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Finding Yourself Again

I remember with our first child, looking at the woman in the mirror and not recognizing the eyes looking back at me. To be sure that was because he came into the world through an emergency c-section after a long labor. I didn’t realize the trauma I had been through until my partner showed me the pictures I hadn’t seen before. The pictures right after his birth, the pictures I don’t remember taking. He held us both steady throughout that first night until we both were labeled stable.

This time it’s been a bit easier to find myself again. Maybe it’s because our daughter’s arrival was less traumatic. Maybe it’s because there was some idea of how this whole mom life goes. Maybe it’s because we lost one in between our two that solidified the true miracle that is life coming into this world.

Whatever it is, I find myself more readily and more eagerly saying no to things and relationships that take away my energy, our energy. I find myself excited for the days that we have at home to ourselves to grow into family. I find myself not wanting to wish this time away or plan this time away, but just to be in the moments of our three-year-old holding our four-month-old’s hand, hearing them talk to each other, seeing them learn to love each other.

I marvel at how they can look so similar, but already be so unique and different. I marvel at how I can be the same person I was when he was four months old and be a completely different person for her now. With him I was always worried I was losing myself: my body and my schedule were dependent on the food he needed and when he needed it. What was threatening then, is reassuring now. There is so much of me in both of them: so much struggle, so much wrestling, so much accepting, so much forgiving and now so much being that they are both here together forming and informing each other.

And here we are together growing into family. Challenging and forgiving. Holding each other steady when one of us can’t find themselves until we each find ourselves again.

Pastor Mom

Our church photographer captured this photo after service and I can’t imagine a better picture of what it looks like to be a Pastor Mom. I have so much help in an amazing partner and an amazing community who are so generous. With their help, I feel like I can truly step into both of these roles: inviting God’s people to dream and grow and inviting this little one who joined us four months ago to dream and grow.

At times, I catch my breath because as a young girl I never saw a woman pastor. I never saw a woman preach. I never dreamed that this picture could be possible.  At those moments, I am caught up in the holy mystery that calls to our deepest selves. The holy mystery that whispers possibilities of wholeness and newness in ways we never imagined. That holy mystery beckons to each of us inviting us to see parts of ourselves long hidden or oft silenced. That holy mystery comes powerfully into our lives, transforming and changing us into new creations.

No matter where we are on this journey, the holy mystery offers us communion with something so much greater than ourselves and I believe that the holy mystery cradles us and offers us milk, safety, and rest for the journey we are on.

Perhaps the holy mystery is whispering during this Eastertide season to lay back and drink deeply resting in the truth that death has been overcome and transformation and resurrection are all around us.

Postpartum Profit: A review of maternity and postpartum retail

The postpartum period is one that is grossly neglected in American healthcare. Once a woman is released by her doctor at or around the six week period, her postpartum care is nil. At six weeks, the postpartum period is completed. You can resume your normal activities, except you are completely different and so is your body.

There have been some movements, especially body positivity movements that have tried to counter the oppression and depiction of maternity leave as a vacation in America, but way too often those body positivity movements are met with trolls encouraging the women brave enough to depict their real postpartum bodies to get tummy tucks or to never post again.

In the midst of all of this, there is a very practical issue that your clothes don’t fit. The maternity clothes you have make you look a little too pregnant, your pre-baby clothes don’t fit at all or are snug in completely new places. And so the postpartum retail space has opened up including tops that make it easy for nursing moms to nurse, supposedly.

Thanks to a generous and understanding partner I have had three experiences with postpartum/maternity companies and they were all completely different:

Teat and Cossett: For Christmas, my partner gifted me with two nursing tops in preparation for our new little one. One was a sweatshirt that could be worn around the house and another a nice gray dress I could wear to work as I tried to balance nursing and working. Just this week, five months after he purchased the item and three months after we had our daughter, I inquired about returning the items because they finally fit, but they were the wrong season now that Spring has come to South Carolina. Here’s what I received in response to my inquiry:

Hi there:

I am very sorry, but you have certainly passed our return and exchange window.  Your items were purchased five months ago.  Please let me know if there is anything else I can assist you with.

