mother

From One Postpartum Mom To Another by Joellyn Hoekstra

It happened, and it was exactly like it has been every time. I even warned my husband weeks ago that this would come up eventually. Super Mom Syndrome caught up to me, and I had my usual post-baby meltdown. I desperately want to save you and others from becoming a victim of this harmful condition. We are not doing ourselves, other new moms, or our precious children any service by showing them that we don’t need to slow down to heal our valuable bodies after birthing humans beings out of them. This “Super Mom” mentality, especially in the postpartum period, is annoying at best and life-threatening at worst. It just doesn’t sit well with me.

So here it goes. My meltdown sounds a little bit like this (insert crying sounds and 40 minutes leading up to the discussion where I am slightly catatonic and displaying the silent treatment until I am finally convinced to talk about it):

 “I am completely overwhelmed. I don’t want to complain, but I feel like if I don’t mention it from time to time no one will remember that I really shouldn’t be doing all of this yet. Why am I entertaining in my house? Why am I out and trying to keep up with All. The. Things? I am literally keeping small humans alive with my body. I’m leaking from every single part of me. My hormones are completely out of whack. I need a shower. I smell bad. I just want to sit and smell my new baby. She’s already getting bigger. Can she stop changing so fast? I am missing it. I can’t do it all. I am not taking care of myself. If no one looks out for me I will not stop this insanity. Please see me, acknowledge the work that I am doing for us and help me to remember that I need to rest.” 

One of my favorite artists, Sara Groves, has a song in response to Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” It’s called “Finite.” The opening line is, “I’m not every woman. It’s not all in me…I come to an end.” I love that. It’s good to know our limits. I admire women who know when they need to call it and who aren’t afraid to do so. I’m not that way. Just because we can do All. The. Things. doesn’t mean we should. It isn’t healthy, and I’m not living well when I choose to ignore my transitioning body and family. I love the newborn phase. I have a great support system, and I have an especially kick-ass husband who helps out a ton. Therefore, my conclusion is that if I have felt this, you probably have too. 

Please allow me to go a bit extreme and nursie on you for a moment. I won’t get too technical about it, but we here in the USA are not doing so well in the area of maternal morbidity and general postpartum health. Do some basic research on it if you want to get a little freaked out. Some of the things that strike me as particularly concerning in relation to this topic are postpartum hemorrhage, uterine prolapse (uterus falling into or completely out of the vagina), postpartum depression and stress incontinence (accidentally peeing a little when you laugh and sneeze). I cannot completely separate these conditions from the overwhelming pressure on mothers to jump up and right back into their pre-pregnancy jeans. Is it worth it to be the “Super Mom” that we seem to idealize and praise? 

Historically (and presently, in some cultures) our society has protected the postpartum period with much more diligent concern and respect. Today, a mother is given an EDC (estimated date of confinement) when she discovers that she is pregnant. The name was created at a time when the birth of a child would mark the beginning of a confinement period of about 30-40 days. No going out, no heavy household chores, eating a special diet, being forced to rest while the other children are tended to, etc. The medical world has actually considered changing the term since this is no longer our standard practice. We need to remember that a woman’s body is vulnerable for a period of time. This should not be forgotten.

I have made it a life goal to serve new moms when I am not keeping a tiny baby alive myself. To try to do this now would be too “Super Mom-ish" of me. I’m thankful to have women in my life who have done this for me, and I want to care for others in this way. My plan is to hunt down young moms, force them to get back in bed and take their toddlers on long tiring walks until their naptime. Feed her. Find out what day she wants to go grocery shopping and show up to keep her little ones entertained at home. Better yet, I’d just go get the groceries for her. Fold laundry. Smack her if she offers me water when I come to visit, and find the refrigerator to get her some water as she is becoming dehydrated trying to keep everyone alive with her gigantic, engorged boobs.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my children. I want 100 kids (see previous post). I am just saddened by the current standard for moms who have recently given birth in the States. I want to give myself (and moms everywhere) permission to take it easy and rest. It’s just a few weeks, and we will never get this time back. Let’s allow our bodies to recover. Open our hearts to wrap around the new little creation in our midst. Provide our older children a moment of rest for their sweet souls to transition as well. Keep our uteri way up high in the pelvis where they belong. Encourage our hormones to settle down into their rightful balance. I want to give us the gift of looking back on our baby’s first days and weeks with less stress and more fondness.

