Traveling as a journalist while third trimester

I was about 29 weeks pregnant when I boarded the KLM flight to Warsaw, Poland, for my first reporting assignment at my new job.

It’s obviously my first time traveling so far away with a visibly pregnant belly, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The last time I traveled internationally while pregnant was in January to Mexico City, and I was barely showing at the time, and didn’t know I was pregnant. This time, there was no hiding that bump, even with layers of baggy clothing.

As I strided into the narrow aisle of the aircraft, I could see the eyes of passengers zoom into my middle section. Before deciding to travel, I had double-checked with my doctor that I’m safe to travel. She said as long as I’m less than 35 weeks, with no sign of contractions or bloody discharge, I should be fine, though she was willing to write me a doctor’s note prohibiting me from traveling if I needed it. I told her I didn’t need it.

Two weeks before the trip, an older Chinese man, who took it upon himself to appoint himself my LA-based father figure (I don’t know why, but I always seem to only meet wonderful people), had advised me repeatedly that I should not invite any stress into my life while pregnant. “I don’t know what’s up with western people and their ways, but our Asian culture, we believe in the mother resting as much as possible,” he told me: “So please. No stress. Rest.” My husband tattled that I had originally planned to fly to Ukraine, in a “please tell my crazy wife she’s crazy” tone, and the man’s eyes widened with alarm: “What! No! No traveling. There are plenty of stories to tell here in Los Angeles!” He even told my boss to take it easy on me, to which my boss– who has been incredibly gracious and supportive– apparently exclaimed, “No, it’s not me! It’s her!”

OK. Yes, it’s me. But honestly, with everything that was going on in Ukraine and Europe, with me just starting my job as a reporter hired to write global feature stories, I was getting even more stressed simply reading the news from my chair in Los Angeles. I could certainly do some reporting through Zoom and WhatsApp, but in order to tell a story well, I felt I needed to be there. I needed to see people face to face, shake their hands, breath in their scent, feel the raw energy and emotions.

So there I was, on a KLM aircraft on a Wednesday afternoon, shoving my seven-month belly into the cramped space between my seat and the seat in front of me. And then I prayed for nobody to sit beside me.

When I booked that flight, I made sure to choose an aisle seat so I can shuffle to the bathroom to pee every 15 minutes without irritating my seatmate. But I also made sure to choose a seat with empty seats beside it, so that I can stretch out. The day before, when I checked in online, I saw that the two seats next to me were still empty. I held my breath, hoping, praying.

By the time I sat down, with the two seats next to me still empty, I was so confident that my prayers were answered I happily put my backpack on the seat next to me. I was all prepared for a relatively comfortable flight, and thanking God for it.

Then a woman came up and pointed at me, and said in loud commanding voice, “Those are our seats.” Behind her was her husband, quivering with a walking cane and a stooped back.

“Oh! Sorry,” I said, taking my backpack off their seat and shuffling out into the aisle so the couple could gingerly inch their way into their seats. As the husband groaned while settling into the middle seat, he turned to me and said, “I gotta warn you: I snore.”

I didn’t curse God, but I did shake my fist: Why, God. Why. It was such a simple ask.

They looked to be in their mid-70s at least. The man was hard of hearing, so his wife practically screamed into his ear, enunciating every word she uttered. Her hair was an artificial strawberry blonde blob, her nails polished pink, and her lips puckered into a perpetual scowl. The man had gentle blue eyes, mottled trembling hands, and a soft belly as large as mine. I felt uncomfortable looking at his frail body squeezed into the middle seat, and felt uncomfortable as his elbow poked out of his personal space into mine, sometimes bumping me in the ribs.

Yay, the joys of the economy seat. I admit: My mood instantly turned sour, and I whined internally like a toddler. I had really hoped I would at least get some sleep in before landing in Warsaw and jumping right into a full day of reporting.

I did not get much sleep. Economy seats are already by default cruel and unusual punishment, but my seatmates, God bless them, were loud. The man gave me a fair warning: He did snore– like a bear deep in hibernation, with occasional startled snorts. When he wasn’t snoring, his wife was fussing about, shouting, “Where is my MASK!”

“Eh?” her husband said, half-deaf, half-snoring, and half-asleep. She leaned into his ear and spat out each word as crisply and loudly as she can: “I. CAN’T. FIND. MY. MASSSSSSSSSK!!!” “Oh,” he said, and they both fidgeted about looking for her missing mask, elbows and feet sticking into my space while I tried to sleep. She lost her mask at least three times during the flight. It also didn’t help that my baby was super active throughout the flight, practicing break-dancing or water polo or whatever it is it’s doing in there.