Best,

Zara

Something about the “certainly” flushed me with shame that I didn’t fit in the size I thought I would fit in after having our second daughter. On doing a bit of investigating, I found that there return policy to contact them and then 10 days to get the item back to them. 15 days. I am not sure what the expectation is here, but I know I certainly was not able to keep up with what day it was and certainly would not have remembered that there were postpartum clothes I needed to return if they didn’t fit, especially since my body was changing every single day.

Milk Nursingwear: I really have an amazing partner who not only tells me I’m beautiful but also encourages me to buy clothes that fit and that are comfortable and allow me to nurse and pump. I ordered a nursing tank and a dress from Milk and was very impressed with the fact that they sent a return label with the order. I tried them on and was immediately disappointed as they accentuated unflattering portions of my postpartum body as well as clinging to my incision scar. As I went back to look at the Instagram posts I had seen, I slowly realized that the models they were using were probably not, in fact, postpartum moms as the clothes fit the models perfectly. Even though I was disappointed, the return was so easy and I had a full 60 days to make a decision on whether I liked the clothes.

Kindred Bravely: This is where I purchased my favorite nursing bra. The fabric is so soft and it also doesn’t show stains or leak through to clothes. I am not sure how they do it, but it really is amazing. Not to mention, they are currently running a special where you buy a pair of pajamas and they donate one to a mom with a baby in the NICU.

The maternity and postpartum retail industry is a $2 billion domestic industry serving 6 million new moms, but ultimately it is still an industry, an attempt to profit off of women and families in the joy and uncertainty of bringing new life into the world. I have heard and read so many posts of moms who are struggling not only with the way their bodies have changed but also with how their lives have changed.

I still consider myself to be postpartum and our baby was born in January. I considered myself to be postpartum for the whole first year after our son was born and I considered myself postpartum after our miscarriage. I too fall prey the societal pressure to “look like I did pre-baby” and to “bounce back to work,” but slowly and intentionally I am saying no. No to things that sap my energy so much I can’t care for our new little one and the rest of our family. No to companies who have return policies of only 15 days and no to companies who design to a certain type of postpartum body.

Clinging to Safety

As our baby turned three months, she has developed a habit while nursing of clinging to something, anything that she could hold onto: the collar of a shirt, the string of a hoodie, a lock of hair, an available finger. Her grip is strong and fierce as she holds on. Our three-year-old in preparing to go to bed tucks his stuffed dog under his arm clinging tightly to the safety of his lovey as he drifts off to sleep.

As adults, the way we cling to safety is a bit less visible. Instead of clinging to an object, we cling to patterns and routines, even furniture set up. I have found this especially true in places of worship. To be certain, coming into a community of faith is asking and inviting the Divine to reveal our most vulnerable places and our deepest wounds, so it follows that in those revelations, so too would our instinct to cling to something safe and comfortable arise.

Business meetings that discuss carpet color or paint color are much like our three month old’s grip tight and fierce not because we truly want to keep the carpet from 50 years ago the same or that we can’t see the paint that’s chipping and needs to be replaced, but rather because we need to be assured that we are safe. We need to be assured that even if the paint and carpet of the church changes, this will still be a place of sanctuary for us.

As we hear about places of worship being invaded with death and violence, this is of the utmost importance. Although we may concentrate on the physical safety of the building and those who have gathered, may we not forget the spiritual and emotional need for reassurance that rest in our hearts and souls as we hear the news. May we offer something deep, hope-filled, and so authentic that those searching may cling to. When we offer this soul-filling type of worship and teaching, we can be sure that those gathered won’t need to cling to paint or carpet colors.

Perhaps the hardest words that Jesus speaks to his disciples in the gospel of John are:

Do not cling to me because I have yet to ascend to the Father.

As much as we want to cling to the safety of what we already know and how things have always been, we have to let go of the Risen Christ so that the Spirit of God can come in all its Mystery. In order to allow the Spirit of God to work, we have to let go of the very things we hold so tightly. We have to let the Spirit of God move and change and transform. Only then we will truly see the kingdom of God here on earth.

