The Heavy Lift of Marriage

Flickr: Henry Burrows
Flickr: Henry Burrows

“I cannot work up here!” I cried to my husband. We were standing in what I refer to as our dumping ground: the bonus room which simultaneously serves as a workshop, a workout room, a recording studio, and a holder of rarely used household items. It was about to become my office, too.

We’d just reconfigured our home to make room for the nursery, and my work space was now in our cheery sunroom with walls painted the color of egg yolk and windows overlooking the woods and nearby lake. For Christmas my husband had given me a bird feeder as a beautiful distraction during the long hours of the work week. I was thrilled.

What we hadn’t accounted for was how I’d be unable to focus on even the most menial task with our baby just steps (crawls?) away from my desk. For the first few months I attempted to work there while my mom cared for her in our living room, the only practical space for keeping her entertained. Her cooing and crying kept me on edge and pulled at my heart all day long. I knew I couldn’t work there, and I was devastated about it. The beautiful space we had created together where I was going to watch birds and type blog posts and take conference calls was now defunct. In my mind the only feasible solution was to relegate myself upstairs to the dumping ground.

We were in the midst of taking my desk apart and hauling the pieces up the stairs when I realized that this arrangement wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t spend my day working in a state of perpetual disarray in the room where we kept our Christmas ornaments and board games and elliptical machine. In the months leading up to our daughter’s birth we’d done our best to make adequate room for her in our home, but I couldn’t have prepared myself for the shock of how all-consuming parenthood would be, how it would displace my things and my time and my sense of self. I couldn’t take having my needs come in last place again.

My husband wrapped his arms around me as I cried and assured me that this move to the bonus room was not unavoidable. I deserved a space that was comfortable and met my needs. Together we came up with a new plan. I’m typing these words from my new office, our former guest room. There’s a new bird feeder outside of my window. My husband has taken great care to fill this space with everything I need to be productive and creative and content, and I am so grateful.

That day as we dragged furniture up and down the stairs of our house over and over again, I looked over at my sweat-drenched husband and said to myself, this is what marriage is. Marriage is about wanting the best for your spouse, even if it means unexpectedly spending your day off hefting furniture up two flights of steep steps, even if it makes your back ache afterward. Marriage is listening to someone else’s needs and working together to meet them. These aren’t the parts of marriage that we hire photographers to capture or that we toast with glasses of champagne, but we should celebrate them nonetheless. And whenever someone is fortunate enough to form that love and commitment with another person, regardless of gender, we should rejoice without ceasing.

Embracing the Truth about My Pregnancy

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This post originally appeared on The Good Mother Project

I am a truth teller. Secrets generally aren’t my thing. But when I got pregnant, suddenly I was keeping a lot of them.

Pregnancy was hard on me. No, I didn’t have debilitating nausea most of the time or require bed rest like some endure. I did have sharp rib pain and carpal tunnel. But the physical discomforts of pregnancy aside, the real struggle I faced was feeling like my body had been invaded and overtaken.

I was not a happy pregnant woman.

What saddened me was how difficult it was for some people to accept that. They wanted to “ooh” and “aah” over my swelling bump, but they didn’t want to hear how I felt about it. My raw honesty made them uncomfortable, eliciting upbeat responses like, “But it’ll all be worth it!” As well intended as those sentiments may have been, I felt dismissed. Silenced.

Over time I conditioned myself not to tell much of anybody how I felt about being pregnant. I learned to silence myself before anyone else could.

I turned to a therapist for help. When I shared some of the feelings I’d been struggling with, she asked me point blank, “Was this pregnancy unplanned?” I quickly retorted, “Oh no, this pregnancy was very planned!” Maybe it was a routine question, but her asking indicated that these ambivalent feelings I had were expected of women experiencing unintended pregnancies. I was some kind of anomaly.

I questioned myself: if this pregnancy was something I wanted and planned for and was fortunate enough to get, how could I feel anything but sheer joy?

Feelings are not that straightforward.

Feelings are complex—at times fleeting, at times contradictory. They cannot be resisted through sheer will power or dismissed through logical thinking. Like the wailing cries of my baby girl, feelings need to be responded to with nurture and care, not frustration or resentment. And when those acts of comforting become tiresome, I need to invite others in to help shoulder the burden.

More than eight months have passed since the birth of my daughter, and the experience of my pregnancy, even the searing rib pain, is fading into distant memory. But I am committed to remembering those feelings. They move me to a place of compassion when others risk sharing their truth, even when hearing it causes me pain, even when I want nothing more than to assuage those feelings by offering words of hope.

Motherhood is teaching me how to sit patiently in the discomfort of my daughter’s cries, and in so doing I’m learning to bring myself more fully into the hurts, the secrets, the sometimes-silent cries of our world. I may have nothing more to offer than my embrace. But I’m beginning to realize that my presence is more than enough. In fact it’s everything.

White Privilege is the Plank in my Eye

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Photo: Flickr, Mikel Martinez de Osaba

Troublemakers are the ones who get things done. I just wish I could stomach the idea without feeling immense anxiety. As a child the fear of getting into trouble was a constant source of stress for me. My imagination would run wild with notions of outlandish consequences for even minor offenses, probably fueled more by my reading Roald Dahl books than anything I ever experienced in real life. As an adult I’ve still got a mostly rule-abiding, law-following personality, but when I feel that burst of adrenaline course through my veins at the sight of a police car, I can say to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And I immediately feel relief.

That’s because I’m white.

This weekend my mom invited my husband, daughter, and me over to swim at the hotel where she and my nephew were staying for July 4th. Before we left my husband asked, “Do you think it’s going to be a problem that we’re clearly just showing up to swim?” “Not at all,” I said without a second thought. “If anyone asks, we’ll just tell them we’re guests of my mom.” But after I’d had a minute to think about it I said, “Plus, we’re white.”

We walked into the lobby wearing our bathing suits and carrying nothing more than a beach bag. Anyone could have figured out that we probably weren’t staying there. Did anyone question us? No. All we got were some adoring looks and comments on our cute baby as we made our way to the pool. I had the slightest twinge of anxiety over not exactly following the rules, but I was able to put it aside, knowing that even if we were asked, all we needed to do was to mention that we were guests of the hotel and all would be well. Because we’re white.

Compare that to my friend Rahiel Tesfamariam, founder of Urban Cusp, who experienced racial profiling at a hotel where she was staying for, of all things, a conference about social justice.

My whiteness is what allows me to move about spaces without thinking my existence is going to get me into trouble. Add a husband and a cute baby into the mix, and together we can go practically anywhere without a second glance. In fact, we are invited into spaces where we don’t even have a right to be. I can get dressed nicely (or not) and occupy pretty much any space I want without being asked to move or questioned. I take it for granted daily. Just like white men don’t have to think about how dark it is when they want to go out for a walk outside, or think about how what they’re wearing might incite the sexual harrassment of a stranger they encounter, or if they up speak or say “just” too much that they won’t be taken seriously.

As a white woman my feminism is the lens that gives me clarity and creates my blind spot. For so long I asked myself and others, “Why can’t men see their access and privilege?” when I wasn’t even looking for my own.

Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). White privilege, I see you. I’m trying to see you.