Never A Failure

Never a Failure (1)

I began my career as a high school English teacher with an unapologetically idealistic attitude about the difference I could make in my student’s lives and in Chicago’s far South Side community as a whole. After all, when you’re young and energetic and still on an academic high from all of what you’ve learned as a recent college graduate, there is literally no passion you cannot chase successfully.

I think I envisioned myself as one of those young, inexperienced, yet unexpectedly inspiring and successful teachers you always see in the movies. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to achieve, but I also had no idea how hard it would be.

After three years of teaching in Chicago Public Schools and living in the Roseland community, that passion I had clung to so dearly dwindled from a raging fire to barely a smoking ember. What I believed to be God’s calling for my life now felt far away – lost, even.

I was tired; I was bogged down with paperwork; I had too many classes; I had over-crowded classrooms; I had a steep cultural learning curve that I was barely getting over the hump with, and on top of that, being a recent hire made my job security slim to none. Some students consistently skipped my class; I struggled immensely with getting certain kids to listen, or to even pick up a pencil; many of the tests I gave came back with dismal results; I was constantly sleep-deprived and over-stressed, and I got sick more times in a single year than I had in the past four combined – in short, I felt like a complete failure.

So, when I left the teaching profession at age 25, I felt disillusioned and disheartened about passion as a whole. I thought that if I couldn’t live out my perfect dreams of being an inner city educator, then how could I hope to live them out in any other area of my life?

But mostly, I was just afraid – afraid that because I had quit, that meant I would forever be labeled a quitter – afraid that because I had given up on a past hope, then all hope was lost for me – afraid that because I hadn’t achieved this dream, I would never achieve anything of value.

But more than anything, I was afraid that all of this meant I was a failure.

Two years later, when I found out I was pregnant, those fears resurfaced. I was afraid to have any expectation of motherhood at all, or of my child, for that matter. I didn’t want my passions to be killed yet again.

And I didn’t want to fail.

But how could I hold a new life inside of my own body and not have wild and courageous dreams for her? How could I not hope for so much in this tiny person’s future? How could I not cling to the promises that God had made to this little baby, and also to me?

 After quitting teaching, and especially after becoming a mother, I was pitched into a new season of life where my motivation was very different than it was when I was fresh out of college. But I’ve come to realize that isn’t bad.

We would never say that the little girl who dreamed of being a ballerina at age 5 failed because she ended up becoming a doctor at age 27.

In the same way, God showed me that I wasn’t a failure simply because my dreams in college changed into different dreams even just a few years later.

My passion for teaching impoverished urban kids has grown into a passion for raising my own kids to befriend them and advocate for their rights and for their futures. My passion for living in the Roseland community of Chicago has grown into a passion for pushing myself to see things from other’s perspectives, and learning to love all people where they are, not where I think they should be.

It would take more pages than I can count to recall all of what my former students have taught me, and all of what I am still learning from my Chicago neighbors and South Side friends. But I know that God has used these experiences to mature me and help me see that his perfect plan for me is never just one thing.

My daughter is toddling around now, and a new life is growing inside of my belly, along with new passions and new hopes. I know not all of those fleeting and idealistic dreams will come to fruition in this lifetime, but some of them will, at least to some extent. The rest can wait for heaven.

Passion, in the form of tentative hope, peeks forth from already-fertilized soil. Dreams have grown and died and been stripped away to make room for a new and freshly pruned crop. It’s the way things grow, and it’s the way we grow. And I know now that it is never a failure.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog

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To Feed Another: a Journey Towards Wholeness

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Feeding myself has been a journey.

I think about this as I watch my little girl grasp a steamed string bean in her hands, fervently cutting her new little shards of teeth on the limp pod.

On March 8th at 12:32 am, I became the one person who could feed this child a concoction that was designed by the Almighty and my own body—specifically for her. Before then, my responsibility in providing nourishment for my daughter consisted of me feeding myself well, something which I continue to do, so that the milk which flows from my breast to her tongue will be sufficient in helping her to thrive.

But this—this feeding myself well—it hasn’t always been so easy or important to me, even in the recent past.

I often think of my eating disorder and how it successfully passed from my mother to me, and the potential reasons why it did so, because I am determined that it will stop with me.

There are probably a lot of control issues behind this level of determined thinking that I need to be conscious of. But it is good that I be mindful about how I am feeding myself and how I am feeding my daughter, and also, how I am feeding myself in front of my daughter.