Then it was time for our meal– always the highlight of any flight. I don’t know what it is, because unless you’re in business or first class, airplane food usually sucks, but every time I smell that warm toasty scent wafting through the aircraft, signaling the start of mealtime, my heart sings. It’s really the only thing I look forward to during an economy international flight.

The flight attendant in blue wheeled the food trolley to us. “Chicken or vegetarian pasta?”

“White wine!” the wife barked.

“White wine,” the husband requested.

“Certainly, and for your meal? Chicken or vegetarian pasta?”

“Pasta,” the wife yelled.

“White wine,” the husband requested.

“No, no,” the wife hissed into his ear: “She asked: CHICKEN. OR. PASTA!”

They both got pasta and white wine. I got the chicken, which turned out to be three tiny globs of white meat swimming in reddish sauce.

The wife ripped off the plastic covering to her tray of pasta, stared a half-minute at its contents, then turned to her husband with sour lips and brows: “This looks like dog food.”

That, the husband understood. He turned to me and joked, chuckling, “Gourmet meal, huh?”

For the first time, I felt a certain camaraderie with my elderly seatmates, united by our mutual distaste for the dog food-like dinner we got served. It really didn’t taste too bad, but nothing feels as uniting as complaining about the same thing together.

I survived the flight, and my selfish heart had softened by then to which I said a little silent prayer of safe travels for the crotchety couple, wondering why they were flying to Europe at their old age. But I suppose they could wonder the same about me, an obviously pregnant woman traveling by herself.

I landed in Warsaw, via Amsterdam, at noon, feeling a little dazed from sleep depravity and adrenaline. Waiting for me were Ruslan and Maxim, my travel guides for five days, two Ukrainian guys from Kyiv who had left Ukraine one month before the war, based on a prophetic sense while praying that they needed to leave Ukraine soon. If they hadn’t left, Maxim would have been stuck alone in Ukraine, as he had just turned 18, and Ukraine had banned most men ages 18 to 60 from leaving Ukraine. (Ruslan is in his 40s, but he would have been allowed to leave, since he has more than three children.) I had warned them I’m pregnant (though not how pregnant), and they took it upon themselves to make sure I never had to carry my own bags throughout the trip.

It’s a little strange, being pregnant during a work trip. It might be my imagination, but men’s eyes seem to soften when they see my belly, and some look more carefully at me with curiosity, though most don’t ask questions, simply bowing their heads to me and saying, “God bless you.” Women, especially mothers, spot my belly and give me small smiles. Several asked me when I’m due, whether it’s a boy or a girl, and if it’s my first. When I told one Ukrainian refugee woman that I’m seven months along, she exclaimed, nodding at her 18-month blonde child, “Oh! I had my daughter at seven months!” I felt a little stab of worry then– I knew I was facing a small risk of preterm birth while overseas, and I prayed I don’t go into labor while in Poland.

Let’s talk mom guilt. Apparently that’s a common thing. The internet message boards I stalk are full of pregnant moms chirping their anxieties and guilt about what they should do or shouldn’t do, what they did or didn’t do, and begging for someone to tell them not to feel guilty. When I found out I was pregnant at almost six months, my sister-in-law messaged me a sweet note trying to assuage me that I needn’t feel guilty for not knowing. I was touched but perplexed– I hadn’t even thought to feel guilty. Even making the decision to go on this reporting trip to Poland, people around me were more worried and stressed about the trip than I was, and I felt both touched and irritated at their concern.

Perhaps I have an inflated sense of security, or perhaps I’m just irresponsible. But once my doctor approved my travel plans, I didn’t see the need to worry over things that are unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unlikely to happen. There’s enough stress as is– why pile on more unnecessary stress?

And then I caught a cold.

It started with waking up one morning with a sore throat. I had been in Poland three days by then– three very full days, with non-stop visits to churches and church-run refugee centers helping Ukrainians who fled the war. I was up before 6 am every morning, and in bed after midnight completely exhausted. I had been running on the ground the moment I got off the plane in Warsaw.

I didn’t think much about the full schedule. After all, that’s usual for a reporting work trip. Except I wasn’t “normal” anymore. I was running for two, and pregnancy had diminished my immune system and energy levels. By day four, I woke up at a hotel near the Ukrainian border feeling like I had been hit by a freighter. I tried working out as usual, but got so out of breath and dizzy that I crawled back into bed for a 15-minute nap.

That whole day, I felt like I was moving underwater. Every movement hurt and ached. I sat at breakfast smiling at my travel companions, but barely hearing a word they were saying. I forced food into my mouth, but my stomach heaved it back up the entrance of my gullet, and there the undigested food sloshed all day during a bumpy, long, overheated car ride, until finally I squatted by the side of a road and puked out puddles of my breakfast onto the dirt field.

