Promises to those struggling to conceive 

I will say it up front: I don’t think I can pretend I enjoy every minute, and I’m not sure that actually helps. I will complain through the throw up (mine and theirs) and the tantrums (mine and theirs) but I will never let my gratitude become completely overshadowed. I know what you’d do for these barfy little miracles.

I promise never to forget you in the busyness of these early years, and to try to never forget your feelings. I will mourn your miscarriage, probably awkwardly and with the wrong words. I will remember you on Mother’s Day. I will try to check in on your TTC journey — not too often to be pestersome, but so you know I care.

I will let you hold my squishy new baby as much or as little as you want. My babies have come relatively easily to me, but I will not forget that strange longing for a baby cheek pressed against mine, even when I feel like I’m drowning in them.

In my dark room at night, burping a baby for the thousandth time, I will remember your name in a changing litany of longing women to whom I dedicate these milky Hail Marys. I remember you when I huddle over the toilet, throwing up again even though it’s second trimester and IT IS SO UNFAIR. You have a thing or two to teach me about unfairness, I know.

I don’t know if any of these words help. I only know that this blog has always been about motherhood and right now is swimming in pregnancy, too. I know it hurts to feel drowned out, so know this: I want to hear your story, too.
Love,
Katherine

Commonplace Book, 31 (Week 18)

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • She lives! The usual brownies and this Indian stew and my go-to cobbler with my trusty cobbler sous-chef, and this cornbread which will henceforth be considered my standard cornbread recipe. (Not for those who like a nice, sweet cornbread. Also, can we agree that corn kernels in cornbread are repugnant?)

What I’m reading:

  • The Fellowship of the RingI missed the Well-Read Moms book group meeting that discussed it because we’ve had a quick progression of houseguests and all my reading time has gone to visiting — a welcome change from the slow slog of first trimester. This is, I think, my third pass, and I love it more each time. Can I confess, as a woman with a child named Pippin, that I didn’t enjoy it much the first time, reading it in high school to impress J? My love for the brave melancholy that imbues it has grown with age, though. As someone says (Aragorn?) — my notes are pretty bad — “It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts.” Also, how is this for #homemaking goals?

“Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all’. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”

She’s two tomorrow and they’re becoming friends and it makes my heart so glad

Commonplace Book, 30

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • So rude of you to even ask.

What I’m reading:

  • Blood Red, Snow WhiteI don’t know if I’ve talked about our family’s ardent affection for Swallows and Amazonsa book that kicks of a series in which kids float around on a little sailboat in the Lake District and, charmingly, almost nothing happens. But did you know THE AUTHOR WAS A RUSSIAN SPY? And someone wrote a lovely, lyrical, fairy-tale-y account of Arthur Ransome’s time in Russia, and you can read it, and agree with me that although it’s basically the opposite of Swallows and Amazons, it’s really very good.
  • Till We Have FacesCurrently reading. Was supposed to finish for WRM, but since I was too sick to go, I have the luxury of reading it slowly in epsom salt baths that are not curing my morning sickness but still qualify as one of the more fun possible remedies.
  • Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of PregnancyI’ve been gushing about this one over on Instagram. I thought I had found the best of faith-oriented books on the sanctifying suckiness of pregnancy (if not a genre, it should be), but au contraire! I’ve been underlining a lot. So glad it’s in the world.

“Pregnant women learn through pregnancy to trust others for their basic needs. They learn their own limits. They learn to ask for and receive help. They learn to surround themselves with communities of support…They learn to trust that God will meet their needs through the people around them. In short, pregnant women learn to live by faith.”

Currently book people even more than normal. (Also TV people…)

Nine Years

J and I have been together since we were 17, so young that we still bought our shoes a size up because we were still growing. He was my first kiss, my prom date.

(This post is just pretty much pure self indulgence, I might as well tell you now.)

Pregnancy is a long, hard season for our marriage that concretely builds our reliance and faith in each other, but doesn’t allow for a lot of fun adventures — although this time around, we’ve been having the occasional “date,” when he wakes me up at 9 or 10 so we can watch a little TV  in bed and I can snack before I go back to sleep and he continues with his Functional Human tasks. Party on.

