Immoderate

It’s been a winter unbothered by moderation.  Seventy degree days followed by bitter cold and a healthy dump of snow, ice encasing budded branches who were so very tricked, so very premature in their optimism.  The bright sunny faces of my daffodils are muffled under a drift:  “We’re fine!  We’re totally okay with this!  We knew it was still winter!  It’s OKAY!”

The neighborhood kids flew past my greenhouse door, clinging to their disc sleds as they careened over jumps.  I hoped I wouldn’t be running anyone to Urgent Care, and I watered the radishes, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes, the temperature gauge telling me I was enjoying seventy degrees of heat.  I stooped over the radishes.  Their love leaves (what I call their first heart-shaped seedling leaves) are making way for their true leaves, somewhat more jagged, almond-shaped ones.17352337_10155469516858352_7104481727881436609_nModeration escapes me also.  I am pregnant with our sixth child, and I think I could sleep for days.  I am hungry and I can’t stand the thought of food.  I want coffee, and no I do not.  This doesn’t perplex me; I’ve been through this many times, so I breathe and remember the fleetingness of everything.  I curl on my side, my whole body seeming to cradle my abdomen, and I subconsciously lay my hand over where the little one grows.

I am so tired, but it doesn’t need fixing.  A body making a body takes a good bit of energy, and the tiredness is a signal to rest.  In a few weeks I will likely feel normal again and ready for the garden work of spring and beekeeping.  The snow will melt away, and we’ll drag the lawn mower out of the shed as the grass wakes up and stretches heavenward.  My belly will pull at my shirts until I acquiesce and don the maternity tops.  End of the school year events will jostle for our time and attention, and the heat of summer will drop down in waves.  That is how things seem to go, always they come at me before I am adjusted to the idea of change.  “Oh, we’ve moved on?  We’re here in the next?  Oh!”

I am too tired to articulate any more thoughts, though they buzz around my head and crowd the door of my mind, struggling to burst through and become written.  “Later,” I console them, “You know I’m too sleepy to hear you.”

 

 

 

What The Water Carried

It’s like those wind tunnel-money games that you see at fairs and such where people try to snatch at the twenties and ones whirling past them in a vortex.  The moment they grab for one of the flying greenbacks, it’s halfway around the tube on the other side.  Words can be like that, when life is whirling all crazy-like.  Have you seen someone try to cheat by forming a dam with their arm against the side to corral the cash?  Here’s my attempt to corral the words that have been flying right past me and around me this week.

I awoke the day after Christmas with mild contractions; they soundlessly tightened and coiled and released and barely registered discomfort.  They were unremarkable in and of themselves,  except for their regularity.  I puttered about the house, putting away the Christmas chaos, washing diapers, and all the while my abdomen went through these silent waves of tightness and release.

We alerted Dustin’s mother that “this may be it” and dropped the children off at her cozy home.  Then we ran some errands and decided that we should have a date before the baby came, and settled into a booth at our favorite Mexican place.  What says “help labor along” like really good spicy guacamole?  And Mexican Coke?

IMG_2993  The Contraction Nazi, also known as my dearest Dustin, kept a lap timer running and if I didn’t have a contraction within five minutes of the last one, he shot me a disapproving glance.  We had a lot of laughs over our guacamole.  I felt too pain-free to go to the hospital to be checked, so we headed to a local park to walk and see if they’d get stronger.FullSizeRender-19 Ah, the hilarity of being fully ripe.  We phoned the midwife and asked what we should do.  It’s never a clear-cut answer; I’ve had labors 10 hours long and labors three hours long.  She said we had an open invitation to come in, so we did, but felt foolish walking in there without some verifiable, legit pain-wincing in my face.  “You’re too happy to be in here”, laughed a nurse, but when they checked me and I was five centimeters dilated, they took me a little more seriously.

Off to walk the halls.  Still no pain and contractions that stretched to eight minutes apart at times.  We really didn’t want to do the walk of shame; back out the lobby, still pregnant, dragging an unopened suitcase, sheepishly going home.  I prayed, I prayed for God’s mercy and for pain.  They checked me again and I was at six centimeters, though the baby was high up.  They admitted us and I was so relieved.  There is something about going to the delivery room and seeing that little heated bassinet just waiting there in the corner that makes everything seem right and ready.

IMG_2998

The contractions became much more business-like.  The kind you breathe through and make you smile tight and have just an edge of pain to them.  Circumstances in other deliveries made using the jacuzzi tub not an option, but this time I gladly could make use of it.  I lowered my body into the swirling water and instantly relaxed.

