Thursday, March 26, 2015

Diary of a Mad Pregnant Woman

One of the symptoms of pregnancy that I've not been able to grow accustomed to is the emotional swings. I've been told that pregnancy hormones change just about everything about your body, including eyesight and dental health, but I wasn't quite prepared for the emotional impact I'd go through.

The first time this took me by surprise was before I even confirmed I was pregnant. I was working with some folks on a church project last summer, which should have been a fun experience. But there were disagreements about how things should go, and while normally I would shrug off small disputes like that, I got mad. Like, really mad. I drove home from a day of preparing for the event and felt a rage I'd not felt in a long time. I was so irrationally mad about this situation, that I had to pull over to a gas station and take a few deep breaths. I remember questioning myself about this rage, and jokingly wondering if I was pregnant.

Funny how anger was my first clue I was pregnant.

I've been angry more than usual lately. I've gotten mad at the wetter than usual winter we've had. Even though it is helping with drought relief, it is delaying our house remodel by weeks. I've gotten mad at church politics and how after thousands of years, we still can't figure out that mutual forbearance thing. I've gotten mad at the Gospel writer Matthew and his need to add fire and brimstone to the end of stories, just for kicks and giggles. I've gotten mad at my husband and muh dawg for completely irrational reasons. And I've gotten mad by comments people make about my pregnant body.  I find it so bizarre that pregnancy creates an open season for people to say the most inappropriate things about your weight or insisting that you're having twins.

Funny Friday: 6 Foodie Memes To Make You Smile

The weirdest exchange happened in the grocery store: I walked in and approached the produce section. A woman came up to me and asked if I knew the secret to getting pregnant. I wasn't sure if this was leading to weird joke or if she was serious. I was about to say something about sex being  a good place to start, but then she revealed that she and her husband have struggled to get pregnant and are giving up hope. She asked me for advice because she said I look about the same age as her. She then said, "You're about 45 years old, right?"

Cue the anger.

Not only did she make me feel awkward and guilty about being pregnant when she is struggling with infertility (or maybe just going through menopause?) but then she had to overestimate my age by 16 years. This mad, pregnant woman could have gone bananas right there in the produce aisle, but fortunately the chaplain/pastor side kicked in and I told her I would keep her in my prayers and wished her the best. I then spent the rest of my grocery shopping experience, angrily trying to avoid her as we weaved up and down the aisles in a similar pattern.

Pregnancy memes - game of thrones

Other than anger, I've experienced a range of emotions. Mostly extreme joy and extreme sorrow. It's like pregnancy takes your hormones and injects a bunch of steroids into them to play with your head. I've learned that unless I'm in need of a good cry, I have to avoid certain things like watching Steel Magnolias or reading the news. Pretty much all of the news. Topics like ISIS or child abductions or black children being killed by police will all set me over the edge. I don't like that I'm avoiding the news, especially as a preacher who needs to do her congregation a favor by staying informed about the world. But it just gets to be too much.

Like last week when a pregnant woman in my hometown was stabbed and her baby stolen from her womb. The tears just kept rolling. I have been so angry and sad for this mother whose child was stolen from her body. I have been so jolted by the reality that my hometown isn't Pleasantville, a safe and utopic refuge from the world. I have been back and forth emotionally regarding the woman who committed this act, realizing that she has her own trauma and grief which likely led her to do such or horrendous thing. And I've had Gloria Estefan's "Get on Your Feet" stuck in my head because in 2nd grade I stayed the night at a friend's house, which is located down the street from where this stabbing took place, and I have a vivid memory of dancing to that song with my friend on her parent's coffee table.

I can't say I've done the best job of processing all of these emotions, but I have found that pulling weeds and going for long walks are conducive for getting some of it out. I'd like to believe this will all be relieved by childbirth and the end of pregnancy, but I've heard parenthood brings on a whole new wave of emotions.

Guess I better get used to this for the next 60 or so years.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Preparation for Labor

As I prepare and hope for a drug free childbirth, I've discovered that just about anything can be turned into practice for labor. The key is to turn frustrating, painful, or challenging situations into learning opportunities and a chance to test your perseverance. As Kimmy Schmidt would say, "Take everything 10 seconds at a time. If you can make it through the next 10 seconds, just start another 10 seconds.

Or, one minute, since that's how long a typical contraction lasts.

The following is an account of a date night at an Italian eatery. I used this opportunity as preparation for labor. Oh, sweet honey on a rock, you better believe this story is full of first world problems.

Our date started with an early movie and then we ventured over to the nearest Italian restaurant for dinner.  The parking lot was massive which should have been my first clue things would not go well for us there. The key to dining out in Austin is to pick a place that has bad parking. Others will be discouraged by the parking spot hunt and will head to the 'burbs where urban sprawl caters to their parking needs. At this particular restaurant, on the cusp of suburbia, we found a spot right away, up close. Bad news, bears.

We checked in with the hostess and she said it would be about a 30-40 minute wait. Not bad, we thought. So we made our way to the waiting area where I sat in the only available chair. Being 9 months pregnant, I didn't feel at all bad about taking the only chair.

