Reexamining Priorities as a New Mother

Photo Credit: "Chalkboard Numbers" by mimwickett
Photo Credit: “Chalkboard Numbers” by mimwickett

One great thing about a baby is that he forces you to reexamine your priorities. As the mother of a two-month-old, I’m reconsidering mine, and I’m ashamed. I’m talking about the fact that Bible study feels foreign to me these days.

Maybe that’s not surprising. Everything from my former life—exercise, writing my memoir—feels foreign. The exercise video that was once easy has become difficult. The memoir that seemed nearly sewn up now has gaping holes. The daily devotion that came as a joy now poses frustration. In short, my abs were not the only things left flabby by childbirth.

Feedings, Facebook, and the Today show replaced my morning devotions. Bottle washing and diaper changing ousted my daily workouts. Rocking, singing, and mad dashes to shower during naptime replaced the writing. And with all that breastfeeding, as you might remember, memoirs became my reading material of choice. Yes, I’ve had time to read, but I haven’t had the focus, a little voice inside has said.

That’s not good. In my former (pre-mother) life as a Christian, I learned where certain little voices come from. If it’s not the Holy Spirit, it’s, well, the other guy.

This is a tough truth to face. On the one hand, I want to plead, “But it’s not my fault! I wasn’t getting any sleep, and how can you expect a zombie to focus on her Bible?” Even now I feel this argument holds water…concerning at least the first few weeks. Just like one cannot be expected to function without food or water, I believe one cannot be expected to function (at least optimally) on inadequate sleep.

Concerning new parenthood, and I suppose other life upheavals (such as moves and new jobs), there has to be an adjustment period, and it’s bound to be rocky. If you don’t have someone spoon-feeding you your Bible lessons—or bottle feeding your baby, putting him to sleep at night, changing his diapers, holding him when he cries for the zillionth time (you get the picture)—it’s unlikely that even the most devout new parent will have a robust devotional life.

But then.

Then, that infant settles down a bit, so that you can expect a decent naptime each day. Then he sleeps to the extent that you are no longer a walking zombie. Then you have the time and the faculties available to reconsider your priorities. Then you are once again accountable for your actions.

So, I’ve decided I need to regroup. I need to get back to the Bible.

Being a good Christian doesn’t exclude some of the things I’ve been doing lately (perhaps with the exception of the Today show—I can’t help but notice how the worst of pop culture is always applauded, never condemned) but it means those things never take priority over Bible study or prayer.

Because I’ve had trouble hearing God’s voice lately, I decided to fast this week from secular books and TV. Until I am again comfortable with God and the Bible (although a Christian really should never get comfortable) I’m not turning on secular TV or picking up a memoir. So far this week I’ve bathed myself in the Bible, other inspirational reading, and religious programs such as those aired on Amazing Facts TV (If you want a spiritual boost, I recommend Amazing Facts; the speaker/director Doug Batchelor is a favorite of mine). Similar to my “Damascus Road year,” I’ve been convicted that I need to keep God front and center in my life. When I don’t, life is upside down, even more so than new motherhood makes it.

Listen, new motherhood throws your whole identity up in the air. It’s hard to redefine yourself, especially in relation to your work, if you were formerly career oriented. But I’ve decided that there is one aspect of my identity that need never be shaken, and that is my identity as a daughter of God. In Christ, I am called to be Christlike wherever I am in life. Maybe I don’t have the luxury of many uninterrupted minutes of Bible study. Maybe most of my prayers can’t be made with the backdrop of silence. But I can be faithful with what I have, be it five minutes of quiet time in which to read, or a whole noisy, busy day in which to converse with God.

 

On Reading while Breastfeeding (or My Forgotten Love)

Today I’m taking a break from the baby blogging, sort of, in an attempt to remember another love of mine: reading.

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A few of the books on my bookshelf. Most recently, I’ve read Anne Rice’s bland memoir on returning to her faith, Called Out of Darkness; Rachel Held Evans’s strange project, A Year of Biblical Womanhood; and Frank McCourt’s tale of his childhood in Ireland, Angela’s Ashes. As to the first two, I think you’d find the two books on housecleaning I read before my son’s birth, Sink Reflections and The House that Cleans Itself, more rewarding. Angela’s Ashes, on the other hand, is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Once I lowered my expectations for what I could get done in a given day, I settled in for feeding time, six to eight times a day, and reached for my “old friends.” I began to look forward to feeding time so I could get on with the story. I decided I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding just yet (unable to produce even one-third of what Sam needs though I am) because it was guaranteed quiet time in which I could read.

