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Friday

When Mothering Is Hard


When the nurse handed him to me, I had "the moment." I didn't expect it, really, because I was not one of those women who have an earth-goddess pregnancy experience. My pregnancy wasn't particularly challenging, but I did have significant food aversions, a habit of gagging every time I brushed my teeth, and exhaustion that kept me from really getting the idea I was growing a baby until towards the end of my pregnancy. But when she handed him to me for the first time, my heart tuned into motherhood. It all just clicked. He was my baby. Other babies might be slobbery, needy, and kind of boring. But not this guy. This guy was the cutest baby in the world.

It was in the weeks that followed that I began to realize I was falling so in love with mothering that I was losing myself. To a certain extent, I think this is inevitable. When people say the first three months of a new baby's life are the fourth trimester, they aren't kidding. This little guy needed me just as much as he ever had, and I was happy to be there.

But over time, the exhaustion begins to build, and with it, anxiety. Anxiety over little things.

I don't know why more women aren't honest about how difficult the transition to motherhood is. Maybe it's because we're afraid we will sound like we don't love mothering. But in my experience, that's not the case at all. It's the opposite, really. Maybe we love mothering so much that we forget our own autonomy.

I don't think I realized how hard things were getting until I woke up in the middle of the night to my son crying and felt like I was struggling to breathe. My physical exhaustion was beginning to manifest itself in anxiety episodes.

Or when family members asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I was a little caught off guard to realize... I have no idea.

Or when Matt asked me what he can do to help me feel like myself again, and I thought... I don't even know what that would look like.

People are always telling you, "Enjoy your baby. It goes so fast." I know why they say this, because it does go so fast. But what if you already know how fast it goes? What if you've planted your heels firmly in the ground in resistance against time passing, and in the meantime, you've left no margin in your life?

The challenge of mothering, I'm realizing, is the blending of the self with another-- the perpetual need to decide when to untangle and when to twist tighter. From the moment pregnancy begins, as a mother, you share your identity with your child. And thus begins the most beautiful, difficult, and rewarding role of your life.

Since becoming a mother, I have found a respect for my body, my heart, and my intuition I never before knew. It has already been the most empowering experience of my life. I often find myself more outspoken now.

But since becoming a mother, I have also struggled in new ways. I'm convinced I had bouts with postpartum depression and anxiety, though I didn't go to my midwife for a diagnosis like I should have. I have come to realize the loneliness of the second and third and fourth middle-of-the-night feedings-- the wish your baby would hurry up and go back to sleep and the then subsequent guilt you aren't enjoying these moments enough. The breaking point between physical exhaustion and the ever-deepening love you feel for your baby. And that moment you're standing in the card aisle at Target and suddenly can't remember where you are or what you're doing-- that moment you realize that maybe you shouldn't have driven because despite your resolve to get out of the house that day, your body is weak.

When I've talked to other mothers, they have almost all said they experienced the same things. Why are we so afraid to talk about it publicly? I had none of these types of questions about the birth experience, because that is a pain we're all comfortable sharing. :) Why do we hesitate to admit that the process of working with our baby to provide a safe, beautiful entrance into the world only starts with birth? That the pains turn from physical to emotional ones after your child is born, but still require just as much focus, surrender, and strength? That at the end of our labor are beautiful moments to be found again and again after subsequent periods of contractions? And that maybe we will never stop dealing with those aches, but we learn to handle them better?

A few weeks ago, after talking with Matt, I decided to start being more intentional about finding time for myself again. Already, I feel so much better.



Mamas, and especially new mamas, I want to encourage you. You're not alone, even though you may feel lonely. I know you already realize that what you are doing on a daily basis matters for your kid(s) and your family. But here's something else-- what you're doing on a daily basis matters for you. So take care of yourself. Whether it's dance classes, writing time, learning to paint, or going on a walk by yourself once a week. Never forget that your role as a mother is incredibly important. But even more than that, never forget that you are incredibly important. Just because you're God's. And if under the t-shirt and leggings you've worn seventeen times in a row without a wash you can no longer sense that deeper person God has created you to be, you may need to reevaluate a way to pour back into your own heart. Because you are worth that, and a better you makes a better mother.

