Two weeks update

It’ll be two weeks tomorrow since Tov was born.

They say the first two weeks are the hardest. “They” say a lot of things. Another group of “they” also warn, “You think now’s hard? Wait till [fill in blank].”

I think I get it: Parenting is hard. I never thought it would be easy, so it wasn’t a shock that I’d be sleep-deprived; that my brain would soften into mush from lack of intellectual/social use; that my body is now a non-stop feeding machine.

No. What surprises me is how much I actually do enjoy being a mother. Who would have thought? Not I. Not the person who didn’t want kids because she thought she could never sacrifice her personal comforts and conveniences; not the person who never really liked babies.

Indeed, my life has changed. It’s not even like it’s evolved– it’s been replaced by a completely different life, at least for now. I have very little autonomy over my life now. My entire day is currently controlled by a tiny human being named Tov.

Here’s how a day looks like for us now:

David and I take turn on shifts. Since he’s still working and I’m on a 12-week parental leave, and since I’m the only one who can breastfeed, I handle the bulk of taking care of Tov. I watch Tov from about midnight till 6 or 7 am. Then David takes over for about three hours while I catch up on some sleep. Those two hours or so are the longest stretch of uninterrupted sleep I get for the whole day. I’m usually up between 10 and 11 am, starting the day by immediately breastfeeding Tov, putting him down for a nap, then gulping down coffee and breakfast before working out. Then I feed Tov again, pump for 20 minutes, rush in a shower, and try to squeeze in a few chores before the next feeding session. My lunch is usually lying half-eaten on the kitchen counter, waiting for me to take a bite any chance I have.

David helps out intermittently throughout the day– watching Tov while I cook or run errands, changing his diaper while I pump, re-swaddling him when he wiggles out of it, sterilizing the bottles and nipples, cleaning the house, cutting up the countless boxes of Amazon deliveries we order for Tov. After dinner and a walk, David watches Tov from about 9 pm to midnight while I sneak in an hour of “me” time and then nap about two hours in preparation for the night shift.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s only been 14 days, but it already feels like half my life.

Much of it is a mental game. My mind refuses to let my body feel tired, so my body keeps chugging away, though how sustainable this lifestyle is, time will tell. David is exhausted. You’d think he would take advantage of the full night’s sleep, but some nights he wakes up every hour to check the camera in Tov’s room. One time at 3 am, I saw David shuffling into the nursery and leaning down the crib to peer at Tov.

“Why are you up?”

His voice and eyes still crusty with sleep: “I had a bad dream.”

“About what?”

“About Tov. I dreamt that he was not OK.”

I’ve had those dreams too. One night I laid Tov on my chest because he kept fussing, refusing to sleep until I held him skin-to-skin. I fell asleep with my arms around Tov, and dreamed that he suddenly began shaking violently from a seizure. I startled awake in terror, only to find him still sleeping peacefully in my arms, his body temperature matching mine, his heartbeat pumping away.

Sleep deprivation isn’t the most challenging thing about taking care of a newborn– it’s the doubt that my child is more resilient than he looks. He’s just so tiny, so utterly fragile– not even 5 lbs, with skinny arms and legs, and a weeny head barely the size of a grapefruit. Currently, my goal is simple: Keep Tov alive.

When I was pregnant with Tov, I remember wanting him out of me asap so I can stop thinking about miscarriages and stillbirths. I thought it would be more reassuring to be able to physically watch him. Nope. Now that he’s out, we apparently have to worry about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and jaundice and weight loss and excessive sweating and overheating and low immune system…and the list goes on.

One night in bed, I did some research on SIDS, and that was the worst thing to do when I was trying to go to sleep. It seems like literally EVERYTHING is a hazard. Infant rolling to his side? He might DIE. Infant not sleeping on his back? He might DIE. Infant not producing at least six diapers a day? Might DIE. Infant sleeping peacefully in his crib? Guess what! He still might DIE! For no known reason at all! How is it legal that the hospital let us take this fragile creature home without a paramedic? No wonder studies say for every child she has, the mom may age two additional years: There will always be something to worry about, frankly because so many things about raising a human being is entirely out of your control, out of your expectations and plans and goals.

