Confessions of a New Working Mom

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Over the last two weeks of my return to work, I have found a way to somehow nurse, burp, change and play with baby Jude while also showering, dressing, making breakfast, drinking coffee and getting out of the door in time to drop him off at the nanny’s with bottles and breast milk and get myself to work with a few minutes to spare. It’s amazing how one can feel accomplished so early in the day!

Today, I had a morning meeting that was going to conflict with the time that I needed to pump. I’d been thinking through it all last night and figured I would go ahead and cluster feed the baby – meaning, even though I fed him at 6a, I would feed him one more time at 7:40a right before dropping him off with the nanny. That way, I wouldn’t need to pump during my 9a meeting.

With everything ready to go out the door, I nursed Jude for this last-minute feed. I sat on the couch thinking, Man, I’ve got this!

But don’t all perfect plans somehow seem to backfire?

They do.

And for me, it was in the form of baby puke. All over my work outfit, all in my hair, all over the baby, all over the couch. There was no way I could recover from the hazmat disaster and make it to work on time.

So in a matter of crude desperation, I did what I imagine many working moms rushing out the door before me have done: I rubbed it in.

All of it.  I took the burp cloth and wiped the white spit up covering my front, my shoulders and my back, into my black blouse. I rubbed it into my hair, into Jude’s clothes, into the couch. It was all I could do.

My baby showed up soaked in mama’s milk. My blouse is crusty and I am sticky. My hair looks over-moussed. But we made it out the door and here we are, ready to face the day.

Sometimes, friends, you just have to rub it in.

(And after all of that, my 9a meeting was canceled).

Dinner with a Hero

Scott Hamilton, Melinda Gates & Senator Bill Frist. (Andrea Hallgren, Belmont University)

Scott Hamilton, Melinda Gates & Senator Bill Frist. (Andrea Hallgren, Belmont University)

When James and I were invited to a dinner event with Melinda Gates last Monday night, we didn’t realize we’d actually be having dinner WITH Melinda Gates. Joining 75 other guests to hear her speak about healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for girls in the developing world, we were honored to simply be in the room. In a happy accident of some no-shows at her table, James and I were chosen to fill the seats, quickly finding ourselves sitting next to one of the most powerful women in the world.

Had I known that I’d be having dinner with a hero, I probably would have prepared questions and dressed a bit more professionally, and James probably would have abstained from that pre-dinner whiskey that mixed poorly with his jet lag. But despite our shuffled demeanor, our dinner together was, well, lovely.

Melinda Gates has been a hero for me over the years – a wife, a mom, a humanitarian who cares deeply about overlooked people around the world. I have often wondered what sustains her and why she does what she does. And now I had the opportunity to find out.

I learned that her Catholic faith is the source of her motivation to care for the poor. I learned that her favorite part of her vocation is sitting with women in communities around the world and listening to their struggles, their ideas, their hopes. She never really wanted to be the public voice in connection to her philanthropy, but she has learned how crucial it is to share the stories of those whose voices are not being heard. She spoke about how the stories of the poor have moved her and compelled her to have to do something about it. Knowing these women around the world makes it personal for her. She can’t ignore those she has met.

She asked us about baby Jude and our thoughts on taking him to Africa with us, offering us stories of what it has been like for her and Bill to bring their three children along with them around the world. She talked about the joy in service and philanthropy – that she and Bill could essentially be doing anything else, but they chose this because they believe in it and it gives them joy.

Though my station in life is quite different from that of Melinda Gates, I found myself wanting to be her when I grow up. She is driven by faith and passion, grounded in her commitments, articulate in her vision for change, intentional with people and generous with her time, her resources, and her leadership.

We all need heroes. Men and women whose lives inspire us to our better selves. I feel so lucky to have spent a special evening with one of mine.

To honor Melinda Gates and give voice to her and her husband’s mission, here are some links tied to the issues they are championing:

Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers & Children Worldwide

A piece that James & I wrote, posted on Gates Foundation’s blog

Bill & Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter – Dispelling myths about foreign aid

A Must-Needed Prayer for Today

(Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

(Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

With increased violence in the Middle East and a commercial plane shot down in Ukraine, I seek prayers and words to make sense of it all. To add insult to injury, the world lost nearly a hundred men and women on that plane whose life work has been to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As they departed Amsterdam to attend a conference in Melbourne focused on the relentless war against HIV/AIDS, their vessel collided with another kind of war, and we lost so many heroes.

It all feels so senseless. It brings us to our knees in prayer and desperation for a God who is bigger than the tragedies of mankind.

These words from Ann Voskamp spoke deeply to me last night; may they comfort you today.

