Category Archives: Motherhood

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?: “Mothering” of a Different Kind

 

Becca Lachman

Guest post from…Becca J.R. Lachman lives with her husband Michael in Athens, Ohio, where she teaches, tutors, and writes. Her first book of poetry, The Apple Speaks, is dedicated “to humanitarian workers around the globe, but more for the families who love them.” She muses about the writing life and living simply at http://tattooedmennonite.blogspot.com/. To hear Becca read poems and discuss writing, check out this WOUB radio interview.

Do me a favor:  Imagine you’ve been asked to tell your mother’s life story. In public. In front of your family.  Your community will be there–your ancestors, too. What stories would you choose to tell? And which influences, memories, or emotions might steer your tongue?

Being a creative writer, I often ask myself these same tough questions. Sorting through complex answers helps me to write what matters, what needs to be said simply because of beauty or music or truth (I make it sound rather easy here, but if you’re a writer, you know that it’s anything but.)

One writing exercise I return to involves imagining a long banquet table surrounded by the people or events that have shaped my sense of self and, most importantly, my public voice. Sometimes, the guests around this “inner writer’s table” surprise me with their presence: my 7-year-old-self, my high school boy friend, my strict great-great grandma I never met. Other times, they’re expected, even cliché: my seemingly perfect father, or my martyred religious ancestors with tongue screws still intact.

In order to write the truth (note: not necessarily the same thing as fact), I “excuse” certain guests from my inner table, then decide who sits at the head. This inner rearranging of place settings, if you will, can shape how–and why–my stories are told.
Over the past few months, I’ve been traveling to promote my first collection of poetry. But the real goal of this self-planned book tour

Participants at a Creative Mothering workshop

is to encourage others (particularly women influenced by Mennonite Church USA) to realize the strength of their stories, and to share that truth–as Emily Dickinson puts it, to “tell it slant.” Having the courage to tell our version of a story, even our own, takes ongoing encouragement and hutzpah.

So wherever I go to share my own stories through poetry and song, I also offer free storytelling/poetry writing workshops for intergenerational women. I’m calling these gatherings “Creative (M)othering” workshops, not because I’m an expert on parenting (I don’t have children, may never have children) but because there are other, alternative ways of mothering, perhaps just as important to Anabaptist faith and culture and to new generations of feminists.

I believe that sharing our stories is a powerful form of creative mothering  (what I define as the long-term act of affirming and mentoring one another’s originality and truth).  As a writer, friend, wife, sister, daughter, and stumbling Anabaptist, it’s very important to me that mothering can also mean “to nurture, to author, or to protect” (dictionary.com). If I do have a child one day, I will teach him/her this with both my words and actions.

One reason I’ve been collecting stories is to nurture the Women in Leadership project within Mennonite Church USA. “Mennonite Monologues,” the project focus group I’m a part of, hopes to eventually collect diverse experiences for an anthology or worship resource. But at its most basic level, it simply asks Mennonite women of all ages to take the time to share their life experiences:

“As Mennonite women, we believe it is important for women in the church to share their stories, not only to value individual experience, but also to strengthen and transform communities. Historically, due to explicit and implicit patriarchy in the Christian church, women have been silenced and their stories devalued. We believe this historic reality is still present, keeping women from experiencing the freedom of full expression in their church community. We believe that our church, the Mennonite church, with its commitment to the priesthood of all believers, can honor the stories of women as a step away from patriarchy.” (excerpt from “Mennonite Monologues” mission statement draft)

At a recent poetry reading in Orrville, Ohio, a confident 20-something man introduced himself to me as “a Mennonite feminist.” His public declaration made my entire week. (It also reminded me that men of all ages need opportunities to share their stories, too.)

“I will tell you something about stories,” writes novelist Leslie Marmon Silko. “They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.” As I’ve led Creative (M)othering workshops, I’ve been inspired, challenged, and changed by the stories shared and the questions raised. I’ve giggled and cried with strangers. I’ve found the community I’d always been hoping to find in Mennonite circles. And I’ve set new places at my “inner writer’s table.”

