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).