“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)
I started my planning young: I was going to become a mommy, like my mommy, but better! It was not that I thought of my life experience so far as bad– but I resolved that I would figure out how to do better for my kids. I honestly believed that it was my job to do that.
I know I had this plan established by 1985, because that was the Christmas I received my first diary.
In my childhood that diary divides my childhood memories into before and after like the birth of Christ splits human history. I remember that I resolved to write my diary for two reasons, for myself as a grown up so I would always remember how I felt as a kid and for my kids so they would know I understood how it is. Almost like they could know the kid me a little bit if they ever wanted to. (The realization that I could write down all the thoughts and feelings I had that would get me in trouble if I said them out loud with no repercussions and the accompanying relief that I received from this practise came later.)
I would write down my thoughts, feelings and things I wanted to always remember. A few times I would need to write the feelings down but then I ripped them out because I didn’t want to remember.
My powers of expression were limited at first. Case in point, one entry I remember writing with a passionate sense of injustice: “She [makes] good dishuns and bad disthuns and I think this is the wrers distisun she has ever made,”. ( I thought this was a dangerous observation at the time. That my mom could be wrong. Dangerous enough that I thought I had better lock my little diary and hide the key. Looking back, my spelling would have probably been more upsetting to her than my sentiment.)
*End Tangent *
As I grew, in my mind I was keeping a tally sheet of what my mom was doing. What worked (15 minute clean ups), what didn’t (hiding chocolate chips), and what was awesome (family popcorn time) or what was really bad (cream of turkey on toast).
When my mom got pregnant with my oldest younger brother, I was nine. I started learning about the realities pregnancy, childbirth and the rules of babies. A few of my observations:
Pregnancy– You need someone to tie your shoes for you and you should drink a ton of water. You also need to get a midwife and learn the Bradley Method.
Childbirth–Labor is hard and scary and painful and messy. The birth is amazing.
Babies–Babies can’t have honey until they are a year old. A nursing baby is about the sweetest thing you will ever see. A baby will eat more bites of yucky veggies if you swap bites with sweet fruit. Always keep the basement door closed at all times.
I soaked it all in. I got a quick review of it all because my mother became pregnant again when little brother number one was about 15 or 16 months old. (Enter little brother number two.) I was upset about this. This was not the plan. I had been told that little brother number one would be two years old before another sibling would be in the works. Turns out sometimes things don’t go according to plan, even for grown ups!
I played second mommy to my two little brothers for about four years. It worked out fairly well until I started high school. By then they weren’t babies anymore and I was starting to become consumed with my internalized drama. I didn’t have the emotional maturity to parent them. We became siblings, almost enemies sometimes, not unlike my sister and I had been. Around that same time my sister and I started becoming friends, but I stopped being anyone’s mother.
In my teen years I lost my temper and screamed at my brothers so many times. I begged God in tears over and over that I would stop losing my temper but it never worked. I developed a fear that I would grow up to be abusive, that if I had kids I would scream at them and maybe even hit them. I decided maybe being a mom wasn’t a good idea for someone like me. From about age 17 to 23 I was convinced I would never want kids.
Then, when I was about 23, my friends started having babies. I knew I wasn’t ready yet but I knew that I wanted my own kids someday. I started imagining them. Meeting them, getting to know them, teaching them stuff. And watching, like my mother did, for their gifts and aptitudes to emerge so I could make sure to provide the best opportunities for them to develop.
I had my mind set on my child raising methods. I would not forbid sugar or make sweets a big deal. (Maybe my children could escape my compulsion to empty every candy dish they came accross.) I would train them to obey when they were super little so that I would never need to yell at them or spank them and they would never be brats. My kids would go to public school so they could have normal childhoods and learn how to interact with their peers. I would make sure they read all the good books and heard all the good music. I would take so, so many pictures! I would let them get good and dirty playing outside in the mud. I would make sure they had a dog! When they got to be teenagers I would make our house the best place to be so I knew they were safe. I had a million plans. I also had pretty high expectations that my experiments would turn out well. (Are you laughing yet?)
In my mid to late twenties I worried off and on if my boyfriend/fiancé and I would even be able to have children. Our circumstances certainty lent themselves to putting off first marriage and then children. I married at 30 and finally around my 36th birthday I said to my husband, “Hey, if we are going to attempt to have kids then we had better get started trying,”. He (finally) agreed and I started gearing up. I cut out artificial sweetners from my diet. I started taking detox baths. I changed to a blood pressure medication that was safer for pregnancy. I went off the hormone based birth control I had been using since I was 20 to give my body a chance to return to ovulation. I figured that would take several months or maybe even a year. I started trying to lose some weight to boost our chances and to give me a better shot at a healthy pregnancy.