Want to share your stories with the Women in Leadership project? Contact Becca at ms.rossiter@gmail.com for more info.

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Six Things I Resolve to Never Do to Other Pregnant People

Before this year began, I really was pretty clueless about pregnancy and childbirth. I had several friends, a sister-in-law and a few other acquaintances who had been pregnant, but I don’t think I really realized much about the entire process. I didn’t really have an understanding of how drastically my own body would change, all of the crazy symptoms that come along with pregnancy, and perhaps, most surprisingly, I completely underestimated the ways that common strangers might begin to approach me in new ways.

So, as I sit here, about 10 days from my due date, and feeling like more of a spectacle each time I leave the comfort of my air conditioning and brave the outside world, I offer you my list of the top six things that I resolve never to do to another pregnant person again, now that I have personally experienced them for myself.

1. I will not just assume that it is ok to rub her belly. I get it. Bellies are cool. It’s pretty amazing and impressive to know that every pregnant person you see is growing a baby inside there. And really, I don’t have big personal space issues. I love it when my friends and family rub my belly as a sign of love for their coming granddaughter/niece/cousin/friend/etc. And if people I know are fascinated by the belly, and they ask whether it’s ok to rub, I usually give them the green light. But to you, random 50-year-old man in Starbucks whom I have never met before: walking up to me, rubbing my belly and saying, “This baby’s dropping soon, huh?”, is not appropriate. At all. This is my belly. It’s still attached to my body. If I weren’t pregnant and you came up to pat my abs, people around you would be horrified and it would be called sexual harassment.

2. I will not simply volunteer to tell her my pregnancy horror stories. Since I hit seven or eight months pregnant, I have been really curious to hear other people’s birth stories. I’ve been asking friends and acquaintances to share their tales with me, and when I ask, I expect that I’ll hear some of everything: great, relaxed birth stories, tales of births that didn’t go quite according to plan, and testaments of very long labors. But what I didn’t expect was that strangers would, out of the blue, offer me stories of the worst labors they (or their friends) have ever experienced. Stories of incompetent doctors, labors that lasted for 56 hours, etc. This is not encouraging. If you’re going to inundate me with something during pregnancy, shouldn’t it be with stories about how glad you were to have your baby or how memories of labor pains fade over time…

3. I will not make value judgments about the size, shape or placement of her belly. At the beginning of pregnancy, I couldn’t wait for my baby belly to start showing so I could stop looking “nebulously chunky” and start looking full-blown pregnant. For awhile, I thought that perhaps I would never get large and I was crushed every time a stranger would say, “Oh, there’s no way you’re 5 months pregnant” or “You’re too small to really be that far along.” I was sure that I was doing something wrong and was somehow growing the world’s puniest baby who might never reach full size. But now, my how the tables have turned. Beginning a month or so ago, people began coming out of the woodwork to tell me, “Wow, you must be overdue,” or “What have you been feeding that baby?!” Again, not so reassuring for a woman who is getting ready to push this child out, and who still has a month (or maybe more) to go before this baby is even overdue. So, a word to the wise, which I never really would have understood prior to being a paranoid pregnant person: It helps no one to make random value judgments about my belly.

4. I will not stare at pregnant people in public.  I know, I know.  I do look a bit more like a sideshow attraction every time I venture out in public, and I’m probably wearing clothes that have more in common with a tent than they do with the clothes I was wearing 9 months ago or that regular people like yourself are wearing today. I know this and you know this. BUT, you brazenly staring at me while I navigate my way through the grocery store and climb in and out of my car does not make me feel less conspicuous. The occasional glance is cool, but remember, I’m just pregnant, and it’s still ok for me to be out in public. I can offer you about a 99% guarantee that I am not just going to drop this baby on the spot.