I confess that I am guilty of giving into pressure and trying to do too much too fast. I have even turned down people who are willing to help (insanity). I know that I need to be honest about what I can and cannot do in these first few postpartum weeks and beyond. Busy mom does not equal better mom. Together, we need to get rid of the lie that the mom who “has it all together right away” is who we actually want to be. Let’s be the mom who shows her girls how to value and protect her beautiful and changing body. Let’s show our sons how to care for and admire a woman who has sacrificed herself to bring new life into the world. Let’s show each other compassion and sacrificial love as we support one another well in this vulnerable, fragile time. That’s a real “Super Mom,” in my opinion. 

- JBH

Life In Death to Self by Joellyn Hoekstra

I had a small conflict recently. It helps to practice surrender and self control when the problem isn’t catastrophic. It is humbling to see my sinful nature arise when my pride is threatened. When someone has wronged me or offended me all I want to do is puff up my chest, stand tall and fight to win. I want to see justice. I think I’ll just take it upon myself to bring that about, thank you. At least that’s what I want. My way. I’m just being honest. I want the other person to admit that I’m right. I long for them to call me up and say, “I’m so very sorry, I’m completely in the wrong. I’m a terrible person.” Yes, that will surely make me happy. 

I shared some of my conflict with a wise friend and mentor. She didn’t give me any quick-fix answers. That might have made me feel better in the moment, but in her wisdom she knew that wouldn’t last long. She just said, “let’s pray about it right now.” Everything changes when I bring my mess to Jesus. Every time. My load is immediately easier and my burden is light, or at least a lot lighter than it was. Romans 8:28 tells us that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose. I desire to be a part of that work. I want God to use my conflict to bring about good. For me and for the other people involved.  

Do I want good to come of this, or do I want my way? I had to ask myself that hard question. Giving up control and handing God my conflict doesn’t seem like it will make me feel better. Even though I have personally experienced God’s healing power in this way many times before. Once I give it to Him I know I can’t keep it. I can’t own it anymore. I have to stop obsessing over it. No more analyzing it from own my biased perspective and deciding that I am right. Stop keeping score. In many ways I know that when I bring my problem to Him I will not be so hurt by it anymore. It feels like being the one to humble myself somehow means I’m saying, “they’re right.” I definitely don’t want that. Often I need to continue to be a victim and feel the pain of it for just a little bit longer. Poor me.

There is a clear, loud message ringing out in the world. We should be doing whatever makes us happy at all times. It promotes utter and complete selfishness. Do you hear it too, or is it just me? Doing whatever pleases us physically, emotionally, and visually at any time will equal happiness. I have been wrestling with this idea for quite some awhile. When I hear and see this message preached and encouraged from every facet of life something in me literally twitches. I just want to look away. I believe that is the work of the Holy Spirit alive in me. Sadly, I feel like it is less and less of an insult on my soul over time. It has become so normal. 

I listened to a Sermon podcast by Francis Chan the other day. He said something horrifying that I can’t stop thinking about. He pointed out that one of the five pillars or goals of the Satanic Church is to create an environment around oneself that is completely of that person’s own choosing or desire. It is based on divulging in whatever pleases that person at any given time. He or she should also be free of individuals or surroundings that would question or pollute whatever desire or belief they are holding on to. It’s true. I looked it up myself, which was a creepy experience to say the least.  

