A Baby and the Cold Slush of Winter

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I slog my way through dirty, melting snow as I walk to work. The pristine fluffy white of one week ago is replaced by the dirt and grime of the city, coupled with slush caused by rising temperatures.

It is Thursday, my last day of the work week, and I am tired. In winter everything takes longer. It takes longer to get ready in the morning, longer to walk to the subway, longer for the subway to arrive, longer to get groceries.

Everything is longer. Everything is harder. It’s more difficult to see grace; more difficult to give grace.

Yesterday I visited a friend who has just had a baby girl. I held her little body in my arms, marveling at her perfection, struck by how this little miracle came to be.

In the midst of the cold slosh of winter, I got to hold this wonder in my arms. Outside may feel cold and heartless, but inside is warm with wonder and grace.

Outside the world is raging, unaware that inside is a six pound wonder. Outside people argue and push, morosely facing winter’s worst. Across the country fires and floods change people’s lives in moments.

But inside there is a baby, perfectly formed and known by a God who still believes that this world is worthy of being redeemed. She is entrusted to, and loved by, an imperfect family and friends; people who will hold her and teach her, love her and cry with her.

And as I hold her I am in awe – in awe of baby soft skin and six pounds of perfectly formed fingers and toes, in awe of the strength and fragility of life, in awe of my friend who waited so long and wanted this baby so very much. Mostly in awe that somehow God believes that we in our human frailty, born as helpless babes who grow to be imperfect children and adults, are worth redeeming.

It’s Thursday and I’m tired. But then I remember – there’s a baby and it’s all okay.

My Ramadan Baby

I remember the day like it was yesterday. The Islamabad sun, hot and bright, burned down on my mom and I as we walked to the hospital with my first-born – Annie – in a stroller.

It was May of 1987 and it was Ramadan, only a couple of days before the huge Eid celebration that would mark the end of this long month of fasting for Muslims around the world. We had been living and working in Islamabad since January and I was 9 months pregnant with our second child.

After a false start a couple of days earlier, my mom and I headed out to my  regularly scheduled prenatal appointment.  After examining me, my doctor said “Sometimes we need to push the horse and cart!” Which was code for “I’m going to give you something to speed up this delivery.” I was more than willing to oblige.

It was a text book induction and just after midnight on May 25th I gave birth to a gorgeous, blue-eyed, fuzzy-headed baby boy. I was smitten.

I wrote about my Ramadan baby 6 years ago, when I was a new blogger. As I reread the piece I wrote, I realized it communicates the story exactly as I remember it, so I have reposted it below in honor of my Ramadan “baby’s” 30th birthday!

Date: May 25, 1987

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Place: Ali Medical Center

24 years ago today at 10 minutes past midnight I gave birth to my second child. It was toward the end of Ramadan and this showed significantly in the absence of staff in the hospital. Earlier in the evening as I labored, my husband and I began to worry aloud that the doctor, busy breaking the fast at her home, would not make it and we would be left on our own. We needed her assurance in seeing to the safety and health of a pregnant woman in transition (me) and a baby that wanted to enter life. My mom, well versed in cultural norms in Pakistan, assured us that the doctor would arrive on time. But as we waited and wondered, we were deeply grateful for the calm presence of my mother.

As the hospital staff ate their fill of Ramadan specialties before dawn came (and with it the arduous fast that would not break until 7 or 8 at night) two babies made their way into the world.  The last azaan, calling the faithful to prayer, was heard earlier through the brick walls of the labor and delivery room, ensuring that even those inside would know it was time to break the fast. At that point all hospital staff disappeared, oblivious to the labor pains of two women, as they rushed to ease their hunger pains.

One of those babies was ours: Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner, born with a head of blond, fuzzy hair and deep blue eyes. I took one look and fell in love with 6 lbs and 12 oz of baby. It was magic. The second baby was also a boy – a little Pathan boy, as dark-haired as Joel was blonde, born to a family who lived in Peshawar. They had made their way to Islamabad for the delivery, ensuring that their first child would be born at a good hospital.

It was a text-book delivery and after 6 hours of laboring and a few pushes, Joel took his first breath and let out a yowl. I don’t even know if yowl is a word but it describes what was a mixture of a yodel and a howl. He was a perfect, 10 fingered, 10 toed, baby boy. Dr. Azima Quereshi was the doctor presiding over the delivery. After observing me labor without drugs and breastfeed immediately after birth, she looked at my mom with tear-filled eyes and clutched her arm saying “I’ve read about deliveries like this, but I’ve never seen one!”

The hospital staff enjoyed their own show that night as they sent staff in by two’s to see “the white lady who had her husband in with her during the delivery,” something that was unheard of at Ali Medical Center and most hospitals in Pakistan. “Who wants the men in there?” was the incredulous question voiced by Pakistani friends and acquaintances.

The Pathan family showered the hospital staff and doctor with gifts of fruit, Pakistani sweets of gulab jamun, jalebis, barfi, and savories of samosas and pakoras. This ensured a favored place with staff as low on the ladder as cleaning people and as high as surgeons. 

We were not so favored. A gift of imported Cadbury Chocolates delivered in a fake gold bowl for Dr. Quereshi seemed appropriate and we went on our merry way, taking Joel back home to the F-8 residential area of Islamabad to meet his older sister Annie and settle into a bassinet.

It was only later that we realized our faux pas in not buying treats for the entire hospital. We had failed to publicly recognize the role the rest of the staff had played in helping us deliver a healthy baby boy which, from a cultural perspective, was a huge thing to acknowledge!

