To My Little One

Tonight we set up your bed.  It is a portable, cozy bassinet that folds small enough to be tucked into a carry-on suitcase.  I think you’ll be snug there, beside us.  Now, though the walls around you will change, at least your little bed will stay the same.  Your life may be like that bed though, portable, but always close to us.

Daddy kindly emptied two of his three dresser drawers for you.  He scrounged up more hangers and piled things on shelves in the closets so I could place little stacks of your clothes within easy reach.   Such tiny little socks you have.  We want you to know we will make room for you.  We will rearrange our plans and ideas so that your little feet can march through our hearts comfortably.  We will juggle and shift so that you fit just right.

I erased about 400 pictures off of the camera so we’ll have enough space on the memory card for the first few days of your life.  People say parents stop taking pictures after the first child or two, but I plan otherwise.  We will still celebrate  and document your smiles, your grimaces, your little teeth poking through, your first steps.  That is until you run faster than my shutter can keep up.

IMG_7904Your brothers are excited to meet you.  They ask me often when you are coming.  We made you birthday breakfast yesterday and toasted to your coming, celebrating that you’d soon be with us.  You, unfortunately didn’t grace us with your presence yet but since we found out about you we decided to make a party out of it.

Micah is rather concerned that you don’t have socks on your feet.  He doesn’t want your toes to be cold.  You know his voice, the one that sings you “Shinkle, Shinkle Little Stawr” to make you feel “SOOO happy”.  And he’s waiting to pounce on you with nuggles and tisses.  He will have to get used to not being the baby but he will love you tenderly and care for you deeply.

Lucas assumes your coming is imminent.  “Maybe he’ll come RIGHT NOW!”  All the Grade 1s cannot believe you aren’t here yet.  He is older now and wants to hold you all on his own and read you stories.  He wanted you to be a girl at first so he could protect you but now is quite happy that you, as a boy, can join his rescue squad and Lego Building team.  He will, nevertheless, be a fierce protector for you and a relentless teacher.

I know now, on the inside, it must sound like a lot of commotion out here, and you get elbowed a lot during story time.  That may not change actually but I hope you’ll grow to love it.  I hope the commotion grows just a little bit louder with your little voice in the mix, laughing and jabbering and collaborating.  My dream is that you three boys will be best of friends.  No one will understand your third culture life the way your brothers will.  You can have secret languages wherever you go and built in friends and protectors.  It is my prayer that you three will band together, a cord of three strands.

We didn’t know if we’d have you.  Were three kids in the same room too many, three car seats in the back of a rental car too hard, three little people too hard to juggle in airplanes and customs and other countries?  It is easy to make you fit in Canada, easy to spread out but overseas it isn’t the same.  But God knew.  He knew you’d fit perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece in the picture of our family.  And we are so very glad.

You are taking your time coming.  We thought you’d be here early and now the days keep ticking by.  But for now, my body is your home and you are welcome to stay as long as you are comfortable and safe.  That’s the way it will stay.  You are always welcome to find safety in my arms, Little One.  Day or night.  Little or big.  That’s my job and my delight as your Mommy.

Our departure date will have to shift now.  We can’t get our paperwork and your vaccines in the time we have left.  But we’ll continue to wait–for you to be born, for you to tie your shoes at the door, for you to choose which flavour ice cream you’d like.  I know many times we’ll rush you when we shouldn’t, but we’ll try to be patient and let you take your time.

Little One, many are praying for you and loving you already.  You are blessed to be anxiously waited for.  We can’t wait to meet you and kiss you and find out just what a treasure you really are.

Love Mommy

XOXO

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What To Say to the Woman Who is Overdue

People say a lot of things when you are pregnant.  I have heard mostly kind, well-intentioned comments.  Occasionally people will say silly things, like the time when the middle aged man told me I was too early for Halloween in my orange shirt.  Luckily, he picked me (picked on me?) on a patient day and I merely replied, “Pumpkin smuggling” and kept on going.  On the wrong day, he might have got a burst of tears or a blaze of sarcasm about how many of his shirts still fit over his belly.  People will tell you that you’ll have your hands full with three and that you won’t sleep but they are just reliving their lives, when they were young and herded a pack of beautiful, rambunctious children through the grocery store.