And yet…that timeless cliche: It’s all worth it.

Every midnight, when just as my brain entered deep sleep, David quietly cracks the bedroom door open: “Hey Mom? Wanna trade?”

The first night he woke me up like that, I complained, “Why are you calling me Mom? I’m not your mom.”

“Because you’re a mom now,” he replied simply.

How bizarre. One minute I’m writhing in pain in the hospital, cussing my lungs out, and now I’m a mom who willingly wakes up at midnight to feed a child every two to three hours, sometimes every hour. From the moment Tov was born, everyone at the hospital called me “Mom.” “Hi Mom!” the nurses would chirp as they enter my hospital room, “Time for your IV drip!”

I had no name. I was Mom. I don’t know if I like it. But I don’t dislike it, either. Because I did become a Mom. I’m someone’s Mom.

I’m a Mom who wakes up at midnight eager to see my boy again. I’m a Mom who can’t help kissing my son’s little pink face every time I see him. I’m a Mom who now watches my child sleep for entertainment. I’m a Mom who does all this all with inexplicable joy and wonder.

How incredible, this maternal love that burbles out of me like a deep mountain spring. It defies logic, since logically, this kid is a major pain in the butt. He sharts on me, whines a lot, demands food all the time, sucks the nipples dry, does not contribute to the household chores or finances, can’t even talk properly to explain why the heck he’s crying at 3:30 in the morning. Really– he’s just a giant drain of money and time and energy. Yet I would do anything for him– things I wouldn’t do for other babies, or even for myself– simply because…I’m his Mom.

When Jesus taught us how to pray, the first two words are: “Our Father.” Or Abba– a colloquial, intimate term for “father.” I always found that so profoundly touching, that that’s how God wants us to first call Him. Not Lord, not The Almighty, but Father, Abba. And now that I’m a Mom, I think about this often from a mother’s point of view.

Tov is not old enough to call me Mom or Omma, but when he cries out, I respond instantly. Even if it’s sometimes just to sit still and wait to see if he’s able to self-soothe back to sleep, I respond instinctively– my ears are perked, my mind alert, I’m actively listening and attentive to his needs. I’m looking forward to learning more about God’s attributes as a mother. That’s one of the wonderful things about the way God created us in His image– He imbued in us characteristics of Himself that we naturally imitate on earth, an incarnated reminder of His character and His heart towards us.

So tonight, around midnight, when David wakes me up at the end of his shift– “Hey Mom?”– I’ll roll out of bed, tired and sleep-deprived, but willing to love on my child, because I’m his Mom.

Tov’s birth story

This post is for my newborn son, Tov Jun Lee-Herrmann, born May 4, 2022 at 5:51 a.m., weighing 5 lb 1.5 oz and measuring 18.5 inches. He burst into the world yowling 5 weeks earlier than his due date, a tiny but strong, wiggly human bean meeting the world with curious eyes. I am not a scrapbook mom, nor am I good at taking pictures, but words, I have plenty. Here is our birth story.

“I think we need to go to the hospital.”

It was about 4:20 am, and I had to shake David out of a deep REM sleep before he finally rustled awake.

“Wha?” he mumbled.

“Wake up, we might have to go to the hospital again.” At that moment, I felt another contraction building up, and I bent over onto the bed, moaning.

And so it began. Tov’s birth. His conception was a big surprise. His birth, at five weeks earlier than expected, was also a big surprise. We weren’t ready for either, but no matter: Tov was ready for us.

———–

Whenever people asked me my due date, I told them June 5, but added that I have a feeling he might be born a little early. Lots of mothers say they have a “mommy intuition” about their babies, and sometimes they’re wrong. I knew my “intuition” stemmed mostly from a desire to be done with all the aches and discomforts of pregnancy. But our baby had been measuring small, so I didn’t want him coming out too soon.

David and I had made a bet on when he’ll likely be born. David said June 2. I said I think he’ll be born between week 37 and 38. Either way, we thought we still had at least several weeks to prepare, and let the list of “things to do” pile up unchecked. We were both wrong about the due date (but I was closer, so I win).

