Category Archives: Motherhood

Fellowship feminism Motherhood

We Need Feminism, But We Need It To Be Better

I recently wrote a blog entitled “Why We Need Feminism” for Simply Sisterhood. I believe in everything I wrote there, and I no longer feel afraid of identifying myself as a feminist. I encourage you to go back and read that blog, also, as I see both sides of this as vital. But I also recognize that the feminism we now have is not perfect. While it has served us well in some ways, it has caused harm in others.

When I shared my original blog on feminism, I got some push-back from some women. I expected this, especially since my sphere is largely evangelical. I want to address some of the concerns that were brought forward, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time here. It seems that when evangelicals hear the word “feminism,” they translate it as “people who want to kill their babies.” Let me say that although I am an advocate for reproductive rights, I am very strongly pro-life (although I believe that the issue of abortion and the choices surrounding it are far more nuanced than we are often willing to acknowledge). No movement is about one issue. We often oversimplify the beliefs and causes of others so it is easier for us to dismiss them. Let’s not do that. Another criticism I received was that to say we need feminism is not Christian because all we really need is Jesus. Of course I believe that Christ is sufficient for all our needs and worth. I also believe that the institutional church has historically devalued women. So a new Christian feminism might be a way to point the church to Jesus and who He really is, and what His heart truly is for all people, including women and others who are often disenfranchised. Please don’t read “we need feminism” as “we don’t need Jesus.” We need to actually listen to Jesus, and I believe in doing that we will see the ways in which we need to support each other better. That’s what feminism is to me. The other thing people tend to think of when they hear the word feminism is that we hate men. No. Feminism is for men, too. It’s about everyone having the freedom to be fully human and to escape the toxic masculinity of a patriarchal culture.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that over with…

I still strongly believe that we need feminism. But we need to make it better. And it might not be in the ways you think. Author and women’s health practitioner Kimberly Ann Johnson points out that because American feminism grew out of the American culture, it held onto the ideals of individuality, self-reliance, and independence. So when women decided to claim their value and power, they decided to do it by taking on the burden of doing it all and doing it all by ourselves. She also points out that feminism as a whole has neglected mothers and motherhood in their conversation. I think there are some feminists who have purposely rejected and belittled mothers and believe that part of feminism is about being free from the “institution” of motherhood. This is one of the reasons many discount feminism. And it is certainly a problem. But it isn’t what it’s about for me or for many women who identify as feminists. But this neglect of mothers is real and something that needs to be fixed.

The American ideals of individuality, independence, and self-reliance are not biblical ideals. The Bible does not teach independence. It teaches community. It teaches dependence — dependence on Christ first, and dependence on each other as agents of His love. It does not teach self-reliance. It teaches bearing one another’s burdens. It teaches weeping with those who weep; rejoicing with those who rejoice. We so often confuse our culture’s values with Christ’s values. They are rarely the same. When we as feminists take on these values of independence and self-reliance, we are saying that we can and ought to do everything ourselves. And we are becoming depleted and exhausted.

Over the last few decades the rates of autoimmune diseases in women have risen steadily. This is very likely due to a number of factors, including nutrition, toxins in our environment, our compartmentalized healthcare system, etc. But it’s worth considering that our “have it all, do it all” mindset has contributed to this. We have believed that our ability to push through is a reflection of our worth. We have equated busyness with worthiness. We’ve decided that our value is in what we do, not in who we are. I think we have been so set on proving that we can do anything that we have tried to do everything, and all at the same time. And this is neither possible nor healthy, for women or men. Feminism has in some ways taken on the toxic masculine idea that what we do and how much we do is the measure of what we’re worth. This is not true of any human. And this is also not biblical. Yes, the Bible warns against laziness and selfishness. But it also acknowledges the need for Sabbath. Not occasionally, but weekly. It says that God gives sleep to His beloved. Jesus didn’t “work” the whole time He was ministering. He ate and drank and rested. He didn’t love and value the lepers and the blind and the adulterous woman and the tax collectors because of what they contributed to society. He loved and valued them because they were human beings. And real Christian feminism should be about affirming our full humanity and our full worth.

