Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Embracing Motherhood

The best thing a girl can be is a good wife and mother. 
It is a girl's highest calling. I hope I am ready. —Nancy E. Turner

Motherhood brings with it a lot of attention. And often the advice and unwanted comments begin pouring in before you are even pregnant, let alone married. 

Complete strangers will ask nosey questions ranging from when you will be getting married to how soon you and your hubby will start having kids once you are. If you did make it out of college without a ring on your finger (like I did) then you obviously didn’t take advantage of the resources available to you. What were you doing during those four years anyway? 

Once you are married the clock begins to tick. Expectantly people wait to see if the honeymoon did the trick. Will there be a little munchkin in 40 weeks? After an appropriate amount of time (though generally not long enough for most of us) the dreaded question begins to be asked. When are you going to start having kids? 

For my husband and I—we were asked the question the day after we returned from our honeymoon. When I say we I really mean me. I wasn’t on birth control and we weren’t not trying to get pregnant.  So I knew that it would only be a matter of time before we were—unless we couldn’t. Which meant my typical response to the question was to give us a few months. While privately thinking that this was none of their any concern anyway.

Perhaps it is our technology saturated lifestyles or the need for gossip—but people tend to want to know all the juicy details of everything before anything has actually happened. 

And with all the technology comes expectations. The imaginary measuring tape that you suddenly find yourself being compared to, comes into play not long after you say “I do”—so just in case it wasn’t daunting enough to face a world that expects us to be beautiful Victoria Secret models with flawless features and amazing homemaking skills, like Martha Stewart (without the jail time)—we are also expected to embrace the role of motherhood.

As I write this I am six months pregnant. And I still feel the pressure of being this perfect Victoria Secret supermodel coupled with motherhood. It isn’t like becoming a mom is an easy thing. Everything about my body is changing, let alone the size of my stomach. I feel like I am looking over the edge of Aslan’s Mountain—tiny white clouds can be seen far below and I am completely terrified to take the leap. 

Because it is a leap. A giant leap. You don’t just wake up one morning and discover that you are a parent and everything is going to be just perfect. You spend the most uncomfortable parts of your pregnancy curled up on the couch reading parenting books. You find yourself talking to all your mommy friends as you figure out the necessities for your baby registry. You ask them about their experiences in child birth and begin to worry more as you think about your pain tolerance or lack there of. You begin reading mommy blogs and start looking for ways to squeeze a nursery into your tiny one bedroom apartment. 

You have to deal with the comments of others. People are excited for you—they want to know everything. And I do mean everything. And as you continue to grow in size—there are always those who comment on your weight. Oh, we women should be used to that by now—shouldn’t we? 

I used to worry that once I did get pregnant, I wouldn’t be able to gain the weight needed to support the growth of a healthy baby. I am one of those naturally thin body types. Where you are able to eat large quantities of food and not gain a pound. Any woman’s dream, right? Ummm . . . No, not really—at least not when you see our grocery bill.

Often the most hurtful comments come from the people closest to us. And often they aren’t even aware of how their comments come across. Everything about us is changing, and we have become ultra sensitive to comments and remarks. Perhaps it is because our “mommy radar” is starting to take formation or that we still are a little uncomfortable in our own skin at times. But leaving the house on days when you feel like a bloated hippopotamus takes a lot of courage. Because inevitably you are going to run into someone who can’t believe that you are only 5 months pregnant and not about to pop at any moment. 

And then there are the horror stories your friends have told you. As you get further along in your pregnancy your fingers will begin to swell and you will no longer able to wear your wedding rings. At which point snide comments and remarks begin to follow you around. “Another pregnant teenager! The shame of it all!” Ah, yes . . . for shame that we are more polite than you and won’t humiliate you in public with a tasteful response on the subject. Tempting though it may be. 

Your stomach will suddenly be considered public property. And those meddlers that bothered you before? Well, they will be out there waiting for you and their advice will be just as bad as it was previously. 

You will have creepy old men staring at your stomach and women trying to touch it. Depending on how they approach the subject you find yourself more willing to talk about your pregnancy to complete strangers. You are bombarded by advise that is both helpful and terrifying. You are judged by your lifestyle. Asked countless questions. And are regarded as a poor lost soul in need of guidance. 

When I first suspected that I was pregnant I was terrified. Things weren’t feeling right. Something was up and it most certainly wasn’t the stress of the work/home situation. My period was due to arrive in a few days and yet something just felt different. I had tried to shrug it off for the last 2 weeks. The sick feeling in the morning was the stress of getting my 2 week notice at work. The exhaustion was from packing when I got home from work. But deep inside I knew it wasn’t any of those things. And it scared me—because I wasn’t sure that I was ready to be a mommy. That night my husband held me close as I cried into his shoulder. 

Twenty-six weeks later I have a baby bump. To me, it is a large bump and tends to hinder the simplest of movements that I used to take for granted, like retrieving a cat toy from under the couch. There are days when I feel massive. My husband tries to console me with precious complements about my beauty and his love for me. And yet when I look in the mirror I am shocked by how much my body has changed. I feel like a beached whale when I roll out of bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Taking naps is now a necessity. I can no longer see my feet when standing nor hide my bump from prying eyes.

