You Can’t Sit With Us: Navigating the Cafeteria of Parenting

It’s hot. Summer in NYC has arrived. And even though I grew up in the hot and sticky, unbearably balmy summers of the South – there is something about summer in this concrete jungle that feels like a different form of anguish. Some mornings I feel like I would sell my left hand for a dip in a pool. (Looking at you waterfront luxury buildings!)

Anyhow, the times are changing and we aren’t feeling quite so infant-ish these days. Well, probably because my little girl is not really an infant anymore. She’s eating (re: playing with) solids, drinking from a sippy cup and growing more and more opinionated by the day. I am finally one of those moms at the coffee shop in the middle of the day I used to muse at. “They look so…normal. So used to having a baby,” I would think as I held my newborn, frazzled, agonizing over how I would make it through the day. It changes, it really does.

As I grow closer to my girl, we create a stronger bond each day. She recognizes and knows me, I actually feel like we have a relationship. I love the intimacy as I nurse her down for her naps. I love to tote her around the hood and take her to coffee with me. I adore the mornings when we’re all in the bed and enjoying breakfast as a family.

I’ve pulled my hair out plenty of times trying to figure out what type of parent I want to be. “Attachment parenting” doesn’t come very naturally for me. I’m trying to forgive myself for that. I am not the most patient of parents. I get frustrated even though I know she isn’t crying to be outright manipulative and mean. I look at other mothers who seem to have it more together. If I talk to a mama that oozes “gentle parenting” I feel vulnerable and self-conscious. Have I been insensitive and cold? If I talk to a mom who values a more independent relationship with their child, I feel like I’ve been too clingy with my girl.

Sometimes I feel like because I was 24 when I got pregnant, without a career in place and without a 5 year plan, I can not be at the table with the mommies in power suits. Then, because I had a home birth, it must mean I’m a hippie and worship the moon cycles so I can’t sit with the moms who vaccinate. (We actually do vaccinate.) Oops, now I can’t sit with the crunchy moms. And because we haven’t sleep trained yet, and we bed share (for the time being) and exclusively breastfeed at 6 months, well, let’s just say there’s not a lot of tables left to sit at.

Of course, the irony is that nothing is ever so black and white. We don’t fit in perfect little boxes, and neither do our babies. But I’m not so sure my parenting style is something I can easily define. It changes as my child changes. It will change if I have hopeful future children. And I’m willing to bet that you, too, don’t fit squarely into a cafeteria table seat.

I heard something recently that really spoke to me. When it comes to parenting you have 3 questions to ask yourself. Does it respect the child? Does it respect you? And can you live with it? That’s it. There’s nothing in there about your mother, your mother in law, your neighbor, or that mom in that playgroup.

This realization isn’t really all that novel. But it’s important for me on my journey. I was given Amata and she was given me. There must be a good reason in there somewhere for that. I’m trying to cultivate a more relaxed atmosphere around my parenting choices. So few of the bajillion decisions I make day in and day out will make or break us.

Postpartum anxiety wrecked me. I think the immediate sleep deprivation that followed birth was a shock to me. I knew sleep would be scarce but it hit me in a way I didn’t expect. I panicked and grasped desperately to manage my new life, to find a new normal. But there is nothing normal about the postpartum time. My boobs were leaking through many shirts a day, my lady bits were healing from the mammoth task of laboring and delivering a child (even with a complication free birth), I’d wake up soaked in sweat even in December and did I mention that my hormones felt like this?

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Heeeeere’s Johnny.

I still find myself clenching my teeth when we’re out and about and Amata is awake during a time she would normally sleep if we were home. I still feel my blood pressure rise when I’ve tried to set her down for what feels like the 876th time (realistically? It’s probably more like the 5th or 6th time) after she peacefully falls asleep in my arms. I still get uptight when she wants to snooze two hours before we usually do bedtime. But hey, listen, I’ve come a long way. I’m learning to slacken up a bit. I’m aiming to let go and be in the moment, that is always fleeting with childhood.