Pastor’s Kids


I never thought about being a pastor and a parent as I was growing up because the concept of being a pastor was not something that women did and I certainly never saw a woman with young kids who was a pastor. When I saw these images, it made me stop in my tracks because here my kids sit next to me, supporting and affirming me by being a part of our new congregation, Garden of Grace UCC. Here they sit, as the service is beginning talking to me, asking me questions, wanting to participate and drinking milk from sippy cups.

This an absolute miracle.

When I answered a call to pastor and to pursue seminary nine years ago, I never imagined these pictures would be a reality. I never imagined meeting a partner that would go with me on this journey and affirm and support me as a pastor and as a parent.

As we sit here in these images in the shadow of the cross, I can’t help but remember that these pictures wouldn’t have been a reality without a lot of dying to self and dying to the things I thought I knew about who was called and who wasn’t called.

This is resurrection and evidence of the Risen Christ. Alleluia!

 

“Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”

In the girls’ bathhouse at my grandparents’ pool, there was a sign that hung on the wall:

Sugar n’ Spice

and everything nice

That’s what little girls

are made of.

I remember thinking that was a cute saying, especially because it rhymed and painted a picture of a smiling, bow-wearing little girl. Actually, that may have been the image that was painted at the bottom of the sign. Although the saying brings back fond memories, it’s not one that is hanging in our house with three girls.

I don’t want my girls to see that hanging on the wall and think they have to be nice or sweet. This Tuesday one of the most important organizations in the Columbia area, Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, received threats to the staff and organization because of the work they are doing to combat, educate, and provide healing for sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.  Three out of four victims know their abuser before the abuse occurs, so when we teach our girls to be nice and sweet to people they know and fear strangers, we are not recognizing the percentage of sexual abuse, rape, and sexual abuse that is committed by family members, family friends, and other close acquaintances. When we teach our girls to be nice and sweet, are we inevitably telling them that they can’t talk to us about things that aren’t sweet and nice if they happen to them?

The threats to an organization that does such important work prove that there are people who want girls and indeed adults to be sweet and nice rather than fight for safety for our children and against injustices in our society. We live in a world where sexual abuse, rape, and sexual violence occurs every 92 seconds. And I’m going to keep talking about the things that are not nice and sweet until we know that our world is a better place for our children.

Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands had to cancel one of their major fundraisers because of these threats. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could show our support financially?

Strolling

We went for a walk today.

It’s one of those days where Spring is creeping in and there’s just something about the weather that beckons you outside to see the bumblebees flying and flirting with each other and to notice the pollen accumulating everywhere. I found myself breathing deeply into the promise of a new season. When I looked back, I caught sight of the little hospital tag on our seven week’s old’s infant carrier.

I thought about last week when we went into the children’s hospital for a routine ultrasound following her breech position in utero and the good news that came back that all was normal and then I started thinking about all the kids and parents and families I saw in the children’s hospital. Because we needed an ultrasound, we were in the radiology department.

Although it wasn’t busy when we were there I thought about the way the newness of the waiting room took me off guard. I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know where we were going after the waiting room. I didn’t know anything about the procedure other than the name of the procedure. I didn’t know who would be performing the procedure. I didn’t know what we were looking for or what we weren’t looking for. I thought about how many families spend so much time in this place where we were that there is nothing about the waiting room or procedures or places behind the double doors that are new. I thought about how many people are hurting and how amazing it is that after just seven weeks we were walking together outside in the Spring air with two dogs with their tongues hanging out. I thought about how much pain and hurt goes unspoken and unnoticed in my own city; how many stories go untold. I thought about how bright it was even though it was a cold day when we walked out of the children’s hospital.

Sometimes we get taken to places that are new and scary and uncertain and sometimes those new places open our eyes to a new set of needs just minutes away from our own families.