We waited and waited and waited. People with reservations breezed past us. We waited some more. 50 minutes later our name was called. 50! That's 10-20 minutes longer than we were told. I realize this isn't that big of a deal. But when you have the pregnancy hanger, every precious minute counts. As I sat there waiting, I tapped into that labor preparation tactic. I realized the hostess just gave us an estimated time when our table would be ready.

This is a lot like estimated due dates.

40 weeks after you conceive a child, an estimated due date is given. The key here is estimate, since very few babies are actually born on their due date. So it is very possible to still be pregnant beyond your due date. This is where many women start to get anxious and desperate and give up on keeping those hormones under control. Understandably so. It's not the funnest thing to carry the weight of a bowling ball on your pelvis.

So as our wait time to be seated extended beyond the hostess' estimate, I reminded myself that this is good practice in case I go beyond my due date. I needed to invoke patience and perseverance. And, to tide me over, I ate a few mints from the lovely bowl on the table next to my chair.

Once our name was called, I was washed with a wave of relief. I eyed the plates of other patrons as we made our way to the table. Our server greeted us and asked us how long we had to wait. I thought about giving her my honest answer, but decided not to go there. However, I was irritated that she asked. It was obvious that we didn't have reservations, so we obviously waited a long time. Don't ask, Italian Eatery server. Just thank us for dining there and take our drink order.

This felt a lot like the question "Have you had your baby yet?"

Let me tell you something. Pregnant women do not like this question. Especially if you are asking it to her face. Clearly you are trying to be cute because you can see that she has not had her baby. But when you are that pregnant, it is really hard to find any humor in the question.

Moving on.

The server took our drink order and said she would bring out a fresh bread basket. I began to salivate thinking about that bread basket. I was so excited to gnaw on some food to calm my rumbly belly.

But the bread basket never came.

I could have asked her for it, but my midwife's voice popped in my head reminding me to watch the carbs. So I decided I could live without the bread basket.

This felt like good preparation for being in labor and not being able to eat anything but ice chips. At the birthing center, I can eat whatever I can/want during labor, but I still want to mentally prepare for the possibility of a hospital birth where eating isn't an option. I may still sneak some GU in just in case.

I'm guessing labor and childbirth will be like running a marathon, where the nasty taste of GU is irrelevant. 

The server took our food order and we waited a seemingly longer than necessary time for the food to arrive. This may have been my pregnancy hanger talking, but it felt like a long time. Especially as we watched other tables receive their food.

This felt a lot like stalled labor.

I've heard things can progress in labor and then stop for a while, or even altogether. Labor progression doesn't always happen in linear fashion, so when the restaurant manager brought a tray of food to us that wasn't ours, I told myself, this is just preparation for those stops and starts that may occur.

Once we got our dinner, it was fine, but nothing to write about. Our opinion of the food was probably tainted by our unimpressive experience.

When all was said and done, we didn't waste anytime paying the bill and getting out of there. We headed to another restaurant to pick up a slice of cheesecake to take home, hoping that sweet goodness would redeem our evening.

You know what? It did.

It was like that incredible moment when the baby is finally born and you've got her in your arms and you totally forget the brutal experience you just went through. Babies are lot like cheesecake in that way.

There are a plethora of ways to prepare for childbirth. I prefer a little humor. And a lot of cheesecake.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Dear Child of God

The following is a slightly edited and more vulnerable version of the last sermon I preached at First Presbyterian Church of Luling before taking my maternity leave.  

