until about 3:30am on Wednesday and didn’t get in to a real room until about 5am. My contractions had slowed down a lot during the transition. It wasn’t until 6am that they started Pitocin. And then we waited.

Now, we were lucky for a few reasons: One, one of the midwives at the birthing center has privileges at the hospital and was able to assume my care. Two, the hospital is very natural-birth friendly. My nurse especially was absolutely incredible and so, so patient with me.

Eventually the Pitocin started kicking in and I was in the full swing of things. The bed was uncomfortable, so I spent most of my labor standing up and leaning over the bed. This went on for several hours. I got in and out of the shower a few times, but the policy was that I had to be at least 7cm before I could get in the tub. At 11am, the nurse checked me and I was at 5cm and becoming very, very uncomfortable. At 1pm, I asked to be checked again, and I was finally at 7cm! So the nurse and midwife began setting up the tub for me. The only problem with the tub is that they needed to turn off the Pitocin in order for me to get in the tub, and this would most likely slow my labor down. But my midwife agreed to let me try. And sure enough, I got in the water and my contractions went from every 2-3 minutes to every 10 minutes. But I was SO tired, so they let me stay in for about 45 minutes so that I could take a nap.img_8951

By this time it was 2pm (36 hours since my water had broken!) and I was still only at 7cm. There was a lot of pressure from the supervising physician to speed things along or risk getting a c-section, so when I got out of the tub they hooked me back up to the Pitocin and inserted an internal monitor to monitor Ellie’s heart rate (it was difficult to get accurate readings otherwise with me moving around so much).

They upped the Pitocin and upped it some more and then upped it some more. They were serious about getting this baby out. I was still laboring standing up, leaning over Greg, while our doula kept a heat pack to my back. There were a few times when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I was so tired, and discouraged by the thought of possibly having 2 or 3 more hours of pushing to do even after I reached 10cm. But every now and then I would have a pep talk with myself and go back to taking it just one contraction at a time. I think Greg broke down a time or two seeing me in so much pain, but he was incredible at supporting me and encouraging me.

img_8958There were a few times that either the midwife or the doula made me get in the bed and lay on my side to help with dilation and positioning of the baby. These were by far the worst parts of labor, but they worked. At about 5:30pm, the midwife made me get in bed so that she could check my progress. I was 9cm with only a tiny bit left to go in order to be fully dilated. With a few (very painful) maneuvers, she was able to help me fully dilate and told me I could start pushing whenever I wanted and in whatever position I wanted. All I asked for was to be able to get out of the bed!

I got out of the bed and into a squatting position on the floor. The first few pushes were not that great, but Ellie was coming down quickly, and it hurt. I got a little panicked for a few minutes and all I could think about was my vagina ripping open. So I stood up and took a short break from pushing while I regained my composure. Then I got back on the floor on hands and knees and kept pushing. When they talk about a “ring of fire”, they really do mean it like it sounds. Its awful. Its scary. I was yelling “fuck” the entire time (which I’m sure sounded hilarious, considering my sickness had left me without much of a voice). But at one point I was able to reach down and feel Ellie’s head and it gave the motivation to keep going! The midwife was on the floor with me (and using her phone flashlight to look at things!) coaching me through each push. At some point I think I asked for a Chik-fil-a sandwich and chocolate shake when I was done, so that was pretty good motivation too!

And then at 5:51pm on Wednesday, Ellie made her arrival into this world (40 hours after my water broke)! I reached between my legs and pulled her to my chest and it was absolutely perfect. She was so small and beautiful and slimy and in an instant I knew I would have done it all over again just for that moment.Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 1.15.41 PM

img_8972My labor and birth experience is the single most empowering thing I have ever done. It affected me and my identity in ways that I didn’t expect and that I’m still processing even 3 months later. I haven’t forgotten the pain or exhaustion, but the reward was so sweet and good. And I couldn’t have done it without such a loving, supporting husband, and a midwife and doula who trusted me and my body and a woman’s ability to give birth.

But even though I’d do it all over again, I sure am hoping that baby #2 won’t take so long 🙂


Month 2: Middle of the night thoughts

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Its 4am now. The only light here coming from a computer screen, her breaths the only sound. My little one is 2 months old today, and I hardly have words. Or at least words capable of safely bringing to the surface such deep, tender emotions.

