Birth plan

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I am officially in the third trimester so naturally I’ve got birth on the brain (and in the womb–braxton hicks all day, every day). This is my second go around with it so I sort of know what to expect. Which is to say I don’t know what to expect.

Last time, I was completely open to either going med-free or having an epidural. On one hand, I had (and still have) this idealistic tendency to romanticize suffering and think of how powerful a force and how uniquely feminine a sacrifice offering up the pain of a med-free birth is for the good of a broken world. On the other hand, I was well aware of how badly I suffer in my daily life–gimme an epidural when I stub my toe, thank you v. much.

But my labor started out with intense, close contractions rather than manageable, gradual ones. I couldn’t even talk through my very first contraction. When we reached the hospital at 2am, I felt like I was at the threshold of the amount of pain I could withstand. Then they told me I had 6cm to go and the thought of all the pain just getting worse and worse made me so, so done with it. So I ended up with the epidural and a nice long nap before the stress of a yo-yo-ing baby heart-rate, a near-c-section, ten minutes of pushing, an un-photogenic face full of broken blood vessels from holding my breath while pushing, a lot ugly, happy sobs, and the terror and wonder of a new life spread out before me. 

Sometimes, I wonder whether the experience of labor depends on pain tolerance or pain perception. Is it simply a matter of being weak-willed (or ill-prepared mentally) or can you actually experience the same pain as another person but more acutely? (I have read that part of being an hsp is a hightened sensitivity to pain)

I’ve never considered a natural birth for the typical reasons. I’m not afraid of medical interventions. I have no desire to wear it as a badge of pride and I have no curiosity about “fully experiencing” labor and delivery. I’m not an au naturel, attatchment parenting type. I don’t feel like it’ll bond me to my baby more deeply.

But I can hardly ever think of birth without thinking of death and of the meaning of suffering. The similarities between the two were highlighted when I read Kristin Lavransdatter last year with my bookclub. For many characters in the novel, the labor of birth and the labor of death last for days–their agonies unmitigated by modern palliative care methods. As a midwife assists a woman in birth, a priest assists a soul at the hour of death:

“Sira Eirik continued to hold him against his chest for a moment. Then he gently laid his friends body down on the bed, kissing his forehead and smoothing back his hair, before he pressed his eyelids and nostrils closed; then he stood up and began to say a prayer.”

Most of us now live in an anesthetized world where suffering is considered meaningless. But I believe in the Christian mentality that says in no uncertain terms that suffering can be intensely meaningful: a means to enter intimately into the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, to unite yourself deeply to those mysteries, and something that can be sanctified and offered up for the good of the whole world.

Ultimately of course, when it comes to both birth and death–when it comes to all experiences God allows you to undergo in your life–what matters is abandonment to His will rather than the fulfillment of your own. This might mean a emergency trip to the hospital when you planned a home birth, an epidural when you wanted to keep up your med-free birth streak, an accidental natural birth in the car when you wanted to be entangled in relief-gushing iv’s at the first twinge of pain. You might even have to face the harrowing, rare but real possibility of yours or your child’s death in childbirth.

For this reason, I can never say one way or another what my birth plan is. But I know birth is a kind of death. Death, a kind of birth. We’re encouraged to pray for the dying, for the dead, and for a good death of our own. And so, I also try to make it a habit to pray for women and children in birth and for my own good birth, whatever it might involve.

P.S. Some of my favorite labor/birth posts around the web:

Prayers for Birth

Natural Childbirth and Marathons

Deliver Us: The Sweet Suffering of Childbirth

P.P.S. My own past poetic-ish ramblings on pregnancy and birth here, here, and here.

P.P.P.S. Wouldn’t this or this make a lovely gift for an expectant mother?

 

Birth plan

Reading, Eating, etc.

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Reading

Books:

Still marching through the middle of Middlemarch but I’ve been breaking it up with a few other things:

When Breath Becomes Air: I had high hopes for profundity from this one, but I wish there had been more of an integration of medicine, literature, philosophy, and faith. However, I do realize Kalanithi was actually dying as he wrote this and I imagine writing a book without knowing if you’ll live another week, month, or year makes it a harried process. I did find his wife’s and his largely unquestioning use of ivf out-of-character for him since he had spoken so eloquently about the dignity of human life and he made such a big deal about the need to have a critical mindset when facing possible ethical dilemmas. Otherwise, Kalanithi did come across as a genuinely kind person with both intellectual and personal depth.