I’m not an “attachment parent”. I’m not a “babywise” parent. I’m not a free range parent or a helicopter parent. I’m just Cassie. I’m a Cassie parent. I breastfeed. Often in public. I feed her purees sometimes, I give her food to eat with her own hands sometimes. She sleeps in a crib sometimes, she sleeps in our bed sometimes. We haven’t sleep trained yet, but maybe we will, who knows. I love baby wearing, I adore my woven wrap and frequently use my ring sling. Sometimes I desperately need a break from being so close to her. We don’t cloth diaper. (Although if I owned a washer and dryer you can bet your bum I would.) I had a home birth, no I did not eat my placenta. I’m neither proud nor ashamed, this is simply our story.

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Frolicking Through Fields of NFP

One evening, as we were wrapping up dishes after dinner, Kyle and I were musing about all the things we would do if we weren’t Catholic. (Sleeping in Sunday morning was high on the priority list, pre-baby, anyhow.) I joked that NFP would be stuffed away in some sock drawer. But then I retracted and said, “Well actually, I wouldn’t go near the pill again.” He then asked, “You think you’d get an IUD?”

I dried the pots and pans pondering his question. “I mean, never say never,” (Parenthood has quickly taught me this.) “But no, I don’t think I’d want an IUD. Just the principle of it. Personally, I don’t want anything there but a growing fetus. And the risk of implanting somewhere outside the uterus.” I shudder at the thought of it. “The other implant doesn’t really appeal to me, either.”

Kyle laughed, “Ok so what’s left?”

I added, “I mean, maybe I would consider a diaphragm. Condoms are so ew, after you get used to not using them. So I guess….yea. I guess it would be FAM. I might use phase 2, I might not. I dunno. I guess that’s what I would do if I wasn’t Catholic.”

Simcha Fischer already pointed out this valid reality. NFP is the worst option.

Except for all the other ones.

I mean pregnancy is a nice form of “contraception”. Until you get too big and you just want to cry when your husband so much as even looks at you longingly.

And I enjoy EBF over plain old NFP. (Ecological Breastfeeding, or rather for me, just the lack of fertility than can accompany breastfeeding.) But then there’s the whole not sleeping more than 3 hours at a time, general dealing with baby(ies), being relegated to lovemaking within spurts of “I think she’s down.” Ah, well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Approaching our two year wedding anniversary (1 pregnancy and 1 baby later), I’m thinking about the role NFP has played in our marriage. We definitely communicate differently about intimacy. We certainly approach family planning with a more open mind than most of our peers. But I don’t know that we are brimming ear to ear over here simply because my cervical fluid is a topic of discussion at the dinner table. At this point in our journey, it just kind of feels like normal. I can’t really imagine our marriage without it.

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while. Then I stumbled across this piece (I Hate NFP (But I Need It Anyway) and laughed thinking, “Yes, good sir. Thank you for this.”

Yes, NFP is counter cultural. No, I haven’t frolicked through any fields lately. (Does Central Park count?) Yes, I have planned a getaway weekend or romantic date night to find “Helllloooo phase 2!” (How do you think my wonderful, adorable little girl got here?) But you know what? In my eyes, it’s the best option for us.

I’ve been charting for 5 years. In those 5 years, I have gone through some….life events. Before getting married, I always wondered why NFP couples had babies so soon after getting married. I vowed not to be that. I wanted NFP to basically replace birth control for me. I came to find that for us, NFP wasn’t a replacement, it was so so much more. It’s a way of living out our faith, it’s a lifestyle, it gives us extra juice day in and day out that allows (re: challenges) us to grow together both spiritually and mentally. I stupidly didn’t expect that.

Since making my film, Miscontraceptions, I’d say I’ve evolved a bit. I still shout about fertility charting from the roof tops. Every woman should know what their fertility looks like. Cervical fluid should be a common sex ed topic that both men and women know about. But if you’re like “Yea that’s cool and all….but…no,” about NFP, I get it. It’s a radical choice.

Abstinence is weird. And so is having babies. So with NFP, you’re kinda screwed no matter what. I’m learning to just embrace it. After a while, you think other methods of birth control are really weird and creepy anyways.