Dear Child of God,
            I wonder if you know how loved you are. You are not even born yet, but your world is filled with unbelievable love for you. I have searched my heart, hoping to have enough love to offer you. In these past 9 months, I've seen that love grow more and more each day, making the anticipation of your arrival so much sweeter. How is it possible that such a small creature could stir up so much affection and emotion? You've hardly made a stir in the world outside your current habitat, and yet, you are rocking my world already. With each kick of the ribs, you remind me that you are there.  This could be a nuisance, but I’m just glad you’re moving around, stretching those limbs and gaining strength. Each time I hear your heartbeat on the monitor, my heart skip a few beats. Such a strong rhythm, I give thanks for a healthy heart. As I count down the days until I hold you in my arms, my love for you grows more and more. Hard to believe that love will grow even more once you arrive.
            But you know what’s amazing? This incredible love that I have for you hardly compares to the love that God has for you. As excited I am about the role I've played in creating you, I'm just a small part of that. God is the one that created the one of kind design you’re made to be. God is the one who planned a life for you from the beginning. Maybe you already know this, since you’re still in that nebulous realm between heaven and earth. Perhaps you understand God’s love better than I do. It’s quite possible. But in case you don’t realize this, I hope the words of Psalm 139 show you just how much God loves you.
God has searched you and knows you. Better than anyone else, God understands you and loves you. With each movement you make in the womb, God is aware. Even when I can’t feel those subtle kicks, or hear your heart beating so fast. God is aware. God is aware of each thought that is on that tiny, developing brain of yours. All of the complicated pieces you’re putting together? They’re known by God. God knows what your personality will be like, before anyone else does. God knows what your first word will be. When your first tooth will emerge. When you’ll take your first steps.
God has hemmed you into this world, a miraculous addition to creation. Even though billions of people have come before you, God knows each and every hair on your head. God has special love just for you, just like God has a special love for every other person on earth.
Dear child of God, did you know that there’s no where you can escape from God’s presence? This might be a frightening thought for you, if you’re an introvert like me, in need of alone time every now and then. But don’t worry, God’s presence isn't a scary or exhausting thing. It’s a comforting presence. A presence that is with you through all of the sad and scary and confusing times of your life. When things start to look dark, God will be there to get you through, because darkness isn’t dark to God. Each step of this journey you’re embarking on, is accompanied by God. God will never get tired of you.
There may come a time when you think your life was a mistake. You may have a George Bailey moment, looking over a bridge into the icy depths, wishing you’d never been born. When you have those thoughts, dear child, remember that God knit you together in your mother’s womb. Each and every inch of you has been created by God, fearfully and wonderfully made. Never doubt that God had a plan for your life, even before you were a thought on the minds of your parents. God was writing your name in the book of life, making plans for your presence in the world. A unique, child of God amidst billions of other unique children of God. The Holy Spirit was there from the start, weaving you together. Making a plan for your life. Remember this dear child, God doesn't make mistakes. You are here for a reason.
Dear child of God, you’re already making waves and you probably don’t realize it. With each new life, humanity is reminded of just how precious creation is. Those of us who are bit along in years, are given this chance to look back at our lives. To think about ourselves as infants, fresh and new to the world. In you we see a reflection of who we are created to be. We remember that we too are created in God’s image. We too are precious and unique. Loved by God in profound ways. Thank you for that reminder, dear child.
For this gift you have given us, we all hope to return a gift to you. Your church family, is already making a promise to help raise you in the faith. To teach you about God and the story of the world that you fit into. These wonderful people anticipate nurturing you as best they can. Reading Bible stories to you, so you become better acquainted with God’s story. Telling you about their own faith and how it has gotten them through life.
Dear child of God, you've already heard more sermons than some people do in their entire lives. Each week you’ve been a passenger in the pulpit, soaking in the Word. Hearing about these people and events that unfolded throughout time. I wonder how much you absorbed from where you are. I wonder if the Holy Spirit somehow delivered the Word to you in utero. Eventually you’ll move to the wiggle mat up front with the other children and then later you’ll find a seat in the pew. I imagine you’ll have an easier time understanding these stories when you’re older. But I don’t want to underestimate your understanding now.
Dear child of God, you’re going to hear this grand story of the Bible year after year. It may seem repetitious, but it is such an important story, it is worth hearing every year. It’s important to be reminded of where we've come from. The Old and New Testaments are filled with our heritage, which we must remember, we must read year after year. We must examine how we fit into that grand narrative of the Bible. We continue this story as we gather today. The Church keeps the message alive.
I hope this helps form a base for your faith. That you’ll be solidly grounded in Scripture, with the help of others in the church who can impart their wisdom unto you. Ultimately you get to decide what you want to believe. You have the choice to follow Christ or not. I won't expect or force you to believe anything, but I hope you’ll choose to believe and trust. I hope you’ll recognize Jesus as a lover of social justice. A friend to the poor and marginalized. A person who came to turn the world on its head, shaking up our sense of fairness and justice. I hope you’ll find comfort and encouragement from our friend and savior. I hope you’ll find peace which surpasses all understanding. I hope you’ll find strength in this faith which offers a steady footing, when so much in the world rests on shaky ground.
Dear child of God, I look forward to growing in our faith together over the coming years. I have no doubt you have a lot to teach me. I’ll do my best to keep my mind open and try to not be so set in my ways. You’re going to have a fresh perspective on the world and on faith. Your generation is going to be different than mine, just as my generation is different than the ones before. Hopefully we find a way to learn from each other. To teach each other. To continue being the body of Christ together, in whatever form the church turns into over the next century. It’s a grand adventure, this Christian faith. I’m so excited that you get to participate in it.
Dear child of God, I anxiously await seeing who you will be.  You’ve been a gracious guest these past 9 months and it’s been a joy to carry you thus far. I recognize that once you leave my womb, you become your own person with the power to choose.  Just know that I will always love you. Whether you identify as a girl or a boy or genderqueer. Whether you love boys or girls or both or neither. Whether you go to college or not. Whether you want to be a neurosurgeon or work in retail. I will love you and support you and celebrate your life with you. Just so long as you are making decisions that give meaning to your life and speak love into the world.
Remember, whenever you are unsure about this journey, go back to the words of Psalm 139. Be reminded that God created you with love and precision. Be reminded that you are a created in the image of God, a joy and gift to the world. And remind everyone around you that they too are a joy and gift to the world. That they too are beloved, precious children of God, worthy of respect and wholeness and love.
With love,
Your mother and companion on this journey