 

To Nurse or Not To Nurse: On Aching in the Bones

Oh this question is one that is riddled with mom guilt by too many people because the very nature of the question is binary as if there are only two choices in the quest to nourish and support your child. This is simply not true and the wrong premise. As I work with young mothers and first-time mothers, I often phrase the question, “Are you going to try to nurse?” I explain quickly that whichever they choose is completely fine and that I simply want them to know that I can help them find supplies, resource, and community for whatever choice they make.

If the women I work with tell me that they are going to try to nurse, then I try to point them to resources that will tell them what to expect. My response to this question when I was pregnant with our first child was, “I am hoping to,” understanding that there is no way to anticipate what the labor and delivery experience is going to be like and no way to know what is going to happen with your milk until your baby is actually here. Our firstborn came into the world in a scary and traumatic whirlwind that left me in an emergency c-section and Sam holding our son for close to two hours after he was born and stabilized. There was so much of the time after the surgery in recovery that I don’t remember, but I do remember Sam walking in with our son and saying, “He’s really hungry.” Not sure of how much time had passed since his arrival into the world, I was disoriented and very lost. I pulled him to me and was thankful that he latched immediately and began nursing. This was one thing that went as I had hoped in our labor and delivery story and I couldn’t stop the tears at that moment. That would serve to be the easiest time I fed our baby during the first night of his life full of heel pricks and glucose level reports and ultimately being told we had to give him formula because his blood sugar was too low. We tried to give him the tiny bottle the pediatrician resident gave us only to have him throw up all of it.

By the time the lactation consultant came in the next morning, I was in tears because we had been told that they were going to have to take our son away and keep him for up to 2-3 days. The lactation consultant was the first person I saw after they had taken our baby to the special care nursery. Everything we had experienced all the fear and pain and trauma came out in our conversation, but especially my hope to do the one thing I had left to hope for: to nurse my child. She was wonderfully patient and explained that we could pump and take it to him and that she would do whatever she could to limit the amount of formula he had to get. I was so grateful and relieved.

It turns out that our son only needed one bag of fluids to get his blood sugar back on track and that we were able to nurse from that point on, but there was so much about the actual process of nursing I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the 2-day cluster feeding, but our night nurse was wonderfully supportive and told me each time she came to check his and my vitals what a good job I was doing and how hard she knew it was having had a c-section to reach over and get him to feed him. No one told me about the 2-3 week cluster feeding or how you will suddenly understand the phrase “aching in your bones” in a real and deep way after a night of cluster feeding. No one tells you how physically demanding nursing is or how frequent growth spurts are because your baby needs for more and more milk increases during those first six weeks. And although you may hear a funny anecdote here and there, no one will tell you how frequently you end up in the position where you need to feed your baby and you don’t have the right top on or you don’t have a nursing cover or a blanket and you end up in the bathroom stall trying to feed your baby while not touching anything.

Friends and family may tell you with good intention that “breast is best,” but not how difficult it is to keep your milk supply up if you have to return to the hospital for any reason or return to work or how pumping is not intuitive, but a process with lots of parts and planning. And no one tells you how messy nursing and how many times you will put on a new shirt only to have to change your shirt fifteen minutes later.

I’m thinking about all of these things I didn’t know with our first as we walk this nursing journey again. That lactation consultant who listened so compassionately to our story and told me she would help me learn how to pump and that she would personally go and check on our baby to see what was going came walking through the pre-op curtain the morning of January 22. She told us that she would be the nurse in with us during our c-section and she would be the one who was in charge of watching our daughter and getting us skin to skin as quickly as possible and helping us nurse if that’s what we wanted to do. My partner was the one who recognized her and told her that she was the shining light after our traumatic first night with our son. She smiled and said, “I thought I recognized you.” I don’t know how our nursing journey would have gone if we hadn’t had this woman and the nurse who supported and encouraged me during that first cluster feeding session and if I didn’t have really close friends who sent me articles and sent me stories about their own experiences and told me it was good no matter how long our nursing journey was.

This time I got to be skin to skin with our daughter in the operating room and got to nurse her within thirty minutes of her birth. And although I know so much more this time around, what I ultimately learned is you never truly know how this parenthood journey is going to go and that the most important thing is to feed your child and to seek support from medical professionals, experienced parents, and parents who are right there in the middle of the journey with you. We need community, we need sanctuary to ask questions and to express exhaustion and frustration, we need real stories of real journey and not binary options or easy catchphrases. We cannot do this parenting alone.

