He isn’t here, but now someone else is, this thrilling splendiferous second baby, and like any mother I can’t imagine taking the smallest step from the historical path that led me here, to this one, to such a one.Elizabeth McCracken
“Before we were conceived, we existed in part as an egg in our mother’s ovary. All the eggs a woman will ever carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old fetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as an egg begins in the womb of our grandmother. Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb and she in turn formed within the womb of her grandmother. We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born….”
— Layne Redmond, When the Drummers Were Women
Great epigraph to the new book by Ashley Audrain, The Push. As sweet as the above quotation is, the book is a suspenseful psychological thriller about a mother who increasingly suspects her daughter is dangerous. One of the blurbs on the back cover claims the book will set your nerves “jangling in both horror and recognition.” Gulp. Recognition. Is this what I’m in for, with our 14-month-old? Will I, like the narrator, wonder if her behavior is normal toddler antics, or something more…sinister?
My husband said he already worries our daughter has a mischievous side. I slowly set The Push down.
“What do you mean?”
“Like when she picks her nose even though she knows we don’t like it, or drops food on the floor.”
Currently reading Heather Clark’s 1,118-page biography of Sylvia Plath. Was struck by this line:
“What are we fighting for? ‘For’ nothing. Against communism. That word, communism, is blinding. No one knows exactly what it means, and yet they hate everything associated with it. One thing I am convinced of: you can’t kill an idea.”
— Sylvia Plath, age 17, in a letter to a German pen-pal, August 1950
My combat veteran husband says much the same about “terrorism.” We can try to bomb it into submission, but you can’t kill an idea–and the bombing only makes it bloom elsewhere.
Sylvia Plath drew this, at age 13, for a 38-page school report:
If killing ideas doesn’t work, and killing people on our way to killing ideas doesn’t work, we’ll have to figure something else out.
I have a friend who somehow remembered (did she add a reminder to her phone’s calendar?) that this month marks two years since we lost our first baby to miscarriage. She texted to let me know she was thinking of me and remembering with me. Then she sent this song, which I’d never heard before:
Seems a helpful song for personal pain and for collective pain…something that can touch us as a country right now. (Also, has anyone else noticed how impossibly catchy songs are when they lapse into non-word lyrics?) Happy listening.
…and so yet again I have to try to find mercy inside pain, which is, as we both know, the work of a lifetime.Brian Doyle, Eight Whopping Lies, p. 90
- Once More We Saw Stars – Jayson Greene – Jan. – heartbreaking memoir of a father who lost a two-year-old daughter; the description of their subsequent pregnancy made me remember the quiet secret joy of my own and made me want to have another baby
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know – Malcolm Gladwell – Jan. – I was disappointed in his writing related to racial profiling and injustice toward black people…I felt he gave white people even more reason to explain away racial profiling as something other than what it is
The Magic of Motherhood: the good stuff, the hard stuff and everything in between – Ashlee Gadd/Coffee + Crumbs – Jan. – I thought this book would be too cheesy for me, like a floral devotion for mothers. Thankfully, it was just what the doctor ordered! Read this on mornings our baby was sleeping and I was sneaking in my breakfast in the bathroom where I slept on a mattress. Ha. I did relate to the authors.
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 – Garrett M. Graff – Feb. – ABSOLUTELY RIVETING and could NOT put it down – heartbreaking and haunting, chilling
Boys and Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity – Peggy Orenstein – Feb. – riveting and worrying as I try to parent a daughter in the 21st century
Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God’s Word in Community – Anna Carter Florence – March – started in March 2019 and finished in March 2020…she did an enthralling conference where she had us playing with the texts and hearing them afresh
Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad – Austin Kleon – Mar.
Highway One, Antarctica – Justin Herrmann – Mar. (second time reading it)
Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find Her Again – Kimberly Williams-Paisley – April
This Life That Is Ours: Motherhood as Spiritual Practice – Lauren Burdette – April
After This – Alice McDermott – April – such gorgeous prose! McDermott really excels at the craft of writing…enjoyed reading this during meals
Shameless: A Sexual Reformation – Nadia Bolz-Weber – April – helpful as I think about what parts of Christian teaching will be conducive to a positive body image + sexuality for my daughter, and which parts will be harmful
Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace – Robert Farrar Capon – June – WOW! Recommending this book to EVERYONE. I need to reread it and try to let it sink in. Turns my understanding of grace, faith, Christ, Christianity, and me…upside down.
