Aside

A prematurity post

Today’s blog is a guest post all about having a child prematurely, by Ruth Walker. Thanks to Ruth for her honesty, and down-to-earth writing about this emotional subject.

“Imagine the scene. You’re 27 weeks pregnant with your first child. You pack your car for a week at a church youth camp, where you’re going to be responsible adult helpers. You get to the site, pitch your tent, spend the first evening ironing out a few minor problems (forgetting the camp cutlery box, the marquee having a rip in the roof) and working on ‘getting to know you games’. You’re glad when you finally get to bed on your already deflating airbed. You haven’t had much time to think. You register your baby might not be moving quite so much as usual, but you shrug it off to ‘I’ve been too busy to notice’. You wake in the middle of the night. Not much movement. You read your maternity notes, do the whole cold drink and lay on your side thing. Still not much movement. The night goes by. By the time morning comes, you’re rather worried that something is wrong so you make the call, then trot off to your home hospital – all the way back home again. You spend the day having various tests with the result looks more worrying as the hours pass. Then the consultant says ‘right, we’re off to theatre – your baby is much too poorly’. You’re a bit dazed. You’re more than a little scared (not helped by the difficult conversation you have with the doctors along the lines of ‘how hard would you like us to try and save the baby’). Your precious firstborn son is born fighting hard for life, weighing 2lb 3oz at 27 weeks. That’s 13 weeks too early. You had no notice of the looming catastrophe. You have no idea that the complication he suffered even existed. You caught a brief glimpse of your son being whisked away to NICU, end up on the post-natal ward in the early hours of the morning, your husband is sent home and when the consultant visits the next day they give you the mind-bending news that if you had come earlier they might not have picked up on the problem, but if you had come any later the baby would have died. The son that you’ve still not met. The son that you won’t get to hold for a week. The son that you don’t do the first nappy change on, the first feed, the first dressing in clothes – pretty much the first anything. The son you spend ten weeks in Neo-natal with before taking him home at still sub-5lb.

About two years ago, I was asked to write a blog post on prematurity and how it has affected me as a Christian. I started to write it many, many times. Each time it would have been different. There could have been the “why me, Lord?” post, or the “jealous of other people’s normal” post. There could have been a “practical tips for surviving ten weeks in NICU” post or “bringing home a very small baby and keeping them disease free while sharing them with a church community desperate to meet them” post, or a “how to identify genuine concern from just plain nosy people” post, or a “I’m so thankful to never have to go to a Paediatric appointment again” post.

Since then, I have watched from afar or very close by a friend nearly dying in childbirth; a friend welcoming their longed-for child after gruelling years of infertility (aside: how do we manage that in a family focused church community?). I’ve watched a friend lose her baby shortly after birth. And I’ve had hard conversations with two other mothers who lost babies at the same gestation as mine in NICU. I was already aware that not every baby on the unit at the same time as us made it home at all, and that some had years of close medical watch and extensive operations. I’ve talked with a friend about being on the outside in a family where there are babies with severe medical needs, and how that takes up the time and energy of the extended family to the detriment of existing relationships. And I watched our little boy grow, and be healthy, and develop perfectly normally beyond all first expectations.

How do I feel? Thankful. Joyful. Humble. Hopefully I’ve developed beyond the self-centred person I used to be. Hopefully I’ve learned empathy. Hopefully I’ve developed my listening ear. And I know for sure I’ve developed a faith in the power of prayer – not necessarily for miracles, but for the compassion and love I can try to bring to others in difficult situations, and for their strength to deal with those situations.

And honestly – how did it affect me? Well, now we’ve welcomed our second child safely, I have come to understand what I missed. The simplicity of a more normal pregnancy and delivery. The rush of love everybody raves about. The sheer joy of a newborn you can touch and love straight away with no machines or incubator barriers. And while I am hugely blessed in this, I’m wistful that my precious boy and I did not experience this; that our love has been a more refined-by-fiery-trial bond and that our relationship is defined by worry and over-protectiveness. I feel guilty about the less obvious emotional attachment I feel to him sometimes in comparison. I struggle with the thought that maybe I did have PND after all, but just chose to ignore it and struggle on regardless. I wrestle now with scriptures such as ‘Lo, children are the heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb his reward’ and how that applies to the childless, or those in difficult circumstances.