5. I will not judge her birth choices. Frankly, there’s enough guilt out there surrounding motherhood to go around, without everyone feeling like they need to get in on the action. I am really excited about our birth plan, and I will happily share with anyone who asks how we are planning. We’re hoping to go natural, avoid medication and intervention as much as possible, etc. But I’m certainly not under the impression that this is the only way to give birth, and I know that often circumstances can change. So, I’ll respect your birth choices if you’ll respect mine. Let’s just make a deal on that one.

6.  I will not comment on her sweaty, flushed countenance. OK, now this one seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s August. I’m pregnant. It’s hot. If you haven’t had a chance to experience this personally, try sticking a warm watermelon under your shirt and carrying it around outside for 20 minutes. I guarantee: you’ll be sweating, too. And seriously folks, it’s not that I don’t know that I look “hot” (and not in the sexy sense, either). And, frankly, you remarking that, “I seem warm” will not help either you or I to feel better about my melting mascara.

To be fair, there are so many ways that people have responded that I appreciate and I want to remember to emulate when I see pregnant people in the future. I will: compliment her appearance, tell her a happy pregnancy tale, offer encouragement, be willing to let her share her own stories and thoughts when she’s excited and scared, offer to help carry her groceries to her car, help her family move across campus in the dead heat of summer, etc. I have been blessed to be surprised by kindness from family, friends and strangers all throughout pregnancy.

But I will always carry these six memories with me as a reminder of the patterns that I don’t want to foist onto any pregnant people who cross my path in the future.

If you are or have ever been pregnant, what are your favorite and/or least favorite memories of other people’s responses to you from that time?

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The-almost-end-of- pregnancy-freak-out

I might be feeling a little overwhelmed…

About four months ago, one of my co-workers jokingly told me, “So, you’ll need to call me when you really start to freak out about pregnancy.” At this point, 20 or so weeks into pregnancy, I was past the morning sickness phase, had seen images of a healthy baby on an ultrasound screen, and I was feeling pretty good. It’s not that things weren’t sometimes stressful, but a large freak out didn’t seem particularly imminent. So, I laughed along with this co-worker and agreed to let him know when – and IF – that happened.

But now – at 37 weeks pregnant and careening quickly towards the eventual conclusion of this pregnancy – the freak out has officially arrived. Sometime in between washing Baby H’s clothes, readying her room, figuring out how to use a Moby Wrap (seriously: way more complicated than you might think) and being told that our little girl might be a bit on the larger side of normal, healthy baby weight, I’ve officially entered freak out mode.

It’s not that we haven’t gotten educated. For the past 12 weeks, Justin and I have been faithfully attending Bradley Method classes (if you live in SoCal, I highly recommend our teacher),  where we’ve learned about the physiological phases of labor, learned and practiced healthy nutrition habits, and been challenged to learn new techniques for relaxation and stress relief, prior to and during labor. We’ve hired a doula and met with her to learn a variety of techniques for massage and movement during labor, to help the process move along smoothly and naturally.

But for some reason, all these things seem to pale in comparison to the realization that my body is about to undergo something that it has never experienced before and over which I have little to no control. Right now, it’s just a waiting game.

And it’s not that I’m not super excited to meet Baby H. On the contrary, I’ve spent the last 37 weeks talking to my belly and wondering about who’s in there, what she’ll be like, what she’ll look like, what kind of personality she’ll have, etc. I can’t wait to meet her.

But there is also a sort of sinking sense of dread that comes when I think about the very real responsibility that comes with raising a child once they flee the womb and enter the world in a new way. I mean, who are we Heinzekehrs kidding?! We love to hold babies, and we’ve watched kids every now and again, but the occasional babysitting stint is way different than being responsible for a little newborn 24/7.

We are going to have one of these in a short amount of time…

In the midst of this freak out, which my co-worker tells me is apparently inevitable and strikes most first-time moms right about this time, I attended some meetings. One of the best parts of working for the church is that work and worship are often blended, and these meetings were no different. We opened our time together by dwelling on scripture, and specifically on Romans 8. As the passage was read, we were asked to focus in on a word or phrase that jumped out to us.

