To humans belong the plans of the heart,
but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.
All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.
It snowed here. If you live in the U.K., you’ll have experienced snow this week. If you live somewhere else, you’ve probably seen it on the international news. I love snow, and living in central London we usually get short-changed on the snow. I’d have liked more. They cancelled the parkrun in Fulham, but that’s the only difference it really made to me. My brother, however, lives in Glasgow which has ground to a halt. Only Morisson’s soldiered on. The shelves soon emptied.
I know this chaos is the cause of much amusement for Scandinavians and Canadians and any other nation who has enough snow ploughs. But the truth is, we’re ill-equipped and so the snow does make things rather unusual. And it’s no laughing matter for people stranded in their cars on a motorway in Scotland.
Besides any actual risk to life, though, I actually like the chaos. Usually I love order (quite an affliction for a mother of four), but when all plans have to be changed because of the weather, it’s a wonderful reminder of one truth we usually ignore: we mere mortals are not in control.
We think we can control everything: what’s on TV, what food we eat, what school our children go to, where we live, how healthy we are, how many children we have, how long our journey will be, how successful we are etc. You only have to look at how stressed people get when they lose control of one of these things, to see how much we love control. In about 6 weeks’ time parents in England will find out which primary school their children have got into, and the news headlines will show outrage and panic as parents lament over their school place, despite having moved house and gone to church for 3 years just to get into St Juniper’s because it’s Outstanding. We do not like being reminded that we’re not in control. We do not like being reminded that we’re not God.
Don’t get me wrong, I find this challenging. There are plenty of things I try to control, and I get irrationally upset when I can’t. Sometimes the things we want to control are good things, like wanting our children to follow Jesus. Or even just wanting this meal to be a blessing and taste good. But my loving Heavenly Father does like to remind me that I’m not in control. He’s teaching me to trust him, to hold my hands up and say, “You’re in charge, and that’s a good thing!”
If it’s a blessing to be reminded that God is the one in control, then this is certainly a major bonus of parenting. If anyone can ruin your plans, it’s a wilful child. Sometimes through no decision of their own, but often deliberately, they don’t fit into my neat plan. Before you have children, you can plan how many motorway stops you’re going to have on a long journey. You’d never dream of a toilet break 15 minutes before reaching your destination.
I remember trying to go out and meet Mike one day when I was about 37 weeks pregnant with number 2, and number 1 was 18 months old. I physically couldn’t get her into the pushchair, partly hindered of course by my enormous mass. I had to phone him and say I didn’t think I could go out. That was a low point. Plans thwarted by a very small, tantrumy toddler.
We might plan our career out and then find that our child needs more care than we’d expected. We might plan where to live and then discover we’re expecting twins. We might look forward to cycling holidays and then discover our child refuses to learn to balance on two wheels. Or their obsession with dinosaurs means that museum trips will be more enjoyable. We hoped they’d come to watch football with us and it turns out they don’t like crowds, or football, or Middlesbrough FC.
Im so grateful that in the major, life changing things and in the small irritating things of life, The Lord not only sees it coming but has planned it all out from the very beginning. He is truly awesome.
Last week I introduced you to Anna, whose daughter Jemima has Cystic Fibrosis. Here she shares Part Two of her journey as a mother. Thank you again, Anna, for your honesty.
I’ve been deeply humbled and encouraged by the response to the first post I wrote for Cat’s blog. It cost me to pull myself back into those black and white days but I’ve been amply repaid by the kind words I’ve received and in knowing that I’ve not been alone in these feelings.