The nausea stalked me all day. If I hadn’t felt the baby still kicking inside me, I would have been wrecked with worry for the baby’s health. I wondered several times if I did the right thing coming here, mocked myself for playing mission impossible. I guess for me, mom guilt takes the form of scorn and derision: Who do you think you are, some sort of martyr journalist? You fool, you ridiculous person dragging everyone down with your pregnancy cold.

I have no profound insights to share except that I had to swallow my pride and admit I’m no Superwoman. I’m just a regular human needing to learn to listen to my own body cues. Mind isn’t always stronger than matter, as I tend to believe. But sometimes, God gives you the strength you need.

That late evening, as we made our way to our last interview in Przemysl, an old border city, I strongly considered just staying in the car, stretching out in the back seat, and knocking out. I was so, so tempted to tell my travel companions to go on to the interview without me. But I crawled out of the car and hobbled like a granny nun up the hill to the church, and somehow, I made it through the interview– and it was a really good interview. I was glad I pushed through– but also glad to crash early to bed that night, and pass out for a full eight hours. And my body, given the rest it needs, woke up the next day feeling ten times better. It’s amazing how the body springs back when it’s treated well.

The last three days in Poland, I was by myself, without Ruslan and Maxim. During one of those days, I re-visited a warehouse in the outskirts of Warsaw run by a Ukrainian church. That warehouse opened within a week of Putin’s invasion, and currently serves as a hub for prayers, collecting and sending out emergency supplies to Ukraine, and hosting refugees who now work as volunteers there. It is a beehive of activity– men and women, young and old, buzzing about like bees, murmuring and bellowing in Ukrainian and Russian, organizing first aid supplies into boxes for front-line soldiers, unloading pellets of food from trucks arriving from Spain and Estonia and Germany, discussing strategy and priorities for the day.

The founding pastor of that church and warehouse is Pastor Oleksandr, or Pastor Sasha, a stocky, high-foreheaded former gang-leader Ukranian with greenish eyes and sonic energy. He sets the pace and energy at that place, and I rarely saw him sit down for a break. He was constantly marching from one room to the other, meeting with this bishop and that missionary, booming and ordering with the deep voice of a military sergeant. In the midst of that busy day, he still made sure to greet me and show me around, offering me coffee and dates and bananas and chocolate. Ukrainian hospitality doesn’t stop for no war.

That afternoon, I sat with a group of men in the office, all Ukrainians. Some of them are Ukrainian-American missionaries and ministry leaders who flew out on one-way tickets to Poland to help. One of them, a white-haired Ukrainian-American Assemblies of God missionary from Florida, asked me when I’m due, and if it’s a boy or a girl. He was the first man to ask me that. I told him the baby’s sex and the baby’s name, and the meaning behind the name, and he beamed.

Then he leaned forward with a sincere expression and asked, “Is it OK if we pray for you and the baby? We would love to pray for you. It is so important to pray for a new life.”

I was startled, though I shouldn’t have been, given that I was in the midst of praying ministers. But I suppose I didn’t expect these busy people to stop everything they’re doing– important, life-saving work– and pray for a stranger and her unborn child. That day, the Russians had bombed a critical bridge, blowing up the only way for the warehouse trucks to bring much-needed food and supplies to the war-torn Chernihiv region. They had several trucks waiting on the other side of the river full of emergency goods, and no way to reach the people who need it. There were a lot of logistical complications to work out, and lots of meetings ahead. And here I was, a reporter from Los Angeles, sucking up their time and attention. Or at least, that’s how I felt.

But I was still recovering from a cold, and I never say no to prayers, so I said yes, I would love prayers for the baby.

The missionary called out to his comrades in Ukrainian, including Pastor Sasha, asking if they wanted to pray for me and my baby. Everyone’s eyes lit up, and they shouted yes with enthusiasm, immediately leaping to their feet. They gathered around me and put their hands on my shoulders, and together, they prayed out loud in passionate Ukrainian, the kind that comes with uplifted palms and pumping fists.

I had no idea what they were saying, but I understood their hearts. It was a heart of giving, of blessing, of pure brotherly love. I felt my eyes sting with tears, and my face crumpled as I willed myself not to burst out crying. Instead, I breathed it all in– their hearts, their prayers, their beautiful foreign words of blessing over a child who involuntarily traveled with me across the world to report on a war. And my spirit received it all with gratitude and affection: Amen, amen, amen.

