A prompt in my Blessed Is She “Put On Love Lenten Study” this week invited me to include a picture of something that amazes me and to “capture just a little of His great glory.”
I immediately knew what I would use to fill that blank space: A photo of my baby, my Charlie, my newest reason to smile and to sing God’s praises.
Yet, only a few months ago my pregnancy didn’t feel like a reason to smile. I was terribly nauseous nearly all of the time for the entire duration of the pregnancy. I was also sick with anxiety.
When I was just a few weeks from submitting the final manuscript for Getting Past Perfect, I discovered I was pregnant. For the first time in my mothering journey, seeing those two little lines appear did not evoke feelings of excitement or happiness. Instead, I was scared, frustrated, and sad. What’s more, because I felt all of those less-than-desirable emotions when I thought that I should be filling blessed and excited, I experienced powerful waves of guilt. If I believed children were gifts from God, how could I be feeling so scared and even resentful? Instead of reflecting on how this baby would enrich my life and family, all I could focus on was how a new child would complicate an already over-leveraged and overextended life. I selfishly kept thinking about how I’d finally started having a little more “me” time that didn’t involve me setting an alarm clock for 4:30 a.m.
All of these feelings were normal for a mom, who only a few months prior, had accepted the size of her family and removed all traces of all things “baby” and had given everything away. It’s not that I hadn’t wanted a baby. I’d been pining for one but when it didn’t happen according to my timetable and my plan, I’d assumed my baby days were over and started celebrating this new phase in my mothering life, which included a book on getting past perfect and relinquishing control and allowing God to take over the steering wheel. (See the irony?)
“This is the way; walk in it.”
But I couldn’t understand God’s way – not when I felt sick and tired and confused as to why a baby came now when I wanted it then. I questioned God’s plan immediately. I just couldn’t wrap my limited, human mind around the fact that I was going to add another baby to our busy life and what’s more, I was considered a mom of “advanced maternal age.” (Whatever. My kids are the best age-defying goods ever; they keep me young!)
And so for nearly nine months I didn’t walk in His way. I didn’t even waddle in it as a mom-to-be. I fought it. I resisted it. Even in the labor and delivery room when I was so close to holding my new baby, I said over and over to my husband and midwife. “I can’t do this.”
“You are doing it,” they reminded me.
Then Charlie was born, and I held my tiny treasure close and I knew. I knew God’s plan for me was so exactly right and beautiful and that this baby was the best surprise of my life.
I know not all new mothers will experience the effusion of joy and peace I did as soon as Charlie was placed on my chest. I know some postpartum periods are harder than others (I experienced postpartum depression after my third baby.) But this time I immediately understood that God’s way was so much better than my own. When I learned I was pregnant, I’d been nothing more than a rebellious child who desperately wanted to carry out my own plan instead of His. Even though time and time again, God has shown me He’s got this, and He knows what I need far more than I do.
Earlier this week a beautiful, young woman in her early twenties sat in my living room seeking counsel from imperfect me. I can’t fully divulge what she’s going through because I want to protect her privacy, but her eyes filled with tears and she said at one point, “I’m a planner. I need to know what’s ahead. I’m scared.”
She was holding a pudgy, smiling Charlie in her lap, and I said to her, “You know what wasn’t a part of MY plan but has been one of the best things to happen to me in a long time? That baby you’re holding.”
Each day we face the unknown. We may try to plan everything out – from the outfit we will wear to how our children will behave. But then the baby spits up all over us, and we have to change. And then an older child balks at every request we give her. We’re wheeling for control on a daily basis.
The struggle is real.
While I was still pregnant I read my book’s Publisher’s Weekly review, and I winced. The reviewer wrote, “[Wicker] describes her disappointment at discovering she’s pregnant with her fifth child…” Wait! I’m not disappointed – just scared and anxious! But now I can recognize that perhaps I was a little disappointed that God paid no attention to Kate Wicker’s Strategic Life Plan and didn’t give me a baby when I wanted one and then caught me totally off guard when I thought I (or my body anyway) was finished with baby surprises.
And now here I am in the most beautiful postpartum period I’ve ever experienced.
I wish I could have included the joy I’ve cradled right along with Charlie in a postscript for the book.
Looking back, I see that God began to cloak me in love even during my pregnancy and was constantly pursuing me and telling me, often through the help and kindness of others, “I’ve got this and so do you with My help and grace.”
Still, I didn’t fully believe any of this until Charlie was in my arms. I questioned. I doubted. Then I looked into the eyes of this precious gift that wasn’t a part of MY limited plan, and all my fears melted away. This isn’t to say we won’t have rough moments ahead. I was faced with my first-ever big breastfeeding challenge this go-round, in fact, and had to get help for painful, cracked nipples. But all in all, I feel so at peace with my life, and this big surprise is the cause of a lot of joy for me and my whole family. I delight in holding Charlie and snuggling with him, and I can’t imagine my life or family without him. I’m wiser now and know full well how fleeting this precious newborn and little baby period is. I’m content to love on my baby, and I give thanks to God for blessing me with the unexpected and unplanned.
Whenever I’m nursing, I find myself praying more and so I’ve prayed to God and told Him I’ll no longer question His will or plan for me; yet, I know I probably won’t live up to this promise. But for now I’m soaking up all things Charlie as well as God’s goodness.
As a mother and a Catholic one at that, it can feel wrong to admit that you’re not over the moon about a pregnancy. But I think we need to be authentic and share what’s on our heart. Just because we’re scared or unsure doesn’t mean we don’t love our babies. Likewise, what can feel scary and like a source of anxiety often transforms into a blessing. Charlie is tangible evidence of this. Getting past perfect is really about getting past fear – the fears of not being in control, of not living up to the worthy calling of motherhood, of fragmented sleep, of what others might think of us… To conquer our fears, we have to surrender to God and lean on Him more in the big as well as the little things.
I’m walking in God’s way right now, and I’m loving it. Yet, living by the will of God can be incredibly difficult. God isn’t obligated to make things turn out the way we think they should or hope they would. There are no guarantees of happiness. But He does promise us that in His will, when we walk in His way, we will be cared for and blessed. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30).
I know there are going to be times when I’ll go forth kicking and screaming or digging my heels into the ground. When we resist God’s way and would prefer to have things work out the way we plan or desire, there’s going to be uncertainty, confusion, and resistance. Sometimes His way won’t be as lovely as a “bonus baby.” It might involve sickness or suffering or loneliness. I’ve been there, too, but I’ve seen how even the hardest moments can transform into blessings.
This is Holy Week. It’s a time to grow closer to Christ and to unite all that you are with Him. Are you ready? Are you ready to be amazed by God? Joy comes out of unexpected pregnancies. Love comes out of loss and mourning. Strength comes out of weakness. And life – broken yet beautiful life – comes out of death.