I am a fish.  The last one out of the pool, the ocean, the river, you name it.  I even like washing dishes because of the way water feels slipping over my hands, the way it sounds dripping and splashing.  The cool of it or the warmth of it.  I take a soak in our bath nearly daily.  I breathed deep; so very much at home.  I wouldn’t leave that warm tub for two and a half hours!

Floating there, the hum of the jacuzzi, the jets pushing against my back, my legs, my shoulders, I was suspended, at peace, even as the contractions became more pain than pressure, somehow it seemed that the water carried it with me.  I was not marooned out in the open air on a hospital bed.  I was cocooned, held in a warm embrace.  Cushioned.  The hours passed easily, until just the end.

A groan was pulled out of me.  The water couldn’t carry all of this.  My heart knew fear as the pain took my breath away.  I arched my back out of the water, I looked at my husband with fear in my eyes.  Things were changing and the pain had suddenly entered my cocoon with a ragged edge.  My water broke and the pain knifed deeper.

It’s a panic-filled feeling, being at the mercy of unrelenting sharp pain that barely fades before building again.  I grabbed at one hope and asked for my husband to tell them I needed an epidural.  NOW.  I had wanted to have a natural birth, but I couldn’t imagine even a half hour of contractions like the ones that were currently gripping me.  “Help, SAVE ME!” my body screamed.

I could barely walk to the bed (with good reason as you shall soon understand), having two contractions from the tub to there that left me on tiptoes and howling, my legs crossing over themselves protectively (also with good reason).  Contractions one on top of the other, no breathing room between, clenching my husband’s hands and by now, scream-groaning LOUDLY.  I pleaded:  “Isn’t there ANYTHING you can give me?”

They assured me that they were going to “get me comfortable”, but they all knew there’d be no time for that.  There were smiles of knowing going on when I wasn’t looking, and they told me sweet lies to keep me hopeful.  The nurse and midwife stepped out to “see about the epidural”, leaving one newbie nurse in the room.  My scream had a new ending to it all of a sudden as a push gripped me.  I did not push, my body did.  It could no more be stopped than a sneeze could.  I felt my body opening around something and yelled out the obvious, “THE BABY IS COMING!”.  The nurse peeked under the sheet and her eyes widened.  Baby was crowning.

We were at a local Eastern Orthodox church a few weeks ago, enjoying an Advent service, when one of the ladies in the choir chanted “Lord have mercy” forty times.  We were amazed as the repetition went on and on.  It seemed a thing impossible to do without the words getting all confused and jumbled.  But as I lay there with a large head splitting me open and the pain all bright and fiery, I think I did more than forty “Lord have mercy”‘s all in a gush.  And He answered, oh and how.

She raced to the door to get help, but my hollers had alerted the midwife (from down the hall, for shame) that things were moving quick.  She burst in and one push later he was here, whooshing right out much to my surprise and relief.  I was astonished, flat-out bewildered, and I brought that slippery, wonderful baby boy up on to my chest and began a five minute litany of “I can’t believe it-I can’t believe it-I can’t believe it-I love you, baby-I can’t believe it”.  It was so fast.  So furious.  So natural.  The water carried most of my pain, and a few long minutes I carried it, and then, mercifully, birth.

IMG_2999Our own sweet Tobias John.  Eight pounds, ten ounces of wonderfulness.  Tobias means “The goodness of God” and John means “The Lord has shown favor”.

This year Eastern Orthodoxy has taught me two useful phrases and my life has vascilitated between them like a pendulum:  “Lord, have mercy” and “God provides”.  One a petition, one a recognition of God’s sustenance and faithfulness.  Living with these two sets of words has kept me living open-handedly to God, trusting Him more with the unknowns and the unexpecteds.  It is a good place to be; like in the water, cushioned from the blows, carried through them, experiencing pain but not being consumed by it.

IMG_3010IMG_3023IMG_3025IMG_3028And my gratitude swells and my cup runneth over, and I’m held, hands open and soul filled with awe.  God is good, and He has shown favor.  Glory to Him.

What NOT To Say To The Pregnant Lady You Don’t Know

Henri 017 Yeah, it is magical.  How that baby just swells up the whole midsection of a woman, how that hovering melon just floats there against all concepts of architecture.  Shouldn’t there be some flying buttresses reinforcing that protruding curve?  I know it’s funny.  Heck, I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and just laugh, turning this way and that.  I smile at how my friends and family greet me, first in the eyes and then focusing on my rounded tum in quick succession, giving it a greeting of it’s own (patting, oohing-and-aahing, exclamations of wonder).  That is all fine and good.