I still haven’t fully processed her birth – all 40 hours of it. Or the way she came in to this world – me, exhausted and sick, on all fours on the floor, yelling “fuck” at the top of my tired, tired lungs. Or the deep relief I felt when I reached in between my legs and pulled my daughter to my chest. The love they all warned me about actually happens. Its instant and fierce. And just as amazing is how my body – one thing I find so, so difficult to love – brought in to this world the very thing I love most. These angry, red marks on my stomach tell a beautiful story, and my ever-widening hips give testament to Life brought forth in the midst of darkness.

And so today my beautiful Elizabeth Anne is 2 months old. Every part of her is perfect and beautiful. She just started smiling, and it melts my heart every time. She loves being held, nursing, and reading bedtime stories with her amazing dad. She has made me a better person – more patient, kind, selfless. She has brought hope and life into my family during a time of darkness.

I’ve been told to savour every moment of these early days – the days when she’ll still nap on my chest and curl up safely in the bend of my arm. So I will welcome these mornings for as long they’ll come – coffee in hand, Ellie nursing sweetly on my breast, the hope of dawn drawing near.

The first year: When clichés aren’t very helpful

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Today Greg and I are celebrating our one year anniversary. The past year has been wonderful, full to the brim with laughter and fun and travels and stories. It has also had its fair share of struggles and misunderstandings that have challenged some of our most deeply held beliefs and personality traits.Before I got married, I heard a lot of conflicting predictions for what our first year would be like. Most of them were cliche — “The first year is the hardest!” or “Enjoy the honeymoon phase!” were the two most common. But what I’ve discovered is that none of them were helpful in encouraging us or giving us hope.

For us, our first year neither felt difficult nor blissful. It just felt, well, normal. And good. And worth it.

I know some people whose first year truly was difficult. It was filled with dark, haunting things. Hope was dim and it was a gift to just survive. It is the tendency of many to look at these people and say, “Yeah, we warned you it would be hard!”.

And I also know some people whose first year was incredibly joyous. They are greatly compatible and that has made for months full of lots of sex and laughter and date nights, I’m sure. And it is the tendency of many to look at these people and say, “Oh, just wait. The honeymoon will be over shortly.”

But I would like to propose a more helpful outlook on marriage, especially on the first year. What if we stopped using these cliches as warnings and instead used them as an invitation to grace and acceptance?

Just about anyone would admit that every relationship is different, but why don’t we actually live as though that is true? Greg and I have unique personalities and pasts and struggles. We each brought in to this marriage a unique set of experiences that no one else has. The theme of our marriage might looks oddly familiar to that of someone else’s, but our story is different. As it should be.

What I wish we would have been told more of is this: That our first year might be hard, but it also might be really, really good. It might be full of adventure, but it also might be really, really boring. It might make you want more, or it might wonder what the hell you got yourself in to. But for whatever experience you have, there is only grace. No labels or warnings, only grace.

Defining our experiences as either “normal” or “abnormal” only serves to further the lie that marriage is full of should-have’s and ought-to’s. But I’ve found that the most encouraging thing to hear, regardless of circumstance, is a simple “me too” — a reminder that we’re not alone.

(This is one of the many reasons Greg and I enjoyed going to counseling throughout first year. Our counselor had such a gentle way of reminding us that our issues weren’t that big of deal. He gave us permission to just live.)

Greg and I have thoroughly enjoyed being married to each other. The past year has been great, despite some occasional turbulence. And I’m glad that we’re here to welcome in and encourage all of the others who have had it (mostly) easy.

And for those who have had a really difficult first year, there are others out there that can share in your experience and offer you a hug and some hope. You’re not alone, either.

Both experiences are equally as good and equally as needed.

And I think its time that those of us who have been married for more than 2 seconds start living a better story, one that welcomes every experience and every person into this beautiful thing called marriage.

Here’s to many more glorious years.

In which adoption is on my mind

I just finished watching a documentary called “Stuck”. It follows 4 children from 3 different countries throughout their process of being adopted by families in the United States.