So, to-mate-oh, to-mah-to. We’re all weird and it’s all ok.

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Anyone else feel me here??

 

*I’m always a little sensitive to those who struggle with infertility. Infertility can be a very difficult journey, in its own category. This post was written from the point of view of a couple who blessedly hasn’t struggled with conceiving, but recognizes the fact that couples dealing with infertility might not identify.

These Trenches Were Dug By Love

I didn’t want to be another mommy blog with another piece on how wonderfully sloppy this whole motherhood business is – but, well – whatever. Here I am and here this is. Take it or leave it.

My introduction to motherhood has been laced with moments of joy and awe along with frustration, impatience, and tears. It’s been a rocky one. After my near perfect pregnancy and relatively easy labor, postpartum hit me like a ton of bricks. Maybe it was because Amata was tongue tied, underweight, colic, and “spirited” as they say. Maybe it was because I suffered from a heavy dose of PPD/A. And yes I just shared that, it’s more common than you think. Maybe it’s because I am young, far from family…yada yada yada. The list can go on. Frankly it doesn’t really matter why the last 5 months have been challenging – it only matters what I’m doing to take care of myself and my family now.

As a first time mom, I struggle with – how should I put it – anxiety about anything and everything, but particularly why my kid isn’t sleeping. I guess I always envisioned that babies were difficult to get to sleep, but once you got them there you could just place them placidly in their crib. And well, I don’t know, when they woke up again (maybe 6 hours or so later) you would peacefully waltz into their nursery and nurse them in a rocking chair, moonlight streaming in while you lovingly kiss their furry little head until they doze off again.

Then I had Amata. I can’t tell you what kind of sleeper she is because it literally depends on the week. We have gone from bed sharing to having her sleep in the car seat (these were the early, early days) to being in the bassinet next to us, to some kind of hybrid co sleeping/bed sharing to making my husband sleep on the couch so just Amata and I can share the bed – who knows what it will be next week. Parenthood doesn’t just humiliate your opinions once. But over and over and over again and frequently on the same issue. I no longer say “I’ll never ___________.”

Motherhood rocked my world, the transition was shocking. Those first three months felt like time had been placed in a filter of molasses. Will I ever eat at a table again? Will she ever stop screaming? Will breastfeeding ever get easier? Will I ever connect with my husband again?

The short answer is yes, we eat at the table. (Most of the time.) Amata is still “spirited” but the hours of screaming have waned (for the most part). Breastfeeding is the least of our worries now and my husband and I are adjusting to our new relationship. While it’s different than before, it has a sweetness and dedication much deeper than on our wedding day. And I often think – this is only the beginning!

After I read just about any book on the shelf that involved the words, “baby” and “sleep” and “through the night”, I resolved to not pick up another book. But I now like to add an exception. It’s not only okay, but it’s nourishing for me to read anything that serves as an encouraging voice. Not telling me what to do, or how to do it – rather reinforcing that while this season is incredibly challenging, I could miss it, if I don’t remember to look around every once in a while.

The sweet little smiles in the morning as my baby girl coos in the bed with us. The quiet, intimate cuddles in the middle of the day when I’m nursing her to nap. Her precious little toes and deliciously chubby fingers. That shout out in the dead of the night that says, “Mama, mama, where are you?” These moments are fleeting. And as exhausted as I am, it’s so cliche, but one day she won’t need me like that anymore. Those months zoom, and I know they’ll bleed into years.

I’ve been so caught up in getting my baby to sleep and behave like the books tell me to that I forgot to enjoy everything else. The trenches are hard enough, I don’t need the extra pressure of some doctor in some far away land telling me I’m ruining my child because she’s not napping at the drop of a hat on a structured, perfect schedule. That works for some moms and their babies, but I guess it just hasn’t worked that way for us as of now.

Amata is well on her way to crawling. We’ll probably be starting solids soon, and after that, well, she’ll basically be headed to college. So sometimes I look at my exhausted face in the mirror, pajamas with spit up on them and hair that hasn’t been combed and say, “Hey, mama – there’s a lot to love here.”