Not surprisingly, I was struck by the following phrase: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” Labor pains! Ha!

The passage goes on to describe the longing of all creation that waits in hope for the coming of the Spirit and the revelation of God. Later on, the chapter reads, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

I was struck anew by this passage. I have certainly never been one for redemptive suffering, and I’ve been hesitant to ascribe a purpose to any form of pain or suffering. I think these theological trajectories have too often been mis-used and/or misconstrued to condone abuse of all sorts.

However, as I think about pregnancy and the labor that will eventually come sometime over the course of the next few weeks, I was struck by the ways that pregnancy, and probably labor itself, can prepare one for parenthood. It’s part of the inevitable waiting process that must be undergone. And it’s certainly not a process without hope, because at the end, if everything goes smoothly, we’ll have a healthy little girl to hold. And we’ll take her home and figure things out (with lots of help from friends and family, I am sure).

But, as Romans 8 notes, the waiting over the next few weeks may not be without its groans and its eventual labor pains. These are

A very pregnant me.

inevitable parts of the pregnancy process.

So, in the midst of my “almost-end-of- pregnancy-freak-out,” I am grateful for the reminder that the waiting is really an exercise in the spiritual practice of cultivating hope.

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Pregnancy, Expectations and Safety

Krista Dutt

Guest post from…Krista Dutt is the city director of DOOR Chicago where her love of Chicago and of faith development come together in relationships.  She is a graduate of Bluffton College (1999) and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (2002).  She and her husband, Jim, have been foster parents and are cat parents to MJ.  Krista attends First Church of the Brethren, a church body that she can’t get enough of.

“You are pregnant,” my husband, Jim, says over and over.  Though sometimes he says “You are preggers.”

It gets on my nerves. As if I could forget! Especially over the course of the last two weeks when suddenly I went from, “Maybe she’s pregnant” to “Are you due next month?”  Recently, I asked Jim why he felt the need to remind me over and over that I was with child.

“Well, you know how lots of men don’t think of being a dad until the baby comes?  I don’t want to be like that.  I want to remind myself that we are growing a child now.”

He wants to remember, and I don’t exactly want to forget, but I don’t want this pregnancy to take over my life. 

I didn’t think I would be like this.  I loved talking about our foster process and then our foster daughter and our two foster grandchildren.  I am, by nature, an extravert that loves external processing.   But, this just feels so different.  This feels like a 9-month intimate moment between Jim and me and in my case, doctors and more doctors.

I feel stuck between the privileged world’s message that I am supposed to be so excited, happy and buying stuff until my heart is content and what I really am most of the time – scared and worried and sick.  I want to be happy; I want to be excited – but generally I feel grounded in the reality of getting through the day.  I don’t feel I can share these feelings, because where is the safe place to do so?

Early in my pregnancy I heard from my doctors, “You are too sick to be pregnant.”  (Note: I doubt the kind woman that I am trusting  my baby’s and my own life to actually said this in this exact way, but it’s what I heard.)  While there seems to be significant healthy progress, I have become a case study for the ob/gyn doctor’s practice.  So, while I try to think of the cute baby that has Jim’s eyes and my nose or vice versa, most of the time I wonder if I will ever get to that part of this natural process.  Morbid?  Probably.  Realistic?  Maybe.

Then there are the issues of how I plan on parenting.  Even before the infamous Time article  or the New York Times round tables  about parenting styles, we have gotten all “those” questions : Are you quitting your job?   Why is Jim so worried about not getting a good paternity leave deal?  Are you finally going to move to a safer neighborhood?

I get that my lifestyle may be odd to some, but parenting is probably going to make me more odd, not less.  But again, I am shying away from such conversations, because I don’t want to be the crying pregnant lady all the time – sometimes is fine.

