Monday, May 6, 2013

Fear and Trust, Part 2-What I DO Know

Now, 7 months later, as birth and the postpartum period become imminent, I realize that I still struggle with the fear and with trust. My thoughts reel. I become the double-minded man that James warns us of.

Un-Holy Self: "What if God makes me go through this again? Last time I prayed that she would turn from the breech position and she didn't. God didn't answer my prayer that time and I suffered emotionally from it for a year. I still suffer from it... What was the point?"
Becoming- Sanctified Self:"Ugh, what a hypocrite I am! I'm sure there were reasons. After all, now I know what it is and can maybe help others who have suffered with postpartum depression but who had some of the less common symptoms. And then there was the infection thing she had to deal with in the hospital. If I had been home, we may not have caught that and she could have gotten really sick!"
Un-Holy Self: "But couldn't God have kept her from getting the dumb infection in the first place?"
Becoming- Sanctified Self: Come now, you know that is just your limited understanding! God had a reason for the suffering, even if He didn't really author it.
Un-Holy Self: Oh, that is just a bunch of Christianese jargon. We just tell ourselves that to make ourselves feel better. Besides, it's silly to call it suffering. What about people who have really sick babies? Or preemies? You had the healthiest, strongest baby in the NICU! What do you know of suffering really?"

And so on it goes...

Last week, a conversation with a friend and then with my husband reminded me that I needed to just leave it in God's hands. Just leave it there. That's it. Don't try to understand. Is that a "crutch" of a faith? A silly, absurd, archaic religion that excuses inconsistency and pain and suffering as something that, ironically, and in a way we don't understand, just is something we...well, don't understand? I don't know, but what about what I DO know? I do know God is real. I do know He is full of beauty and creativity. I do know that He is Holy. I do know that He is personal. These things I know that I know that I know.

A sermon along the same lines this past weekend brought the same thoughts to mind. I need to surrender my fear. I just do. I don't have to work myself up to a certain feeling of faith. I just have to trust Him. I have to trust that God knows what is best. He knows what I desire, but He also knows what is best. Ah! But here comes the voice of that darned un-Holy ME, again. But I must squelch it. I must. I know what I do know. God DOES love me.That much is true. That much I must remember. I trust with my life and future and eternity a God who saved me from myself. I really do. God is bigger than me. He wouldn't be much of a God if I could comprehend Him, now would He? That would make me God, or Him doesn't work that way. Besides, what is my alternative? Trust myself? Um...what do I think I, of all creatures, can do?

So...while I still struggle...I will try to trust. I will prepare and gain knowledge and decrease my risk factors, but then I must just trust. Who else is there to turn to? I fail. Doctors fail. God alone knows it all.

Fear and Trust, Part 1

I just had one of those times when God shows you over the course of several days and in several ways that He is trying to get your attention and teach you something. If I can just be smart enough to learn the lesson.

I've been mildly freaked out about having a baby since I was 4 years old when my mother caught me crying and got me to admit that I didn't want to ever have a baby because it would "hurt". She comforted me by telling me I didn't have to have one if I didn't want to. That solved that for quite a few years. Of course, I probably got the fear from overhearing her description of birth at some point in the first place. Be careful what you say around small children; they don't miss much!

When I was pregnant the first time, I immediately worried about labor. Would I be able to handle it? I was determined to avoid pain relief for fear of the complications it can bring about, but I was worried I wouldn't be able to handle it. I never once worried about anything going wrong in an intervention-free labor. I never once worried I would have a c-section. I was healthy, exercised, ate well, and was low risk in every way I knew of.

A week before my due date, we discovered the baby was breech. There went all my plans for a home-birth. I was having a c-section unless the baby turned. Two days later, I went into labor, and, 7 hours later, when the doctor finally showed up, had my abs cut open and my child lifted out, quite safely, but unnaturally and without any participation from me, either physically or emotionally.

No big deal, right?. People have c-sections all the time.Wrong. I was emotionally detached from the experience and experienced a year of postpartum depression in which I was numb. I operated mechanically, but felt very little motherly affection for my child. She didn't really feel like my child. I didn't feel like I gave birth to her. I was pregnant, then I wasn't. I felt violated, but none of that even registered for the whole first year. I just thought that this whole motherhood thing was sure not what it was cracked up to be...It was just hard. Frustrating. Exhausting. Difficult.

