Monday, January 26, 2015

When knowing more doesn't help

Writing this post I'm exhausted - mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. A lot of this can be chalked up to being pregnant while raising a toddler, but a fair bit of it comes from all the craziness surrounding the issues facing moms. Maybe I'm one of those unstable, double minded people, but when I read an article about some of the dangers attached to medicalized hospital births I start nodding my head and agree that they made some good points. The problem is that I do the same when I read an article critiquing freebirthers or some of the possible risks to home birth. There is no guaranteed safe way to have a healthy mom and a healthy baby. There are studies suggesting certain practices, but even then they aren't conclusive or binding across all populations. Ditto for breastfeeding issues, morning sickness, and whether or not formula feeding is a valid option or the bane of our generation. You can't even feed your kids a meal of steamed rice, grilled chicken, and carrot sticks without having someone tell you that you're going to mess up your kids for years to come.

Unfortunately, as a postpartum doula, ICAN leader, babywearing educator, and mom I just can't really shut my eyes and pretend this stuff doesn't exist. It's the world in which I live and world from which the moms around me are getting either blame or encouragement. Most of the time I can block a lot of the insanity out, but sometimes it gets a little too close. What if having a VBAC is personally risky? What if I'm not giving my son the best nourishment to make up for him having had antibiotics in the NICU? What if some of this stuff is really exaggerated? According to which study? It's hard finding your way through the din of voices, and it can be really, stinking tiring. I find myself longing for clear-cut answers.

Feed your kids these foods. Birth in this way. Use this form of discipline.

The problem is that I'm smart enough to suspect (and have seen evidence) that it's really not that simple, and sometimes that makes it really hard to help other moms or even help myself when I'm trying to figure out the smartest choice to make for myself and my children. Of course at this point a lot of it comes down to grace and trusting God, but even then what one person calls "Trusting God" another person calls a reckless disregard of the evidence. It's hard.

There are no conclusions. There is no nice summing up. This is just an acknowledgement that we live in a messy and complicated world where sometimes it's hard enough to figure out what the right thing to do even is much actually do it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Motherhood and works righteousness

The title says it all. There's really not a whole lot to add. If you hang out with moms for any amount of time you'll rapidly figure out that a lot of us are desperately trying to control our child's health, safety, mental/physical development, and future prospects by doing everything "right." It's the organic food and the early interventions and the best toys and the kindermusic and the rest of it. That's all fine as far as it goes, but then I read of some mom posting, as though it were something to be proud of, her response to another mom's question about a sick child. Honestly made me see red for a minute because it was essentially a laundry list of things you should do to keep your child from getting sick. There was one suggestion about helping get over being sick - the rest were all preventative.

Now, being proactive about our children is just part of what we do as moms. It's our job, and we should take it seriously. However, the message I got from the mom mentioned is "If you aren't doing all these things it's probably your fault that your kid is sick." She's a sweet mom and probably didn't mean it that way, but so much of this advice boils down to "if you do things right (aka my way) then you won't have whatever problem that's worrying you."

Guess what folks - my husband had a super crunchy mom and still dealt with asthma, food allergies, pneumonia, etc all before he was even an adult. They ate good food, ran around outside, and he still has health challenges. Works righteousness won't save you eternally, and it won't save you temporally. You cannot guarantee that your child or life will go smoothly, and we darn well don't need to be treating other moms like it's there fault when their kid gets an earache or strep throat or whatever is going around at the time. Maybe she needs a little encouragement on better health choices. That's fine - just don't act like if she'd just done XYZ her child wouldn't be sick now. Unless she's giving her kid decayed and rotten food you really don't know that.

So enough with the works righteousness. Take your vitamin C, pray, and trust God. Be faithful in the small things because you honestly can't control the big stuff anyway. And, please, cut each other a little slack. Seriously.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The speed of life

Well, a lot has happened in the past few months. We're expecting our second little one in the Spring, and I'm now elbows deep in mothering a toddler and helping with other mothering support groups. I'm a postpartum doula. I'm a volunteer babywearing educator. I'm about to be leading a support group for moms recovering from or otherwise dealing with cesarean birth. There's a lot on my plate. It's Christmas time, and I don't have a tree up yet.

