Yesterday at church, just before Sunday service began, my lead pastor came up to me and said, “So I heard the good news! Are you guys excited?”
And I stared up at him with startled eyes, shaken awake from my mental menagerie, and did not produce the typical enthusiastic response that most soon-to-be parents give. “Oh! Uh, yes,” I answered, my voice heavy with hesitation, “I think I’m getting there.”
My pastor looked taken aback, and concern wiggled across his brow: “Oh, is this something you want me to pray for you about?”
Oh shoot, I thought. I’m giving off the impression that I don’t want this baby. I told him no, clarifying that I am excited, but there’s also been a lot to process all at once.
My pastor nodded. “Yes, I expect given that this pregnancy was unplanned, things can feel so disorienting.”
Disorienting. That’s the word. “Disoriented” is how I would sum up everything I’ve been feeling in the last four weeks since I found out I was pregnant and had to pee on a pregnancy stick three times to confirm that 1) Yes, there’s a baby inside me, not undigested tacos, and 2) Yes, I actually do want a baby.
When my pastor asked me if I’m excited, I was sitting alone at the pews after our morning pre-service prayer meeting, silent in my thoughts. I was not so much thinking as half-hearing the white noise of my subconsciousness. Those noises were loud, but in the background, and my mind felt numb and dumb in a mute daze. I was also uncaffeinated and tired, and almost fell asleep on the wheel while driving to church, so I was already sitting in a mental fog when jolted awake by a simple, predictable question from my pastor: Are you excited?
I am a too-honest person, unable to fake a response that I don’t truly feel, even if I don’t know how I really feel. I don’t know why I couldn’t have just responded to my pastor’s question with a big grin and a happy “YES!” Because yes, I am excited to bring a new precious life into this world. I am excited to meet this baby. But I’m not so excited to be a mother yet. Does that make sense? Disorienting, indeed.
I start a new job tomorrow. When I signed the job offer in January, I still had no idea I was already in second trimester by then. I took that job because after prayers and discussions with my husband, it felt clear that God opened that door for me. The job fit all the things I love to do: International travel. Meeting and getting to know people on a deeper level. In-depth, long-form feature writing. Highlighting inspirational, challenging stories of ordinary Christians who are living out the practical, powerful implications of the Gospel. I also really liked my future colleagues, and got a good vibe from the staff there. Plus: I was offered a significant salary bump, and the health insurance benefits were way better. “This job is a no-brainer,” David kept telling me.
So I signed that offer. I am to start on March 1, and I had been following the news in Ukraine, thinking it might make sense to do my first big travel story there, perhaps following some local Ukrainian Christians while tension between Ukraine and Russia simmers, to give it an extra newsy factor (this was before Putin did his monstrous thing). I even looked up Ukrainian cuisine. The world was flung wide open to me, and this job would be my magic carpet. I couldn’t wait.
Now I am disoriented. I had planned to continue working on a book for the rest of February, to maybe even draft a book proposal by the end of the month. But this month of February blew past like a gust of autumn wind, blowing my plans into swirls of dried dead leaves. I have not added or edited a single sentence in my book. I still haven’t finished reading the stack of books I had bought. Instead, I’ve spent countless hours watching YouTube videos on pregnancy stages, researching what newborn baby products I need, convincing David not to name our child after his favorite Dodgers player, and scaring the crap out of myself by reading up on perineal tears and cracked nipples and diastasis recti and stillborn babies and sudden infant death syndrome. I can’t say much of those hours were productive.
Overnight, my world has changed. Plans disintegrated. The future blurred. I don’t know what to expect for my upcoming job– how am I going to travel? Can I travel? When is too soon? What if my performance sucks, and my editors regret ever hiring me? Hiring a nanny would cost me my entire paycheck, and more. What if I need to decrease my work hours, and– horrors– quit my job?
On a recent phone call, abba mentioned the unmentionable: “You need to prioritize this child,” he said. “You might even want to consider quitting your job.” And then of course he said he’s praying for me to be able to handle that.
I wanted to scream. Of course I’m going to prioritize the child. But that added layer of “I’m praying for you”– that unspoken, unintended spiritual overhang of “this is what God wants you to do” and “this is Biblical” and “if you don’t do this, God will be displeased”– felt like a pillory around my neck.
