When Your Breast (pump) Gets In The Way

Virgin Mary "lactans" , showing Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Painted in 1784. Byzantine

Virgin Mary “lactans” , showing Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Painted in 1784. Byzantine

Just like every other mother in the world, I am a working mother. I just happen to work for a regular paycheck outside of the home. If our family had to pay for the work I do in the house we would be broke-er than we are. Again, just like every other mother in the world.

Unlike most other mothers in the United States I returned to my full-time job with a key to an employee lactation room – a private, locked room with a refrigerator, sink, private toilet, recliner and HOSPITAL GRADE BREAST PUMP. All you needed to do was bring your own tubing and, what I liked to call, your personal pump trumpets.

Thank God for the liberal media.

But again, not everyone has that luxury (which, IMHO, should be a given here in the USA) so I went on the hunt for what is the best breast pump for because I also knew I would be traveling and needing something at home.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, I’m also on a private FB page of working minister mamas in the org I currently work for, and a national staff conference coming up means that working minister mamas with little children are wondering what will travel and being present at a meeting actually look like.

Will there be childcare? How will I hang out with people after the official programming ends? How will I talk with other adults during mealtimes? Will there be high chairs? Will rooms have mini-fridges for storing breastmilk? Does a breast pump count as a personal item? Is it worth it to go? What will I miss if I don’t?

It will look crazy but that is what working minister mamas do, right? We do the crazy. We actually are crazy. We defy stereotypes simply by occupying traditional male space and then we have the audacity to show up with the proof that we are not men. We bring our children – infants, toddlers, preschoolers. I used to even pull my school-age children before grades counted. (That was high school for us.) And then we ask questions like: Will I have time to pump during a break or is just easier to go in and nurse?

So, reading the posts by newer and younger minister mamas made me think about why there aren’t more public spaces for women to do something that ought to be considered natural but isn’t.

Because the patriarchy. Because if men had to breast feed we all know that pumps wouldn’t be so noisy or bulky. Because if men had to breast feed we all know that lactation rooms would be as commonplace as the line for the “ladies room”. Because if men had to breast feed we would see commercials about pumps instead of erectile dysfunction drugs. Because if men had to breast feed there would be more laws protecting lactation rights and enforcement.

Until then, we women Google. We ask our FB communities. We network. We do what we need to do to get the job done.

I’ll never forget sitting in the back of the church sanctuary nursing our infant daughter under a blanket (because back then you couldn’t buy a nursing shawl so you used a blanket) and a few men freaking out in their godly way. Wouldn’t I like to go somewhere else? No, I wouldn’t. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the foyer?  No, I wouldn’t. Do you really think you should feed her here? Yes, I do.

I think most of those men are now married and have their own children. I wonder if they wanted their wives to nurse out of sight, like maybe in the bathroom?

And of course, I can’t help but think of the infant Jesus and Mary. We don’t know if she had any help during labor. We don’t know if there was a doula or another woman from the area who came to help her and show her what to do after Jesus had been born. She had no other option but to breastfeed Jesus. Yes, being fully human and fully divine and born of a woman requires that kind of beautiful intimacy.

What are some of your favorite nursing stories? What are some of your questions about nursing? Was breastfeeding natural? Did you breastfeed? What made breastfeeding difficult? Easy? Natural? And, of course, what breast pump would you recommend?

 

One More Sleep

One more sleep until #flymysweet comes home again. Our oldest child, the only one with her own hashtag, has been away for the month for a study abroad program. We’ve tried to support and develop the woman God has created her to be and become, and that has meant letting her go to do and be in spaces we couldn’t imagine.

I’m still getting used to that rhythm of joy and hope mixed with a touch of loss and sadness each time she leaves and returns home, knowing that one day she will have her own place to call home. There were three and then there were two. And then three again. Next year we will go from three to one.

One more sleep until we watch her unpack the familiar items (I have missed that skirt and scarf of mine) and listen to her explain the new items. She texted she is both ready to come home and wishing she had more time. I told her that was the sign of a good trip and a good home.

Home used to be with my parents and sister and the silence and noise that comes with an immigrant family, two languages, and two cultures clashing into a third. Home used to be there and now I am trying to remember when it became here.