Still, all these things are very good things. I'm just having to recruit my stamina and endurance in order to not shortchange anyone (and I admit I'm probably shortchanging someone anyway). I'm finding myself constantly frustrated because I feel like I can either clean my house, take care of my son, or work on my projects, and then I look back at the end of the day and realize just how much time I wasted on inconsequential things. It's not easy, but it is very exciting.

Anyway, that's my update. I'll try to get back to writing more here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The public issue of private pain

I've seen it happen numerous times both in others and in myself - when we have a very personal and private hurt it often doesn't stay that way and instead spills over into our public actions and attitudes. Therefore the childless woman gripes about the way our culture dotes on women with functioning ovaries and bottlefeeding moms snipe about how indiscreet and in your face breastfeeding moms are. It's probably one reason why we have articles like "15 reasons it's better as a single person" and "25 ways parenting sucks." I know that before I had Jacob I had times where I really struggled with friends having babies and going to baby showers and the like. It didn't seem fair, and I didn't really want to show up and smile and then go home and mope on the couch in one of those totally explicable inexplicable bad moods. It's hard when just doing to the mall can touch a raw nerve twenty times in as many minutes, and it's reasonable to mentally throw up barriers between us and our hurt.

The problem is that these barriers often appear as censure and disdain for the blessings of others. It's natural that a mom who had trouble breastfeeding should dislike seeing other women around her at church or at the store breastfeeding their babies with apparent ease. Much more comforting to the ego to create rules around breastfeeding and then censure other women for failing to follow them - "They could go somewhere else." "At least use a cover." "Nobody needs to know you're doing that." So now we have a private limitation causing a public issue over how a mother should or should not feed her baby. The public face is outrage, but the private source is guilt or disappointment or some other wound.

As a group this has some fairly serious ramifications. When people lash out because of their wounds, they aren't merely revealing their own damaged hearts. In many cases they are, directly or indirectly, tearing at the foundations of normal life. Marriage, birth, and breastfeeding are all pretty darn normal and foundational. They are also areas in which women can experience tremendous pain - some physical and much of it emotional. When that pain leads us to sneer at what God has called good we actually end up prolonging our pain because it ends up arraying us against God. I think it's a wonderful thing to be honest with God and with a close friend or two about your struggles. I don't think that a childless woman should have to pretend that every new baby shower invitation she receives fills her with unremitting glee. When things hurt they hurt, and we shouldn't pretend that they don't. However, the reason these things hurt us is that they are a good denied, and it hurts to be reminded of the good that's been denied us. There were times after Jacob's birth that I quite literally felt sick every time I saw something on Facebook about the value of skin to skin care after birth because that's a time I never had and never will with him. That doesn't mean that skin to skin bonding after birth is a bad thing though! That which hurts us is often very good, and I think that when call good the things that God calls good we actually come closer to healing than when we try to toss up barriers between them and ourselves because we are coming closer to the heart and will of God.

So what should we do?

I think that as a culture we need to start being ok with people being hurt. We need to admit that life is hard and sometimes other people's blessings can a stumbling block to the hurting, and as hurting people we need to admit that sometimes other people get the good we so desperately crave and seek to support them anyway. Pain is pain, and good is good. We mustn't let our personal hurts turn us against and make us despise the normal path of life and redemption that God has laid out for His people.