I processed it and healed a little bit when I realized I had been suffering from PPD and had been traumatized to some degree by the birth experience.However,  that whole second year I was scared stiff of doing it again. What if I had to suffer all that emotional detachment again? What if I had another disappointing birth experience?

Then God stepped in. Well, maybe I let Him in. During that second year I also went through an intense period of dealing with fear, not in relation to birth, but other things, mostly unreasonable, but real fear, nonetheless. I knew God was trying to show me that I was not TRUSTING Him. In the midst of it, I knew perfectly well, that this is what I needed to learn to do. I learned  a few things about faith at a deeper level. Faith is not about 'feeling' something. It is not even about feeling like you are trusting. It is just about trust God IN SPITE of emotions that say otherwise.

Still, although I wanted another baby to be on the way, I was sick with anxiety at the thought. One month, I literally spent three mornings sick with anxiety, thinking I was pregnant. I wasn't, apparently... but the experience showed me just how scared I really was. The next month, I literally made a willful decision, in the face of the familiar emotions of fear and anxiety, to go ahead and try, rather than avoid as I had been doing for the whole last year. I positively could not let fear drive me any longer. I knew it was not right, but, boy, was I scared!

Sure enough, I got pregnant, and this time, I had zero anxiety. None. I knew that God had this one in His hands. I had left it there when I made the decision to get pregnant in the face of my fear and with all my emotions absolutely NOT wanting to do it. God was blessing that decision.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Should I Return? and the Boot Camp of Motherhood.

I think I might starting writing here again. It has been a while. Like a long while. I just stopped for no particular reason. Actually, it might have been because the weather got nice last spring and I finally got to be out and then I never returned when the weather kept me in again. Ironically, the weather is once again nice and we spend our days outside and now is when I may start writing again!

I was reading some of my old posts and it was encouraging to see what I came up with last year. Of course, last year was an epoch of change for me, so I hardly recognize myself any more. The year before that was a blur, and this year is shaping up to be a continuation of last year! Ah well. I suppose we shouldn't stay the same, right? God is always changing and shaping us. It would be bad if He weren't!  It has all hit since motherhood though...does that have anything to do with it? I think motherhood is a boot camp of sanctification. Yup. That is what it is.

I currently have a quickly growing 29 week baby girl in my belly and a 2.5 year old who is extremely verbal, smart, willful, and, ahem, disobedient. Yes, very disobedient. I've tried the ticket system, time-outs, lost privileges, pointless lecturing, and even resorted to spankings lately, all to very little avail. By the end of the day, in spite of the lovely weather and a fair amount of emotional stability on my part (a rarity since motherhood), I was completely running on empty by noon and therefore ran on negative for the rest of the afternoon. My poor hungry husband came home to NO dinner and a wife who could only say "take her and DO something with her! I need a break. There is no dinner, I couldn't manage it", while looking very pathetically selfish. Dear man at a leftover enchilada and offered to make omelets and took the kiddo outside with the dogs and let me have a few moments of peace after which I mustered up some frozen fish sticks and the salad that I fortunately made yesterday. How on earth does he put up with me?

Well, that is that. I shall perhaps return to my inspired blogging on occasion.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Economics of a Family

Division of labor is generally a good thing for an economy. It means that people specialize in what they are good at and then trade the money they earn for something they are not good at. This usually means that jobs get done more efficiently and items are more affordable. When Henry Ford made the automobile affordable for Americans in the early 1900's, he used this idea in the form of his assembly line. Each person in the line did his job, and his job only, to every car. The car got passed down the line for the next person to do the next job and arrived at the end, finished. It was an efficient and affordable way to put many people to work since each person only needed to know how to do one thing; he didn't need to be a craftsman.

A lot of things are produced this way. Most of the clothes, furniture, and other things we use each day are probably produced in assembly-line fashion. However, if you own a beautiful, hand-made piece of wood furniture, or a handmade quilt, you know that the cost of such an item is considerably higher than it would be if it were made on an assembly line and were not uniquely crafted by a skilled artisan.