I first began distressing about feeding my daughter on the second night she was alive. Technically it was the first night, since she was born shortly after midnight, but after fifty hours (yes—five, zero) of labor, and three and half hours of pushing, I had not slept in three days and so technicalities escaped me. My husband, who had also not slept much or eaten a real meal in a few days, lay knocked out on the family bed at the birth center’s recovery room. I meanwhile, tried my hardest to latch Esther’s mouth onto my nipple every 12 minutes, in fear that neither of us were “doing it right”. The lactation consultant had not been by, and I attempted to remember what I had learned in the breastfeeding class I had attended a few weeks prior.

I remember looking down at my cracked and bleeding nipple and at my squirming newborn’s hungry mouth and thinking, “Am I really the only one who can do this right now?”

In that question were housed a multitude of doubts, and not simply the exhausted frustrations of a brand new mother at 3am.

They were doubts about my own ability not just to learn the tricky art of breastfeeding my particular baby, but about whether or not I could really feed another human being, and do it well.

Food. Sustenance. Nourishment. It is essential to life. The food we eat or do not eat determines of much of our health and wellbeing.

Perhaps the “normal” mother is not intimidated, much less frightened by this task of feeding. Perhaps it is my history with food that makes this responsibility so terrifying, which sends me spinning into questioning my capability to do any of this.

Doubts plague me—doubts about whether I, a formally bulimic and anorexic girl who got pregnant, had to deal with all kinds of people coming up to her, touching her belly and commenting on how “big you’re getting”, who lost all her modesty in the delivery room, and who is now dealing with a crap-ton of postpartum hormones—whether I can really do this thing called “being a mom”.

Mostly because “being a mom” means I’ve got to feed my kid. And I only just learned how to feed myself.

But then again, Perhaps the “normal” mother, regardless of how well or poor she has fed herself in the past, or how much she struggles with insecurities or how many doubts she has about her capabilities…perhaps every mom feels this pressure: the pressure to nourish; the pressure to sustain; the pressure to feed.

Perhaps I am just as “normal” as everyone else.

I decided I wanted to breastfeed my baby well before she was even conceived.

Oh, I did my research, and I knew that it was the healthiest option. Also, my husband and I were in agreement that I would stay at home with our kids, so I wouldn’t have to worry about pumping while at work or some of the other challenges that sometimes lead mothers to choose formula over the breast. I had read articles, books, blogs, and testimonials, and I was pretty sure I would be that “crunchy mama” with the cloth diapers, baby carriers, and avidly breastfeeding until well after most kiddos are weaned.

But, I’m not going to lie; the simplicity behind breastfeeding is also what attracted me to it.

No mixing and warming up bottles in the middle of the night, no spending hard earned money on formula, no forgetting to bring enough milk for a trip out of town. As long as my baby was with me, my breasts would be there, ready to supply all of their nutritional needs.

            It’s beautiful.

I realize now, that breastfeeding is not always so simple.

Many women struggle to develop a good latch. Some have trouble maintaining an adequate milk supply. Others get plugged milk ducts and mastitis, or even thrush. These things could happen to me too, and they could be difficult. I learned this as I browsed “What to Expect When Your Expecting” while 30 weeks pregnant, and at the breastfeeding class I took at the birth center where I would deliver Esther a few weeks later.

And while these challenges scared me a little, I still wanted to do it—to breastfeed my baby. The pros greatly outweighed the potential cons, and I knew that this commitment to breastfeed would be the first of many decisions I would make about feeding my little one once I finally brought her into the outside world and out of that cocoon of coziness she was wrapped in, germinating for 41 weeks and a day inside of me.

And on that exhausting night in March, when the thunder and lightning raged, the wind blew, America celebrated women, and Jews celebrated Purim, I met the one I would be saddled with feeding. I met my daughter.

I remember how she looked against the bright lights as my midwife and my husband handed her up over to me. I remember Dennis exclaiming, “It’s a girl!” as he cut the cord and I kissed her head on my sweaty and bare chest.

I remember saying to her, “Hi baby, I’m your mommy.”

And when they finally left us alone as a family, after they cleaned me up and I had stopped shaking, I remember pulling that little unnamed baby close, and feeling her mouth grope for my breast, as they were already leaking the golden colostrum that was designed especially for her.

Getting the hang of breastfeeding Esther came in stages for me.

First, it was just getting over the sore nipples and engorgement. Then it was fretting about my forceful letdown, which left Esther sputtering and me spraying milk at whatever happened to be a foot in front of me at the time. Then it was regulating my oversupply while still staying comfortable, which involved pumping at least four ounces of milk first thing in the morning.

