Our world

after “This World” by Mary Oliver

I would like to create a home
in which there are rarely any messes,
but that seems impossible
given the fact that children live here,
considering the Legos that sprinkle
our playroom floor and prick
our soles,
a deck of cards fanned out 
across the coffee table,
oodles of library books littering
the kids’ bedrooms, each object a portal
to another realm where imagination reigns
and couch cushions meld
into the body of a race car,
a swingset transforms
into a shuttle rocketing to Mars,
stones unearthed
from the flowerbeds become 
marble.

“We could be rich!”
my son cries, cradling his prizes,
holding them out to me like offering.
Dirt speckles his grin,
dresses his hands and feet,
piles next to him on the patio,
I sigh,
send him to rinse up, pick up my phone
and scroll the news,
confronting a barrage of harshness.
I sigh again,
but he laughs, unaware,
spraying his palms clean with the garden hose
— or is it a fire-breathing dragon?

(I would like to create a world
in which there are rarely any messes
but that seems impossible
given the fact that humans live here, 
and they keep hurting
each other.)

I glance at my son’s hands,
fresh and five years young,
whatever they graze
shape-shifts from ordinary
to extraordinary.
Could they fashion
marble from our muck?
Maybe
we could be rich.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale — an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Ordinary Inspiration.”

On growth

Growth in this season doesn’t look like I thought it would.

Sometimes growth is a giant leap, a trust fall into the unknown.

Other times, it’s incremental, a series of small steps taken again and again. Growth is showing up to the path, putting one foot in front of the other, falling into bed at night exhausted, and waking up the next morning to walk again. It’s taking a detour or a rest when circumstance calls for it.

Almost always it’s a bit uncomfortable.

There’s a certain kind of vulnerability to growth too, trusting and leaning into the change and knowing there may be old habits you have to shed in order to reach your full potential. Like a gait that needs to be improved, change requires practice and time.

I’m leaning into that tension. I’m recognizing that much of the growth I have to do in this season is slow and unseen, and it cannot be rushed.

Ultimately, growth is a product of faithfulness and courage.

Being afraid

and showing up anyway —

a pilgrim on the path of life.

To ride on his own

bike ride

And on this splendid summer day, a boy learned to ride his bike.

He zoomed down the alley while Dad jogged behind him and Mom stood with the baby, holding up her camera. The boy couldn’t quite understand the funny look on Mom’s face — was she smiling or crying? Maybe both?

“Wonderful, wonderful,” she kept saying. And it was wonderful to push through the wobbles and ride strong and steady, to feel the slight breeze on his face, to gain speed, to move through the city all by himself. What kind of adventures awaited him this summer? Where would he go? Who would he become?

Head held high, he raced into the night.

Howl

Some days
I am more wolf
than woman,
and I am still learning
how to stop apologizing
for my wild.
—Nikita Gill

When the news breaks over NPR, I don’t handle it well. I hear the words “shooting” and “elementary school” and flick the radio off in an instant. Shoulders tense, I ease our SUV forward through a crowded intersection while my mind churns backwards, grasping for names: Stoneman Douglas. Columbine. Sandy Hook. (Later, a principal I know posts on his timeline a list of U.S. schools traumatized by gun violence. It is 245 lines deep.)

“What happened, Mom?” My five-year-old calls out from the backseat of our SUV. His three-month-old brother fusses next to him, hungry.

I stare out at the graveyard we pass daily on our commute home from preschool and try to make sense of this moment. Miles away in Uvalde, Texas, there are moms and dads who won’t pick up their children from school tonight. Oh God, those parents…

“Mom?”

“Something really terrible happened, sweetheart,” I say, keeping my voice steady. I should be trembling, I should be sobbing, but instead I’m numb to this fresh punch of violence (I’m still trying to process/grieve the last two mass shootings). I need to tell my oldest what’s going on, but I can’t bring myself to say it. Not yet.

Last week, we visited his new elementary school for an open house. My incoming kindergartener wore a blue dress shirt and his dad helped him comb and part his golden hair. Hand tight in mine, he roamed the halls, later breaking free to run up the staircase and skim his fingers over the desks in various classrooms. I watched him, so tall and so curious, beaming with pride. How would he grow here? Who would he become?