Two and a half years on and life looks very different. Jemima is a fully fledged little person, desperate to communicate from the moment she formed her first ‘oooh’ sound, determinedly social, a blur of life and energy. She plays hard, sleeps soundly and is chomping at the bit to start nursery in the spring. We do weekly tennis, gymnastics, trampolining and music classes, as well as a monthly running club and swimming whenever we can. We do library visits, craft sessions, playdates and lots of park trips. She loves her stuffed cats (including an eccentrically named feline called Cupompom: like cucumber + pompom), role playing with Duplo characters and bouncing on her 4 foot trampoline with her stuffed frog. Her favourite books are currently ‘Zog and the Flying Doctors’, ‘P is for Potty’ and ‘Toad Makes a Road’. Her favourite colour is green and her favourite foods are bear paws and smoked salmon. Her eyes are light blue, her hair is honey coloured and she has a double crown. She has enormous tantrums which she recovers from by lying on the sofa with her dummy and blanket. She twiddles her hair to fall asleep. She is both a very ordinary and a very extraordinary girl.
The process of coming up for air after Jemima’s diagnosis has been long and hard. People sometimes comment on how time has flown. For me, it has involved the longest nights I’ve ever known: nights I spent expressing milk and watching dawn break over the city while a newborn Jemima slept on the ward. Our life before her seems so remote. We have been extremely blessed that her health has allowed us some respite to adjust to our new life, our new world. We have not had multiple hospital admissions up to this point; many children have. My heart and all my respect goes out to the parents of these children. Our one admission for viral bronchiolitis (unrelated to CF) sent me spinning back down into the dark again.
As my dad often reminds me, it costs us more to take care of Jemima. It takes time and energy to administer daily medicines, inhalers and physiotherapy. It takes creativity to think up games that make these things fun or at least acceptable for a toddler. It takes energy to chase her around, bounce with her and have tickle fights to help her clear her chest. It takes patience to squeeze apple puree onto a spoon and sprinkle on Creon around 20 times a day. It takes time to make sure that the house is clean, to help protect her lungs from bacteria and dust. It costs us financially to buy the high calorie food that her body needs. It costs us emotionally to hold her for blood tests and cough swabs and to explain to her why she can’t gather armfuls of rotting leaves like the other children because it could make her poorly. It costs us socially to avoid people with coughs and colds. Chronic anxiety wears my patience with her and with Jonathan. As much as it costs us, it costs some parents much more to care for children with more severe or complex conditions. But as my dad also reminds me, the rewards are great. I am amazed every day by Jemima’s resilience. Despite having more to complain about than some, she is not a complainer. She’s physically tough. She’s emotionally mature. She does her treatments and takes her medicines (mostly) without complaint. She’s not afraid of medical professionals or of clinic visits. If she has a procedure she dislikes (cough swabs are currently the enemy) she cries but gets over it. She’s bright, optimistic and curious. She’s agile and physically fit. To her, life is full of people to play with and parks to play in.
This sends me back to my original question and one that I’m never far from: how do I know that God is good? People often say that God is good in response to good things that happen to us. But to me there is a big difference between saying that God is good in response to our circumstances and saying that God is good irrespective of what happens to us. The logic is fairly simple: if the goodness of God is a consequence of our circumstances we must assume, if circumstances go awry, that God is not good. If God’s goodness is validated by our circumstances, we must assume, if circumstances go awry, that he’s either displeased with us, that we’ve strayed from his ‘path of blessing’ or that our circumstances are beyond his control. None of these options are comforting. I know that God is good not because I feel that it’s true but because I believe it is so. Fossilised somewhere in my memory are the words of the Psalm we used to recite at church when I was a child:
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:5)
I wouldn’t say that this feels ‘comforting’ exactly but I do believe that it is true. The knowledge that God is good, irrespective of what happens in my little life, is both liberating and terrifying. In many ways I would prefer a clearer cut and more directly applicable system: that God would bless me and keep my daughter well and by this, show his goodness. But I know in my gut that the truth lies with Job, a man who suffered and who wrestled with these questions. Job asks:
Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10)
Job did everything ‘right’ yet he lost everything he had. His friends told him to shape up or ship out but still he persevered in believing that he wasn’t being punished for his sins. And he was right.
