October: Hope in the Darkness

Last year I was asked to speak at a holiday women’s event at my church. The theme was “Hope in the Darkness” and I was specifically asked to share my story of miscarriage. October is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month and this is simply the transcript of what I wrote in preparation to speak at that event, with a few headings added.

Welcome and Intro

Good evening, ladies. Thank you for being here with us tonight.

I’m Rebekah, daughter of Pastor Andrew and his wife Becki. I’m wife to Tyler, mom to Colter and Abram.

I always feel that with each of my babies God’s given me a special gift, that their presence has been almost a tangible embodiment of that special gift given in extra measure. 

Colter is my joy baby. And if you know Colter, you can probably understand why I say that. He’s busy and curious and thoughtful and affectionate. Colter loves life and he seems to exude that love of life everywhere he goes. 

Abram is my grace baby. He came at a time filled with stress and uncertainty. The week before I found out I was pregnant with him I think we had like three stressful things happen. As a newborn he was so easy, just calm and happy, and in the midst of that stressful time I felt his presence as such a gift, such a grace in my life. 

I’m not pregnant, but I’ve known for almost two years that the next one will be my faith baby. 

But our first baby, the one before Colter, was my hope baby.

Tonight our theme is the light and hope of Christ. I’ve been asked to share my story, and my prayer is that it points us all, both those who know Jesus and those who don’t know him yet, toward the hope that can only can be found in him. So I’ll be sharing my story, but also weave it in with a couple characters in the Bible who also experienced darkness and hope.

Me

When my husband and I first got married I was very excited about the possibility of becoming a mother. Most of the women in my family have big families, not because they’re careless or irresponsible, but because they love children and they value the mission of motherhood. 

I knew that I had some health issues that had potential to make it harder to get pregnant. But you don’t know until you try, right? So I tried not to worry too much and I was hopeful that all my fears of infertility and childlessness would be invalidated and that I would be pregnant within a few months of my wedding.

Well, that didn’t happen. Over a year went by and the uncertainty of whether or not I would ever be a mother was a deep sadness and anxiety in my soul. I wanted to be like the other women in my family, and I felt so defective, like I couldn’t accomplish this basic task that the female body is so clearly designed for. 

Finally, a year and a half after we got married I found out I was pregnant. We were thrilled, thankful, hopeful. Though I was exhausted and throwing up constantly, the brief time I got to mother that baby was filled with joy. 

At ten weeks we found out our hope baby was no longer alive. Not only that, but rare complications put me at risk for an aggressive cancer, and for several months I had to do weekly blood draws to monitor that risk. 

Though being able to get pregnant had given me hope and been such a joyful time while it lasted, the months that followed were some of the darkest of my life, and it’s not like I’d never done anything hard. 

I was sad, depressed, pessimistic about the future, and fear became my constant companion. I was nervous to stay alone in my house at night. I startled at my own reflection in glass doors. By the time I left the hospital after the blood draws each week, I would be shaking and often vomiting. I had nightmares for well over a year. I was far from home, and most of the time I felt completely terrorized in the immediate aftermath of miscarriage. All those feelings of being defective as a woman overwhelmed me again.

I wasn’t usually angry with God, but I asked Him why a lot.

David

In the midst of all that darkness a verse from 2 Samuel 12 was a great comfort to me. When David’s baby son dies, he says, “He will not return to me, but I will go to him.” My one comfort was that someday I would die and see my baby in heaven.

A few months later Tyler’s enlistment in the Navy was complete and we moved home to Michigan. The fog was beginning to lift, though I still felt very fragile. A few more months went by and we were expecting again. This time, despite all my anxiety, all was well, and our oldest son Colter arrived safely. Every moment with him has been a gift, and he and Abram have filled my life with incredible joy.

Over the months and years that followed, often when I felt sad about losing my first baby, I would go back and find comfort again in those words from King David – “He won’t come back to me, but I will go to him.”

But one day I started reading earlier in the chapter, the part where the prophet Nathan confronts King David with his sin. David’s immediate response is confession. He says, “I’ve sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan says, “The Lord also has put away your sin. You shall not die.” And that is the greatest source of hope. That is our light in the darkness, that God has taken care of our sin in Jesus.

You know, David didn’t have the whole Bible like we do. He had a limited knowledge of exactly how God would save His people. But he had faith to believe everything God had revealed to him, everything from being able to see his baby again, to his sins being forgiven, to the hope of a coming Messiah. We don’t have to have all the details figured out to believe what God has clearly revealed in His Word.

Well, David died, and hundreds of years went by. Prophets came and went. God’s people went into exile, came home, and came under foreign rule again. God’s people sat in darkness, and for hundreds of years God was silent.

Jesus

And then the Messiah that David had hoped for came. As a real baby, to a real mother, in a real world with all its hurt and brokenness. 

And He came as the Son of God. I think sometimes we forget about the fatherhood of God, how our own imperfect but powerful love for our children is part of being made in His image. It’s part of reflecting His character back into the world, but it’s just a dim reflection of the love God the Father has for God the Son. And even in all the love the Father has for Jesus, He still sent Him to us. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. 