Where is this “peace like a river?” Why is it “well with my soul” no matter what comes my way? It isn’t because difficulty never arises. It’s not because we have collected the perfect bunch of family and friends to be surrounded by. We do not find joy by fulfilling all of our own desires and getting our way. Again, we have to look upside down in this world. Die to self. Lay down your life. Find real life in Jesus. He laid down His life to give us this gift. I needed to give my conflict to Him. I’ve found that true rest comes when I completely trust Jesus to be in full control. It isn’t on me anymore. I want Him to have it. I want Him to make something beautiful out of it. If I can get to this place of surrender I often enjoy the privilege of seeing His glorious resurrection work in action, and tasting the fruit of it myself.

- JBH 

The Birth of Beauty and Suffering by Joellyn Hoekstra

I’ve now had a small plethora of birth experiences. My first was a cesarean section under general anesthesia. That means I was put to sleep for it. I don’t remember meeting my boy. Thank goodness there are pictures. My last was the complete opposite. There was hardly even time for an IV stick. I’m one of those weird people who has actually looked forward to the laboring and delivery of my babies since I was a young girl. It’s a kind of strange obsession I have. I even wanted another baby just minutes after Lottie’s birth (I know, I’m one of those crazy people). Many people tried to comfort me after Silas’ birth by reminding me that at least I have a healthy baby. Absolutely! Of course, I am beyond thankful to have my little guy. That’s not what I was missing. There are many mysterious and beautiful things going on during the birthing process, and I left his feeling like I had lost something. 

There are really two completely separate yet totally related processes going on during labor and birth. A woman is becoming a mother (or a repeat mother). She is going through a massive transition, regardless of how she has chosen to birth. There is also a child entering the world, and the two come together beautifully in the end. The mother and her perspective on this event in her life cannot be overlooked. Likewise, the child cannot be ignored, and the two should be kept safe, mother’s wishes and dignity preserved—even in a c-section (maybe even especially in this scenario). It saddens me to know how difficult it can be for a birthing mother to find a care provider who respects these two happenings individually and together. All births can be done well and carefully all the while empowering a woman in a mighty way. 

I had the opportunity to share Lottie’s birth with my sweet older sister, my incredible husband and my supportive mother-in-law/doula (two for one!). It has been important to be able to debrief with them since I have delivered my girl. My sister mentioned that it was profound for her to watch a natural birth and see the work with each contraction. She has been thinking about how this reflects a picture of our walk through life. She is so right and so wise. Our initial instinct is to fight and wrestle with grief or pain. It was powerful for her to see the contractions intentionally embraced and handed over and out of my control. We grow in the presence and process of pain and suffering, and we need people by our side. I couldn’t have done it without them.

We western folk have a real fear of pain and suffering don’t we? We have found various ways to numb it. Social media, alcohol, drugs, sex, narcotics, and baby head sniffing just to name a few. For me the birth process is an opportunity to practice suffering well. I don’t expect every woman to have this perspective. I know that I’m not the norm, but just entertain this thought with me for a moment. I longed to let myself rest in the hard contractions. It has struck me since that when I met each contraction ready to handle it with deep slow breathing I could actually rest (almost sleep) through it. When I was caught off guard and unprepared to meet the next contraction, I would be struggling and noticed that I felt stuck in whatever position I happened to be in when it hit me hard. A contraction can knock the breath right out of you when you’re not ready for it. What is the value in expecting suffering and being prepared for it in advance as believers in Jesus?

The birth process provides opportunity after opportunity (like every 2-5 minutes) to practice staring difficulty straight in the face and experiencing the courage and strength you find to get through it. I didn’t want to numb it. I didn’t want to fear it. I have been changed by my births. It’s all woven together here. The beautiful and the dark are present simultaneously throughout the laboring. It’s truly a small glimpse of the life journey. Birthing is a massive sacrifice on the part of the mother, giving all of herself to bring life into this world. What an incredible offering of the self. It is so worth the hard work.