Today’s news reminds me that kindergarten is the milestone I’ve been dreading since he was a tiny babe fluttering inside my belly. Because I live in the U.S., where we ask school age children to kneel under their desks for active shooter drills and pray ours will be lucky enough to graduate alive rather than make meaningful cultural and legislative changes to prevent school shootings. Statistically, these events are rare but the terror that it could happen to us haunts me. In 2018 with a pack of angry parents, I walked Chicago’s streets holding a sign that read “I’m marching for my son,” hoping against hope that by the time he got to kindergarten our country would address this travesty. Shamefully, we haven’t.

The baby wiggles and fusses in my arms as I unearth him from the carseat to nurse and send his older brother to fetch himself an applesauce. Once they’re fed, I busy myself cooking dinner and scrolling. Distracted, I’m slow to marinate and bake the tofu, and I also miss tired cues from my youngest. When my husband gets home, it’s clear to him the baby needs a nap.

Overtired wails fill the walls of our home but fail to loosen the primal scream caught in my throat. 19 innocent babies gunned down by a guy with an AR-15. Two teachers too. What kind of madness is this? My husband is on baby duty, and I keep fixing dinner, but I want so badly to stop and wail with our child.

When the tofu bowls are ready, I can’t eat. Instead I go to the nursery, scoop up our babe and nurse him down to sleep in the rocking chair, one hand cradling his body while the other grips my smart phone. I scroll, scroll, scroll. I text a friend: I feel gutted. Then I close my apps and make a donation to Everytown for Gun Safety.

For the remainder of the night, I stay there, clutching my youngest. He sleeps comfortably in my arms. I sleep fitfully, waking often to turn the news over in my mind and debate our school choices. Could I homeschool? If I keep my five-year-old here with us will that be enough to keep him safe? Should we relocate to Canada? Like a wolf in her den, I scan my environment for threats, afraid to release my pups because what if they are hunted?

In the morning, I nurse the baby and change his diaper. I make a plan to contact my senators, Dick and Tammy, when the house is quiet. I kiss my eldest twice and hug him hard before he leaves with his dad for preschool. “I love you, Mom!” he cries, light-up Sketchers flashing in the doorway. “I love you too, buddy!” I whisper shakily.

All day I follow news from Robb Elementary, refreshing my Times app for updates between tummy time, naps and breastfeeding. I read about the sweet lives of the lost children and their heroic teachers. I wolf down every bite of the story I can, but my appetite — for what? a reason? a word of hope? — remains unsatisfied. There is one image I can’t get out of my head, a photograph of a woman, possibly a mother, mid-sob, her dark hair spilling over her loved one’s shoulder, where she rests her head. Her eyes are wild; she is part wolf like me. Was this the moment she heard she lost her baby?

I wonder if this is how God cries too — like a bewildered, grieving mother.

In a couple hours, I will pick up my son from preschool again, eyes watery at the sight of him. I will ask him how his day went and make him breakfast for dinner. I will tell him over pancakes what happened at Robb Elementary without giving much detail. “This makes me mad and sad,” he’ll reply. “I’m mad and sad too,” I’ll say. “So is God. God weeps with us.” My son will then ask why it happened. I’ll answer with a half-truth: I don’t know. (I do know that complacency won’t prevent future tragedies. Why are we being held back from common sense gun reform? Why haven’t we seen new mental health initiatives? Why not both? Why do many of our elected officials offer thoughts and prayers then keep doing… nothing?) We’ll hang our heads together. I’ll pray, Lord, those sweet, innocent children — our children — did not deserve this brutal ending. We don’t deserve to live like this. Lord, hear our prayer. Oh Lord, have mercy on us.

I can’t do this.

Not yet.

For the time being, I become a wolf. I hold my baby close and howl.

Time to fly

Last Wednesday, I bid farewell to a job I loved. It was my dream job, the job that combined my passion for words with my deepest held beliefs, a job that rattled and refined that faith, a job where I encountered the Divine in the voices of others. It was more than a job, it was a call.

