Thursday, July 19, 2012

MotheringMyth #1: {Unremitting Motherly Love}

It's been a few years since I've had an infant.  I'd forgotten exactly what it is like to handle the weeks (months!) of up-and-down emotions.  A late night Google session on postpartum mood swings, born from a desperation to know I'm not the only one to suddenly find myself possessed of a screaming alter-ego, turned up this link.  I found it incredibly encouraging, especially the first section, which lists 6 'myths', or expectations, our culture has about mothers.  The article states that, "For many women, after the baby is born these expectations are met with feelings of depression or anxiety that can lead to extreme feelings of guilt or shame."  I decided to address the 6 myths here on my blog, starting with:  

MotheringMyth#1:  {Unremitting Motherly Love}
"... the myth of unremitting motherly love for the new child"
 When the midwife put Sophie on my chest, and I first beheld her face, I did not feel the sense of euphoria everybody told me about.  I felt numb.  It was like there was a disconnect between my brain and my heart, and all I could do was stare at this little, red, wrinkled stranger.

Over the next few days, I found myself continuously repressing a growing burden of guilt.  I covered up the fact that I wasn't feeling the over-the-moon, head-over-heels-in-love, joy that everybody seemed to expect from me, by smiling and acting like I had this mothering thing down.  I could change a diaper.  I could nurse.  I could swaddle the baby like a champ.  Yet every time a nurse would wheel my baby in, there was a little, 'who are you?' question mark written over my heart.

The fact that I wasn't feeling anything close to warm, motherly affection, fed a deep feeling of inadequacy inside my heart.  The feeling of inadequacy led to shame and guilt.  What sort of a mother was I?  My daughter would be scarred for life.  She would grow up without feeling a mother's love.  I didn't deserve her.  Someone else would make a better mother than I.  And on the thoughts rolled.

Looking back, I can see how these feelings, brought on by unhealthy pressure and expectations, helped to feed a bout of postpartum depression that plagued my soul long after my body had healed from the birth.  For the first two months after I took Sophie home, I would look at her with surreal wonder and think, "When are the doctors and nurses going to realize that I have some body's baby, and come and take her away to her real family?"

I remember the exact moment when it 'clicked' for me.  I was changing Sophie's diaper for probably the fifth time that day, and she was studying me with the avid interest that is unique to her.  Suddenly, she smiled, looked straight in my eyes, and said, "Ma ma!"

It was as if the flood gates of my heart had been suddenly flung wide open with a great, rusty creak.  A torrent of love, deep, overwhelming, and beautiful, rushed into my heart.  I couldn't breathe for a moment from the joy of it.  I grabbed Sophie up in my arms and told her, "Oh, I love you, you little thing, you!" and kissed her all over her face, and squeezed her soft body tightly to me.

My little Sophie, whose name means, 'wisdom', taught me how to love as a mother.  She amazed me then and continues to amaze me now with her grace, her insight, her ability to empathize, and the way she always has the exact right words to speak to a hurting heart.  That is her gift.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Poop {Or, Why We Don't Go To Restaurants With the Kids}

Scott took the week off, so we've been enjoying a mid-summer 'stay-ca'.  On Thursday, after the fireworks had stopped reverberating in our ears, we headed out for a little day trip to Carlsbad Caverns.  Despite some concerns that our five and three year olds would be able to hack it, we had a great time exploring the caves.  Plus, it was cool down there.

After four hours of walking, we were all definitely ready for a sit down and a dinner.  I had been carrying Manasseh the entire time, all 13 lbs of him, in my Moby wrap.  I was tired of holding him.  My chest was slick with our combined sweat, his drool, and spit-up.  So I was looking forward to him (hopefully!) sleeping in his carrier in the restaurant ... but no such luck.  The minute we sat down, he started to fuss, and nothing would do but I pick him up.  So I leaned over, unhooked his harness, and scooped him up in my arms.

That was when I felt something slick and drippy on my forearm.  Uh oh.  I knew without looking that we had a blowout.  Off through the packed restaurant I went, thanking my lucky stars we weren't at 'home', and nobody would know who I was, with my poop covered baby held slightly away from me, sweaty, and exuding an overall feeling of droopiness.

The bathroom was empty.  Luckily.  Because when I opened that sucker up, I discovered the biggest poop I have ever witnessed on an infant.  This is including Sophie, who used to get it half way up her back at nap time.  It looked like he had been dipped in bright orange pudding from the knees to the waist.  The first dozen wipes didn't even make a dent, and I seriously considered tossing my (favorite) $20 cloth diaper due to the sheer volume of the stuff.  When I had finally gotten him and myself clean, Manasseh was screaming his head off.  And you know how those bathrooms can echo.  It was a cacophony.