La Morte D’Arthur: when Joe and I were dating, we made it a point to read together and some of my happiest memories of the early days of our relationship are wrapped up in the words of G. M. Hopkins, Kenneth Grahame, Josef Pieper, and others. Somehow, between work and babies, we fell out of the habit, but recently we picked up La Morte D’Arthur and it’s been hilarious to read together.

No-Drama Discipline: because it has good reviews and I don’t know the first thing about disciplining children well (how exactly are you supposed to react when your toddler won’t stop gleefully biting you when you’re trying to work out?)

-And some Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers on audiobook.

Articles:

Work, work, work:

The Work You Do, the Person You Are

The United States of Work

The Case for Being Grumpy at Work

-Maybe it’s just because I’m phlegmatic to the bone, but does this just seem more exhausting than laudable to anyone else?

Online life:

Before the Internet: “It was a heady time!” Made me laugh.

My son is a hashtag: “The best we can do is whatever feels OK for us and our children now.” I don’t know. Is that the best? Mightn’t we deeply regret what felt was okay at one point and wish we had thought more critically about it?

More on parenting:

St. John Chrysostom’s advice on raising children

In Defense of Motherhood as Art: I have a lot, a lot of thoughts about this, but I did especially love this part:

“At my most hopeful I think that writing and art are essential to motherhood and vice versa. Each accesses the most ancient, the most universal, the most complex emotions. Each requires the nurturing of a new consciousness, a new being, a new way of seeing. Each is endlessly different and endlessly dull, endlessly challenging and spiked with constant disappointment and beauty.”

Community: Having the Right Intention: lots of ideas here I need to be reminded of for living in my own tiny community.

-And just for fun: If you’re a word-nerd like me, you’ll love this.

Eating

-I threw a girls night a few weeks ago and my sweet friends who knew I’ve been craving Asian this pregnancy all brought me Asian food. The day coincided with National Donut Day and since donuts are one of my two very favorite foods (gnocchi being the other), I made these Vietnamese donuts. (Actually, I made prepped the dough and various friends facilitated the deep frying). I made condensed milk custard dips for them (plain, matcha, and cinnamon flavored) and writing this out makes me really need to get back in the kitchen and whip up another batch.

-We also made Taiwanese popcorn chicken and as a result, a street-food tour of Asia has made its way on my bucket list.

-More Asian yums: crispy ginger tofu. I made ours with stir fried Chinese eggplant and broccoli. Unfortunately, I didn’t dry the tofu out enough to it all got stuck together in one gelatinous mass that I had to cut up after frying. Still good. Still would make again.

-I like themey-ness, so for our anniversary I had originally intended to make something like gnocchi (our wedding day food…because my favorite food) or traditional English picnic fare (we honeymooned in the English countryside). But I had things that needed to be used up in the fridge so it ended up being pan-fried chicken thighs with a white-wine-shallot grape sauce, risotto, and a radicchio almond salad. I wasn’t at all sad for the lack of themey-ness.

-Of course, it’s an unspoken cooking rule that you should always intentionally make too much risotto so that you can make arancini (otherwise known as Italian rice balls of fun).

-Easy weeknight meal: Greek lemon-chicken soup: there was half a rotisserie chicken in the fridge and I had all the ingredients on hand, but I had forgotten how good and simple this soup is. (I made it without a recipe but this is basically what I did.)

Summer eats:

Peach-tomato salad with goat cheese, honey, thyme, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Made to go alongside steaks and smashed red potatoes.

Worcestershire-balsamic marinated flank steak salad romaine leaves, roasted yukon gold potato medallions, tomatoes, sauteed onions, and goat cheese crumbles.

Tomates farcies (stuffed tomatoes). That sounds fancy, but really it was a clear-the-fridge, shop-the-pantry meal because we had tomatoes that were turning mushy on the counter. I mixed tuna (the good jarred kind, not the cat food in a tin kind), cooked rice, freshly grated parmesan, assorted chopped olives, fresh thyme, a few spoons of olive oil and brine from the olive jar. Then after stuffing the tomatoes with said mixture, I topped them with panko, more parmesan, and a few pats of butter and popped them in the oven to roast. Served with a buttery toasted baguette, this meal ended up being infinitely better than a lot of meals I plan out and shop for.

Etc.

Worth a listen. I’m always wary of buzzwords and ’empathy’ is a hot one right now.