Fast forward a few thousand years and the question remains: if God is good regardless of my circumstances, how can I know that he cares? I go back to the words of John:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16)
These are hard truths. They challenge the very basis of my faith. They are hard because, as my pastor says, suffering has become personal. But there is great relief in knowing that the fact that my daughter has a genetic disease is not a sign of God’s displeasure with me or with her. He is still good. He sent a saviour in Jesus, his precious only son. The fact that Jemima has been very healthy so far is an indescribable blessing but it’s not the reason that I know that he is good. It’s taken the words of the Bible and the words of some wise people who have suffered more than I have to bring me to this conclusion. It has taken its toll on me and has left a wound which – although I know it will never heal this side of the veil – contains deep and precious truth.
I believe that God is good because he says he is and because he sent Jesus to bring ultimate healing for the sufferings of the whole world. Genetic diseases should not be passed on through generations. Babies should not be stillborn. Children should not have to make bucket lists. Add to this a million other painful tragedies and injustices. God cares, he is good and in the end he will bring about restoration:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
This is the end of the story and it’s one that I long for exponentially more than I did before I had Jemima. As for our story, I don’t know how it will play out. There are now medicines that aim at fixing the faulty gene that causes CF on a molecular level. There are also other tragedies, unrelated to CF, that we’re not guaranteed to be spared from. I want Jemima to live a long, full and joyful life. I want her to know Jesus. I want to protect her from suffering. The knowledge that I can’t protect her from life’s blows has been brought home sooner for us.
I am still angry. As the Hulk says in the film ‘Avengers Assemble’: “I’m always angry.” But I am also grateful. As much as it costs us to take care of Jemima, our victories are all the sweeter. Someone has likened living through a CF diagnosis to climbing a mountain of slick sh*t with a breathtaking view. I don’t take any of Jemima’s milestones for granted. Her first swim and her first stomp through the snow were deeply emotional and exhilarating for me. Every night that I go into her room and see her sleeping peacefully brings intense thankfulness that we’re not in hospital; that I can enjoy a glass of wine and sleep in my own bed instead of on the hospital floor amidst the bleeping of machines and slamming of doors. (Those of you who’ve been there will know all too well what I mean.) Every morning when she calls me into her room at 6am because “Mr Golden Sun is awake!” is tinged with relief and thankfulness. The breath in all of our lungs is a gift. Life is a gift in all of its fragility.
Anna is an old friend of mine, and we are really honoured that she’s made the time to write this piece. It’s longer than my usual blog posts, but I’m sure you’ll see that it’s more than worth it. Thank you, Anna, for your honesty and for sharing part of your story with us.
Part One: The First Year
Nine months after my daughter Jemima was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Cat asked me if I would write a post about ‘how the Lord had helped me.’ My initial reaction was one of anger; our world had been shattered and how God fitted into this turn of events was beyond my comprehension. The assumption that God would necessarily be helping us as a family when, as I saw it, he’d not only ‘given’ my daughter a genetic disease but had abandoned me to deal with it in confusion and fear, made me feel all the more lonely and lost. Now, almost two years later and out of the fog of the initial diagnosis, I do have some thoughts to share. It has been and still is a steep learning curve and I am always in transition: one day full of energy and plans and another full of anxiety and fear. Life is unpredictable and my emotions are messy and non-linear. So, more accurately, here are some thoughts from me, today, about the first year of Jemima’s life, on a cloudless Sunday morning.
Jemima was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic condition that affects the lungs and the digestive system, at 10 days old via the heel prick test. We were already in hospital awaiting surgery for a bowel blockage so we knew something wasn’t right. I’d had a relatively eventful pregnancy with extra scans to monitor my gestational diabetes and Jemima’s bowel anomaly – which had been flagged up in my third trimester. Miraculously, she didn’t need surgery and we arrived home armed with medicines, instructions for how to give chest physiotherapy and advice as to how to ‘keep her healthy.’ We were to avoid people with colds and coughs, as children with CF are more susceptible to chest infections, and to avoid other people with CF, due to the risk of passing bugs between them. We were also told, paradoxically, that it was a ‘good time to be diagnosed with CF’ as advancements in medicines to treat the condition were coming thick and fast. And on top of that, we were to ‘treat her like a normal child.’
