Tag Archives: Parenthood

It’s Not All About The Nausea: Pregnancy As a Transformative Experience { Guest Post }

{ This guest post was written by my childhood friend Esther }

Before finding out about my pregnancy, I had been speaking with friends a lot about the idea of transformation, something that should “manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly”, and should “affect both its inner life and external conditions.”

Pregnancy, the most literal human example of transformation I could experience, inspired a kind of search. By engaging meaningfully with the ever-changing circumstances of our lives, we give ourselves the opportunity to transform. As I clocked the seemingly endless Google searches about pregnancy and thought of my own rite of passage into motherhood, I yearned to read about the spiritual dynamics of this transformation.

I read about the role of “mother”, which I was about to assume, like a candidate for a job might scan the qualifications they would need to bring to it. This beautiful description of motherhood resonated with me: “O ye loving mothers, know ye that in God’s sight, the best of all ways to worship Him is to educate the children and train them in all the perfections of humankind; and no nobler deed than this can be imagined.” Like a candidate, I wondered how I might be cut out for training a new soul in all the perfections of humankind.

Another quote from the same source states: “Although the bestowal is great and the grace is glorious, yet capacity and readiness are requisite…we must develop capacity in order that the signs of the mercy of the Lord may be revealed in us.”

So I asked myself: how might that capacity be developed?

Clearly there are many material preparations necessary for welcoming a new person into our family, but it was less clear how to make space for the spiritual preparations. In my search, I read chronicles of pregnancy that shared the more internal truths. Among these were Louise Erdrich’s book A Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year and Beth Ann Fennelly’s Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother. Erdrich writes about the dual nature of birth, calling it a physical prayer: “Birth is intensely spiritual and physical all at once. The contractions do not stop. There is no giving up this physical prayer.” In order to become imbued with these new capacities required, sacrifice was in order, some kind of letting go, some kind of pain. This was a recurrent theme for me as I approached the due date.

In one of The Hidden Words, Bahá’u’lláh writes that we should hasten towards calamity, saying “My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy.” Early on in the pregnancy, I mused about death and about the nature of the pain and suffering that awaited both me and my child as they would enter this world. I wrote:

A good death. A good trial. Then you know. You know that God’s love is shown in a myriad ways. And that our love for Him is shown through our dedication to walking that stony path and slowly, gently, coaxing ourselves to love the very stones that pierce our feet. What are children but the very best of those stones? That allow us greater strength, perception and understanding? You are not something on my checklist, you are not something to show off or parade around. You are a soul that belongs only to God. You are not bounded or circumscribed by my limited understanding of life, you will go farther than me, you will be stronger than I. You are not a collection of blankets and toys and nappies and contraptions I don’t understand yet for bathing and entertaining you in future any more than I am the lines on my resume or the letters after my name. I never thought I was entitled to the miracle of your existence. And yet, souls enter and exit this world every moment of every day.

Erdrich describes labour beautifully, “thrown down, I rely on animal fierceness, swim back, surface, breathe, and try to stay open, willing. Staying open and willing is difficult. Very often in labor one must fight the instinct to resist pain and instead embrace it, move towards it, work with what hurts the most.” Another passage from The Hidden Words challenges us, “let it now be seen what your endeavours in the path of detachment will bring.”

There is something ominous and exciting about meeting our edge in this way. I wrote:

There is a sense of magic in this process. That something only grows because God wills it to. We move out of the way. We pull the veil from the incoming shaft of light, of life, we scratch at the grime that forms on our hearts. When I wonder and panic at my own limitedness, the smallness of my strength, I am forgetting this.

In The Seven Valleys, we read that the steed of the Valley of Love is pain. Many women describe being unable to recall the pain of labour. Beth Ann Fennelly describes it as having to do with the fact that “during hard labor, you go to a place beyond language. It isn’t so much that there are no good words to describe what you’re going through as there are no words. You’re a white wave in a white sea, without boundaries or cognition…we use the word ‘disembodied’ a lot, but truly it applies here because the body breaks free from the ego.”

After my son’s birth, I wrote the following:

There is no time, just light and dark, sleep and wake, a cycle and the feeling of being right in the very womb of life, a cave where miracles happen, where nothing goes as planned and the rolling rushing waves of pain cast the pearls of pure and goodly issue on the shores of life. And in giving in, we are made new. We are made new.