My appetite has grown with the size of my stomach. I must eat—constantly. I consume my already large portions of food and then serve “baby” her portion. I amaze my mother as I pack away more food then my husband on a regular basis. I crave fresh fruits, vegetables, and homemade breads. I balk at our grocery bill as I realize that the fresh ingredients will only last a week and not two. 

And again I stare over the edge of Aslan’s Mountain. And I’m afraid that I won’t be ready to take the leap come June. The worry that accompanies motherhood starts the moment you suspect you are pregnant. And there are days when I just don’t get out much, the effort it takes to leave my little apartment is just too daunting. It is too much to face the world that is gearing up for spring. Because with spring comes summer and with summer comes my precious baby girl. And it frightens me. 

Because with the arrival of baby girl comes the arrival of motherhood. And that is something that will never go away. You are forever changed by a squirming bundle of joy who has spent the last 9 months inside of you. And while I am excited, I am sad too. Sad that, for a time, I will not be able to take part in many of the outdoor activities that I once did with my husband. 

But I suppose the exciting part is that there will be new activities to do. Long walks with baby in stroller, picnics in the park, outings with friends and their children—all new and exciting things to look forward to. And while I am having to give up certain activities for a time, I am very grateful that I can keep one of them for the next few months. 

My midwife assured me that cycling was an excellent source of exercise and as long as I wasn’t planning to run a marathon too—I would be just fine. Which made me happy (even in the dead of winter), because there is nothing better than feeling the wind in your face and sun on your back as you zip across the ground. I’m a bit slower now, hills are a bit more daunting—but I can still do the miles. My husband is patient as ever as I slow him down. Never complaining about my pace and being there if I need extra push to get up a particularly steep hill. And baby girl? I think she likes it. She is cradled in my belly, comfortably situated on my bladder—rocking back and forth over the bumps. And generally making my ride a little less comfortable. 

Which leaves kayaking. 
By the time it is warm enough to go (late May/early June) I will be much too big to easily get into and out of a kayak. I would still like to try—I’m sure it will be highly entertaining to those watching. 

And so, I end with a this: There will be days when the sun doesn’t shine and the flowers appear dim—but I think I will sit up here on Aslan’s Mountain and enjoy the view for a little while longer. The flowers are just beginning to bloom and the weather is cool. And while the months are racing by at a frightening pace, come the end of June, I will be ready to embrace motherhood.  

I can’t wait to meet her. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

What defines you

If I could have told Leelah (Josh) Alcorn one thing before he killed himself on December 28, 2014—it would been that checking out early in the form of suicide accomplishes nothing. It changes nothing. You are now defined as a number—a mere statistic.

I read your suicide note. It sounded more like an "f-the world" note. Maybe no one ever told you this, but life isn't a walk in the park. Each and every generation grows up with something different. You would have been too little to remember a time when you could fly across the country without being strip-searched in security. Which would have made you about four years old when President George W. Bush declared war on Iraq. I was 17 years old and a junior in high school. By that point we had been at war with Afghanistan for almost 2 years. And kids, not much older than you were getting blown to pieces by IEDs.

The point? We all grew up with something different affecting ours lives and you can't go about life with an "f-the world" attitude.

Yes, your parents "totally" ruined your life when they pulled you out of public school and then took away your cell phone and internet privileges. I don't know why they did that—but it might have been to protect you. Why? Because they have also seen people at their worst. They know how kids react to someone who is seen as different by their peers. And you were different. The acceptance of gays/lesbians is still relatively new and not highly accepted everywhere. And the idea of being transgender is much harder to understand and a lot less likely to ever be accepted. I've never met someone who is transgender. So, I don't know what it is like to stand in your shoes.

But I do know what it was like to stand in my shoes. I know what it is like to be bullied. I know what it is like to be different then the other kids. I know what it is like to have a learning disability and to be ridiculed by both classmates and teachers. I know what it is like to not feel feminine. I know what it is like to have zero self confidence. I know what it is like to feel like I don't fit in.

Our shoes aren't so different. And I wish that someone you trusted could have told you that.

In your suicide note, you wanted your death to mean something. And that is what breaks my heart the most. It doesn't mean a thing. You didn't stick around long enough to make that difference—to be that change. Did you know that there are kids out there who know they have a death sentence? Who know that they won't get the chance to grow up? Yet instead of giving up or having an "f-the world" attitude—they have decided to change their world?

Change doesn't happen by checking out early. Had you stuck around you would have learned a few things. You would have learned that life is made up of experiences. Some are pleasant and others aren't. We learn from our mistakes and failures. That is how we grow. We are shaped by our experiences, but they don't define us. You would have learned that becoming who you are takes a lifetime of living to achieve.

And so—to the next child, teenager, or adult who has or is contemplating the thought of suicide—don't let the negative experiences of your life define who you are. Don't let the bullies of this world define you. Life is worth living and it is up to you to decide what it is that will ultimately will define you.