These trenches are unrelenting and mammoth, but they were dug by love.

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Painting by Lauri Blank

 

A Queens Baby: Amata Therese’s Birth Story

People think a home birth is crazy. “Weren’t you worried about the pain?” “But what about an epidural?” “I could never do that!” But I promise you, it had nothing to do with how strong I am. (Which is not very.) I was lucky to have an uncomplicated labor and an amazing birth team.

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Here’s baby Amata’s birth story.

It was a Monday. I was 5 days past my LMP due date and 1 day past my ovulation due date. I was grumpy, exhausted, sick of being pregnant and also kind of terrified of having a baby. Kyle took the day off work and I was finishing up a freelance project, (Because why not take on a job when you’re 39 weeks pregnant?) We went to the bakery to get out of the house and send some files over faster internet. (I live in New York Freaking City and still have internet through a phone line because my building isn’t “optimized”. Anyways.) It was a warm, sunny November day. We walked and walked and walked. I enjoyed some sweet treats and (decaf) coffee. I think I sort of knew in my gut that this would be the last day that it was just Kyle and I.

Later that night, we blew up the birth pool. I didn’t tell a soul, not even Kyle, but I could tell early labor would commence soon. I was getting more crampy as the night went on. We crawled into bed, Kyle grumbled about how he hoped we would have a baby by now but if he had to go into work the next day, he would do so with a good attitude. I secretly thought to myself, “You aren’t going anywhere tomorrow.” But I didn’t want to set any expectations so I quietly cuddled next to him saying everything would be ok and baby girl will come when she’s good and ready.

I woke up around 2AM with contractions. Now that I know the real deal, I know how minuscule these contractions were. But at the time, I was like “Okay here we go, this is it. Let’s start this marathon.” I was using the yoga ball and moaning through the contractions. We called the midwife who was quick to say, “Woah woah woah, Go take a warm bath, drink a glass of wine, we need to stall labor as much as possible and you need to get as much rest as you can. Go back to sleep. Don’t waste your energy mustering through these small contractions because you need to save it for later.”

So I did. I took a warm bath (which helped a lot a lot.) And I went back to sleep, waking up every 30 minutes or so for a contraction. I finally woke up around 10am and this time I couldn’t go back to sleep. We called the midwife again, Kyle attempting to soothe me and also time the contractions. Karen asked, “How far apart are they and how long?” Kyle (whose strong suit isn’t exactly time keeping) sputtered “Uh, 7 minutes. And they last like 5 minutes. Or like, they’re 5 minutes apart but last 2 minutes. Well actually I’m not really sure.” To his defense, it’s probably stressful as the husband watching me go through this and look at a clock. Karen curtly replied, “Put her on the phone.”

She asked me how I was doing. I can’t really remember exactly what I said, but it was probably some grunts that I hoped translated to, “I think I’ve transitioned and I’m ready to have a baby.” Once a woman has transitioned, and I can attest to this, you get super focused on one thing and one thing only. Getting through the contractions. You don’t care for chit chat, you get completely zoned into your body, your baby, and your self. It’s so frequent that when we’re doing one thing, we’re always thinking about 4 other things we need to do. In labor I knew there was only one thing in the world I needed to be doing right now and that was having a baby.

I had two contractions within a few minutes of each other on the phone and she knew this meant it was time. She told Kyle to fill the birth pool and get the doula on her way. Naturally, I wouldn’t let Kyle leave my side for a moment. The doula was stuck in train traffic and said she was doing her best, but running a little late.

I always thought I’d be swearing and cursing and screaming in labor. But in actuality, I was just super focused. I was very economical about my energy and knew I needed every ounce to get through each contraction. I don’t even know if I said f*%&# once. Kind of an achievement, actually. The only words I used energy for was “No.” Kyle kept trying give me gatorade to which I often would say, “No.” Kyle kept trying to massage and rub me to which I would abruptly say, “No.” There was one point where he had this wet washcloth on my head and I said “No” at least 6 times, but he must not have heard me because he kept it right there on my forehead. Finally I realized I would have to speak in sentences. “What is this thing?!” I exclaimed. “Get it off of me!!” Poor Kyle. He was just trying to help.

