The Meaning of Sacrifice

So I’ve arranged the babysitter, pumped the milk, dragged the gear, set up the port-a-crib, mentally prepared for a rough night if the baby doesn’t like being shuffled around, and made it to home church, and only ten minutes late! Now what? In the midst of the monumental task of showing up, have I thought about how to serve someone, what to contribute? Have I thought about how to make all that sacrifice count for something? Having a baby and doing “hard” things, such as not staying home and going to bed at 9pm every night, has given me a new sense of urgency. My first time back at the high school group after Simon’s birth, I thought: I’m here, I’m awake, I have a sitter, I have to make this count.

Everyone says having a kid teaches you a whole new level of sacrifice. This has proved true for me, but not exactly in the way I thought it would. As a disclaimer I should say, I have it easy. I’m a stay-at-home mom with one happy, healthy baby, and I have a supportive and helpful husband, parents, and group of friends. I don’t claim to be making any huge or unusual sacrifices but here’s what I’m learning.

I thought the big sacrifices of having a newborn would be the sleepless nights, crying baby, restricted freedom, changing diapers, and being flabby. Four out of five came true and are challenging, but it’s not really the hard part. First of all, you don’t have a choice. When your baby’s hungry in the middle of the night you don’t decide if you’re going to sacrifice for him or her. You just get up and feed the baby. Secondly, although you’d rather be sleeping than up at 3am, you are happy in a general sense, if not at the moment, to be taking care of your baby. I like taking care of Simon. I wanted to have a baby and take care of him.

What’s really harder for me is choosing to go out and sacrifice for others, when I already have Simon’s needs to tend to. Changing his diaper isn’t that hard and isn’t optional anyway, but making the conscious choice and all the effort to go help a friend with their mess is hard to me. Because to go serve someone else means what? I have to be awake. This feels like a huge sacrifice when you have a newborn! (I don’t know what I’ll do when I have a second kid. Drink more coffee I think.) And maybe Simon’s nap will get messed up. And I have to pack up him and myself and the pack and play and stroller and whatever else, and get somewhere on time. And it means I can’t clean my house or catch up on the laundry. And  ideally I should think and pray about this person before I show up so I have something more to offer than, “I’m tired.”

Even now that I’m out of newborn zombie mode, I find myself learning more about what it means to sacrifice. Which is a nicer way of saying I’m learning how selfish I am. Take, for example, my first night volunteering in the church nursery. It was a small group of babies and everyone was good. But it was during Simon’s catnap and he couldn’t sleep. By the time we left he was clearly over-tired, a state Simon didn’t handle well (see previous blogs). I tried to put him to sleep at my friend’s house so I could hang out with a few other moms, but he cried for an hour. He went to bed at home but woke throughout the night and was cranky the whole next day.

“I never want to go to CT again!” I whined to myself while nursing cranky pants the next day. “What was even the point? I didn’t talk to a single person.” (Not true, I talked to the other parents and nursery volunteers.) Then in a moment of sanity I remembered that every week other people miss out to watch my baby, while I get to attend the Bible study and socialize.

I also realized something slightly less obvious: we sacrifice not only for our kids, but for the community we want to raise our kids in. In the end, it’s not so much a sacrifice as an investment. I know in the end I’ll lose nothing compared to what I gain. It really does take a village, and I have an invaluable group of friends who want to raise our kids to love God and others. Simon will have a second family, a group of people to turn to when he won’t listen to me, or when I don’t know the answers.

It’s not just a down-the-road hope, either. Simon already loves being with his friends and seeing new people and places. It’s great that he’s learning to be flexible. Our recent camping trip to Florida raised more than a few eyebrows, i.e., who in their right mind takes a baby camping for vacation? Well, Simon proved all the naysayers wrong by having the happiest week of his life. Camping with a baby had its challenges but I did a thorough analysis of the fun-to-effort ratio and we’re going back next year. (I really need to stop auditing my fun, but that’s a topic for another blog.)




Giants in the Land

I can’t believe he’s finally here, and already three months old. I definitely can believe it’s taken me three months to finally get back to blogging! I never even posted my last blog about being pregnant (site wasn’t working) and now here I am, trying to remember all the things I wanted to blog about over the last 3 months. I’m just going to start at the beginning and see how far I get.

On a Sunday night I stood up from the toilet and saw a few drops of liquid hit the bathroom floor. A huge adrenalin rush was followed by denial: my water didn’t break. But after 5 minutes of making sure I wasn’t just peeing myself, I broke something else: the news to Neil. He reacted with denial as well. But half an hour later when the contractions started, we finally believed it. Very soon they were only two minutes apart, and at midnight we headed to the hospital.

At exactly 5 am, Simon was born. My shock somewhat blocked my emotions. I was so happy to hold him, but it was so surreal I couldn’t get my mind, much less my heart, around it. Later that day, amidst a marathon of visitors, my feelings started catching up with reality and I thought Simon was the best thing ever. Despite the annoyances of hospital life, my stay was pure joy, because Simon was there. The second day, the first wave of postpartum emotions hit and I started crying with joy as Neil hugged me. Our boy had arrived!

Simon slept almost constantly in the hospital. I had a hard time waking him up to eat every couple hours. I, on the other hand, barely slept for days. I was in labor through Sunday night, barely slept Monday with all the visitors, and kept waking up that night every time Simon spit up mucus. He sounded like he was choking and it terrified me.

We went home on a beautiful sunny day, with Simon so tiny in his car seat. I didn’t feel too scared to leave or when we first got home, but that night the fear hit. Here was this precious baby whom I’d nurtured for nine months but just finally met. He was so tiny, so vulnerable, and so invaluable to me. What if he died? The first few nights I kept crying because I was so scared. Neil prayed with me and I tried to trust God in a new, hard way.