“when…you’re imagining to be empathetic or to share suffering you’re immediately incorporating that experience into a view of yourself and your own worldview. What Arendt wanted was actually something a bit more radical than that, is to imagine something that’s not your world, that makes you feel uncomfortable. And that’s where the work has to start. And that’s why she was also very committed to thinking.”

-Do you and your significant other differ when it comes to board games? Joe likes a good strategy game (Risk, Pandemic, Settlers of Catan). I like a good party game (Loaded Questions, Balderdash, Cranium). I’ve been determined to find a game that fits us both and on an online forum, someone suggested Sushi-Go. It’s actually pretty entertaining, but it’s all the more fun when you get sushi to-go alongside it. I really think we could take our sushi game nights to a whole new level with this baby.

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Reading, Eating, etc.

Immaterial gifts

(c) Littlehampton Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Ever since I became a mother, I’ve been thinking about the connection of parenthood with gift giving. Gift giving for children is a subject fraught with strong opinions. And while I am interested in the relationship of physical objects in a child’s life and formation, I’m thinking here more of immaterial things.

It’s easy to become jealous of other parents who can afford all the organic/handmade/designer things for their children. Or of the private schools, neighborhoods, and travel destinations they’ll get to enjoy. Or to be persuaded by the false idea that certain things you may pass on to a child are gifts rather than what really might be burdens: opinions, political views, aesthetic taste, unfulfilled life dreams etc. Even beyond lovely and unquestionably good gifts of homecooked meals or craft time or, heck, reading, writing, and arithmetic, there are more foundational gifts Christian parents in particular are called to give their children. These gifts aren’t bound by money or intelligence, but only by love. Only by a mother or father’s willingness to conform their will to the One who is Love.

An existence rooted in love

In a world that wishes to make the starting point of existence conveniently vague, to turn children into commodities ready to be harvested and purchased when desired or blotted out when inconvenient, it’s a gift to root a child’s existence in the loving marital embrace of a husband and wife. By conceiving and receiving a unique and unrepeatable human being, a husband and wife live out the life-long vows they made the day they wedded themselves to one another: that they were “prepared to accept children lovingly from God”. And by being conceived and received as such, a child comes to know the truth that all creation is willed into existence by love–that, as a philosophy professor of mine once said, “all existence is a love affair with goodness.”

A recognized and honored identity

The mystery of the baby in the womb is thrilling and exasperating. You see them first during the ultrasound and now this abstract, fuzzy idea of your baby becomes concrete and breathtaking. Then, perhaps, you find out whether you are having a girl or a boy and you start to visualize the little person that’s about to make their entrance. Then you give birth to them and see them face to face and, maybe like I did, think, “Who are you??” Of course you don’t know their personalities yet. Their quirks. The things that will fill them with joy or irritate them. And honestly, it’s hard to even know what they really look like, all squashed and newbornish as they come.

But there are a few things you know and that you gift to your child by recognizing and honoring: that they are your son or daughter. That they have a heritage rooted in the families and cultures you’ve come from. But far more importantly, that they are are a son or daughter of God and have been made in His image and likeness. That they have a spiritual heritage: a family in the communion of saints.

That they are born with a free will that is most free when it is united to God’s will. That they are born with a vocation written in their hearts that you as a parent can’t alter or substitute with your own desire.

That they are ultimately not yours, but ultimately God’s. That they never fully belong to you. Not when they are growing in your belly or sleeping milk-drunk against your shoulder or at any moment beyond. That they are intended for deepest union with God and may be invited into that union in ways or at times unwelcome by you. To relinquish that control, to forever be reminding them of their identity and what that identity calls them to is a gift.

A name

A name is a powerful thing. A word imbued with such significance as to summon up a whole person in your mind. And you hope the names you choose for your children will be lovingly repeated again and again all the days of their life and for years after they’ve passed.

Names far too often become style symbols: a way to reflect the parents’s good taste and originality. Moreover, parents jealously guard them from “name-thieves” and woe be to anyone who “steals” the name they’ve chosen.

But a name is not a parent’s possession. Rather, it’s something that ought to be chosen and gifted for the good in itself that it is. How beautiful to give a child a name with namesakes of saints and angels and family members who then are called upon beyond time and space to become dear friends, guardians, and role models for the child. How beautiful it is to remember firstly that a name is not something in which to look for glowing reactions from others, but the very thing under which your child will be baptized and therefore forever be tied to his or her most fundamental identity as a Christian.

