Worn

The alarm blares at six in the morning. She turns with difficulty and hits the snooze button, too tired to open her eyes more than a crack. Her baby is already moving, probing gently across her belly. Her body is already communicating, sending information to her brain like text messages. Full bladder; must empty. Empty stomach; must fill. Dry mouth; need water. Feet aching; need relief. Back sore; roll over.

Every new ping sounds louder and louder, until the hamster wakes up at the back of her mind. It gives itself a shake and begins to run on the wheel that turns on the lights and begins all the productivity. Like the grinding gears of an enormous machine, new thoughts move sluggishly through her mind at first. But they get faster, louder, more demanding. Thoughts about what needs to get done today both in the home and at work, what errands need to be run, who needs to be called, and are there any appointments today that she might’ve forgotten about? Oh, and did so-and-so ever email her back? She should probably check–

No, she thinks forcefully. Go back to sleep. 

Then a song joins the jumbled mess of thoughts. An song appropriate to her situation, but just as unwelcome as everything else.

“I’m tired
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left…”

Quiet, she begs, pressing her face into her pillow. Please–

The alarm goes off again. Has it been ten minutes already? With a growl of frustration, she gabs at the snooze button yet again. Falls back into the mattress, tries to wipe away the obnoxious thoughts assailing her mind like gnats. She pictures a dark room, a blank slate, a broken radio, a faulty machine, anything that will communicate to the hamster that it can stop all production up there. But the hamster just keeps running, puffing softly, dutifully performing. And the song continues.

“Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn…”

Her body chimes in again, sending a more demanding message to her brain. Bladder FULL; must empty immediately. Her baby gives a big shove and she finds herself doubling over, drawing herself in tightly to keep from wetting the bed. When the urge is less severe, the covers are kicked off. With curses and groans, she wrestles out of the comfort and warmth and safety of her beloved King, and waddles (yes, waddles–like an engorged penguin) to the bathroom as fast as she can.

The baby weighs heavily on her pelvis and lower back. Her feet feel swollen and tender; she winces with every step. Sitting brings little relief. The toilet is wedged in the corner between a wall and the shower. Even with both knees against a wall, her belly takes up too much space. She shifts and grunts and eventually settles. At least she’s able to empty her bladder in a dignified, adult-like manner. Leaning back, she sighs.

When did something so simple become so complicated?

She knows the answer, of course. She pokes the baby with a finger; he makes everything more complicated than it once was. He kicks back. A little smile, a speck of contentment, a moment of love. But once one physical ailment is relieved, the others swoop into the spotlight. Stomach empty; must fill. Mouth dry; need water. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah…

She lets the dog out of the kennel next, travels into the living room, opens the back door, watches the dog sprint into the grass. The cat leaps down from the couch, meowing in greeting. Both animals are fed. Then it’s her turn. Cereal and almond milk. She sits and reads a few verses from her well-worn Bible, tries to see beyond the familiar story and hear a different message.

What do You want me to learn today?

Breakfast is finished. She stays on the couch, staring into space. Trying not to follow the trains of thoughts still blazing through her head. Maybe she can go back to sleep for a few minutes now that her body has been appeased…But a quick glance at the clock kills that idea. Heave, ho, heave, ho! Up from the couch she finally goes. She walks back into the bedroom (ouch, ouch, go her feet). The pressure returns to her pelvis, low and deep. Baby gives another kick. She presses her hands into her lower back, suppressing a groan.

“I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends…”

She blindly selects an outfit for the day. Struggles into the jeans. Tugs on the blouse. Shoves her feet into shoes that had once fit her loosely but were now tight. Looks at herself in the mirror. A zombie stares back, eyes half-lidded, ringed with dark circles. With slow, painstaking movements, it tries to do something with her hair. She used to try. She used to care. Now, she just pulls it into a ponytail. The dog follows her every movement, carrying around its favorite toy, hoping to play. She manages to kick the toy a few times. The dog runs happily after it and brings it back to her, wagging its stump of a tail, almost smiling as it pants up at her.

Sweet puppy. How are you always happy?

She scratches it behind the ears before heading back to the kitchen. There she prepares her lunch. The same lunch she had yesterday. The same lunch she’ll have tomorrow. Does she have everything she needs for dinner tonight? A quick peek in the fridge and at her recipe book. Yes, all but two vital items. Of course. She’ll have to stop at the grocery store on the way home.