On the long flight back to LA, I sat back reflecting on the last nine days in Poland. Has it really only been nine days? It feels like a month. My mind and heart were full of new sights and voices and relationships and feelings that I did not have on my flight to Europe. I felt full, so full.

And then the baby kicked. Rolled. Air-guitared and danced.

I put both hands on my belly, and the baby responded to my touch, dancing wilder. And for the first time, I felt a deep emotional and spiritual connection to my unborn child. We experienced this trip together. We witnessed the work of God and His people together. We received blessings together.

I felt a little weepy again, and I silently whispered to the baby, “Thank you, aga yah (baby in Korean). Thank you for coming with me. Thank you for staying strong, and reminding me that I’m not alone. And now, we return home to abba.”

The so-called woman’s curse

The baby has been moving a lot more these days, especially at night when I’m in bed.

Sometimes I wish I can carry an ultrasound around with me to see what the heck the baby is doing. Is that a fist jab or a tiny foot kicking or a hip bump? Sometimes it feels like the baby is doing a little gymnastics routine, other times it’s either backpedaling or breast-stroking, and then sometimes I’m pretty sure it let out a series of hiccups.

It is the weirdest feeling, and not all that pleasant, but neither is it unpleasant, nor painful, nor uncomfortable. It just feels really, really weird. Like there are fingers inside me, sliding across my organs as though playing a piano. Like there’s an alien developing inside me, which I suppose is pretty close to what is happening. There’s a living mini-creature swimming in the amniotic fluids of my uterus, gradually growing stronger and bigger by the day. What a bizarre thing to happen to my body, after 34 years of it being my own.

Everything feels abnormal. I can’t lay on my back anymore, can’t walk without feeling like my pelvic floor is literally going to drop to the floor like a heavy sack, can’t sit in any position that’s comfortable for long, can’t eat a full meal without feeling like my squished gut is going to pop out of my gullet. I’m only a week away from third trimester, and I shudder to imagine what it would be like to lug a watermelon-sized belly around for several weeks.

But there’s also wonder and awe: My body is creating a human being! Obviously I’ve known what a woman’s body can do, since I was a toddler watching my own mother’s belly grow with my brother, but now that I’m experiencing for myself all these biological changes, I’m astounded that I’ve never seriously considered the fact that billions of women throughout history, from all over the world, have been bearing and birthing children. That this is “normal,” just part of the natural cycle of life.

Now I see: I have been living in a world full of daily, constant, repetitious signs and wonders, and I’ve been blind to it. I see pregnant women waddling at the grocery store, buy gifts for my friends’ baby showers, celebrate the birth of my nieces– and I would be happy for them, but I didn’t once stop to step back and wonder, Wow. What magic. This is amazing. God is amazing! How ingenius is His creativity? How purposeful is the way He designed the woman’s body!

One of the first things I learned in Sunday School was Genesis 3: the curse of man, the curse of woman, the curse of the serpent. After Adam and Eve listened to the serpent and disobeyed God, God cursed Eve, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Well, jeez. No wonder I didn’t find marriage or child-bearing at all appealing.

Even as a kid, I was never impressed by the women in the Bible. There’s Sarah, the matriarch of Israel, who just seemed like a bitter, submissive woman who did whatever her husband told her to do. She pined away most of her life longing for a child, and then tried to claim her servant’s son before abandoning both of them to wild beasts in the desert. There’s poor pitiful Leah, whose beauty paled in comparison to her sister’s, so she desperately and pathetically tried to earn her husband’s love by bearing him son after son. There’s Tamar, whose greatest compliment was from a father-in-law who claimed her more righteous than he, because she tricked him into sleeping with her– for what? A son. Then there’s Ruth, who submitted to her mother-in-law by laying at the feet of a much-older, wealthy stranger, and oh boy, what did she get in reward? A son. There’s Hannah, who had a seemingly-devoted husband but cried bitterly at the temple each day…for what? A son.

In the New Testament, there’s Mary, whose single greatest act in her life, again, was giving birth to a son. Of course, that child was also the Son of God– and I can appreciate the trepidation she must have felt about what it meant to miraculously conceive as a young engaged virgin– but really, what other great thing did she do in her life besides host Jesus Christ in her womb? Did she lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and blast sweet water out of desert rocks, like Moses? Did she sling a stone into a giant’s forehead, led an army on horseback into multiple battles, and rule over a powerful, prosperous kingdom, like King David? Did she, like Apostle Paul, travel across the Asia Minor, enduring shipwrecks and flogging and starvation and prison, planting churches and spreading the gospel to the world?