You are strong, new mamas. You are strong. Keep keeping on.












Monday

The Beauty of Smallness


I'm writing this blog one-handed as my baby sleeps in my other arm. I could probably lay him in his crib, but I know he won't always be this small, so today, I'm going to hold him.

This afternoon, I've been thinking about the beauty of smallness.

Our society often values grand gestures. The expensive car, the huge house, even those of grand physical stature-- the athletes, for instance, and the cover models. But I can't help but think of tiny, scrawny little David going up against Goliath, and I'm reminded that God values the small, whether we value it or not.

When I first found out I was pregnant almost a year ago, I didn't feel like I'd expected. I didn't instantly feel like there was a tiny human growing inside me. I couldn't see a bump until well into my second trimester. I didn't feel hiccups or kicks until then either. The little person on the ultrasound looked more like a coffee bean than my son. I thought the reality of his life would hit me in one fell swoop the minute the test showed two lines. But that didn't really happen until I met him. Instead, I felt surprisingly.... normal. Happy, yes, Thankful, yes. But normal.

The thing is, God invests the grandest purpose into the smallest life and allows it to unfold. To grow. He could have devised a system wherein we were born at our peak physical strength and grew weaker from then on, but He didn't. He created a birth plan--the ultimate birth plan-- where little things grow.

I believe that even the smallest life carries within it value and purpose from the moment of conception. That, in the words of Dr, Suess, "A person's a person, no matter how small."

And I believe the beauty of smallness really goes beyond babies and children and extends into every area of our lives. Zechariah 4:10 tells us not to despise the day of small beginnings.

If the most beautiful thing we partake in-- new life-- starts out so small, what sort of template does that provide for other aspects of our lives? For our careers, our hopes, and our dreams?

Are we throwing away the seeds of our gardens and wondering why we don't see any butterflies?

However small and insignificant your dream and efforts may seem today, do not despise the day of small beginnings. You may feel perfectly normal. You may not see any progress from the outside. Today may mark just another ordinary day of editing your not-yet-sold story, of reading to your children, of investing yourself in your day job. Today may seem so very insignificant that it does not seem to matter at all. But life is growing, and it's beautiful.

Beautifully small.

Wednesday

We're Almost There


Does God ever speak to you when you're least expecting it?

Tonight, my husband and I were driving home from dinner with friends when our new baby got hungry. We weren't in the best part of town where we could pull over to feed him, so we decided to hurry on home. Well, in the meantime, Nate got really upset. I generally feed him pretty immediately when he cries, so I'm not used to being in a situation where I have to listen to him cry when I know what he needs. It was awful. All I could do was hold his little hands and try to comfort him, hoping to make him feel better.

"I understand," I found myself saying. "I know you're hungry. But we're almost there. I know you can't understand that, because you don't know what my words mean yet. But we're almost home."

And then it hit me.

That is exactly what God says to me and you.

For me, this especially applies to writing. Maybe you're in the same boat. It can be hard to keep faith in your goals some days, when it feels like nothing is changing.

Some days, I find myself in the car, so to speak, and crying, "God, don't you understand? Why aren't you doing something? Can't you hear me?"

Meanwhile, we're already in the car, on our way. And God is holding my fragile hands, and He's saying, "I do understand. But we're almost there. I know you can't understand that, because you don't know what my words mean yet. But we're almost home."

Thursday

Ten Things I'm Learning as a New Mom


Nine weeks ago, I gave birth to my little son. I read books, attended classes, and spent plenty of time on blogs in preparation for his birth, but I really had no idea how many life would change. People tell you all sorts of placades like, "It's the hardest and most wonderful thing you'll ever experience." What in the world is that supposed to mean? I'll tell you what they really mean. Prepare to meet the love of your life, but I hope you like caffeine, because you'll never sleep again.