By five months, I finally felt confident.

…And then a month later we started solid food with her.

Quickly, it became clear that feeding my child would no longer be as simple as pulling her to my breast. No. Now there were bibs and sticky messes and baby spoons and packing pureed goop into glass jars next to ice packs.

Suddenly, I was reading all the labels and spending evenings blending large batches of whole foods and freezing them into ice cube trays. Suddenly I was worried about whether Esther was getting enough zinc, or protein, or—as my little one just battled some crazy constipation—fiber.

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I lament at the amount of time and preparation this all takes.

And I think back to when I first learned to feed myself well, or rather, when I began my process of learning to do so.

I remember the intentionality with which I packed my lunches when I first committed to recovery from my anorexia and bulimia. They had to have the right kind of nutrients: enough “healthy fats”, as my dietitian called them, and each of them had to contain the correct serving size of each food group, and enough calories.

At an age when most people were living off of late night pizza and beer (college-aged), I was learning to feed myself.

Now, I’ve been recovered from that seven-year-long disease for four years. But I still have to deal with the root issues as battles in my brain.

Now, Esther doesn’t eat many baby purees, and we’ve embraced the simpler yet messier task of baby-led-weaning (BLW). But I still read labels and plan out her nutrition intentionally.

And every day I’m faced with the pressure of feeding. Feeding myself, feeding my husband, and feeding my daughter.

I do the grocery shopping. I do the meal preparation. I eat, and what I eat goes into producing the milk my daughter eats. I fill the sippy-cups with water and prune juice. I cook the dinners. The snacks I buy are what we end up pulling out at 9pm when we’re watching The Newsroom and our little one is sound asleep in her crib.

How did slowly learning to feed my own self well suddenly turn into being crowned “Queen of Feeding”?

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We will have more kids. And I will be in charge of what they eat.

I will feed my tribe.

This sinks in slowly over the months, like tea seeps into hot water in a steaming mug. Like I slowly conquered breastfeeding, my milk supply leveling out as I finally stopped leaking milk through all of my shirts. And I suppose that’s how it has been: gradually and with grace, until I’m ready to sustain. I have become this source of nourishment slowly, and it still is a process.

The anxiety about feeding lessens as the days pass. As avocados are sliced and coffee is brewed and I scrub sweet potato off of the dining room floor. As my child weans herself and I grow into my motherhood and food begins to taste different without the pressure of the very new.

And I remember the first time I ate ice cream after anorexia without wanting to empty myself clean. And how soon it isn’t painful anymore.

I want to teach my daughter that eating is good, and food is an adventure, and if it ever starts to feel hard, that I know how it is, and that I got through it by the grace of God and His determination to make me whole.

Feeding myself has been a journey. 

Feeding my daughter has been a journey.

And I am walking closely to grace as I teeter past these milestones and menus and meals, eating whole foods and whole pints of ice cream like I’ve always known I was capable of once I became whole.

 

What Minimalism Isn’t (to me)

It’s been about a year now since I began my minimalist journey– or rather, my wannabe-minimalist journey. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff, mostly clothes, and I’ve reworked a lot of my schedule to reflect a more simplified … Continue reading

A Letter from a Self-Conscious, Sensitive, Formally Anorexic, First-Time Pregnant Mother

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I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t at least a little self-conscious about my body. Whether it was my hair, my skin, how big my thighs were, how small my breasts are, or the puffiness of my face when I smile– I have always had a very self-critical eye when it comes to looking in that mirror.

During my high school and college years, I struggled deeply with depression and a dangerous combination of anorexia and bulimia. This lasted seven long years, and left a lasting impression.

While I am now free from the physical manifestation of my eating disorder (Praise Jesus!), old habits, as they say, die hard; it is difficult not to revert back into those former patterns of thinking. Especially now.

Especially now, because my body is changing quite a lot lately, and it seems as if everyone who sees me feels the need to make comments about it.

Especially now, because I’m pregnant. 

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My growing belly is a welcoming landmark for seemingly harmless comments to be tossed carelessly and amiably at me, a sensitive soul to begin with, but even more so due to those lovely pregnancy hormones.

So this is a letter to my acquaintances who naively believe your comments about my body to be of no consequence during this very fragile and challenging time in my life before motherhood:

Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well,

Not all of you may consider yourselves to be “older”, but you are all older than I am. Not all of you have even been pregnant, but if you have, it’s been a good while. I assume this, because you probably have forgotten what a very vulnerable and emotional time pregnancy is– otherwise I do not believe you would say the things you do.