Baby Jesus, the Messiah, grew up. He lived a perfect life of obedience. He loved God with all His heart and mind and soul and strength and His neighbor as Himself. He kept the law of God that we broke.

And then He gave Himself for us.

Bartimaeus

In those weeks leading up to His crucifixion, as He traveled toward Jerusalem, Jesus encountered someone who sat quite helpless in both physical and spiritual darkness. This someone was Bling Bartimaeus, a lonely beggar, apparently with no friends or family to help or care for him.

Jesus was leaving Jericho and Bartimaeus could hear the crowd with Him. And then he hears someone say, “It’s Jesus of Nazareth!” So he begins calling out, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!” Mark 10 tells us the people rebuked him and told him to be quiet. “Sit down! Shut up! Jesus doesn’t have time for you.”

We don’t really know how much Bartimaeus knew about Jesus at this point. But he knows who He is, he knows He’s his only hope, and he believes He can heal him. So he calls out all the more!

And through the din of the crowd Jesus hears him. He stops and says, “Call him.” His voice is soft enough that Bartimaeus can’t hear it. The crowd has to relay the message to him. They say, “Get up! Take heart! He is calling you!”

And Bartimaeus springs up! There’s no hesitating! You can almost see him running, stumbling through what’s still darkness to him, reaching out for Jesus. 

He reaches him and Jesus asks him a simple question – “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus says, “Teacher, let me recover my sight.” Jesus says, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” And immediately Bartimaeus is healed. The first thing he sees is the face of Christ. He follows Jesus and Luke’s gospel tells us he glorified Him and that the people who were there to witness his healing praises God. 

This is the last healing miracle Mark records before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is on the road to the cross. He’s just taken away Bartimaeus’s darkness, but he’s about to face the darkest suffering a human being has ever experienced. He’s on His way to the cross knowing the suffering He will face for Bartimaeus, for David, for you, for me.

He loves Bartimaeus enough to stop and heal him, but what’s even more amazing is that He loves him enough to suffer for his sins.

You

The hope that David had in the midst of his darkness, the hope I have in the midst of suffering and grief is that Jesus suffered for me and that He conquered death in His resurrection.

If you’re a believer in the midst of a dark time, remember Jesus knows suffering. He’s there with you in your darkness. This pain is temporary, but life with Him is eternal and completely incomparable to the suffering that’s present now.

He’s coming again, not as a little baby, but as a triumphant King. And when He comes He will destroy death and sin and suffering, and He’ll cast Satan into Hell. Remember, Satan wants your soul. He wants to take you with him. 

So if you’re here tonight and you’re not a believer, I urge you to seek the Lord while He may be found. Turn away from loving your so and to loving Jesus. If you don’t understand, ask Him to take the blinders off your eyes, just like Bartimaeus did. Ask Him to give you eyes to see Him as He truly is, faith to trust Him. If you just can’t seem to accept His forgiveness as a gift you can’t buy or earn, ask Him to burn your pride away.

And when you’re stumbling through the darkness of sin or suffering, when life is completely overwhelming and you’re wallowing in despair, know you desperately need Jesus and that if you come to Him, He will never cast you out. 

Remember Blind Bartimaeus, how he boldly and humbly asked Jesus for mercy, and how Jesus freely and lovingly gave it. There is hope for you in Jesus, not just for this brief life, but for eternity.

So get up, take heart, He is calling you!

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray. 

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus, our Redeemer, Healer, Hope in the darkness. Please let Your Word do it’s work in the hearts here tonight. If there are unbelievers here, don’t let them rest until they are at peace with You. To you be the honor and the power and the glory forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Thank you.

October: Trauma

Terrorized

The lights.

The smells.

The wide hallway.

I walk down

To jab a needle in my arm

Again.

Watch the numbers fall.

Unrelenting reminder

Of what almost was.

Everywhere

Is fear.

I wasn’t always this way.

A car –

It’s not where I expected.

I jump.

I see

My reflection

In a glass door.

My heart races

And then calms.

It is only me.

– Rebekah Miklusicak

I wrote those words a few years after my miscarriage in 2013. The memory, and the trauma, was still fresh. It isn’t so much now. But miscarriage is common, and trauma following a miscarriage is common too.

Different sources say that between 10% and 25% of confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage.

A UK study that examined PTSD, anxiety, and depression following a miscarriage showed that the prevalence of these symptoms has been previously underestimated with miscarriage trauma lasting “longer than we realized.”

Those of us who experienced the trauma are probably not surprised by the statistics.

One month following a first trimester miscarriage, 29% of women had symptoms of PTSD, 24% had anxiety, and 11% had moderate to severe depression. A year later 1 in 6 still carried PTSD symptoms.

In miscarriage, we’re met with our own helplessness and often with feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. We labor on our own with no support or knowledge of what to expect. Future pregnancies are met with fear. Our grief is often invalidated, so we are quiet.

Medical professionals tell us we have to have three miscarriages to do any tests, and they’ll let us miscarry “as a diagnostic tool” and refuse to test our progesterone. They refer to our babies as fetal tissue, biowaste, products of conception, and say things like, “Why were you even pregnant?”

Why am I sharing this?