We alternated from the shower (which felt amazing for my posterior labor) to the bed to the yoga ball for a while until the doula arrived and we were finally able to try to fill the pool. Kyle yelled from the kitchen, “I think I broke the sink!” I wasn’t having any of that. I think I just muttered, “No.” Even though we had done a dry run and tested the hose to make sure it hooked up days before, Kyle couldn’t get it to work. He tells me he ripped the faucet part out and shoved the hose up in there, but I’ll never really know what happened during Amata’s birth to the sink.

At some point (I can’t really remember when) the midwife and midwife assistant arrived. Here I was buck naked, they walked in with all their bags and gear and I weakly raised my hand as if to say, “Hi, this all the energy I can use on this”.

The pool was nice. Very nice. I kept begging Kyle to make it hotter (I’ve always had a fondness of hot hot tubs. I mean borderline boiling water, here.) And Karen kept ordering him to make it cooler (I’m assuming for safety of baby. But I just wanted a damn hot spring in my apartment, okay?) I reached this oddly blissful point in the pool. I thought, “This really isn’t so bad. If this is labor, then I can do this.” This had to be hormones talking. No sane person thinks this.

And then it happened, I had the urge to push. And pushing was AWFUL. I was like, “Dear heavens, let’s go back to contractions. All I had to do was get through those. Now I have *do* something?!?” The doppler wasn’t working as well as the midwife wanted for the pool so she encouraged me to get out of the pool. Which at the time seemed like someone taking away the one good thing I had going for me in life. This must have been around 2pm.

Karen kept pressuring me to get 4 pushes at each contraction. In typical Cassie fashion (I’ve always been the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare story) I stubbornly chose to do 3. But I hit a point where I looked despairingly at my midwife and cried, “How much longer? I can’t do this anymore.” Karen replied, “You have to push. It’s the only way out now. You can push in a cab, you can push at a hospital, you can push here in your bedroom, but this baby is only coming if you push her out.” I remember whimpering a little to myself, thinking that this was just a cruel joke and God was definitely a man. A woman God would not wish this on anyone.

My midwife told me that on the next contraction I could reach up there and feel her head. So I tried. She looked at me encouragingly, “Did you feel her? She’s right there!” I declared that there was no baby. I had legitimately convinced myself that the past 12 hours of labor were for nothing and there was, in fact, no baby. I repeat, hormones make you think crazy thoughts.

Eventually, through a myriad of positions, little Baby Amata turned herself (from posterior to anterior). But since I was still stubbornly only doing 2 or 3 pushes a contraction I could only get her head out. So there was a full oh, I don’t know, 2 or 3 minutes in between final contractions where her little baby head was out to see the world but the rest of her body, not.

But then I got the rest of her out and she pooped and peed and cried real tears all over me and I didn’t even care. My first thought was, “That was f*&#@ing crazy. I need some chicken broth and like 12 hours of sleep.” Then I was like, “Wait that’s what was inside me??”

The birth team quietly stepped out of the room, and gave us some alone time with our newly formed family. They cleaned up the apartment, I got my chicken broth, and then the midwife assistant hosed me down in the shower so I could feel (relatively) clean. They made sure baby Amata (who was yet to be named) was latching ok. I would later find out that while her latch was ok, her suck was not. But that’s a whole other story.

Even though Kyle and I had picked out a handful of names – it still took us 5 days to sign the birth certificate. We just couldn’t decide! Those first days were such a whirlwind. The transition from pregnancy to parenthood was a shocking one. And while I wouldn’t change a thing, I think when/if I do it again, I’ll know to cherish the moments more because when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Mamahood is unimaginably demanding, totally overwhelming, and I can’t tell you how many times a day I ask myself, “How is it that the most common job in the world is *this* difficult?” Nothing, and absolutely nothing, prepares you for it. But then again, this must be why babies are so darn cute.

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What I’ve Been Up To….

What I’m up to these days.