How can I describe everything that I was feeling? I can only approach it with metaphors. The world, previously benign or even beautiful, became sinister, dangerous and unpredictable. I felt wrenched from the life I’d always known and roughly deposited into a parallel universe of medical terminology and unknown threat to my tiny, precious daughter, who had dropped to under 6lb during her admission. The feeling of being scared to hold her – when she was in hospital and covered in wires and IVs – persisted when we arrived home. Every noise she made terrified me; any delayed bowel movement sent me spinning into panic. But at the same time, she was so unspeakably beautiful, so tiny and so perfect. Intense loneliness, grief and overwhelmingly, anger, characterised the first few months.
I had no idea where God was at this time or what he was doing. I felt utterly abandoned, even cursed by him. Sometimes well-meaning friends would share Bible verses with me which, if I’m honest, mainly served to make me more confused and angry. I felt as if I was in free fall, grasping for someone or something to hold onto. More painful still was that everything I’d thought about the character of God seemed to be shaken. In those times, it was the friends who would just listen to me who helped the most, and who prayed for me when all I wanted to do was scream and rage at God. Behind this white hot anger was the death of my belief that God’s goodness is demonstrated in blessings to us, here and now. Although theologically speaking I could have picked this apart, I still felt that my pregnancy was a blessing and a sign that God was ‘pleased’ with me. To learn that I carried a genetic defect that I had unwittingly passed on to my daughter (there was a ¼ chance that she would have CF – though we didn’t know this before becoming pregnant) was a blow. To discover that having another sibling with CF could put them both at risk of swapping bacterial infections, was heavier still. If God was trying to ‘teach’ me something – as is often talked about in Christian thinking – it wasn’t only ‘not worth it,’ it was downright perverse and sadistic. In hindsight, this was part of the inevitable flow of the grief cycle. I needed to ride out the rawest parts before coming to any conclusions about what life would look like for us and how my view of God had changed. Shock and trauma erased a good part of those early months and I see them now as if watching an old film, about someone else.
After about four months I suddenly felt as if I’d burst up from under the surface of the water. I started to look around me a little. It was Autumn and I remember noticing that the trees were bare apart from a few tiny yellow leaves and of having no recollection of them falling. I remember looking at Jemima, as if for the first time, and wondering who she was and who she would be. But the world was still in black and white, two-dimensional. I was afraid to keep the curtains open after dark. Christmas passed and Jemima remained well. She had gained weight wonderfully and I started to wonder if she really did have CF, as they said she did. I started to wonder if God had chosen to bless her by healing her miraculously, proving the doctors wrong. Denial and hope were given a rude awakening in the results of her ‘sweat test’ (the ‘gold standard’ for confirming a CF diagnosis) showed that, without a doubt, she did have CF. In the meantime, other people had ‘healthy’ babies, and I struggled to piece together my idea of a God who would bless others and not me; who would bless other children but not my daughter. I immersed myself in research about CF but the more I read, the more slippery the ground seemed. There were no concrete predictors of what life would look like for us and how this ‘invisible condition’ would affect her. I became addicted to trying to find the answers, trying to plug the leaks in my fractured world.
Then, I was persuaded to read a book called ‘The Life You Never Expected’ by Andrew and Rachel Wilson. For the first time, I felt that I wasn’t alone in feeling abandoned by God and in struggling to understand why this was happening to us. They articulate a response to suffering that did my heart good: that it is healthy to simply grieve when hit by one of life’s blows. It gave me permission to grieve, doubt and rage, and so begin the healing process:
“Many of us, fuelled by fears, doubts or insecurities, want to rush in with questions (‘how could God let this happen to us?’), answers (‘this must be happening because of this’), advice (‘we/you should start doing that’) or just plain silly comments (‘it will be alright’) …But there’s a place for just wailing about it, like Jesus did when his friend died, and like the psalmists seemed to do all the time.”