What Now? – Ann Patchett – June
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics – Daniel James Brown – July – absolutely loved this book! great for traveling
The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – July – pretty good collection of stories and made me want to try my hand at the genre
Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting – Jennifer Traig – July – super quirky
Cowboys Are My Weakness – stories by Pam Houston – July – loved this book (despite the female protagonists’ poor taste in men)! Superb craft in writing! Have to read more of her.
The Sun is a Compass: A 4,000-mile Journey Into the Alaskan Wilds – Caroline Van Hemert – Aug. – just okay
Wiving: A Memoir of Loving Then Leaving the Patriarchy – Caitlin Myer – Aug. – started out riveting but then grew tiring…too much drama and frustration…pretty disturbing book, too
Contents May Have Shifted – Pam Houston – August – She claims it’s a novel, but I have no idea how. Tale of travels and relationships.
An American Childhood – Annie Dillard – August – for the second time! Looooooove this memoir. It transports you.
The Nanny Diaries – Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin – August – for like the eighth time…guilty pleasure
Waltzing the Cat – Pam Houston – September – just love her
Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country – Pam Houston – September – now I want to take classes from her and be a ranchsitter for her…she’s my idol
Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect – Magda Gerber – September – at least my second time, perhaps my third time, reading this book…and always recenters me!
1,2,3…The Toddler Years: A Practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers – Irene Van der Zande – September – despite many typos/grammatical errors, a fairly helpful book
Valentine – Elizabeth Wetmore – September – riveting and suspenseful, but I found a few mistakes/inconsistencies, and there were a few parts that felt inauthentic…otherwise a fine read
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism – Robin DiAngelo – September – certainly not an easy read!
How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids – Jancee Dunn – October – made me more affectionate and grateful toward Jordan!
Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid – October – de-LISH-ous, so juicy, so compulsively readable…wasn’t sure about it at first (whether it felt genuine), but was hooked before long…among the many things she captures perfectly, the guilt of a white woman’s psyche is one of them
Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon – Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa (with Mim Eichler Rivas) – October – read this book to help Jordan with a Spanish project and found it blessing me!
Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool – Emily Oster – October – demonstrates that no matter what you do as a parent, basically it doesn’t affect how your kid will turn out
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist – Adrian Tomine – October – graphic novel about all the most cringe-worthy moments of his life…the part about having diarrhea while an interviewer sat just outside the bathroom door made me laugh and laugh and laugh
Comfort: A Journey Through Grief – Ann Hood – November – memoir of a mother who lost her five-year-old daughter to a virulent form of strep
Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith – Henri Nouwen – November – seemed quite fitting for my questions, wonderings, discernment during this time
The Long Winter – Laura Ingalls Wilder – December – I’ve read this many times and still adore it (though I am newly aware of its white privilege/-centeredness)
Little Town on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder – December – I’ve read this many times, just like the former, and still adore it, just like the former…but wow…their depiction of a minstrel show was pretty rough to read…especially to realize how I didn’t clue in about the craziness of it till now
These Happy Golden Years – Laura Ingalls Wilder – December
Bel Canto – Ann Patchett – December – for the second time, and it’s still divine!
- The Most Fun We Ever Had – Claire Lombardo – 380 pages of it – I got tired of the unrealistic dialogue – do people really begin so many sentences with “Jesus Christ”? Or use “Viol” as a nickname for “Violet”?
- Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live) – Eve Rodsky – most of it…
- Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the world, and Become a Good Ancestor – Layla F. Saad – 69 pages of it
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown – 134 pages of it
- Just Us: An American Conversation – Claudia Rankine – 175 pages of it
- Dreyer’s English – Benjamin Dreyer – 200 pages of it
They would be teenagers now,
those crusted-nose, mismatch-socked,
pig-tailed grinning first graders.
On December 14 there were presents already
hidden in closets and drawers of dressers
or out under the tree
(Santa gives gifts
but so do parents)
and I wonder,
what did parents do with those gifts
after December 14?
Ten days ’til Christmas Eve.
Were siblings giddy on Christmas morning,
and then stopped and remembered?
Did a mother forget a gift she’d bought and hid
in the upper left cupboard above the washer,
finding it three years later when the family packed to move
from Sandy Hook to Anywhere Else,
and with the thud of sudden remembrance
found herself trembling,
scraping at the tape,
sure and unsure of what was inside?
Last year at this time, I was nursing a two-week-old and trembling, tossing, turning with anxiety instead of sleeping. A friend sent me a poem by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler, who asks if Mary breastfed Jesus and struggled with a painful latch. My phone shows I screenshot it at 3:17 a.m.
3:17 a.m. is a time stamp familiar to those nursing newborns and grinding their teeth into the night guard they wear, familiar as well to those lying not sleeping nearby. I saved the poem because I felt it saved me.