1. Kyle and I moved to a new apartment in Queens, both started new jobs and then went on vacation for a weekend. So it was a bit of a hectic two weeks. But we have 3 closets. Three!! So far I *love* our new neighborhood and I especially love that my job is a 10 minute walk from my house. No. Subway. Required. My new job is an office manager position at a wellness center that specializes in….you guessed it – fertility and reproductive health. I love that I get to be a part of this community in my area. Often times, the clients come in and this is the highlight of their week or month. It’s a local small business so I get to be a part of a very intimate, professional setting.

2. The bump.

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The bump is growing, my friends. I am at 17 weeks now and it no longer looks like a beer gut/too many cheeseburgers belly. I have my anatomy scan and find out the gender in 3 weeks and I can’t hardly wait!! The second trimester has been a lot easier than the first, but I wouldn’t say I’m *glowing*. No crazy cravings, but I do enjoy an increased amount of pickled veggies than pre-preggo. Kale may have forever lost its luster – I don’t know if I’ll ever look at it again and not feel queasy after the 1st trimester.

3. I’ve been helping out the lovely team behind the Sweetening the Pill Doc doing some graphic design and media stuff for their fundraising campaign. Have you seen it yet? We’re a quarter funded but we still have a long way to go! If this is a mission you feel passionately about, please consider donating or even just sharing the link!

4. Kyle and I celebrated our year anniversary this past weekend. One year of marriage. Crazy crazy.

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I never would have guessed I would be pregnant this soon. Or even that I would have *wanted* to be pregnant this soon. Our hearts do have a way of surprising us. 🙂

5. I discovered a chapel in Manhattan very close to us that has adoration 5 days a week from 9-5. It’s in the Upper East Side so it’s a relatively quiet chapel and I have found a lot of solitude and peace knowing I can go there to get away from the bustle when I need it. In many ways, pregnancy has changed the way I pray. I always liked Mary but now I’m all about meditations on her life as the blessed mother. It’s kind of mind blowing to me.

6. Now I’m sort of running out of things that I’ve been up to. Other than various home (apartment) improvement projects. Which include rigging our sink to hook up a countertop dishwasher, making our (3!) closets usable, and trying to find the time to buy a dresser so our clothes aren’t in piles on the floor for forever. (I promise there’s room for a crib once the clothes and boxes get put away!)

7. Lastly, I’ve been exploring all the great things about my new neighborhood. I’ve found my favorite coffee spot, a new bakery, figured out the laundry system in my building, and look forward to lots of biking to the waterfront park where we get this view:

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Go Ahead, Surprise Yourself

I recently tweeted something about the wonderful ability to surprise ourselves. This happens when I listen to country music (and enjoy it). Or crave a Southern meal. Although I don’t do much shopping these days, when I do, I might pick out a shirt that a year ago I’d never dream of wearing. As I peruse the endless pinterest mommy pages, I can’t help but laugh at the 18 year old Cassie and what she would think of 24 year old Cassie.

Surprise, surprise, in the last year my desires and emotions have changed. The things I said I wanted a year ago may or may not still apply. I have caught myself off guard with my traditional views on marriage and work. These days, I laugh at the “domestic duties” I not only experience, but enjoy. In college, I hoped to be a powerful woman with a career before starting a family. I viewed myself as a modern post-feminist wife who could be the next Marissa Mayer if I so chose. I’m young, I’m driven, the world’s my oyster, right? Well, my desires changed a little bit. I felt a pull to motherhood. As time went by, I began to crave simplicity. A laundry room. A driveway. Maybe a porch?

Ok, well our move to Queens doesn’t involve any of the above. (Well there’s laundry in the *building*. That’s a step up in NYC living.) But I’ve honestly surprised myself (and probably my husband, too) with my changing desires. I expect them to continue to change. In a year or 5, I might go a completely different direction. And we as humans have every right to do so.

This seems like common sense. You know, every year after you do your taxes, or maybe after your anniversary, I don’t know, pick a time, reconnect with your spouse and say, “Hey, we said this last year, but do we still want it? Has it changed? What do we want now?”