But in all truth, it is amazing how quickly your perspective shifts when you have a little human depending on you to be their voice. So I thought I'd blog today about ten ways childbirth changes everything.




1) You gain a completely new respect for your body. When I first became pregnant, I was worried about stretch marks. Well, guess what. Like every other pregnant woman in the world, I got 'em. But you know what? While I wouldn't mind them fading, they don't bother me nearly as much as I thought because they're a reminder of what an incredible thing my body did-- it grew a tiny human being and then pushed him out into the world. Not until my baby was born did I fully appreciate the magnitude of that miracle and how many things had to fall into place for it to happen, from my organs shifting around to my hormone levels telling this baby to grow. How does my body know how do to that? I remember sitting in the hospital bed, looking at my baby in awe that just hours before, I was pregnant with him. I mean, wow!

2) Childbirth gave me such a greater appreciation for God's intentionality in each human life. I know that sounds trite, but I really mean it. When it's other people's kids you're talking about, it's easy to say they're so cute and imagine what they might someday do or become. But when it's your own child, you suddenly see this tiny human as making a huge impact on the world, and from the moment you lay eyes on them, you have no doubt they were put here for a reason.

3) Two o'clock in the morning is no longer a fun time of the day. I used to routinely stay up until two o'clock writing stories when the rest of the world was asleep. Now I'm generally crying and begging my child to sleep for four hours next time instead of two and a half. ;)

4) Contractions have a way of really amping up your prayer life. I joke, but truly, childbirth taught me the importance of taking life moment by moment rather than living in the past or in the future. Pain has a way of bringing your focus where it really should be at all times: the present moments.

5) You can't make it without learning to surrender. I first learned this little gem of a lesson during labor, when I had to trust my body knew what it was doing even if my conscious mind didn't. Now, I'm learning this lesson in a whole new way as my baby outgrows sizes, wiggles around a whole lot more, and doesn't snuggle against me in quite the same way he used to. I can either grieve the change, or roll with it and enjoy this new season of smiles and coos.

6) Sometimes you just need a Little Debbie's brownie.

7) I don't regret buying my baby a wardrobe full of (mostly- clearanced) BabyGap and Carter's outfits. He may only wear some of them once, but you know what? He'll also only be this small once, and I'm going to enjoy dressing him up while he'll still let me.

8) I finally have a good excuse to pull out all the not-age-appropriate clothes I've been hanging on to all these years... my fuschia JEM hoodie, the Tigger-ear headband I always like to wear in Disney World, and my Larry the Cucumber t-shirt. It's for the baby, really.

9) Maybe it's because I live in the South, but it seems friendly strangers routinely feel comfortable approaching me and asking to see and even touch my baby, even if he's clearly taking a nap. Stranger danger, folks. Stranger danger. I've learned baby-wearing and the cover-the-car-seat trick do help (thank you Aden + Anais), but only so much. I know these people mean well, but I'm tempted to say, "Would you like to wake up from a nap to find a stranger fifteen times your size peering down at you in a bakery?"

10) You will learn to trust your baby far more than you ever thought you could. Even at two months old, Nathanael lets me know what he wants and needs if I just pay attention. I guess I underestimated how clearly babies communicate until I had my own and experienced that momma-baby connection. I'd always felt more in tune with puppies' needs than babies', to be honest. Babies had always scared me a little... so many things to remember about supporting the head and swaddling tight enough and avoiding overstimulation. But when it's your own child, you just know what they need and when. And you learn to trust them early on.

I could go on, but as point #11, I've learned to value nap time, so I better get some fiction writing in while I can. :)


Tuesday

Nathanael's Natural Birth

I know this isn't my typical writing-related post, but I had several friends ask about my birth story, so I figured this would be a great place to share it!