We had our baby shower on April 30. It was a casual and simple but lovely event. I near broke my back prepping most of the food, spending more than three hours baking a three-tier confetti cake from scratch the night before, and getting annoyed at myself for once again, overestimating my capacity to do it all. I had also been suffering awful cramps for days– painful, gnawing aches in my lower abdomen that felt like bad menstrual cramps.

I was not a joyful mama. I remember mostly feeling irritable and tired and uncomfortable the days leading up to the baby shower. The morning of the shower started out terrible. I did not have enough sleep. My back ached; my uterus ached. I found out that the three-tier cake I had spent hours making had slid onto the floor into white creamy mush. Several people texted me last minute saying they could not make it to the party for various reasons. A friend who had planned to fly out from Baltimore to help me assemble the charcuterie canceled her flight two days before the party because of an unexpected work situation. I felt ugly and mean, mired in one of those moods in which I latch onto anything to worsen my irritation. I was even tempted to just cancel the whole event, because I hate these sort of events and why am I doing so much work for what would surely be terrible anyway, blah blah whine whine.

David, too, was feeling the stress. That week had been emotionally fraught for him, and therefore for me as well: His father was in town– the first time he visited without David’s mother. It felt weird to have him here without his wife. He walked around the house unwhole, like he’d lost his limbs.

“Lee would have helped you with the baby shower,” David’s dad said repeatedly: “She would have loved being here for the shower. She would have been so excited.” And that, too, was echoing in David’s mind, and my heart broke for him, yet I confess that during my meanest moments, I also felt pity for myself: We couldn’t have one moment of pure celebration for the new baby, one special moment of “us” as soon-to-be parents, and one moment of honoring me as a very pregnant, soon-to-be mother, without death casting a heavy shadow over it all. I think I was mostly too busy to really process all these tangled, twisty thoughts and emotions, but they were there, pinching and inflaming my inner peace and joy.

So that morning, three hours before the baby shower, I snapped at David. He was incredibly emotional and weepy that morning, and my mean state didn’t want to make room for sympathy or empathy. I just wanted to get the day over with, and any display of vulnerability, of having to be a caregiver, felt burdensome.

We would have hosted the party with frayed nerves and tension had David then not asked, “Can we please pray? I feel the enemy attacking us. I really feel like we need to pray today. We haven’t been praying enough.”

“Fine,” I said, and kept my stony expression as David prayed out loud. And though I still felt irritable, my cold heart melted, drip by drip. We needed that moment of prayer, even if it was just for five minutes. Why do we always forget this most vital practice to shalom? We need to pray– not just when we’re feeling sad and chaotic, but every time, any time, anywhere. I also felt assured. My respect grew: David is a good husband, and he will be a good dad.

And from then on, instead of rooting for things to get annoyed about, I found genuine gratitude: My friend Lindsey sacrificed her Saturday morning to help me assemble chicken salad sandwiches, chop vegetables, and everything else I needed to prepare a mini feast. She saved the party. I couldn’t have done it without her. My friend Olivia, who couldn’t make it last-minute from Baltimore, provided more than half the stuff for the charcuterie– a magnificent cheese board, five kinds of cheeses, gourmet preserves, dried fruit, nuts, crackers…she went all out, and refused to accept any payment from me. Another friend, Chelsea, opened up her charming beach house in Manhattan Beach to hold the event– and that space turned out to be perfect.

About 30 people came to the shower, many driving a long way. I don’t know of anyone who gets excited about attending a baby shower. Well, I know I myself never found those all that exciting, so I felt weird asking people to attend mine. But people came, bearing smiles and mazel tovs and gifts, showering us with their love and blessings. (Tov, remember these people. The blessings they sprinkled on you that day are like fairy dust, glitters of generosity and good will that I hope you’ll sprinkle on to others.)

That baby shower was only about 10 days ago, yet it feels like a lifetime away. That was Before Tov. Little did we know, it’ll be the last party we’ll be attending for a while.