This call sent me to Budapest, Boston, Johannesburg, Houston. I met Lutheran parishioners, pastors and neighbors on the margins — some who fled their homes to find haven in the U.S., some still searching for a home in this country. I heard hymns of praise and songs of lament. I witnessed ministries that fed bellies and souls. With my trusty laptop and reporter’s notebook, I captured it all, being careful to record the truth, no matter how inconvenient. When I sat down to craft a story, each line felt like a prayer. The work tethered me to hope.

Most days, I worked from the office. Pre-pandemic, I had a cube with a view of the courtyard, my space nestled next to five of my favorite coworkers. I met dear friends here — kind, talented people who laughed and cried and did excellent work alongside me.

This is also the place I worked when I became a mother.

All in all, I spent nine years stewarding sacred stories for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — years of listening and telling, growing and becoming.

There are occasions in life when you look around and realize that the tidy nest you built no longer fits, and you’ll need to leave in order to fly. After much prayer and discernment, I resigned to pursue my vocations as a mother and a writer.

There will be time to reflect more, to announce what’s coming next.

For now, I’ll close with this: It was an honor and a privilege to play a role in making known the immeasurable love of God.

Where I’ve prayed (an incomplete list)

At the foot of Hart Lake, wisps of breath swirling in the alpine air, marveling at the breadth of sky and pines and Cascade Mountains, feeling so small, feeling the expansiveness of God’s presence;

In the Chapel of the Resurrection for 10 p.m. worship, surrounded by classmates, basking in the glow of candlelight, singing “Jesus Christ is the light of the world — the light no darkness can overcome”;

On an operating table at Lutheran General, hearing his cries, seeing his face for the first time, tears of joy rivening my cheeks, my heart full of awe and thanksgiving;

In the kitchen, peeling and chopping carrots,
swishing the mirepoix with hot olive oil, delighting in each crack and sizzle;

At the beach in Cinque Terre, raking my fingers through fine sand, sweat beading at my chest, already sore from the day’s hike, already dreaming of the night’s gelato, young and alive and enamored with the world’s beauty;

Snuggled up in my son’s bed, asking for forgiveness and safekeeping, pleading for peace, giving thanks for shelter, love and family;

On my yoga mat, arms splayed out wide, forehead and knees and palms pressing down, surrendering to gravity, my whole body curled in a posture of devotion;

At Fourth Presbyterian Church, pausing in the aisles to notice how to the stained glass crafts a mosaic of color on floor, lifting my eyes to the pews to see the ones who find sanctuary from the biting Chicago wind on an ordinary weekday;

On the sidewalk with my son, knees powdered with pastel, chalking rainbows, hearts and flowers, the words “Run with Maud” and “We’re in this together”;

Flat on my back in the middle of a field of wildflowers, exasperated by negative pregnancy tests and abandoned drafts going nowhere and the isolation of the pandemic, lamenting the loss of life and lack of justice, searching the clouded sky for hope and answers, whispering, “God, are you out there?”;

Facing the altar of Resurrection Lutheran Church, cupping my hands to receive the bread, the body of Christ, the grace that grounds me and sets me free;

On the pages of my journal, scribbling thoughts, seeking wisdom, searching for direction, asking God what would you have me do, how will you use me now, how can I attune my ear to your calling;

At my childhood dinner table, fingers interlaced, head bowed, voice intoning “let these gifts to us be blessed”;

One of the holiest places I prayed: In the woods near the North Branch Trail with my son, clutching a dandelion puff, scattering seeds into the breeze with one exhale, wondering where and when they’ll take root and blossom.

Eugene Peterson said, “Prayers are tools not for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.”

I am trying to remember this, that prayer is less about asking and more hearing. That I can encounter God in the woods or in a sanctuary, at the table or under a veil of stars. That prayer can happen anywhere, if only we have ears to listen.

Adam Richard: A redemptive birth story

I fastened my hospital-issued smock and hefted my achy body onto the bed. Machines hummed. The smell of disinfectant permeated the air. A Christmas morning kind of excitement buzzed inside of me. Today was the day! After 39 weeks, we were going to meet our second child.

A fierce kick jabbed my belly. I looked over at my husband and grinned. “Baby boy’s moving and grooving in here. He’s ready.” 