Because the experience is lonely. If this is you, you’re not alone. Talk to someone who’s gone through it too. Even those of us who have experienced miscarriage won’t always have the right words to say, but sometimes we need to share the story and hear someone else’s just so we know we’re not crazy.

Because people are unaware. If this isn’t you, you almost undoubtedly know someone who has had this experience, and a friend to be present and patient in the midst of it all can be invaluable.

Because the terminology and the medical care should change. Care providers, take your cues from the parents. Talk about the baby and the loss the way the mother does. Save your clinical talk for other clinicians. You might not be able to make it better and that’s ok, but please try not to make it worse. Talk to mothers about their mental health. If you can’t help them or give them the care they’re requesting (like testing progesterone) send them to someone who can.

For so many women, their motherhood had traumatic beginnings, traumatic chapters, and holds lingering trauma. Please be gentle with us.

We might not ever go back to “normal”. Sometimes that’s a hard truth, but it’s because our babies mattered enough to change us.

Note: Because I know a lot of people who follow me know me in real life, I’m ok. I’m just sharing this, because some mothers aren’t.

Resources:

Still Birthday

For those who want to try again:

NaPro Technology

NaPro in West Michigan

FEMM Health

The False Virtue of Abortion Rights

I realize this is a sensitive topic and that part of why it's so hard to talk about is because it's so common and often a secret source of pain. I love many women who have had abortions, men who have been affected by abortion. My aim in this is never to increase hurt. I also love many who I know disagree with me on this topic. My aim is not to spark unhelpful debates, but to encourage an honest look at the values that drive abortion rights. 

“Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body,”

Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York.

Abortion has been a frequent topic in the news over the last year or so, with states such as New York taking drastic measures to protect abortion rights up to the moment of birth, at least if continuing the pregnancy threatens the vaguely-defined “health” of the mother. States such as Louisiana and Ohio have passed bills banning abortion once a heartbeat is detected, though putting the resulting laws in to effect will likely be a lengthy battle.

Laws such as the one passed earlier this year in New York are disturbing though not shocking. Perhaps most disturbing is the celebration that accompanied, the celebration of abortion as something good and virtuous, something kind and just and necessary to equality for women.

There is nothing just about abortion.

There is nothing just about killing innocent humans. No matter how small and unseen they are. 

I believe in equality for women. I believe men, women, and children of all ages are first and foremost humans, equal in inherent value and equally bearing the image of God. 

The rights of women matter because the rights of humans matter. The rights of the unborn matter because the rights of humans matter. 

I have rights as a human, a woman, and an American, rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life is the most very basic of human rights. Without it the rest are meaningless. 

I believe in the equality of women. But I don’t believe in the superiority of women. 


Being a woman does not entitle me to decide who lives and dies. My pursuit of happiness never justifies taking the life of an innocent human, no matter age, stage of development, location, or status of dependency. 

My financial stability is not more valuable than another human’s life. My opportunity to pursue further education is not more valuable than another human’s life. My mental and emotional health, my convenience, my freedom to do my own thing, my status in my current community – not one of those things are more valuable than the life of another innocent human being. 

My rights as a woman do not negate another’s rights as a human.

There is nothing kind about abortion. 

Abortion is certainly not kindness toward human babies, the most obvious victims of abortion. 

If we killed unwanted dogs and cats the way we kill unwanted babies, it wouldn’t be celebrated. It would be called unkindness and cruelty. There would be all sorts of outcry. As there should be. 

Reasonable people don’t think it’s acceptable to violently dismember animals the way abortion providers violently dismember babies. 

Human babies have no voice, no ability to advocate for themselves. Human babies are the weakest and most vulnerable of human beings.

We human beings, men and women, have a responsibility to protect the weak. There’s nothing kind or good or virtuous about using your power to harm those who are weaker than you. 

We women, of all people, should remember that. 

Abortion is not kindness toward women.

It is absolutely true that for many the prospect of raising a child will threaten their stability in many ways.  Education may seem out of reach, poverty may seem inescapable, the possibility of providing a safe and healthy environment for a child may seem unattainable.

Many women seek abortion not as a means of convenience but as a means of survival. And without support from family and community, many mothers, along with their children, will barely survive, let alone thrive.

We who believe in the value of all humans should be willing to take on the inconvenience of caring for those mothers and babies who are vulnerable to abortion. This isn’t just about HER values. It’s about OUR values. This is on us too.

There’s nothing kind about making abortion the go-to solution for women who don’t really want abortions. What’s kind is providing the support that all mothers need but that many have no access to.

Too many women make decisions they hate and that hurt for the rest of their lives because no one was there to speak truth into their fears.

And the truth is that women are strong. The love between mother and child is strong. Love will always call out a woman’s greatest strength.

I’ve seen a video of a woman without arms breastfeed her baby, prepare her food, and wash her laundry. I’ve seen women struggle through mental illness and trauma and abuse and judgment from their families to give their babies life. I’ve sat with a fifteen-year-old mother in a situation far less than ideal while she nursed her newborn and shared her birth story and early parenting struggles. 

“It’s not about me anymore.” she said.