——–

Tuesday, May 3. I woke up feeling some mild upper abdominal pain and lethargy. The day before, I had woken up feeling slightly nauseous and had projectile-vomited my breakfast, but had felt better after puking. But this time, all throughout the day, I felt like crawling into bed and staying there. I wondered if I should call my ob/gyn. But I had an interview that afternoon with an author for work, so I didn’t call my doctor until around 4 pm after the interview. She said it might just be gas reflux, but asked me to visit the clinic to get my vitals checked, just to be sure.

“I’m just going to pop over to my doctor for a bit,” I told David, as though I was making a quick grocery run.

David gave me a look of alarm: “Should I come with?”

“You can, but you don’t need to,” I said. “We’re just doing a quick check-up, for peace of mind. It’s probably nothing.”

David decided to tag along. And good thing he did, because my “quick check-up” turned into “you should probably go to the hospital,” which became an eight-hour observation. We didn’t return home until past midnight.

Here’s what happened: At my ob/gyn’s clinic, they strapped my belly for a non-stress test (NST). The baby’s heart rate was beating at about 170 bpm, which is abnormally high. His heart rate had never gone over 156 bpm before. We kept observing his heart rate, waiting for it to slow down, but it stayed above 170, at times leaping to 190 bpm. After more than an hour, my ob/gyn recommended we go to the hospital for longer observation. Again, I thought: Probably not a big deal. Baby’s just a little excited, that’s all. (I don’t know what’s with me– I always seem to assume there’s not a problem until it punches me in the mouth.)

By the time we reached the hospital, 50 minutes later (darn LA traffic!), I was feverish, shivering with a chill, and aching all over my body. My temperature was 101.6. The nurses strapped me up for a NST again, and once again, the baby’s heart rate was consistently above 170, sometimes reaching 200. That was when I actually got worried. They tested me for Covid (negative), flu (negative), and respiratory syncytial virus (also negative). They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. They hooked me up to an IV drip and antibiotics. By 10:30 pm, the baby’s heart rate had thankfully dropped to a steady 150s, and my fever had gone down. I was experiencing some mild contractions, but otherwise, the doctor didn’t see clear signs of preterm labor, so she sent us home, telling us to come back if I start having contractions that are five minutes apart.

I knew I wasn’t feeling 100 percent, however. When we got back home, I was feeling hot and trembling with chills and aches again. I went to bed right away, hoping a good night’s rest would blot out the remaining virus or whatever’s ailing me.

4 a.m. I woke up feeling like I needed to pee. I would have lingered in bed a little longer, had I not felt some liquid trickling out of me. I bolted up– is that my water breaking? Or is that pee? Still heavy with sleep, I waddled to the bathroom and emptied my bladder. And that was it– no more trickle of unknown fluid. OK, phew. I guess it was just pee. Some random incontinence, which is normal during third trimester. I washed my hands, changed, and went back to bed.

Then my lower abdomen started hurting. This time, they weren’t throbbing menstrual-like cramps– they were sharper, deeper, coming and going in powerful waves. I lay in bed, trying to go back to sleep, but the pain only increased. By then, I had had only about three hours of sleep, and David was lightly snoring beside me, completely out cold. Surely this can’t be labor, I thought. I’m only 35 weeks along and I just came back from the hospital! But I couldn’t ignore this pain. It worsened until I was moaning, while my exhausted husband slept on, completely unaware.

I realized this was something different. I went to the kitchen, called the hospital, and told the nurse on call what was happening. She asked me the usual questions: Any bleeding? Strange discharge? Etc. “Come in if you feel really concerned,” she said.

And that’s when I felt another pain daggering me from inside, and I couldn’t respond to the nurse without gasping. Her tone shifted; she sounded more serious. “Come to the hospital,” she said. “OK,” I gasped.

So I woke David up. He got out of bed in a daze, barely registering what’s happening.

“Oooh, I’m so exhausted,” he groaned. “I don’t think I can drive all the way there again.”

I thought I might smack him, but then another wave of contraction began. My knees unbuckled, and I groaned louder than my husband. That’s when I saw his eyes focusing more, suddenly aware that I wasn’t just complaining about a minor ache anymore.