“Oh good,” Jay said, looking up from his phone. He surveyed the room’s white walls, tiled floor and medical bassinet. “Babe, I’m pretty sure this is where you stayed after your first c-section,” he said.

“Really? This room…” I said, trailing off, scrutinizing the space. Five years ago, I came to this hospital to deliver our first child. After hours in a birthing suite, contractions pulsating through my pelvis, fear rising in my throat, body laboring to deliver and failing, I was rushed to the operating room. Following our newborn Jack was swept away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with my husband, and I supposedly landed here. “I don’t remember it,” I continued. “Maybe I was in shock?”

To mother a NICU babe is to walk the fine line between fear and joy, hope and heartache, holding on and letting go. We were lucky enough to bring our miracle home within the week, but like the c-section scar above my uterus, the trauma and relief of it all still marked me. Something about today’s procedure felt like closure. If this could just go smoothly, I prayed. If you could give us peace, O God. Please.

A resident appeared at the front of my bed with a clipboard in one hand and pen poised in the other. My nurse stood at my side, working to attach my IV while the resident fired off a series of medical questions:

Any allergies?

No.

Do you smoke or drink?

No.

Is this your first c-section?

No.

What went unsaid: the first was an emergency. My OB, who performed the surgery, recommended this planned c-section for our second baby. I wished she was here now so I could stop answering these questions. 

The IV finally landed, pricking my hand. I flinched. “Sorry,” the nurse said. “That had to hurt.”

“Any other surgeries?” the resident asked.

“Yes, I, um, had a D&C last spring,” I replied, straining to keep my voice even.  

Her face dropped. “I’m sorry.”

I glanced toward Jay from his chair near the bed. He grimaced. I hated how this line of questioning laid bare our greatest pains. I would always remember the baby we lost, but I would not let grief darken this joyful day. “It’s okay,” I said, placing my hand over my belly instinctively. A tremor of movement grounded me.

Mercifully, the resident had reached the end of her list and excused herself. The heart rate monitor quickened, its percussive beeps filling the void. 

“Your baby’s heart rate just kicked up a notch,” the nurse clucked. “He’s fine. He must know today is his birthday!”

“Oh yes,” I laughed, sensing the tension in the air dissipate. “Let’s get this kid out of here!”

***

Medical staff in blue scrubs and hair nets milled about, readying the Operating Room for surgery. I sat on the edge of the table and thought of Jack. My five-year-old would love all the blue here — it’s his favorite color. Would he also love his baby brother? Or would the transition from only child to big brother upset him?

From the age of three he’d cajoled, “Can you get me a baby brother?”

“It’s not that simple,” I’d explained.”You can’t just ‘get’ them. Babies are a gift from God. All we can do is pray for one, and even then it might not work out. ” 

So, during bedtime prayers Jack began asking God for a baby brother. Jay and I prayed too. For years, I thought the answer might be “no.” Today, we’d get to hold our holy “yes.”

“We’re going to have you curl your torso forward,” a nurse commanded, bringing me to the present. Tightness coursed through my body — Jay wasn’t yet in the OR, and I missed his calming presence. Softening her voice, she said, “I’ll hold your body against this pillow, like I’m giving you a hug. Ready?” 

I held my breath and leaned forward while my anesthesiologist began his work. The position grew more and more uncomfortable by the minute. Soon my legs would begin to tingle, I knew. Soon they would position me on the table. And then what?

Up until this point the c-section had sat on my calendar as a finishing line, the glory at the end of a marathon pregnancy that included two jarring hospital visits for monitoring preterm contractions. But it wasn’t the finish line at all — first, I had to endure this surgery.  

Unlike my last c-section, I’d be awake for much of the procedure. I’d been so focused on making it to this day I hadn’t considered what it would feel like. I shifted in my seat. 

“Erin, I’m gonna need you to be still just a little longer,” the anesthesiologist directed. 

“Almost done,” the nurse murmured. “Lean into me again.” 

With one final push, the dosing was complete. A fuzzy feeling crawled up my legs while the nurses repositioned them on the table and assisted me in laying down. While they prepped my stomach and groin for surgery, I felt a strange sensation, almost as if my soul was suspended over my body. Let this go smoothly, I prayed. Let his life begin peacefully. 