But dear stranger who doesn’t even know my name, it is you I address.  Unless you’re a painfully cute elderly person who looks a bit lonely and nostalgic, I don’t really want to have the following repartees with you:

you:  Woah!  You look ready to POP!

me:  HAHA (forced laugh, accompanied by a flat smile)…yeah.

You sir, or madam, have just made me feel like a ticking time bomb.  And a spectacle to be laughed at.  I’m just trying to buy some groceries in peace, okay?

you:  When is your due date?

me:  December 25th.

you:  (wide-eyed and smiling big enough for me to see your fillings)  OOOHHHHHH!   A CHRISTMAS BABY!!!  How SPECIAL!

me:  Mmm-hmm, I’m like a walking nativity scene.  (Because I have these lines I say now.  It’s easier to fall back on their deadpan humor than to think in real time.)

you:  OH-HAHA!  Do you know what you’re having?

me:  (again falling back on previous wit)  No…once we knew the due date we knew we couldn’t peek at our Christmas present.  (Why am I being funny?  It only encourages them!).

you:  (discusses merits of finding out or not finding out and tells me of every infant born in your acquaintance recently)

me:  (simultaneously thinking that I’m done going out in public, having had this exact conversation five times in one grocery store)

I JUST WANT TO BUY SOME GROCERIES AND GET MY HUGE SELF HOME TO MY DEAR COUCH.

So, dear strangers everywhere, here’s my guide to interacting with the heavily pregnant in your local grocery store, church, post office, etc:

1.  Smile a smile of solidarity.  Give a thumbs up sign if you must.

2.  Pick up anything she drops.  Because even if it’s her car keys, she’s weighing whether it’s worth it bending down that low to retrieve it.

3.  Let her into line ahead of you or open the door for her.  Rare is the ardent feminist who would take offense.

4.  Do not initiate any of the above conversations.  She’s probably using all of her mental powers to avoid a blatant waddle or peeing her pants when she sneezes.

5.  Clamp your teeth on your tongue whenever it wants to say anything about the amazing proportions she’s sporting.  She knows.  Oh, she knows.

Most of my friends dread going out in public the last weeks of their pregnancies; they cannot bear one more good-natured exclamation and bit of fawning curiosity.  It’s not that we’re curmudgeons, we’re just trying to make it through the day while a watermelon-sized ball weighs us down.  We look and feel awkward and we run the gauntlet of rubber-necking strangers who feel duty-bound to remind us of that.

So, dear stranger, now thoroughly equipped with the above five rules of engagement with the heavily pregnant, go forth and say no more! 🙂

Doctor’s Orders

“I have confirmed white coat hypertension,” I said with all seriousness as the young lady slid the blood pressure cuff around my arm.  It’s one of those things, like blushing, where one can see an emotion triggering a physiological response.  I fear that my blood pressure will read high, and so, it obliges me by doing so.  The numbers on the screen cause eyebrows to lift.

One brilliant nurse two weeks ago had lowered her eyebrows and told me to close my eyes.  “Where’s your most relaxing place?”, she asked.  “My family’s cabin in Montana, right down by the Dearborn River.”  “Okay, I want you to hear the water, see the mountains, imagine the trees and just be there.”

I felt silly and couldn’t keep a smirk off my face, but I obeyed.  I looked at the picture in my mind, heard the river’s gurgling song, saw the light catching on the ends of pine needles.  She took my blood pressure then, and the numbers came back perfect.

So this week after the high numbers had alarmed once again they told me to lay on my side and rest, taking the reading again afterwards.  Perfect.  The doctor looked me straight in the eye and said, “You need to rest more.  You are working your body too hard.”

I knew it was true.  I had been overworking my eight months-pregnant body trying to keep up with the demands of life with four littles.  Lots of cleaning, lots of laundry, lots of cooking and baking.  The pre-winter chores of pruning the trees and roses.  Organizing baby clothing up in the attic.  The stuff of life that simply needs doing.

_MG_6397_MG_6350IMG_6369But as the last of the birthdays has been celebrated with gusto (and a cooking class per Reuben’s request), and…

IMG_2707…the bees no longer need me puttering about (and my suit is maxed-out anyhow), it’s time for more of…

_MG_6382 …letting other people help out…

_MG_6346 …and doing more of this:

IMG_2688…doctor’s orders :).

 

Scarves, And Dark, And Glitter

I wrap my black wool coat around my protruding belly.  The top buttons close of course, but a gap opens wide just below and it always sort of looks like I’m a lady shoplifting a basketball.  I reach for my scarf, all it’s soft houndstooth goodness hopefully bringing some visual distraction from the fact that my coat does not close.