No, she did not. She squatted in a manger and pushed out a son. As a girl looking for female role models in the Bible, it seemed to me that the women exemplified as great figures of faith in the Bible were mostly all…mothers. Or wives. Or wives longing to be mothers– but not even daughters will satisfy them, only sons. The only truly badass woman was Deborah the warrior prophetess, and she doesn’t even get one-tenth of the space that most other men in the Bible get. I felt disappointed and dismissed as a young Christian female who admires and longs for chutzpah and charisma, aplomb and glory. Is this the best God expects out of us? To be wives and mothers? Surely, Lord, there’s more for us.

But I also felt uncomfortable with today’s societal expectation that we modern women should be able to “have it all.” That we can have our careers and independence and marriage and motherhood, that we can balance both the traditional masculine accomplishments and our femininity/sex appeal. Sure, it’s challenging to balance all those responsibilities, but a strong able woman makes it work somehow, so yes you can, you beautiful badass queen! That idea feels just as oppressive as the idea that a good Christian woman’s place is at home organizing Easter plates and homeschooling five kids, bonus points if you can play hymns on the piano and have adopted kids with disabilities from Russia or China.

Of course, the hubris in me still aims to be that woman who manages both motherhood and career with breezy class. We all (or maybe it’s just me) admire Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett for “having it all,” yet also hate her guts for merely existing, for setting a near-impossible bar for us earthling women by not only projecting brilliance in her academics and career path, but also somehow raising seven children, two adopted from Haiti and one with Down syndrome. I don’t know how she does it, but it makes my dirty soul feel better to believe that she cheated somehow.

I have been rethinking a lot of my low view on motherhood since I found out I’m pregnant. I don’t feel confident to call myself an omma yet– that still kind of freaks me out a little– but in bed at night, as I lay quietly feeling my unborn child do karate chops and somersaults, I don’t feel fear or anxiety. I feel awe. I feel wonder. I feel…like a miracle. Like I’ve been sprinkled with a fistful of magic dust. And I telepath-talk to the child, Hello there, little one. Are you for real?

What mystery– this powerful, magical thing a woman’s body can do. And I wonder, why us? Why did God choose to design the female body, and not the male’s, with the ability to do the most supreme thing any human being can ever do: create life? Nothing God does is accidental– He is an intentional creator, an unmatched imaginator who designs and builds with precision and purpose.

So I ask again: Why us? Why woman? God could have easily made both men and women able to bear children. But instead of choosing the man, the “stronger” sex with the (typically) bigger bones and muscles, God chose the “weaker” sex, the woman, to endure one of the most amazing and taxing experiences on the human body. And women throughout millennia, short and tall and big and small, of all race and ethnicities and ages and socioeconomic background, have continued the miracle of life by the natural functions of their bodies.

But that act is not without pain and sacrifice. I think of the Genesis 3 curse, the pain of childbearing– and from everything I’ve researched, pregnancy, labor and birth, and the postpartum stage do sound rather awful, even with medical advances such as the epidural. All that fluids and organisms that come out of us? Gross! Our body is rarely ever the same after we tear our body apart to push out a fully-formed human, and neither does our heart completely heal from the all-too-common traumas of miscarriages or stillbirths or infertility.

Yet even with all that discomfort and anguish and lifelong scars, the Genesis 3 curse does not erase this mindblowing marvel: The woman’s potential to bring life to earth. And to me, the most incredible thing about this act is the amount of self-sacrifice it takes. Think about it: The most powerful thing a human body can do is inextricable from self-giving sacrifice, from the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy to the searing pain of labor and delivery, and then the long, aching process of recovery while nursing a newborn who gives nothing but demands everything.

Even the so-called woman’s “curse” has redemptive, gospel characteristics embedded in it. I see God’s goodness and wisdom in this “curse”– that His ultimate purpose isn’t to punish and inflict pain, but to redeem and glorify the woman, and kiss her with an embodied taste of His own self-giving sacrifice when He willingly died on the cross for us. With this ability to bear child is God’s desire to make His heart known to us in the most intimate, visceral way possible.

And so the woman’s weakness is her strength, her suffering her crown. God’s “curse” becomes a blessing, one designed specifically just for the woman. Not something to ever poo-poo at, even if she never becomes the second-most powerful man in Egypt like Joseph, or builds the temple and composes wisdom literature like Solomon did.

Are you excited?

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.

To gain amidst loss

David has been having a lot of dreams lately– vivid dreams of his mother, from which he wakes up with tear spots on his pillow.

That’s unusual for him. This guy passes out like a baby every night, not just in bed, but on the couch, in the car, on the plane, during dinner parties (embarrassingly), in the movie theaters, literally anywhere when his brain slowly shuts off and floats into the zzzzzs. If he dreams, he doesn’t even remember that he did.