One more sleep until the younger brothers can ignore the presence of their older sister, the one they asked about and wondered how she was faring in a country where she did not speak the language in a program where everyone was a stranger.

I’ve been thinking about the trip I took to South Korea during a college summer break. My parents and I thought it was sort of a going back “home” to the motherland where I could speak the language with an American accent but looked just like everyone else. We thought it would give me a stronger connection to my Korean-ness, and it did but not until the experience integrated with my heart, soul, and mind. We thought it would bring us closer as a family, giving me a glimpse into my parents’ home. It gave me a stronger sense of what it could have been. I’m hoping this trip has given our daughter a sense of what could be.

One more sleep until we are back together under one roof the way it has been but will probably not be for much longer.

We are helping launch her as much as she is helping launch us.

Dear Mrs. Turner, I’d Love to Hear Your Voice

Dear Carleen Turner,

I’ve seen a photo of you walking with your son in his court appearance suit. I know you exist. Every child has a mother and a father, and it appears that you are involved in his life. I can only guess that you love your son just as I love my daughter and two sons. I can only guess that your heart is torn, conflicted, confused, angry, sad, afraid. I’m hoping you are like me – that you can love your child and want to scream at them with a ferocity that scares the shit out of them.

But I’d love to hear you, to read your words. Woman to woman. Mother to mother. Mother of a son to mother of a son.

I’ve read several posts by fathers about what they are telling their sons. That’s great.

But you and I are not fathers. We are mothers. We experience life differently as women, and here in what your husband called “20 minutes of action” is where you and I realize, I hope, that as mothers we also are women at risk of being seen as something, not even someone, to be possessed, penetrated, conquered, and disposed of.

What are you thinking? I want to know because I want to believe that as mothers we also share the ability to love our children, question our parenting, and continue to have a positive impact on our kids even when they make mistakes, even when they commit heinous, criminal acts.

I want to hear your voice because honestly I’m scared. You and I live similar lives in lovely communities that tell our children (and now I see that you have a daughter and two sons as well, at least from the photo I am assuming they are your children) they can become successful in whatever they set their eyes towards. Your son was close to that future, but did you know something was off? My sons are younger than yours but they hear the same messages. I want to hear your voice because maybe you have a word of advice? A warning? A regret?

Your silence is understandable. I’d be scared out of my mind and want to go into hiding, but he’s still your son. And honestly, your husband (I presume you are married) said some crazy stuff. Leave it to me to want you, the mother, wife, and woman, to clean up the mess left by two of the men in your life, but isn’t that what we find ourselves doing? Cleaning up the messes? Explaining the messes? Making the shit storm someone else left into a teachable moment?

Am I falling into gendered stereotypes? Yes. No. I don’t want to diminish the severity of what your son did. He sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. You and I are mothers but before we are mothers we are women. I want to hear your voice because you are walking in this space of tension that I am afraid of but shouldn’t be so naive as to think I am immune because of my zip code.

When horrible, criminal acts are committed against non-white people, we are almost required to forgive. Forgiveness by the survivors are commended. I want to hear from you in hopes you can flip the script and ask for forgiveness, to ask for what neither your son or husband can acknowledge is necessary.

Dear Carleen Turner, I’d love to hear you out before I write you off.

These Things I Know For Certain. Maybe.

I knew I would cry.

This year dropping off the oldest at school for her second year took on a different level of planning, and in the end it was a mom and daughter road trip to Long Island.

I knew the drive would require a new level of stamina and patience. Fourteen hours and 850+ miles is a lot even for the two of us. I knew we would laugh and sing and eat and need some time to decompress from being with each other non-stop. I knew we would both need our alone time. I knew the last two nights we would be sharing a bed.

I knew it would be difficult to say goodbye, despite knowing in my heart of hearts she is exactly where she needs to be doing what she is meant to do learning things she must learn away from the safety net (bubble?) of her home and family. I knew we would do some last-minute shopping so I could leave knowing she would not starve to death. I knew I would want to do whatever she wanted to do just so that we could have a little more time together.

I thought I knew. But I didn’t.

