Month: October 2014
by Pamela J. Pettyjohn
It is after 1am in the morning. I’m writing this as I sit on the balcony of my oceanfront hotel, listening to the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach, a sound I don’t think I will ever tire of hearing. We are at a family reunion and blessed by the generosity of a family member, who makes such opportunities a reality for our family.
My husband has been asleep for over an hour at least. My son, staying in another room with cousins, is hopefully asleep, but I do not know. This not knowing is good practice for me, as he will soon be heading off to college and I often will not know where he is or what he is doing. And it is okay; I do not need to know. When I was younger, I always “had to know” – uncertainty, ambiguity, and being in limbo were to be avoided whenever possible. But I’ve had a lot of experience of not knowing in the last few years, as we’ve navigated multiple moves and job uncertainties, along with the need to provide a stable life for our son. I’ve had to surrender the illusion that I ever really knew as much as I thought I did. I’ve learned that sometimes all I can do is to throw myself into the arms of God, and picture myself cradled in the peace of Christ, where I can find rest. That is all. In that place, resting in the peace of my Savior, I can live with not knowing, and tonight I am reminded of that.
I am currently in the early years of a new career, serving as a minister. I think that all “working parents” face the tension between family and job; certainly women ministers, whose qualifications to follow our calling are still questioned by some, often hold ourselves to unreasonable expectations in both our ministerial and family arenas. The day we left for this family reunion, just a little over two days ago, I got a call about a near tragedy – a life hanging in the balance, with no way to know which way it would go…. Others went to the hospital and have kept me updated, and there is nothing I could or can do but wait… wait for each scrap of new information. Initially totally stunned by this bad news, I felt numb, and all I could do was pray, God of Mercy, hear my prayer when I do not even know what to pray.
I want to be at the hospital, keeping vigil, and yet I am all these miles away, and, truth be told, I want to be here too with my family. While I physically relax and re-connect with family members, some of whom I only see once a year, while I laugh, play games, swap funny stories, drink wine, eat food, and have meaningful conversations, I am also waiting. I wonder. I rehearse possible outcomes. And I acknowledge more and more that I just do not know. Tonight, I accept that I do not need to know. Somehow, I am able to manage these two parts of my life, the ordinary person-wife-mother-daughter-sister-aunt part, and the minister part, which both co-exist inside of me all of the time. Somehow, I let go of the ache from the impossibility of being in two places at once. I am able to let go of needing to know if this dear one will pull through, and if so, what the future holds for her. I can let go – again – of wondering what my own future holds, professionally and personally.
I am grateful for this opportunity to be in this place, recharging my internal batteries, even if I do not fully understand how or why it is so nourishing. I can listen to this ocean, this pulse of the globe that we call earth, and I can know that One bigger and greater than me is working to make all things new. And that is all I need to know for now. Tonight, knowing that is enough.
Pamela Pettyjohn is a licensed minister and certified teacher with an M.Ed. in Elementary Education from the University of South Carolina. She currently serves as an Associate Minister for Children and Families in Louisville, KY, while also working towards an M.Div. at Lexington Theological Seminary.
We here at Mothering Matters are coming back from a summer hiatus. Wait, that’s not the right word. A hiatus would imply that we’ve been hanging out, reading magazines, going on vacation. What we’ve really been up to is the business (or busy-ness) of motherhood. We are sorry for our time away, but we are very excited to get back to this blog and community, which continues to grow each day. Thank you for joining us.
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Until next week,
Annie, Claire & Liz
by Annie Hardison-Moody
October 15, 2014
When I found out I was pregnant after over a year of waiting for an adoption, coupled with seven previous miscarriages, I wasn’t very excited. Instead, I was a nervous wreck. When I started bleeding early on, I was sure this – like every other time – was the beginning of the end. So at eight weeks pregnant, I dragged myself into the doctor’s office, eyes already red from crying, and sat down on the ultrasound table ready to hear the words we had heard so many times before, “Hm. The growth isn’t normal, and your bloodwork is inconclusive. Let’s bring you back again next week for more tests.”
Instead, we heard a heartbeat.
For the first time in four years, a sign of life.
By the end of my appointment, the news about my story had spread throughout the doctor’s office (EIGHT pregnancies?!), so much so that even the woman who checked me out was offering me sweet words of encouragement and excitement. I was shocked. How did this happen? What would happen later? When, I wondered, would the other shoe drop?
As it turns out, the other shoe didn’t drop, but my experiences of loss did affect my pregnancy and delivery. I didn’t allow anyone to buy Christmas gifts for the baby, because we were still shy of the end of the first trimester. I didn’t allow our friends to host a shower until after 28 weeks (the so-called “safe zone”). I put the word nursery in air quotation marks when I talked about converting my office to the baby’s room. I often didn’t know how to be cheerful, when everyone around me was thrilled and so excited. I worried. A lot.
Loss was always at the edge of any joy I felt with this pregnancy. My own losses, of course, were always present, but I also thought about dear friends who lost their children during pregnancy or in childbirth. I felt, at times, like I was keeping my distance from this little one – so that if I couldn’t meet her at the end of this journey, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so badly. What a foolish deception I was trying to pull.
I met my sweet girl around 8pm, the night after my birthday, just three months ago last week. As my husband brought her in to see me (I had a c-section, and she had to go to the nursery right away), I could barely see her through the haze of tears. She was so tiny, just a little face peeking out of a giant bundle of blanket. Because another woman lost her baby the same night, I was sent to the general recovery room without her, since the other family was (of course) recuperating in the birth center recovery room. I couldn’t stop thinking about the other mother who came to the hospital just like me that day, only to leave without her little one. I asked the nurses about her that night and the nights following (they, of course, couldn’t tell me much), and knowing about her loss made me constantly ask after my baby while I was in the recovery room, peppering the nurse with questions: “You would tell me if something happened with her, right?” Although the nurse assured me she would, I worried I was going to lose my girl – still. A few minutes later, my husband started texting me pictures of her (thank goodness for technology! and come to think of it, how did I have my phone?) – screaming, red, and full of life.
Life and loss, intermingled again that night at the hospital. Is that what motherhood is, I wonder? Or just being human? As Judith Butler writes in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence:
Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.
This seems so clearly the case with grief, but it can be so only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. One may want to, or manage to for a while, but despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel.
That’s how I felt that night of my daughter’s birth – undone. Undone by my worry about whether she (or I for that matter) would survive the delivery. Undone by the love I felt for her, knowing the magnitude of this love and joy mirrored the pain that was felt by the woman who labored with me that night. Undone by the love we felt from everyone around us who was rooting for this baby, and our family. Undone by the recollection of previous losses and the knowledge that loss will come again (it’s life, right?).
The fact that we are undone makes us human. These connections are what make motherhood both bearable and unbearable. This undoing, although fraught with pain, is the stuff of life.