And so Joel came into the world and today he turns 24. His blonde hair has turned into light brown, he still has deep blue eyes – and his yowl? That has turned into an infectious laugh, ability to argue anyone into the ground and a great personality.

Happy Birthday Joel – We are so blessed by your life.

To the One Who Got Pregnant too Soon

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I woke with a familiar pressure on my bladder. It was the middle of the night, and I needed to go to the bathroom. I came back to bed in tears.

“I think I’m pregnant.” I whispered to my sleepy husband as I shook his shoulder. “That’s ridiculous” he said as he turned over and fell back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, stayed awake. I knew I was pregnant. We had a toddler and a baby who was six months old. I was exclusively breast feeding and hadn’t yet gotten my period back after the pregnancy, so my husband’s response was completely reasonable.

But when you know your body, you know these things. Nine months later we had a beautiful baby boy, born two weeks earlier than his due date. He was 6 lbs and 10 oz of beauty and joy. But the inbetween time was not so much. People who saw me pregnant would look at me in astonishment and say “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” thinking it was the previous pregnancy gone on too long.

Yes – I actually had given birth to THAT baby. This one was a different one. This one was THIS baby. That one was THAT baby. Sheesh.

There were a few things that I discovered about myself and about other people during that time. I offer them here in this space, knowing that your situation may be different, but hoping that you will feel some nuggets of encouragement.

  1. You owe nobody, I mean nobody, an explanation. When people say things, when they comment about your pregnancy you don’t have to tell them anything that you don’t want to. When they ask if you were planning this, if it was a surprise, if you’re happy …. those are intimate questions, and you don’t have to let people know the answer.There will be people that you can share with and cry with, but the average bystander and acquaintance is not worthy of your explanations. Whether you used birth control or not – it’s none of their business. Whether you were planning this or not – none of their business. Don’t feel any pressure to give people a response.
  2. Your baby is not a mistake. Your baby may be unexpected; your baby may be a surprise — but your baby is absolutely NOT a mistake. Mistakes are supposed to be erased, they are supposed to be corrected. Surprises are unexpected and take some rethinking and adjusting, but ultimately you do adjust. There is a massive difference between a mistake and a surprise.
  3. You need safe people. You need people who will listen to you, judgment free as you rant and rave about your body, your mother-in-law, your oversexed husband, your life in ruins, all of it. You need to be able to say that you want to run away to safe people who know that these feelings will pass. Safe friends who will love you and protect you from a world that feels overwhelming are a gift.
  4. Be okay with asking for help. I made a vow that hurt me for years when I got pregnant unexpectedly. That vow was that no one would ever see me out of control. It was such a mistake. I carried such a heavy burden of having to keep it together. People who knew and loved me knew that I wasn’t keeping it together, but I tried to hide it under the vow that I had foolishly made. When I finally broke free of that, I cried and cried, ending the crying session with a soul-deep sigh.I was finally free to admit my need for others, my need for help. Don’t be like me. Ask for help.
  5. Routine could be your best friend. When you find yourself pregnant and you have a toddler in the house, routine is a wonderful gift. Routine means you can say “No, I’m sorry – I can’t do that. It’s nap time.” Routine builds security in you and your children. Routine gives you time to recharge and drink tea. Routine is not binding – it’s freeing.
  6. Be okay saying “No.” “No – I can’t make a dessert for the women’s brunch.” “No, I can’t chaperone the preschool field trip.” “No, I can’t baby sit your kids.” “No, I can’t work those extra hours.” “No, I can’t fill in for a sick nurse, or a sick Sunday school teacher, or a sick anyone anytime anywhere.” No. No. No. For some reason, I was an easy yes. I remember one time sitting at someone’s house helping her fold her clothes and make apple crisp. Suddenly I thought “This is ridiculous! I’m the one with five kids! I’m the one who needs to fold clothes and make apple crisp – AT HOME! I realized that I needed to put healthy boundaries around my time.
  7. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need everything that western society says they do. They don’t need hundreds of outings, they don’t need a bunch of different play groups. They need you. They need Grandma if she’s around. They need security and safety. Self-actualization is way far away on Maslow’s hierarchy. Don’t worry about it. If play groups help you – well then, have at it. But if they don’t – then don’t worry about “socializing” your child. Believe me, there is a lot of socialization that your kid can do without.
  8. On days when you are so tired, and you just can’t do it anymore, there’s always tea and reading time. Put quiet music on in the background and read to your little ones. Then, put them in their happy places while you read yourself.
  9. One day you will get your body and your sleep back. It won’t be the same, it can never be the same. That’s the price we pay for having these little humanoids who grab our hearts with their vice-like grips and create a gap in our well-oiled shiny armor. But there will come a day when you put on a little-maybe-big(ger) black dress and go out with your true love again. There will come a day when you have a full night sleep. There will come a day when all of your children – even the surprise ones – are potty trained. There will come a time when you watch your own television shows and movies. There will come a time when you miss your kids. But it won’t be for awhile.
  10. Allow people to celebrate for you. You may think this is the worst thing ever, the timing is all wrong, you were going to go back to school to get a masters degree, you had finally lost all your baby weight, your husband is looking for a new job, you just started back to work — there may be all kinds of reasons that you have for not being able to celebrate. But others can celebrate for you. When I arrived in London, unexpectedly pregnant with my fifth child, no one in Cairo knew. I hadn’t told anyone. I arrived in London and my best friend met me at the airport. I hugged her and then burst into tears. “I’m pregnant!” “You’re so lucky!” she said. She had had a couple of miscarriages and she knew what it was to be gratefully pregnant. It was perfect. No – I didn’t feel lucky. No – I felt totally overwhelmed. But her reaction was so wonderfully spontaneous and lovely that I began to feel a measure of hope with her response.