I have shared this with trusted people in my life, but when the everyday acquaintance wants to chat me up about pregnancy, I will pass.  Clearly, it’s not socially acceptable to dump this kind of information on the sidewalk or maybe even on a blog.  But, for this girl – who usually revels in the socialness of life – pregnancy has made me feel unsafe in social settings. 

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Lessons from our mother

The whole Kehr family

“You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and [God] bends you with . . . might
that [God’s] arrows might go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as [God] loves the arrow that flies,
so [God] loves also the bow that is stable.”
-Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet  

These last few weeks and months, as we have begun preparing in earnest for the arrival of our own Baby H, motherhood has been on my mind. In fact, I have been more aware of the coming of Mother’s Day this year than in perhaps any year in the future (sorry, mom, for my general lack of preparation in the past).  

So, for today’s post, my siblings and I each decided to share some lessons that we learned or gifts of wisdom that we received from our own mom. Feel free to share your own learnings from your mothers, as well.  

From Maya

I must admit that personality tests fascinate me. There is an almost-captivating joy in reading a detailed and structured analysis of how I function. Psychologists can predicate my response in situations of stress, creativity and discernment. Since my freshman year of high school, when I first took the Myers-Briggs (E/INFJ), something I sensed was articulated: I am a blend of the spirit of my mother and the thoughtfulness of my father. Yet only in recent years have I recognized in myself, without the help of unknown psychologists, a pastoring soul.

I’ve easily accepted aspects of my father in me (gentle introversion, athletic passion, stubbornness/perseverance), perhaps because I’ve always been told we share a similar physical appearance. My mother was harder to find in my inner self–more elusive in my self-analysis.

Maya and Mom

But I find her in images and instances:

Boldness. I remember an afternoon conversation in our Elkhart kitchen–my mother was graduating seminary and searching for a congregation. I sat in our kitchen, with sticky fingers from an afternoon snack, and listened as Hannah (my sister) and mom discussed the reasons why a particular congregation in Pennsylvania might not accept a female pastor. The idea that some believed women were unfit for ministry was foreign to me–it was not a part of my worldview and I was too young to realize the thought existed.

“But why?” I asked. My mom tried to explain carefully, how some interpreted the Bible to arrive at such a conclusion. I thought that was ridiculous and rebelled–of course that is wrong! My mother will be a pastor–and if God has called her to that, how could it be wrong? I still find myself asking incredulously at times, “But why?” to such hermeneutics.

Only reflecting as a woman later in life do I realize my mother was and is brave. Occasionally I see that bravery in me.

Physical presence. Sports were a major part of my activities in high school and carried with them extreme highs and lows. I remember coming home after games, still stinky with sweat, dirt and tears. I remember feeling bone-tired and lying on the couch and then feeling my mother’s hands rubbing my back or rubbing my feet. She would listen and ask questions, but it was the presence of her body that brought me comfort. I could rest on her lap and feel once again safe and loved. Coming home from college on long road trips she would do the same. And every night, before going to bed, she would kiss the top of my forehead. That spot is marked forever as a sign–letting me know I am loved.

I see my mother in me through the beauty of my body and the possibilities it provides for me to nurture those around me.

The written word. My immediate family is full of great thinkers. I remember being 15, being boy-crazy and being scared to show my full intelligence (upon reflection, I think this was subconsciously caused by an unhealthy association between intelligence and lowered attractiveness/femininity). I was receiving a B+ in English and my mom swiftly stole my instant messaging privileges. “This in unfair!” I shouted, “other parents would be perfectly happy with a B+. Why should I be treated differently?!?”

You are a writer, she told me, and a B+ does not show what you are capable of.

Throughout college and beyond, my mom and I have exchanged essays and sermons, each giving the other feedback, ideas and editing advice. For years I have kept a journal and recognize in myself the need to write. Writing provides a peace, balance and steadiness.

Thanks mom, for helping me find confidence in my gifts–I see you in them.

I feel as though I’ve already used up my fair share of words for this blog, so I’ll end it here.