He quieted down into an injured silence ("How COULD you put me through that, Mommy?") and we made our way back through the crowd to our table.

The first thing I saw when I sat down were huge, silent tears rolling down Xander's cheek.  "What's wrong with him?  What happened?"  I asked Scott.

"He ate a 'spicy french fry'," Scott explained, gesturing to the plate of Texas Cheese Fries sitting innocuously in the middle of our table.

I looked back at Xander, who had stuffed half of a napkin into his mouth, and helpfully suggested, "Son, eat some ranch.  It'll make it feel better."

"Mommmmmmmy, I can't figure out what to draw here."  This from Sophie, sitting to my right.  I glanced down.  She had a house and a sky and a sun on her child's menu, and was gesturing to a space beside the house.

"Umm, draw a tree."

"Don't you think I already mentioned ranch?  And water.  But he won't put anything in his mouth.  Only a napkin."  Xander now had the entire napkin in his mouth.  Scott looked frustrated.

"But Mooooom, I don't have a brown crayon.  I can't draw a tree without a brown crayon.  I only have red."

"Then draw an apple tree, Sophie.  Xander, get that napkin out of your mouth."  Scott and I exchanged trapped looks across the table.  Then Manasseh chimed in, beginning to root at my neck and squirm.  I knew what that meant.  He was hungry.

Just then the waitress arrived with our entrees.  In vain I tried to bounce the baby as I ate, but he just wasn't having it.  He let loose a warning squawk that reverberated over the noise of the packed restaurant, and I knew from experience that if I didn't feed him soon, he would be screaming.  Loudly.

Giving up, I switched places with Sophie so that I would be beside the wall, threw my Moby wrap over my shoulder, and gave Manasseh what he needed.  There I was, sweaty, tired, juggling older kids, nursing a baby, and attempting to eat with my left hand.  I used to wonder why women saw it necessary to nurse in restaurants.  Now I know.  God forgive me for my judgemental attitude!

We finished up with our meals, and flagged the waitress next time she passed our table to ask for the check.

"Actually, somebody has already offered to pay for your meal,"  she said.  Scott and I stared at her in stunned silence.

"Yeah, somebody already told the manager that they would pay for your meal,"  she repeated, since we continued to not say anything.

"Really?"  It was all I could say.  Tears were welling up in my eyes.  This whole time I had been worrying about how we looked to the rest of the restaurant ... and someone had looked at our distress with kindness and compassion in their heart, and wanted to help.  I felt humbled.  I felt undeserving.  I felt grateful.

As we drove home, still trying to process the kindness of a stranger, a verse came to mind:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for a good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5: 6 - 8
 And I thanked God for strangers who gave willingly to us, and I thanked Him for giving willingly, too.


On an island with no garbage service or designated dump, piles of trash naturally grew up.  It would begin with a collection of fallen coconut fronds, and grow as weeds were uprooted and tossed in to die in the sun, along with fish bones, picked clean and white, and discarded coconut shells.  The rubbish piles mounded until they were over five feet tall, always at the edge of the village where houses met the sand.

Then, usually at night, someone would decide the heap had gotten big enough and set a torch to it.  The tropical sun makes everything brittle, and the great pile of leaves and organic waste, already scorched by the sun, was perfect fodder for a hungry flame.

With the night sky deep and dark overhead, the trash pile quickly roared into life.  Sparks, caught in the updraft, soared ten, fifteen, twenty feet above the ground in a swirling column.  The dancing light cast a vivid red glow on the children gathered around it, their naked bodies sweating and eyes gleaming as they flirted with the flames.  Once in a while an especially brave one would grab a burning frond and run with it.  It would wave above his head, a banner shedding sparks and ash on the dark sand, receding down the beach like an emissary to the night.

Sometimes I think that this is me, tossed in the heap and bleached dry.  But God's refining fire is beautiful, fierce and powerful.  The rush of His flames, coming from beyond myself, consumes and transforms me.  The fodder cannot tell the fire where to go, or how to burn.  It can only be.  The fodder has no perspective on its place in relation to the entire heap and the fire itself.  It can only be.  The fodder cannot even really grasp how the fire, the whole fire, looks.  It can only be.  It can only be still, and know that the fire ... IS.
"Be still and know that I AM God." ~ Psalm 46:10