It’s the morning dark and I gather it as evidence that Christmas is in the air and I’ll be having this baby soon.

I am not one who minds the Christmas Creep; you know, the emergence of Christmas music and decor in the stores right after All Saints Day.  I love the coziness and sparkle and magic of Christmas and the longer my eyes and ears get to feast on it the better.  But this year I am particularly motivated to deck the halls; see, baby is due December 25.

IMG_2720 Salt dough ornaments painted and be-glittered.  image1  Up-cycled used ornaments glued onto a thrifted wire wreath.pomander Pomander.

Christmas music has been playing, glitter has been sprinkled liberally, and the hot glue gun is getting a workout, and I need these signs that birth is about to happen, just nearly here.

This little one within strains and kicks and pushes and my hand is only an inch away, and how I long to hold and kiss those feet that rest on my ribs.  I long to know, do I have another daughter?  Another son?  Who are you, little wiggler within?

I have grown to scorn the pumpkins and mums and dried corn and all things Fall.  Enough orange, bring on the red and green!  Bring on the snow and the sweaters and the mittens and the cookies (ahem) and the cozy dark which wraps our houses and makes our windows little squares of warm light.  Bring on the infant tucked warm and secure against me under a handmade quilt while the wild winds blow outside.

I think of Mary.  Of traveling and stress and the stable and giving birth alone, far from her mother and friends who could give her support.  Looking into a newborn’s eyes for the first time is breathtaking enough; how would it be to look down into the face of God Incarnate?  Immanuel, God With Us.  Oh, Mary, how was that?

I ordered a most special thing this year (and told my husband that it was my Christmas present from him, how thoughtful of me, hmm?).  It is a handmade Advent wreath made by Caleb Voskamp, and it has 24 candle holes to mark each day of Advent in a wooden spiral.  A wooden figurine of a pregnant Mary on a donkey accompanies the inward march of the candles.  It has an extension too to observe the 40 days of Lent, with a wooden figurine of Christ bent under a cross.  It’s quite beautiful, and I can’t wait to light the candles day by day as I anticipate a birthday and a birth.

_MG_4776And I hope I wait well.

Not Quite Prostrate

“I’m going to have to lay down.”

My husband’s eyes went wide, anticipating perhaps a bit of embarrassment for us both if I did so, right in the middle of the church service.  I weighed my options:  one, go to a back pew (assuming there was one empty) and lay down there with the risk that someone would be alarmed by the pregnant lady stretched out alone and would feel the need to intervene, two, go find somewhere in the lobby to lay down with the risk that someone would be even more greatly alarmed to find a pregnant lady on the floor, or three, stretch out right beside my husband on the pew and hope that any alarm would be mitigated by the proximity (and calm) of said husband.

See, I couldn’t breathe.

Standing or sitting there was an unbearable tightness across my chest, something I had woken up to, a small and closed-in feeling in my lungs.  Breathless.  I had to stretch out.  Now.  So I did.  And the sermon floated over me and I drew truth and air in.  I love to worship laid out prostrate, but this was not quite that, this was more a desperate flop, a bid for air.

It’s a vulnerable feeling, to be pregnant.  There are bodily discomforts which can strip one of the ability to walk well, to eat normally, to sleep soundly, to make it more than an hour without needing a restroom. There are fears about delivery, about the health of the baby, about whether the pain will swallow one whole.  Most of all, though, it is the inherent vulnerability of loving.  I have growing just under my skin a soul that I would die for, that I have surging waves of love for, and that is by no means guaranteed to me.  Maybe that is what miscarriage does to a mother’s heart.  Two cups are put before me, one bitter and one sweet, and I’m not told which one I’ll have to drink.  I wrap my arms around my swollen belly, I curl around that life.

We’re all vulnerable, though, aren’t we?  If we didn’t feel that way with our friends and family going through cancers of all sorts, or divorce, or other tragedies, the news would certainly fill in the gap with some harrowing concern.  I feel it each time the bus pulls away from the curb bearing three of my dear children away, away from my gaze and my protective arms to shield them from dangers, moral and material.  We are vulnerable, flesh and blood creatures, so easily snuffed out, so infinitely valuable.

“For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'”

-Acts 17:28

Each breath, each contraction of the heart, each blink of the eye, each message sent zipping from nerve to brain, all of it held, by Him.  Enabled by Him.  And He is not a god of guarantees.  He doesn’t give us a contract for a long and healthy life, He gives us the invitation to love, for however long we are here, vulnerably like He does.