Well-meaning Christian brothers and sisters have told me to protect myself from pain before. A few years ago I spent time in Uganda caring for vulnerable, sweet babies. One in particular, a precious boy who was so sick at the time that many people were worried he might not live. I specifically remember a friend telling me not to get too invested in him because I would be hurt if he didn’t survive. So I trusted God, and I ignored that person. I just loved that baby even harder. I cannot even begin to imagine all that would have been lost in my soul if I had taken this advice. When we go through loss and it hurts us, I think that’s a really good sign. Some of my hurts are the best things about me. They were deep enough to change me. I love those parts of my heart. Jesus is there. I wouldn’t take them back. I wish I had a stretch mark or physical scar to show for some of the deep love and hurt I have been able to experience with God by my side. 

I have felt so much joy with the coming of my new girl child. There are many emotions and such incredible highs. All the while, I have had friends and family who have experienced loss and heartache in these very weeks. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for grieving. Sometimes they happen all at once. How do we process this? Why am I holding a fresh new life with all the beauty and excitement that comes with her while others are empty handed? I did nothing to deserve this. Neither did they. My prayers were not more fervent and theirs were not lacking. Suffering is so hard. I don’t have the answers. I only know that God is good. I can rest in that truth in the midst of the unanswered questions and pain.

Sometimes we don’t like to acknowledge it, but the Bible talks about suffering. A lot. We’re told to expect it as believers and even to embrace it. That’s hard to swallow in the midst of real, true suffering. We need God in these times. He knows that. We grow and we learn to trust Him and to love Him more. We are only here for a time. Our present suffering is nothing compared to the future glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). We are obsessed with knowing how our lives will play out. That includes birth. It’s inconvenient and unpredictable. It seems to be incompatible with our societies obsession with comfort.

Birth presents us with beauty and pain all at once. We need support. Can birth be an opportunity to practice engaging and embracing suffering? I’m thankful to have had support, and I long for this for every other birthing mom. Can we suffer well? Can we come alongside our brothers and sisters and encourage them in suffering? Can we love knowing that it might hurt us? Are we encouraged to do these things or commanded? I don’t know what kind of suffering you’re facing now, but I long for you to be supported well and surrounded like a mother in labor. Fully embracing and acknowledging the hard work you are doing. I long for you to be prepared for it and loved well through it because you are not alone and because you are hoping and trusting in Jesus. I long for you to breathe deep and give your pain to Him. There is light in the darkness. There is glory in the end. 

-JBH

Lead Me to the Secret Place by Joellyn Hoekstra

I like to ponder heaven. I do it a lot. I think about 100 million angels singing around God’s throne, His royal robes flowing over and filling the whole room. I think about seeing Jesus face-to-face. I try to grasp even just a small portion of the love that will flood over me with such force that I will not be able to fathom a moment when I could have denied or rebelled against Him. But some of my most frequent heaven daydreaming sessions include Him taking me by the hand and leading me to the Secret Place.

This thought comes from one of the better-known verses in scripture mentioning the womb, Psalm 139. As I have shared before, any discussion of the womb and I get pretty excited. “For you created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” But it’s a later verse that really gets me,My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the Secret Place.” 

I love this place, the Secret Place. A part of me is hesitant to even share it publicly because it’s so dear to me and because there are really no words to adequately describe what I see when I think on it. I don’t want it tainted, criticized or heavily analyzed. I am not a theologian, and I’m not claiming to have read specifically of this place in scripture, but I have seen the fruit of pondering this Secret Place in my parenting and in my deep love for all of God’s people. 

I started praying for my babies long before I ever had them. Actually, before I was even married. I knew God had written their lives into His great story long ago. Why wait to start praying for them? But it made me wonder where they were. I started dreaming of a place where He might be keeping them, forming them, and rejoicing over them with singing in heaven. What would they talk about? Would He tell them about me? Could He be preparing them for their time on Earth at that very moment? How long have they been there? Were we once dwelling there together? Does He reveal others around them who will be siblings or friends?

This dreaming has changed how I look at them. It’s changed how I parent them. I have a deep appreciation for the value and preciousness of their lives. They simply do not belong to me. They are not my property. They are God’s precious creation. It makes me careful of how I talk about them to others and how I talk to them. These are eternal souls. They belong to God. They were, they are and they will be forever. 

