pregnancy

phoebe’s victory

It was one of the scariest moments of my life, and also one of the most beautiful.

In January, as our Christmas gift to each other, Noah and I went to Florida to attend Overland’s annual conference. I was excited to learn more about the organization (Noah went with them to Zambia last summer), but the trip was primarily so we could see our friends Adam and Kelly before they moved to Cambodia.

During the opening night of the conference, I was suddenly overcome with an immobilizing pain in my groin. Not wanting to be distracted from the speaker’s message, I tried to ignore it. As the meeting came to a close, I realized I had some discharge, enough to leave a huge wet area that covered more than half my chair. Embarrassed, I whispered to Kelly what happened and quickly tied my sweatshirt around my waist to escape to the bathroom.

I was 11 weeks pregnant. The first trimester is the most vulnerable and the most crucial part of pregnancy. It’s when the baby develops all his or her organs. It is when the risk of miscarriage is greatest.

Once in the bathroom, I discovered it wasn’t discharge — it was all blood. I was shocked by the amount. The only time I ever bled this much was when I gave birth to Atlas. I immediately burst into tears.

But God was taking care of me, providing more than what I could have ever asked for in comfort, encouragement, and protection.

If this had happened here in Colorado, where we had few friends in the area, I would have felt utterly lost and alone. At the time, we were living in the basement of another family’s house, where I never truly felt at home.

It was messy and inconvenient to bleed through a chair in public, but I am thankful it occurred while sitting next to my best friend, in a room that felt safe, full of people who unhesitatingly rushed to my side when I needed it most.

I stood in the bathroom stall, soaked in blood from the waist down, weeping uncontrollably, but I was only alone for a moment. I was instantly surrounded by a group of powerful women to whom I was a stranger, but also a sister. There was Jessi, the speaker’s wife, earnestly praying over me. Richelle, who bled throughout her entire first pregnancy and now has a healthy 4-year-old son, proclaiming her testimony over me. Julie, a midwife who witnessed firsthand countless miracles on the mission field, and would continue to send me messages and check up on me in the weeks to come, as if she, herself, were my midwife.

Unbeknownst to me, there were more who covered me with support. Guarding the door, Joe announced the bathroom was closed and instructed everyone to use the one upstairs. In the main room, God revealed to the couple in the row behind me what was going on, and they interceded for me the entire time. Without anyone telling her, our friend Rachel also knew I was pregnant and something was wrong. She and her husband dropped what they were doing and decisively announced they were accompanying us to the ER.

Pregnancy is a holistic experience, and this felt like a spiritual attack on my family — more than just a physical emergency. But fear didn’t have a place while I was shielded by so much love. From the women in the bathroom, to Adam and Kelly taking care of Atlas at our shared Airbnb, to Rachel and Dalton hopping in our car and staying in the ER with us for hours. Driving to Cape Canaveral hospital, we sang worship songs and declared words of life and health. We stood on the truth that God is creator, healer, savior, and life-sustainer. We felt full of hope and courage. We believed everything would be fine.

As we waited for tests to come back, I posed for silly photos. As the bleeding slowed, we shared jokes and laughter. I had my first gurney ride to get to the ultrasound room and it was reminiscent of an amusement park ride. Noah and I watched with anticipation as the technician displayed various images on the screen: my ovaries, uterine lining — and then, just as we had believed — there was our tiny baby: kicking, moving, with a healthy heartbeat.

We were overjoyed to see our little girl was okay. Every test came back normal, but I was put on pelvic rest until the bleeding stopped. This seemed like another spiritual attack, on marital intimacy, but in spite of this, Noah and I felt even more affectionate, unified, and emotionally connected.

We had one more week in Florida, and while some might view it as a vacation ruined, it was a huge blessing. Bed rest is practically impossible with a toddler. If we had been home, Noah would have kept going to school, leaving me home alone with Atlas. But since we were already together, Noah could help me and I could rest. If a crisis were ever welcome, now was the most convenient time.

Five weeks later, shortly after moving into our new home, I stopped bleeding completely. Five is a symbolic number for “grace,” and Noah and I truly felt showered with kindness and strength during that month. Looking back, it represents the end of our most discouraging season and the beginning of a new season, one that is full of peace and the promise of what is to come.