But he remembers the emotions in these dreams of his mother, even if he does not remember the specifics. All of these dreams are colorful, nostalgic, and sweet. In all of them, his mother is happy, and he is happy. He wakes up happy, sad, heavy, and at peace all at once.

“I can’t even begin to explain the different conflicting emotions I’ve been feeling,” he said to me last night during our walk after dinner. “It’s just constant, waves and waves.”

I reached for his hand. “Can you try describing them?” I asked.

“I get sad, then happy, then angry,” David said. “I’m sad my mom isn’t here. I’m happy because we’re having a baby. Then I’m angry that my kid won’t grow up knowing my mom. My mom really, really wanted to be involved in her grandchildren’s life. And I always thought if we ever had kids, I wanted that for her. It just sucks.”

“Growing up with the love of grandparents is such a blessing,” I said, quietly mourning a new loss. As a missionary’s kid who visited South Korea during winter break maybe once every three years, I never grew up knowing and receiving my grandparents’ love and doting. Each time I visited them in their little apartments in Jeonju, it was like meeting strangers again. I did not know or understand them, and they did not know nor understand me. I felt awkward in their house, like a guest rather than a granddaughter, and sometimes I felt like an intruder, shuffling about their presence, hoping to make myself less burdensome and visible. When my grandparents on both sides died, I was sad, but I was more sad that my parents were so sad. I didn’t feel the sharp pang of grief, because there really was no genuine loss. My grandparents’ footprints on my life were light, grainy, easily washed away like sand under ocean waves.

So I loved watching David’s parents cheer for their grandson at all his baseball games, bake cakes with their granddaughter, celebrate their birthdays with the indulgence that only grandparents can give. And I loved watching my own parents go ga-ga over my two nieces, loved watching them replay, over and over with goofy grins, video clips of their granddaughters playing and potty-training and singing. I’ve never seen them look so silly. That was a novel delight for me. It’s a joy not just for the grandparents, but also for the parents, to gift their parents a fresh shower of joy and delight through their own seed.

Bearing this child in my belly has been bittersweet– more bitter for David, of course, who still hasn’t recovered from his shock that a truck had hit and killed his mother just six months ago. When we found out the due date of the baby (June 5), we did some quick calculations, and found out that this baby was conceived right before the week David’s mother died. I remember when we realized that, we just stared at each other in amazement and awe. And like David, I felt all those conflicting emotions– joy, gratefulness, and comfort, but also sadness, regret, and an ache for what was not to be.

I don’t believe God had to “take away” David’s mother in order to give us a baby. It was never an exchange of a life for a life. Death is never, was never, part of God’s plan for His world. Death is and will always be painful, unnatural, and sour-smelling, tov (“good and whole” in Hebrew) gone rancid and fractured. But I do believe the timing isn’t coincidental. I believe God is a redemptive God. He redeems evil for good, judgment for grace, suffering for comfort, loss for gain. And in His wisdom and omniscience and compassion, He allowed the timing to match just right so that even in and through the pain and loss, we can enjoy the comfort and joy of life. This is our God: He redeems.

That night, as we walked in pondering silence, each turning our own thoughts before God, I asked David why he thinks he’s been having all these vivid dreams of his mother now.

He thought about it for a few seconds. “I think God is trying to tell me that my mom is OK. That she’s happy. That she’s with Him.”

The tears that flow during those dreams are sad, but also in its own way a release, a relief. David didn’t really have a closure with his mother. He woke up one Saturday morning planning to call his mother after lunchtime, and at 10 am received that fateful phone call from his father bawling and bawling and unable to speak. I will never forget hearing David screaming in the bathroom, “WHAT? WHAT?!” And he dashed over to me, and mouthed, with wide, frightened eyes, “My mom died!” I bolted upright. I could hear the loud, animal-like sobs of David’s father from David’s phone. It felt like a dream. Nothing felt real.

The next several months didn’t feel real. David’s mother was pronounced dead while we were mid-air on our way to Bismarck. He didn’t go see her body in the hospital, couldn’t bear to, so I went in his stead, and seeing her lifeless in the hospital bed, with bloated eyelids and sinking lips, kept artificially alive through tubes for her organs, I was glad David wasn’t there to absorb this last image of his mother. But that also meant he never got to say a proper goodbye.

From the moment we got that call, David was swept into a whirlwind of tears: He was crying throughout the flight, crying when his brother came to pick us up at the airport, crying when his father met us at the door of a suddenly barren house, crying all night in his sleep while we listened to his father wail like a broken dog in the other room. And the next few weeks, he continued being swept into a torrent of events: funerals, memorials, family visits, friend visits, dealing with Covid, supporting me through a job resignation, watching his father fall apart, crawling back into a hectic work schedule, first holidays without his mother, and now, a surprise baby.