If our current feminism hasn’t completely forgotten mothers, it has certainly not given women the space and permission to take on motherhood in a truly feminine way. When I say feminine I don’t mean girly. I mean encompassing all that it means to be a woman, biologically, emotionally, and spiritually. In all our effort to claim our equality with men, we have begun to believe that we are the same. This might seem like an anti-feminist thing to say, but this is simply not true. Patriarchy seeks to use our biological differences to oppress and objectify us. So we’ve spent a lot of time trying to deny that these differences carry any weight in how we live our lives. This denial has not only blinded us to some of the unique richness of what it means to be female and taken away our ability to step into our unique power, but it has also worn us down. We have said we can be mothers and also have careers and one will not take from the other. I’m not saying that mothers can’t have other callings. I am a wife and mother, a doula, a dancer, a teacher, and a writer. But rarely am I able to fully show up in all of those roles in the same day, or even the same season. I am saying that no matter how supportive and helpful our spouses or families or communities are, we cannot get away from the fact that, biologically, we are the ones who are sustaining and nurturing our children the most, especially for the first two years. We’re the ones with the wombs and the breasts and the hormones designed to be most in tune with our babies’ needs. And yes I realize you can feed a baby without breasts, and you can have a child without having grown him in your uterus. But that doesn’t negate my point. Adoptive mothers and bottle feeding mothers also are under undue pressure, and also need the supportive permission to slow down. Kimberly Ann Johnson also points out that a new mother needs the same things from the people surrounding her that she is giving to her child — loving touch, nourishment, and affirming words. So often we forget to nurture the mothers in our communities this way. Probably because we are too busy and overwhelmed ourselves. So we need to acknowledge that there are times and seasons and that, yes, we can do anything, but we cannot do everything all the time.

If you have a career or job that you are not willing or able to step back from or put on hold, I see that as a valid and important choice. This is not about saying that one choice is better or worse than another. This is about saying that those of us who are able to need to rally around our sisters who are in transformative periods and help them. We need to bear their burdens and be a safe space for them to express their worry, exhaustion, overwhelm, etc. And we need to be able to give ourselves the grace when we’re in our own transformative seasons to let a few things go. Even if that just means we don’t see our vacuum cleaner for weeks at a time.

Our culture says to “push through” and “bounce back.” But the Bible says, “to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” In our industrialized world we are so separated from nature that we forget that we are part of nature. We are created beings, and just as the natural world has cycles — times of fruitfulness and plenty and production, and times of dormancy and sparseness and rest — we also are cyclical beings. Our electric lights and trucks that bring us strawberries in December make us forget that it wasn’t always this way. We didn’t always work late into the night and rise before the sun. We are trying to make every season one of harvest, when some should be seasons of planting and cultivating and watching and waiting. As women, we’ve been taught to deny our own obvious cyclical natures. We do our best to hide our menstruation and go on as if nothing were happening. When our bodies are telling us to slow down and think and wonder and pay attention. And so when we have our babies we see birth as merely a physical event that takes a day or so and then we move on, instead of taking the time to slow down and think and wonder and pay attention to who we are becoming.

Even within a movement that is truly seeking to affirm and uplift women, self-care can be seen as a radical act. Saying no to added responsibilities or even opportunities can be seen as selfish and weak. If we truly want to be radical; if we truly want to defy the patriarchal standards of our culture, let’s acknowledge our humanity and our dependence on each other and on God. Let’s admit when we are tired and overwhelmed and in need of help and encouragement. Let’s say no to things that don’t serve us or our families well. This doesn’t mean we don’t sacrifice and serve in our communities. But it does mean we let go of more things. Sometimes it means we let go of things we want to do for the sake of our mental or physical health. Sometimes it means we say, “Not now. Not in this season, but maybe later.” It means we realize that we just can’t hold everything by ourselves all the time without something, usually our own health and well-being, crashing to the ground.

We like to think of motherhood, and every big shift in our lives, as adding building blocks to the towers of our identities. We think we have the foundational building block of our personalities, then we add relationships, faith, education, marriage, career, motherhood. And we just become taller towers — taller versions of ourselves. But we aren’t building blocks. We are clay. And each new stage and experience and rite of passage shapes and molds us into something different. We become more complex, stronger, more beautiful. We are still ourselves, but we are transformed.