Jay appeared at my side, bringing me down to earth. I couldn’t feel my legs or wiggle my toes but I felt his hand on my shoulder, an anchor.

“How are you doing, babe?” Jay asked.

“OK,” I exhaled. “A little nervous.”

“You’re doing great. Once this is over, we’ll have our baby.”

When my OB entered the room, I don’t remember what she said but I do remember hearing her voice and feeling comforted.

Tools clattered behind the blue curtain separating me from the lower half of my body. Surgery had begun. As the medical team worked, I busied myself with visions of holding my newborn skin-to-skin post-delivery, an experience I didn’t get with Jack. The nurse had assured me this time would be different. 

The surgery progressed slowly. At one point, my OB called for extra support and I felt my breathing quicken. A queasy sensation came over me. I turned my head right, then left, then faced the ceiling. Was this what a panic attack feels like? I turned to the anesthesiologist and said, “I think I’m feeling sick.” 

“I’m adjusting your medicine,” he said. “Hang in there — you’re almost done.”

Almost done — almost at the finish line. I closed my eyes and focused on the warmth of Jay’s hand on my shoulder. My breath, flowing in and out. The cold table against my upper back.

Something was happening behind the blue curtain. “Nay, nay, nay!” rang out across the OR. 

In a moment reminiscent of the opening to The Lion King, a chunky baby held by gloved hands soared above the curtain. Our Adam. He was alive. He was healthy — he looked so healthy. I blinked back tears of joy.

“He’s here,” I whispered to Jay. “He’s finally here.”

“I know!’ he replied, smiling wide. “Good job, babe.”

While the staff cleaned and tested Adam, my surgery continued behind the curtain. I felt slight pressure as the medical team worked to clear the placenta from my uterus. 

A friendly nurse placed a swaddled Adam in Jay’s arms so we could greet him. I kissed his forehead and turned to Jay. “He’s just so beautiful,” I said, eyes shining.

“You have to get a picture,” the nurse gushed, and just like that Jay was handing over his phone and we were crowding around our newborn. 

In the photo, Adam’s sweet face squishes against mine while Jay’s hand cradles his small body. You can see my oxygen tube, hospital smock and silly hairnet. Jay, too, wears a hairnet with his mask and scrubs. You can see a mom and dad beaming so big, we appear to be glowing.

***

Daylight fell softly through the blinds of my maternity suite. Propped up in bed, I held Adam to my chest and studied his face while Jay dozed on the pullout couch in front of us. Adam’s eyes may have been shut tight, but he was awake and hungry, his tiny mouth nuzzling my skin in search of nourishment. 

It’s funny how some life events create a full circle. Adam was born five years and two days after his older brother. In the same hospital. Same procedure. Same doctor. Like his brother, Adam is a miracle.

Two boys born five years apart was not my original vision for my family. I had a plan for us and my life now looks nothing like I thought it would. In fact, it’s better.

While I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, I trust that God is the author of all that is good. I trust in little graces — moments when God’s presence shines through and wakes us up to our identity as God’s beloved. Preceded by a difficult birth, two cancer diagnoses, a pandemic and a miscarriage, Adam is a very good gift only God could bring forth.

Adam began to nay softly. My free hand positioned him in my arms for breastfeeding, laying his body sideways atop a stack of hospital pillows. The movement took herculean effort after surgery. I felt the sharp jab of his mouth latching to my breast, then leaned my head back against a pillow.

In Hebrew, Adam means “(hu)man” or “the one formed from the ground.” Jay and I chose his name less for its biblical origins and more because we liked how it sounded. Nevertheless, I can only attribute Adam’s arrival to the faith that grounds me. God had given me a second chance to become a mother. God had held Adam and me throughout surgery, keeping us safe. And God was holding us now as we learned to love each other. 

Satisfied for the moment, Adam pulled his head back and pursed his lips, settling into sleep. Soon I’d need to rouse Jay so he could help me swaddle him. For the time being, I cradled our little grace in the sunlight, delighting in every breath he took.