At the heart of the matter, my assumption that God was good, or at least of what good looked like, had been dissolved. What C.S. Lewis wrote in his Narnia series about the God-figure Aslan: that he’s not safe but that he is good, rang true. I didn’t feel that God was safe. Trusting a God who could allow my daughter to inherit a chronic genetic condition felt like a risky option. And if this was what good looked like, I wasn’t sure I wanted this sort of good God. Yet, where else could I go? The internet had failed me. Medical knowledge had failed me. Doctors, as I discovered to my horror, were not fonts of all wisdom and healing, but flawed humans with extra knowledge and experience, infinitely more qualified to treat my daughter than I am, but not infallible. Even they couldn’t tell me how the disease would manifest itself in Jemima’s body, much as I quizzed them about it.
It opened up the larger problem of suffering in general. Before having Jemima, my eyes were largely averted from the pain and difficulty around me; it was easier and safer to ignore it. Now, I can’t walk the corridors of our local children’s hospital without being forcibly reminded of is. I can’t see the toddler whose little hat speaks of ongoing cancer treatment or the child with the tracheotomy and nasal gastric tube without knowing something of the reality of this ‘new world’ of suffering. Amongst my acquaintance, this picture of suffering gathers pace; the little girl who dies suddenly of a rare genetic condition; the baby undergoing invasive tests to determine what is going wrong in her little body. As I once heard Don Carson say: “sooner or later, life will kick you in the teeth.” Suffering isn’t a matter of if but of when and how. I have gone through my entire life assuming that it’ll probably never happen, but when Jemima became the of 1 in 2,500 babies born with CF, this idea didn’t hold water.
As much as I resent being admitted into this new reality, I do believe it’s fundamentally the most accurate view of life. There’s nothing like being given a ‘life expectancy’ for your newborn to make you question all the notions you’ve been living by. Yet the reality is that life itself is terminal. It makes the idea of ‘life expectancy’ somewhat meaningless as, even if you don’t have a diagnosed health condition, an aggressive cancer could snuff you out, as it did one of our lovely CF nurses, between two of our bimonthly clinic appointments. And even if this doesn’t happen, death is bizarrely the only absolute certainty in life. As the apostle Paul writes in the book of Romans: “outwardly we are fading away.” As the artist Sufjan Stevens sings in ‘Fourth of July’: “we’re all gonna die.”
In the emotional chaos of the first year, I found C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’ helpful in articulating this alternative view of the world. It is a fictional series of letters from Screwtape, a senior devil, to Woodwood, a junior devil, advising him about how to tempt his ‘victim’ during a time of suffering. Here, the Enemy is God. This passage chimed with my experience of suffering in early months of Jemima’s diagnosis. I didn’t feel that God was there and I didn’t know what he was doing, but I know that he must have been there or I wouldn’t be writing this now:
“Of course, at the precise moment of terror, bereavement, or physical pain, you may catch your man when his reason is temporarily suspended. But even then, if he applies to Enemy headquarters, I have found that the post is nearly always defended.”
I had a baby. Her name is Martha. Martha Grace Brooks. She arrived on 7th April. (Why Martha?)
What a humbling experience it is to have a newborn baby. You hope you slightly know what you’re doing a bit more with number four, and maybe you do but still not nearly enough. And you also can’t predict what might happen with this specific baby. My baby got mastitis. No, I didn’t know that could happen either. Neither did the Receptionist at A&E. I had to argue my way in!
One day, around week two I think, my 6-year-old daughter asked me this: “Why are babies born as babies? Why aren’t they born, bigger, like one or six or something?”