You could still be wondering why you are pregnant when you are in labor and about to deliver the baby – but once you see that tiny, little person, you will be in utter awe and the heartburn will be gone.

So to you who got pregnant too soon – I hear you. I’m with you. You join the multitudes of us around the world in that special “I got pregnant too soon and I realize I can’t control my life club.” It’s a club that humbles you and grows you up quickly. No one intends to join the club, but once you’re in it, you realize that it’s a pretty great club after all.

Dear New Mom – Part 2

  
Dear New Mom,

A year ago I wrote a letter to you. I saw you on the subway, and you had that amazing look, a look I know so well — the look of a woman in love with her newborn.

So I wrote to you, and I meant every word that I said. Now, your baby is just over a year old, and the glow is gone, but it’s replaced by more maturity and tenacity. A year in and you know some of the work this thing called motherhood takes — it has its moments, doesn’t it? Still, each step, each word – it’s all amazing.

And of course, if you didn’t know before, you know now that every writer, blogger, researcher, celebrity, and Russian babushka has an opinion and expresses that opinion about everything from tummy time to tuna.

This past week, I found myself sorting through old pictures and just like that, I was taken back to a time when I was you — watching this little person become. So I thought back to the letter I wrote last year and I’m adding my voice to the chorus. I ask for you to forgive me when I get it wrong.

First off, there are those who tell you that you really don’t know what it’s like to be a mom since you only have one child….AS IF!! That’s just crazy talk right there! Yes you do my friend! Okay, you may not know what it’s like to be a mom of five, but you sure know what it’s like to be a mom of one. We just have to stop this crazy comparison talk. Just because I have five, doesn’t mean a mom with one doesn’t know what it’s like to be a mom. A mom with six kids is not more of a mom than you are. A mom who adopts is not less of a mom! If you have a child, you’re a mom and that’s it.

Don’t be afraid to travel with your child. Take them early and often. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but you will feel like superwoman when you’ve gone on even a short trip with them. It’s  amazing. I remember traveling to Greece with four kids under six, the youngest was four months old. Two of them got chicken pox on the airplane. I learned that I could do anything, anything if I could do that! You’ll feel the same traveling with your toddler! You will know that you are superwoman!

You’ve likely now had people give you the “first year advice.” It may have been over supporting your baby’s head while you were holding her; it may have been over not keeping them warm enough, or because you made the mistake of breast feeding in public, or pulling out a bottle of formula. Likely you could sometimes laugh, but other times it felt so hard and destructive, and when you got home you dissolved into a puddle of tears. It’s so hard, right? You don’t want to be rude, but you really need to be given space. Remember how in last year’s letter I told you about safe space? Know your safe spaces and your safe people – be nice to others, but don’t let them into that space. I learned to listen to some people, and to others, I had to quietly blow words away. To make it fun, put away a dime for every time someone gives you advice. You will get rich so quick – it will be awesome.

You are smart! Sometimes the loud voices forget that we are smart, and that we are capable of figuring this out for ourselves without a 24-7 diet of information. Trust your intuition because you are probably right.

If you want to dress your kids like they belong on wedding cakes, then you do it! I don’t regret one bow tie or ruffle. It was so much fun dressing those kids, and believe me, the time will come when they will have none of it so just enjoy it while it lasts.

Enjoy the process. It’s so easy to wish our lives away and forget the moments. And I am going to be annoying here and say this: It goes really fast. It doesn’t feel like it does, but as I looked back over my pictures, I was lost in the smiles that good memories bring. We had so much fun. Fun at bath time, fun on picnics, fun on airplanes. There was a lot of joy in the midst of all that growing.

I have to say new mom, that you are my favorite! I am so on your side, and I apologize from my generation for making you believe that you can do it all – because if there is one thing I know — you can’t do it all. Something has to give, and unfortunately it’s usually us. So go with grit and grace, there are a lot of us older moms on your side.

Love, Marilyn [yes – that IS me in the picture – I always made sure I had a nice bathrobe for pictures like that.]

P.S. I ate tuna while I was pregnant.  Lots and lots of tuna. And it’s likely that your child will be potty-trained when they are 13, so don’t buy into this “They aren’t potty-trained yet?! (said with incredulity) Mine’s been potty-trained since ___!” And the point is….?

 

The Urban Disadvantage – State of the World’s Mothers 2015

state of the worlds mothers 2Every year around Mother’s Day a report is released from Save the Children called the “State of the World’s Mothers.” And every year, I write about it.

Because it is so important to me. If I could spend all day every day with moms and babies, I would. There are so many reasons for this – but partly its because I have five of my own and I learned so much from those younger days. I know what helped and I definitely know what didn’t help. Healthy moms and babies are critical to a healthy world.

In the last 60 plus years, the number of city dwellers in the world has increased by over 20%, so that half the world’s population now lives in the city. While this creates incredible advantages for many of us, there are many others who live in extreme poverty where disease is prevalent, nutrition poor, and violence high. The World Health Organization (WHO)estimates that nearly a billion people live in urban slums, shantytowns, on sidewalks, under bridges, or along the railroad tracks.” One of the worst places in the world for a mom and a baby to be is in a city slum. 

state of the worlds mothersThis year’s report is on mothers in urban settings and is appropriately called “The Urban Disadvantage.” Here are some summary findings, taken directly from the report:

“Every day, 17,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Increasingly, these preventable deaths are occurring in city slums, where overcrowding and poor sanitation exist alongside skyscrapers and shopping malls. Lifesaving health care may be only a stone’s throw away, but the poorest mothers and children often cannot get the care they need.”