Newborn standard time

These are the days of
his small head nestled
against my chest
skin — velvet smooth, unmarred by time —
to
skin — a soft place
to
dream,
drink,
rest,
grow (some days,
I swear, I can see
him thickening
in the shelter of my arms)
and some days blur into nights
cradling him close
feeding
and being fed
by his warmth
our two hearts
beating in sync
his slate blue eyes
searching for mine,
which of course, are bloodshot
and glad (some nights, I swear, holding him
feels like heaven on earth)
some nights
I feel suffocated
by all he needs
and these are the nights that blend into days
when golden light lingers
at the edge of the crib
each day becoming a little longer
as if to say,
“Take heart,
change is coming,
so be sure to
treasure these days.”

A prayer for my son after his fifth birthday

Dear Jack,

The morning you turned five, you rocketed out of your bed first thing and crawled into ours. I held you close and wished you a happy birthday. I asked, “Are you excited to be five?” You squealed “Yes!” and woke up your father.

The night before I’d baked you a chocolate birthday cake with blue buttercream frosting and a Superman cake topper, just like you requested. You love blue, and Superman is your favorite hero. At bedtime, you always ask for “a little superhero story” featuring him, you and our dog, “Super Gussy.”

I’m not sure how or when you decided Superman was your favorite hero. All I know is after you were born, your grandmother gave me a stuffed bear dressed in a Superman shirt and cape. I think she meant it to represent me, though I felt anything but heroic. Nothing about your birthday had gone according to plan — and I love a good plan —  resulting in an emergency c-section for me and your stay in the NICU. Honestly, I thought I’d failed you. 

Yet five years later, I can see the strength in both of us. You bravely scale trees and the heights of playgrounds. You’re sounding out phonics so well and on the verge of reading. You love science experiments and going to swim lessons. I’m proud of the super boy you’ve become, with your kind heart, generous spirit and boundless imagination. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned by mothering you.

My prayer for you at five is that, when faced with conflict, you’ll make a heroic choice. That you’ll voice your values and strive for peaceful resolution. 

I pray you keep noticing the beauty of creation and urging me to join you. 

I pray you continue loving and learning from stories — from your children’s Bible, favorite shows and books that inspire you. I trust you’ll glean empathy and wisdom from grappling with difficult stories.

I pray you see yourself and everyone you meet as a beloved child of God, including those who think, pray or look differently than you.

Most of all, I pray you know how deeply Dad and I love you and how deeply your Creator loves you. That you keep sharing that love with your neighbors near and far.

Love,
Mom

Scenes from a pregnancy

nursery

Anxiety loop 

My stomach feels too tight. I shift in my desk chair and place one hand on my pregnant belly, feeling for movement. The pressure remains, so strong I could bounce a penny off of it. The kick never comes; my baby is likely sleeping.

Is this Braxton Hicks? The start of real contractions? Something scary? These questions circle like vultures, eating away at my peace. 

At 38 weeks pregnant, I’ve felt this way before. I know I need to up my water intake and possibly lie down. The problem is, I’m supposed to be working. A full Outlook calendar stares at me from the screen of my laptop. Can I make my 11 a.m. call? Will I have to cancel my 1:30 p.m. interview?

I feel my belly again. No, the answer is obviously no. I guzzle the rest of my water bottle, message my coworkers that I’ll be offline for a bit and waddle over to the couch. 

Smartphone in hand, I summon a message my nurse sent weeks ago after I sent her a frantic note about third trimester belly tightening. On that awful day, I feared I’d missed an important signal from my body. I feared early labor. I feared the worst: damage. Perhaps this is lingering trauma from miscarriage — the inability to trust one’s own womb to carry life. 

The nurse wrote back quickly: “as your uterus continues to grow, the strain will increase, which may bring on Braxton Hicks contractions. No need to be alarmed just make sure you are getting enough rest and water. Pay attention to frequency and if they become painful.” I scanned her words a dozen times until I felt better.

Today I read the message again: No need to be alarmed. The vultures dissipate. I drop my phone on my chest and succumb to a nap.

Joyful bucket list 

I’m not one who enjoys being pregnant. To clarify: I’m deeply grateful to be pregnant, but I don’t love the associated bodily changes. Not the severe nausea nor the  pregnancy insomnia. Neither the back pain nor the sweats (in the middle of winter, no less!). And don’t even get me started on the weight gain. 