I think the question behind that question is, “Why does it have to be so bloomin’ hard? So much crying from baby and mum, so little sleep, so many dirty nappies!”
What would you have said? I was caught off guard and in my semi-conscious state said something about it being good for us to be humbled as parents, and also that we don’t always know why God makes things the way he does, but he is wise and we are not. Not the best answer but I think it was at least true, so could have been worse.
But I’ve been thinking about it a bit more, and I suppose there are several reasons why the Lord created us to be babies first. And we know that he glorifies himself in creation: when we look at his world, it shows us what he is like (see for example, Romans 1:18-20). So what can I learn about the Lord from my newborn baby?
Well one thing I have learnt is that in some ways my relationship with my child is a picture of God the Father’s relationship with me, his adopted child. As I look at her in her vulnerable state, relying on me for everything, and really giving nothing back in return (she isn’t even smiling yet), I can remember that I’m in a similar position (although more extreme) before my Heavenly Father:
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. (Psalm 131)
As my baby trusts me, I can learn to trust my Father in heaven.
New parents often talk about the extreme emotions they feel for their newborn child, and how surprising it can seem that they are capable of such passionate feelings of love and protection for a little bundle of life. When I feel like that, I can remember that this is just a mere picture of the Lord’s feelings for his people. Look at how he spoke to his people through the prophet Isaiah:
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:13
The Lord in his mercy is using the picture of motherhood to explain to his people how tender his loving kindness is. And of course, his love is perfect, unlike the selfish, tired and grumpy version I offer to my own children.
I’m sure there are many more wonderful lessons about God which can be seen through nursing a newborn, but I am very tired and can’t go into them right now. If I go on any longer, I am bound to say something heretical by mistake. I also should be doing some housework and/or attending to my two year old, who is instead watching Bing.
So I will leave you once again with the words of that great Australian theologian of our time, Colin Buchanan:
“(One two buckle my shoe)
God loves her children like the chookie loves her chickies,
The mother hen will gather them underneath her wing.”
(See also Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34)
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Here are some thoughts from Week 7 of my pregnancy – mid August – because we so quickly forget what it’s like!
They say when you’re pregnant, more blood has to pump around your body. Is it possible that I can feel that happening? I’m incredibly thirsty, inconceivably tired, and keep getting short of breath when I move.
This week I had seven friends round for a dinner party. Does it count as a dinner party if we ordered fish and chips? Of course not. We didn’t even foot the bill. When one friend left she said, ‘thank you for eating your fish and chips with us’ which was exactly what I’d done. (It was actually a great evening. I would highly recommend such measures when you want to see friends but are completely wiped!)
I keep forgetting things. The other day I texted my friend to tell her we’d eaten at our new breakfast bar (I know, I only text urgent news). Half an hour later she mentioned it and I asked her if she’d been watching us through the kitchen window. Rather a wild accusation! She said, ‘No… you told me.’ Embarrassing.
I keep crying. I was reading an email out to my family about a friend’s son recovering from surgery, and I burst into tears. Well that’s quite a reasonable response, if a little out of character. I also nearly cried when trying to decide if the aforementioned breakfast bar was big enough or not. Definitely not reasonable.
I keep wanting to eat spaghetti hoops from a tin (I found some at my mum’s today – wolfed them).
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, my body and mind are falling apart, which usually only means one thing: I’m pregnant.
But despite all of this evidence (as well as the positive pregnancy test – I’m not crazy), I still worry that maybe I don’t feel pregnant enough. I’m seven weeks, which feels like a long time but then it’s not really. I lost a baby later than this back in 2010. I’ve always thought it would be great to find out you’re pregnant at around 16 weeks, when you’re beyond the “danger zone” and can tell all your friends. But of course, that’s never happened to me. I always figure it out at around 4 or 5 weeks, and then can’t stop thinking about it until I take a test. Then you need to wait a good couple of months before you get to see the miraculous heartbeat on the screen, and explain to everyone why you’ve been behaving like a complete nincompoop with the energy of a 93 year old.