Six hours later I took this photo:
It wasn’t the only milk stain photo I would take in those upended first weeks.
And yes, visits to a lactation consultant can help, but the reality of nursing can look very different than the paintings of a serene Madonna.
Here’s the full poem, with link below:
sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.
and sometimes I wonder
if this is all too vulgar
to ask in a church
full of men
without milk stains on their shirts
or coconut oil on their breasts
preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.
but then i think of feeding Jesus,
the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
and i think,
if the vulgarity of birth is not
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labor,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all.
because the real scandal of the Birth of God
lies in the cracked nipples of a
14 year old
and not in the sermons of ministers
who say women
are too delicate
– Kaitlin Hardy Shetler
In honor of International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, here is an interview I did for the Love and Loss podcast, all about our miscarriage:
Really honored to be able to share our story.
- Read Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother. Then read it again.
- Listen to The Birth Hour podcast—it will make you marvel at the variety of labor stories, and the astonishing empowerment of birth!
- You don’t have to change a wet diaper in the middle of the night—just a poopy one. Our doula tried to tell us this, but we didn’t listen until our baby was like seven months. What a difference.
- Oh—get a doula.
- Take a trip with your newborn at 4 weeks, 8 weeks, even 12 weeks old—they’ll sleep almost all the time, and you can sightsee (albeit through sleep-hazed eyes).
- Don’t try to lose the last 10 lbs. of “baby weight” if you’re breastfeeding—the baby needs you to keep eating and drinking plenty so you can keep up the milk factory. Or to quote my friend, “Eat like a linebacker.”
- Tulip-hem/open-front nursing shirts from Motherhood Maternity will be your sole wardrobe for the next year. Sans bra.
- A midwife and a birthing tub can be your two new best friends. (The model of midwifery care was light-years beyond typical OB-GYN care. It was like the difference between lighting a candle & sinking into a couch…vs. napping on the divided seats at the airport.)
- Be Team Green! Don’t find out the sex of the baby in advance. The surprise at birth is 100% worth the agony of waiting. Plus, you won’t have to suffer through endless blue baby shower gifts, or endless pink.
- Don’t register for a changing table. Change the kid’s diaper on the floor. Stick a puppy pad under them and you’re good to go. You’ll feel the need to wash your hands like three different times by the end of each changing, and what will you do with the baby then? The floor prevents baby from…falling to the floor.
- Read Magda Gerber’s book Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect, or anything by Janet Lansbury—ditto Lansbury’s podcast Unruffled. You know all those things other parents do that annoy you? You don’t have to do them! It’s a miracle.
- Haakaa silicone breast pump! Lightweight, portable, perfect! You stick it on one breast while you’re nursing from the other. No cords, no batteries. You can score so many extra ounces this way—I stopped using a regular breast pump! But on that note:
- Elvie breast pump if you have to work outside the home! These cordless gals tuck into your bra and let you pump while driving, walking, or preaching (okay, I took them out for preaching, as they would have made my congregants wonder if I’d gotten implants—they are a tad large—and they light up like Fembots).
- Don’t give up on breastfeeding at 6 weeks when you want to, or 3 mos. when you want to. You’ll finally hit your stride by 6 mos., and then you can do hardcore things like nurse in the middle of a waterfall in the mountains of NC or on a chilly beach in Alaska:
- Write down, or do a voice memo of, all your memories of labor & birth before too much time goes by. Before any time goes by. In those bleary and weepy first few days, jot down whatever details come back to you—put them on your Notes app or in a journal, just somewhere you can access it at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. These are unbelievably priceless.
- Yes to a maternity photo shoot (though you will be tired). Yes to labor/birth photos—ask your doula to take them. And yes to a newborn photo shoot (though you will be tired). 110% worth it.
- For those who want to keep some semblance of a spiritual practice amidst the new normal of chaos—open your holy book and set it on the table beside your nursing chair. Glance over now and again while nursing, and try to commit a verse to memory. (My current verse: “You have put gladness in my heart, / more than when grain and wine and oil increase” Psalm 4:7 BCP—so chosen to remind me to be GLAD!)
- They tell you to take Ibuprofen for the recovery pain, but hello? It makes you constipated! The last thing you need is a herculean effort to push anything else out down there.
- The cliché is true: It goes by too fast. Savor it.
- And finally, the real secret to happiness in your new life as a parent to the world’s most precious kiddo: Only have one.
- **edit** Had to add one more I just thought of. You don’t need to heat the milk. Or the formula. Or the purees. They will drink/eat it cold. Trust me.