I’m not sure how to describe postpartum emotions, except to say they’re the most intense I’ve ever felt. It’s this huge significant life event of bringing your child into the world plus sleep deprivation plus hormones that are like PMS times ten. I kept crying because I was so overjoyed or so overtired or so over-scared, or so all three. Then in the midst of my fear I remembered a song I heard while visiting South Street Ministries church:

He did not lead us out just to bring us back again. (4x)

Though there be giants in the land, I will not be afraid.

He brought us out to bring us into the Promised Land.

This became my anthem and Simon’s lullaby. After a long hard wait for Simon’s arrival, I learned to believe God would use Simon for good in my life, whatever happened. Learning to trust God with your child doesn’t happen all at once; surely I’m only in the primer stage. But I kept singing and praying, and Simon kept living. And I’ve never been happier. When you have a baby you realize you were made to be a mom.

It’s a Boy!

I can’t believe it’s been 14 weeks since I last posted! Here is a blog I wrote two months ago and kept forgetting to post:

It’s a boy! I can’t believe we’ve come this far. After the ultrasound Neil kept asking what I thought and
how I felt about it being a boy. Maybe he was worried that I wasn’t as excited as he was. But I was just so relieved, I couldn’t get over the fact that our baby was alive and healthy!

I did some brief but thorough worrying the night before. For the most part I “procrastinated worrying” until then, trying to be excited and not anxious in the weeks before the big day. Procrastinated worrying is my best approximation at “be anxious for nothing” so far. But the night before, I made a mental list of the problems the ultrasound might reveal. Incompetent cervix, placenta previa, Down’s syndrome, spina bifida, or trisomy 18 all made the list. People talk about checking for ten fingers and toes (even in the ultrasound), but appendages are the least of my worries. I’m much more concerned that all the major organs are present.

That’s the blessing after two miscarriages: it puts problems in perspective, and it helps me to appreciate when things go right. Murphy’s Law ignores all the things that go right, and so do I. If everything had gone perfectly with my first pregnancy, I would already have a baby and I’m sure I’d be in love with him or her. But I probably would have taken for granted a healthy pregnancy and baby more than I will ever be able to now. The losses have made me realize just how miraculous the whole process is, and have increased my capacity for appreciating and enjoying every stepping stone I cross.

I reached a milestone, and my favorite part of being pregnant thus far, around 17 or 18 weeks when I first felt the baby move. By the time I was sure that’s what those light, muscle-spasm-like sensations were, I was ecstatic. Every time I feel the baby move it’s like he’s saying, “Don’t worry, mom, I’m alive.” Sometimes it makes me want to cry. Starting with those first felt movements, I feel so much more connected to the baby and to the reality of pregnancy. It’s less abstract, and almost feels okay to hope I’ll really meet this baby sometime toward the end of summer. Neil feeling the baby move was another exciting milestone. Knowing the gender and starting to show a bit also makes it more real and I think it’s helped Neil as well as me bond more with the baby.

The night before the ultrasound Neil and I both dreamed the baby turned out to be a fish! But in my dream I didn’t even care. I thought, “I guess it would be nice if our baby was a human, but I love our little fish baby.” (It didn’t actually look like a fish in the dream, I just knew it was a fish. I’m not sure what it looked like. It was a boy fish, though.) Also at another point in the dream, they somehow took the baby out to look at it during the ultrasound. I was wondering, “How are they going to get it back in?” But then the baby was there with just Neil and me, and it was really skinny and pathetic-looking since it was only 20 weeks old, but again I didn’t care. I just started kissing it and I was so happy and loved it so much. And then I stopped worrying about why it was with us already and just enjoyed being with it. For the next couple days I just thought about this vision of holding and kissing our baby and I could hardly wait. I went from being so tentative and trying to be so patient for a date that felt like it would never come (I had been pregnant a total of 34 weeks by then, only counting the 2 free weeks once) to feeling like I would die waiting another 4.5 months.

So it’s not a fish, but it is a boy, with all organs and limbs accounted for. I’m happy to be having a boy for the following reasons, among others:
1. So many of my friends had boys recently, including my bff who lives just down the street, so they can grow up together.
2. I’m not good when it comes to “girly” things like hair, make-up, nail polish, etc. I was never a tomboy but I wasn’t a girly girl, either. For example, the other day my sister asked, “When did this happen?” while gesturing to my person, but she wasn’t looking for a number of months or a refresher on the birds and the bees. She was referring to me looking slightly fashionable because I had basically been dressed by Fashion Sister.
3. Raising a son seems like a special privilege in a culture that’s forgetting what it means to be a man (although the same is true of girls/women, too). I hope we can raise him to be a spiritual leader, although I’m not really sure how to do that.
4. I grew up with mostly girls (three sisters and then finally one brother), so I don’t know exactly what to do with boys. But I’m the active type so hopefully I can hang for at least a while, which brings me to the next point:
5. My son will never be a teenage girl! Yay!!! Actually I would like to have a girl one day, too, but I hear “Dad” takes over in a large way with boys as they grow older. Of course I still want to have a close relationship with him but I don’t have to tell him about the aforementioned birds and bees, or model how to be a man, or any number of other things only a dad can do.
6. Neil also pointed out that we don’t have to give him away in marriage or pay for his wedding (according to tradition). Cheapskate—j/k, he’s already talking college fund, although one mom friend recommends a counseling fund instead.
7. Neil is also very excited about an excuse to get a basketball hoop, although he really just wants one and could have justified it with a girl, too. UPDATE: he got one off a friend’s neighbor’s tree lawn, saving hundreds of dollars. I love my cheapskate husband.

The only real drawback is that we have to think of a boy name (we already had a girl name). We haven’t devoted much effort to this cause yet but hopefully we can have some fun with it.