Reading has become my oasis in a sea of diapers, bottles, and upset sleep. It’s become the only thing able to remove me from my baby in our first six weeks together (at least mentally). That sounds kind of bad, but I assure you, it’s not. Babies are great, and they get greater with age, but moms need a break now and then. We need a chance to “miss” our little dears. And we need a chance to exercise our minds, and wrestle with words, beyond trying to decode “waaa.” We need a way to remember that we are intelligently human. Without some kind of mental stimulus beyond “ga ga goo goo,” we can easily become depressed, dull, or just unhealthily narrow-minded.

A week or so ago I typed a few blog-intended lines (quickly orphaned when Sam waaa-ed) about how I was unexpectedly finding joy in just turning on the Today show on NBC. I’ve never been a TV watcher (couldn’t even tell you what plays during primetime), but as a new stay-at-home mom, listening in on Savannah, Matt, Natalie, and Al’s cheery banter lifted my spirits a little. I liked to pretend I was sitting there with them, drinking their morning coffee, joking about unusual headlines, and looking professional and polished (not struggling to juggle a bottle and a bagel, grumbling about lost sleep, and looking bedraggled and frumpy). The Olympics also helped me to justify all my breastfeeding-induced butt time—hey, they only come on every four years—not to mention reintroduced me to ice skating, another forgotten love.

But asked to choose between TV and reading, I could do without those voices and faces. In the final analysis, I much prefer the mental dialogue between a book and myself to the mindless escape of the screen. This reminds me of one Thanksgiving when a family member caught me reading Pride and Prejudice and asked, “Isn’t there a movie of that? Why are you reading the book?” as if the movie destroyed the need for the book. Such people will never understand why the book is almost always better than the movie, which is why I didn’t waste time trying to explain. My blog readers understand, don’t you?

Anyway, I’ve probably left Hubby and Sam alone for long enough—it’s time to get back to mommy things. Before I return home (I’ve been sitting at Mcdonald’s, my old writing haunt), my quest is to pick up a soy-based formula (we suspect the little guy is lactose sensitive, and it’s interfering with his and our sleep—oh, I hope we’re right).

Once I get home, it will be time to breastfeed again, and (grin), get back to my two-dimensional friend. At the moment, I’m courting Angela’s Ashes—so good—and I wonder why I waited years to read it. I first read mention of this Pulitzer-prize-winning memoir in The Everything Guide to Getting Published in 2010, when I began researching publishing my own memoir. A recent review of Ashes from my blogging buddy Luanne reminded me of it, and now I’m hooked. I wish I had the luxury of finishing it off in one long stretch this afternoon, but like all activities these days, blogging included, it will probably happen over the course of many small sessions, steadily strung together as I have opportunity.

Below, feel free to tell me what you’re greedily reading right now—if anything—or what great reads you recommend to this landlocked mom (memoirs or true stories preferred).

On Teenage Suicide

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I was sitting in Mcdonald’s typing up one of my typically self-centered posts when the news hit: “Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old high school student…[and that victim of gang rape a year and a half ago], was taken off life support on Sunday, three days after she tried to hang herself.”

I tried to go through with my post, my selfish, solipsistic post about the insecurities of this past teenage girl (myself), but I just couldn’t. Not without acknowledging the tragedy.

Suddenly, my “Confessions of a 28-Year-Old Pimple-Face” couldn’t hold a candle to what I was imagining this poor girl had gone through: being gang-raped, then “blamed, shunned, and harassed by everyone,” to the point of death.

What were my puny pimples, compared to this?

And yet, once upon a teenage time, I, too, tried to commit suicide.

Though it seems almost vulgar to compare my story to hers, I’d like to…if only to throw into relief how little it takes for a girl to doubt her worth, to doubt her life, to consider ending it. And so, despite myself, I give you [a modified version of]…

Confessions of a 28-Year-Old Pimple-Face

No matter how much older and wiser I get, it seems I can’t quite move past certain childhood insecurities. These days especially, the fact that I’m a twenty-eight-year-old with recurring acne much disheartens me.

Thankfully, I don’t go through life with this “ugly complex” always on my mind—not like I used to. But as a teenager, I remember living with perpetual horror at the thought that I was un-pretty, and unworthy.

I remember it really starting at age fourteen. Somehow I got the idea that my stomach was just gross—incidentally, that was right around the time I had to start undressing in public. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that age-old trope about the locker room.

Kids historically have feigned all manner of sickness, inventing a bevy of excuses, to escape that locker room reckoning.