It occurred to me in one of my frequent and random wanderings of thought, that the majority of American society likes to put the family on an assembly line and divide up the labor. A woman and a man each have some skill which earns them a paycheck. Let's say she is a 10th-grade-history teacher and he is an engineer. They get married and continue to work, trading their labor for the labor of others as they purchase a house, car, furniture, food, etc. Once they have kids, the process continues. If mom thinks she isn't good at taking care of babies, no matter, that's what division of labor is for! She continues to do what she IS good at, teaching high school history, and trades in that work for baby care done by someone who is presumably better at it than she is. As junior gets passed down the assembly line of child care, getting treated just like every other kid on the line by the workers, he makes it to school age. Now, it is time to send him off to the public schools where the government has kindly taken mom and dad's money in the form of taxes and is choosing the laborers they think will be good at specializing in taking the next step in shaping the little man. Now, mom teaches someone else's kid high school history, while that someone else teaches her kid to read.

Mom and Dad think this is great. They can continue to work at what they are good at and trade in their specialization for the work someone else will do to their children.
They can even trade in their specialty for ready-made meals, lots of activities for their kids, and lots of stuff to keep their children occupied and in possession of the latest fashions and toys.

Poor junior gets passed along the assembly line and comes out the other end looking very much like everyone else does. He gets stuffed into whichever mold was popular at the time to become another standardized member of society, who learned math, reading, history, and science in the same manner as everyone else did. He becomes standard; somewhere within a standard deviation of the average. Problem is, he's not made of metal or plastic and it is hard for him to feel significant when he was not uniquely and carefully molded like a precious and rare piece of wood carefully crafted into a unique piece of artistry by a master carpenter.

Image from

It is too bad that parents, the only craftsmen in possession of each of these fine and unique pieces of material, are so quick to put them on the assembly line of society and divide the labor of shaping them. What fine and lovely pieces might we find all about us if the craftsmen spent the laborious hours lovingly crafting each piece into the unique item of humanity she was born to be!

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Fallen World

The other day I was out digging up my very un-landscaped front yard and I had a bit of an epiphany. I was thinking very serious thoughts as I dug because of an article I had just read about a father whose wife insisted on aborting two of the triplets they had conceived through in-vitro fertilization. (This next sentence is high disturbing, so beware). He had watched the ultrasound image as his babies pulled away from the needle being inserted into their bodies and then crumpled up as their hearts stopped beating. Oh, the horror of this holocaust that happens everyday! The lies these parents believe! Dear God, have mercy, is all I can say.

As I thought about this heart-wrenchingly disturbing story, I started to think about the old question of evil and suffering in the world. I have heard the old 'we-live-in-a-fallen-world' explanation many a time, but somehow it never quite satisfied me. I thought about these innocent babies, killed by their own parents. It seemed starkly obvious to me how evil suffered by the innocent in these cases is so intimately connected to the sin of the parents.

The whole 'suffering in the world' problem is hardest for me to grasp, not when the innocent are direct victims of evil (although this is still very hard to understand and accept), but when there is just suffering in general. Sick or hungry children, for instance, with parents who love them and want to take care of them, but can not. It breaks my heart to think of.

Then, all of the sudden, I thought of the first chapters of Genesis. God gave man dominion over the earth and told them to be fruitful and multiply. Those were the two jobs given to Adam and Eve. The entire earth was under their dominion. All the children that would ever be born were under their care. God gave them a choice to obey Him or not (what do you know? The other big question of Christianity- God's sovereignty and man's free will popped up in my head, next!).

I wonder if, when God said that Adam and Eve's disobedience would cause them to die, He meant also " because you have dominion over all the earth and every baby that will ever be born, your disobedience will subject every one of those babies and children to the ravages of sin and sickness and evil". I feel like they would have understood if they had been told that their sin would affect their own children (can't raise your babies in the Garden of Eden anymore!) that they would birth and raise, but what about every other child that would ever be born?

For some reason, as I thought about this, it all became a little clearer. Somehow, this problem of suffering ('The Problem of Pain' as C.S. Lewis calls it and even titles one of his books) is perhaps intimately connected to the question of God's will and mankind's will. When God gave man a free will, he also handed the Problem of Pain into his hands.

Of course, I'm no theologian and this could be off, but it made sense to me. Additionally, the verse in Romans that talks about all Creation groaning together, waiting to be delivered from the bondage of sin, seems to confirm my idea.