Photo by Southern Grace Photography at
southerngracephotographyandevents.com
While I was pregnant, I searched for positive birth stories (especially ones from normal people who didn't have some sort of un-relatable fertility goddess aura going on) because they helped me think of birth in a positive light rather than as something to be feared.

The sad reality is that people like to tell pregnant women horror stories of terrible birth experiences. I don't even know where they come up with some of this stuff. If you're pregnant, you may've heard the pain of labor is the worst a human being can experience, being equivalent to 20 bones breaking at once (uh--does any living person actually know what breaking 20 bones at once feels like?). I hope my story encourages you to see birth as a beautiful thing rather than something to dread. And if you're planning a natural childbirth, I hope you're empowered to know it can absolutely be done.

I have to be honest-- the first reason I started researching natural childbirth is because I hate needles, and the idea of the epidural totally weirded me out. Not exactly a noble, crunchy momma approach to natural childbirth, but there it is. ;) But as I learned the benefits to mom and baby, as well as the lowered medical intervention rate for natural childbirths, I knew this was the route I wanted to go.

Side note: My husband and I chose to take Bradley classes, which was an invaluable experience for us. Without them, I would've felt so lost during labor and delivery. They equipped me with the knowledge to better understand and trust my body, and they equipped my husband to be an active participant in labor. So if you're planning a natural childbirth, definitely consider this method!


For me, labor and delivery had a definite spiritual aspect, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention it. The more I thought about labor while I was pregnant, the more I realized the correlations between my Christian faith and the labor process. God's fingerprints, actually, were all over the whole thing-- this painful process is a consequence of sin entering the world (Gen. 3:16) but shows the pinnacle of redemption in its ending. See, I've always thought of painful contractions as a punishment from God for Eve's sin (don't you hate her?). But what if that's all wrong? What if labor is not a punishment, but a lesson, to show us just how painful sin is? To protect us from staying in that state of brokenness forever? Because the beautiful thing about contractions is that each one pushes your body closer to delivery. And delivery is the beginning of new life. 


Now, I have a pet peeve about people acting like they're somehow better because they managed to avoid pain meds, so let me be clear that I don't think going med-free somehow brought me closer to God. Unless you count my prayers during contractions. ;) But the reason I mention the spiritual aspect is because it demystified labor for me. I came to see the whole process not in terms of the pain but in terms of the beauty... yes, it hurts (badly), but that's because your body is using that pain to bring about new life (hello, Gospel!).



Now, for my birth story! I had been praying nearly the entire pregnancy about my labor and delivery. No joke, you guys. I was pretty freaked out initially, and praying really helped bring me peace (most of the time, at least!). The week before labor, I had an appointment with my midwife and found out I was 4 cm and 90% effaced! What! So that was really exciting to know my body was doing the work it should be, especially because my mom had the labor of all labor nightmares when giving birth to me, and they say genetics can impact your experience.

When Tuesday the 12th came,  I woke up that morning (*ahem* afternoon),  with a very painful contraction. I texted my husband to let him know, but didn't think too much of it at that point (don't you always assume it's a false alarm?). Then, I had more. And more. So I started timing them and realized my contractions were only about 2-3 minutes apart (they started that way!!!). I called my husband to tell him he needed to get home!

He got there quickly, and not long after, my water broke at home (woot! for it not happening in Starbucks). I had a particularly painful contraction after that, and started getting nervous we wouldn't make it to the hospital in time. We'd planned to wait and labor at home as long as possible, but also hadn't bargained for such quick contractions! So, we hopped in the car, and I still think that was probably the worst part of my labor. I'm pretty sure I almost had two sets of transition, because I did later have the typical 8 cm transition with double and triple contraction peaks, but in the car, I started exhibiting transition symptoms. I was shaking, threw up, just really in pain. We finally got to the labor and delivery desk (which I walked up to because I'm a crazy person) and got checked in. Turned out I was at 6 cm. At this point, it was about 3:30, and everything continued to happen quickly from there.