Some of you I see almost daily, or at least every week or so, and I might even call you my friends. Yet, I know you must not know me well, for you would not speak as you do if you truly knew me.

And yes, you are always a woman.

So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who doesn’t know me well, please listen and learn from an emotional pregnant woman who is being deeply wounded by your careless comments.

Listen. For the sake of any other woman who has struggled with body-image, which statistically is about every woman you see around you.

When I’m 18 weeks along, please don’t inform me that most women don’t even look pregnant at 18 weeks. Please, resist that urge to be the first to tell me that I must be carrying twins, because when I find out that there is only one baby in there, I’ll remember your comments about how big I am, and even though I try not to, I will feel shame creeping over me.

When you haven’t seen me in a few weeks, please don’t tell me I’m carrying the baby in my hips and butt. I don’t know many women who want to hear that they have gained noticeable weight in these areas of their body, and I am not any different.

And besides, what do you expect me to say to that comment? “Why thank you. I’m so glad you noticed that my backside is expanding– I thought no one ever would!”?

Not likely.

When you ask me what type of birth I want, please don’t scoff and tell me what you did instead, implying that it was a better or easier decision. Please don’t discourage me from a natural birth that would benefit the health of my baby and empower me as a woman and mother. Please don’t assume my expectations are unrealistic. Let me figure that out for myself, or let my very experienced and qualified midwife tell me.

When I reach for another helping of pizza, don’t look at me sideways and then exclaim, “oh right, I guess you’re eating for two now”, implying that otherwise it would not be okay to eat as much as I am eating.

When you curiously ask me what pregnancy symptoms I’m experiencing, please do not tell me it’s odd I’m still getting morning sickness, or that you had energy all the way through your second trimester, or that you’ve never heard of round ligament pain “so early along”. It doesn’t feel good to have someone evaluate the worst of my pregnancy symptoms and articulate the strangeness or normalcy of each of them in comparison to another’s experience. Besides, you telling me that it’s strange to have acid reflux during pregnancy won’t make mine go away. 

When you see me drinking coffee, don’t assume I have not been informed about the dangers of caffeine during the first trimester. For all you know, I am trying to live off of a cup a week, and this is my designated time to enjoy a latte.

And when you ask me how I’m feeling and I respond “tired”, because most people forget that growing a human is rather exhausting work, please don’t tell me to “get my sleep now”, implying that I do not have the privilege of being worn out without a crying hungry baby waking me up in the middle of the night.

Please don’t tell me my face looks fat. Don’t tell me my boobs look bigger. Don’t tell me I am “skinny pregnant”. Don’t tell me I look larger than I should.

Don’t try to scare me with birth horror stories. Don’t only speak of the hardships of motherhood. Don’t force your own observations or “insight” about how it will be when my particular baby comes into the world.

Just don’t.

Instead, smile and listen and tell me I look like a healthy and glowing pregnant woman, or better yet, don’t make any comments about my appearance at all! 

I know I could suck it up and deal with it. I’ve come a long way since my eating disorder, and I’ve gotten good at shaking things off and not placing so much of my self-worth into how I look.

But I need to tell you that your comments do sting. I just need to.

Because, the thing is, I believe you say all of these things–these comments about weight and pregnancy symptoms, and crying babies, and epidurals, and lack of sleep–I believe you say all of those things because you are excited that I too am now going through this experience of pregnancy, and soon, motherhood, and because I think it probably makes you think back to your own experience.

And this probably makes you say some things you might not otherwise. 

I am trying to assume the best and be strong.

But I cannot lie. Sometimes those comments land at exactly the wrong time. When I’m exhausted, hormonal, feeling useless and scared and huge and disgusting. When I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do ab exercises on my back again or if I’ll get stretch marks during my third trimester, or if my swim suit will fit this week, if I’ll be good at being a mom, or if my husband is telling the truth when he says I still look attractive.

It’s so hard for me to fight off negative self-talk, self-doubt, and body-shaming thoughts during times like this.

 

So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, although you may think I am being overly sensitive and although you may be right, I urge you to remember, or at least try to understand how tender the heart is during this fragile time of pregnancy.

And if you were one of those super-woman confident feminist mammas who worked full time up until week 40, never got morning sickness or pregnancy acne, and who hardly took other people’s comments seriously, please consider that I may be a bit different than you.

Be kind. Be considerate. Be gentle. Don’t just say whatever you’re thinking.

Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, I hope you will listen. And I hope this helps you know me better.

With love,

A Self-Conscious, Sensitive, Formally Anorexic, First-Time Pregnant Mother