We wildly underestimate the strength and resilience of women when we present abortion as the only or the best option, when we can justify killing another human being because a woman’s circumstances are not ideal for motherhood. To place the focus on abortion as a solution to difficulties allows us to neglect to address the difficulties themselves. 

Women who give their children life when death would have been easier embody what we should all aspire too.

Sacrificial love is virtuous.

Persistence is virtuous.

Hard work is virtuous.

Bravery is virtuous.

These are things worth celebrating, worth praising.

Yet, somehow the idea of “women’s equality”, secured by “reproductive rights”, has become the idea with the highest value, the one most celebrated. The right to control the when and if of having children, the right to put oneself first, the right to not be inconvenienced by motherhood, has become more valuable than protecting the unseen, but already-existing life of a human child.

This space of women’s equality has become sacred ground that we dare not tread on, full of values and assumptions we dare not question.

But we must tread on it.

We must ask the hard questions. These things we’ve been told are necessary to the flourishing of women – are they really so necessary? Are rights more important than lives? Can we have a coherent set of values if the justice and equality we aim to secure for ourselves requires the death of the innocent?

Or is it just self we value? Is it just power we value? Do we appeal to the virtues of justice and equality only if they serve to further our ability to get what we want no matter the cost?

Who do we think we are? To demand that our pursuit of happiness be considered more valuable than the life of another human?

We are women.

We are humans with intrinsic value equal to but not greater than that of other humans. We are women, created  in the image of God to fulfill a good and valuable purpose in the world.

Our femaleness does not make us more valuable than other human beings. Violence done to us does not give us the right to do violence to others. That men can evade parental responsibility more easily than women can, does not make evading parental responsibility a good thing.

Let’s not pretend selfishness is virtuous.

Killing life instead of nurturing it contradicts our very nature; it spits in the face of the very image of God in our womanhood. Ultimately, it severs us from the purpose made clear by our biology, disconnects us from the very thing that makes us unique as women. Not every woman can or will physically bear children. But we lose something precious when we abhor our life-giving and life-nurturing purpose in the world and trade it for a power and equality that primarily serves our own selfishness and costs the lives of the weak and the vulnerable.

Abortion is not virtuous. If we want women’s equality to yield something good and beautiful and virtuous in the world, we cannot continue to sacrifice the blood of the innocent for its sake.

Femininity Defined

What does it mean to be feminine?

I’ve sought the answer from others many times. I’ve wished that people who are smarter or godlier or more well-read than I am would talk about it in a way I could trust. I still wish that. But I think it’s worthwhile to try to answer your own questions, to be curious enough to at least do a little bit of work to figure it out. So this is me trying to do that.

Femininity in the Church

Growing up in the church, femininity was often defined by lists of virtues or spiritual characteristics such as the fruits of the Spirit or by functions and roles within the home and family. Sometimes it was even defined by common psychological and social differences between men and women.

All of these approaches held some truth, but I think only clarified part of a much larger picture of what femininity is.

The fruits of the Spirit or even characteristics of godly female examples in the Bible are largely traits that BELIEVERS should cultivate, not necessarily traits that define humans as women.

Being a godly and virtuous human is foundational to being a excellent woman, but these virtues are not what sets us apart as women.

Certainly a woman’s role in her family is important, and we should understand what makes a woman a good wife and a good mother.

But wife and mother is are only two of the many roles a woman may fulfill. And defining femininity solely in terms of family life fails to acknowledge the many single women in our church, some who are longing for marriage and motherhood and some who are joyfully serving God in their singleness, with no expectation for marriage and family.

Being a daughter, sister, and friend are also vital and important roles in the physical family. Further, believing women all have a familial role in their spiritual family, the church.

Being single or childless does not make you less feminine.

Psychological or social differences between men and women may be common, but they are generalizations. And all generalizations have exceptions. They describe the reality of how most women function, not necessarily an ideal to which all women should aspire.

But they are often treated as an ideal. And doing so stunts women in their spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth, both those who fit the more typical mold and those who don’t.

Femininity in the Secular World

In the secular world, femininity can be described any way an individual wants it to be. Feminism further complicates it. In the largely secular birth world that I often interact within, I’ve been exposed to the very best of feminism. In fact, it is the women in the birth world, both Christian and pagan, who have most affirmed me as a woman.

But without a higher standard to strive for, secular definitions of femininity lack meaningful substance and are far too changeable to aspire to.

Often, the church’s definitions of femininity are too narrow to be applicable and affirming to all women, and the secular world’s definitions of femininity are too subjective to be meaningful.

I have struggled to find a definition flexible enough for all women to aspire to, but that affirms women as they are created to be and gives them something to aspire to outside of personal fulfillment.

A Meaningful Definition

So if femininity defined by lists of characteristics and roles within the family is too narrow, and femininity defined as whatever you want it to be is too fluid, where does that leave us?

Genesis 1:27 says,

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

English Standard Version

Human beings came into the world, male and female, in the image of God. The biological sex of a human being is meaningful to their purpose in the world and in their accurate reflection of the image of God.

Our biology, our physical characteristics and the functions of our bodies, which are often treated with so much suspicion by the church and disregard by the world, are meaningful in our definition of femininity.

