How NOT to Announce you are Pregnant. SHAME {Part Two}

I said ‘I am pregnant.’ Then I burst into tears. Not happy tears. Big fat ugly shame tears.

I should clarify, this was my second pregnancy. I had worked out, by then, how babies are made. In fact, I had decided (as much as anyone has control over these things) to get pregnant. I was well aware of the love I would feel for this baby. I would have even said ‘I wanted to be pregnant.’

I also understood that a lot of people I loved dearly would have given vital organs to be pregnant like me. And here I was crying about it. Which honestly, makes this story harder to tell. I am not proud of my reaction or my feelings. Especially about something that would be pure joy for a lot of people.

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That afternoon, I had sat down with two of my best friends to get them to help me. Because I might have wanted to be pregnant but I knew there was something wrong with me.  I did not want to tell anyone I was pregnant. I was excruciatingly embarrassed that I was pregnant again. I felt like this pregnancy, as my second, required an extra explanation and justification to people that didn’t really have a right to that. I was humiliated. I just wanted to keep it a secret, if possible forever. But you know, this was my second kid, so I had worked out that would be pretty impossible.

Like all good friends, they called me on my shame and didn't let me live in it. They challenged me to identify the lies I was accepting in my life. There were a lot. Some were about my worth as a woman. I felt like being pregnant for the second time, when my first child was only 9 months old, exposed my identity and desire to be a mother. To me that made me look young, naive, and weak. It turned out a significant part of me had a problem with being identified as a mother. Now, you might imagine that having my first child might have highlighted that I was a mother but one child seemed like something you might try out, while two children imply you really like this motherhood thing. I was carrying shame for being a mother despite the facts I actually like being one and it was my dream to have children. 

For some of you reading this none of it will resonate. You might be thinking all I want is babies and 'how can she see being a mother as failing?' I should also add at no point in my life have I seen someone else as a failure when they become a mother, a stay at home mother, or decide to have more children. Rather, selfishly this shame was all about me. This was about how I defined my value and worth. And as with a lot of feelings and internal beliefs, they exist while contradicting themselves. My highest place of worth was in my career, a job where I felt I achieved something, and the ability to make money. I wanted to cry like my unborn baby at the thought of telling my boss that I was pregnant for the second time. She had witnessed me choose my first baby over a long-term contract and now she was going to watch me pick being a mother over my entire teaching career, as I would go on maternity leave and then move country. I cared because I respected my boss and I wanted her to think I was a good teacher. I love teaching. It would give me a high like a drug every time I stood in front of 30 hormonal teenagers and got them to progress in a skill. But how well I taught determined for me if I was a person of value or if I was a total failure. So the very act of choosing to be pregnant again felt like me throwing away my identity. 

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Now, this is not some weird twisted story of how God came along and liberated me from the feminist enslavement of career and that I discovered I was a born homemaker. I am not. Nor is this about a God who is a dream killer. Let's remember children was part of my dream too. This is about following a God who made sacrifices before me so that I can now make some too. This is about knowing where my worth sits. Not with a career. Or with motherhood. But in the one who became a sacrifice for me. This is about recognizing shame in our lives. Areas of our lives where we feel humiliated or like we are terrible failures. The areas that we try to keep away from people.  Because sometimes those can be areas where we have built our identity but we haven't measured up. Shame makes us hide and run away. But the act of exposing my feelings and lies to my friends and God freed me from the power of the shame. The light exposed the lies to their frailty and how they didn’t make sense. I was able to find joy in my pregnancy and I no longer felt humiliated by my own decision for my life. 

So here I am right now a stay at home mother in the city of careers. I am learning where my identity really sits. I see women with careers and I wonder if I'll get there one day. And I see women born to be 'stay at home' moms who are better at it than me. And honestly, right now both of those are okay. I like being a mother and one day I want to work again. Being a mum/mom and not having a career doesn't humiliate me or cause me anxiety. I can be open about my desires and limitations with other people. Shame is not winning in this area of my life anymore. 