There reaches a certain inevitable point in pregnancy where people you know no longer greet you by name; they greet you by exclamations with phrases such as “You are still here?!” (where was I supposed to be going?) and “No baby yet?!” (Well, there’s certainly a baby, isn’t there?).  When you call anyone, you must say, fast, “Hello.  Nowehaven’thadthebabyyet.  How are you doing?”

At this point, strangers everywhere start asking you, “When is your due date?  It must be soon!”

And a dramatic shift occurs in the cosmos when your due date comes and goes.  And the days keep on going.  And going.  People’s eyes get wide.  Their mouths drop open a little bit.  And compassion hits you from every side.  You poor thing.  This week I have been blessed by the kindness of people who have decided it is in my best interests to say only nice things, perhaps stretching the truth at times.

So, based on my recent experience, here’s a short list of niceties to say to a very pregnant woman if you don’t know what to say.  Save your own overdue story and murderous induction tales for another day…

1.    You are beautiful. 

I cannot walk properly, though I try.  This had me giggling the other day as in my brain I went to go power walking down the mall for a quick errand and realized my body couldn’t keep up.  So I cannot walk.  I have exactly 2 shirts that still fit me.  The scale keeps going up and up and up….well, you get the idea.

I posted a picture of my orange shirt pumpkin belly on my due date, half for laughs, and my friends and family kindly told me I looked great.  Yesterday both a middle aged man and all the teachers at my son’s school told me I am beautiful pregnant.  It didn’t matter that my hair was frizzy and that I was desperately tugging on my long shirt that doesn’t seem so long anymore and that I had circles under my eyes.  You can’t go wrong telling the woman who is thinking that perhaps she will be pregnant forever that at least she doesn’t look like a whale.  Even if she does.

2.    You are all baby.

Now this isn’t one little bit true.  The majority of pregnant women pack on weight in places that aren’t just belly. I am all baby if you count one baby on my belly and one on each thigh.  And I can tell you right now which two are going to take more work to get rid of.

Maybe the belly distracts you now from the extra padding everywhere else.  And the belly is distracting.  It is large.  When you reach full term and beyond, your belly is no longer cute and round.  It is lopsided, leaning to the side where the baby is.  It develops corners and bumps where little knees and bums and elbows are. But for now, distractions or not, your words make me think that you look at me with kinder eyes than I do myself.

3.    Don’t you have a good attitude!

Well, I have an okay attitude at this moment.  In this particular moment, I am trying to be patient and unselfish in letting this baby grow as long as he wants on the inside.  But sometimes I am cranky.  Sometimes I want to be done.  Sometimes I think I am going to be pregnant and sore for the rest of my life and never have a baby at all.  So overlooking my meltdowns and congratulating me on my sketchy attitude is mighty kind of you.

4.    Good for you to be out and about!  Usually this is not something that we are congratulated for, going to the grocery store, going to the library, going to church.  But we’ll take it.  Productivity and energy is at an all time low so for you to say we’ve accomplished something by walking out the door makes us feel much better about our lives.

5.    Fat babies sleep better.

This is the winner, hands down. You can tell me I’m all baby and have a good attitude and I know the real truth.  But when you remind me that with more fat stores comes a greater probability that this child will sleep better sooner, I buy it.  I don’t care if it is substantiated or not.  It sounds plausible.  It sounds hopeful.  It sounds like just the right thing to say.

Remembering With You

We have seen it.  We have watched our friends and our sisters, our neighbours and our co-workers, our cousins and acquaintances walk through it.  Maybe we haven’t lost our own babies but we have carried your pain.  We know that a baby lost is a baby lost whether it is a pregnancy at 5 weeks, a baby at full term or a full grown child.  We know too that, for some, never being pregnant is an intense loss in its own right and every month its own grieving cycle.

Today we hold our babies tighter, those of us blessed to have them.  We hold them tighter not because we deserve them and because you don’t.  We wish somehow by squeezing them we could multiply them and share, that we could fill your empty arms.  But since we can’t, we try to honor you and them by loving them well and praying with compassion for you that one day, your arms too will be full.

Today is a day set aside to remember infant and pregnancy loss.  So we remember with you.

We don’t always know what to say.  We don’t fully understand your pain, although we try.  But we haven’t forgotten.  Today we carry your loss with you.

When Nothing Seems To Fit

I am 39 week pregnant, due in under a week.  I should be burrowing down, anchoring down, building something around me to settle in with the baby, to nuzzle and raise him in a cozy den.