This is the sort of love note we exchange in pregnancy:

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I am the morning sick cat in library school; he is the owl; fetal Pippin is the barf-inducing Charizard. If this wasn’t clear.

For our first anniversary, we took a spontaneous overnight trip to New Orleans and ate rabbit at the fanciest restaurant we could afford. We drank very cheap, very bad champagne in our room, and the next morning we ate beignets and drove through torrential Southern rain on our way back to Tallahassee.

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J continues his lifelong quest to sample All the Animals, I squeeze back into my going away dress.

For this, our ninth anniversary, we probably won’t go out because my queasiness gets worse around 4 and I usually go to bed by 7, but my in-laws said they’d babysit for us so we could go out when they’re in town in a couple of weeks, when maybe my body will have finally conceded that it’s second trimester and straightened up.

Pregnancy is a dull time in our marriage, but a time when I see how much we’ve grown since the gawky high school days. That growing up isn’t always fun, but I’m so proud and in love with the bearded papa-man I find myself married to these days, grey at the temples, compassion for wimpy old pregnant me in his every gesture.

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For the record, chances of me fitting back into this dress six months postpartum for our ten year next year: 0%.

Moans and Groans

Pregnancy is a lot of groan-worthy symptoms for me, but somewhere along the line I noticed something else embarrassing: the pregnancy moan.

Get your mind out of the gutter, guys, but if motherhood makes me live in my body more than ever before, pregnancy makes me often feel all I am is a body, or merely a collection of side effects, or a big disgusting vat of baby-brewing.

Once I noticed the involuntary moaning, though, I began to better appreciate the exquisite pleasures in day to day life when you’re mostly pretty uncomfortable: a sip of perfectly cold water, the relief of dropping your weary sciatic bones onto a squishy sofa, getting home from work and changing directly into voluminous pajamas.

These moments are oases in long days. In first trimester, I’d eat mechanically whatever seemed least disgusting, obediently and hourly, and then, a gift from above, every so often something would taste better than anything in my unpregnant state — a friend’s chicken salad, for instance, shared after many lonely days of fatigue. My husband’s improvised pasta carbonara. Mint chocolate ice cream when I thought the nausea was about to win that round.

Once you offer that initial fiat, pregnancy is a train with no stops. You’re merely a passenger and you aren’t picking the route. But when I look for these moments of pure, unexpected, mildly embarrassing  joy, I can better notice the beautiful scenery that passes me by while mostly I’m preoccupied with the jolting, tortuous route. I am reminded of what pregnancy is in all its mostly sucky, still miraculous glory: pure gift.

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Blissful second trimester nap the summer I was brewing up Pippin

Friends Rush In

“Let me know how I can help!” We all say it, and it’s meant well, but not usually very helpful. So let’s real talk — things people have done for us in this and other pregnancies:

  • Brought fresh soap in case the smell bothered me
  • Brought snacks
  • Brought dinner
  • Watched my kids for appointments
  • Sent their big kids to be mother’s helper so I could lie down
  • Sent their husbands who work only part-time to be mother’s helper so I could lie down (my husband insists this isn’t be a mother’s helper but a “dad-in-training”)
  • Taken my kid to preschool or picked him up
  • Sent flowers
  • Left cookies
  • Mailed encouraging notes and prayer cards
  • Walked my dog when it was snowy and John was out of town and we didn’t have a fence
  • Helped me do laundry and straighten up

(My friends and acquaintances, let’s be clear, are awesome, and if I name this child after them, it’ll be about twenty names long.)

A friend was recently saying she felt like she was failing at modeling generosity for her kids because she wasn’t making a lot of time for soup kitchens and other volunteerism. And while those things are definitely important (and an area in which I regularly fail), this same friend has been helping me in big and small ways, from showing up to dinner to helping me lug the toddler around preschool events. No doubt her kids see these acts of friendship and generosity, too. 

A lot of this, of course, applies to more than crippling morning sickness or even newborn babies: to grief and all kinds of hardship. For more really concrete advice, check out Sheryl Sandberg talking about what helped her in the wake of her husband’s sudden death. What have people done for you in tough times that’s helped most?