Prenatal vitamins are ingested. She experiences a wave of nausea as a result. Brushing her teeth thoroughly, she manages to erase the bitter taste from her tongue. Rinse. Spit. Look up. There’s the zombie again.

“…my prayers are wearing thin
I’m worn even before the day begins
I’m worn, I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn so heaven so come and flood my eyes…”

There will be more aches and pains as soon as she leaves the house, little things that make everything feel worse. Faulty AC. Slow traffic. Irresponsible drivers. Never-ending phone calls from people with sob stories, people who feel the need to explain everything in specific detail before presenting their request, people who will demand things from her. Tasks assigned by coworkers. Disgruntled walk-ins (or worse: overly cheerful walk-ins). Nice people who only want to help. Concerned people who ask how she is doing. People she can never be honest with. And the long stretches of silence in between them all. Silences filled with nothing except her overwhelming desire to lay down and sleep. To shut out the world, to quiet her screaming body and squirming baby, and try to return to some semblance of the person she’d once been. Who was that again?

God, help me.

Blinking away tears, she tries to smile. She has to smile. Otherwise, her face betrays her true feelings. Frustration. Exhaustion. Selfishness. Apathy. Chronic pain. Things no one and nothing can alleviate. She is done being pregnant but a small part of her is afraid of what comes after. It’ll be worse, won’t it? It’ll be harder. If she can’t deal with this now…

Just let me get through today. Please. I need Your strength.

This is her mantra as she puts the dog out, snatches her short grocery list, picks up her purse and lunch and heavy water bottle, and waddles out to the car. She drives away, already anticipating her return. Will her husband have to work late again? Or will he be waiting for her when she gets home, ready to give hugs and kisses and much-needed foot massages? Baby rolls over in her belly. She winces and places a hand over him as she drives.

Careful, son.

She almost wishes he wouldn’t move, but she knows the moment he does stop moving, she’ll go into a panic. She’ll assume something is wrong. She’ll jab a finger at him until he jabs back, just to be sure she hasn’t lost him like she lost the first one. So she bears his kicks in silence. Tries to be thankful for the discomfort. Tries to find the wonder and the love again. Reminds herself that a miracle is going on inside her body. Still, the thought that rings louder in her mind is:

Six more weeks.

 


 

*Song lyrics from Worn by Tenth Avenue North*

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The Plan

In March of 2017, my husband dropped a bombshell on me. He said, “Whenever you’re ready to have kids, I’m ready.”

Up until that moment, we’d been focused on “the plan.” My husband was going to get into the police academy. We were going to raise enough money to replace one of our cars with a reliable family car. And then we would start our family. It seemed to me to be the smartest, most logical thing to do, the best way to guarantee a secure future for our children. But the more I thought and prayed about it, the more I realized that I was putting God in a corner. I was so focused on getting all of my ducks in a row that there was no room for God to work. So in April, I stopped taking birth control. I said, “Whenever You think we should have a baby, God, I will be ready.”

Toward the end of May, we found out I was pregnant. But then in July, an ultrasound revealed that our baby had no heartbeat. There was no obvious cause. I was healthy. There hadn’t been any complications that the doctor could see. He just assumed that something had gone wrong during the child’s development, which he said was common.

The doctor gave me two options: I could either wait to miscarry naturally, which could happen anywhere and at any time, or he could prescribe some medication to jump-start the miscarriage. I chose the medication and planned to miscarry over the weekend. But the process lasted much longer than that, approximately three months. And even then my body’s cycle was off. I saw the doctor again in February of 2018. He put me back on birth control to get my cycle regulated. He said it could take anywhere from four to six months before I would be physically ready to try again.

This was not something I ever expected. I knew a few of my coworkers had experienced miscarriages before giving birth to their children, but in my naivety, I believed it wouldn’t happen to me. I thought I’d conceive and give birth just as seamlessly as my mother and my sister-in-law had. Instead, this had happened. I felt hurt, confused, depressed, betrayed. I’d taken a chance. I’d gotten rid of my plan and put my trust in God. This wasn’t how things were supposed to turn out. Growing up in church, I’d always heard that “God is good all the time.” It was something I’d known as a fact for as long as I could remember, but it didn’t feel very true to me during those trying months.

In the midst of all this inner turmoil, I could almost hear my own words echoing back to me. “Whenever You think we should have a baby, God, I’ll be ready.” That’s what I’d said. But what I actually meant was, “I’m ready now.” That was my mistake; I thought I was giving up my control and surrendering to God’s will when, in reality, I was just coming up with a new plan. And, once again, shoving God into a corner.