I knew I would be exhausted from the drive and sleep soundly, but I was so attuned to her presence I found myself listening to her breathe and move. In the dark of the night she was a little girl again, taking a nap in her four-poster bed after a full day of kindergarten. I didn’t know she would sound the same. I didn’t know that the sound of her breathing would still keep me awake, just like it did when we she was an infant and we were paranoid first-time parents.

I knew moving her into her dorm without the help of my husband would be physically exhausting because even after all of these years dorm furniture remains ugly, heavy, and unwieldy. I didn’t know she would ask for my opinion so often and that she would take my advice to maximize the view. Her room has a sunny window with a great view of Manhattan (if you squint and it is unusually clear); she’ll wake up to that view every morning assuming she opens her eyes. That? I don’t know.

I knew that last day was going to be quiet. We had spent the previous three days in each other’s company, sharing every amazing meal, sharing a room and then a bed, sharing toiletries and coffee. We had spent the summer together learning to be together as mother and young adult daughter. We had not come close to doing all the things, eating all the foods, finishing all the projects we had planned, but we knew we had all summer. I didn’t know the summers get shorter every year mirroring the shortened summer days. I didn’t know that I could be simultaneously excited my sons – in high school and middle school – had finally started school and be utterly annoyed that college classes started two days before the Labor Day weekend when we all could’ve traveled together and said one big goodbye.

I knew saying goodbye is part of the deal, even if it is only until Thanksgiving, but I didn’t know how fast 19 years would go by. I knew I would cry because love, excitement, hope, anticipation, and sadness always do that to me, but I didn’t know she would cry, too.

I don’t know what the year holds for her, but I know she is where she needs to be.

#flymysweet

Vitamin L Diary: Motherhood & #flymysweet

Tonight is the night before she leaves for college, and the dining room is filled with laughter and chatter. There are only two other young women in her incredible circle of friends who are still “in town” waiting, and tonight is a night for friendship.

I sat there with them for awhile, laughing at a Facebook post, our lack of sewing skills in comparison to Bethany, and cried a little bit. It has been such an honor to be allowed to be a part of that sacred space of friendship, and it was time to honor it even more by stepping away. It’s time.

Depression haunted me in my childhood, but I remember distinctly coming home from the hospital with this tiny peanut of a newborn who came with no instructions. I was in pain from an emergency postpartum surgery, unable to do just about anything without incredible pain and feeling quite unlike myself. Five months later with friends in from out of town I recall telling them that I didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t sure if I could feel anything really.

I didn’t look sad in the photos. I didn’t walk around with an animated cloud hovering around my head. I just kept moving.

Gratefully, it has been five years since I sought treatment – a combination of counseling and an antidepressant. I continue to shake off cultural stereotypes and stigma associated with depression, anxiety, and medication. There are some who do not understand how a faithful, evangelical Christian could depend on medication to fight off something that perhaps more prayer and faithfulness could overcome. There are some in my own family who do not approve of my sharing publicly that I am on (whisper) medication. Depression and anxiety do not define me, but the reality is that my mental health is part of me. It is a part of any human being – a God-ordained intersection between soul, mind, and body. We share the earth with other living things, but there is no other living thing quite like us humans.

And I realized again today, as I sat with my son at a medical appointment, that depression and anxiety are a part of my life as mother and a part of my children’s lives. We were asked about family medical history. “Is there anyone in the family with depression or anxiety? Is there anyone in the family who has committed suicide?” Yes, there is heart disease and high blood pressure as well as depression and suicide. Even as my children grow up and mature, their family history follows them and is a part of their story as well.

So as we come to this part of my story as a mother of a college freshman soul, mind, and body intersect. The tears are right there, clinging to my eyes ready to roll out at a moment’s notice. My heart is pounding in anticipation of the incredible things she will see and do in college. I can imagine her rehearsing, choreographing, learning to connect her soul, mind, and body, and I smile like a madwoman. And I know we will drive home with one less body in the car with her smile and spirit lingering. My soul is appropriately, gloriously conflicted, and my mind and body start to take over with tears, smiles, and fear.