We had nothing packed. The next 15 minutes, we scurried about the house, throwing things into a suitcase just in case we had to stay overnight at the hospital. It took me longer because I kept having to stop as the contractions rolled in and out, no more than two or three minutes apart. Yet even as I dumped toiletries and clothes into the suitcase, I couldn’t believe I might be in labor. This can’t be happening, not now. I was a first-time mother– what did I know about contractions and labor?

But then I started feeling leakage again– not a gush, but uncontrollable leaks that flowed in little squirts. The fluid was clear, sweet-smelling. “I think my water broke,” I told David.

Somehow we got into the car. My pain level had gone from 7.5 to 9 by then. Or maybe it was 10. I was writhing and bellowing in pain, yet I underestimated my pain level to be at 7, because my mind just couldn’t comprehend: I thought labor was an hours-long or days-long process, with pain levels gradually increasing. How could I already be in the later stage of labor, with contractions only a minute apart now? My experience defied all the research I had read up on labor. But if I was in labor now and already in this much physical anguish, what would a level 10 pain feel like? Unthinkable!

It took us about 30 minutes, without traffic, to reach the hospital. I was holding onto the handle bar by then, and my moans were now little screams. David screeched up to the entrance, and the parking attendant, seeing my expression through the window, rushed up with a wheelchair, and told David he could just park in front of the entrance. I waited for that one minute between contractions to hobble onto the wheelchair. The elevator roll up to the labor and delivery unit felt like forever. A couple entered the lift with us. The woman was not in a wheelchair, and she looked peaceful, like she was on her way to the mall. They had a scheduled C-section that morning, they told us. “Congratulations,” I groaned from my wheelchair.

Level 3. Finally. The nurses at the front desk, like the parking attendant, took one look at me and immediately called for more nurses. A small team in scrubs greeted me in a rush. One nurse– I’ll never forget her kind face– leaned towards me and asked if I wanted an epidural. I was confused– right now? Right away? “Maybe I can wait a little longer,” I told her. Again, I thought I had hours left till delivery time, so I wanted to pace myself. Besides, I still wasn’t sure if I was actually in labor.

I’m an idiot. I had no time. I was at pain level 10, not 7. The contractions rolled like stormy sea, crashes of lightnings and thunder and jagged waves. I writhed and screamed and cursed. I don’t know how, but somehow the nurses managed to get me into a hospital gown, though I remember them gripping me by the shoulders and telling me I needed to stay still for a few minutes while they hook me to an IV. They called my ob/gyn, but by then, I was already 8 cm dilated. Five minutes later, I was 10 cm dilated. It was only about 5:30 am, 90 minutes since I woke up needing to pee.

I turned to that kind-faced nurse: “Um, I’ll get that epidural now!” I remember her saying nothing, just looking at me with sympathy. David was standing to the side, not knowing what to do. A nurse beckoned to him: “Dad, you can stand next to her now.”

And then I felt the urge to push. Or poop. Both. Gross. Everything about labor and delivery is just gross. Wet. Messy. Uncontrollable. Undignified.

Speaking of undignified. I had watched a dozen birth vlogs on YouTube, and had listened to a dozen women bray like a donkey, moo like a cow, neigh like a horse, yip like a dog while they were in labor. How undignified, I thought: What are we, farm animals? I imagined myself giving birth with my mouth firmly closed, silently, elegantly bearing the pain with grace.

HA! I wasn’t a farm animal. I was worse. I was a banshee. A banshee howling expletives. My screams and curses shook the room, probably woke up the entire block. They just blared out of me. I could hear myself sounding like a torture chamber, but that was the only way I knew to manage the pain without an epidural.

5:51 a.m. The dreaded ring of fire. And then…I felt him slide out of me. And there he was, in the midwife’s arms, purple and wrinkly and smeared with white gooey vernix, his mouth shaped into a triangle as he released his first cry on earth: “WAAAAAH!” Someone put a pink and blue striped beanie around his head, and they lifted him into my arms.

“Oh my God.”

I remember in one birth vlog, the mother immediately bursting into tears. “I love you! I love you sooooo much!” she repeated over and over again, sobbing and sobbing. “I love you so sooo sooooo much!”