But every page of the calendar, every conversation somehow reminds me of the other voices that are saying order, purge, pack, prepare, pull up stakes.

I feel pulled in two such opposite directions.  Moving countries and having babies generally don’t go together for a reason.

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What nesting looks like in my world–squeezing baby clothes into ziplock bags.

I sit in front of two Rubbermaid containers and sort my clothing into piles.  Maternity clothes that don’t cover my belly anymore, transition clothes for those lovely not pregnant but still chubby days months and finally, clothes for the heat that I hope will fit when we move 6 weeks after the baby.

Shells, yes.  But how do I know if I can fit.  How will I stretch still?  How will I adjust?  They are just shells, yes, but I feel the swelling of emotion, this buldge in my throat, the constriction of my heart like a waist-band too tight that leaves stitching and hem marks branded deep pink in the soft places like a wound.

It isn’t that I don’t want to go.  I know we are going where we should be for this season.  Back.  I know it will fit again, the language on my tongue, the laundry on the rooftop line, the scrub of soil from vegetables, the dirt from the track packed into the grip of my runners.  It will fit again. 

And this wee one, he will fit too.  I will wrap him tightly, carry him on my chest out of the hospital, past boxes, through customs, to teach him the word hogar, home.  The word will still roll round and full.

We’ll unpack sandals one day and the next we’ll shake cockroaches out of the Christmas tree wrapped black like a mummy.  We’ll catch up, with the local family we live with, as one can, in fragments, circling forward and backwards.

Ya me dijiste.

Oh, I already told you that.

Thoughts of what we’ll miss and are missing will circle like whirlpools of snow outside the lit windows.  Less places set at the table this year.

The stretch and the adjustment—I want to separate these—baby and moving.  I want some space between.  But maybe they fit afterall.

My citizenship isn’t here.  It isn’t as though Canada is really my home.  I can still burrow deep, deep into hugs while I have them, deep into the smell of freshly washed baby skin, soft.  I can burrow into the covers with my boys to tell stories as if the bed weren’t the only thing left in the room, to peer out the window of the plane as if it were the first time.  I can burrow deep into the rich comfort of Christ—the one, who by his birth, left his home, the one who understands.  And he offers me an invitation to take two disparate pieces and stitch them together.  In them I can find new understanding and a new way of being understood.

What are the pieces in your world that don’t seem to fit together?  How do you hold them in tension? 

A Flash of Brilliance

As I enter the last weeks of pregnancy #3, I am deeply suspicious that certain crucial brain cells have begun a downward migration to support the cerebral development of our newest little one.  It appears that the cells that are in charge of creativity, energy and general motor control are in highest demand.  I’m hoping the loss is temporary but am preparing myself for the worst.  I may be doomed to a future existence of walking into walls, spontaneous narcolepsy with an approximate onset of, oh, 2:03pm every afternoon and a black hole of a blog since I have no viable creative ideas.

I did, however, have one flash of brilliance today.  I call it active behavioural management.  Sounds impressive, right?

The philosophy is that who in their right mind sends a child to sit still as a consequence?  You are storing up their energy for future delinquencies, practically guaranteeing unwanted behaviour in the next 5 minutes.

Today, when my oldest son was squirrely and not listening well, I muttered to my husband, “he has more energy than he knows what to do with.”  (This was after we had just gotten home from the park and were unsuccessfully trying to extract ourselves from the car.)  So.  Tired.  He was supposed to be tired, not us!

Just then, the one remaining creative neuron I have fired.  “20 jumping jacks for not listening.”  I pointed at the lawn.  Off he went.  And he came back with a glint in his eye and climbed in the front seat and proceeded to push buttons that we told him not to.  More jumping jacks.  This repeated itself a number of times. We managed to relocate ourselves to the front steps where we congratulated ourselves on our brilliance as our children, about 100 jumping jacks later, lay spread eagle and breathless on the lawn.

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Maybe, just maybe, they’ll get too tired to argue or too tired to disobey.  At the very least they are getting exercise.  And I get to sit down for 20 seconds.
 

Rules for Expectancy

In honor of my son’s five-month birthday, I thought I’d share this with you.  