Men’s bodies are bigger and stronger than women’s. Men are naturally more aggressive. Using one’s physical strength to protect and provide safety for one’s family and community is at the heart of being a man.

Women’s bodies are undoubtedly designed to nurture life. Women carry, birth, and nurture babies, the offspring man and woman create together. Giving, sustaining, and nurturing life is at the heart of being a woman.

So I would like to offer this definition, in hopes that it can provide clarity without legalism and be applicable to all women in a way that calls them to a high ideal while still affirming them as the unique individuals they are.

Femininity is the cultivation of virtues, skills, and gifts to the end of being a life-giving, life-sustaining, and life-nurturing force in one’s circles of influence.

As I write this definition I am immediately sensitive to the fact that I have defined femininity in terms of female biology and that the reality is that many women feel disconnected to their bodies.

And perhaps many more feel betrayed by bodies that have failed to create, grow, sustain, or nurture life, women who have experienced infertility or miscarriage, even women who feel their bodies are inadequate to attract a good mate.

Desires for sex, marriage, and children are natural, God-given desires, so I want to honor those good desires, but I know that the church has often failed to create a meaningful vision of womanhood to single women and childless women, who whether due to choice or circumstance are growing in number.

So, single woman, childless woman, this is for you too.

Let’s flesh this definition out a bit.

Cultivation

Femininity is cultivation. Cultivation is work, hard work. It requires purposeful self-discipline to bring forth fruit. There’s nothing passive or lazy about cultivation.

Femininity is not just about doing what “comes natural” to you as a woman. Your individual, natural tendencies will need to be trained, strengthened, and sometimes killed to become an excellent woman.

Virtues

Virtues are good and valuable characteristics. I realize this can be a bit subjective, but virtues are characteristics that will help you achieve a high standard in the roles you are called to fulfill. Many will be valuable across multiple roles and applicable to both men and women. Virtues make you a good human, not just a good woman.

I am a wife. There are virtues that I need to cultivate in myself to be a good wife. Many of them don’t come naturally to me. I need to be understanding. I need to be slow to anger. I need to be generous and loyal and truthful and encouraging. And if I were married to someone else, there might be certain virtues that I needed to cultivate more than others.

I am a mother.  I need to be gentle. I need to be patient. I need to be self-controlled and disciplined and hard-working and self-sacrificing. Those are the virtues that my children need in me.

But those virtues are not only valuable only in the spheres of marriage and motherhood, nor are they only valuable in women. They will make you a better friend, a better employee, a better entrepeneur, a better boss. They’ll make you a better member of the body of Christ, a better voice in your community. And they are worth cultivating regardless of your familial status.

Skills

Skills are learned capabilities. Some will come easier than others. They are practical in all different spheres. They may be professional skills, homemaking skills, or relational skills, and I think there are minimal basic competencies all women should pursue in each of those areas.

They might be learning the duties of a job you are paid for. They might be learning to budget and meal plan and change diapers and breastfeed. They might be learning to manage conflict better or discerning when to push and issue or when to let it go. They might be learning how to listen to a friend in the depths of grief.

Gifts

Gifts are the characteristics you’re particularly strong in, the skills you’re are particularly good at, the things that perhaps come easiest to you.

These will often be things that are most often associated with femininity. They may be things like facilitating teamwork in your job place, exercising gentleness and patience with your children, creating a beautiful home, offering compassion to the abused church member.

But for some women, their gifts may fit into a more stereotypically masculine category. These may excel in problem-solving, they may naturally be more objective, or they may be very physically and sexually driven.

And if that’s you, it might create a feeling of disconnect with other women, a feeling of defectiveness, a feeling of not being very feminine.

But we need your more typically masculine strengths in our feminine spheres to protect us from blind spots, to help us understand others better, to help us cultivate the good characteristics that don’t come easy to us.

You are not less feminine when you use your more typically masculine traits for your God-given purpose.

To the end of being…

This means for the purpose of. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but as we cultivate virtues that are valuable to all humans, skills that allow us to fulfill our roles well, and gifts that set us apart as unique individuals, we do so with a goal in mind. The goal of giving, sustaining, and nurturing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual lives of those around us.

Life-Giving, Life-Sustaining, and Life-Nurturing

These actions of giving, sustaining, and nurturing life are deeply interconnected, and this is the part that most reflects our biology.

When God creates life in our bodies we do the often exhausting work of sustaining and nurturing that life. This nurturing of life for our physical children requires self-sacrifice in every imaginable way. We give up our old bodies, our old priorities, our old habits, for the good of the children God has given us.

But it’s not just about biology.

Even if we are not mothers, we will sacrifice much when we give our lives to whatever task God has called us to.

We nurture the people around us, including our husbands, our co-workers, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, by serving them, by encouraging them, by working with them side-by -side, by lovingly confronting them when necessary.

We nurture  bodies, feeding our children, bringing meals to the new mother, bathing the elderly at the skilled nursing facility we work in.

We nurture minds, sharing ideas, reading to our children, teaching the ABC’s to our kindergarten class.

And we nurture souls. Memorizing Scripture with our children, praying for our loved ones, offering the life-giving hope of the gospel to the spiritually dead we come into contact with every day.