All I could say was one phrase: “Oh my God.” I awkwardly, gingerly held the tiny 5-lb human being in my arms, just staring at him in silence.

I was simply in shock. The love and joy came later. Everything had happened so fast. Between Feb 1, when I first found out I was pregnant, and May 4, when I held my baby in my arms for the first time, three months had passed. Three months, from “oh my god I’m pregnant” to “oh my god he’s here.” How did this happen? Now I had a living, fragile, wiggling crying creature on my chest, his heartbeat pulsing on mine, his body heat warm and sticky, with so many urgent needs the moment he was born. He was no longer an invisible alien in my womb. He had a face! Ten tiniest fingernails and ten tiniest toenails. Little indented nipples. A nose. Blondish eyebrows. Blue-grey almond eyes that opened and stared, framed by teensy eyelashes. Pink gums, tiny tongue, skinny arms and legs. A human expression that looked like David.

And he was mine. Ours. Oh my God. Oh, my God. Life is so indescribable. Oh Lord. You created life so magnificently, it mutes me.

David cut the cord after a second of hesitation (why are men so squeamish with blood?). I had enough sense to ask my ob/gyn, who arrived just in time to hear the baby’s cry, to let me see the placenta. She lifted a disk of wobbly, bumpy, veiny black-red organ. “This is the miracle right here,” she said, with wonder and admiration in her voice, even though she’s probably seen several hundred placentas: “This here kept your baby alive. It is a thing of miracle.” She also showed me the bloody, deflated amniotic sac, and the spongy, twisty tube that’s the umbilical cord. I too was in awe. What hideous organs. Hideous, but magical.

“David! You want to see my placenta?” I asked.

“Nope,” David turned away, swallowing his bile. Well, he did good, all things considering.

After cleaning up the baby and checking his vitals, the whole delivery team cleared out, dimming the room and leaving David, the baby, and me alone in the room to bond for two hours. The two hours flew by. We kept staring at the tiny boy, touching his ears, stroking his full head of hair, laughing for no reason. Because the baby is premature, he needed to go to the NICU for 24 hours, so we soaked up the first two hours we had. (I was still running a temperature at the time, so I was no allowed to visit our baby for a whole day– understandable, but brutal.)

Tov Jun Lee-Herrmann. Tov is “good” or “goodness” in Hebrew (as in, mazel tov). I’d always loved that word since I read A Church Called Tov by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer. Jun is Korean for “handsome, pleasant.” My mother came up with that name. Lee-Herrmann because I’m a radical feminist (ha). I’ll explain his name in another post.

Tov is exactly his name. He is good. Beautiful. Perfect. God is good, perfect– tov. He had brought goodness into our life when we most needed it.

Today, as I write this, Tov is one week old. For us, it’s been 7 days into a new era: From Before Tov, to After Tov.

Help, the father of my child is gonna be a real softie!

We probably should have done this sooner, but for the first time, David and I had a more serious conversation about what we want to be like as parents.

A few nights ago, I caught my first glimpse of how our parenting styles might differ when Shalom, my worthless cat, peed on the couch– again. She had had a pee spree when she first moved into David’s house with me, anxious about the sudden new environment and resentful towards David who shook her entire life. The peeing mercifully ceased after several months, but the collateral damage was hell: pee stains and stenches on the couch, on David’s pillow (twice!), several new bedsheets, and a door that’s always, always closed to the master bedroom.

We had some peace for a bliss moment. And then, a couple months before I found out I was pregnant, Shalom started peeing outside her litter box again, randomly and sporadically. She peed on the bottom of the steps. Then upstairs by the couch. Then on the corner wall of my office. She was anxious again, sensing something off about me before I even knew myself. We know it’s not due to some medical problem because when I was gone in Mexico City and Poland, she abruptly stopped the peeing spree. Clearly, I was the trigger.

Anyway, all this to say, I’m ready to toss this cat out the window. Quite literally. Anyone want this cat? I’ll give her away for free, plus a dozen grateful hugs as bonus.