My message to those going through trying times in pregnancy and birth and early childhood? Keep going. It’s impossible to work out during our trials why the Lord is testing us in this particular way. It’s entirely possible we’ll never know. But we do know He won’t test us more than we’re able to bear. Just take each hour at a time. It’s okay to feel like you’re not coping. Ask for help – it comes from unlikely sources sometimes. And to those of you watching from the side-lines? Make the effort to help in whatever way you can (like supermarket gift cards to spend on ready meals to eat at the hospital, or cleaning the house while they’re at the hospital, or even picking the gazillion apples from the tree and freezing them). If there’s nothing practical you can offer, just letting somebody know you are thinking of, and praying with and for them is helpful enough – and don’t expect a reply: sometimes there’s only headspace to register such thoughts. But be sure they are very much valued. And be understanding of the fact that when a poorly child leaves hospital it can still be very vulnerable – as can its parents. Genuine concern is always welcome, but nosiness isn’t. And sometimes we all have a habit of asking personal questions when they might not be welcome. Talking about traumatic experiences is a very useful therapy, but not always right away. Hence the delay in this blog post!”

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Aside

Parenthood house group

 

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Our church recently had an interesting and useful house group discussion about parenting. Here are my husband Jon’s memories of the evening…

“Perspectives on parenting

 Becoming a parent is one of the most challenging phases in life – your fairly established lifestyle is turned on its head. At a recent home group on parenting, we talked about some fundamentals of godly parenting. As is often the case, this raised more questions than answers, but I got a lot of interesting ideas out of it specifically around: leading by example and the power of imitation, the best way to discipline children, introducing a spiritual diet in the home, and seeing myself (to a degree) as a fellow-child with my children.

Kate T put us onto this short video by Gary Thomas and prepared this handy crib sheet (including a useful list of resources) to prime our discussions.

Faith is more easily caught than taught

 When children get to a certain age, they start to imitate you – alarmingly accurately. I like to ride my bike, and our eldest son Joey recently got out some tape to strap his water bottle to his bike, just like mine! It perhaps goes without saying that children will imitate the good and bad in their parents, so having young children is one of the hardest times to keep faith strong, but it is also one of the most important. ‘Our faith is more easily caught than taught. It is what our children see that will impact them most.’ (The Parenting Book, Nicky and Sila Lee.) This idea goes beyond raising children – if we want to share the light of God’s gospel, the best way we can do this is to live it, so that those around us (at home, at work…in the supermarket) see our lives and say “yes, there’s something attractive about that”.

Spare the rod…

 We spent much of the time talking about discipline. All agreed that the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ idea taken from Prov 13:24 need not be taken literally. However, we do need to find effective ways to discipline our children – after all, God disciplines us, his children, so that we can grow to be more like him (Heb 12:6). A couple of useful principles seemed to emerge from the discussions: discipline should be positively slanted (more sticker chart than naughty step), it must be delivered with a clarity of mind not clouded by anger, consistency is hugely important – and probably more important than where you choose to set your boundaries, and what will work for one child may not work for another (e.g. some are more bribable than others)! Tim W notes here, “I would only emphasis the need for the parent to be a consistent parent in discipline and also as a role model – we cannot expect our children to do what we ourselves don’t do…..plenty of food for thought”

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Milk of the word

 Every Christian parent is keen to introduce some sort of spiritual diet into their household at the earliest opportunity. However, one of the parents shared an experience that was similar to ours: they introduced a simple Bible story at a set time in the day. This worked well at first, but the child soon got restless and disruptive making the whole thing counterproductive. We have recently changed tack here, and introduced some bible-based stories that we know our boys like that we read together before they go their separate ways for age-appropriate stories; the older one gets an extra story, and the younger one gets a story with the older one, so they are both happy!

Become like little children

 We have as much – if not more – to learn from our children as we have to teach them! There are some important Christian qualities that children have in spades: faith, trust, hope, inquisitiveness, resilience, obedience (well, sometimes), love. And these qualities are why we need to ‘become like little children’ (Matt 18:3). My children have also brought new insight on patience, love, and forgiveness. But how does this change our perspective on parenting? It is quite helpful for me to think of myself as continually learning to parent. This leaves more space to make mistakes and learn from them than a more ‘authoritarian’ view of parenting. Chris P notes here that, “children are resilient and the odd mistake will not detract from a normally consistent and loving approach to their care.”