  • The world, especially the developing world, is becoming urbanized at a breathtaking pace. Virtually all future population growth in developing countries is expected to happen in cities, resulting in a greater share of child deaths taking place in urban areas.
  • In developing countries, the urban poor are often as bad as, or worse off than, the average rural family, and for many rural families, moving to the city may result in more – rather than less – hardship
  • Few countries have invested sufficiently in the infrastructure and systems, including water and sanitation, which are critical to addressing the basic health needs of the urban poor. More countries need to adopt universal health care as a national policy to help address the unmet needs of the urban poor.
  • While great progress has been made in reducing urban under-5 mortality around the world, inequality is worsening in too many cities.
  • The poorest children in almost every city face alarmingly high risks of death.
  • High child death rates in slums are rooted in disadvantage, deprivation and discrimination.
  • Malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of deaths of children under 5, leading to over 3 million deaths each year, 800,000 of which occur among newborn babies.
  • Among capital cities in high-income countries, Washington, DC has the highest infant death risk and great inequality. Save the Children examined infant mortality rates in 25 capital cities of wealthy countries and found that Washington, DC had the highest infant mortality rate at 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. While this rate is an all-time low for the District of Columbia, it is still 3 times the rates found in Tokyo and Stockholm.

Here’s the good news: We know what works! This is huge. Save the Children looked at six cities that, despite significant population growth, have made strides in saving children. Again, from the report:

The cities are: Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Cairo (Egypt), Manila (Philippines), Kampala (Uganda), Guatemala City (Guatemala) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia). These cities have achieved success through a variety of strategies to extend access to high impact services, strengthen health systems, lower costs, increase health awareness and make care more accessible to the poorest urban residents.  1) Better care for mothers and babies before, during and after childbirth; 2) Increased use of modern contraception to prevent or postpone pregnancy; and 3) Effective strategies to provide free or subsidized quality health services for the poor. 

The yearly report always ends with recommendations, and this year is no exception. As a public health nurse, I am always encouraged and discouraged about this report. On the one hand, the statistics are depressing and overwhelming. On the same hand, its all well for a group like Save the Children to talk about what needs to be done, but it is completely different convincing country, state, and city governments that money needs to be given to these efforts.

So where’s the good news? The good news is in places like Heartline Ministries in Haiti. I’ve never been there, but feel like I know two of the midwives who work with Heartline – Beth and Tara – through our email and online interaction. They are two of my “sheros.” Heartline’s mission statement is “Intentionally walking alongside the impoverished men, women, and children of Haiti during their life journeys, meeting critical physical, emotional, financial, educational, and most importantly spiritual needs.” Their maternity center exists to provide prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care to women in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. If you want to know where your money is going to, and want to make a difference, I highly recommend this group. Connect with them on Facebook here.

And the other place I’ve written about before. Shikarpur Christian Hospital has met the needs of moms and babies for years with little recognition and a lot of perseverance. Pakistani and Western staff work hard to give great care to moms and babies in Shikarpur and surrounding areas.

In my public health heart, I know that for real and lasting change to happen, policies are needed at the highest levels. I know that some things are completely impossible without the support of local government. I know in my soul that for real and lasting change, hearts have to change. But while some may say these places are bandaids on a gushing wound, I would say that until we live in a perfect world, thank God for the people who are willing to put on bandaids.

Photo Credit – https://www.pinterest.com/pin/13370130120653125/

Dear New Mom

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Dear New Mom

I can tell this is new for you. You have that glow of joy and uncertainty as you readjust the blanket around your tiny baby. You protect with your arms against the crowds that are pushing around you in this crowded subway space, and you respond tentatively to the occasional smiles from strangers. For who doesn’t love a baby? 

I wish I was sitting closer to you so that I could strike up a conversation. So many things are going through my head. I’ve given birth to five babies on three continents – I like to think of it as a kind of record. I remember so well those beginning days where all the world was colored baby.

What would I say to you new mom? Right now you’re either basking in the glow of new motherhood or hating that everyone thinks you should be basking when all you want to do is sleep and cry. Sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s so hard to do but it’s so important. Don’t spend energy cleaning the house or going on social media or instagramming your life. Sleep.

Take advantage of the space people will give you for a short time. For a short time, the only time in your life, people will expect nothing from you other than to be with your baby. Don’t pass up this opportunity. I promise you will never get it again. If you have the chance to sleep until ten in the morning with your baby, do it. You will be so glad.

Your baby will cry. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. Babies cry. They just do and it can be so hard. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself if it gets too hard. Put ear plugs in and separate yourself for awhile. Sanity is critical and there may be times when you think you are going insane. So step away for a time if you need.

A bit of sadness is normal in those first days, and periodically it may surface. But if it continues, go seek help. There’s postpartum sadness and then there’s postpartum depression. They are two very different things.

You are not weak for asking for help. The Western world does this baby thing all wrong. Away from moms. Away from friends and sisters. Isolated in suburbia or not knowing your city neighbors. New moms and babies are created for community, for help. Find yours.

That mom that asks you if your toddler is potty-trained yet? Best stay away from her. Because it will continue into higher stakes and bigger comparisons. And it will be beautifully, camouflaged passive-aggressive behavior. First it will be about potty training. Then it will be about talking. Then it will be about grades and sports. It will end with her daughter marrying a “good Christian boy” and you will have to confess that you want to kill her. It’s not worth it. Competition is never-ending and it will not help you. Break the madness. Live above and beyond competition.

When you have an uneasy feeling that your pediatrician is wrong – they probably are. So gently or forcefully push them. Same with that teacher who misjudged your child – don’t be afraid to speak up. The one that thinks your child is going nowhere? You’ll be sending them a copy of their college report with all A’s. Trust me on that one.