And I sobbed. I wept. I got mascara on the sheets. 
The conditions at most international orphanages are sickening. 40 children crammed in to a room the size of my bedroom, sleeping in cribs with no mattress, fed two bottles a day, malnourished, deprived of affection. And I get it — orphanages have their temporary place. But orphanages are not a solution. They do not provide hugs or kisses or bedtime snuggles or enough meals in a day to keep a child well-nourished. 
My heart is broken. 
*      *      * 
I go through phases with this. For as long as I’ve been able to imagine myself as a mother, I’ve always known I would adopt. For years I’ve done research on agencies, laws, costs, requirements, etc. I’ve read adoption blogs and watched adoption documentaries and have gone to adoption seminars. I’ve been all in for a long time, but every few months something grips my heart again and pinches it awake to the reality of what this might mean for me and Greg some day. 
Some day
*      *      * 
Greg and I are no where near close to bringing home a child. We have at least 2 months until we move, another 2 months until Greg starts school, another few months of getting settled in to a routine, and then MAYBE getting in touch with an agency. This truth is sometimes a relief, but it is sometimes also very, very sad. It is sad that so many children are waiting for homes while we are stuck waiting to meet requirements. 
Because for me, adopting isn’t plan “B” after failed fertility treatments. 
Adopting is the plan. 
It is not a plan of convenience. 
It is the plan. Regardless of convenience. 
And I know that adoption is hard and messy and heartbreaking and can take years to finalize, but this isn’t about me. This isn’t about my desire to be a mother (because let’s be real, there is far more to me than my motherhood). This is about family. And about offering that to people who have no understanding of love. 
And I get that not every story turns out well. That some children cannot reciprocate. They run away. They fight. They hurt. They leave. And I cannot stop them. 
But some day if my children begin to miss home, I want them to know that they will always have one to go back to. I want them to know that they will always have a family. 

God’s aunt

Its been a while since I’ve been around here, I know. I have filled countless Word documents full of words and stories, but I haven’t yet found just the right words. Maybe soon, maybe soon. Until then, I’m thankful for others, like Nadia Bolz-Weber, who have walked this journey before me. And I’m thankful for God’s aunt. 

“I had never stopped believing in God, not really. But I did have to go hang out with his aunt for a while, the goddess. When I tell other Christians of my time with the goddess, I think they expect me to characterize it as a time when I was misguided and I have come back to Jesus and my senses. But it’s not like that. I can’t imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can’t imagine that God doesn’t reveal God’s self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity.” — Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Pastrix”



In which the honeymoon is just beginning

Day 5 of our honeymoon -- Bainbridge Island, Washington

Day 5 of our honeymoon — Bainbridge Island, Washington

We were warned, weren’t we? We were warned that marriage would be hard, dirty work. Oh yes, it’d be worth it, but it would leave us with a slight limp.

Indeed, we were warned.

We were warned of the terrible disease of self and of the naivety of passion. We were warned of the euphoric newness of it all – the “honeymoon phase”, as some like to say.

I lost track of how many times people would say – mostly light-heartedly – “Relationships at this point are all so physical, but you’re still in the honeymoon phase!” or “When the honeymoon phase ends, then reality will kick in!”.

And so at some point, I started believing the lie that “real” and “difficult” were synonymous. That marriage wasn’t “real” unless it felt like work. That somehow the “honeymoon phase” was less than.

Our literal honeymoon (and our first month of marriage) brought just as many challenges as it did joys as we learned how to get along, how to share a bed, and share a budget, and be naked and vulnerable. There was no emotional orgasm associated with being newly married, really. Just a lot of fights over who was stealing the covers at night.

And as we’re wrapping up month 3 of this life-long journey, I can’t help but wish we hadn’t been warned so much. Or maybe, I wish we would have been warned about different things. Like the pain of selfishness . Or the poisonous act of comparison. Or how it takes for freaking ever to learn how to sleep in the same bed with someone.

If there truly is a time and a season for everything, then this so-called “honeymoon phase” better be included in that. And I hope that people (myself included) start realizing that it is no less real or valuable or shaping than any other season in a marriage. It isn’t something to be rushed through. It isn’t something to be cynical of.

It is something to savor and give thanks for.