Lord, there are bombs tonight, wars tonight, 
planes that have fallen from the sky,
tears that have fallen from the shattered hearts of mothers,
and we fall to our knees before the Wounded Healer 
who cups His hands to catch every falling tear & sparrow & heart 
in His palms that have our names engraved right into Him 
far deeper than any of earth’s sorrow. 
We pray tonight in the name of Him of who catches everything falling 
so we don’t fall apart…so we are held. 

Amen.

For the Mothers and the Babies

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“Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days…” – Isaiah 65:20

Eight days after I delivered Jude, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage. While it was a terrifying experience to bleed out in a public restroom and be taken by ambulance to the emergency room, there was an easy operation that fixed the problem. I stayed in the hospital for two nights and have fully recovered since. Meanwhile, postpartum hemorrhages account for more than 30 percent of all maternal deaths in Africa. I could have been one of them.

This morning I will be sharing a stage with Melinda Gates and Senator Frist, standing in solidarity of the 287,000 women around the world who die every year due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been leading the way in bringing awareness and support to vulnerable mothers and children in developing countries.

Following their lead, James and I have joined a growing coalition of faith-based organizations and advocates to make a stand for access to contraceptives and healthy family planning because of our commitment to save the lives of mothers and babies. We have also written an op-ed that unpacks the complexity of these issues in places like Kenya. Blood:Water is already actively supporting clinics and making safe delivery possible for thousands of mothers and babies. The babies in the photo was a celebration of a mama with preeclampsia and her twins’ survival thanks to the clinical care they received.

But we still have a long way to go.

It seems fitting that on my first day back to work from maternity leave, I will be spending it at a gathering on behalf of mothers and babies worldwide who deserve a better story. I dream of Isaiah’s vision of the new heavens and the new earth where never again will a baby live but a few days or a woman not live out her years. It was personal for me before, but now as a new mother with dreams for my own child, I wish it even more for our women and children around the world.

 

Everything Changes

Face Time with James

James has been in East Africa for the last two weeks while Baby Jude and I have held the fort down in Nashville. While James’ time in Africa is the shortest he’s ever taken, it has felt quite long for all of us.

Our seven years together have been nothing short of amazing – the adventure of travel and mission, the missing each other and the reunions, the intentionality of a stash of hand-written letters for each day that we are apart or the shared book we read while away or the end-of-day emails we send to each other. I’m proud of how we’ve found a rhythm – a way to stick together even when we are miles apart.

But now, everything changes. Because how can you maintain the same kind of presence or intimacy with your three-month-old son when you’re halfway around the world?

You really can’t.

I think we knew that truth (which is one reason why it took so long for us to try to have a baby), but we didn’t really know it until we have lived it out over the last couple of weeks.

We are so grateful for Face Time so that James can watch the dramatic growth and changes that seem to occur on a daily basis. But it is no substitute for cuddling with your baby in the mornings or holding him when he cries at night.

We don’t know what the answer is. For us, it’s a bit of trial and error. Of trying and learning. Of fumbling along the way. And of trusting that there truly is a way to live out commitment to both family and mission.

What I Expected

24-IMG_7404On April 10, James and I welcomed our son, Jude Francis, into the world. It has been 11 weeks of wonderful mixed with a thorough helping of disorienting and, well, life-altering. I didn’t spend very much time reading up on What to Expect while I was expecting but even if I had, I don’t think you can ever really be prepared for what being a new parent requires. As I emerge out of the initial fog of keeping a newborn alive while trying to remain sane, I find myself laughing at the discrepancy of what I was expecting during maternity leave compared to what is truly was.

1. SLEEP

What I expected: In the weeks leading up to our due date, EVERY friend with kids told us to get as much sleep as we could because we wouldn’t be getting it again for the next 18 years. I heard them loud and clear – I expected to be tired.

What I didn’t expect: That the lack of sleep would cloud all parts of my life and make me feel crazy. Crazy tired, crazy emotional, crazy indecisive, crazy crazy. I mean, I haven’t had more than 4 uninterrupted hours of sleep in 91 days (but who’s counting?). I also didn’t expect that eventually you really do adjust to being able to pretend to be a fully functioning person with so little reserves.

2. NURSING

What I expected: I would have to feed the baby every 2-3 hours, even through the night.

What I didn’t expect: “2-3 hours” is a euphemism for “All The Freaking Time”. Let me explain: you count a feeding cycle just like a menstrual cycle (the first minute of the first feed to the first minute of the next feed). When each feeding takes 40 minutes, that’s only 1 hour 20 minutes between feedings. Within that 1 hour 20 minute “break” I also had to pump to store milk for returning to work. So basically, I’m a sleep-deprived milk factory where every day feels like Groundhog Day.

3. CRYING

What I expected: Just like every other baby, my baby would cry a lot.