Since we aren’t given permission to slow down, and transform, and be vulnerable, is it any wonder that 1 in 7 mothers report suffering from some degree of postpartum depression? When we are being told that we should bounce back and get back to normal as soon as possible? When we are expected to be back at work before we are even done with postpartum bleeding? When women feel they have to “earn” their maternity leave by keeping an immaculate house instead of resting and enjoying their baby? When we are denied the chance and permission to truly embody the transformation in identity that has just taken place?

So a new feminism — a feminism that takes into account who we are as created beings, as unique people created in the image of God — ought to be one that admits that equality is not sameness. It ought to be one that acknowledges our need for community and support and help — that recognizes that what we do is not what we’re worth, and that independence is not a fruit of the Spirit. We need a feminism that recognizes the cyclical nature or our world and our bodies and our lives. And we need a feminism that encourages us to come together in support of our brothers and sisters and supports them in their slowing down, in their saying no, and in their transformation.

Motherhood

What All Have Borne, Each Can Bear

This is difficult to write. I’ve hesitated to sit down and put these thoughts on paper for many reasons. I don’t want to seem like I’m looking for sympathy or asking for anything, and I’m not sure I really want the attention. It is also easy for me to discount my own pain in light of the greater pain of others. After all, there is war in the world, people are being murdered for their faith, there are children seeking refuge in our country being met with hatred and rejection — how could my loss be worth notice? But I also know that my God is the God who sees. And a sparrow does not fall without His notice. So I am writing this in pursuit of healing, and in hope of helping others to grieve the way they need to.

Four weeks ago, at 6 and half weeks pregnant, I noticed I was bleeding. After hours in the ER, bloodwork, days of waiting, and more bloodwork, I found out that I had lost my baby.

As a mother of 3 other children, it is hard to take time to grieve the way I might need. It’s also hard to feel deserving of that grief. After all, I’m not facing the possibility of never having children. I have had the great blessing of growing and nurturing my own sweet babies in my own body. Three times. So it’s easy to try to talk myself out of the sadness over this loss because it’s not “as bad as it could be.” But were I trying to comfort someone else in the same situation, I would never say, “At least you have other children.” This tiny being was real. He or she was there, taking up space in my body, making me feel sick, and weak, and weepy. And now that soul — that constant thought throughout my days that I have a beautiful, magical secret growing inside me — is gone. I believe my baby is with Jesus, but now the constant thought is now of hidden emptiness and unspoken, unfulfilled hopes.

sweet-pea-flower-tattoo-beautiful-blogger-48174And that is one of the hard parts, and the reason I am writing about this. Miscarriage and loss are so, so common, but also so private. We are advised never to announce a pregnancy until 12 weeks “in case something were to happen.” As if being joyful about something you could possibly lose (which is everything) is something to be embarrassed about. And then some of us lose our babies, and we haven’t shared our joy, so we are unable to share our sorrow. We, the grieving, fear making those around us uncomfortable with our grief. So we are silent, and rob ourselves of the healing balm of sharing our sorrows.

As humans, we want to know why. Many women blame themselves for miscarriage and stillbirth. This is almost unavoidable. We look for security in knowing what we did wrong so we can fix it next time. If you’ve experienced a pregnancy loss, hear this: you did nothing wrong. Getting your hair dyed before you knew you were pregnant did not kill your baby. Exercising did not kill your baby. Taking a Tylenol did not kill your baby. It is not your fault.

I didn’t struggle with blaming myself for physical failure as much as others may, but I did find myself coming up with spiritual reasons. This is the only child of ours that we really “planned.” And we planned it around my dance schedule and my husband’s touring schedule. We “decided” to get pregnant. Maybe, I thought, this was God’s way of showing us that we are not ultimately in control of our lives. Maybe He is trying to teach us not to put our own desires first. But is that really the God that I serve? Is He really mocking my plans and showing His authority through taking the life of my unborn child? Of course not. He is our Jesus who wept with His friends at the death of their brother, even though He knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead that very day. He is our Father, and it pains Him to see us hurting. No. He did not do this to me to teach me a lesson. And He didn’t do it to punish you, either, dear sister who has also lost. I don’t have an answer for why 15-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Except that we live in a broken and abnormal world, and God is more grieved than we are at the pain and death that occurs in it.