 

love letter to my daughter

Dear little Phoebe,

You are so loved, so wanted. I have been patiently waiting for you to enter this world at the perfect time. Your name means “bright, shining one.” In a season of hiddenness for our family, you come at a time of transition to hopefulness and light.

It took a lot of work for me to love being a girl. But I don’t want it to be as hard for you to embrace who you are. To love yourself. My heart longs to share with you what I have learned and to walk alongside you as you discover your own way.

Even now, though you are so little and do not yet understand, I speak truth and love over you — truths I never heard from my own mother, truths that took me years to grasp. That it is possible to be both strong and feminine. Both logical and emotional. Both powerful and gentle. Both independent and reliant on others. Both ambitious and content.

I want you to see me look in the mirror and smile at my reflection. To see me comfortable in my skin. I want you to see me put on bright red lipstick and a fancy dress for a date with your dad, but I also want you to see me feeling just as beautiful and confident in chapstick and leggings.

I want you to see me excited about my birthday. I want you to see that life is a blessing and every year is worth celebrating. I want you to see me go back to school. I want you to see that it’s never too late to start something new. I want you to see me practice yoga in our kitchen. I want you to see that it’s important to take care of yourself.

Growing up, I was often reprimanded, “Don’t be too much Bethany.” It hurt me to think that being myself was a bad thing. But oh my darling, it is impossible to be “too much Phoebe!” My hope for you is that you would increasingly become more and more yourself. Being you is the best thing you could ever be.

I want you to be free. Free to be a little girl when you are a little girl and not have to rush your childhood. Free to pursue the dreams in  your heart no matter what stands against you, because I will always stand beside you. Free to explore all the wonderful ways to be a woman. Free to create a path that empowers you.

I want you to see me free in my motherhood. If it is something you choose one day, I want you to know that you can find freedom in it, too. That staying home with your children is a powerful choice when you are already a powerful person.

I place my hand over my belly and feel you move. I am overwhelmed with how proud I am of you. You are my favorite daughter. My bright, shining star. You are full of life, full of radiant brilliance. It is your name, it is who you are. My dear little Phoebe.

<3

birth story

I gave birth at home after six hours of active labor, which is relatively short for a first-time mom. I lost a lot of blood, but not enough to warrant hospital transfer. I needed stitches, but I’ve healed well. For the first couple days postpartum, I couldn’t stand up without fainting, but I peed squatting in a bedpan and I love to squat-pee.

As far as births go, it was wonderful — intimate, peaceful, and free of complications. But as far as Friday afternoon activities go, it was absolutely awful. 

My original due date was December 12th, but that was based on the predictive method using a regular 28-day cycle. My periods were irregular, so I made my own calculations. I decided December 4th was a more accurate due date. My midwife agreed and updated my file.

I didn’t have any particular expectations about giving birth. I didn’t give much thought to labor positions, breathing techniques, or other strategies. I didn’t attend classes or prepare candles or music. I assumed I would listen to my body, eat my snacks, and do whatever my midwife told me.

I never thought twice about a natural birth. I wasn’t afraid of pain simply because I didn’t see the point in fearing what I couldn’t control. I believed in my body and what it was made to do.

But optimistic beliefs and the power of positive thinking only go so far. In retrospect, I completely understand why women choose epidurals, schedule c-sections, and stop after one child. Natural birth is a commitment, and easier kept at home.

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My water broke punctually at 12:45a on December 4th. I leaked for over 7 hours — not a sudden flood like in the movies. Since I tested positive for Group B Strep, I needed to go into labor within 12 hours to avoid hospital transfer. I was relieved and excited when mild contractions began at 3:00a. I knew I would be having a baby that day.

At first it was all joy and anticipation. Getting tattoos taught me to channel uncomfortable physical sensations into pleasurable experiences. I applied this to contractions in early labor and it worked successfully for several hours. I ate a hearty meal. I put on lip gloss and posed for photos. I texted friends. I instagrammed.

And then it wasn’t fun anymore.

My midwife arrived at 2:30p and I promptly ripped my clothes off. I moved around from floor to birthing tub to toilet to birthing stool to bed. I bellowed until my throat was sore. I felt frustrated and helpless. My body inexplicably and repeatedly attacked itself and nothing I did could mitigate the pain.