But also know that your kid is not perfect. And they probably did bite the other toddler in the church nursery. If you accept early on that your kids are not perfect, it will be easier when others let you know in clear language.

Know that the playing field levels when they are teens or young adults. That’s when parents with perfect children go into hiding, or at least get a little quieter. Because it’s hard to maintain a perfect image past those wonderful middle years.

Remember that well-oiled and shined armor that served you so well when you were single and newly married? It now has a soft, sweet-smelling crack in it. Arrows from others can find their way straight through the crack. Know your safe people and cry and laugh with them. Be kind to those who aren’t safe but don’t let them into your sanctuary.

Above all remember, there is so much grace needed in this journey of parenting. Grace for your kids. Grace for your husband. Grace toward in-laws. Grace toward the well-meaning and clueless. Grace to yourself.

That baby that you cuddle so close will one day be an adult. An adult who you drink coffee and laugh with, an adult who you cherish. And there is little sweeter than enjoying a relationship with your adult child.

It’s your subway stop now – but wait, you forgot your diaper bag. The first of many things you will forget. Goodbye new mom. I wish you joy and grace. 

Picture Credit:http://pixabay.com/en/baby-mother–arms-legs-mother-arms-164583/

When You Give Birth

I had a post all planned. It was full of information: statistics, thoughts, problems, solutions. It was based on the State of the World’s Mothers report that came out recently, the report by Save the Children released yearly since 2000 that looks at how mothers fare throughout the world on key indicators.

But something didn’t sit right. The figures – the statistics – the issues – they are all critically important but my heart told me there was something else to write. This is the something else – statistics can wait until tomorrow. 

When you give birth you don’t expect to shield your child from gunfire, to tell her hungry stomach that there is no food. When you give birth you don’t expect to bathe your daughter’s feverish forehead, hoping and praying that the raging fevers of malaria will leave and not get worse.

When you give birth you don’t expect to sit beside your child, watching her thick, curly hair fall out – a result of the chemotherapy poison flowing through her body killing all the bad cells….and the good ones. You don’t expect to rush to the hospital to see their battered body, victim to a drunk driving accident.

You don’t know that you will have a crack in your strong armor – and that crack will have a name, or several names. Annie, Joel, Micah, Stefanie, Jonathan. That suddenly there will be a way for life to wound in a way you could never have known.

When you give birth you don’t know how many times you will pass by their room, hearing their muffled or sometimes clearly audible sobs, safe only to shed behind closed doors. You don’t know how much you’ll want to comfort, yet know it’s out of your control. You don’t know that you might wait daily for a phone call, any piece of news that tells you how your child who left in a rage is doing, where they are.

When you give birth you don’t expect your breasts to dry up from malnutrition and to fight for every piece of food that you get. You don’t expect to be in a refugee camp with no privacy, no running water.

You don’t know the rage you will feel at those who would hurt your child, that you will do anything, anything to protect them. You don’t expect that you will sign adoption papers with tears running down your cheeks, because you know that this is the best, possible choice for your baby.

When you give birth you don’t think that you’ll sit beside your daughter at divorce court, seeing her trembling hands and longing to take away the pain. You don’t anticipate you’ll go to a psych hospital with your son, so consumed by hurt he feels he cannot go on.

When you give birth you don’t expect to go to your 2 year old’s funeral, their body so tiny even in the smallest coffin they had. You don’t expect that you will gather your child to you, holding them tight and praying that the bombs don’t reach you.

When you give birth you don’t expect to look up at a cross, the worst sort of death, and see your beloved son, naked and beaten with nails pounded in to flesh, him hanging on what used to be a tree. You don’t know a sword will pierce your soul. 

Lord God, Have mercy and be with those who give birth. 

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My Response to the Gosnell Case

Trigger warning – the first part of this article holds a graphic description.

Only hours before I boarded our flight to Istanbul I read the first article I had seen about the Gosnell case. It was an article easily missed in the NY Times. For those who may have missed this story, this is a doctor on trial for the murder of seven babies aborted in the third trimester of pregnancy. He thrust scissors into their necks and cut their spinal cords. He called this “snipping” and had allegedly done this to hundreds of babies through the years. He was also responsible for the death of a woman who was pregnant. He was operating out of a licensed clinic in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health, though given ample reason to be concerned, did not act in any sort of responsible manner.

As I read the account I felt I would be sick. I wanted to immediately respond – but I couldn’t. The response to this kind of horror is not easily articulated with mere words. In the week following, I would periodically think of it and rapidly push it from my mind. Then my nephew, Tim, sent me a long article from The Atlantic, urging me that Communicating Across Boundaries folks needed to hear the story, that it was a story that would elicit righteous, appropriate outrage.

Since that time many others have written and the articles range from excellent to completely frustrating. I knew I couldn’t respond in the way others had so I’ve decided to tell a story. A story that happened 17 years ago in Cairo, Egypt. I ask you to join me in this journey back in time.

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“Take care of your baby!” 

The words were authoritative and stern, coming from my Egyptian doctor. He knew the value of babies – he was a fertility specialist and women from all over Cairo came to him because they wanted a baby. The irony of this was not lost on me and my husband – I was pregnant with my fifth child.

To say this was unexpected was a royal, first-class understatement. Our fourth had been born three years prior and everything ‘baby’ was gone. Crib, snuggly, swing, walker, toys, clothes – maybe even a rocking chair had been willingly and eagerly given away. With four children ages three to nine and a half we were set.

Two boys. Two girls. Two Egyptian Siamese cats. A life overseas. Done we were!