An understanding of reality

It’s easy to view childhood as a dreamy space removed from reality; that is, removed from suffering and sorrow. But reality is more than just hardship. It’s the fact that there is a ground beneath your feet and a sky above your head. That the physical world is impregnated with transcendence. That there are metaphysical confines of time and space which can be frustrating, but can also be made holy. That, like the mathematical laws that keep a cathedral standing through the centuries, there are absolute laws of nature written in the heart of man that must be upheld lest the architecture of human relations comes crashing down. But that within these solid and unchangeable truths of nature, there are a myriad of beautiful nuances. As Gerard Manley Hopkins so perfectly writes:

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Too often, adults withhold the beauty of reality from children because of their own relativistic confusion and fear of imposing absolutes on anyone. Parents and teachers mistakenly believe they are forming open-minded people, when instead they are turning out empty-minded people. Instead of imposing absolutes, they impose their own anxieties on susceptible minds left to fumble through the world as a distorted funhouse of mirrors. It’s, therefore, a child’s birthright to be rooted in reality. It’s a gift to share with a child stories and conversations that reflect reality, to give them experiences of the God-given diversities in nature and in people, and to sanctify the time they spend and the spaces they inhabit (i.e. living the liturgical year and making the home a domestic church). It’s through these things that a parent gives a child a cohesive and awe-filled vision of the universe.

Faith

There’s a moving part in the novel, Brideshead Revisited, where the character of Julia Flyte laments that she wasn’t able to give her childhood faith to her stillborn child:

“I hadn’t thought about religion before; I haven’t since, but just at that time, when I was waiting for the birth, I thought, ‘That’s the one thing I can give her. It doesn’t seem to have done me much good, but my child shall have it.’ It’s odd, wanting to give something one had lost oneself.”

The indelible mark left by her own baptism makes Julia realize that the passing on of faith to one’s child, no matter how poorly you’ve adhered to it, is a gift.

We are creations living in a created and fallen world so we necessarily need a relationship with the Creator to navigate the fallenness and to reach our final, intended end with Him. That relationship is nourished and cultivated through concrete things such as the sacraments, Sacred Scripture, the moral teaching of the Catechism, the works of mercy, and little traditions and devotions. It’s up to parents to integrate all the aspects of their lives with these things.

A community

There’s a reason a child is born to a mother and father rather than growing out of the ground or dropping from the sky: because we are meant for community. And there is nothing like the community of family to form a person in joy and humor and, you know, to painfully stretch their soul in virtue. This is why being open to having more children (i.e. siblings) is a gift to a child. This is why investing yourself in the larger community of extended family, friends, and neighbors is a blessing. Why choosing good and holy godparents for your child is so important. Why reading stories of the saints (i.e. their spiritual community) with your children is a gift. Why considering something radical like communal living might be a weightier choice for your child’s life than whether you should formula feed or co-sleep.

A lived theology of the body

This is tied deeply to growing up in a healthy, loving community and having a sane sense of reality, but I think it deserves its own section. We are incarnational beings in an incarnational world. But it’s a fractured world where body and soul are often at odds with one another. A world where we are never comfortable with our bodies because of ever-changing standards. Where bodily autonomy reigns even to the point of medicated self-destruction. An over-sexualized world where bodies are objectified and the caution-tape language of consent must be learned at a young age. It’s frankly scary to have a body in this world.

So one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is an lived theology of the body. To teach them, through the everyday touches of life and our conversations with them, that there will always be a tension between the desires of the body and the soul but that body and soul are meant to be reconciled and redeemed. That our bodies are groaning for the resurrection. That the bodily actions that make up our days and our lives (washing dishes and hugging and resting and crying and dancing and, yeah, sex or the sacrifice of it) are all profoundly bound up in our relationship with one another, with God, and with the course of history.

An appreciation for stories

This one might not seem as foundational as all the other ones listed, but there’s something to be said about every human culture valuing storytelling even before written language existed (or you know, before long-form Netflix tv shows). More crucially for the Christian, history is not simply a random succession of events, but the story of salvation, and we are living in that story. As such, all good stories dramatize truths about the human condition in light of the creation, fall, and redemption. And this is why good, compelling stories matter and can change your life.