From another angle, I see this parade of pregnancy pains telling me that my body is doing a miraculous thing: creating life. 

At the moment, my chest is simmering. Is this the roasted cauliflower I ate for dinner? I dig around in the cabinet for the chalky tablets I take to relieve heartburn, another side effect of pregnancy. I throw back two and remind myself to be grateful that my stomach is no longer tight and the countdown to baby is less than a week away. 

Flipping open the pages of my journal, I make a post-pregnancy bucket list of all things I hope to enjoy once baby has arrived:

An ice cold glass of Riesling
Sushi and sashimi
Turkey sandwiches
NOT having to pee constantly
Soft cheeses
Saunas and hot tubs
Hot yoga class
NOT feeling like a beached whale
Breathing easier
Less worry (maybe?)
Baby snuggles!!

The list does its job. And so has the heartburn medicine. I put down the pen and picture myself holding and nursing our new little boy. I can’t help but smile like crazy. 

How does it feel?

One evening after our son’s asleep, my husband Jay and I cozy up on our leather couch to watch Station Eleven. Here’s a show that projects the future after a deadly pandemic, cast through the eyes of individuals who are inextricably linked by a graphic novel of the same name. Given our current context, we find it both haunting and hopeful.

Tonight’s episode centers on Jeevan, our favorite character. We wince when a crippling accident separates him from the girl he’s been parenting, landing him in a makeshift hospital filled with pregnant ladies. Jeevan’s so sick with worry for the girl he abandoned he looks physically ill. When a patient embraces him, he holds on hard and asks her, “How does it feel to be pregnant?”

I grimace. Countless times throughout this pregnancy I’ve been asked “How are you feeling?” Most of the time I’ve responded with “Fine,” peppered with a physical shift: “Fine, but I’m not sleeping.” “Fine! The baby’s really kicking.” “Fine, but my back aches.”

“How does it feel to be pregnant?” is an entirely different question.

The mama-to-be rests her head on Jeevan’s shoulder and answers honestly: “Scary.” 

Tears arrive unbidden. Never would I ever expect to feel so seen by this show. I turn toward Jay and remark, “That’s it. Sometimes, that’s exactly how I feel being pregnant — scared.”

The promise

When I met my dear friend at Starbucks last summer, we had a lot to catch up on. She told me she’d changed jobs and moved to a different home. We traded updates on our writing. I shared about my miscarriage. 

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Erin,” she said, setting down her coffee. “How are you doing?” 

“Honestly? I’m up and down. I’m still devastated, but I’m also pregnant again…”

She let out a little shriek. “Congratulations!”

“Thank you!” I answered, beaming. “I feel a little guilty for how happy that makes me.” I took a sip of my chai tea latte. “I’m also pretty terrified.”

My friend nodded and furrowed her brow. She asked, “Can I give you some advice?” 

“Yeah, I’ll absolutely take it.” She rarely doles out advice so I knew this was important.

“After I miscarried, then got pregnant again, I felt the same way as you. Actually, I was so anxious I struggled to enjoy it,” she said, her eyes growing a little misty. I clutched my chai, hanging onto her words. “Please don’t forget to enjoy it,” she continued. “Eat the ice cream, buy cute new pregnancy clothes, take pictures of your belly bump. Don’t let worry steal your joy.”

Now my eyes had begun to mist. “I promise,” I said, meeting her gaze. “I promise to enjoy it.”

Nesting   

My task for this weekend is to pack my hospital bag. I’ve been telling everyone who asks that we have everything we need for our new baby, however, once I start packing, I realize there are some things we can’t find in the storage bins from our firstborn’s baby days. 

I pull up my Target app and start searching for the missing items: one new bottle brush for baby — click. New Lansinoh cream for nursing — click. A soft crib sheet studded with stars, a new nursing cover, extra deodorant for my hospital stay. Click, click, click. 

I hit one final click to confirm my purchases and announce to Jay in the kitchen, “That’s the last of it!” 

“The last of what?” he asks, looking up from the dishes. 

“The last of our baby list,” I say, striding to the refrigerator to cross “pack hospital bag” off our baby to-do list. “I just need you to pick up this Target order and we’ll be set.” 