One evening, Shalom peed again on the couch while David was sitting RIGHT THERE, watching baseball. She slunked to the edge of the couch, squatted, trembled her little butt, and released her foul-smelling liquids, all the while staring STRAIGHT into David’s horrified eyes. What. A. Little. B—-.

“SOPHIA!” David called out, like a toddler tattling on his brother. “Look what your cat did!”

“How dare you, Shalom!” I yelled at my cat, while she nonchalantly plopped on the carpet and stretched out as though she hasn’t just committed a disgusting act. “No shame! Bad!”

We decided she really needed to be taught a lesson, so we picked her up and banished her to the balcony outside our living room. Two years ago we had set up a cat house for her there that she never used, because she refused to be outdoors. She meowed piteously then, staring mournfully at us through the glass doors. This cat is really the devil.

“No!” I told her through the glass door. “You need to feel the weight of what you’ve done!”

I didn’t care that cats can’t be “taught” like a human child, or a dog. Shalom is acting out from anxiety, sure, but she’s caused us an immense inconvenience– not once, not twice, but at least about three times a day for months! And for months, we had cleaned up after her, while continuing to feed her, clean her litter box, pet her, love on her. The equilibrium of justice was off! Whether she understood it or not, it was time for her to suffer some inconvenience and discomfort for once. It was only fair. It was only just.

“Leave her out for the night,” I told David. “She needs to be punished.”

He didn’t answer. He sat back on the couch, but couldn’t concentrate on the baseball game. He kept turning to the side to look at Shalom, making guilty eye contact with her large sad eyes, while she meowed and meowed.

The next thing I knew, she was back in the house.

“WHAT!” I exclaimed. “Did you let her in?”

“Yeah…” David replied. “I felt bad.”

Oh my God. This guy. Couldn’t even last a full 10 minutes. Heart softer and wobblier than Jell-O.

“Is this how you’re going to be as a father?” I said. “Our son is going to manipulate the hell out of you. I’m going to be that awful Tiger Mom, and you’re going to be the one he runs to to twist your heartstrings.”

“…yeah…” David said, hanging his head.

Oh dear. I saw our future in a flash. I’m going to tell our child no, and he’s going to run straight to David and somehow convince him to say yes. I’m going to enforce some discipline, and he’s going to sob as pitifully and dramatically as he can, and David’s going to take him out for ice-cream and cotton candy– and they’re going to do it all behind my back. “Don’t tell Mom,” David will whisper to our son while the little sinful child giggles, learning that mischief shall always go unpunished so long as Daddy’s around. I just KNOW it. The thought gave me heartburn.

So one night, on our walk after dinner, I asked David what kind of father he wants to be. How is he going to discipline our kid? Will we spank him? Ground him? Talk to him? How do we want to raise him in faith? What if he refuses to go to church one day? What kind of conversations are we going to have with him, when he asks us questions about something in school, or something his friends said or did, that don’t align with our values?

David, unsurprisingly, said he doesn’t think he wants to spank our kid. “I was never spanked,” he said. “So I think I’ll just tell him, ‘I’m disappointed in you. I’m not mad at you, but I’m disappointed in you.'”

I inwardly rolled my eyes. David was a golden child. He never disobeyed, never broke the rules, was a darling in every way. No wonder his parents never spanked him– there was no need to. His mother called him her “best friend” and talked to him like a friend every day. I, on the other hand, developed a temper that needed to be restrained, a stubborn streak that needed to be tamed, and lots of sinful impulses that needed to be bitten in the bud. If our child turns out to be anything like me, merely telling him “I’m disappointed” is not going to work, I told David.

We ultimately decided we’ll take things one step at a time. We have to get to know our kid better, to know what kind of disciplinary method works best for him. But for me, spanking is an option. David might differ, but that’s a conversation for another day. Who knows, maybe our kid will turn out like David, and we won’t ever need to have that conversation.

Please God, don’t let our child be like me. But if God operates like I operate with Shalom, He’ll recognize the sufferings I’ve inflicted on my own parents, and given how tilted that scale of justice is, he’ll dip it so I get a taste of my own parents’ misery.

Oh dear.

p.s. Still on offer, a pussy cat named Shalom! Will give her away for FREE!

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.