Force

I use this word because it connotes strength. We are not weak and fragile flowers, passively floating through life.

Women are strong. And I don’t say that to equate us with men. Our strength is distinctly feminine. But I think both the world and the church has lost sight of that. There are all kinds of reasons, but I believe some of it can be traced back to the disconnect with our biology.

We eat what we want even when it makes us feel like crap.

We routinely numb the emotions we don’t feel ready to face, or perhaps that others aren’t ready to face.

We pump ourselves full of synthetic hormones and accept anxiety and fatigue and disinterest in sex as normal.

When we give birth we “rescue” our bodies from pain and choose not to feel what’s actually happening to us. We forget that women have had the strength to give birth for thousands of years and we are no different.

Fear of our own biology has let us forget how strong we really are, the gift we have to endure physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for the sake of love, to face death to bring forth life.  

And with the loss of distinctly feminine strength in our consciousness, we, both in the secular world and in the church, fall victim to two things.

First, we fall victim to judging our strength by masculine standards. We equate femininity with weakness, despise ourselves for it, and spend our lives frantically trying to prove our value in masculine spheres.

Second, we fall victim to thinking we are not strong enough to do the hard things that being a woman, that being feminine, actually requires. We default to what is easy instead of cultivating what is good.

Circles of Influence

This is wherever you are right now, your family, your church, your community, your workplace. Your circle of influence is wherever you are, whether you want to be there or not.

You might be a student working toward a degree. You might be a mother with a house full of young children. You might be a leader in a workplace, a widow in the church, a married woman, an unmarried woman, a woman content and single, a woman single and longing to be married.

Wherever you are, you are there for God’s purpose. And you can nurture the lives around you. You can show others what God is like as you bear His image and influence His creation with your life-nurturing, feminine strength.

Recommended Resources:

Doc&Devo: Masculinity with Paul Maxwell. His clarification of masculinity has been a tremendous help to me as I attempt to define femininity. If you know of a discussion of femininity of that caliber, send it my way!

Womanly Dominion” by Pastor Mark Chanski

Love Thy Bodyby Nancy Pearcey

Birth of My Second Rainbow Baby

My second son’s birthday was several weeks ago, and for those weeks I have struggled to know how to write his story. Do I write it as a combination of my own memories and what I was told? Do I write it based on my memories alone? Do I write it as a perceive it a year later? With all I’ve processed? Or do I just write it as a timeline of facts?

I have decided to write it based on my own memories, my own experience of it, perhaps with a bit of how I now perceive the experience, a year later. I had a great birth, and this is me honoring and protecting the memory of that birth.

A Second Rainbow

Before the births of Colt (my oldest son) and Abe (my second born), I experienced a devastating and traumatic miscarriage. That experience has left an ever-present mark on every area of my life. I wasn’t sure how my loss experience would affect my second live birth.

After all, I’d had one live birth and though my pregnancy had been fraught with anxiety and uncertainty, the birth had gone well. I’d had one empowering, confidence-building, joy-filled experience under my belt. Would that somehow balance out the fear and the sadness and the need for control that my first pregnancy and subsequent loss had bestowed upon me?

The answer is no. The uncertainty was still there. The anxiety was real. But perhaps for different reasons.

When I discovered I was pregnant with my second rainbow baby, my husband and I were thrilled. I had purposed during my first son’s pregnancy that I would hold onto happiness for as long as I could. That I would let myself feel all the joy, despite the possibility for loss and sorrow inherent in every pregnancy.

Pregnant!

I would feel the anxiety right along with the joy, of course. Because it was so very real too. But I wouldn’t try to shut out the love and the joy out of a desire to protect myself from the possibility of sorrow.

I conceived my son on day 95 of a my third postpartum cycle. I had hoped that once my fertility returned after my first son’s birth, normal cycles would resume. But instead my cycles were long and irregular, as they had been for most of my life, all of it, in fact, except for the three cycles before conceiving my first son.

Fertility awareness charting allowed me to determine an accurate due date despite having not had a period for three months! If you would like to learn to chart your fertility, fill out a contact form or check out my services page.

 

I knew the risk of miscarriage was higher with a later ovulation, and what about the dreaded possibility of another partially molar pregnancy (which my first miscarriage had turned out to be)? My due date was the 20th of June, just 5 days before the fourth anniversary of the loss of our first baby. Colt had been born 4 days past his due date, so I knew the possibility of this baby being born very near or on that anniversary was high.

A Stressful Pregnancy

When we found out we were expecting, it was in the midst of a very stressful year for us. This baby was a definite bright spot.

As with my first two pregnancies, I experienced constant nausea and vomiting multiple times a day. This time it held on longer than it had with my first son, and I was far more uncomfortable than I had been with him.

I was also bigger than I had been with Colt, and more people than I care to recall commented on it. Making the observation didn’t bother me; it was true, and I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin. What bothered me was the assumptions people made because of how big I was.

“There’s no way you’ll make it to your due date.”

“That’s a big baby!”

“I hope that delivery goes ok…” (with the voice filled with foreboding…)

“They must have your dates wrong!” (Actually, THEY don’t determine my dates. I tell THEM when I know I conceived – thank you fertility awareness! And THEY, being my midwife, trusts me as a woman highly aware of her own body and fertility.)