But I never wasted my excuses on a mere class period. I saved those for entire days when the insecurity, or the depression got too bad. Plus, I was in sports all school year, so I had to get used to it. I mean, I got used to dressing in the locker room with the other girls. But I never got used to how bad it made me feel about myself.

That year, as a fourteen-year-old eighth grader, I had my mom order a book for me, Karen Amen’s The Crunch. And every night I would close my bedroom door, don a sports bra sans shirt, and do those crunches—in hopes, I guess, of watching my stomach shrink before my very eyes. I even kept a log to track my progress. But I remember being very guarded about it.

No one but my mom knew that I had embarked on this program toward self-improvement. I didn’t let my dad or brother see me doing it, didn’t tell my friends. Only let my mom come into my room sometimes and see me in the sports bra, as I pointed in disgust at my stomach and lamented how freakish I was in comparison to other girls. I remember mom looking at me with sad eyes, just listening. Soon after, Mom left us. And I started taking antidepressants. (But I’m greatly compressing, of course.)

The thing is, adolescence is confusing enough without having to undress in front of others. Without having to contend with a parent’s abandonment. Or without having a boy shame you (much less four). All these things, which partly account for my first suicide attempt, are terrifying to a teen.

But having to go through what Rehtaeh did? Having my pain and my shame and my body and my insecurity swirled onto the World Wide Web for all to see? Unthinkable.

The Mirage of Hollywood

I can’t say for certain that the teenage years are worse for girls than for boys, but I feel I could make a strong case for the former. What do I know, though?

I do know there’s this extreme cultural pressure imposed on girls to be pretty, sexy, skinny. And while being all of this, girls are also supposed to be chaste—to be better sexually behaved than boys. And even though I’ve gained considerable perspective on all the media’s BS about what constitutes true beauty for a woman—and even though I don’t base my self-worth on my looks or my bra size like I used to—sometimes I still get taken in. Sometimes, when surrounded by bikini clad beauties whose clear skin and shapely bodies I will never rival, sometimes, for a little while, I feel like I hate my body, hate my face, hate  myself.

Even well past adolescence, I don’t need anyone else’s voice but my own to tell me I am unworthy, I am ugly, I am disgusting.

Rehtaeh, although a victim of gang rape, was called a whore by her classmates, by her friends, (by the media?).

Fortunately for me, because I have twelve years on Rehtaeh, and the benefit of no viral pictures or videos to condemn me, I can take a step back and re-see the whole picture. I can remember that this isn’t reality—this is a mirage of advertising and Hollywood and Satanic lies about what I have to do and how I have to look and how I have to be—to be worth anything. And as I make this reflective, redeeming remove, I can see clearly again.

But Rehtaeh never will.

A Devilish Game

Ladies, why are we continuously taken in?

Why do some girls get up at the crack of dawn to make themselves up? (One of my high school students proudly flaunted this fact.)

Why do others spend every spare moment in front of the mirror? (This describes many other students I had.)

Why do yet others become bulimic, depressed, and suicidal? (Yep, that was me.)

And why do innocent girls like Rehtaeh so easily become martyrs to rapists, to the media, to the devil?

We may not think we are playing the devil’s game, but all of us—whether we find ourselves fretting over pimples or starring in child porn—are.

It can’t be God’s will for women to worry and strive, to be attacked with lies, and to never feel pretty enough, never feel good enough.

It might be different if we felt it were a matter of choice not to go to all the trouble, not to spend an hour on the makeup, not to log our ridiculous repertoire of crunches, not to go along with any old man or boy, just because he’s offered—or if we just elected to do these things once in awhile. But I know ladies who won’t leave home without an hour’s prepping. I know women who can’t escape abusive relationships no matter what they say. And I know of a teen girl who will never, ever be able to get back her life—because the rumors, the bullying, the façade that life was over, was just too real.

Nearing the age of thirty, it’s funny to me that I’ve overcome, or am near overcoming, so many childhood demons—depression, fear of having children—but what still gets me on a regular basis is that little-girl insecurity about my looks, whether my adult acne; my below average bra size; my frizzy hair; or my thunder thighs.

After today’s news, these insecurities seemed almost too mundane to mention. But they’re not, of course, because they are outward fruits of the same hidden roots, lies, that so many women and teenage girls struggle with. And though it’s not the worst root some of us will contend with, I don’t want to leave it unchecked so that it continues to degrade us, to degrade me—and younger versions of me—forever. It has done destruction enough.

Rest in peace, Rehtaeh.