Far better than I could ever put it, Jessica Hooten Wilson argues for the need to be scandalized and changed by good stories:

I hope that we…that we do not turn away from the stories that may shape us into better humans, better Christians, more faithful sons and daughters. For as Christians we all live in the shadow of the Book of books, and we all desire with great fear, trembling, and hope to be scandalized by the Word made flesh.

….

All these things might seem obvious but so often they’re considered secondary or obsolete to other, frequently false things. So if you’re like me wishing you could give your child the world (i.e. needle felted wool toys and the ability to speak French), you can at least take comfort in the fact that you’re doing your best (even if your best is far from the best) to give them the things that really matter.

Image: Reginald Bottomley, A Mother and Child Looking at the Virgin and Child

Immaterial gifts

Mamas Day Movies

My sister often asks me for film recommendations for different holidays. I like themed movies so I try to come up with a perfect one, but oftentimes I just redirect her to About Time, which works for all occasions and never gets old. This year, I’m preemptively posting some for Mother’s Day. These films deal with more than just physical motherhood, but with the call to spiritual motherhood that’s written in every woman’s heart.

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1. Marie’s Story: based on a true story, Sister Marguerite works at a convent school for deaf girls. When a blind and deaf girl named Marie is rejected from the school because the mother superior doesn’t feel they are able to help her, Sister Marguerite takes it upon herself to become the girl’s personal teacher. Marguerite becomes a second mother to Marie, guiding her as it were, out of the dark, silent womb she’s been living in her entire life into the light of communication and communion with others.

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2. Babette’s Feast: two puritan sisters in late-nineteenth century Denmark take a refugee of the French Revolution into their home as a cook and when she wins the lottery, she spends it all on cooking a luxurious feast for the sisters and the other members of their church. The feast, gratitude expressed materially, works as a reordering of the senses toward a sacramental vision of life. I don’t know of anything more profoundly motherly than a marriage between physical and spiritual nurturing. Also, it’s Pope Francis’s favorite film.

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3. The Painted Veil: based on a book by W. Somerset Maugham, this film set in 1920s China centers on the character of socialite, Kitty Garstin (Naomi Watts), who marries bacteriologist, Walter Fane (Edward Norton), simply to escape her stifling life at home. Once married, she continues to live selfishly and begins an affair with another man. Her husband punishes her by taking a position in a remote cholera-ridden village, but it’s in that environment, that Kitty is able to grow, to learn to live for the other rather than the self, and to come into her own motherhood. “When love and duty are one, then grace is within you,” says the Mother Superior of the convent and orphanage where Kitty volunteers at. I think those words sum up motherhood most fully lived out.

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4. Tree of Life: Confession–I’ve only watched about half of this film because *hsp alert* I can only handle so much emotional tension in a film at one time. However, Jessica Chastain’s portrayal as the ethereal and nurturing mother of three boys in Terence Malick’s film/spiritual-daydream/visual-existential-voyage is beautiful. She embodies her vocation as a mother both in the physical aspects of rocking babies and cooking meals for her family, but also in trying to maintain a sense of peace and stability in her husband’s emotionally volatile shadow.

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6. Cinderella: this is just a visually stunning film to watch, but I also love the long extending influence of Cinderella’s mother’s words to her: “have courage and be kind”. These maternal words of advice help Cinderella grow up with an inner strength that those around her lack and help nurture virtue in her.

Room the film

5. Room: I probably won’t ever watch one because of my sensitivity to sexual abuse in films, but it’s come so highly recommended from reviewers I trust that I couldn’t leave it off this list.

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6. Pray the Devil Back to Hell: okay, another one I probably won’t ever watch because of the violence, but if you’re looking for a film that shows the unwavering love and grit of mothers, this seems like the one for you.

And some fun bonus ones: Matilda (because Miss Honey), The Sound of Music, Little Women, It’s a Wonderful Life (because Mary Hatch), and if you’re in the mood to watch a hilarious and terrible mother, Love and Friendship.

What films that explore spiritual and physical motherhood would you add to this list?

Happy Mothers Day to all mothers!

Mamas Day Movies

Living the gritty poetry of love.

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Have you ever heard the wonderful Van Gogh quote: “I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people”? I’ve seen it beautifully hand-lettered and then shared over and over again on the Internet. It’s the sort of quote that would make for the perfect caption under a bright and dreamy lifestyle family photo.