We live in a fallen world...ah, yes, we do, I think I get it now.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Second Sin Nature

Ahem, get ready. Today I am writing about hormones. (Even if you are a man, please read this if you currently or, in the future, may live in any kind of close communication with a member of the female sex). Let me make the disclaimer that the phrase used as the title of this post was actually dubbed by my husband (who doesn't know I'm using it as a post title). Before you get mad at him, know that he said it compassionately. Really, he did. We were discussing (Um, ok, I was philosophizing while complaining) how darned hard it is for me to stay 'sanctified' when I'm having a battle with my hormones. Seriously. As a Christian, I believe that all of us humans have this bothersome sin nature to deal with. It's the fight against natural tendencies toward selfishness, or anger, or laziness, or lust... These things are sinful in the eyes of God because they are not love and they manifest in an egocentric focus on ME, ME, ME!

Some people seem to have it easier than others. Some seem to be born with naturally generous or gracious or kind or patient personalities. However, every one us has a few (or many) things that we need to rely on God's grace to sanctify us from.

Now, when you are a woman, you may find that this battle suddenly gets twice as hard at certain times of the month. There was a time, not that long ago, when this PMS thing was not acknowledged by doctors or psychologists. Apparently they thought women were just making this up. Now, however, it is clear, medically, that hormones affect the brain and absolutely do contribute to anxiety, anger, and depression. (For the uninformed men out there, if there are any actually reading this, PMS is Premenstrual Syndrome and usually hits in the week or two before the next period starts).

This all seems pretty unfair to me. If you've been there, you know that you just feel like you've been taken over by someone else sometimes. You don't really know WHY you feel so irritated, annoyed, frustrated, or anxious when your circumstances are just the same as they were a week ago when you felt just fine and were patient and kind. But, for some reason, it is just as if your happiness and patience went AWOL for several days.

I'm not saying that there isn't a spiritual aspect to this. There really isn't an excuse for sin. As my husband pointed out, it doesn't really matter what is causing the sinful behavior, we still need to trust God to get us through it. (For instance, what if it were a really lousy circumstance like sickness or loss or financial trouble? Would we not still need to be relying on God as our strength and source of peace?)

Anyway, there was a time, not that long ago, when, in spite of having been female my whole life (yup, it's true), I didn't know much about hormones and didn't really buy into the idea that they could affect your mental state all that much.

Then, I went though what I now recognize was Postpartum Depression, otherwise known as PPD. Pregnancy wasn't that bad for me. I never had morning sickness and my energy levels weren't that low. Besides getting more tired on those hot summer days, not being able to hike 8 miles without eating lunch (yup, that was dumb), and getting nerve pains near the end, not to mention the usual annoyances of having to go to the bathroom all the time and waking up a lot, I really had an easy pregnancy. My mood wasn't too bad either.(I don't think. I actually don't really remember what my mood was like, but I don't think it was too awful...)

After my daughter was born was when it got rough. Of course, with a newborn, I was always exhausted and the C-section, although I recovered well physically, was emotionally traumatic. I felt very removed from the whole experience.

Worst for me was the emotional disconnect I felt from my baby and the cloud I seemed to be in for about 10 months. It was hard to explain. I didn't feel like she was my child and I didn't feel the delight in her and enjoyment of her that I often feel now (Thank God that I do now!). I used to tell my husband that I felt like I was in a cloud. I didn't know how else to explain it. It just felt like I was functioning mechanically, with no emotional connection. I would try to grasp at it and it was always just out of reach.

Most of the time, when I heard PPD described, it sounded like I was supposed to be sleeping all the time, and crying the rest of the time. I never cried though, and I certainly didn't sleep! (I'm not much of a crier or sleeper anyway.) I wasn't completely unmotivated, either. I would get interested in things like cloth diapers, healthy foods, etc. In many ways, I didn't fit the definition of PPD, which is why I didn't realize I had it. The only time I had those overwhelming feelings of depression and hopelessness and just felt like climbing into bed and covering up was for about one minute almost every time I nursed.

Now, if you know anything about breastfeeding, you know that there is a hormone rush that causes the 'let-down' of the milk. All the books say it is supposed to be relaxing and cause loving feelings. Not for me! Instead, it was a wave of depression. I figured out what was happening after a month or two and then was able to just power though that minute or two until it passed.