So, if not to garner sympathy for myself, why am I writing this? Why am I making public the thing that we have cultural “rules” set up to keep private? Because I know that suffering, and this particular suffering, is common. I know that someone reading this has had a loss that no one knows about. And I know the great comfort that comes in knowing you are not alone.

I am so blessed by a strong support system. One that is, unfortunately, full of women who have also lost babies. And here is the gift they have given me: permission to grieve, even though my loss was early, even though I have other children, even though so many others suffer so much more than I have. They have given me permission to be happy and grateful when I feel happy and grateful. They have given me permission to cry in ballet class because somehow not feeling exhausted and sick while I dance is one of the worst reminders that I am no longer pregnant. They have offered the most healing words, “Don’t be afraid to cry about it because this was a real baby. It is a real loss that you will grieve for the rest of your life. And God loves that baby more than you could know.”

Even though I know this was not a punishment, as a teacher and a learner, it is hard for me not to look for a lesson. Some days it’s hard to know what I’m meant to learn from this, besides how empty a womb can feel, but I do know now, firsthand, how having someone see your pain can help ease it. I see, more than before, the importance of God’s instruction to grieve with those who grieve. And also, to rejoice with those who rejoice. And that we can do both at the same time. We have to, really, if we’re going to live in this world, because there are so many beautiful and terrible things happening all at once. So if you are suffering any loss, whether it looks great or small to the world, know that to Christ, it is great, it is real, and He weeps with you. And I encourage you to share your burden with someone else. Your burden will get a little lighter and their shoulders will get a little stronger.

And if you are not the one grieving, offer yourself. Forget that it is uncomfortable, and remember that it is vital. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Let the grieving ones be the guide of your conduct. If they want to talk about it, listen; don’t change the subject. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push it. Pray.

I want to close with a passage from one of my favorite books. It is one of the best descriptions of bearing one another’s burdens that I have read. It’s from The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and is from a scene in which Penny, the wonderful, strong father of the protagonist, is comforting a family whose son has just died. Penny and his wife had lost many babies, themselves.

“The talk broke over Penny in a torrent. The relief of words washed and cleansed a hurt that had been in-growing. He listened gravely, nodding his head from time to time. He was a small staunch rock against which their grief might beat. When they finished and fell quiet, he talked of his own losses. It was a reminder that no man was spared. What all had borne, each could bear. He shared their sorrow, and they became a part of his, and the sharing spread their grief a little, by thinning it.”

contentment Motherhood

Holding Messy Hands

photo My birthday was this month, and I received many sweet messages on my Facebook timeline wishing me a happy birthday. A lot of  people, knowing I’m a mother of three young children, said they hoped I could get some rest on my birthday. I appreciate this sentiment, and am always coveting rest and am thankful for those who provide it for me. But there was one message that stuck out. A woman I’ve known since I was 6 years old, and who has been an encouragement to me in Bible studies, words of wisdom, and sympathetic notes during the years, wrote something that really made me think. She wrote, “Happy birthday, Megan! I hope your day is full of beautiful music from your hubby, sticky hugs and slobbery kisses from your little people. And all sorts of other really good things.” Now, maybe she just meant, “enjoy your family today,” or something to that effect, but as I thought more about what she said, I found it to be another point in a lesson I feel God has been teaching me for a while. The lesson is this: while rest and recharging are good, helpful, and often needed (He even built it in to our week with a Sabbath), escape should not be the goal in our lives.