Shame turns up differently for different people. I have met women, like me, who feel shame at being a mother with no career and mothers who feel shame that they work. Women who feel shame for not wanting children and others who feel shame because they cannot get their bodies to make a baby. Or people whose careers have just not been what they wanted them to be. Their dream of world domination by 30 hasn't happened. While it turns up differently in all of us, shame is designed to remove us from relationship. It makes us shrink away from people, God, and real relationships to hide this part of ourselves that make us feel humiliated and unworthy. But often when we let someone in the shame has less power. There is power in telling our story.

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Are there areas in your life where you feel humiliated and you shrink away from sharing these feelings with others? Where do you feel you are failing to measure up to your own desires and expectations? Where are the areas of shame in your life?

{Ailsa}

 

 

 


 

To My Daughter: A Few Notes on Being a Woman.

At my twenty week scan, I found out you were a girl. I had a mild panic. I realized I was going to raise a woman and honestly that was petrifying. It is complex being a woman. I mean I am sure it is complicated being a man too but I have never experienced that. But instead with you, I have some idea of what you will face. Hence, the mild panic.

You are only one year old right now but I already see that you are fearless and reluctant to take my help. But I am your mother so I choose to give you advice anyway. You can read these at your leisure…. you know when you can read.

1. Society is full of contradictory and complicated standards for women. Be hot, be nice, be successful, but not intimidating. Be a domestic goddess but don’t look like you are trying too hard. Make sure you have a great body etc. Let me help you out, as the woman who loves you the most, you will never meet them all. But if you turn out to be a rebel and try to shun them all you will get yourself into a guddle too. Try not to be defined positively or negatively by the standards you see around you. And yes I would even include church standards in that. We are guilty of adding definitions to womanhood that I am not sure are any more Godly than others. Instead find what is true, worth fighting for, and define yourself by that. I would call that walking by the Gospel and the fruit of that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

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2. Don’t be a gossip. There are just some opinions you shouldn’t share. If you can’t say it to someone’s face then don’t say it. We often gossip to make us feel better about our lives and our problems. ‘Look, at least I am not them.’ But inflating yourself by indulging in chat about someone else’s issues is a cheap and mean way to make yourself feel better. The Gospel calls us to a level of realization about our own brokenness so we don't consider our issues as superior to others' issues. Oh, and don’t you dare use God as an excuse to legitimize your gossip.

‘I have to tell you this so you can pray.’

That is using God’s name in vain. I will metaphorically kick your butt if I hear you do that. I am sure God is not that pleased either.

3. Please do not mistake ‘being nice’ with kindness and love. Often as women, we are taught that love equals saying the polite encouraging thing rather than the challenge in love, respectfully disagreeing, or explaining in a situation that you were hurt.

‘Oh it’s okay, you didn’t hurt me.’

‘I love it when you do that. You are so sweet.’

‘I totally agree.’

Don’t misunderstand me you have no right to dehumanize someone or take your pain out on them by hurting them. But I do challenge you to love by being truthful, having opinions, and having hard conversations. When we assume that God calls us to always say the ‘nice’ thing rather than the ‘hard’ thing we sometimes deal with that pent-up energy and frustration by venting and gossiping about someone. Say the hard thing to people’s faces so that you don’t dehumanize them behind their backs.  

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4. If you find yourself single when you would rather you weren’t, please know you are not in a waiting period before marriage. If you get married, know you have not made it to a more legitimate stage in life. Both singleness and marriage are representations of God’s love for the world. Marriage is an expression of the depth of God’s love by concentrating on one person. Singleness is an expression of the breath of God’s love by the diversity of the relationships you can build. Both require work and faithfulness to walk in healthy marriage or healthy singleness. Try not to look down on one or the other whatever your stage in life. Be friends with married people when you are single and single people when you are married. We can learn a lot from each other in community. If you are single don’t let other people assume upon your time and faithfulness. You also have relationships to build and invest in.