I had it all planned. We would live in Cairo until we retired. Our kids would enjoy and thrive as third culture kids, knowing how to navigate the world at early ages.

But earlier in the fall unexpected events had catapulted into a crisis. The joy and comfort that surrounded our lives crumbled to pieces like some of the artifacts around the ancient pyramids. Our life was crumbling before our eyes and this was the last straw, the proverbial needle breaking our poor, aching camel backs.

And so there I was, in a sterile examining room watching the strong heart beat of a tiny babe through the wonders of modern technology.

Truth is – I though I had lost this babe. I had been in London only a couple of days before and had begun to bleed. Bleeding in the first trimester often means one thing – a miscarriage. I was with my best friend Betsy and she had begged me to rest, begged me to be careful. I had said a tearful goodbye to this baby that was unexpected to me, but fully known by the God who weaves all life together, sperm and egg uniting to form a unique being. God – author of our stories; creator of our lives.

And now? This baby was alive! It would live and a Muslim doctor was exhorting me, no – commanding me to “Take care of my baby”.

He knew the value of life. 

I headed out of the office and I began to weep. My tears fell on dust-covered streets that had not seen water for months. The crisis of the fall, the dark night of our souls, had given birth to Life.

In a blur of tears and with the help of tomato soup and bread made with the loving hands of a friend, I knew without doubt that this baby was His Grace. God’s opinion that our marriage, our family, our lives would go on.

I write this today as my statement, my response to the Gosnell case. Because the two physicians could not be more different.

For one scorned life, while the other protected it. The one discarded life as though it was food that had rotted in his dirty, godless refrigerator. And the other? He valued life and saw it as a fragile gift from God, to be nurtured at all costs.

On Earthquakes and Babies

“My friend is having a ‘Reveal’ party” said my daughter.

“A what?”

“A reveal party – gender reveal – where you invite people over and you have cake and you ‘reveal’ the sex of your baby”.

I laughed. “Oh” Pause “Well – we had five of those!”

Five reveal parties. One took place in Illinois,one in Pakistan, one in Florida and two in Egypt. Five reveal parties on three continents! That has to be some kind of record. The difference was this – there weren’t a lot of people invited to our ‘parties’. Just my husband, a doctor or midwife, a nurse, a friend or mom, and me. And we didn’t call them “Reveal Parties” – we called them deliveries.

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

But oh how we rejoiced when we heard those words “It’s a Girl!” and a lusty cry from a newborn infant. Or “It’s a Boy!” and in our situations, even lustier cries.

Call me old. Call me unable to keep up with the times. I don’t really care. I think reveal parties are ridiculous. I think they’re over the top, I think they’re not at all about the baby, and I think they’re about Big Business. Big Baby Business.

If you want to know the sex of your baby before birth – that’s great. Have at it. I won’t judge. But if you want to do little cake thingies and party favors and Big Reveals – I think it’s crazy.

Because there’s a natural reveal party waiting right around the corner. It comes after hard work and tears and real labor – but no reveal party is like the natural reveal.

No amount of work, fun, cake, and punch can ever top the Great Reveal

The Great Reveal – when you’re holding a six pound plus infant in your arms, your throat is catching as you say ‘hi baby!’ and you see the man in your life, who never cries, with tears coming down his cheeks looking down at your tiny daughter or son in complete awe.

As a wise friend once told us, there are only two real surprises left in life – And those are Earthquakes and Babies. 

First Friday of Advent: Everything Changes When a Baby is Born

Many of you will know that Advent is marked off the calendar in Sundays. It’s the four-week season of expectation as Christians around the world wait for the Christ child to be born. Wikipedia describes it as, a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning ‘coming.’ It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday”. This month Fridays with Robynn will feature four Friday Advent pieces. Friday is a day of worship for many around the world. Fridays are also the day I get to write! And when I’m not grumpy I really love the Advent season. Happy First Friday of Advent to all of you!

Yesterday was a miserable day. I stayed in bed most of the day and drank hot tea. I cried lots. I watched a couple of mindless TV shows. I read some. But mostly I just felt sorry for myself.

And finally I phoned my mom. My dad was there too…and he was full of wisdom and humour.

But really it was a day when you just want to talk to your mom.

On Monday some very dear friends, the Chamberlains, from our India days came through. We hadn’t seen them in nearly two years. It was a wonderful reunion. My kids enjoyed their kids. We enjoyed them. Of course we stayed up way too late, attempting the impossible, trying to catch up on all the stories with all the heart. Tuesday morning after getting our own three kids out the door to school, we helped reluctantly get the Chamberlains out the door as well.

Tuesday afternoon I spent all afternoon baking and grieving the shortness of their visit, the ache of such sweet friendships we made in that far off place.  I was baking for an event later that evening, where we say thank you to all our dear Alpha volunteers. That same afternoon Lowell and I realized that the Environmental Missions project we oversee was very nearly broke. We had submitted an expense account for some rather large expenses only to be told they would have to hold off on reimbursing us because of lack of funds.

So you can see that by Wednesday I was done. I sunk into myself and savoured long sips of tea and long moments of self-pity.

I was suddenly lonely again—having said goodbye to our old friends. I was suddenly tired again—having poured out for family and friends and church. I was suddenly overwhelmed again—having realized our bank balances are low and will likely be this way for a while and it’s Christmas. I was suddenly sad and full of sorrow.  I was gray and ground to a groaning, grinding stop and I cried.

And then the text message came: “He’s here! Kendall Jason. Born November 27 at 12:01pm. 6lbs 9 oz 21 ¼ inches long”.