On Due Dates and Expectations

It’s been one week since Baby Girl’s due date and yet we are celebrating three weeks of having her as part of our family. We knew when we were given her due date that we wouldn’t make it all the way to that date because of our labor and delivery experience with our three-year-old, but we didn’t know that she would be a January baby instead of a February baby. As I walked through her due date day, I thought about how due dates really just give us an idea of when a baby might come and not a hard and fast rule.

I was shocked to learn while talking to some of my clergy colleagues that many of them looked at due dates on papers and projects as just that, a guideline. That isn’t me. A due date has always been a hard and fast rule about when something must be done. It would never be acceptable to turn something in after the due date. The only option would be to turn something in early.

But these conversations got me thinking. Why did I hold this perspective while there were many people who held a different perspective and understanding of due dates? To be certain, my place as a white female who grew up in a conservative upbringing plays a role in my understanding and perspective as does my family of origin, but even more so my perspective is tied to my desire for events to go by the calendar and by a plan. It makes me feel safe and indeed in control when I know what’s coming, but more importantly when something is coming. It makes me feel prepared and successful and productive to get something in by the due date. All of this whispers of my desire to have a handle on things.

In just three short weeks, that’s been challenged. Baby girl didn’t come on her due date and that’s exactly when she was supposed to come and when she needed to come. I didn’t get to make the decision on that but had to trust my doctors and their expertise and their experience. I had to depend on them to offer important guidance and I had to let go of my own expectations for when she would join our family. All of this whispers of what we are called to do as disciples. We are called not to be in control, but to depend, trust, and let go of our own expectations in order to be open and ready for what God is calling us to do and how God is inviting us to participate in bringing the kingdom of God here on earth.

Thanks be to God for missed due dates and upset expectations!

On Being an “Experienced” Mom

The last two weeks have been filled with the awe and wonder of new life. Memories of the first days of our three-year old’s life have flooded back in as we get into a routine of feeding and sleeping and being a family all together. Yesterday I took our two-week-old for her two weeks check up and the doctor said, “Do you have any questions?” and I only had one. I can remember that appointment with our son being filled with questions. Is he ok? Is this normal? Am I doing this right?

As the pediatrician was dictating notes to her nurse to go into our daughter’s chart, she said something that struck me: “Mom, is an experienced mom and nurser.” I was caught off guard. I immediately thought: Mom, whose mom, her mom? I hadn’t thought about the fact that I am no longer a first-time mom, at least not of a newborn. I’ve done this before. This idea still hasn’t sunk in.

This week was also marked with the arrival of a parenting book compilation in which I have a short piece. As I reread my own words and my reflections about when I first became a mom five years ago, I realized that five years is a significant amount of time. Five years does mark a threshold that is often called experienced or is listed as a time interval for having experience in a field or profession.

If that’s the marker, then I am also an experienced preacher, an experienced pastor, and an experienced puppy mom. How in the world did that happen?

I guess it happened somewhere in the minutes that made up the 1,825 days of the past five years. The interactions, the challenges, the conversations, the sleepless nights, the minuscule decisions and the time in silence and solitude reflecting, seeking, and wondering if I was doing any of it right.

And all I can think about is all the times that I wish I had been fully present in those moments rather than lost in what ifs and maybes. Because really the challenge no matter how long we’ve been at this parenting thing or this pastoring thing is just that: to be present and to be aware of where we are. To understand, at least in part, that this moment, this conversation, this interaction won’t happen again in the same form or the same place or the same time.

I don’t really think I am experienced at any of this because our daughter is different than our son and our older two girls. This church is different than the other churches I’ve pastored and perhaps that’s where you get labeled as experienced. When you know that you don’t really know and can fully and freely admit that you need all the help you can get from parenting books, from pediatricians, and most importantly, for me, from a partner who is right there beside you traveling the road full of moments with you.