Two months after stopping the birth control I was pregnant. That wasn’t exactly the plan but I was thrilled. And terrified. I was diabetic. My medications were contraindicated for pregnancy but so is high blood sugar! I stopped my meds and stopped eating simple carbs until I could get an insulin script and some clue of what I should eat. I stopped my anti-depressants as quickly as safely possible.
I may have been expecting to be a mother most of my life, but now that I was actually expecting my real child I was freaking out. I was worried that my baby would be hurt. I had wanted to be off the medications before I got pregnant and I wasn’t. My sugars weren’t as low as they should have been to start trying to get pregnant. And believe me, trying is not what was happening at that point. In my expectation of struggling to get pregnant I forgot the old wisdom of “it only takes once”.
Along side my terror there was wonder and hope. It felt like God must have just been waiting for the first chance I gave Him to send me this child. That made me feel much better, remembering God was in control. But I also felt strongly that now it was up to me not to mess it up. So I did my best. I am not saying that casually. I walked the line between perfect and insane.
In my mind there was no other choice. I was going to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of my baby. I knew that if me messing this up harmed my child I could not live with that. Period. Thus followed a period of compliance like I have never dreamed.
The Dietician said to eat only X carbs per day, divided like so. I did it and I wrote all it down. Every gram of carbs at every meal. Every sugar reading I took. Every unit of insulin. Every day. EVERY DAY. Until after I gave birth.
The Endocrinologist said inject this much insulin four times a day and poke yourself to check your sugar seven times a day. Write the result down every time. I did that too. I would set alarms at work to check and at home to wake myself up to check my sugar.
If they asked me to do it, I did.
I did have a few places that I disagreed with the experts. I never ate a low fat diet. I just made sure the fats I ate were fabulous. (Lots of organic butter and extra virgin olive oil.) I ate more meat and eggs than reccomended. I didn’t have many cravings during my pregnancy but I did have a strong drive to eat red meat.
I walked on my treadmill but I monitored my heart rate to make sure it didn’t go too high. I avoided possible sources of listeria. I avoided herbal tea, caffiene (except small does of dark chocolate), and MSG. I even avoided stevia. I cut out the essential oils that could possibly put the pregnancy at risk. I cut out hot showers and baths. I took Acetaminofen only once. I drank nothing but filtered or bottled water and plenty of it.
I showed up for every appointment. GYN, Endocrinologist, Dietician, Health Coach, Specialist GYN, Ultrasounds, labwork, and Case Management Nurse phone calls. It was like having two full time jobs. But I knew I was doing everything I was supposed to to the very best of my ability and that made me feel really good. My doctors marveled at my compliance and my success. I took what was considered a high risk pregnancy and sailed through. My blood sugar levels were nearly perfect throughout the pregnancy and my blood pressures stayed very well controlled. My weight gain stayed right on track. If all you had to look at was numbers you would have never thought my pregnancy was high risk.
I didn’t have morning sickness. I barely had heartburn. My depression faded down to nothing and, though I had some serious worries, my anxiety never overwhelmed and paralyzed me like it did pre-pregnancy. In many ways I had an easy pregnancy experience.
After I brought my son home, for several reasons, I was a mess. I was a mess like I had never been in my life and I was trying to care for my newborn plus trying to nurse, failing, then pumping and bottle feeding, followed by cleaning all the pump parts by hand (no dishwasher in my house). I repeated this process every three hours around the clock. My baby had jaundice and this three hour cycle was necessary. About day three I caved and weepingly sent my son (with a bottle) to my in-laws to stay so I could sleep a few hours. I was so guilt-riddled for doing this that I actually wasted some of my sleep time that first day crying about it. I felt like I was abandoning him and burdening them.
I could not figure out when to feed myself or shower. During the short period of time time out of every three hour shift when I could have laid him down and done something else, I could not stop baby gazing. All I wanted in life was to sit still and hold and love my baby. I felt like all the other activities were stealing that from me.