And that's about all I know on this topic.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mother trauma

Minor vent ahead:

I think that if there's anything in my life more exhausting than being a mom it's thinking about and researching mothering and postpartum care in our culture. Once you look under the bows and parties you'll find a whole world of hurt, angry, and confused women. There's the senseless, sin cursed tragedies of stillbirths, nursing troubles, medical disorders, and postpartum mental illness. That's horrible and painful enough, but then you find out about the willful trauma perpetuated by care providers for no reason at all. There are survivors of abuse, who already find the prospect of intimate care frightening, who find themselves triggered by callous and power hungry birth attendants. I've read countless stories of women who were cut against their will and without their consent for no medically necessary reason whatsoever. Women have been bullied and lied to and pushed around to suit someone else's convenience. Even worse, some moms have been explicitly punished for not immediately surrendering to their doctor's dictates and then have it put on their medical records that they themselves were abusive or requested certain actions. I've heard of so many repeat caesarian moms who, after being pushed into a CBAC, were told later that they declined a trial of labor.

There is enough pain and trouble with childbearing and mothering without people adding to it. I don't care if you're a doctor, nurse, midwife, or doula. I've heard stories about them all, and they are almost all equally pointless and stupid - like a doctor refusing a mother anesthetic while repairing a tear because she refused an epidural during labor. That's the sort of senseless misconduct that weighs on me when I'm reading and hearing about birth and mothering today.

I want to help people and encourage moms, but it just drains me to see how tragedy gets compounded by medical assault and malpractice. Again - I'm not talking about the grey areas. I'm not talking about trigger happy lawyers and fine lines. I'm talking about the people who act like a woman in labor doesn't even have to right to common decency.

It's hard to be a woman and to gear up and fight for life and children and family in a world that doesn't value these things. It's exhausting. Sometimes it's almost as exhausting as my clusterfeeding clingy baby who is at this moment hollering at his father because I moved more than three feet away from him. But hopefully tomorrow will be better, and maybe eventually we can stop fighting the stupid, petty battles about mothering and birth and put more of that energy into actually being good mothers.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Special as dirt

I can't seem to get away from this whole "special" thing that I've been writing about lately. Leadership and motherhood - my blog has had exactly two channels lately. I found an example today, though, that was too perfect for me to pass over without comment. A post from our local Uber-church (to be distinguished from your ordinary mega-church) popped up in my facebook feed that said "This life is not about you. It's about the One who bears his signature on your one-of-a-kind masterpiece of a life (attributed to Lou Giglio)." Then of course a woman commented underneath with:

If it is not bout us what would be the purpose of even bring born? I believe it is bout us. So we can find our father all over again thru Jesus Christ. It is he who died for our sins. And what a wonderful way to find the lord n to life our life for Jesus. Blessings to all!

Now naturally I can't lean too much on a single comment on a single post by a single church. There are people who attend my church who have very different views on things I think are not only important but obvious, and yet it segues so well with what I've been thinking and writing about leadership and the cult of "special." The "this life is not about you" part of that statement is obviously orthodox and beyond comment, it's what comes afterwards that sets my teeth on edge - "your one-of-a-kind masterpiece of a life." In plain speech it's saying that we're special. It follows that if we're special then this life really is about us and our journey. Going from a world that tells us we have a moral right to forge our own destiny to a church that reminds us repeated that God has a plan for our future it's easy to forget that these plans are about Christendom and not ourselves. To use the parable of the body - does the body exist for the sake of the eye? No. The eye and the body all exist so that we may may build up the Kingdom of Heaven. Even though the Bible often encourages us that God loves His people and wants them to flourish, I believe that the Church should be careful to counteract the world's sinful tendencies instead of Gospel-washing them. It's not enough for the Church to get all excited because we can talk about "special" too - we should be tempering that message particularly for the ears of congregants and new-comers who live in a world where "special" doctrine has become the air we breath. This is particularly true when we remember that there's a large portion of the church (see previous posts) that acts as if we can simply use the world's tools to change it because of our magical Christian specialness.