So here we are. Still processing the fact that we are going to be parents, while David is still processing a grief too raw and tender to touch. And his mother visits him in dreams, to let him know she’s with God, that she’s OK, that she’s happy, that she wants his heart to have that closure of a peace beyond understanding.

A life passed away, a new life forming. It’s interesting how much life there is in death. With one death, so many lives gathered together in memorial of that passed life, so many lives shaken and tossed, and at least in David’s case, so much reflection and appreciation and desire for life. And standing in the middle of the dust that’s still barely settling from one of the greatest tragedies in his life, he now touches my belly, and feels a new life kicking, squirming, hiccupping, preparing to enter into this world of dust and earthquakes and tornadoes from which we cannot shield this child.

Oh, the paradox. What sweet, bitter paradox. But knowing our God, I think the sweetness will overpower the bitterness.

A fool for a mother

Well, shocking things happen. And one of the biggest shock of my life is…I’m pregnant.

To be precise, I’m 25 weeks and one day along as of today, and I only just found out three weeks ago, on February 1. As omma said to me, after her initial scream of shock and delight, “Well! I’m shocked you’re pregnant, but I’m not shocked that of all people who won’t discover they’re pregnant until month 6, it’ll be you. This is just another Sophia thing.”

A “Sophia thing” is me, once again, having to eat my words. From when I was as young as 10 years old, I had loudly and proudly proclaimed that I never want to get married. Of course, not having babies went along with my rejection of marriage, and it was all part of that whole package. I wholeheartedly embraced my self-identity as an independent, free, unshackled woman, while also acknowledging that I would probably be a terrible wife and mother. And I kept my word for two decades.

But then I got married. When I told abba I’m dating David (I was 29 at the time), he kept pinching himself: “Is this real? Am I dreaming? My daughter has a boyfriend?” My brother took pains to remind everyone at our virtual wedding (darn you to sheol, Covid) that he had never expected his older sister to get hitched, because didn’t she swear up and down the river that she’s going to die happily single?

Even as a married woman, during inevitable discussions with friends and family about having kids, I once again, with my loud and proud mouth, declared I don’t want kids. “It’s not that I reject having kids,” I told my parents one night, after they once again reminded me that they’re praying for grandchildren, “I just have little desire. If it happens, it happens. If not, I’m totally fine. Stop trying to dictate my life with your prayers. I never asked for them.” What I didn’t tell them, since it’s none of their business, is that David and I never used contraceptives, and though we weren’t trying, we weren’t…not trying.

If it happens, it happens. If not, it doesn’t. No biggie. That was my philosophy that I repeated over and over to myself and others. As we approached our second-year anniversary, we began discussing what to do when I turn 40 and am still not pregnant. Will David be OK completely giving up all hopes of having children? I checked again and again with David that he would be OK, that it would not hurt him or our marriage should I be infertile. As for me, I thought I’ll be fine, maybe even a bit relieved, to not have children. We made plans to spend a year living abroad should we be childless. Maybe London. Or Tokyo. Or Bangkok. We made long-term plans to travel to South Korea, Southeast Asia, East Europe. There was no room for little Davids or Sophias in our imagination for our future together– or rather, there was no capability to imagine such a possibility. The idea of bearing our child seemed fantastical to me, impossible to imagine without a hurried dismissal.

You see, I did not think I could or would get pregnant. I struggled with anorexia from age 16 to about age 23. Being hospitalized twice, dropping to my lowest weight at 52 lbs and hovering around 60 lbs for about three years, meant my body and development took a thrashing, and that included my menstrual cycle. I did not have a period for more than nine years. And even after I got it back, kind of, with the help of birth control pills prescribed by an ob/gyn, I was never regular. I would sometimes go several months without a period– and even then, the flow, manipulated through hormone pills, wasn’t normal. An abnormal cycle, an abnormal body, was more normal to me. I warned David before we got married that we might have difficulties conceiving. “Don’t worry, I have really strong sperms,” he bragged, with all the aplomb of a male ego. I rolled my eyes and told him to be serious. No, seriously: Will he be OK without children? David sobered up and thought about it for a moment. “I’ll be bummed,” he said finally, “But I’ll be OK. Lots of married couples don’t have children. We’ll get through it.”