I found myself caught off guard by my anxiety about my upcoming labor and birth. Again, I thought I would be more confident since my first birth had gone so well. But this pregnancy was so different. Would my labor be different too? I’d had a great birth. Maybe now it my “turn” for a crappy birth…

“The second birth is often as virgin as the first.” my midwife said. How right she was!

The last selfie I took before going in to labor!

Prelabor

As with my first son, I experienced frequent Braxton Hicks starting early in my second trimester. With my first, this had alarmed me, but my cervix had stayed closed and my baby safe, so I barely gave them a second thought the second time around.

Colt had been born 4 days past his due date, and his story is for another time, but my logical head said that this second baby would likely go a bit late too. My heart, however, thoroughly enjoyed the feeling that he would be a bit early. My head was right.

Four days past my due date, my husband was the best man in our dear friends’ wedding. I was so glad I wasn’t in labor. If I was going to go past my due date I might as well get to do the fun stuff! We danced to a bunch of our favorite songs, and I hoped all that activity would jumpstart labor. The next day when my muscles were aching I was glad that it hadn’t!

After the wedding I decided to stay at my parents’ house until the baby was born. As with my first, circumstances dictated that their home was the best place for me to give birth, and I had been feeling some anxiety about getting there once I knew I was in labor. Due to my nearly constant Braxton Hicks, by the time I’m sure I’m in labor, I’m far too uncomfortable to drive, and birth is too imminent to feel comfortable with the possibility of needing to wait for someone else to drive me. Also, the car ride in active labor with Colt really sucked. I wanted to be able to stay put this time.

The wedding was on a Saturday, and on Sunday when I got home from church I had some bloody show. That afternoon I napped with my husband, and in the evening I made brownies with Colt. I knew it was likely the last night we would go to bed just him and me, and I wanted to savor those bittersweet moments.

Colt fell asleep holding my hand

The next day, I felt tired and a bit crabby. I went to Meijer to get some snacks and had frequent, slightly more intense contractions as I walked around. I was a bit hopeful, but not too hopeful since I’d had that sort of pattern other times.

I came home and tried to take a nap with my son. He was struggling to wind down, so I ended up only sleeping 30-40 minutes, but I woke feeling a bit more refreshed.

Active Labor

That evening my mom made tacos and I was chatting with my sister and her fiance around 9 p.m. when I noticed a change in my contractions. “It’s real now.” I thought. I didn’t often get Ash and David to myself, so I chatted with them a little longer, ate three more tacos, and brewed myself a cup of red raspberry leaf tea. Then I went upstairs to my brother’s bedroom and did about 40 pelvic tilts and 20 lunges and called my husband, my friend, Abby, and my midwife.

“It sounds like you’re in early labor,” my midwife said “so try to get some rest.”

“I can’t sleep through these.” I said. She encouraged me to rest my body even if I couldn’t sleep so I had enough energy as labor intensified. “Ok, I’ll try.” I thought. “But first, tea and a shower.”

While in the shower in the bathroom off my parents’ room, my contractions started to intensify and I started breathing through them. I checked my cervix and thought I was probably 4-5 cm dilated. Looking back, and after more recently seeing a dilation model, I’m guessing I was probably more like 6-7 cm.

By the time I got out, my contractions were about 4-7 minutes apart and becoming steadily stronger. I had to pause several times as I got dressed and resting in bed was actually starting to sound like a pleasant prospect. I lay down on the bed in my parents’ room and my contractions spaced out to 7-10 minutes, but continued to intensify.

Around this time I started texting my friend, Emily, whose due date was just a week after mine. We had shared our pregnancy news with each other early on and during our whole pregnancies had been joking about having our babies on the same day. She was just starting to have some mild contractions, and it was so cool to be sort of “laboring together”. It was also a welcome distraction! By the time I could no longer focus on texting her, she had arrived at the hospital and was 4 cm dilated.

Waiting for the Midwife

During the time I was “resting”, my sister, Ash, was there with me. In between my contractions I lay on my side, and during them I got on my hands and knees and Ash lifted my belly with a scarf or gave counterpressure on my lower back. I was having a bit of back labor this time around, which was different than Colt’s birth. It was really special to have that time with just her and me just shortly before she got married, and her calm and quiet presence was truly a comfort.

Eventually I felt the need to get up and move around and go pee, and as I stood leaning and swaying against the bathroom counter, I started feeling quite a bit of pressure. I think I called my midwife around that time, and after listening to me through a contraction she said she would start heading my way shortly.

Soon my mom heard the tell-tale grunts at the end of my contractions, signalling that I was starting to give some small, involuntary pushes. At this point she became a bit alarmed, and somewhere in there, Ty, Abby, and my other sister, Erin, had come into the bedroom. They were all quiet and unobtrusive and I hardly noticed their presence. Somewhere in there my water broke too.