If you want to learn a language, go someplace where they speak that language and not English and stay there for a while.  If you want to learn to cook like a Mennonite, don’t buy a cookbook or watch the Cooking Network.  Go find a woman who billows clouds of flour and words in low German and pull up a stool in her kitchen.  Don’t leave until you are smeared with flour and she trusts you enough to hand you a spoon.
If you want to find out something about how a culture feels about children and pregnancy, go there and stay there while you grow your child.  Let neighbours and strangers and doctors and children stop you and scold you, let them admire you, scrutinize you and kiss your belly.  You will then start to get an idea of what they think.

My first doctor’s appointment went something like this.

“Why have you come to see the gynecologist?”

“I am pregnant.”

“Do you want to keep the baby?”

Silence then, “Yes, of course.”

“How many abortions have you had?”

“None.”

“None?”

“None.”

Once you get past the issue of keeping the baby, the people here get pretty excited.  Your pregnancy now becomes public knowledge and property.  Here, there is none of this, “Let’s wait until we reach 13 weeks to tell people.”  Everyone on the block knows you are a day “late” before you ever get those two little lines—“good news on a stick” as Curtis calls it.  A pregnancy test is a mere formality.

Pregnancy here is a celebrated but delicate condition.  Carrying a child to term is taxing and precarious.  Perhaps this is why it is best to let everyone know right away, in order to gain their full support.

The entire pregnancy and the early years of a child’s life undergo rigorous medical scrutiny.  One wrong move by your body and you will find yourself in the hospital.  Low iron?  Hospitalized.  Gestational diabetes?  Hospitalized.  Excess weight gain?  Hospitalized.  Seriously.  This is good, this medical attention and caution but it means that somewhere along the line pregnancy switched from a natural process to being viewed as a sickness or disease.

Because of this highly delicate state that a woman finds herself in, it is no wonder that the next 36 weeks quickly become a no-holds barred, free-for-all, advice-slinging fiesta.  Everyone is invited to this fiesta and along with congratulations, the mother is “showered”, shall we say, with advice from young and old, family and strangers alike.  The primary concern on everyone’s mind is how to avoid losing the baby.  Sometimes there are tragedies that cannot be avoided but in the meantime, certain precautions that can be taken.

  1. Do not go to the beach in the first three months of pregnancy.  You will certainly lose it.  I do not know why but I also know if you go to the beach in the first forty days after having had the baby, you’ll go crazy.  Essentially, in your child-bearing years, you might be best off avoiding the beach entirely.  Half the time, the water is too cold or it is too windy and you’ll end up sick anyways.
  2.  Do not carry anything heavy.  This includes, but is most certainly not limited to, children you may already have, flimsy plastic chairs, cucumbers and purses.  If the child’s father cannot carry your purse now, how can he be trusted with the all-important diaper bag later, or more critically, the child?
  3. In older school thought that is slowly passing but still sometimes reinforced, rest—your pelvis that is.  I’ll let you figure that one out.
  4. Exercise is a no-no.  Your body is working hard at raising a baby and is quite frankly, taxed to its limits.  Some walking is fine but it is preferable to sit with your feet up.  You wouldn’t want to lose the baby.

After you pass the critical first weeks and are quite visibly pregnant, the concern shifts toward not straining yourself or in bringing on labour too soon.  In addition to the earlier rules, the following restrictions apply:

  1. Your belly is a heavy thing.  It ought to be supported by at least one hand at all times.  Walking should occur sway-backed with a wide gait and your free hand on the small of your back (seeing as you don’t have that pesky purse to carry).  This posture affords the mother-to-be certain social collateral that increases proportionately with her girth.
  2. Communication with small children ought to proceed with caution.  You cannot lift them, as per Rule #2.  Bending down with such a belly is uncomfortable and requires that you abandon the signature pregnant posture from Rule #5.  Squatting should be avoided for obvious reasons.  First, how does one get up from such a position and second, you are practically asking to give birth.  Right here.  On this dirty floor.  Please don’t squat.  Ask for a chair and have the child stand in front of you.  Perhaps the child would be kind enough to hold up your feet for you while you sit.  Easier still, send the child to someone else since satisfying his or her request will likely be strenuous.
  3. Do not allow clothing to cause you stress.  Stress affects the baby.  There are no maternity clothing stores nor money to buy such things.  As such, as long as certain parts are mostly covered, anything goes.  No one will scold you for having your pants undone.  If your shirt comes half-way over your belly, not to worry.  If you are big enough to only fit in dresses that resemble circus tents and can hide small children and animals inside unnoticed, do not fret.  This too shall pass. If you have only two things that fit, have your mother-in-law wash one while you wear the other.
  4. Pregnant women should not stand in lines.  This is strenuous, time-consuming activity, especially in the sun.  The possible exception would be for a foreign woman standing in line at the bank.  In this case, Princess with your hefty bank account, you can just wait your turn.  Certain families have been known to take advantage of a pregnant woman’s state by sending her to stand in the ration line knowing she’ll get sent to the front and have a better chance of getting what is needed before it runs out.  I suppose it is for the poor girl’s good.
  5. Lie about your due date.  This is for your child’s protection.  You do not want anyone to put a curse over that date.  It is generally assumed that it is better to say that your pregnancy is less advanced than it really is so you can surprise them when the child is born “early.”
  6. Find out the baby’s gender.  How else can you prepare for the birth of a baby with limited resources and a limited availability of clothing, etc.  If you do not trust the results of the ultrasound, simply keep track since everyone can tell just by looking at you.  Is your belly round?  Girl.  Stretched out at the sides so it is more of an oval?  Boy.  If you are in the country, switch that.  Round equals boy, oval equals girl.  Do you look prettier with a nice glow?  It’s a boy.  Girls rob their mother’s beauty.  Has your nose grown and your face gotten fat?  It’s a boy.  The testosterone does it.  This is free advice and often unsolicited.  The only request people will make is that you bring your child back to prove that they are always right.
  7. The pregnant woman should not undergo stress of any kind.  Society has a general responsibility to protect the pregnant woman.  Friends and family have a greater responsibility.  In short, do not cross a pregnant woman or upset her.  She should get what she wants, when she wants it.  Heaven forbid you say something to raise her blood pressure.  The baby’s death or malady would be on your head.
  8. Do not get wet unnecessarily or irresponsibly.  Bathe only when weather safely permits it.  If you are not careful, you will give birth to a baby with pneumonia or lung problems and whose fault will that be but yours?
  9. Eat yogurt and ice cream in liberal quantities.  They fatten up the baby but not the mother.  The opposite rule applies with bread—it only serves to fatten up the mother and provides the child with no nutritional benefit.

I , advertently and inadvertently, found myself on the wrong side of these laws.  Frequently.  Most of the infractions were related to Rule #2, do not lift anything heavy, and Rule #4, do not exercise.  I, admittedly, did not lift Lucas as much as I used to, largely because he was, well, larger.  And heavier.  My strategy was holding hands and telling stories while we walked.  Sometimes it was unavoidable: he wanted to see something far away, he needed to reach something high up, he fell and needed a cuddle or had a super huge rainbow hug to give.  What’s a mom to do?

As the pregnancy progressed it became both easier and harder to deal with my rule-breaking exercise.  Harder because I couldn’t hide my belly under loose t-shirts or by leaning over on the bicycle, easier because, clearly I hadn’t lost the baby yet and because I’d stop mid-run or ride to talk to neighbours or people at the track when they’d call out at me.  I’d explain that I had medical permission to run and to ride a bicycle, that I was watching my temperature, my breathing, my heart rate.  And most of all, they heard that this is normal in Canada.  There, you are supposed to exercise.

Still, they exclaimed and worried and pointed and some just gave up and laughed instead.  The crazy foreigner.

Slowly, I began to do more and more exercise at home.  I told myself it was because of the heat but maybe I felt safer at night on our back patio grunting out push-ups and squats and double Heismans.  No neighbour ever yelled over the stone wall at me.

All this worry and caution has made me think about our other pregnant states, about the times when God is doing something creative, growing something deep within, something mysterious whose form is hidden.  We want to listen to all the voices around us that say, “if you want it to survive, don’t do anything.  Keep it safe.  Guard it.”  We want these things in us to grow and swell, to kick and thrive while we sit with our feet up and eat ice cream, while our mothers-in-law wash our laundry and while everyone pushes us to the front of the line.

If God is doing something in you, if He is growing you and changing you and calling you to a new life, don’t just sit there.  Prepare yourself.  Strengthen yourself.  This is our natural state, as temples of a holy, creative God, to house things that push and expand and eventually take on a life of their own.

Sometimes it comes with extra weight, pain, sometimes you’ll fight nausea and fatigue.  But if God is birthing something in you I say, keep moving.  It is not a tumor; it is life.  Run with it, sing to it, nurture it, pray for it.  Whatever you do, decide to keep it.  Then watch what He will do.