How will my brain translate all that is going on in my soul? Will the depression and anxiety come to visit as I enter into a quieter season or will the 10 milligrams keep doing their thing? Will I have the courage to set aside fear and seek out help, ask for the company of friends or a walk with my husband?

Worse yet, will my daughter lose the genetic crapshoot and experience a new dark night of the soul? Will the transitions overwhelm her in an unexpected way? Have I given her the tools, the words, the freedom to know the signs and ask for help? Have I done all that I can do before she goes?

There is no way to know, but there is a way to cope and live. Dear Readers and friends, please hope with me. Pray with me. Pray for daughters and sons launching off into new experiences and their parents who all know there is little we can do to protect them forever. Pray that the lies of stereotypes and stigma don’t keep them from getting help. Pray for friends and mentors who aren’t afraid to offer and get them help. And I pray history and story will ground my daughter and hope and faith will shape her future.

#flymysweet

 

 

 

Three Weeks and Counting

I have been fighting a bout of insomnia by avoiding reflection. It rarely works, which is why last night I just sat there in silence with God to figure it out.

It’s deadlines.

I missed an end-of-July deadline for a devotional series (Romal, it’s getting done. I SWEAR!) I barely made the deadline for another blog (apologies to my family since we technically were on vacation). I had a moment of panic as the posting schedule for another site went up. Did I forget that deadline, too? No, I did not. I just completely forgot what I wrote about. I’m fairly certain I missed the deadline for my annual ministry plan.

I don’t work better under pressure. I just work. Knowing there is a set “end” puts the idea of a goal into focus, but sitting in that 2 a.m. silence it was deeper than those deadlines I heard God trying to get through my fearful heart. Summer ends soon, and so with some denial and regret I looked at the calendar on our fridge.

Two weeks from today my sons return to school as a high school sophomore and a seventh grader, both having adding inches to their height and a summer of video games to their enrichment. I hear my older son’s voice, and I don’t recognize it. I catch their reflections in a mirror, and I have to look harder to see their baby faces. But they will still wake up in their beds and leave those beds every morning unmade. They are still home.

Three weeks from today we will drop off my daughter at her freshman dorm and then drive away holding back tears and snot. I am going to guess that four weeks from today I will have met that missed July deadline, turned in a ministry plan, washed my daughter’s sheets, and closed the door to her room.

It’s so true. The days are long but the years are short. All those times I wanted to tell older women to stop telling me to appreciate the school years? I’M SORRY! YOU WERE RIGHT! I WAS WRONG! I DIDN’T KNOW! I WAS SO TIRED AND CRANKY! I can still physically recall the exhaustion, anxiety, stress, and numbness of those infant-baby-toddler-preschool, breastfeeding, diaper changing, sleep training, nap dropping, potty training years. The ridiculous stress, anxiety, and #firstworldprivilegedparentingprobs of standardized tests, class placement, team sports, friendship drama, GPAs, and socialization remain as we add on a new frontier of young adulthood and college student parenting. The conversations about drinking, drugs, sex, faith, relationships, and overall decision-making shift into a new space for our daughter and for us as parents, for me as her mother. The physicality of parenting – the late-night feedings, the diapers, the baths – shifted dramatically as they became more independent, and I regained healthier sleep habits until she started driving and then driving without the restrictions of a newly licensed driver because I was waiting up for her to come home.

Three weeks. Three weeks and then we will be the ones driving away to go home.

I know this is what I am supposed to do. I am so excited for her and proud of her. I know in my heart this is what it looks like to trust God, and that is what I’ll be counting on when we drive away and head straight for some restaurant in Manhattan for food, tears, a toast, and a prayer. I know that this is gift for her and for us, a continuation of the privilege of being a parent. I know she will miss us even if she doesn’t call, text or Snapchat within the first 24-72 hours of our departure. I know she will have moments of buyers’ remorse, and I will wish we had demanded she go to school closer. I know this isn’t the privilege of most young 18-year-old women and 43-year-old moms. I know that letting her go has been the point of all of this.

But where in the world did all that freaking time go?

Three weeks. I just never thought it would come so soon.