Meanwhile, as one by one my friends’ bellies swelled, and they disappeared from my social calendar the moment their babies were born, as every parent with young children complained about the cost and sacrifices of parenthood, my conviction that I don’t want kids solidified and hardened like wet cement under the dry LA sun. I barely have enough time to read as it is. If I had a little one running and screeching around the house, when would I ever find time to read in peace? When would I have time to travel any time I want, wherever I want? Is parenthood really worth sacrificing the things that I value so much? Not likely, I told myself.

I was proud, oh so proud. But I was also scared. I feared disappointment, and the bitterness and resentment that inevitably clings to disappointment like barnacles. Better not to hope, not to expect, not to desire. Just as it took me a long, long time to finally express my desire for a spouse to God, to even write those shameful (to me) words in my journal, I didn’t dare voice any desire for children to God. If it happens, it happens. But that mentality wasn’t anchored on trust and submission to God. It was chained to fear and pride. It was not as free-minded as it sounds. It was a form of control, of twisting my thoughts and feelings to fit an expected outcome.

I know that now. And as much as I’m in shock that I did conceive, and I’m already in the last stages of second trimester, I’m even more shocked that…I want this baby. I’ve wanted this baby.

When I took the pregnancy test at 11 pm on February 1, after David had gone to bed, and saw the two pink lines appear on the white stick– I felt like I was in a dream. Wait– is this real? No way in hell. What? WHAT?! It just didn’t feel real, and my mind couldn’t compute those two pink lines indicating that I’m pregnant. I was so shocked and stupefied that I couldn’t even make a sound, not even a little gasp or a strangled scream. I just stared at the stick in silence, while my mind imploded in slow-motion.

Just to be extra-sure– after all, there have been cases of false positive tests– I took another pregnancy test. Five seconds later: Two pink lines.

Oh man, oh dear, oh sweet God Holy Spirit Jesus Christ, oh Lord, HOW? By then the reality slowly sunk into my consciousness, but my emotions were still delayed, paralyzed by shock. I was numb, frozen.

I took a third pregnancy test, since you can never be too certain. This one for some reason took a longer time to show results, and one of the pink lines was fainter than the other, but it was unmistakably two lines. Well, statistically, three false positives seemed very unlikely.

Wow. WOW. I am pregnant. We’re having a baby!

And I realized something surprising after this third test: As I waited for the lines to show, I was holding my breath, hoping, hoping, hoping it is positive. I didn’t even recognize that hope at first, so immunized was I to my own secret desires. But by the time I clutched the three positive tests in my hand, I felt a wave of relief and wonder and gladness break through and gush out from the dam that I had erected for so long.

That night, I dreamed of different scenarios of telling David the news. In each scene I was nervous, but excited. And in the final one, I broke down and wept so hard that I jostled awake to find myself gasping from choked sobs onto my wet pillow. I felt so many emotions in the dream that I had reined in under a tight leash in real life– wonder, awe, fear, thrill, and most of all, joy.

I had not known. I honestly had not known I desired a child. But God knew. And for whatever reason, He opened my womb and answered that desire with a yes. One of the first words I muttered, when speech found me again, was: “Why, Lord?” Why me? I am the most undeserving mother of all. I know friends who struggled with infertility and miscarriage after miscarriage. A friend had just lost her unborn baby to a miscarriage on Christmas Eve night. She spent Christmas bleeding and cramping and crawling. Two close friends had two consecutive miscarriages, and I saw the pain and loss that they too suffered. Another friend just turned 40, and she’s still single and childless, and mourns each passing day. These living stories around me shamed me. I, the proud loud idiot, loudly and proudly rejecting marriage and children, received both on a golden platter. This is a privilege, a blessing that I had not asked for nor expected, and did not deserve.

My next three words: “Oh, poor baby.” This tiny unborn baby, growing and kicking inside a clueless mother who, even while it was developing a beating heart and 10 toes and ears, had to listen to her plan a life without children. I beat my foolish mouth, over and over again. “By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back,” Scripture says, and I resolved to never again utter such foolish things before God and others, for I had been unknowingly exposing all my shame and foolishness to the world. Yet instead of a rod, God gave me a surprise, wonderful, beautiful gift: A life. A precious, living, breathing, new life formed by God’s breath and spirit. My baby has a fool for a mother, but God protected this child, and opened my eyes to my foolishness– not with punishment, but with gentle yet firm grace. What a Gospel.

Oh God, how sweet, how undeserving is your grace and mercy. How amused you must be at my foolish words and ways, watching me cling to my own plans when you know you have greater plans for me. How patient you are with my persistent, concrete-hard pride and stubbornness, how gentle you are in breaking me down and molding me. Your hands are strong and steadfast, loving and skillful, sweet and intimate. I yield to you, undone and remade.