First, it does no good for the Church to flat out deny the idea that people are unique and wonderful individuals. A little reading in Psalms or the epistles is enough to knock that idea on it's head. Secondly, we are called to be a humble and contrite people. Again, a very little Scripture reading will suffice for evidence. It sounds like a bit of a conundrum, and this is where I find metaphors and analogies to be so helpful. The one image that consistently came to mind when thinking about this is dirt. We've heard the expression "common as dirt." Well, the human experience is in many ways common as dirt. We're born and we die. Along the way we have certain experiences which are common to many other people - jobs, school, relationships. One reason why we can have something like pop culture is because we're able to draw on that common human bond. In that sense pretty much everyone is as common as dirt. And yet if you talk to a farmer about dirt (or perhaps I should say "soil") you realize just how valuable it is. Good dirt produces a wealth of vegetation that feeds people far and wide and provides employment and profit to the farmer.

Good dirt is the stuff from which arises beauty and plenty. Bad dirt is barren and useful only for back filling. Dirt in the kitchen it out of place and needs to be banished. Dirt between my toes has always been rather refreshing and fulfilling. 

You see where I'm going with this. There's nothing special about dirt. Everyone has it. Everyone deals with it. In that sense we need to be humble and not think too highly of ourselves. Then again, if you've ever talked to a gardener about dirt you've probably heard about earthworms and manure and pine needles and all the things a devoted gardener will do to achieve valuable and productive soil. God does pour an immense amount of grace into our lives in order to build us up and strengthen us. However, if you look at what goes into good soil, namely manure, worms, and rotten stuff you'll realize that my analogy is nigh unto brilliant. When the Lord says "suffering produces character" that's just another way of saying "And now I'm going to spade a truck load of shit into your life." Of course not all growth is suffering. There are times when God pours down the warm sun of His mercy and the healing rains of His grace. Even then we need to remember that God's larger purpose in tending us is to grow something beautiful. Dirt doesn't exist for it's own sake. We don't exist for our own sake. Like the Jews of Jesus' time we can't say "Well, God needs us to accomplish His purposes." because God is already breaking up and cultivating other stony hearts. The whole point is that we are exactly as special as dirt. This should either be encouraging or convicting.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Looking beyond babyhood

You know how when you have a honda suddenly half the cars you see on the road are hondas? It's the same thing with motherhood - suddenly you start noticing when folks sing about their moms on the radio and clicking on the random mommy links your friends share on facebook. One thing a lot of these links have had in common lately is that they talk about some of motherhood's "ends." I've been reading about weaning and those last few months of babywearing and packing up baby clothes and all those sort of things. Not that I am, so it pleases God, anywhere close to done with nursing and baby clothes over here, but I know that at some point I will be done. That thought is a little sad. Yet, this morning, the thought struck me that perhaps in acknowledging all of the first lasts a mother faces we swing a little too far? Consider this article on weaning your last baby. I've no doubt that what she's facing is real and sad, but are we perhaps leaning a little too hard on motherhood as biology? For those of us in more "crunchy" circles this makes sense. Pregnancy is a time where we're encouraged to trust and nurture and really inhabit our bodies. Labor and delivery is talked about in physiological terms that encourage moms to avoid medications and trust their instincts. The whole act of becoming a mother is one long biological phenomena that continues all the way through breastfeeding. But then what?

This Tim McGraw song has been on the radio recently, and it really caught my attention.

Yeah, it's an idealized picture of life in the country, but what caught me the most was the sense of a man who's mother still held a space for him of peace and welcome and contentment. This is a man who left the farm to make his way up in the world only to realize later (as he must since this is a country song) that what he's really missing is the good life his momma has created with his daddy. So on one hand we've got the end of nursing and a break in that intimate relationship between mother and baby, but on the other hand we've got a grown man looking at his wife and telling her that the good life, the life he wants to live, can be found through his momma's front door. For all the talk I've heard about a nursing mother's breasts - what they symbolize for her and the world around her and the very real benefit they are to her and her child - breasts are, ultimately, not the enduring symbol of motherhood. The platonic ideal of motherhood, or so it seems, is that of a woman perpetually and cheerfully in the kitchen baking bread and layering lasagna and fixing lemonade and rolling out pie crusts and frying chicken. It's an ideal of comfort and warmth and plenty. It's vocational rather than biological. It's the sort of space I hope to hold for my child(ren) someday.