#flymysweet

 

A Day in Three Parts: Progress, Prep & Packing #flymysweet

Progress:

After almost a decade after having published a vacation Bible school curriculum titled “Far-out Far East Rickshaw Rally – Racing Towards the Son”, LifeWay Christian Resources president and CEO Thom Rainer issued an apology for the company’s decision to use offensive stereotypes in the materials. I wasn’t at the Mosaix conference where the video apology was shown but thanks to social media I heard about yesterday…

Rainer never refers directly to the Open Letter from Asian American community to the Evangelical Church, but folks closer to the decision have said that the letter brought the Rickshaw Rally controversy back into present-day discussions.

I’ve been laying low on blogging about the letter and the events that preceded the letter, in part, because I was just tired of emails asking me to withdraw my criticism, questioning my commitment to Christ, and accusing me of all sorts of shenanigans. Speaking out isn’t the most comfortable thing, EVEN FOR ME, but not saying something, not speaking out and drawing attention to the brokenness in the Church in those recent situations wasn’t a choice. And to hear that Rainer, who was not the president and CEO at the time of the Rickshaw Rally decision, chose to look back at the organization’s past, acknowledge the offense, and publicly apologize for it is reason enough to continue to encourage me and others to speak out. I’m writing this not as an “I told you so” but rather as a “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for humankind!” (Ps. 66:5)

As Asian American Christians, we have all sorts of cultural nuances and baggage that perpetuate self-silencing in the name of maintaining harmony and perceived peace. Sometimes that “peace” has been at the cost of identifying and celebrating the unique gifts and blessings our cultures bring to the diverse Kingdom of God.

The Open Letter and the many voices it helped amplify and release is progress. The apology is progress.

Prep:

So I should really be focusing on prepping for a set of national leadership meetings for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries. I have a book to finish reading and a few folks to contact about my visit to NYC. I also should be practicing my talk for the Q Focus: Woman & Calling event I will be presenting at next Friday, but I am still finishing the prep for my talk. (By the way, there is still some overflow space and streaming options.)

I’m anxious. I am trying not to worry about how I will do and focus on the message I have on my heart, the message God has been pushing and pressing into my heart and into the shredded margins of my day-to-day. I don’t think ambition is wrong. I think many of us are afraid of what ambition will do to us, bring to us, how it will challenge us in what we believe about and value in the world, God, and ourselves.

And I’m thinking a lot about ambition because my oldest has gotten her first college acceptance, and she has her first audition tomorrow. She has dreams, goals, hopes, and ambitions. She is a dancer. Dancers want to dance. My heart and mind are distracted by her ambitions, and as her mother, not as a speaker, I am trying to embrace the moment, face my fears, and prep, which leads to the third part.

Packing:

We leave in three hours or so to Kalamazoo. Bethany’s audition is for the dance program at Western Michigan University, and I am incredibly nervous. And I don’t have to do anything! And as I try to finish this post and make my mental packing list there is a lovely sense of convergence.

My daughter is a “good” student and she is an artist. Last year she choreographed a piece that took my breath away and left many in the audience reflecting on the power of dance. She doesn’t become a different person when she performs. She becomes more of who she is. And every time I tell someone she wants to major in dance she is breaking the model minority stereotype that doesn’t seem harmful or hurtful until you are the one either in the teeny, tiny box of what is acceptable or outside of that box being told you are failure. She hopefully will do with her art what I have been trying to do with mine – creating opportunities for progress, pushing fear aside, identifying God-given gifts as something to exercise and explore.

And just like that, it’s time to go.

What are the things you faced today?

Book Club: Leaning In Into the Unknown

My husband just dropped me off at the airport. I haven’t seen my daughter all day. My two sons put themselves to bed. At least, I think they did.

I’m leaning in, and I have no idea what I am doing. I wish I had a clearer picture, but I don’t.

Sojourners and its founder Jim Wallis wanted to invest in a group of emerging leaders – not emerging as in the emerging church but emerging as in developing, in process, growing. I am honored to be a part of this group, and from the initial invitation I have been challenged to reconsider my presence, privilege, and power. I have asked myself what a suburban wife of one, mother of three is doing in a room with national leaders in social justice, advocacy, and public policy. I am not a pastor, social justice worker, founder of anything.