Summary

 I left the home group feeling reflective. Do I need to make any major changes to my parenting style? Have I got my priorities right? And, perhaps most importantly, would my children vouch for my Christian character? “

Aside

Becoming a mum

Hi friends, here is a perspective on becoming a mother from a sister at our church in Newbury, Jo Cox, who has her arms full with her gorgeous 6 month old daughter!

“Becoming a Mum has been full of contrasts in my spiritual life. On the one hand, I feel so much love for Emily I can begin to understand God’s unconditional love for us and how great his grace to give Jesus for us. On the other hand, I feel so wrapped up in looking after Emily I often hardly stop to pray or read my Bible or concentrate on a Sunday. On the one hand, I can be stopped short at how blessed we are to have Emily and yet forget to thank God for her. Becoming a Mum has changed my perspective and broadened my appreciation – God loves us as his children, and that is such an amazing thing!”

Aside

What if this is as good as it gets*? Or TOLO

Good morning! Today we have a guest post by Miriam White, friend and mother-extraordinaire, on a really pertinent topic. Enjoy!

“These are the best years.  They grow up so fast – make the most of them.  They’re only little once.  Enjoy every moment!

I seem to have been told this a lot recently.  Maybe I don’t look as though I’m enjoying myself and need the encouragement.  Or maybe seeing my three young boys running me ragged brings out the wistfulness in parents of grown up children looking back with rose-tinted glasses to an elusive golden age of parenthood.

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My response is pretty negative.  Really?  This is as good as it gets?  How depressing.  I was hoping that at some point it might actually become more enjoyable, fulfilling and rewarding!  Surely people wouldn’t continue to have children all the time if this is really the best it can be.

I know parenthood is about the children and not the parents.  I know it’s not about what you get out of it, it’s what your children get from you.  But I didn’t have children for their sake, I had them for mine.  I wanted them – I felt that in some way I would enjoy having them, loving them and caring for them.  And I would benefit from the reflected love and pride in who they are and who they become.  It’s not as if we have a duty to have children, it’s a choice we make (in most cases).

It can be very easy to lose yourself in the hard slog of motherhood in the early years.

To get through, you tell yourself that there’s ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.  Most things are just phases and they’ll come out of them eventually.  So, the early sleepless nights will eventually get better.  At some point you’ll be able to leave the house again.  When they’re a bit older, going out for a meal won’t be quite so exhausting and might even be enjoyable.  And then they’ll start school and you’ll get some time back to yourself.  The tantrums will reduce; you might be able to reason with them occasionally.

And these things are all true.  But it can feel like there’s not much reward for all the hard work in the early years.  And to be told that it doesn’t get any better is not helpful!

However, I read a few things recently that have made me think differently about my reaction.  One of them is this:

50 things about motherhood that will make you smile

The reality is that every age has its ups and downs. So, while some things will get better, new challenges will come in.  It’s too easy to miss the good things about the early years while you’re waiting for the hard things to be grown out of.

What if these ARE the best years?!  Let’s not live in the future all the time but learn to be content in the state we’re in (1 Phil 4).  I don’t want to look wistfully at someone else’s children when mine are grown, wishing I’d enjoyed the early years with them more.  I want to enjoy any and every moment I can of every age.

Links that might be of interest:

http://www.stevewiens.com/2013/03/12/to-parents-of-small-children-let-me-be-the-one-who-says-it-out-loud/

http://happinessisajourney.com

Lovely poems here  especially ‘just for this day’

Don’t let yourself become so concerned with raising a good kid that you forget you already have one (Glennon Melton).

Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans (John Lennon).”

*Quote from the film As Good As It Gets

Image credit:Miriam White
4 Ways to Re-energise your Reading

4 Ways to Re-energise your Reading

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Reading the Bible is tough. If you’re only managing it on Sundays, then join the enormous club! Our free time in the evenings is so precious isn’t it? We need it to hoover, and to puree food, and to catch up with the husband, and to drink wine. So when can we read? All joking aside, I find reading in the evening a big no-no. I’m so tired that I don’t take anything in, and it only irritates me further. So I’m pushing to try and read in spare time during the day – whilst feeding babe 2, or when they’re asleep in the car or something similar. Here’s a lovely numbered list of ideas that have crossed my mind about reading…

1. Buy a new Bible

Nothing is more motivating and exciting than something shiny and new. It’s lovely opening up a new book – maybe a version you haven’t read before, or one with interesting notes. Sticking with an old favourite Bible is great if that works for you, but if you’ve been looking at it recently thinking that you’d rather not open it, then trick your mind with one that looks different. I’ve just got out an old Bible from when I was a teenager (it’s got absurdly large type), and it’s great to read – even the different page layout makes the stories come to life more. I hate to admit that I’m that fickle but hey, why not exploit it to your benefit, if you know it’s true? And why not go ahead a get a lovely new notebook too, because let’s face it, new stationery is fantastic.