5.  Don’t watch porn. This is hard to summarize in a paragraph, especially as a woman because the dynamics here are varied and far-reaching. But we were designed for connection. And porn was designed to bypass connection. It was designed to give pleasure without the need for the ‘messiness’ of relationship. It is the easy way but it is also the falling short way. I will also add, that no matter how many women you know who watch it, porn was designed for men by men. You are watching something that will warp your definition of power in a relationship. And it will warp your definition of womanhood. I am pretty sure we should not learn our definition of female identity from a medium designed for men to masturbate alone in their bedrooms.  

6. You may find yourself taking your struggles in life out on your body. Either by controlling it to feel like you have some form of power in life or abusing it to walk out your pain. You might do this by restricting food, indulging in food, addiction, or self-harm. You may concentrate a lot of energy on your body to define your self-worth. This might get confused with normal ‘feminine behavior’ but women and their bodies have a complex relationship. Your body is a poor vehicle to express control and it is heart-wrenching to take your pain out on yourself. If you find yourself doing this please find someone you trust and tell them. You may not want to tell me. That is okay. Please tell someone.

Love, your mum

{Ailsa}

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Women.

We all have stories. Stories of the backs that have broken. The blood, sweat, and tears that have been poured out, the battles fought, the arms that have pushed us forward at the very moment their own strength failed. The shoulders of greatness upon which we stand.

Today is the day to tell these stories. Stories of women who have gone before us.

One of these courageous women once wrote....

‘I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.’ (Jane Austen, Persuasion)

Here are some of the women that have gone before me, and bravely fought through the stormy waters, ensuring that I had a sail and a compass to go forward....

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Here’s my mum. Carol. Of the many things she gave me, my education was one of them. She decided, against cultural norms at the time, to homeschool me. All the way till university. She would hand pick the curriculum every year, driving hours to a conference to wade through the decision making process. Now that I’m a mother myself, the weight of that sits heavy on me. She gave me a love of health food well before it was fashionable. One of the most incredible gifts she gave me was ensuring my brother and I had read through the entire Bible before we graduated high school. What has shaped me the most, though, was the way she created a home that was founded upon hospitality. From the age of nine, we always had people living with us. To this day, I have many older ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ around the world of different ethnicities and backgrounds. We hosted meal after meal, guest after guest. As a kid, it meant a lot of chopping, cleaning, and laundry. But, I am beyond thankful for this. Thankful for growing up in a home centred on hospitable love and welcome. 

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This is my mum’s mum. Nana. She was the daughter of Portuguese immigrants to the USA at the start of the 20th century. She battled through discrimination (she changed her name from Rosa Edwina to Edna Rose in order to fit in with all the other northeastern fashionable girls) and poverty. She left school after the 8th grade, was sequestered in a sanatorium for two years at the age of 16 for tuberculosis, and saw numerous young women die. Age 18, she met my Papa at a 25 cent dance hall, he was in the navy and soon after they were married. She went on to have 7 amazing children, 25 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren. All of whom still love each other and who prioritise family. But most of all? Her love of Jesus shined the brightest. Her favourite thing to do was lean over to a stranger in the grocery store queue, or next to her in the doctors office, and ask ‘Do you know Jesus?’ What a legacy. What a saint.

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This is my dad’s mum. Grandmother. Helen. She raised five children with a husband who flew planes for a living and had to be gone much of the time. Her strength carried her family through when my Grandfather, Jim, was in an accident that left him in a coma whilst she was pregnant with my dad. Her home on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia was an oasis of peace and beauty. She went before me. Raising a man, my dad, who serves and loves with dignity and strength. Her legacy.

Who are the women in your life who courageously set out from the calm waters and braved the storms so that you could sail?

 

{Grace} 

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