It wasn't until my daughter was nearly a year old and I started to get my emotions back again, that I realized this had all been abnormal. I started doing a good bit of reading on the topic or hormones and PPD and discovered that, sure enough, hormones can be badly out of whack for many months following birth and can lead to all kinds of emotional troubles. If I had known, I probably could have obtained a simple solution that would have balanced my hormones and inserted some normal feelings of happiness and delight here and there amidst the difficult adjustment to motherhood. It would have made the harder times much easier, I'm sure!

Anyway, now that I'm done with pregnancy and breastfeeding (for now) and have been for a few months, I've been able to observe my normal states of mind throughout a cycle. Sure enough, my first two weeks are great. I'm happy and enjoying life. A few days after ovulation, though, I get irritable, impatient, and often have depressing feelings of hopelessness or anxiety (I also have trouble sleeping for several nights in a row). This lasts for several days, then I often get a sudden letup and am pretty happy again until this time next month. It's not too bad. I'm functional, and I know many women have it even worse, but still...

Some may think this isn't a big deal. So, most of us have to deal with PMS (all women, I mean!). Do we though? Thinking about my PPD troubles in combination with what I have read has led me to think that this roller coaster of emotions is NOT inevitable. At least not the extremes.

Some women are more sensitive to the effects of progesterone than others (the hormone that dominates after ovulation). Others have an estrogen dominance possibly brought about by foreign estrogens that come in meat, dairy, pesticides, and even lotions and shampoos. Our bodies react uniquely to the same amounts of hormones. Two women may have the same measurements of progesterone and estrogen (also, testosterone, which women have too!) but respond completely differently to them.

What I've learned is that there are a few things we can do to help our bodies and minds balance out. For normal monthly troubles, a good diet and exercise, of course, are essential. Also, a good multi-vitamin (especially with the B vitamins, Magnesium, and Calcium) can really help. There are also several herbs such as Chasteberry, Evening Primrose, Red Raspberry, and Black Cohosh that can help (problem is, if you may become pregnant, you have to be careful with some of these, and those last two weeks are the time when you could be pregnant and not know it!).

There are also bio-identical hormones to take (as differentiated from the synthetic ones in popular birth control pills) if needed. There are progesterone creams that can be applied right to the skin, or estradiol (most relevant form of estrogen) and progesterone pills. I feel that a simple blood or saliva test to test my hormones postpartum and then the use of something like this could have very well made my first year of motherhood much more enjoyable!

Well, now I know. Next time, if I have these struggles, I can probably have the cloud that fogged my mind and emotions easily fixed. If you have any of these troubles with PMS or PPD or menopause, ladies, talk to a doctor and make sure they don't just put you on anti-depressants! A simple hormone adjustment can really be the key. Meanwhile, I know that I can make sure I have the right vitamins, look into herbal and/or hormonal supplements, and then trust God to get me through the second sin nature of hormones!

Some books that were helpful to me were "Hormones and the Mind" and "The Estrogen Alternative" which you can probably find at the library like I did!

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Sing the Mighty Power of God

Hiking over branches and rocks. I'm training her young.

This morning was warm and sunny. Our winter has been so mild, yet I've gloried in every spring-like day like it was the first in months. I thrive on sunshine. I told my husband yesterday that I need sunshine just like I need food and water. He thought that was a bit of an exaggeration. Perhaps it is a little, but I think sunshine still runs a close second to those other necessities!

I decided that things like cleaning my perpetually dusty and toy-strewn house could wait a little longer. After all, darkness and rain will come and I can clean then. I can't clean when it's nice out. So, off we went to the park play in the mud, throw rocks in the creek, and gather acorns.

Looking 'over the mountain' from the top of the hill at the park

It is never easier for me to be thankful than when I'm out in God's glorious creation. I stood and looked at the blue, blue sky and felt grateful for many things:

My happy baby who giggles when I throw rocks to make splashes and tries to do it herself.

Her intent face as she tries to gather as many acorns and rocks as possible into each hand.

Sunshine and warmth

The ability to be home to take advantage of these days. How sad I would be if she or I had to let these days pass us by as we missed them from inside somewhere.

A tucked away park less than a ten-minute walk from our house that has a creek, woods, a gazebo, and rarely any other visitors (at least at this time of year!)

Good health to enjoy it all!

Gathering acorns and rocks

As we wandered through the woods, I couldn't help singing this classic hymn by Isaac Watts that usually comes to my mind at such times (hey, no one was around to hear me!):

I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God’s command, and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.

There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.