I had planned all this stuff to do during labor... walking around the halls, visualizations, etc. etc. and guess what I did? None of it. Instead, I went inward to focus. One of the nurses thought I was hypnobirthing, and I guess in a way, I was--even though I had not planned on doing that at all. I had my eyes closed for most of my labor, and I just sat in that hospital bed/chair upright, hooked to my strep B IV. I had every intention of getting up whenever the IV was done, but by that point, I was so uncomfortable I couldn't imagine moving! 

A couple hours or so later, I started feeling like I had to go to the bathroom, so husband helped me get unhooked from the contraction monitor, which in and of itself was like a comedy routine because I was still hooked to that IV for antibiotics. Turned out, though, the pressure was from the baby descending. I had my first pushing contraction, and let me just say, people aren't kidding when they say your body pushes whether you help it or not. Is that not the craziest feeling? So, we'd learned in my childbirth class this whole pretend-to-blow-out-a-candle trick to help keep you from pushing if you aren't ready. WHAT A JOKE. My husband kept reminding and encouraging me to do the quick breaths, and finally, I puffed out between contractions, "I-am-going-to-hy-per-vent-i-late." I didn't think I could hold off pushing much longer. But then the doctor showed up (my midwife was out of town--boo!) and told me I was close enough that I could push if I wanted to--such sweet words! At this point, it was only around 6:15 or 6:30, and I was feeling encouraged that things were moving so fast. I remember glancing at the clock even though I'd told myself I wouldn't do that.

So, after laboring another thirty minutes or so on my own, a nurse helped me get into a more productive pushing position, and man, don't you know I took advantage of finally having something I could help my body do! I think she was surprised how effectively I was pushing because Nathanael moved FAST at that point, and after a few minutes, she said, "Okay, I'm going to need you to stop pushing now while I call the doctor." Once the doctor entered the room, it was only about 20 more minutes before Nathanael was born. He had some meconium, so they had to wait to stimulate him to cry until they suctioned that out, but boy was it the best sound when I heard him cry! It was ammazing how quickly my body felt normal after he was born. Within minutes, all the pain of labor was over, and I was holding him. It was the most beautiful thing.


In case you're reading this blog because you're pregnant and looking for birth stories, let me encourage you. Labor hurt. It was the most intense thing I've ever done and probably will ever do. Those midwives and doulas who avoid the word "pain"? They're lying. I had to really work to stay focused on breathing, and in the moment of intense labor, all those positive affirmations I'd practiced went out the window ("This is pain with a purpose."-- Who stinking cares. When you're 8 cm, all you care about is that it's pain). But I never once felt afraid or out of control. Not one time. I never did ask for pain meds. And when I came out of it on the other side, I was amazed by the fact that I-- a normal person-- had just birthed a baby and had the privilege of being part of a miracle.




Thursday

How to Beat Conference Exhaustion.. And Help Others, Too!


Today begins the 2014 ACFW conference, a day many have waited for with both excitement and near-panic. :)  As the conference begins, I want to give you all some quick tips I've learned over the years about making the most of your conference experience.

First, let's take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

Here I am last conference:


Yep, that's me, all right, with a broken foot and two precious friends pushing me around Indianapolis!

Let's just say, not exactly how I'd planned to spend the conference.

If you're ever had a broken foot/ankle/leg, you know getting around is no small challenge. Even though my foot wasn't in a lot of pain at that point (thank goodness), I was soooooo overwhelmed trying to manage basics, like washing my hair. Add in the need to find food, and you've got a potential recipe for disaster!