“In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”  -Job 12:10

Knowing our shared fragility, let us be unafraid to lay down, to be seen as in need, to be found vulnerable.  Let’s not be embarrassed.  Sometimes you just have to breathe.  And that can’t always be done sitting or standing respectably.  We have to set aside pride to find needed relief.  And laying down?  It’s so close to laying prostrate, so close to fully-laid-out worship and reverence and surrender.  In a fire you need to crawl below the smoke to find air.  In the spiritual walk, you’ll need at times to go low, to be humbled, to be seen on your belly and gasping.  Even our Lord found that place as he awaited the tortures to come on the cross.

“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'”

-Matthew 26:39

And do you know the miracle of it?  When you do lay down?  There and then you find the hands reached out in concern, there you find the prayers whispered over you, there you find the church at it’s best.  You find God in the caring of the assembled Body.  And also? You help others find the floor.  To find a way down where the air is, where the healing is.  They feel the soul-deep permission to admit their needs and their weaknesses.

I could stand for the closing song.  My lungs had been filled and the tightness had eased and I could sing again.

 

The Work Of Our Hands

pomanderYesterday marked the beginning of the end of dignified walking.  I awoke to a sharp pain in my pelvis as I swung my legs out of bed.  It’s known in the pregnancy world as pelvic separation and is caused by a hormone known as “relaxin” (aptly named) which makes the ligaments in the pelvic girdle all loosey-goosey.  It means that when my legs aren’t moved in symmetry (which is, unfortunately, most always), there is sharp pain from the instability in the pelvis.  Hello, waddle.  Or even funnier, if I scoot sideways like I’m country line dancing there is great relief.  Feel free to laugh at that image.

I’d love to be attending to my gardens, but I simply can’t.  I need to prepare a blueberry bed by digging-in white pine needles to raise the acidity.  I need to dig up my elephant ear bulbs before first frost.  I need to prune my nectarine and apple trees.  I need to dig out a tree sapling that pretended to be part of the grapevine.  I need to prune back the raspberry and blackberry vines that fruited this year.  There are potatoes to dig, there are weeds to pull, and there is an unstable pelvis saying “no”.

So, I ordered a pelvic support belt yesterday morning while chair-bound.  Yes, I am going to be actually manually pulling myself together.  Until that blessed relief arrives, my creative endeavors are limited to what can be accomplished sitting.

I had to wonder last evening, as I lay in bed with my pregnant belly covered in bits and pieces of whole cloves, how many husbands go to sleep with their wives beside them making pomanders.  Round and round the orange the cloves marched in staid procession, each puncture releasing a waft of orange scent.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while; making these early American fragrant Christmas decorations, but had never gotten around to it.

“It’s amazing how strong that smells,” said my dear husband as I poked cloves into the orange.

“Yeah, and it’s supposed to still be fragrant for years if it dries nicely.  I’ve wanted to make these for a long time”.  I poked in more cloves and the thought came quick:  there are so many things I want to make.  I looked at my husband.  “What do you want to make?”

He looked puzzled.  “You know, like Tom really wants to make a wood canoe?”

“Yeah…I just don’t really have anything I want to make.”

How very different we are.  I have a list a mile long:  paper kites, red ware pottery, tinctures of all sorts, hundreds of soaps, handmade papers, chair caning, basket weaving, mosaics, etc.  I want to learn how to do everything.  Which is why I was poking an orange with cloves at ten at night while he enjoyed some peaceful, well-deserved, rest

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands.” -Psalm 90:17

peppermint mochaI find great satisfaction in making things, whether it be pie dough massing between my hands or cutting thick bars of soap or stringing a batch of words together.  It all brings me joy; the disparate parts becoming a new whole, a useful thing, a thing of beauty.

While not everyone has this impulse, or, ahem, compulsion, to create, I hope that each does have that deep satisfaction in their work.  For my husband it is taking boxes of fittings and lengths of pipe and with them providing clean drinking water and waste removal to countless homes and businesses.  Ever thought of how much of a blessing it is to be able to flush away waste?  To be able to shower in fresh water to your precise temperature preference?

I imagine the particular joy of an accountant, having all the numbers tabulated, filed, and organized.  I picture the satisfaction of a surgeon, having implanted a new organ in the place of a failing one and seeing it come to life.  And the farmer seeing his hay stacked high in the barn and the nanny soothing the baby to sleep in her arms and the grocery bagger slipping the last tidily filled bag into a cart.  Do we see our work as a blessing, as a joy?

I hope you do.

Even if you have to walk sideways or endure any other number of impediments or hardships.  I hope this day that you can feel the satisfaction of work done well.