It also calls to my mind something that Joseph once said while we were engaged. He was having a conversation with someone who was encouraging him not to give up his dreams of writing poetry for a wife and family. He responded by saying, “Well, Dominika’s the best kind of poetry.” Of course it made me swoon to hear that (and still does!), but there’s a weight to it that has continued to resonate with me as I enter more deeply into the mystery of loving people.

Sometimes loving people really does feel artistic and poetic. Falling in love, getting engaged, walking up the aisle on your wedding day, holding your freshly born baby. Those moments are palpably transcendent. And even within ordinary days there are moments that feel sacred and extraordinary. When Leo visibly understands different words for the first time. When he wraps his tiny arms around my neck and squeezes with real affection. When Joe traces the sign of the Cross on his forehead when we put him to bed. Those moments are met with a happy fiat on my part.

But there are a lot of days that feel emphatically unpoetic. Many days, I fail again and again and wish that someone could relieve me of motherhood. When I’m trying to fix dinner and Leo’s clawing up my legs and whine-crying, I’m so quick to lose it and snap at him. Or when I slip into all-day social media scrolling because I feel like it just takes so much energy to be present with him, I become convinced someone else would do this job so much better than I would.

On this blog, I try to write about motherhood honestly and specifically in a way that means to show its sometimes sweet and sometimes stark but ever-redemptive beauty. I do this because so much of the language surrounding parenthood tends to be banal, an exercise in fear-mongering, and generally unhelpful for young people already feeling apprehensive about the commitments of marriage and parenthood.

However, I think it’s important to admit that sometimes the beauty isn’t perceptible and it certainly doesn’t feel redemptive. It really does feel like the trenches. It doesn’t feel like you’re valiantly marching under the standard of sacramental love. It feels like you’re swimming in exhaustion and hailed on by a multitude external pressures.

And at the end of the day, after failing time and time again and wondering just how much I’m messing up my child with my impatience and harshness, all I can do is offer up a reluctant and frankly pretty sucky fiat. It usually goes something like, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to get up in the morning and do this all over again. I just want a friggin break. So just make me want this. Because I’ll keep choosing it, but only because I have to.” Not really stuff of “Behold, handmaid of the Lord here” caliber, but I think God accepts and works even with my crappy fiats.

And I know He works with them, because eventually, in a calmer moment, I’m able to say with a little more grace than before:

“Now I accept the cross You have sent me, which I at first rejected, and I accept not having accepted it right away.”**

Then when I hold my sick child who cries if I move at all or look at him or dare to breathe, and I’m able to do it patiently even if I’m not feeling patient, I think it might even more poetic than when I beheld him miraculously as a newborn. When I let Joe give me a kiss when he comes home instead of swatting him away because I am so touched out by sticky toddler embraces, it’s perhaps more poetic than the kiss we shared on our wedding day.

I’ve barely been able to blog lately and I haven’t been able to write anything else. March has been the month of never-ending sickness for this aspiring-and-usually-failing-at-being-holy family (admittedly I’m generally the one dragging us down). But March also has ties to The Holy Family, since it contains both the solemnities of the Annunciation and of St. Joseph. Mary and Joseph aren’t remembered for the great deeds they accomplished in brazen acts of independence (deeds they could have been accomplishing if they didn’t have to take care of each other and baby Jesus, dang it.) They’re remembered for their humble receptivity to will of God even when that will involved fear and sorrow and the Cross. And yet, their lives have been lauded for centuries in poetry, art, and music.

It’s a good reality check for me to remember that writing blog posts or poetry about motherhood–writing poetry at all–isn’t comparable in real sense to actually living it. Great poetry might be recited till the end of the world. But really living the gritty poetry of love, living it well, even if it’s not remembered, endures eternally.

And I know several more years and children might make me look back and think a. I had ONE CHILD. One healthy, pretty easy going child. I had no idea what it’s like to really struggle and/or b. geez the death grip I had on my time and my right to a certain level of sanity was just not realistic and no wonder I was struggling.

It should also be known that I got a free chunk of babysitting this week (yes I was pinching myself the whole time) and wrote this from a cafe. Some people dream of traveling to Bora-Bora or the Amalfi Coast. I dream of traveling alone to Corner Bakery Cafe for a couple of hours.

**From I Believe in Love, a book that’s been invaluable in my daily life.

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Living the gritty poetry of love.

Life as a 10 month old

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Some of Leo’s disposable diapers bear a hilarious legend on them reading, “I’m a busy baby” which makes me think of babies having agendas and trying to strike a work life balance. But he really is a busy baby.