I often catch myself being preoccupied with getting a “break” from my life. I count the hours until nap and bedtime. Being a mother of young children can be tedious. You say the same things over and over, do the same things over and over. I sometimes feel like I’m busy all the time, yet to look at my house, it appears that I never get anything done. It is easy to get lost in the chaos and see my children as little creatures intent on keeping me from doing what I need to do (right now, for example, I’m fighting my eight-month-old for control of the keyboard). But in reality, my children are what I need to do. They are not obstacles distracting me from important things; they are the important things. Because the focus of our days becomes the focus of our lives, and the focus of my life is not supposed to be getting a moment to myself; it is not supposed to be making it to naptime so I can have a snack and not share it with anyone, or so I can jump in the shower. And my focus is certainly not supposed to be getting a second to check Facebook for the twentieth time. The focus of my life is supposed to be Christ — obeying Him, and loving Him through loving my little ones. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and right now two of my little neighbors are sleeping in the rooms across the hall, and one is scooting around on my bedroom floor. I know the command to love others goes far beyond our own little families, but it certainly starts with the people I’ve been blessed to spend my days with.

I’m not trying to deny the difficulty of parenthood. Tantrums and disobedience and pee on the floor are hard. I want to get away and escape from these things. But I find that if I’m fully present in the life and tasks I’ve been given, I can find peace and even joy in the midst of the chaos. If I remember to put the two year old on the potty at regular intervals, she doesn’t have as many accidents; if I don’t bring my phone to the table at lunch, I’m more able to patiently engage with the kids, whether it’s reminding the three year old to keep taking bites, or answering his creative questions.

And I’m not trying to deny the importance of resting and taking breaks, either. I think often the reason I have a hard time being present and joyful in my everyday tasks is because I don’t allow myself built in times of rest. If I know that I’ll soon be able to have time to read or write or spend time with my husband alone, I will be more able to focus my attention on what is in front of me in the moment. God knows we need rest. He knows we need regular times of Sabbath. I think the reason we are often frustrated is because we are not intentional about observing the rest that He has built in to our lives. And I don’t think our Sabbath always has to be Sunday, because as any mother of very young children knows, Sunday can be the most exhausting day of the week.

But the point is that this time of my life is about caring for and training my children, not trying to get away from them. Because I cannot escape only the unpleasant parts of my life. If I’m constantly focused on getting away from the tedium and the dishes and the laundry and the whining, I’m not going to recognize the blessings either. I will only see Vivian’s sticky hands coming toward my clean pants, and will miss the sweet, voluntary affection of my daughter. I will only hear Marshall’s whiney voice pleading with me to hold him while I’m trying to make breakfast, and won’t savor these short years when I’m still able to pick him up and squeeze him for just a couple minutes. And though sometimes it feels frustrating to sit in the messy living room and read the same books over and over, while trying to keep the kids from pestering each other, I know that someday soon we won’t have hours for reading stories. There will be schoolwork to do and activities to get to. So I will try to savor and celebrate these long hours before naptime when all the kids have to do is read and play. In my twenty-eighth year, instead of being focused on celebrating myself and trying to get a break, I’ll try to celebrate the blessings of “sticky hugs and slobbery kisses.”

Fellowship Living in community Motherhood

How Should We Talk to Young Parents?

IMG_4373 This past week I have had several conversations with people that have made me really think about how we should talk to each other as parents. As a young mother, I have experienced two prevailing attitudes from older parents. There are the “just-you-wait” people, who can unintentionally rob you of the joy you may feel in one stage of parenting by telling you all about the hard stage that is coming up. “Just wait until he starts teething. Just wait until he drops his nap. Just wait until he’s a teenager.” And then there are the “rose colored glasses” people, who can unintentionally make you feel like you are being ungrateful or even weak if you acknowledge the struggles (and there are real struggles) of parenthood.

As more and more of my friends start getting married and having babies, I realize that I’m moving to a place of being a little bit of an older parent, even though my oldest is only three. Recently a friend was telling my husband and I about plans to start a family, and I caught myself being a “just-you-waiter.” That kind of attitude not only robs people of joy, but it also can make them feel that they are somehow foolish or naive to be excited or happy about whatever stage they are in. I don’t want to be that kind of person to someone else. I want to acknowledge the good and fun things — the value of pressing your cheek against your infant’s fuzzy head, the sweet smell of babies’ milky breath, the joy of seeing your kids delighting in finding beetles outside, the challenging theological conversations that a thoughtful preschooler can bring up. I want to be the kind of parent who listens to someone else and says, “Yes! I remember that. Isn’t it fun?” instead of saying, “That’s nice, but it doesn’t last. Just wait until…”