I had trouble both asking for and accepting help. I felt like I had already asked for too much help. A few examples of the help I was receiving: I had to be driven everywhere I needed to go; my mother-in-law drove me. I couldn’t carry the baby in his carseat when we got there; my mother-in-law toted him. From late afternoon until evening many days she and my father-in-law cared for my baby so I could sleep for a few hours together. (I was too afraid to sleep unless someone else was awake and watching him.) I also couldn’t carry my trash out to the road myself so my in-laws did that for me too.
In addition to that issue, when someone kindly offered me their help and asked me what to do, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t think clearly to tell them what to do to help me. I usually responded by staring into space while I tried to give them a task. On top of that I felt that I could not ask for help with some of my tasks because they had to be done exactly as I did them and I could not trust anyone else to do it right.
(Let me give you an example of my state of mind: No one else could wash and dry the pump parts! They did it wrong. I let them try and the flanges and bottles were still greasy when I went to use them. I had to re-wash them and re-dry them before I could start pumping. They also didn’t know to remove the little vinyl flap pieces so I had to take those pieces apart to re-wash and dry those too. If I told them they needed to do it differently they wouldn’t understand. It is better to do it myself.)
This type of thing, coupled by my inability to express exactly what I needed without sounding insane, effectively limited my sources of help in what they could do for me. (I feel tired now just remembering my desparation.) Everything had to be done by me and quickly and NOW or I wouldn’t be ready for the next shift.
So for a while I lived on bottled water and Kashi Granola bars. I was a pale, quavering, starving, germ-obsessed, crazy disaster. When my mom and dad came to meet the baby, they found me in that state. I think my mom might be traumatized for life from seeing me like that. (If you know anyone who just came home from the hospital after giving birth, please consider taking them food. I had plenty of meals stored up. But those first couple of weeks I couldn’t even manage to go to the freezer, get the food out, heat it up and eat it. I could barely manage to eat at all when I was alone with my baby and remembering to grab a granola bar on my way to nurse/pump was a victory.)
I didn’t know anything about how to handle my situation. I couldn’t even think straight. All my preparation for Momming failed me. I didn’t lean on my parents, I fell on them like a piano dropped by the movers in an old cartoon. They caught me. For a good while my mom held me up until I was strong enough to get through a whole day on my own again.
Just as I was starting to feel like I could live, take care of my baby and care for myself half-way decently, it was time to return to work.
It was a brand new position for me and I was working with not a soul I knew. I was also leaving my first child for the first time for nine hours a day. In addition to learning a new job I was navigating the trecherous waters of pumping at work for the first time. I was not ready for any of that, especially only six weeks after giving birth.
In all my planning I never took into account the physical reality of the post-partum period. Big mistake. I didn’t account for having to work full time to support my family while also caring for my disabled spouse, my young infant, and myself while running a household. Sometimes you just can’t understand how hard things will really be until you get there.
In spite of this we survived. I may not have done it perfectly or even well, but we all survived those crazy first five months. Since then, managing the tasks of daily life has become, well, more managable.
Looking back I can see that I thought I was totally prepared to be a mother. Turned out I was wrong and the reality was not pretty. (I don’t think any woman gives birth for the first time and brings home her baby and finds that she was completely prepared.)
Because God sent the help and love I needed just in time, I survived. I was able to heal and learn and grow strong again. In those post partum moments when things were so very difficult and my world looked so dark, I comforted myself by telling myself that I would never have another child. The only thing that made me feel better was to tell myself that I never would go through this again.
But what I can also see looking back over my journey to motherhood is this: I had a plan but the Lord directed my steps to my goal. All the way He was faithful, even when finally getting what I dreamed of proved to be more than I could handle on my own.
My original plan was kids. Plural. As in more than one. Right now the logistics of more than one seem really daunting. I am not sure what I will decide.
If I do ever choose to try to have another child, and if God blesses me with another one, I know a few things now that I didn’t last time. First, I know that the post partum period will not be as dark for me next time. Because now I know how it goes after childbirth. That period ends. It feels eternal but it gets better, a little bit every day. I know that I might lose sight of myself for a while but I will find myself again and be okay. Second, I know to arrange more help for the first four weeks. Much more help. Especially with having a newborn and a pre-existing child. Third, however things go, the Lord will be directing my steps. So I can relax a little bit. I would still do my absolute best, of course. Love for my new baby would demand nothing less. But I know I could relax my controlling, fear driven grip on things a bit and let God show me again that He is always good, loving, and faithful to me, His child.