Grace for the tired out parent

Our first child opened his eyes on this world for the first time at the beginning of October in Northern California. I was on my feet minutes after his delivery, and out walking with him in the sunshine two days after that. Although I had been ambivalent on learning of my pregnancy – we’d been married barely a year and a half; I’d just turned 23, and we hadn’t planned this – every cliché in the book applied: my son was astonishingly beautiful and I loved him fiercely. My grandmothers’ genes made it such that I was immediately back in my regular jeans, and we seemed to be off to a great start.

That is, until our son reached the ripe age of two weeks and decided that he wanted to bail on the whole ‘being a baby’ thing. I have since encountered other babies and children who matched his distinct set of characteristics. Rather than lulling him to sleep, the baby swing wound him up, as did going for car rides. Even rocking and nursing were more stimulating than soothing for him. He was too awake, too alert; too full of desires he was far from being able to communicate to us, or, better, to fulfill on his own. The very day he was able to grasp a butterfly rattle and shake it in front of his face – all by himself! – he fell asleep right there on the floor, contented and happy.

One of the most oft-repeated bits of unsolicited advice proffered to new mothers is “sleep when the baby sleeps,” which is all right when it’s your first baby and you’re not suffering from an anxiety disorder. I never could sleep when the baby slept, because it took such monumental effort to get him to sleep that every little squeak and murmur in our old house or outside it jolted me awake, worried that I’d have to start the whole going to sleep process again: the diaper change, the super-tight swaddling, the strategic pacifier insertion method, the pediatrician-approved wedged-in side sleeping position, and the little womb-sounds device we affectionately called “the swooshy.” After three months of this, I was a sniveling wreck of mature theological insights such as

 “They say children are a blessing from the Lord but I think they’re wrong!

People would ask me how many children we’d like to have in all and I’d just stare at them. Our son was two and a half when his brother entered the scene, and although little Graeme was a textbook ‘easy’ baby, in the weeks and months after his birth I began a slippery slide into postpartum depression. I couldn’t explain what was wrong; why I was so anxious, sad, and scared. And that, too, scared me. I don’t think I even had the energy for immature squabbles with God about whether or not children were really the blessings the Bible made them out to be. I just felt closed off from God, and almost everyone else, too.

"First Time in the Grass," by SurlyGirl. Photo courtesy SurlyGirl via Flickr Creative Commons.
“First Time in the Grass,” by SurlyGirl. Photo courtesy SurlyGirl via Flickr Creative Commons.

{Excerpted from my review of Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s memoir of having two kids — and then twins! — and a bit of a faith crisis in the process. Read it all at Englewood Review of Books — here.}

Pregnancy as Hospitality

NYMag’s Vulture blog had this post on how the movie posters from the What to Expect When You’re Expecting movie are “deeply disturbing.” And they are, look–

And that’s one of the less-bad ones.

What’s frightening about these photos is how ridiculously skinny and airbrushed these pregnant women are, like the pregnancy is some kind of abdominal accessory.

Make no mistake, “skinny pregnant” is a thing. I get blog hits every day based on those kinds of search terms. When I was first pregnant, I read, with great interest, this article about pregnant New Yorkers who worked out like crazy and counted every ounce. I learned of this exercise program aimed at preventing and reversing the “mummy tummy.” And I also found the oddly titled Pregnancy Without Pounds.

Because, I’m ashamed to say, I was afraid of getting bigger.

A number of times now, I’ve been asked how I went from disordered in my eating and body image to joyfully (if occasionally) consuming pie for breakfast.

I’m never quite sure how to answer the question. It’s complicated.

But there is one thing that I can point to for sure. Wait, two things, actually:

Oh, I didn’t start out well. I fretted about getting a belly (will it ever go away?) and confessed to my husband that I “just didn’t want to gain weight.” And he said:

“If you don’t gain weight, our baby will die.”

{Ouch.}

And so I did the best I could. I ate. (And managed not to puke it all up.) I got bigger. And I had a really, really beautiful baby. I nursed him. And as I nursed him, I felt a powerfully strong sense of our connection. To feed him, I had to feed myself. I wanted him to get bigger and stronger. I had a context for seeing feeding and weight gain as unquestioned positives, and to make that happen, I had to feed myself so I could feed him.

Having my baby showed me my unmistakeable connectedness.

To me, that’s the thing that’s scary about the obsession with pregnancy skinniness, which I see reinforced everywhere–on Facebook, in conversations, and (certainly) among the tabloids, which seem always to be screaming about how skinny this or that celebrity just X number of weeks after having a baby, and now, these stupid movie posters.

The obsession with pregnancy skinniness spectacularly misses the point, which is that women’s bodies are capable of

making room.

hosting new life.

welcoming babies, those nearest of strangers.