But I also see the value in acknowledging the difficulties. A friend this week was telling me that she doesn’t feel like anybody ever talks about how hard it really is — the day to day business of raising little people and nurturing little hearts and bodies. And I feel like this is also true. When I had my first baby, Marshall, I struggled with post-partum depression for a couple months after he was born. I think it was mainly due to a traumatic experience immediately after labor, which made me unable to hold him and bond with him right away. But I remember thinking, while the doctors were trying to stop me from bleeding, “I’m not supposed to care about this pain anymore. I’m supposed to feel a huge wave of love and joy, but I don’t. I don’t know this baby. What is wrong with me?” People would ask me questions like, “Aren’t you just so in love?” or “Do you love nursing? I just loved nursing my babies.” For the first few months for me, I didn’t feel any special connection while nursing. I didn’t feel like I loved my baby the way other mothers talked about loving their newborns. Later, when I was open about my experience, other mothers admitted they had felt the same way, and it was so freeing. It took away the shame and false guilt to know that other women had experienced the same struggle, and that it was okay. And now, as I find myself having days in which I feel like I literally can not do it another minute — days in which I’m sure I’ve already ruined my children, and I will never know how to fix it — I want to tell other mothers that I feel this way, and I’m sure they do to. I want to let them know that they are not alone in feeling alone and inadequate, and that part of being in the Body of Christ is sharing the burden and praying for one another.

What would happen if we admitted to each other that it is lonely to be surrounded by little people all day? What would happen if we admitted to each other that we don’t always love being mothers? What if there was no shame in saying, “This is really, really hard, and I have no idea how to do it?” What kind of freedom might be released? I think that if we allowed this kind of honesty, we would be able to more effectively bear one another’s burdens. It reminds me of a quote from The Yearling, one of my favorite books. In a scene where Penny, the main character’s father, is comforting a neighboring family in great grief, he shares his own experiences. There is healing in the knowledge that “what all have borne, each can bear.”

I know it sounds like I am saying opposite things, but I believe there is a balance that we can and must find. I think the secret lies in looking to what the other person needs in the particular situation, and not having our own agenda when talking to other parents, especially when they are “newer” parents. The Bible says to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. So that means that if someone is rejoicing, we don’t dampen their joy. And when someone is struggling, we recognize the pain and difficulty of their situation. We say, “I know. It’s hard. I’ve been there, too. And I don’t really know what to do, but let’s pray about it.”

When we genuinely listen to what people are saying and think about how real their feelings are, when we pray for each other and encourage each other and say, “I hear you, and I realize that your pain or frustration or excitement or joy are real, and I want to weep or rejoice with you,” it changes not only our impact, but also our own attitudes about our struggles and triumphs.

Motherhood

The Woman I Want to Be

laundryI lie to my kids’ pediatrician. Every time we visit, I’m told to fill out a form about their health and home life. There is a question about how much time they spend watching TV each day. I always say, “20-30 minutes, 2 or 3 times a week.” In reality, they watch at least 30 minutes a day so I can take a shower and get myself ready without interruption.

The other day, we drove past a McDonald’s, and my 20-month-old started chanting, “Nugget! Nugget!” Every time we are out running errands, my 3 year old requests “something from the window.”

My laundry room is a disaster. It is nearly overflowing with piles of (mostly clean) clothes. I somehow cannot find the time or motivation to keep up with the “folding and putting away” part of laundry. I know this is one of my husband’s biggest frustrations with my homemaking.

I look at the reality of my daily life — not the one I pretend to have on facebook, where each day is filled with homemade food, reading stories, and having deep theological discussions with my 3-year-old in his perfectly clean and organized room — and I am embarrassed at the kind of mother I’ve turned out to be. I imagined myself being so much better. My children were never going to have the grease of a french fry touch their pure little ducky lips. They were not going to know who Elmo was, or throw temper tantrums on the rare occasion when they don’t get to watch Go, Diego, Go! because I’ve woken up before them and taken a shower. I was going to have a clean, organized home — one that would be “company ready” at all times, in case someone were to drop by. read more »