I don’t think I have a specific parenting philosophy, and I tend to avoid parenting “How to” books. Most of the decisions and stances I take in parenting my children come from praying for a deeper understanding of who they are to God. I know He has a plan for them. I want to foster that, to always remember that I don’t deserve these precious little ones. “Children are a gift from the Lord, they are a reward from Him.” (Psalm 127:3) I want to love them and give them security and warmth that will allow them to be able to open up their vulnerable hearts and follow God, no matter what He asks them to do. Our home and my arms are the place on earth that God has chosen to shape my kids into who He has created them to be. 

Sometimes I think we take too much credit and other times too much blame as parents. The thought of my children belonging to God long ago and forever more frees me of this on a daily basis. When someone tells me my kids are cute, I usually respond by saying, “I know!  Aren’t they incredible?” I’ve seen the shock on their faces to hear this kind of response, and I get it. It’s just that I truly don’t view them as “mine.” Okay yes, I did carry them around for 9 months within me, but I did not create them. I cannot simply say “thanks” and take the credit for this astonishing little person. In my heart, I think of how God did take such delight in creating them. He deserves the credit, and I want to hand it back to him with every chance that I get.

They are my responsibility, and that is a really crazy thing to think about. He didn’t accidentally give me these babies at the wrong time. Job 14 tells us, “He has their months and days numbered already.” When I prayed about becoming pregnant with Silas, I opened myself up before God and asked if He would send me one of His adored children. God knew full well that we had no money saved up. He knew that Aaron and I were young. He knew that this would be our first-born. I remember praying, “Please, God, just not a child who needs a lot of monetary resources. Please don’t send us a pro golfer or something crazy like that. We can’t afford it.” I know that He knows Silas far better than I do. He knows the plans He has for him. We are the parents He sent in place ahead of him. That takes a lot of pressure off of me.

I grew up surrounded by adoption. I used to figure I would probably not be able to carry a biological child. I had so many beautiful women in my life who had been unable to conceive, and they had all these incredible children adopted from various places around the world. It got to a point where I would meet another mentor and think, really God? Are you trying to tell me something here? I was fully prepared and eager to adopt. Thinking about the Secret Place has shaped how I view adoption, and I still hope there are adoptions to come for us as a family. How long has He seen their unformed body, this soul? Who does He have set apart for me? It doesn’t matter what color they are or which womb they grow in for those few short months. That baby was created long ago with me in mind as his or her mother. I’ll take them however they come to me.

The Secret Place has changed the depths of how I grieve for sweet friends struggling through pregnancy loss. It doesn’t matter how long that baby has been growing inside her before she began the terrifying moments of feeling that fullness slip away. It is always devastating. Always. That baby has a soul. Does that mama remember him or her?  I think somehow she does. She was eagerly awaiting the reunion, and I was expectant with her. What a beautiful thing it is to see a mother meet her sweet little one, and she will someday. It will have to wait, and I hope I get to be there for those triumphant moments.

It changes how I receive new babies in a delivery. This tiny creation from God. From His Secret Place to our world. From His hands to…mine? It is truly an honor and a privilege to be part of a moment such as this. Often I don’t feel worthy to be present for all these births, but it’s probably not a great idea for your nurse to suddenly get up and leave in the middle of your delivery, right? I think it’s one of the many reasons that I love natural, calm birth so much. That moment (as long as medically appropriate) should be protected. It should be welcoming. It is sacred. There should be rejoicing and even laughter, not fear. Sheer euphoria. God even gives the naturally birthing body massive doses of endorphins for a moment such as this. I feel especially protective of the new mothers who are truly longing for this beautiful moment, but that’s a topic for another day.