I was reminded of Peter then. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples on the beach. Peter was the first to approach Him but not the first to speak. He’d denied his Lord three times and was probably feeling lower than dirt. While they were all sitting together, Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me?” Only in my case, I felt like God was asking, “Becca, do you trust me? Do you trust that I know what’s best for you, I want what’s best for you, and I know exactly when to give it to you? Do you trust that I love you, despite what circumstances I put you through? Do you trust in my provision alone or are you still trying to be self-sufficient?”

I was. I am. Daily I struggle to surrender my illusion of control to the only one who is actually in control. My husband and I could have the best paying jobs this world has to offer, but circumstances can still snatch our money away in creative and unexpected ways. (We only have to look at my previous blog post to see proof of that.) Our security is not found in our bank account; our true and lasting security is found in Christ alone. He could’ve given us a baby at any time, whether I was on birth control or not. And He would’ve provided for that child whether my husband had a better paying job or not, whether we had a better family car or not. It only took losing my first baby for me to realize that.

When the time came to stop taking birth control and try again, I was still scared. I still dreaded the thought of another loss, another disappointment, another six months of recovery time. But I had a new confidence in my God’s goodness and in His perfect will. Whether we had a baby or not, I knew my husband and I would be just fine.

Last week, it was with humble and joyful hearts that we told our families that we’re expecting. Our baby is due to be born on June 11, 2019. And we look forward to whatever comes next.

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It seems this story is going to have a happy ending, but I know now more than ever that nothing is guaranteed. The end of this month will mark the end of my first trimester; the chances of miscarrying are lessened but it could still happen. Or the baby could come early and with complications. Or I could give birth to a stillborn child. There are so many hard possibilities, painful realities, things that have happened to countless mothers all around the world. My miscarriage experience was terrible but also wonderful because I feel like my eyes have been opened.

Losing a child is more common than I ever realized. The women and men who have gone through it suffer in silence because it’s painful to talk about, because they have family or friends who maybe haven’t been as supportive as they should’ve been, because they don’t want to burden other people with their problems. Or for a hundred other reasons. All I can say is: I see you, mother of angels. I know that feeling of helplessness, father of angels. I’ve felt that physical pain, that unbearable heartache.

I’m so sorry.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers for you, just a virtual hug and, hopefully, some encouragement. There is hope, joy, and comfort to be found in the arms of our Heavenly Father. No matter what your experience has been with people who claim to follow Christ or with church or with religion in general, I hope you find Him one day and come to realize how much He loves you, even when life seems to scream otherwise.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14 NIV

“But I will sing of Your strength; in the morning I will sing of Your love, for You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” Psalm 59:16 NIV

“Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that He will lift you up in His own good time. Leave all your worries with Him, because He cares for you…But after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who calls you to share His eternal glory in union with Christ, will Himself perfect you and give you firmness, strength, and a sure foundation.” 1 Peter 5:8&10 GNT

For the love of a slurpee

It was four o’clock in the evening and the baby wanted a blue raspberry slurpee.

I was sitting on the couch with my feet propped up, flipping through the channels, trying not to think about the lasagna in the oven and the wonderful odors wafting through the apartment, praying Peter would see my text and pick up a slurpee for me on his way home from the office. I checked my phone; there was no reply. I re-checked it two seconds later and there was still no reply. I could’ve called him on his car phone, but I didn’t want to be the cause of an accident.

“This is ridiculous,” I muttered, placing a hand over my balloon belly and rising from the couch with difficulty. I stood there a moment to be sure I wasn’t going to tip back into the couch and then proceeded into the kitchen. According to the oven’s timer, the lasagna still had ten minutes before it would be done. Then I had to let it sit so that I wouldn’t burn my tongue with scalding hot cheese and sauce. My mouth watered just thinking about it. A dehydrated lasagna only took five minutes to make, but it didn’t have the same taste as an organic lasagna. On most days, it was worth the wait. Today, I wasn’t so sure. The baby kicked insistently.

I blew my bangs out of my face. “All right. I’ll get you a slurpee.” There was a fueling station just around the corner. Normally, my swollen ankles would keep me from walking across the apartment much less down the street but they were feeling good today. I waddled over to the shoe rack by the front door and slipped into my sandals. I checked my reflection in the circle mirror hanging with our wedding pictures to be sure my hair was behaving. Then I ventured out.