Everything changes when a baby is born. Instantly colour entered where everything had seemed so dismal. Immediately optimism was born. New life infused new meaning and a sense of hope into my soul. I got up and took a shower. I put on clean clothes. I suddenly had purpose again.  I grabbed the camera and headed out the door. Unexpected energy and excitement came with me.

We had a baby to visit.

I held the new little mister. I hugged his mama. I kissed his fresh head. Tears came to my eyes and spilled down my face. Miracles still happen. God still makes new babies. He still writes new stories. Grace and joy still exist. Suddenly my Wednesday didn’t seem so despondent, my heart wasn’t so close to despair.  I left the hospital smiling, hoping, happy.

Because it’s true! Everything does change when a Baby is born!

Sometimes You Can’t Keep Silent

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31a

52 years ago this year I was born. I was born into an already established family of three brothers and my parents. I was a girl. My status in the family was predetermined – I would be loved and enjoy princess privilege. But the big thing is this: I was born.

I was born and God called it good. Just like you who are reading this were born – and God called it Good. God called this little being knit together inside a safe womb, safe from all the outside factors that could cause danger to the life and development of this little being, God called this “Good”.  Just as someone who knits watches carefully for slipped stitches or a missed pattern, so does God knit us, form us, and watch us, all the time calling it good. The knitter will go back and find the missed stitch, even if it takes a lot of time, to form that perfect pattern that will be the mittens, or the socks; the scarf or the sweater.

And so I can’t keep silent.

The Huffington Post UK edition posted an article “Killing Newborn Babies No Different To Abortion Say Medical Ethicist” and I read on as if I was part of a futuristic psycho-thriller; The Hunger Games or Brave New World. The opening lines are chilling: “A medical journal has called for the acceptance of ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn baby), causing outrage among pro-life campaigners and raising an array of ethical questions.Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Alberto Giubilini from the University of Milan and Francesca Minerva from Melbourne University argue that foetuses and newborns “do not have the same moral status as actual persons”. (Read the rest of the article here)

When I was pregnant with my third child I had a friend come up to me one day. She began telling me her story. Her story of an unexpected pregnancy in a developing country and a plane trip she will never forget to Europe to end the pregnancy. She wept. And she wept. And she wept more. And once we had cleaned up her tears from this story, she told her second story. There was another baby and another country. Another trip and another “safe” abortion. Safe to everything but her psyche.  Like scales falling from her eyes, she told of the realization that these were her babies and they didn’t have a chance to be born, to take that first breath. They didn’t have a chance to be called “Good”. She told me because she watched my growing baby in awe. She was zealous for my safety, my nutrition, my activity – this baby must LIVE. And the baby did live. And he was perfect, just like our first two babies. We called him Micah and my friend held him, and she wept.

Five I have. Five that were called “Good”. Five that came into our lives despite some circumstances that were less than good. Despite some times in our marriage that were less than lovely and far less than perfect. Five that came, not to a wealthy family, not to a family that had it all together, but they came, and God called each of their births good. Annie, Joel, Micah, Stefanie, Jonathan. Knit together by God. Called Good at conception. Called Good at birth.

And so I can’t keep silent when I see an article called “Abortion Safer Than Giving Birth: Study”  with the byline “Getting a legal abortion is much safer than giving birth, suggests a new U.S. study published in January” (Reuters Health). I can’t keep silent when I read the words “Women who are having abortions are having a safe, common surgical procedure or taking medication for the same reason,” she (Dr. Ann Davis) told Reuters Health.

I can’t keep silent because I’ve been told it’s not “common”. I have believed the rhetoric that says “We all agree that there should be fewer abortions”. But if we want fewer, if we strive for less, why are they, as the researchers point out, common?

“Abortion care and pregnancy care should not really be any different from consenting people for any other procedure.” Ah – but there you see is the problem. It is different. Because any other medical procedure doesn’t involve the health of two – it is about the health of one.

My heart breaks for those who feel they have no alternative but abortion. My heart cries out for them. I have wept with women post abortion, and I have wept with women pre-abortion who made a different choice. And I believe in a God who loves. Who forgives. Whose mercy and grace no one can fathom. But I can’t keep silent. This being, knit together in the womb, this is a baby, made in the image of God. This is Good.

I write this blog to communicate across boundaries, to have a voice in a public place, and I know there will be readers that disagree, that may see this as an insurmountable boundary. Those of you who read my blog know I am not a right-wing fanatic. No right-wing fanatic writes in defense of Muslims and Muslim opinion, of arranged marriage, of wanting health care for all. Right wing fanatics don’t do workshops on culture and healthcare for Planned Parenthood. And if you disagree with this post, I respect your opinion, I respect you as a person made in the image of God. But it would be a false pretense if I was not bold enough to write this, if I pretended that I thought this was ok. And so I can’t keep silent.

Personal choice has eclipsed the sacredness, or otherness, of life itself. It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion-formers within the medical profession have ditched the traditional belief of the healer to uphold the sanctity of human life for this impoverished and inhumane defence of child destruction.” Lord Alton, co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group

Click here to learn more about Communicating Across Boundaries

Sorry Folks! Red-Headed Designer Babies Are Off the Menu!

It seems that if you’re male and you pop down to your local sperm bank and are unfortunate enough to have red hair, you are out of luck (even if your IQ is over 140). Potential parents don’t want redheads. Just like a restaurant does away with what isn’t selling well, be it blue cheese & walnut Quiche or club sandwiches, in the menu of choices the redhead option will be gone. They still want blondes with high IQ’s and blue eyes, they still want brunettes with brown eyes, but redheads – their time is over. The world’s largest sperm bank, located in Denmark and servicing 65 different countries, is refusing redheads and Scandinavians. Redheads because no one wants them, Scandinavians because all those Scandinavian men have been busy and they have a “glut”!