I’m curious to hear from others who (and I’m sure all of us have in some way!) have gone through moments that were particularly transformative. What were the material conditions and spiritual dynamics that allowed you to engage with that event or time? Is there a particular habit of prayer or creativity that allows you to reflect on this kind of process?

Based on an essay posted by Esther on Baha’i Blog.

Guest Post: Life Lessons From An Ant Infestation, by The Ten Thousand Hour Mama

This is a shortened version of Catherine’s post. To read the full article, or to have access to a large number of great posts, visit her insightful, hilarious, and just plain wonderful blog, The Ten Thousand Hour Mama.

It’s probably a bad sign when a household ant infestation feels like a metaphor for your life.

A few times a year since we moved into our house, tiny sugar ants appear. They swarm on crumbs and march in lines along room perimeters. After a while—and usually more rigorous housecleaning—they go back to whatever outside home they have.

This time is different. I keep fighting the ants, and, predictably, more show up. And they are spreading.

Perhaps it’s not shocking that this particularly bad ant infestation mirrors a time in my life that also feels chaotic.

More tasks than hours

I know this sounds dramatic. And things are fine, really. These are just the musings of an overstretched mom/writer/daughter/grandmother/wife/entrepreneur with a bug problem.

Just so I’m not vaguebooking, suffice to say I’m busy at work, looking into starting a new business and helping my elderly grandmother whom we just moved from Alabama to Oregon. In an ideal world, I would also spend time with my husband, occasionally work out, see friends and—oh, yeah—keep my house somewhat sanitary (and ant-free).

Yet—and yet. My to-do list gets longer, and the ant infestation is now, apparently, permanent.

A less than surprising ant infestation

Anyone who has been to my house will say I am not the most fastidious housecleaner—as long as they’re being honest. Most nights I’m too tired to make sure every dirty dish is out of the sink, and let’s just say that scrubbing the shower is not at the top of my priority list.

So when a few ants find stray crumbs under the kids’ booster seats or behind the toaster, it’s not that surprising.

I’ve stepped up my attempts to June Cleaver my house since the most recent ant situation, though. I wipe down counters. I vacuum every time my toddler upends her plate of Crispix. I rinse out the sink obsessively.

But when I wake up in the morning, I’m inevitably greeted by a pile of ants that have turned the most minuscule of crumbs into an invertebrate rave. That overnight mess reminds me of my running list of responsibilities: My tasks multiply like so many ants on a stray Cheerio.

Ant high-fives

Toward the end of a very long day recently—a day that involved an epic car tantrum from my older daughter and no end to sibling rivalry—I had to use the bathroom. During the five seconds of alone time a potty break bought me, I noticed a stream of ants marching up and down the tub.

I noticed that whenever two ants passed each other, they paused. They touched each other with their feelers. And only then did they go on their merry way.

Every single ant did this. Not a single ant ignored another. No ant’s high-five was left hanging. No ant shunned another for their baby ant’s unbrushed hair or lack of proper rainy day footwear.

Yes, I’m projecting. But I’ve been thinking about those ants constantly.

Life lessons from invertebrates

I should probably be pissed that those ants stop to gently tap each other’s antennae. After all, they’re communicating something along the lines of, “Hey, I just found the motherlode of crushed bunny crackers under the couch. TELL EVERYONE!”

But being the person I am (read: an overanalyzer who has a lot of feelings), I have been thinking about how that constant stream of check-ins might help me, too.

So despite feeling overbooked and overwhelmed, I reach out. I’ve been making a conscious effort to text with friends I don’t see often enough. I invited a friend I know wouldn’t mention the Great 2017 Ant Infestation Situation over for a play date. I send pictures of the girls to family spread across the country.

When I get a text back, even though it’s just a gentle “ping,” it makes me feel a little more connected to my hive. (Yes, I know I’m mixing metaphors. Give me a break; I’m hosting close to 100 million ants in my home.)

In this way, I’m trying to be a tad more ant-like. I still will spray the eff out of an ant conga line with my Mrs. Meyer’s counter cleaner, but I’m also taking my lessons where I can get them.

I’m also giving some of those ants a free pass—not because I suddenly feel emotionally connected to them but because there are just more important things in life than sanitizing my house.

As I finish up work, I can hear my kids playing with my husband, dad and grandma upstairs. We’re about to eat a big pile of spaghetti, much of which will probably end up smashed in booster seats and flung under the table. (Hey, ants, more food!) I’ll hold my grandma’s hand, listen to her retell the same stories and tell her that she is loved. I will pretend to be Pluto or Elsa or whatever character my preschooler requests, and I’ll tell my toddler the word for every single snake, lizard and tortoise in her new-favorite reptile book.