What I didn’t expect: That I would be the one crying more. The compounded nature of pregnancy, delivery, nursing, sleep-deprivation, raging hormones, and the utter loss of autonomy brought more daily tears from me than it did from my baby. I remember a few horrible nights when Jude was crying inconsolably and all I could do was to cry back at him. I may have even pleaded with him, hoping we could reason our way out of the long night. We were a hot mess.

4. FREE TIME

What I expected: Twelve weeks of maternity leave would give me ample time to work on projects in the house, grab meals and coffee with friends, let me catch up on lots of books and Netflix, pick up new domestic skills like baking banana bread and taking trips to Target.

What I didn’t expect: See points number 1, 2 and 3.

5. CLICHES

What I expected: Our friends with kids all said that parenthood would be the hardest job we would ever love; that we would find ourselves staring at our little one with wonder and delight; that we won’t be able to believe how much we could love one little baby.

What I didn’t expect: That they would be right. Cliches are cliche because they tend to be universally true. I don’t even care that I get pooped on, puked on, spit up on – he’s still the most adorable being in the entire world. I am head-over-heels in love with the way he falls asleep on my chest, and the way he squeaks when he eats, or how his chin quivers when he cries in a pathetic high-pitched wail. I melt in love when he smiles (especially when it’s not gas), when he stares with fascination at ceiling lights and fans. I love his little “startle arms” that shoot up when he least expects it, and his big eyes with a look of surprise. I love wondering who he is and who he will become as he grows. I am crazy in love with this little boy and I can’t believe it when I say that I would do it all over again just to experience the delight of my son.

If you’ve gone through something similar, what other surprises did you encounter in your first several weeks of parenthood?

 

Bathed in Golden Light

 

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“As hard as I have tried to remember the exact moment when I fell in love with God, I cannot do it. My earliest memories are bathed in a kind of golden light that seemed to embrace me as surely as my mother’s arms. The divine presence was strongest outdoors, and most palpable when I was alone.”

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

 

Dreaming of Mandela

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My introduction to Africa was as a college student on a study tour to South Africa in 2004. I did my best to understand the complexity of race, economic disparity and a devastating history of apartheid. Nearly a decade later, I still don’t understand it. I continue to feel as uncomfortable in South Africa today as I did as a college student.

Roger Cohen provided a beautiful op-ed in the New York Times, reflecting ironically on the ease he had growing up as a Jew in South Africa, while blacks endured the crippling violence and oppression as victims of apartheid. While Cohen’s family picnicked on Table Mountain, Nelson Mandela spent another day of his 18-year imprisonment on Robben Island (27 years total imprisonment). The juxtaposition of free and oppressed was real, and it was cruel.

We continue to rejoice that apartheid is no more, at least legally. South Africa is still broken today and separation continues to live on – just as it does in every place where there has been a history of violent oppression.

And yet, Nelson Mandela has unified a nation in a way that most people didn’t believe possible. He is a hero, a man who transcended the underbelly of injustice with vision, patience and endurance. He made us believe that we can triumph over the depravity of others, and of ourselves, with love.

We need heroes to call us to our better selves. We need them to remind us that we can love better, that we must love better. I am not ready for a world without Mandela in it. I know none of us are.

“I have been dreaming of Mandela. An old idea: He who touches one human being touches all humanity. I have been murmuring his name: He broke the cycle of conflict by placing the future above the past, humanity above vengeance.

He reminded us of what is most precious in Jewish ethics: What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man — or, as the Mosaic book says many times, you are to treat the stranger well for “you were a stranger in a strange land.” Repair the world. Be a light unto nations.

The truth is we did not deserve him. We could not even imagine him. But, as I learned young in South Africa, the human spirit can avert even inevitable catastrophe.”

- Roger Cohen

A Lost Cause

HIV/AIDS support group in Kitgum, Uganda

HIV/AIDS support group in Kitgum, Uganda

When I was in high school, I was voted most likely to devote my life to a lost cause. I was mildly offended, but ultimately took it as a compliment.

Because sometimes the most important work in the world looks like a lost cause.

Day-in and day-out, a commitment to a person or an ideal can certainly feel like a lost cause, too.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that seven African countries have cut child HIV infections by half.

It’s a remarkable piece of news, and a tell-tale reminder that the fight against HIV/AIDS is not a lost cause. Twenty years ago, we couldn’t have dreamt of such a concept, and now it is within our reach.

In fact, it’s so close that hundreds of thousands of us are committed to live in a world where there will be no baby born with HIV by 2015.

We still have a LONG way to go, but the end of HIV/AIDS is also within the reach of our lifetime.

It’s why we can’t wait.

It’s why we can’t slow down.

It’s why we can’t get distracted by naysayers or by complacency.

It’s why, one community at a time, we walk alongside Africans in their commitment to ending HIV in their home villages.

You can consider it a lost cause if you want. I consider it a cause worth waking up every day to fight for.