Anita Denise Yoder Kehr: thank you for bringing me into this world and walking with me through it.

I love you.

From Elias

From mom I learned that it is definitely important to have high standards for yourself for how things will go, but that it is equally

Elias, Maya and Mom

important to be flexible and to respond to other people’s expectations and needs.

I’ve also learned more about how you deal empathetically with people who make decisions that are different from the ones that you would make. 

From Hannah – Five Lessons from Mom

1. The understanding that dreams and callings take time to unfurl – I have great respect for my mother’s own journey towards her vocational calling, but watching her on a journey of discovery throughout my childhood has been helpful to me in understanding and knowing that I don’t have to have everything figured out right now. In her twenties, mom worked several different jobs at the college, through voluntary service programs, with our local church in San Antonio and through other outlets. She also spent time at home with the three of us. It wasn’t until she was in her 30’s that she heard the call to pastoral ministry in a striking enough way to merit moving our family across the country, from Texas to Indiana, so that she could study and eventually pursue a position in congregational ministry. This meant that I was old enough to watch and remember this calling growing and expanding, and to watch my mother on her journey towards more intentional ministry, and that in and of itself was a gift.

2. The understanding that hospitality means making space for everyone – I remember my mom pulling me aside after one particular party that I had hosted during high school. This gathering had been open to any of the women in my class at high school, but my mom had noticed that I had spent 95% of my time talking to a few select friends, and that I had not noticed several women who had been left out of games and activities and who were clearly looking for ways to get in on the conversation. In a gentle but firm way, she reminded me that part of being a good host means being sure that everyone who you have invited feels welcome, cared for and seen.

3. The understanding that chocolate and/or coffee can help in certain times of trouble– Maybe this one is self-explanatory.

4. The understanding that feminism is good – Things were not always easy for my mom and dad, balancing expectations of

Hannah and Mom

shared parenting and working very hard in jobs that often demanded hours well above and beyond what was written into their contracts. Add to that the challenge of becoming a female pastor in a church that had not yet (and still hasn’t) decided across-the-board that it is open to women in ministry, and the journey was certainly not always easy. I remember one particular conversation with my mom, at the end of high school, where I made it clear that, although I supported equality for women, I didn’t like the word feminism: it felt angry and irrelevant. She gently reminded me that feminism was, in fact, nothing more than caring about equality for women, and that I shouldn’t be so quick to write off a movement. Little did I know that this word and style of thought would, in fact, come to be so important to me, and that my mom’s own journey would be one of the key tales that I carry with me in thinking about what feminism looks like.

5. The understanding that I was and am loved, no matter what – I won’t lie and say that my mom and I always got along, or that childhood was always easy. If you asked mom, I’m sure she could tell you some stories about “the year Hannah was 12.” Apparently I was quite moody, although I seem to have resolutely blocked out some of those memories. We can both be stubborn, and we can certainly get emotional and carried away at times. I realized just recently once, while in an argument with Justin, that when I make a certain sort of exasperated comments and throw up my hands in a gesture of frustration, I am mimicking a pattern that I sometimes saw exchanged between my mom and dad. That’s weird.

But even in the midst of these times when there were disagreements, when I would dramatically retreat to my bedroom or out to our backyard swing set in tears, my mom would come find me, eventually, and would sit beside me, smooth my hair back and we would talk through things. My mom has always been the person that I vent to, which probably hasn’t always been easy for her, but I know that her love has been big enough to hold and help carry all of my angst. And in recent years, it has been a gift to feel like we have moved into a new stage of relationship, marked by a deep friendship, where she can share frustrations and excitement with me, too. Talking to my mom always makes me feel safe, loved and at home.