We ask him, “What will you be?” A dentist when he shoves his hand forcefully into our mouths to discover what’s within. A tap dancer when we hold him over any hard surface and his feet paddle furiously against it. A contemplative monk when the stained glass at church absorbs his attention.

I wonder and wonder who will he be. What are the things he will say? What will our relationship with him look like in five, ten, fifteen, twenty years?

But he’s not waiting in some cocoon to transform into his future self. He really is busy being himself right now. And Leo right now is a wild and wondrous creature more bird or elf or monkey than human.

While his mother is caught up in her worries and distractions, he is meeting his world head on scampering away from grownups, flinging himself in different directions, falling over in boxes all the while chirping and babbling.

Except for diaper changes.

I’m pretty sure his gnashing and wails are just baby speak for a recitation of Helena’s monologue from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:

O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment:
If you were civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?

 

 

Life as a 10 month old

Grace is everywhere

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When I was fifteen, I very much wanted to be a nun tucked away in some quiet cloister in the mountains spending a life of contemplation and prayer. But if I did get married, I’d have ten well-behaved children, sew all their clothes, speak to them off and on in multiple languages (because I’d be fluent in like five of them, duh), and somehow still manage to chase my dreams of being a published author and wallpaper designer. And of course, we’d be living in a pretty little cottage in some foreign countryside. And I wouldn’t be frazzled and stressed. I would be the most peaceful and collected sweet dreamboat of a mother. I would actually somehow have my sh** together.

Well those potential futures were fun to idly dream about when time was hilariously ample and I should have been drilling myself on declensions and verb tenses. Needless to say I’m on a fast track to neither of those lives. Today, I spoke to my son half in English, half mirrored baby babble. I found a stain on my shirt that might be chocolate, might be poop. I have yet to change out that shirt. Or put my on contacts. Or get out of my jams. Oh and I definitely haven’t published a thing or designed any wallpaper.

I think if you would have given fifteen-year-old Dominika a real depiction of the mother she would become, she would have gone into mourning over the death of her imagined future self, and said in unison with a despairing Gerard Manley Hopkins, “AND WHAT DOES ANYTHING AT ALL MATTER!” But I’m at peace with all this.

There are certainly days when I’m not at peace with it. Days when it feels like my other dreams and ambitions outside of motherhood are increasingly slipping away. Days when I selfishly get frustrated that I actually have to watch my little adventurer like a hawk when just weeks ago his immobility meant I could get things done. Days when I question my parenting decisions because of all the judgment and expectations that seem to float around. Days when I fear having more children because of the fear of having more of these days.

But there’s a strange way in which this vocation of stay-at-home motherhood, which on one hand is so unlike what I desired, is, on the other hand, very much what I have desired all along. I wrote to a friend while I was pregnant that what I desired most about religious life when I was in high school was a quiet place to grow freely toward the light of God (Hopkins got me then too). And how in being pregnant, I got to be a quiet place for a new soul to grow toward the light of the world.

Since my son was born, more parallels between the cloistered life and this one spring up in little places. Like how being with him, really being with him and not being on my phone or computer, means contemplating beauty in places unlooked for: the grain of the underside of the coffee table or the delicious crunch of a plastic water bottle in his small hands.

Or how he shares with us the joy of simply existing in a community of love. Yesterday, before bed, we cuddled with him in our bed and our usually very uncuddly baby snuggled up to us and laughed and laughed anytime we did anything at all. He couldn’t handle us making faces at him or kissing him or even me just laying my head on his little belly. He just shrieked with the most glorious laughter over being with the two people he most loves and who love him the most.

There’s a wonderful line at the end of The Diary of a Country Priest: “Grace is everywhere.” Georges Bernanos’ novel is about the seemingly mundane and ineffective life of a parish priest, and in the seemingly mundane and ineffective life of a stay-at-home mother, these words remind me of how meaningful the achingly long moments of our days can be.

Grace is everywhere. Not just in religious communities. Not just in the life of the instagrammer whose feed most increases our jealousy. Not just in white washed minimalistic homes. If we look with eyes of love, we might see that transcendence abounds and beatific light washes over the crumbs and the messes and the crosses we carry.

My husband and I hope and pray for more laughing little babies, and with more, the days will get harder (and eventually I imagine easier in some ways), but right now I’m thankful for my quiet life with this one who forces me to be still and grow toward the light of God.

 

Grace is everywhere