I remember all the disdainful, disgusted condemnations many Christians heap on modern-day feminists and career women, for supposedly abandoning the family’s well-being to pursue their own ambitions and desires. A woman I had just met, who is also pregnant, told me how she used to be so selfish and worldly as a single woman until she reformed her relationship with Jesus, and realized she wants to be a wife and mother. She hopes to quit her job when her baby is born and homeschool her kids.
I understood what she’s saying. Because part of the world has so dehumanized babies and degraded child-bearing and raising children, I understood why many Christians push back so fiercely against that ungodly rhetoric and culture. But part of me also thought, “But you’re also beautiful and young and educated and privileged, so you had no problem getting married and pregnant.” Because I had been single for 29 years before I met David, because I’d so often played that third wheel, that sole person sitting alone in the church pews without a partner, I never lost the bitter taste of feeling “less than” and overlooked as a single, childless woman, constantly being downgraded in her friends’ list of priorities as they got hitched, bore babies, and hung out with other mommy friends.
Now that I’m on the other side, married and with child, I feel torn. I had spent so long building my identity as a journalist. I knew I wanted to be a journalist since I was in high school, and because of my years-long struggle with anorexia, I had taken a long detour to finally make it here. I still remember when I was a 52-lb, college dropout skeleton walking outside shivering in 70-degree weather, waiting for death. Whenever a plane flew above me, I looked up into the sky for a long time, my heart longing to be on that plane, traveling as a journalist, the longing so deep and great that I felt like my heart muscles physically ached. I cried so many tears thinking I might never be able to be that person.
The delay made me treasure my job even more, and I genuinely enjoy and love everything about journalism– the writing, the constant learning, the challenges and the stress, the adventures and insights and sense of purpose. It makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and that made me feel secure and stable. Being a journalist is not just pure ambition– I haven’t achieved fame or wealth or power– but to me, a sense of being. It is who I am. And I think, at some point, that love for journalism twisted so much into my own identity, my sense of purpose and meaning, that it became suffocating. I knew my self-identity was off-kilter in an unhealthy way when I resigned from my last job and felt as though I had lost myself, lost my self-confidence, self-assurance, and self-respect.
I wish some quick-to-condemn Christians would understand that it’s not as simple as “Give up your selfishness” for some of us. Or to label us as being brainwashed by modern secular culture. If the perceived problem is so overly simple, the solutions offered are also simplistic and irrelevant and unhelpful. My identity struggles are not new, and in fact in the scope of history it’s quite trite and stale, but it’s still complicated in how it’s personalized to my upbringing, experience, my personality and relationship with God.
At the root of this disorientation is fear. I am not a maternal person– not in the least. I’m not even a good cat owner. Lots of people are instinctively drawn to newborn babies. Their hands naturally reach out to touch and smell them, to the annoyance and alarm of first-time parents. Me? I instinctively draw away. Last Sunday at church, two little girls tugged at my sleeve and asked to play hide-and-seek, and I looked at them as though they were asking me to sing the national anthem of Uzbekistan. I don’t even know how to play with my own young nieces, whom I adore, but also flummox me. When people coo and talk baby speech to little kids, I cringe. I don’t look at pictures of babies and sigh, “awww.” You see, I am a cold rock, a Grinch with a heart two sizes too small.
How in the world am I going to be a mother? Will that so-called maternal instinct just naturally kick in? Will I know how to play with my own baby? Will I– shudder!– start speaking in that high-pitched squeaky baby cooing voice? Will my heart just automatically start melting when I see other baby pictures? And if I change into that person, who am I???
This is my brutally honest and ugly self. I am trying to untangle these fears and raw emotions before God, one by one, and I don’t think I’ll process them all before the baby arrives (“Unless he’s stillborn or you have a late-term miscarriage, anything can happen,” the internet whispers cruelly at me. The internet is the WORST!).
In fact, I foresee more disorientation awaiting me once there’s an actual breathing, bawling, burping tiny human lying beside me, demanding all my attention and love and energy, forcing me to shed things I’m not ready to shed, pushing me to give more than I’m ready to give, rewiring my identity before I even figure out who I am, all in supercharged real time. And at my wit’s end, when I’m sucked brittle and dry, I might not even care, but surrender with little fight left.
You know, maybe a baby is what I need most after all. God, you wily wise person, you.