I felt better when it came time to push because it was active effort instead of passive endurance. Maren and Kelly encouraged me to reach in and feel his head, but I wasn’t interested. Reaching in felt counterproductive. I wanted to focus my energy on getting him out of my body.

Soon enough, I felt the pressure of his head, then shoulders — and my baby was born. He was immediately wrapped in a towel and placed on my chest. I was laying down and didn’t have the strength to lift myself up to properly see him, but I held his warm little body close against mine and it was all I needed.

I lost track of time in those first few hours, and continued to live in a daze as subsequent days and sleep-deprived nights blurred into weeks. My world instantly became very small, but it’s also expanded as my heart overflows with the purest love I’ve ever known.

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It was one year ago that I decided I was ready to be a mom.

I had dealt with personal issues, healed from childhood hurts, and processed my perspective on future generations. I was at an emotionally healthy place in my relationship with my self and with my husband. I knew I had more to learn and more to give. And I kept getting the sense that my next step was woven within the journey of motherhood.

Several months ago, Julie, a dear friend and mother-figure in my life, told me: “The world was not ready for the gift of Atlas until now.” Those words strongly resonate with me. I believe he could not have been born at a more fitting time.

Atlas will grow up knowing the story of his birth — that from the beginning, he was so wanted, so loved, so treasured. That even in the womb, he made his parents incredibly happy just being himself. That he was born in his bedroom on a quiet, cold winter evening. As far as births go, it was wonderful. And as far as babies go, he is perfect.

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Photos by Reagan Denine Photography

things you can totally say to me while i’m pregnant

There are lots of things people say that offend pregnant women. Then again, there are lots of things people say that offend people in general. Personally, I love any question that is asked in an honest effort to understand or show me I am cared for.

Pregnancy is mysterious and fascinating and everyone experiences it differently. I happen to be an expert on my experience, and I love to share my expertise. Here are some things I don’t mind hearing in the least:

“Was it planned?”

It’s kind of a strange question because you’re asking about my sex life, but there’s more to it than that. With so many birth control options and perspectives on making babies, I am happy to tell you my story and how my thinking has changed over the past several years.

“How many kids do you want?”

I have no idea, but I like when people ask this because then I can reply with my charm and wit: “One at a time!” Baby brain is real, so when I have a prepared answer, I can’t wait to remember what I want to say and actually say it.

“You’re huge!”

OMG thank you! I would much rather hear that I’m large than small. I’ve gained almost 35 lbs and that weight is not hiding – I feel it every time I stand up, roll over, laugh, or basically try to do anything. My body has put a lot of effort and hormones into growing so big and beautiful (and emotional) and it doesn’t want to be ignored.

“Any news?”

Towards the end of pregnancy, I see how it could get annoying to be bombarded with constant inquiries of “Did you have the baby yet?” However, I choose to interpret it as: “I am so excited about the birth of your baby! Here is a conversation starter for you to talk about yourself and update me on whatever you’d like!”

Have any questions for me? Come over for some homemade kombucha (I’m GBS positive, so loving the probiotics) or say whatever you’d like in the comments below.

practices for life beyond pregnancy

Pregnancy problem: I don’t have anything to wear. Seriously.

Solution: Wardrobe simplicity.

Women’s clothes normally come in an overwhelming array of sizes and styles. But when you’re pregnant, a small is supposed to fit a multitude of bodies of varied heights with differently shaped bellies, butts, and boobs. And maternity clothes are expensive. It took me all summer to find reasonably priced non-knee-length shorts whose leg openings were the size of one leg instead of two. And then it started snowing :(

These days, I’m not working a regular person job. It’s very convenient for getting dressed. I rotate between two pairs of maternity leggings I bought specifically so I can still wear them post-baby. I have several non-maternity stretchy tees. I have socks. I have scarves. I have my winning personality. I look the same every day, but having fewer clothing options makes my life easier.

Life principle: I never want to be weighed down by stuff.

Pregnancy problem: My ribs hurt. All the time.

Solution: Regular showers.

It’s been my most persistent, most vexing pregnancy inconvenience. I have a small rib cage and just don’t have a lot of room. It’s not my muscles that are sore, so massage doesn’t help. Child’s pose is comforting, though inappropriate in some social situations. But hot water does wonders with relieving rib pain, and effortlessly persuades me to bathe on a consistent basis.