Dear Control Freak Pregnant Lady

You find yourself queasy, or actively vomiting, or sleeping at every opportunity. If you’re like me my first pregnancy, this was not part of the plan. Pregnancy, sure! Sleeping every moment outside of work that you’re not huddled over the toilet? NOT ON PLAN.

Baby doesn’t care. Welcome to motherhood.

It is so, so hard to surrender to this season of comparative powerlessness while you wait for hormones to shift and wellness to return. By now, I imagine your puppeteer hand is twitching pretty severely. Surely, from the sickbed you’ve taken to like a Victorian damsel, you can still exert some influence.

For you, through three first trimesters’ bitter experience, a list of things you cannot control right now:

  • You cannot make your loving supportive husband do all your chores exactly as you would and on your timeline. Believe me, I’ve tried, and wound up crying on the couch that not only I couldn’t mop the floor before guests came over, but that I couldn’t be the kind of person who didn’t care I hadn’t mopped the floor, either.
  • You cannot control how much TV your sister (or friend or mother in law) lets your kids watch while you are resting. In fact, you may even end up letting them watch more on your shift than you feel great about. They may also eat a lot more Goldfish so that they stop bothering you about your constant nausea snacks. It’s fine. It’s a season.
  • You cannot control how your crappy coworker completes your responsibilities, or who you hand your job over to if you’re leaving. This is hard. You care about your work, but things change when you’re pregnant and suddenly all your obligations center around this little person you don’t know and kind of resent. It’s ok to be sad and frustrated.
  • You probably can’t keep all your social commitments. It’s fine. Pregnancy is a get out of jail free card and because I’m so wretchedly sick from six weeks on, I’m pretty open about telling people so they don’t think I just suck. Sometimes I still feel like I suck anyway as I’m backing out of book club and road trips and everything else, but trust me: you don’t. This isn’t you. It’s a season.
  • You probably can’t even engineer a ritual of a certain food at a certain time that will get you through the day consistently feeling great. You will try lots of stuff, and most of it won’t work, and then more of it will, and then you’ll realize that was probably just the morning sickness dissipating. Whatever. Take it.

The good news: THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL IN FIRST TRIMESTER:

  • What exciting plot-driven fluff you  read waiting for the hours to pass.
  • How much you wallow on Facebook looking at people who don’t throw up every day
  • You can practice relaxing your body! Even now, with labor a million years off and this baby hardly feeling real to you. While you lie in bed, you can practice finding tension in your muscles and releasing it. This will definitely help if unmedicated childbirth is a possibility on down the road, but I think it would help even if you were just dealing with aches and sleeplessness in later trimesters, too. (The Bradley Method has some awesome exercises if you need more information.)
  • Tinkering with treatments. Only do this with a doctor’s or midwife’s guidance, obviously, but once you’ve shooed away those awful “Have you tried Saltines?” people (seriously, you don’t need them in your life), veterans will have all kinds of advice worth trying. Vitamins at night! High protein snacks! Hydration when you can manage it! In three pregnancies I haven’t found anything that fixed my morning sickness, but I’ve found lots of little things that helped. You can lose yourself in a lot of online research on first trimester treatments, and honestly losing yourself for awhile in these long early weeks is kind of the goal.
  • How you use your misery. Try, when you can, to offer up your aggravations for the people you know who would so love to have a baby. You don’t have to feel guilty that you’re getting what they want and you’re miserable, but you can try to use this as an opportunity for prayer.

How you handle surrendering control during first trimester is up to you, and takes practice. It’s ok to find it hard and to tell people you are finding it hard. I threw up my lunch in the trash at work once and the janitor came up and started gushing about how pregnancy was the best thing that ever happened to him and his wife and…I was not so psyched myself. But I thought I would be eventually, and when I felt better, I was.

Three pregnancies in, I’m a bit better now at not resenting my husband for his ability to get by on fewer than 12 hours of sleep, but the honest truth is I have to be pretty sick before accepting my reliance on other people comes easily. When I’m at the hobbling point, I can peacefully accept all the help that comes my way, but give me a few hours nausea free and I’ll be back to my old tricks of trying to do all the laundry and crying.

Hang in there, and let me know if I can pray for you, or listen to you vent.