The director of the sperm bank, Ole Schou, says this: “I do not think you choose a redhead, unless the partner – for example, the sterile male – has red hair, or because the lone woman has a preference for redheads,” he said, the Telegraph reported. “And that’s perhaps not so many, especially in the latter case.” (Gawker, September 19, 2011)

Other sperm banks back off the accusation of being “against” redheads. One of the first sperm banks in the U.S., in Michigan, says they still have some demand. Their chief executive officer says this: “When parents are seeking sperm, they often prefer donors who are athletically or musically inclined, and they prefer donors who are educated. Sometimes they even want a specific blood type.”

Designer babies – pick the prototype, be it tall (who really wants a short kid, right?) medium, brown-eyed, blue-eyed, brunette, blonde, good at singing, good at sports, you can have it all and pick the delivery date.

The only problem is, the minute that child is born, you’ll learn that your designer baby is not perfect. You may be able to pick skin, eye, and hair color – but you can’t pick if they’ll have colic and scream all night for 6 months. You can’t pick a baby that will turn into a two-year old that doesn’t yell “Mine” and make you decide you will never go into a toy store again, and you can’t pick whether they’ll make you sad or not. The control is limited to sperm bank and delivery date alone, after that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Realistically, if I am fair, the sperm bank is a business and has to market according to the needs of its customers. So, if redheaded babies are going slow, one can’t blame them for making a business decision that may seem biased.

And there-in is the heart of the problem, be it a baby with red hair or a baby with down syndrome. Babies have become a big business, and when a human being becomes only a business opportunity there is a problem. As far as businesses go, there are those who conduct the business with integrity and ethics, and those who don’t. From sperm banks with their menu of choices to adoption agencies with their exorbitant fees and sometimes questionable methods of obtaining babies, there are those for whom this is nothing more, nor less than a dollar decision – supply and demand, and the “bottom line”. For couples who desperately want children, it’s about a baby, dependent on another for all aspects of life and totally unable to care for itself, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. For God, it’s about a tiny being made in His image.  And I have to ask myself, how far will this go? When will babies cease being about a business, and become babies again?

Readers – would love to hear what your thoughts are! Join the conversation by leaving your comments!

An Expat Lady & a Ramadan Baby

I originally wrote this piece in 2011, during my first year of blogging. I repost it today in celebration of my “Ramadan Baby” turning 30! 

Date: May 25, 1987

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Place: Ali Medical Center

24 years ago today at 10 minutes past midnight I gave birth to my second child. It was the middle of Ramadan and earlier in the evening as I labored, my husband and I began to worry that the doctor, busy breaking the fast at her home, would not make it and we would be left on our own. We needed her assurance in seeing to the safety and health of a woman in transition and a baby that wanted to enter life. My mom, well versed in cultural norms in Pakistan, assured us that the doctor would arrive on time. But as we waited and wondered we were deeply grateful for the calm presence of my mother.

Two babies were born in those hours just past midnight, as the hospital staff ate their fill of Ramadan specialties before dawn came and with it the arduous fast that would not break until 7 or 8 at night. The last azaan, calling the faithful to pray, was heard earlier through the brick walls of the labor and delivery room, ensuring that even those inside would know it was time to break the fast.  At that point all hospital staff disappeared, oblivious to the labor pains of two women, as they rushed to ease their hunger pains..

One of those babies was ours: Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner, born with a head of blond, fuzzy hair and deep blue eyes. I took one look and fell in love with 6 lbs and 12 oz of baby. It was magic. The second baby was also a boy – a little Pathan boy, as dark-haired as Joel was blonde, born to a family who lived in Peshawar. They had made their way to Islamabad for the delivery, ensuring that their first child would be born at a “first class” hospital.

It was a text-book delivery and after 6 hours of laboring and a few pushes, Joel took his first breath and let out a yowl. I don’t even know if yowl is a word but it describes what was a mixture of a yodel and a howl. He was a perfect, 10 fingered, 10 toe’d, baby boy. Dr. Azima Quereshi was the doctor presiding over the delivery. After observing me labor without drugs and breastfeed immediately after birth, she looked at my mom with tear-filled eyes and clutched her arm saying “I’ve read about deliveries like this, but I’ve never seen one!”

The hospital staff enjoyed their own show that night as they sent staff  in by two’s to see “the engraze who had her husband in with her during the delivery.” Something unheard of at Ali Medical Center and most hospitals in Pakistan. “Who wants the men in there?” was the incredulous question voiced by Pakistani friends and acquaintances.

The Pathan family showered the hospital staff and doctor with gifts of fruit, Pakistani sweets of gulab jamun, jalebi’s and barfi, and savories of samosas and pakoras, ensuring a favored place with staff as low on the ladder as cleaning people and as high as surgeons. We were not so favored. A gift of imported Cadbury Chocolates delivered in a fake gold bowl for Dr. Quereshi seemed appropriate and we went on our merry way, taking Joel back home to the F-8 residential area of Islamabad to meet his older sister Annie and settle into a bassinet.

It was only later that we realized our faux pas in not buying treats for the entire hospital. We had failed to publicly recognize the role the rest of the staff had played in helping us deliver a healthy baby boy, which, though not very much, was a huge thing to publicly acknowledge!

And so Joel came into the world and today he turns 24. His blonde hair has turned into light brown, he still has deep blue eyes, and his yowl? That has turned into an infectious laugh, ability to argue anyone into the ground and a great personality.  Happy Birthday Joel – We are so blessed by your life.