I’ve known about hot showers for a while, but I went through a phase where I would go without for days. I would wait to shower as a reward for exercising, or I would wear braids and hats and prove to myself how low maintenance I was. After I got married, in an attempt to embrace adulthood looking clean and bright, I slowly increased my showering frequency. But pregnancy has been the ultimate motivator.

Life principle: Good hygiene can be a gift to myself as much as it is a gift to those who must interact with me.

Pregnancy problem: I have no idea when I’ll go into labor.

Solution: Rest. Now.

October 1st, I stopped working a stressful schedule that was extremely taxing on my relationships with others and my relationship with myself. Since then, I have more time to engage in activities that inspire me. By operating out of a daily practice of rest, I’ve experienced a noticeable increase in my productivity, creativity, and peacefulness.

But sometimes the most restful activity is good ole passive slumber. At 38 weeks + 4 days, my baby is as active and nocturnal as ever, and he can greet the world at any moment. My midwife recommends daily naps so I will have enough energy for whenever a regular day becomes a birth day. I love it. Life will happen, and it’s out of my control, but I want to be ready to put in the effort when it matters most. (tweet that)

Life principle: Rest as a prerequisite for hard work and not a reward.

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Photo credit: http://reagandeninephotography.com

i am every year i have ever lived and every person i have ever been

At 23, I had an epiphany about my identity: I am becoming a new person again and again.

It was my last year of college. Since I did not do any homework, I had an endless supply of free time on my hands to think about life. I had been in the same physical place on and off for the past six years, but Amherst still felt strange to me, an uncomfortable constant that was my closest thing to home. A lot had happened since I was 18, and my senior-self felt very detached from my first-year-self.

In between my years on campus, I went to Bible school, studied abroad, and travelled as much as I could. I found my faith and lost it and stumbled back again. I concluded upon my life’s purpose and questioned it. I embraced Asian culture and challenged it. I travelled because I did not want to waste the opportunity to do so and I travelled because I did not want to do anything else. I was passionate and judgmental, carefree and lonely, hopeful and entitled. Each year, I looked back and felt relieved: I am so glad I am not like that anymore.

At 25, I had another epiphany: I am the same person.

The “old” me and “new” me have different beliefs and goals, but they are the same person. At face value, who I was at 23 is completely different from who I was at 24, but remnants of past thoughts and experiences are still present memories within me. The convictions I maintained and aspirations I pursued continue to shape my values and ideas. I might not agree with my previously held opinions, but I would not interpret the world as I do now if I had never seen it from a different perspective.

When I graduated college, I wanted more than anything to live a wanderlustful life, but I also wanted more than anything to be loved. The latter desire was suppressed for years, tucked away under an attractive cloak of spontaneity, transatlantic flights, and faraway lands captured in photographs. I wanted both, and I chose between them. It was a long transition, but I grew to love my life as a wife and the freedom, power, and friendships I never knew I could have. I did not change into a new person; I uncovered roots of the same person I always was.

At 27, I understand more than ever: I am becoming new and I am the same.

As I grow older, I want different things out of life, but there is little change at the core of those desires. They are either hidden until the right time or reinvented time and time again. For example, my 9-year-old obsession with purple roll-on glitter sticks now takes the shape of wanting a nice peach shade of blush, but both stem from the same desire to feel beautiful, and accentuating my cheekbones is a great start.

On a more serious note, my dream of getting yoga certified was hidden until I learned to connect with myself. I did not know how much I had deceived myself until I began to take time and listen to myself, to sit with my emotions and acknowledge what they were telling me. I learned that the deepest longings of my heart are constant, but take on different forms as time goes on.

Pregnancy is the ultimate reality of becoming new while remaining the same.

At 35 weeks, my uterus has grown about 1,000 times its original size and my brain-cell volume has decreased. My body, mind, and emotions will continue to undergo drastic transformation through labor and postpartum, but I will still be 100% me.

At first, it was a big deal for me to consider stepping down from my role as primary breadwinner and be a stay-at-home mom. The prospect seemed foreign and unfulfilling and the antithesis of the successful life. Then I realized this is not an incongruous step I am taking, but completely in line with who I am and what I want. I never had to shift my priority from career to family.

I have always prioritized family over career.