I think that for Greg and I, the honeymoon phase is just beginning. And I’d kind of like to hang out here for as long as we can.  

A Short Testament

by Anne Porter

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded 
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.

The Two Shall Become One (or, why I let Greg clean the house)

I picked up a curious trait of my mother’s – and I suppose a trait of most mothers: deep cleaning the house before every out of town trip. Carpet vacuumed? Check. Couch vacuumed? Check. House tidied? Check. Counters wiped? Floors mopped? Check and check.

I’ve come to greatly appreciate returning to a squeaky clean and febreeze-saturated home. And since Greg and I have traveled most weekends this summer, the house is feeling unusually fresh.

* * *

This weekend I get to celebrate with my dear friend as she marries a wonderful man. I leave this afternoon to start the wedding festivities, and Greg won’t be joining me until Saturday.

I had set aside most of this morning to clean, of course, even though I knew that there was no guaruntee that it would remain that way before I returned. But my wonderful husband sent me a message yesterday asking for a list of things to clean before I came back. He wanted to take that burden off of me so that I could spend today doing something that satisfies my soul and brings me delight.

Such a small act, really, and yet I have been deeply moved by it.

* * *

Today, instead of pulling out the 409, I pulled out my dusty guitar. And instead of exhausting myself with petty habits, I’ve been able to finally spend some time writing and reading and meditating of the stuff of life.

I have been able to uncover the deepest parts of my heart, and I have been able to be more fully alive.

I read a blog recently that listed 35 quotes for introverts (and I found myself shouting “AMEN!” after each one). One of the quotes was from John Mulaney. (I had no idea who he was, so I consulted Wikipedia. Apparently, he’s a writer for SNL.) He said:

“In terms of like, instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And this is why I was so thankful that Greg canceled my plans and encouraged me to take care of myself.

* * *

I took care of a gentlemen a few months ago who, the day before, had celebrated his 67th wedding anniversary. Him and his wife met in Germany decades ago. He was 18, she was 16. They met once in a bar before he was sent back to the states, and after two years of no communcation, he got on a Germany-bound boat to go find her and marry her. And I was blessed to see them here, 67 years later, still crazy in love.

At the time, my own wedding day was fast approaching, and so I asked him, “What’s the secret to staying married for so long?”

I ask many of my patients this, and I get all sorts of answers. One guy told me to always tell my husband that he’s lucky to have me (which I do!). Many have said “don’t go to bed mad” or “never stop forgiving” or “be kind to each other”. And while all of those are good and helpful, this gentleman gave me an answer that I will never forget.

He told me to caution myself against the tendency to focus on “becoming one flesh”. With his shaky, deep voice, he preached a powerful sermon:

“You are not one. You become one. You become more united and like-minded. It happens over time, as you live and move and have kids and then retire. But at first, things will feel the same. Of course, there’s a mystery, its the mystery of Christ, and its good, but the most important thing you can do is to remember that you’re still individuals. You’re now part of the same family, but you’re different, and you need to love his differences and he needs to love yours. You may become one, but you’re not the same.”

* * *

Today, I get it. I get what he meant. And I trust even more that he knows what he’s talking about. I get what it means to be one flesh, to take care of the other as you would take care of yourself. To find joy by allowing the other to find joy. To allow yourself to flourish by allowing the other to flourish. To take on the other’s burden so that they find the strength to carry yours someday.

And so I sent Greg that list of things to clean, put on my high heels and lipstick, grabbed a book and a cup of coffee

and I feel free and more one with Greg than I ever have before.

The Art of Dying: Part 2

I wasn’t there when it happened, but I felt it from the floor below. A strange absence of a soul long-suffering. I even said to myself: “You know, you should go up to see him soon.” But call bells rang and alarms went off and I was needed elsewhere for now.

It was no surprise, then, to find an empty room. The stone was gone. There was no body to be found. And while some lady in scrubs spatted off the details, all I heard was “Ah, yes, he is risen. He is risen indeed.” And with weeping eyes, I saw him clearly, rising into more life and apple crumb cakes and gospel hymns than he’s ever known before. And he was fearless.

And strong.

And  beautiful.

And loved.

And now, he is missed.