But apparently those weren’t the only qualifications. I continue to wrestle with the imposter syndrome, wondering when someone will figure out I actually DON’T belong in he room.

Have you ever felt that way?

But here I am waiting for my flight to D.C. – the last flight out today so I could catch my son’s last middle school band concert and still make it in time for the morning session.

My husband, as usual, told me I had to do this. And since he hears this so rarely…

He was right. I had to do this. Sandburg’s big picture message for women is that we shouldn’t take ourselves out of the game until we have to. That means silencing self-doubt, even when it’s REALLY LOUD. It means listening to God and knowing the talents and gifts He has given us are to be stewarded and developed, not buried, ignored, diminished, or disregarded.

I’m scared. I’m intimidated. I’m confused. I’m excited. I’m open to learning, failing, and leaning in.

Is it OK to admit all of those things?

Will you still like me? Wink, wink.

Book Club: Lean In & the Dirty “A” Word

Ambition.

Good Christians usually don’t talk about ambition. Maybe we call it “holy ambition” because if we add “holy” it makes it OK. I’ve read some of the Christian response to “Lean In”, and in a nutshell my take is that we Christians are uncomfortable with ambition. I’m afraid, however, that perhaps we have mistaken humility as the antithesis of ambition. 

And as a result Christian women maybe even more uncomfortable with ambition. I’m uncomfortable talking about it with Christian women until we’ve established some level of safety. I need to know they won’t judge me. That they won’t think I don’t love my children or my husband or my gender because I am considering applying for a promotion.

Sheryl Sandberg is in your face about it.

“This book makes the case for leaning in for being ambitious in any pursuit,” p. 10 (see, still in the intro!)

Any pursuit. Hmmmm. 

As Christian woman I have found it much more acceptable to be ambitious on the home front. Live for your kids and husband, perhaps in that order, because your husband isn’t around during the day and part of the evening, but that’s another chapter. Keep a clean and orderly home. Buy, make, grow, or raise the best, healthiest what-would-Jesus-eat food for your family. Be crafty and a wise steward of money. Be a godly wife and mother.

And that works well, particularly if you are married with children, and that life is something you want and you and your husband willingly agree to.

But not all of us Christian women want that. I want some of that, but I also want to work outside of my home. I enjoy teaching, preaching, speaking, and training. I love it, really. I enjoy writing, and I want to do more of it because (and I say this in a hushed voice) I think I’m good at it.  I enjoy developing those skills as much as I enjoy hearing my husband unload the dishwasher (he really is doing that right now) after I’ve whipped up an amazing meal (that I didn’t do tonight). 

My Christian Asian American parents helped me pay for college, and I enjoy stewarding that gift by also stewarding my gifts of leadership outside of the home. But I know that they have mixed feelings about my sister being a stay-at-home mom after getting a degree in business and about the amount of travel I choose to take on even though I have a husband. 

I just don’t know if it’s OK to say that I have ambitions outside of my home. My home life ambitions have been affirmed in Church. My professional ones? Not so much.

 

Is it OK to tell people I have ambitions? Do you tell people you have ambitions? Would you describe yourself as ambitious? 

Fly On the Wall: Things You’d Hear in My House

In honor of Tom Lin’s (vp, director of Urbana, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and unrelated to basketball’s Jeremy Lin, though all three of us have ties to InterVarsity and also are Asian American) FB status, I thought I’d get off my soapbox for awhile and lighten up the mood.

Things you would hear coming out of my mouth if you were a fly on the wall at my house:

  1. You will be walking to school today because your legs work and I’m paying good money to live this close to the school.
  2. How is it that your legs work for dancing but not for walking?
  3. Did anyone see my coffee?
  4. If I knew where you left your iPod do you think I would tell you where it is?
  5. No, I do not have your allowance yet.
  6. If you don’t want to (fill in the blank with a household chore) then please pool your allowances together so that I can get a cleaning lady. No? OK. Let’s get back to work.
  7. Wait. Let me see the problem. I can’t do math in my head.
  8. Please chew and swallow before talking again.
  9. My keys are in my purse.
  10. I love you.

What would I hear if I was a fly on the wall in your house?

 

 

 

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