So that’s the stage I’m at now. I occasionally panic that the baby isn’t OK. I read about the harvesting of foetal body parts and consider the grave injustice of this world. Why do some people have to suffer childlessness and loss, while others who don’t want children are blessed with fertility? What a mess this world is in. And since this world is in such a mess, do I really want to bring another child into it? Well if I don’t, it’s too late now. But of course I do. I already desperately want this child to be healthy, and safe, and happy in the Lord.
And then other times – particularly between midnight and 7am – I panic at the thought of having another person determined to interrupt my sleep. Plus what if I don’t give enough attention to each of my children? And a hundred other concerns. So thus far pregnancy has taught me to pray, and trust in God’s oft-baffling but ever-true sovereignty.
Reading this now, early October, I’m thankful that even when my moods, senses, family size and body shape change, God never changes. The gospel is still true and God is still just and good, even when I’m eating spaghetti hoops out of a tin and crying at the news, when I forget I invited someone for lunch or I fall asleep on the sofa at 8.30pm.
Enough nonsense, here is some relevant truth from Walter C Smith:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small; In all life Thou livest, the true life of all; We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.
I met someone last night who said all of her friends are having their first babies. In case you’re in the same boat, here are some thoughts for new mums, written a year ago for my lovely friend, Charlie:
Here is a letter to my lovely friend Charlie, who is about to give birth any day now. It’s a bit honest, but I hope you like it. It seems wonderfully appropriate, one year on from writing about my own struggles with my first newborn (Push, Push, Glide), to post this here.
I’m sitting in a café (had free coffee voucher – bargain!) and a lady next to me has a teeeeeeny tiny baby! He is very cute and drunk on milk. Everyone is gazing at him. Mum is probably exhausted and wondering when the baby will next need feeding. I’ve found that there’s a big old difference between actual motherhood, and motherhood from the outside looking in.
You’re about to have your first baby! You know that already. I’d love to give you loads of advice and tips. I’m sure all of your mum-friends will…
Some News from Chez Brooks. Written early August 2015.
We made a decision. We’d like to have another. And yes, I do mean another b.a.b.y.
But why? Am I one of those ‘baby’ people, who loves babies? That would be an emphatic “no.” While I love my children dearly and am truly grateful for them, I don’t enjoy being pregnant, giving birth(!), breastfeeding or waking through the night. And to be honest, I don’t even enjoy holding babies that much. They don’t do much, do they? I love the babies I know, but not because they’re babies. (This is, in many ways, a good thing. Babies don’t stay babies!)
I can’t explain it, but after much careful consideration we agreed that we would like four children, even though they will one day (God willing) become four teenagers, and we only have one teeny tiny bathroom (it’s almost double the width of the bath).
And it’s happened! Brooks baby number four is on his/her merry way. Still microscopic for now, but a person all the same. We haven’t told anyone yet, so do keep it to yourself. To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about sharing this joyous news with my largely unsuspecting friends and family.
When you’re pregnant with your first, people are so happy for you: how exciting! You’re going to be great parents! Praise God! Let’s pray right now about that!
The second baby is less of a surprise, usually, unless it’s eye-wateringly soon after the first, but people can see that you want a ‘proper family’ (I object to this term but people do say it), or that you want to ‘get it all out of the way at once’ (objection again!), or that you just want a little playmate for Jonny (let’s hope Jonny is on board).
In our culture, two children is normal. So when you announce number three is in the pipeline, as it were, people laugh a bit and say things like, ‘Wow, you’re going to need a bigger car.’ Which is true. (Actually for us it was more, ‘You’re going to need a car.’) People with three children in the UK are perceived as having a big family. The washing, the bunk beds, the car seats. Wow. But in my experience, people admire, or at least respect you.
