“Your plate is full,” she said after I spelled out the particular challenges of the past few months. “Like, I think you might need some more plates.”
That’s how I’m feeling, too. Except I can’t add too many plates, because I only have so many hands, and my children already outnumber me half a dozen times over. I do currently have a belly-shelf where my very full plate can rest when I’m seated, at least until our son is born in a few weeks. The plate does get kicked and knocked around by his vigorous movement in there, but to see him active and healthy in spite of our complicated journey makes me smile in the midst of the struggle and uncertainty constantly swirling around me.
I sit at the dining room table amid the remnants of the meal my children have left behind for the activities they’re off doing around the house; chicken burgers and a pasta-veggie combo from the frozen aisle at Costco. I haven’t been eating meals with my family most of the time because it takes extra time and intention to prepare the custom gestational diabetes-friendly food I currently require. By the time I sit down, most or all of the kids are on to other adventures.
My bowl of chicken salad and sizable plate of veggies are satisfying, but they also speak to the constant loneliness of the season I’m in—with real and present challenges no one else fully knows. I miss our simple family dinners when I could make one meal and we could sit together for half an hour, laughing about the quirks and joys of the large collection of personalities around this table.
I have moments of joy, but I have many more moments of other, more troubling emotions.
The recipe currently comprising my life is one part anticipation, two parts struggle, and easily three parts uncertainty mixed up with anxious thoughts. In many moments, it feels difficult to suck in a satisfying breath and let it out again, and whatever nebulous layer covers the surface of my big emotions seems dangerously thin nearly all of the time.
Alone at the table, I am close to tears. When I’m not in motion, not powering through the momentary challenge in front of me (which of late has been simple things like tying my shoes and mustering the energy to rise from a chair for any task at all), the weight of everything presses me forcefully toward random and uncontrollable weeping.
But today, I purpose to keep it together and finish my food, which I will only be able to do if no one asks me how I’m really doing, and only if my pre-teen children can refrain from dramatic wailing and bickering over entirely inconsequential things.
If there was ever a time I wish I could fast-forward to the other side of a milestone, it is now.
I would love to get beyond this clumsy, needy season, and I would love to speak of the complications I’ve experienced this pregnancy as stuff of the past.
But here I am, in the middle of circumstances out of my control, and far out of my comfort zone.
I’ve always prized my independence, my can-do attitude, and my knack for needing as little as possible from anyone else. At the helm of a bustling household, I have sought to handle everything within our walls as independently as possible, refusing to rely on hired help, or even asking much of my husband in his busier work seasons. I very rarely put my kids in the care of others, and love to be the person giving, serving, supporting others however I can. I relish being the easygoing, never-a-burden friend who can handle the ups and downs of my life with relative elegance.
I’ve realized I cannot accomplish any of the above, and I’ve had to accept the reality of my limitations. It has been such a tough pill to swallow.
We’ve spent six months trying to recover from my emergency hospitalization, and many household systems have fallen by the wayside with each new wave of struggle through this pregnancy. It wasn’t until I spent a whole day sobbing on my living room sofa—unable to rise and face the (very basic) challenges of the day—that I called a friend and admitted I really needed some practical hands-on help. I’ve been deeply humbled, and have a newfound compassion for people who deal with chronic conditions and difficult life circumstances for long seasons. Even though my season of struggle has a foreseeable end, it has been challenging to keep hold of peace through the ups and downs.
Three things, in particular, are helping me through this experience.
Inviting others into the messy middle, accepting help, and being vulnerable to share the load with the people surrounding me have been pivotal through this season. For me, even having a compassionate listening ear on the days when my big emotions rise up is a huge gift. Because I’m still parenting full time, there are few spaces where I can really “let it all out” and confess my struggle to be content, hold onto peace despite the uncertainty before me, and navigate the minefield of emotions that come and go with the days. Whenever I’ve been in the car alone, often on my trips home from the high-risk maternal care office, I call a friend and sob out my stress and sorrow. By the time I arrive home, the listening ear on the other end has released a pressure valve of sorts, and I’m ready to engage my kids with a renewed brave face.
I’ve been deeply encouraged by the extra hands that have shown up to my house to help with very physical tasks I don’t have the endurance for right now. I have a few friends who come just to help set a space in my house straight again, something I would definitely not get to in the midst of all the current demands for my time and attention. Dozens of small gestures, check-ins, prayers, and practical helps have carried me through this season and brought me a measure of peace, knowing I am not alone.
We keep meals simple for the rest of the family, especially because I have to pay such close attention to my own eating, blood sugars, and medications. Anything I can delegate to someone else (my spouse, a child, a friend) I have been asking them to do. I still try to contribute as much effort as I’m able to the household tasks, but anything nonessential on a given day is released.
We’ve been minimizing the clutter, reducing our family commitments out of the house, and generally simplifying anything we can as we navigate this season. It has been an adjustment for my on-the-go family, but simpler days do make a difference.
I still experience unrest and discomfort at times (especially as my belly swells to the farthest reaches of its ability), but the more I embrace my current place instead of fighting against it, the more peace I find. The past few months have been a long, slow season, requiring patience and perseverance beyond what I thought I had.
I haven’t been able to maintain the level of productivity I typically enjoy, and I’ve had to adjust my expectations about how our household systems run in the midst of my compromised health. I spend much of my time lying down or perched in the corner of my couch, watching my kids learn new levels of independence while the older ones step up to prepare breakfast or lunch for their siblings.
I accept the ups and downs of our days, believing that on the other side of this season, there will be new memories to make and new obstacles to overcome.
The battle for peace in my right-now life, however, is one that remains center-stage for me. It is a war against discouragement, a declaration that victory sometimes looks like crawling across the finish line having spent every last ounce of courage and strength to get there. It has recalibrated my perspective about what makes my days meaningful, and has provided an opportunity for my family to grow closer as we serve and love one another through each challenge we face together.
Featured image by Hill Smiley Photography
Emily Sue Allen is the founder of Kindred Mom, and she hosts/produces the Kindred Mom podcast. She is a contemplative, creative soul who celebrates the beauty of a humble, handmade life and deeply values the power of encouragement. She lives with her husband and six kids in the Pacific Northwest, and personally blogs at emilysueallen.com. Find Emily on Instagram.
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