“Sure babe,” Jay replies, turning a dish over in a stream of water.

“This is exciting! Thank you for all your help,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “I’m lucky to have you.”

I turn on my heel and enter our nearby bedroom, which will also serve as a nursery for our newborn. My son’s old crib sits against the far wall by the windows. Kitty-corner stands our maplewood dresser, once covered with picture frames, now donning a changing pad, baby monitor and sound machine. My eyes land on our newest addition: a dove gray glider, a gift from Jay to replace the old rocking chair I used to nurse our son Jack. I settle into the glider and issue a little exhale. It is so comfortable. 

Just then Jack ambles around the corner and leaps into my lap. “Hey buddy,” I say, folding my arms around him and readjusting him so he isn’t pressing on my belly. 

“What are you doing, Mom?”

“Oh just getting some things ready for baby brother,” I say, combing my fingers through his straight blond hair. “Are you ready to be a big brother?”

“Uh-huh… uh, Mom?” he asks, looking up at me. 

“What’s up buddy?”

“Does the baby already know how to swim?”

I giggle and pat my stomach. Jack’s learning to swim himself right now and making good progress in his lessons, that must be where this question came from. “Your little brother’s swimming in my tummy, I suppose. But can he swim like you in the pool? No. Maybe when he’s old enough — closer to your age — you can help teach him?”

“I’m so excited for the baby to come!” he replies, leaning into my arms and gently pressing his arm around my belly.

 “Me too, buddy,” I say, relishing his closeness. “You’re going to be a great big brother.”

Counting kicks  

I’m at my final doctor’s appointment before my scheduled C-section. Two straps belt my belly, one holding a circular device that monitors the baby’s heartbeat. The other holds a piece that monitors my contractions. In my left hand is a clicker I’m using to count baby kicks while I take this non-stress test.

Bah-thump-bah-thump-bah-thump goes the baby’s heartbeat, intermixed with the fake laughter of the daytime talk show playing on the television in this room. I press my clicker on occasion, hearing a delayed beep.

After 25 minutes, my OB arrives to check the monitor. “I want to keep you here a little longer,” he says, eyes still on the screen. “The baby’s heartbeat slowed for a bit. We need some more time to watch him.”

With that, he leaves. My heart pounds in my chest, drowning out the bah-thumps of baby’s heartbeat. The talk show hosts’ chatter grows more annoying by the minute. Time slows to a trickle. The vultures return, nibbling away at my once calm demeanor.

Just when I think I can no longer take it, my OB returns. Suddenly he’s saying, “You’re good to go!” and I’m releasing the breath I didn’t even know I was holding. 

Later, in the exam room, he asks if I have any questions. “Just one,” I answer, gripping the edges of the exam table. “How do I deal with all this anxiety? I’m so nervous for the baby to come . . . Honestly I’ve felt this way a lot while expecting.” I can’t bring myself to add “because of the miscarriage.” He knows though. He has my chart in front of him. 

My OB stands and places one hand on mine and squeezes it. “This baby is healthy and beautiful,” he says, holding eye contact. “You’re going to be fine.” 

I float out of the office, my steps a little lighter.

Cartwheels in the dark 

At 3 a.m., I wake with a string of words in my head. Darkness floods the bedroom. I fling my arm out and scrounge inside my nightstand for a pen and sticky note to scribble the words before I forget them. I’m not sure where this sentence is going, but I know I need to capture it, however illegibly, so I can go back to sleep. 

Finished writing, I reposition myself on my left side, one hand resting over my belly. Mercifully, my baby’s moving. First I feel a flutter, then a jiggle. Next comes the cartwheeling, a pleasant rolling in my womb. 

I recall the promise I made to my friend and my OB’s words about this healthy, beautiful baby. I realize what I’m feeling is joy, pure joy, alongside an ever present twinge of worry. While I can’t extinguish fear completely, I believe I can carry both. I want to savor these magic days before everything changes.

I can’t wait to meet you, I think, imagining some sort of telepathy between me and my baby. “I love you,” I whisper aloud, including his full name, all six syllables of it. His presence is a gift. A miracle. Our hope in the midst of this never-ending pandemic. With every cartwheel in the dark, my joy increases.