I knelt beside the bed, which allowed me to still rest a bit between contractions, but I was definitely starting to feel the urge to push. My mom called the midwife again, and she instructed me to lie down on my side to try to slow things down. Soon the urge to push was overwhelming, and despite my mother’s pleas not to push, I couldn’t help at least pushing a little. My mom and her own birth stories and positive attitude toward birth has been an inspiration to me, and she has attended at least 5 other births, but I know being present for her daughters giving birth is quite a different thing for her, and she did not want me to have the baby before the midwife arrived!

My parents have a very long driveway, and it’s easy to miss, especially in the dark, so when my midwife called to tell us she was getting off on the exit to our house, my sisters raced to the end of the driveway with flashlights so that she wouldn’t miss the driveway. This was especially memorable to my midwife.

The Midwife Arrives!

She arrived and quickly began to set up. I was still being encouraged not to push, and I said, “She’s here now – I’m pushing!”

Soon someone said something about the baby having a lot of hair, and I was thrilled that they could see the baby’s head. At this point, labor was incredibly intense, and I was yelling, crying, and growling my way through contractions. I had pushed for an hour and a half with Colt, and wasn’t sure what to expect this time. The prospect of being almost done was so incredibly encouraging and gave me a renewed energy and strength.

Within minutes, the baby’s head was born. The cord was wrapped once around his neck, and my midwife calmly unwrapped it. With the next contraction I was being rather forcefully encouraged to push, but wasn’t really feeling an urge to, which makes pushing incredibly difficult and unproductive. I felt like if I could just get a good breath I would be able to have more force behind my pushing, but finally the baby’s shoulders were out. I still question this part of my experience, wondering if it’s really necessary to push before I feel any urge. Perhaps I perceive it as being far more urgent than it actually is, but in both my sons’ births, this part has been very stressful for me.

I was in a side-lying position when I gave birth. I had anticipated being in a hands-and-knees position again, but by the time the midwife arrived and I was free to just push, trying to change positions just didn’t seem worth it. But I can say, I definitely like hands-and-knees better. When they handed the baby up on to my chest, I was lying back flat and it was really hard to see him, whereas with Colt, they had passed him between my legs and set him on the bed in front of me. I was upright and had a chance to look at him before lifting him up to my chest myself.

We were going to be surprised by the baby’s sex this time, and I didn’t have the strength to move the baby around to check, so I asked Ty too. “We’ve got another boy, babe!” he said.

A “Big Baby”

My family helped me get propped up with some pillows, and the placenta was delivered uneventfully. Within probably 20 minutes of birth, our baby boy had latched on and was nursing easily. I was startled by how simple breastfeeding was this second time around!

Bonding

After an hour or so of skin-to-skin, my in-laws  arrived to be present for the newborn exam, which is one of my favorite parts of the homebirth experience. My midwife carefully checked baby Abe’s reflexes and joints and then weighed him.

9 lbs. 6 oz.

“9 pounds 6 ounces!” she said. I thought for sure the scale was broken. There was no way he was 9 pounds. He sure didn’t look like it to me. But a few days later we went to the chiropractor and he was 9 pounds 10 ounces, so I guess it was correct.

She measured his head and chest circumference. “He’s got a 15 inch head and no moulding!” she said. “You were built to birth babies!” I was pretty happy with that assessment and pretty proud of my 5’4”, 112 pounds not pregnant self for giving birth to such a good-sized baby. I have a pretty strong trust in God’s design for women and babies and the whole birth process, but I do wonder if I would have had more anxiety going into birth had I known how big Abe was.

Soon Colt woke up and sleepily met his new baby brother. He had the most fantastic bedhead, and of course he was hungry, so my mother brought him yogurt which he sat on the bed and ate.

Brothers!

Shortly after he was born, Emily texted and asked how things were going. I responded with a picture of Abe and “He’s here!” Several hours later, she gave birth to her second daughter, and I love that our babies share a birthday.

Sorrow for a Night and Joy in the Morning

Abe was born at 12:47 a.m. on the 27th of June, just 2 days after the fourth anniversary of the loss – and birth – of our first baby. Late June is always a hard time of year for me. I’m raw with emotion, sometimes traumatic flashbacks increase, but this time of year has now been redeemed. I still feel the pain and the sadness, yes, but it now exists alongside joyous memories of Abe’s birth. He has been pure grace in my life.

“Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” This verse (Psalm 30:5) is brief part of the psalmist’s testifying to the faithfulness, mercy, and healing of God. It doesn’t refer to birth directly, but later in John 16, Jesus says, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” Here he refers to His people waiting for His coming, but I’ve found this common theme in the Bible of sorrow and then joy to be such an encouragement in my motherhood journey.

Whether it be the overwhelming difficulty of labor followed by the overwhelming joy of holding my baby, or the overwhelming sadness of losing a child in some part redeemed by the joy of another baby born at just the right time, or of the hope of a future joy of meeting and knowing that baby in heaven, that thought was a deep comfort and encouragement to me as I gave birth. There is pain, but there will be joy. I have lost, but I am receiving a gift.

Birth and motherhood is difficult and unpredictable and full of both sorrow and joy. But we have a gracious and merciful God who is with us in our sorrow, who delights to redeem every part of our lives, a God who has given us our children, whether it be for a moment or a lifetime, and will carry us mothers through this journey He has called us to.

A year later