Silly as it sounds, I completely overlooked this during the newlywed year. I kept thinking, “Well we talked about before our wedding, that we wanted X,Y,Z. So I can’t change it up on him now.” But yes! Yes we can. And should. Because maybe a year ago, I didn’t have the information I have now.

I am grateful for our experience and time in the city, but I’ve learned quite a bit about myself. It has been anything but easy. I’ve learned (but probably already knew) that I am far from a vagabond. I hate living out of a suitcase and crave stability. I hate public transportation, and consider a good night a quiet one with wonderful company. I find content moments the most “thrilling” ones.

I have met some fantastic people here and had some incredible experiences. But let’s be honest, if it weren’t for my husband, I would not live here.

On the altar you say many broad and lofty goals. For better, for worse. That’s a huge promise! We don’t even know what we’re getting ourselves into. And to be honest, I’ve amazed myself at just how little I knew on my wedding day. I think to myself, “There’s no way I could have prepared myself for this. No book, no lecture, no blog post could ever have truly conveyed the journey of marriage as accurately as simply experiencing for myself.” Like what right did I have to say anything about marriage before getting married? Ha! I thought I knew it all. And as I enter the season of motherhood, oh boy, where do I begin. I am continually surprised at how I am called to humility on a daily basis in the sacrament of marriage. The universe likes to remind me that I actually don’t know everything and maybe should keep my mouth shut and my mind a little more forgiving more often. When you think you understand something is just when it seems to switch up. You surprise yourself and take a left instead of taking a right. And so the undertaking of “recalculating” begins and ends. Just in time to begin again.

The most recent event of “recalculation” happened when I saw that second line on that pregnancy test. Probably the best kind of recalculation.

So go ahead, surprise yourself. It may just be one of the greatest joys to be found in marriage.

Your Friends are Probably Lying and Other Things About Sex

Picture this.

It’s a Friday night. You’re out with your girlfriends, having some drinks, sharing conversation, and letting loose from the week. Maybe you’re complaining about a coworker. Maybe a girlfriend laughs and tells a story about getting hit on by the teenage boy behind the counter at the movie theatre. And then the conversation subtly turns towards sex. It always does. One of your girlfriends expresses, “Ohh Sarah, I’m so sorry for not answering your text last night. Mike and I were, uh, well, busy.” Wink wink, nudge nudge. Another girlfriend chortles, “Oh really? Well, I must say, Pete and I have gotten a little busy lately. It’s nothing serious. I know I don’t want a relationship, but the sex is just too good.” Yet another pipes up, “Well after 2 years, Evan and I have finally decided to spice things up in the bedroom.”

In this scenario, all of sudden – you are envisioning that all of your friends are having sex at least 3 times a day, every day, all the time. And thanks to the media and an adverse side effect of the sexual revolution, we see studies non stop on Huffington Post and Jezebel that tout sexual activity as “lowering risks for cancer” and “preventing heart disease” and that people who enjoy orgasms at least 5 times a week live longer and are overall less anxious and happier with their lives. According to these studies, you’d think sex is more a prescription than an intimate activity between two lovers. Of course the media is telling you that, it’s selling something.

I admit that sexual activity may decrease stress and marginally prevent certain diseases in some small way I’m unaware of – but articles like these make us feel like if we aren’t “up to par” with the rest of society (which is really a big fabrication anyways, which I’ll get to) that we are bound to 1) get heart disease and 2) not be enjoying the stress free lives of our other sexually empowered fellow citizens. I’m going to let you in on a secret here – even if these girls are having as much amazing sex as they are proclaiming to, they still stress. They still feel down sometimes. Sex is not a cure all. And not having enough or any sex isn’t going to make you drop dead – or get heart disease. We place far too much weight on not even quality but quantity of sex!

We have a tendency to heighten everyone else’s lives around us while diminishing our own. Just a reminder, ladies – people lie. There’s a stealthy way to boast about sex in the female comaraderie – we’re subtle. But it’s there. And I guarantee you in the scenario described above, every single woman in that group is insecure to some degree about her sex life.