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Pregnancy and the Culture of Fear

Early on in my pregnancy, I had some abnormal blood tests. I will preface this story by saying that luckily, by now, we have learned that nothing is seriously wrong with me. But at the beginning of pregnancy, we didn’t know that. And frankly, we were already feeling a bit nervous and overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming parents and taking care of this small child. We knew many stats and stories about miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy, and the fact that something could be wrong with me, and therefore wrong with the baby, too, was overwhelming. So, I spent the first few weeks of pregnancy receiving vague voicemails on the phone from doctors, sitting in waiting rooms at doctor’s offices (some of the worst places in the world when you are nervous), getting my blood drawn, waiting on lab results, worrying, trying not to worry so I didn’t hurt the baby, etc. At each of these appointments, doctors would warn me about a variety of possible outcomes, but would give me very little real information about what was happening.

Coupled with this, I began to read a lot online about pregnancy. BIG MISTAKE. One thing that I had not realized was just how exhausted and foreign your body can feel to you during the first few months of pregnancy. Popular culture likes to make references to morning sickness , women’s extra keen sense of smell and the fact that you may visit the “ladies’ room” more often than you used to. But what they do not tell you is that your body starts to change. My abs started to ache, I got a weird metallic taste in my mouth, the site and/or smell of chicken was enough to send me running, and I fell asleep every evening between 8:30 and 9 and could have slept straight through until 9 or 10 in the morning, if it hadn’t been for those pesky alarm clocks. The worst part of this was that, when I “googled” each new symptom (which I did), you could find some healthy information about normal pregnancy symptoms. But for each web page telling you that you were normal, there were 50 “messages from doctors”, pregnancy forums or hospital sites that told you that this symptom, as well as many other perfectly normal bodily changes, could be a sign of many terrible things.

And added to this was the food culture. To anyone who ate with me during the first months of pregnancy, I apologize. I was terrified of hurting our small baby by eating anything incorrect. I carried my smart phone with me everywhere and diligently “googled” everything I ate. And, just like you can with symptoms, you can find web pages to convince you that any and every food is off limits. At one point

Avoid unpasteurized cheese at all costs!

in time, I refused to drink herbal teas because an article I had read about the possibly damaging effects of too much chamomile and peppermint (seriously) and I even got nervous about eating peanut butter on celery because I wasn’t convinced the celery had been adequately washed.

Add to this the list of other things that you should avoid around the house: beauty products (Scented soaps! Dandruff shampoo! Hair dye! Nail polish!), household cleaners (although I didn’t mind making Justin the primary user of these), cat litter (again, not so sad here), and a myriad of other, random things to be feared. There was never a safe space or moment in the day! You had to be constantly vigilant in order to be pregnant!

Part of my obsession with following these rules obviously had to do with my own issues of hypochondria and nervousness over carrying a child for the first time. It felt like, and is, a big responsibility. I do want to be a “healthy vessel” for this little human.

But I also think the issues go beyond me personally. I think that our health care culture, and our culture in general, is really into scaring pregnant women. Increasingly, the list of foods you should avoid is growing, along with the activities you should be wary of and the symptoms that are “harbingers of doom.” In another article, journalist Marie Baca describes the world of “middle class pregnancy” as full of hysteria and paranoia. It’s a world where, “… having a baby can feel less like participating in an ancient biological process and more like taking on a high-stakes independent research project.”

We can see this by not only by looking at the laundry lists of things that you should fear and avoid like the plague during pregnancy, but also through the number of interventions that occur in pregnancies. The number of ultrasounds that each pregnant woman receives has grown astronomically over the past few years. In addition, the rate for C-sections has risen to almost 33 percent, and about 23 percent of women have their labor induced. Some women choose these options, because serious complications arise. But it also seems that doctors and hospitals alike are just much more likely to paint pregnancy as a high risk endeavor and to not trust childbirth to proceed in healthy and natural ways.

And here’s the thing. Miscarriages and birth complications do happen, and they are sad and devastating when they do. And we need to make sure that women have spaces to share those stories of loss and to grieve. But for hundreds of thousands of years, women have been having really normal, healthy pregnancies, too. And they probably ate soft cheeses and enjoyed seafood and didn’t have to visit the doctor every 4 weeks.