2. Get a good Bible app on your phone

This is a cheap version of point 1. I use YouVersion because I like the layout, but any will do. In a later blog I will explore various apps that are available and do some reviews of them, but for now, let’s just get reading! You can even set some of them up to angrily text you if you forget to read one day. We read off our phones a huge amount of the time – at the hairdressers, at the bus station, during nap times. I’ve got my apps colour coded (why?!), so mine is on the third page of my phone – not ideal because I don’t look at it everyday – it would be much better on the home screen.

3. Choose something very specific to read

If you open the Bible in the middle because you don’t know what to read, you will get Psalms. Lovely! However, we probably need to read the rest too. I have started numerous reading planners with very mixed success, as I’m sure you have too. The classic Robert Roberts plan is a bit much to squeeze into snatched minutes, but usually the one that is used for our Sunday readings. So you have to choose between matching up with Sundays for continuity, or doing two reading plans. The YouVersion app has a good plan called ‘Eat this Book’, which reads the Bible in a year, with a daily Psalm added on too. I still find this too much reading at the moment so if you’re in a similar position to me, I think choosing one book/incident/letter is more achievable. That way, you can change the amount you read each day – if it’s a vomit/poo/screaming everywhere day then 1 verse might be the limit. Lets hope its an uplifting one! But on other days like a Saturday for example, you could crack on and get a paragraph read. Don’t be wimpy and choose easy reading sections – we do have to do the hard bits too. How about Esther’s story? Or maybe pick a mum for inspiration like Mary who had to deal with her son being the Messiah, or Hannah who had to give Samuel away.

4. Leave an actual Bible open where you eat breakfast

Not closed! If its closed you won’t open it. If its open, you will automatically read some of it. This trick used to work well pre-kiddies, and before the dining table at breakfast became a porridge-bomb site, granted, but I think the principle still works. if there’s an open book by where you eat, then you will read it without realising.

This week I’m going to try and read off the Bible app on my phone a bit more. Do you have any good tips for motivating yourself to read mid-week?

Image credit: Rachel Otter
The post-children dip

The post-children dip

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This post is by the blog author Rachel Otter, mum of two and part-time bookbinder and illustrator.

Before I had my children I was in quite a good place as a Christian (isn’t hindsight lovely?!). Then I had my first child, and in that hideous time just after you’ve had a baby when you become a mentally-unstable, sleep-deprived thing, I experienced a huge spiritual decline, of rather mountainous proportions in which I realised that I had gone several months without thinking about God at all. This only slightly improved as time went on and the thing died down to a relatively normal, tired and bizarre version of myself. No time for reading, no time for praying, not listening on Sunday, and too tired to bother in the evening with reading or praying. I found advice to be a bit vague – ‘read together as a family’ has never happened (children too young), ‘take five minutes for yourself and say a prayer’ again, a bit airy-fairy and usually five minutes that I take are to reheat drinks and put washing away whilst on the loo, cleaning the bath and cooking the dinner.

I don’t know about you, but I find that, in the spare minutes when I should be exercising my spiritual mind, I just don’t want to! I want to watch something inane on tv or read a non-taxing work of fiction or eat biscuits in the pantry. To my shame, I’ll quite happily read a blog on my phone instead of picking up the Bible. So, ho-hum, I thought, why not start a blog that mums like myself might feel inclined to read? No nonsense, just open and honest thoughts that could potentially be helpful.

Being a mum shouldn’t have to mean the end of your spiritual life for several years until your children are old enough to leave you in peace for five seconds. It should be a celebration of a new phase of life where we begin sharing our faith with little, crazy beings. We’re all intelligent, thinking women. Some of us work at home, some of us work away from home, some of us are new mums, some had children many years ago – we have both a wealth of experience, and an enormous pile of questions that need answering! Hopefully this blog will bring us all together for mutual growth.

So, how do we stay Christians whilst being mums at the same time? What do you think?

Image credit: Rachel Otter