Recalling the pattern of decisions I have made, I see how my profession was never number one. Instead of internships, I spent my undergrad summers volunteering at camp, in large part to work alongside my sister. Instead of trying to get ahead academically and professionally, I took two gap years from college and went to Bible school, the second year again to be with my sister. While we were both students, we spent nearly every school break traveling together and exploring the world.

Family has always been important to me, and I long to be surrounded by those I love. It is why my relationship with my mother continues to hurt, it is why I never want to cut ties with my step-dad, and it is why Noah applied to school in Denver in the first place — for us to be closer to his parents and two youngest siblings. It is why making the decision to support my husband by staying home and caring for our son is an easy one.

Twenty-three feels like a lifetime ago, and I anticipate feeling the same in several years when I reread blog posts and journal entries from my late twenties. I look back and feel very thankful: I am so glad for how much I have grown. I am every year I have ever lived and every person I have ever been, and I am becoming new and becoming myself all the time.

How do you view who you are in light of who you used to be and who you want to be?

second is not best: on why i love my third trimester most of all

Being eight months pregnant is the best thing ever.

My first trimester was pretty exciting. I resigned from teaching, secured a new job, disposed of most of my earthly possessions, and said goodbye to my wonderful life of the past three years. I went to Colombia on an amazing missions trip, drove over 5200 miles on a road trip from Florida to Colorado via Massachusetts, and played with my sister in Greece and Turkey. I declared: “No morning sickness in Jesus’ name!” and it worked. I was exhausted, but besides some constipation and sensitivity to cold, I felt great.

My second trimester was difficult and filled with a lot of emotions. I returned to America and to everyday life. I started my new job, settled into a new church, and publicly announced my pregnancy. Growing a baby felt more real: I bought maternity clothes, read pregnancy books, chose a midwife, settled on a baby name, and got my first and only ultrasound. But I felt lonely in many ways, frustrated and stressed from work, and overall sad about this season.

I ended up quitting my job and it was one of the best decisions I could have made. I am healthier, happier, and loving these last two months before baby comes. I resumed my yoga practice and feel refreshed and rested. I see my husband more often because I am not working late nights, weekends, or out of town for days at a time. I feel like I am finally experiencing the famous second semester joys, e.g. renewed energy and great sex. But even though the second trimester is popular for being the pregnant woman’s favorite, I am convinced that the third trimester is even better. Here’s why:

  • I AM OBVIOUSLY PREGNANT.

It was noticeable to me at 10 weeks when I couldn’t fit into any of my pants, but now the world has no doubt that my 30 lb weight gain is not solely the result of burgers and beer. I would rather have an extra cookie than the chair someone offers me, and now sometimes I can get both; but neither would have been an option during my first or second trimesters when people had no idea or were too polite to assume I was pregnant. In general, there is just more grace for me when it comes to snacking. I can show up to a potluck with a piece already cut from the cake I made, and although no one believes me when I say I genuinely was checking to make sure it was okay, they are understanding.

  • MY SELF-ESTEEM IS SOARING.

I am a hot mess going grocery shopping with my dirty hair in a bun and my belly busting out of one of those free T-shirts no one wants unless it is free, and I am stopped and told how cute I look. I go hiking with friends from out of town, and while they are struggling with the high altitude, I am beating them to the top of a small mountain. I post Instagrams where I am JUST STANDING THERE and get lots of likes and comments of how stunning it is that I am just standing there. And on days when I am kind of lazy, I remind myself that I clipped my toenails and it was really hard and I also am growing a human, and I feel much more productive.

  • GIFTS ARE MY LOVE LANGUAGE. LOTS OF GIFTS = LOTS OF LOVE.

My birthday was sad this year (I planned a party and cancelled it after I realized no one would come because I did not have any friends), so baby showers are a magical redo birthday. I never had a bridal or engagement shower or bachelorette party, so celebrating my baby’s soon arrival is extra special in light of milestone festivities I missed. I freak out over every Amazon prime box that is left at my door and it’s Christmas all over again. I spent a lot of time and research on our registry, so Noah does not have the same emotional attachment and excitement for our gifts, though I don’t blame him for not getting pumped up about nipple cream like I do. And I’ve decided that these weeks of nesting and preparing for birth day are way better than my birthday anyway.

I CAN’T WAIT. Except I can. Because I LOVE my third trimester.

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Photo credit: http://reagandeninephotography.com