Just for tonight, ants, I declare a truce.

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Catherine Ryan Gregory writes about becoming a good mom—or at least a good-enough one—at TenThousandHourMama.com. She shares craft projects, children’s book recommendations and ideas on how to raise a generous, caring and socially conscious family.

Human Rights For Everyone—Including Our Babies

I think we can all agree that babies are human beings just like we are—albeit with quite a few developmental accomplishments ahead of them.  However, I find that we have a hard time putting this concept into practice.  Actually, to be blunt: it is amazing to me how disrespectful we are of our little one’s rights.

Now I don’t want you to think that I am someone who believes that parents shouldn’t discipline their kids and that they had the right to make their own decisions about everything from the beginning.  Of course not; that’s what parents are for.  But at the same time, children have certain rights from the very day they are born.  It’s based quite simply on the fact that they are noble, spiritual creatures.

My Baby Isn’t a Doll

While some parents dress their children in outfits that I personally don’t like, because said outfits are basically miniature, cute versions of what their parents wear, I feel that the child as a person is being respected.  But there are cases where the parents’ choices really make me uncomfortable; these are the cases where the child comes off as an over-the-top candy or clown.

But I realised early on that this is a personal choice as well, and that I should respect other parents’ choices.  But by the same token, it means that other individuals should respect my choices.  That means that I will not be dressing my baby up in any outfit that is gifted to us.  On the one hand, I am grateful for the token of love and generosity; but on the other hand, if I don’t feel that the outfit is befitting my baby’s true nature as a noble, spiritual being, then I won’t be using said outfit.

Individuals who are upset at the fact that I don’t use their tokens of love have the right to be disappointed, but I really hope that they understand that my baby is not a doll for them to dress as they please, and that they are happy that my baby has an advocate dedicated to her well-being.

My Baby’s Body Isn’t Yours To Enjoy

I love holding babies and hugging them.  They are so sweet and cute, so innocent and filled with hope of a bright future.  And they smell so sweet!

But just like I don’t go around hugging adults randomly, I wouldn’t pick up a baby randomly, even if the parents give me their OK.  I would make sure that the baby is OK with me picking him up, and that’s because from the very beginning, he has the right to determine what happens to his body.

It is particularly distressing to me that people don’t respect the baby’s right to determine who can hold him.  I’ve been told that babies don’t have an opinion on the matter, that they are too small to know better, and that parents need to chill out.  But time and again I have seen the signs quite clearly when a baby doesn’t want me to hold him.

I can’t help but wonder what we are teaching our babies when, in short, we do not give them the right to determine who can do what to their bodies.  If anyone who wants to is allowed to touch them at that age, what’s to say that this trend won’t continue into the future, however subconsciously?

My Baby Isn’t a Toy

This one is like the doll but more so.  Don’t move my child’s limbs around ridiculously.  I know it’s safe for her physically, but you are insulting her spiritual nature by treating her as a toy for your amusement.

Another thing I noticed a lot of people seem to like doing is to use a baby as a prop or a doll.  They will hold its arms and make ridiculous gestures, they will make them walk around, they will propped them up in a certain way that amuses them, things of the sort.  This one also bothers me because, well, would you do that to an adult?  Isn’t it an insult to her noble, spiritual nature to treat her like a puppet that does silly things?

My Baby Isn’t Totally Helpless

While babies are dependent on their parents for so many things, they are also intelligent human beings who can achieve a lot.  But they are learning; they need more time and don’t do things the same way that we would.  When you see a baby trying to reach for something, don’t give it to them, however kind your intentions.  By doing that, you could be sending the message to the baby that it will not be able to reach the item in question, and so he just might as well not try.  Rather, channel your good intentions into encouragement; cheer babies along as they learn the basics of life.

My Baby Has Moods Just Like You Do

You know how some days, you are not cranky, but you just feel quiet?  Those days during which you would rather listen than talk, observe rather than participate?  It’s the same with babies.  It’s important not to label babies and children, especially with negative labels.  My baby isn’t cranky and antisocial.  My baby is just in a quiet, observant mood.  And ironically enough, she is in that mood more often around people who treat her like a doll, don’t respect her body, see her as a toy, and think of her as helpless.

Final Thoughts

Treat babies like real people and you will be surprised by how well they will respond to you.