So for now, I’m still following many of “the rules” (better safe than sorry, right?), but I’ve stopped looking online for information, and I’m trying to trust the process.

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Every Woman Strives to Keep it All Together

Anna Yoder Schlabach, another Mennonite in a little black maternity dress

Guest post from… Anna Yoder Schlabach graduated from Goshen College in 2007 and from Iliff School of Theology in 2011 with a Master of Divinity. Anna and her husband Brian currently live in Albuquerque, NM , where they serve as leaders for Mennonite Mission Network’s Service Adventure program. They currently live with four teenagers, four chickens and one dog. They’re expecting twins in August.

The other day I received a Thirty-One catalogue from my sister-in-law who was hosting a Thirty-One party (think Mary Kay but with tote bags instead of make-up). Since I’m about six months pregnant, I flipped through the catalogue hoping to find an affordable diaper bag. And although I didn’t find what I was looking for, the content proved to be a surprising source for a little self reflection. Each page of the catalogue had a catchy slogan on it, certainly created not only to inspire women to buy bags, but to inspire women themselves. Phrases like “Smart virtuous women have goals, right?” and “Be yourself, be confident, be independent” are splashed across the pages.  These slogans were ok, but the one that really got me thinking was, “Every woman strives to keep it all together.”

While every woman may strive to keep it all together, for me the task has recently seemed more daunting. Somewhere between moving to Albuquerque to lead and live with a group of four teenagers, weathering a house fire in December, and getting pregnant  and seeing an ultrasound with not one, but two babies on it, things may have spiraled out of my control. Some of these are challenges, and some of these are gifts from God. Either way, I can’t keep it all together and I don’t think a tote bag is going to help. I may have to ask my community for help. But I’m not happy about it.

A decade ago (when I at least thought I had things under control), I was a senior in high school and considering becoming baptized.  A huge part of what eventually sold me on getting baptized was the way I saw my community responding to someone who needed help. A person in my congregation shared one Sunday morning about a medical condition that would likely leave her in a wheelchair for life. People in the congregation got up and embraced her, creating a circle of support around her in a moment of communal despair and lament. That image compelled me to join this community – a community of people asking for and receiving help. Community is one of the things that Mennonites do best.  We are a people who believe in living out the life of Christ through

I think I'll need more than a tote bag to hold it all together...

our relationships with each other. I believe that the church is the perfect place to seek help, but then why am I so reluctant to appear weak or vulnerable or like I don’t have it all together, particularly in front of my church community?

I think part of what bothers me about asking for help from my congregation is that I like being up front at church, this is part of what drew me to seminary; I enjoy leading worship and being involved in public ways.  But I always like to be prepared when I’m going to be in front of people. I like to appear that I have it all together, not only because I think it makes the worship service flow better, but because I like to present my best self, which is maybe antithetical to what worship is all about. It’s not about me, it’s about God. And it’s about following Jesus, a man who probably didn’t give a lot of thought to how his hair looked when he was speaking to the masses, or about appearing “in control” when he washed his disciples’ feet.

The real Jesus never would have done this

Plus, Jesus was always receiving from other people. He was hosted in peoples’ homes all the time and he rarely shied away from people who clearly couldn’t keep it all together. As followers of Jesus, we are called to both accept hospitality from others, and to seek help, allowing the community to respond as Jesus would to our myriad needs. Come August, I hope that I have the grace to allow others to care for me (and forgive me for showing up to church with my hair unwashed and spit-up on my shirt). This isn’t shameful, this is what it means to live in a way that recognizes that we all rely on God, that we can’t do it all by ourselves. No woman can keep it all together by herself. Thirty-One suggests that the solution is just the right combination of tote bags and motivational quotes, but I’m trying to trust that the answer is more likely found in opening myself up to the care of my community, trusting that at some point, I’ll be on the other side of the helping again.

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Filed under Church, Mennonite Identity, Motherhood