Is my job here preparing me for a greater work that I will get to do eternally? Will I someday work in this Secret Place? Will I get to birth souls back into heaven where they are perfectly loved and accepted as they ought to be? I will take that job position without even one second of pondering. I know this might not be true at all. There is no elaborate description of this place in scripture. God might have a completely different way of doing the important work of creating His people, but I have a feeling that if I’m off here, it’s only that my small imagination and limited physical being cannot even begin to scratch the surface of what it’s really like.

“For you created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s wombMy frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the Secret Place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.” Psalm 139:13-15

-JBH

My Husband Made Me by Joellyn Hoekstra

My husband made me start a blog. He’s been telling me for quite awhile, “You just need to blog about it,” and I keep on giving him reasons why I shouldn’t. Maybe he’s tired of hearing me pour out all of my thoughts and feelings in the car whenever we go anywhere. Maybe he knows I need some sort of outlet to discuss what’s on my heart. Or maybe he knows that I’m not the only woman/mother/wife/Christian/nurse/friend/daughter who is rattling these things around within. I’m a full-time nurse by night and a stay-at-home mom by day to my three-year-old son and 20-month-old daughter. And by "stay-at-home" I mean that quite literally. We pretty much just stay at home all the time because I’m nearly 40 weeks pregnant with yet another wee one. Okay, yes, I need an outlet. 

I’m torn about the idea of blogging at all. It could just be an excuse I gave my husband for not wanting to go along with it, but maybe there is something there. We live in a culture that thinks it’s completely normal to have a self-focused page about all the best things we have to offer. The world tells us it’s okay to promote yourself, and when things are getting tough you just need more “me time.” Sometimes living in this culture as a follower of Jesus feels a lot like swimming upstream and everyone is looking at you like you’re crazy. We know that the Kingdom of Heaven is upside down from this world we are living in. When we are feeling like we need more time for us we would probably really benefit from pouring ourselves out for others. My dad told me that once when I was feeling down. Don’t turn in. Look for ways to pour out and serve. And he was right.That actually filled me.

I can recall many conversations or happenings where I have offered myself, knowing I might be criticized. I mean, I don’t really hold back, and I usually discover that I’m not alone. I also like to get people thinking and open up their mind to an idea they might not have considered otherwise. I am a Labor and Delivery Nurse and a Certified Breastfeeding Counselor. When a mother says she is considering breastfeeding for a few months, I encourage her, and then I throw myself out like bait and let her know that I nursed my first for over 3 years and my second babe in tandem. I am completely aware that she will think I’m crazy. I will leave the room and there will likely be a moment behind me where a husband and wife look at each other with those big eyes and laugh--at me. But if my comment opens up the door for her to extend her nursing journey beyond a few months, it’s worth it.

My lack of tact in conversation gets me in trouble at times. My profession (L&D nurses are sadly known for this) really makes it hard to know what to talk about around the dinner table sometimes. You don’t want to talk about vaginal secretions and placental encapsulation right now? Why? Anyway, as my Godmother once told me in the context of talking about a boyfriend I had at the time, sometimes our greatest strength is our greatest weakness. I figure, while this is a definite weakness at the dinner table where my friends and family cannot get away, it can be a tremendous strength in the blogosphere. You, as a reader, can just move on if it’s not your thing. I won't even know you did.  :)

There is such comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. I’ve come off countless shifts or tough days at home with my babies where I just need to phone a friend and hear her say, “I’ve been there.” I guess I hope that’s what this blog offers. I’m acutely aware that I have been blessed with a whopping group of incredible women (and men) around me. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t specifically recall a conversation or interaction with one of these incredible individuals. I don’t think it’s entirely fair of me to keep them to myself. 

So, as I walk forward into this blog land, I offer myself to you in an attempt to open up hearts and minds and to comfort. I’m committed to praying over any post or comment made here. I live deeply rooted in Jesus and in the truth of the Word of God. This gives me confidence and joy. I am a Daughter of the one true King. It’s who I am, and it changes how I view and sift through everything I experience in this world. It is because of this that I can live and share openly and know that whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, “It is Well with my Soul.”

-JBH