Every. single. thing. last year was exhausting for me because of that broken foot. Getting around was, quite honestly, a real challenge, and took twice the physical strength/energy it normally would. Breezing over to Starbucks was not so simple as walking down there. It generally involved me texting my dear friend Angie Dicken and asking her to deliver my tea. ;)

As a result of this, I found myself worn down both physically and emotionally. It was hard to remember my pitch, maneuver independently from point A to point B, AND allow myself to feel refreshed by this special time with mentors and friends. Thankfully, my pitches went fairly well, and I didn't fall flat on my face, literally or figuratively. But by the end of the conference last year, I was drained as drained could be emotionally. Because every little movement from one floor to the next or from one classroom to an appointment session, took all the strength I could muster. And let me tell you, that really takes it out of a girl after a few days! I came away from the conference having learned a lot, and having had a fun time, but also feeling completely and utterly exhausted.

Even if you don't have a broken bone, let me tell you, this exhaustion is a real danger for all conference go-ers. You add "one more thing" into your schedule, then another, and before you know it, you're booked from 6 AM until 1 in the morning. You're not getting any sleep or any down time. And you can't even remember your name anymore, let alone your story.

So here's my advice. Keep your priorities in perspective.  If your prioritize is to learn from the classes, great. Focus on those. If your priority is to relationship-build, spend time networking. If your priority is pitching... don't get your hopes up. HA! No, I kid. But seriously, be open to the unexpected opportunities God has for you.

If you run yourself ragged, you may become so exhausted that you miss out on God moments. You may be too tired to interact with the editor He puts you in the elevator with, the author whose book you just read and loved, or the new conference attendee who's sitting in the corner, alone and overwhelmed.

It's oh-so-important we allow ourselves time to recharge so that we can be on the lookout for these God-moments both for ourselves and for those who need our encouragement. If you're only focusing on your own conference experience, you're going to miss a big blessing in reaching out to others and encouraging them. Be intentional about encouraging and praying with people before they pitch, be on the lookout for people who look discouraged or lonely, and just smile at people when they seem frustrated or down. Keep the good vibes going. :)

So here are some ways you can recharge, and I hope they help you to prioritize your own mental and emotional wellness while at the conference!


  • Minimize sleep deprivation. Fact is, we all sleep too little at the conference. But six hours versus one hour are a different story. Prioritize rest, whether you're a night owl, an early bird, or even if you take some naps.
  • Go back to the room/Starbucks/the lobby to recharge. Many people (myself included) need a few minutes of alone time to feel like themselves. I'm a total extrovert, but if I don't have a least a few minutes alone per day, I go crazy, like I can't make sense of my own thoughts.
  • Be intentional about prayer. Go to the prayer room, your own room, or even just a quiet spot in the lobby and have an ongoing conversation with God. Ask Him to help you see the opportunities He's placed before you, to help you be faithful, and to give you peace.
  • EAT! If you're too nervous to eat at lunch because you're sitting by your dream editor, then by all means, skip the first part of the next workshop and order yourself a sandwich. Skipping meals does not make for goodness whenever you're already keyed up with excitement and tired.
  • Don't feel guilty about skipping breakfast, sessions, or workshops if you need to rest, eat, or even just relax your mind for an hour. Yes, you want to get the most out of the conference, but in order to do that, you have to feel well. Your health, physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional, needs to be a priority so you can express yourself well to others.
  • Don't forget the cereal bars! It's always a good idea to have a few snacks on hand just in case your flight is delayed or you miss a meal. Be prepared with vitamins, medications, etc. just in case.
  • When all else fails, drink caffeine. :)

Your turn! What do you do to keep from getting overly exhausted at conferences? Any tips or advice to share?


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Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Tuesday

Makeover Giveaway! Win a $15 Sephora Card!

Hey, everyone! Hope you are having a good year so far and staying warm. Can you believe we're supposed to get several inches of snow tonight here in Florida? It's crazy cold around here!



As you may've noticed, my blog has recently had a makeover, and I've decided to share the makeover love by giving away a $15 Sephora gift card to celebrate!

To be eligible to win, simply comment by Saturday, February 1st, and tell us one reason you're excited about 2014. I'm looking forward to hearing from all of you!