“Front door,” I said as I shut it behind me. “Please lock and tell my husband that I went to get a slurpee. If the lasagna should finish before I come back, turn off the oven.”

“Understood, ma’am,” the automated voice replied. There was a click as the locks slid into place and then silence.

I loped past my neighbor, Paul, who held bags full of dehydrated meal packs and argued with his front door.

“I don’t care what my wife said. I am not beating her. Now open!” he practically snarled.

“I’m sorry, sir, but my programming compels me to protect the woman of this household,” the door said calmly. “If she says you are beating her, I must believe her. Lower your voice or I will be forced to phone the authorities.”

Paul leaned in to glare at the screen located at eye-level in the middle of the door. “I already said I was sorry, Georgette. I have the food you asked me to buy, now, let me in.”

“Leave it on the doorstep and go! You obviously don’t love me anymore!” his wife screeched from inside the apartment.

Paul groaned and smashed his head against the door.

“Hang in there, Paul,” I said in passing.

“Thanks, Jill,” he muttered, forehead still pressed against the metal door.

“I’m detecting some measure of pain in your voice, sir,” a neighboring door said. “Should I call for an ambulance?”

The elevator doors shut before I could hear Paul’s reply. “Where to, ma’am?”

I smiled at the computer screen in the wall. “Lobby, please.”

“Right away, ma’am.”

Two minutes later, I was waddling out into society. One would think that after the invention of floating cars and speeder bikes, there wouldn’t be anyone walking anymore. Still pedestrians littered the sidewalks.

“Only freaks and homeless people still walk around town, Jill,” my husband would say whenever I suggested we take a stroll.

He might have been right but there was something refreshing about using one’s own legs to go somewhere. The artificial grass in the front yards on either side of my apartment complex was the approved length and color. Someone from the Home Owner’s Society must have been by recently. The trees sprouting up from their fenced areas had sparkling golden leaves hanging from their metallic branches. Was it autumn already? The months were just flying by! Speeder bikes and hovering cars zipped to and fro on the street in their respective lanes. I couldn’t watch them for too long without getting vertigo. I took a deep breath, stared fixedly at the fuel station I could see in the distance, and put one foot in front of the other. A lady with mint green hair and glassy pink eyes abandoned her floating grocery cart and approached me to ask if I had any spare change.

I blinked at her, mouth agape. “No one uses change anymore.”

She dug around the pockets of her filthy dress and held out an old bank chip. “You could transfer some money over to me then. I think this thing still works.” She squeezed it between her fingers, desperately watching for the flash of light that would prove the chip’s functionality. The chip produced no such light.

“I’m very sorry but I have to get going now,” I stammered and then dashed away.

A man with a pig’s nose, blue and white feathers for hair, and a piercing through his lip walked up to me next, shoving a moving picture of a Labradoodle in my face. “Have you seen my dog, Mr. Scruffles?”

I reared back and slapped a hand over my nose before I could be overwhelmed by the smells of alcohol and urine. “No, I haven’t. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m pregnant and have a very acute sense of smell.” I continued apologizing as I walked away.

This is more dangerous than I thought it would be. I should’ve stayed in the apartment…I placed a protective hand over my belly and loped along even faster. Don’t worry, baby. Almost there. 

A robot stopped traffic so that I could cross the street and then I arrived at the fuel station. Despite everything that had changed in the world, Circle K was still thriving. It, like many gas stations, had simply changed the kind of fuel they sold and was able to salvage their business when regular cars became obsolete. I side-stepped the man with the tentacles on his face who methodically looked through the movie racks by the door, and suppressed a shudder. Kissing must be really weird for his kind…If they even kiss.

“Hello!” the cheerful cashier called from behind her counter. She had blonde hair, bright orange skin, and three eyes but her smile was warm.

I smiled back. “Hi, there.”

I hurried over to the slurpee section and snagged one of the larger cups. I was back at the counter in seconds, swiping my bank chip to pay for my drink. I took a large gulp on my way out and gave myself a brain freeze, but it was worth it. I could feel my baby doing victory cartwheels in my belly. I waved goodbye to the happy cashier and began my journey back home…only to run into a kid on a hover board. Well, technically he ran into me. His board bashed against my calf and sent him falling into my side with an oof. I stumbled with a shout of surprise and the slurpee left my hand. I watched in horror and dismay as the foam cup smashed against the asphalt and burst, sending blue slush everywhere. The boy apologized a million times but I didn’t have the strength to look up. Blinking back defeated tears, I turned away from him and headed back inside.