Contrary to what the media wants you to believe, whether you’re single, married, sleeping around, a virgin, or anything in between, your sex life does not define you. Let me repeat that – how often you have sex is not a barometer of how empowered you are. I think that’s a really important message for young women to hear. Let’s say your friend isn’t lying and that she really did hook up with that guy from the bar 3 times in one night, it shouldn’t have any effect on your value as a woman. (But she probably is exaggerating a little bit.)

I have a different view on things from the other side of my wedding. I had a friend tell me that someone she knew had sex at least twice a day for the first year of her marriage. I actually thought that if I wasn’t achieving something close to that, that I was a failed newlywed. (Although, I’m an NFP’r currently TTA. So every day isn’t even an option for me.) This might seem like I’m disclosing far too private details, but it’s for a message I strongly believe in.

Twice a day, every day, for week after week, for 12 months? That’s not even humanly, physically possible! No healthy relationship can keep that up. Life gets in the way. I don’t care how newlywed you are, there are some nights that it’s just off the plate. I admit NFP changes this, but we have got to stop this pressuring women into thinking the only way to be empowered is to have sex. And often.

You are not your sex life. And your friends? They’re most likely exaggerating. So tone down your perceptions of them. And instead, focus on the good things you have going for you, even outside of your sex life. Because I bet it’s a lot.

The Prodigal Son: Humility and Pride

I’m about halfway through Fr. James Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage. In this particular chapter I was reading last night, Martin was exploring the parable of the Prodigal Son. For the Christians who know it – it’s a really tough one to swallow. In fact, for me, I’d say it’s the hardest. It’s like Jesus is saying, “Get over yourself. Yes, you work hard. Yes, you’re noble and loyal. But you’re not any better than someone who doesn’t.”

For those unfamiliar with the parable, it’s a story of a father and 2 sons. The younger one pleads for his inheritance early and takes it and squanders it. Debauchery, prostitution, drugs, and vice. The older brother stays at his father’s farm and works diligently for his father, not taking any of his father’s money. Then out of change of heart or something, the younger brother comes home. He admits that he has disrespected his father. He begs for forgiveness and even says, “Consider me your worker now.” Out of excitement for his son’s homecoming, the father throws a huge celebration and brings out the best wine and meat he has on his farm. Naturally, the older brother is a little unsettled and, well, quite frankly, sour. He tells his father, “I’ve been nothing but loyal and committed to doing your work.” And the father says, “Yes, but your brother has come home! We must share joy for him.”

Now. We’ve all been the younger brother and the older brother. But I, and I don’t think I’m alone, feel like the older brother far more often than the younger one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve compared my blessings to someone else’s and muttered, “But I’ve worked harder for mine.”

As someone who takes her faith pretty seriously, I feel like I labor for my faith. I go to mass, I go to confession, I read the bible, I try (try being key word) to avoid sin. But look at all these guys who don’t work for it, right? Look at all these people who haven’t been to church in years, who do all the things we’re “not supposed to do” and they’re not just surviving, they’re thriving. It makes a girl wonder, “Why even bother??”

And so what are we supposed to take away from the prodigal son parable? To me, it’s the most unfulfilling message. The message is, “Don’t compare yourself to others, refrain from envy, and share joy in others’ successes and homecomings.” Well, gee, thanks. And we don’t get anything from it? Nope. Maybe holiness. But as I told a friend the other day, “Ya know, the path to holiness is no picnic.”

In other news, the path to holiness isn’t actually really even about me. Or how much I work. Or how hard I try. It’s not about people knowing how hard I try. It’s not about pleasure, and it’s not even about happiness. At least, not happiness in the 21st century way. (Happiness has gotten terribly misconstrued.)

So as I watch my friends who claim no faith, who see no value in religion, I’m supposed to be happy for their joy in life. And I’m supposed to share it. Because joy is a universal language. Regardless of who you pray to. And somewhere along the road, I might be one step close to a better person for it.

As Fr. James Martin put it, “We may act like the wayward younger brother and feel like the hardworking elder brother, but in the end we are called to be like the merciful father.”

Did that do you a dose of humility? Cuz it sure did for me.