But four children? Are you insane? You can’t have four children in a normal car. You will probably need to move. Goodness me, how will you even walk down the street? You can never go to a supermarket again. Wow, you must LOVE babies.
This is why, since having three children, people have often said to me, ‘I bet you’re finished now, aren’t you!’ or words to that effect. I always thought family planning was quite a private matter, but evidently I’m mistaken. I don’t mind a close friend asking gently if I’d like to have more children, but someone I’m not close to announcing, in front of my children, that I won’t be having any more, is just inappropriate. Being English, I generally smile politely and change the subject, as I wouldn’t want to offend them by telling them it’s none of their flaming business.
A mother-of-two once said to me with absolute conviction that it was totally unfair to have more than two children, because you wouldn’t give them enough attention. But this opinion is so culturally bound. By the end of the 20th Century, women in London were having on average half the number of babies compared to those at the start of the century. In many cultures – and, by the way, in God’s word! – children are seen as a huge blessing and wealth. Your children are your inheritance, as they’ll look after you when you’re old. (As someone said to me last week, in some parts of the world we’d just be getting started.) But now that we have (free) birth control in the UK, people with lots of children can be seen as a drain on society and a nuisance. Hasn’t she heard of the Pill? (or, ‘tie a knot in it’ as I heard someone recently put it.)
When I was in hospital with my first newborn the post-natal ward was, to use the medical term, rammed. I mentioned this to a nurse at one point, who said, ‘It’s the Muslims. They’ve got an agenda, to populate the world.’ I was a bit too drugged up and sleep-deprived to have the suitable reaction (reporting her to some Body or other), so I just mumbled something in defence of Muslims and tried to change the subject. But this is just another example of how large families are viewed. They’re unruly; a threat to the status quo.
So now, instead of phoning round my friends and family with the happy news of a baby on the way, I’m wondering how to break it to everyone. Family holidays with relatives are going to be even more chaotic, with even less chance of a good nights’ sleep. I’ll be less available to other people as my family’s needs grow. My church family will need to help me even more! And will I ever go back into teaching, for crying out loud?
Well, if motherhood has taught me anything (besides the exact words to many a Julia Donaldson chronicle), it’s to care less and less what other people (especially strangers) think of me. Since getting pregnant the first time, I’ve been judged so much that I now just assume that people are horrified by whatever it is I’m doing. Even with three children who are clearly alive and rather stable, people still assume I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing: your child doesn’t look safe on that wall/is far too hot/has cold hands/hasn’t had her hair brushed (that I’ll give them)/is being ignored (yes, that’s because he’s screaming for Haribo). Or even if you’re not doing anything wrong, your child is probably just being a nuisance by his/her very existence. So I’m learning the healthy lesson of not-being-self-conscious. Or something more succinct. I’ll keep praying, asking for advice from wise people, and doing what I think is obedient. The Lord knows I’m making (sometimes slow/sometimes moderate) progress!
So for now, I’m happy to keep it just between Mike and myself, because we’re really chuffed to bits about this little tike. And if the news is met with mixed responses, hopefully I can thank the Lord that he’s making me less and less affected by the judgments of others. Although with pregnancy hormones thrown into the mix, that may work better in theory than practice.
Please feel welcome to comment below – I’d love to read your thoughts!
If you are wondering whether or not to have another baby, you may find this article useful. (I only found it today, but would have found it useful six months ago!)
Reading this a couple of months on, I’d just like to add three comments of my own!
The people we’ve told about the baby have actually been very supportive, so I’m really thankful for friends who genuinely care about us and take delight in our little family. Praise God!
I’m sure I’ve been guilty of feeling like children are a nuisance, or that “enough’s enough.” If this post seems judgmental, sorry, as the finger should definitely be pointed at me, too.
I think pregnancy hormones had a role to play in my anxiety about this, too! Surprise, surprise.