On a cinder track behind Archbishop Neale School, completing the President's test for fitness, I finished the first mile of my life, at age 12, in 7 minutes, 17 seconds. (On the farm I knew I was the second-fastest of my dozen cousins - Mikey was the fastest. But this mile at school morphed my sense of self.) And so began the most defining feature of my adolescence: a love for running track and a knowledge that with hard work, I could accomplish anything I desired. At such a formative age, this Grace given natural talent also helped form my prayer life and strengthened my relationship with God in a number of ways. I had always been a smart enough kid, but running really became what defined me, and this is when my sense of self worth solidified . As I developed into an athlete, I applied the lessons I learned on the track to other aspects of life, like school, and was successful there too. My sister recently referred to herself as a "lifetime over-achiever" and if that's also true of my life, I'm certain running is what started it off. Hard work got me through Medical School and then Residency too.
Similarly, I've often found a home in the verse:
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Luke 12:48Being the best possible athlete I could be was honoring God. Since the good Lord gave me the gift of service in Medicine, I've chosen to practice on medical mission trips. Since I've been given much, much is asked of me, and hard work helps me rise to that occasion. This has becoming my operating system. That verse has been a motivator for me countless times, and jives well with my hard work ethic.
However, in young adulthood, I was disappointed to find that no amount of hard work could help me find a Good Man. (In God's time.)
And now, I find this heart-breaking lesson to be true again... no amount of hard work can help me carry a baby to term. Friends of mine struggling with infertility see the same in their lives; absolutely strict compliance with all the series of recommendations out there on how to conceive and carry, do not seem to be enough for many of us to reach our "goal" of having children. Truthfully, prayer doesn't seem to be helping either.
Numerous websites have list upon list about what you can and cannot do during pregnancy (i.e.: babycenter). And I'll admit that I have followed much of what I found. In my first pregnancy, I read up on the recommendations and then did some further digging into the research that supports them. For instance, on the topic of caffeine (as I lifelong addict, I was particularly interested in this one), I found that while most commercial websites recommend against caffeine, the medical literature supports consumption less than 100mg per day. So, my earl grey, at 40mg/cup is perfectly fine. Even a latte from Starbucks, with 1 shot of espresso only has 75 mg, and so I occasionally chose to indulge.
I've continued these "responsible" choices in subsequent pregnancies as well. Since I believe that life begins at conception, I believe I start mothering on that day, and have felt a responsibility to act properly from that very day on, to the best of my ability. It might sound a bit obsessive compulsive, but for me that has meant, for instance, not drinking more than 100mg/day after day 14 of my cycle. It's meant no sushi then too, and the list goes on. And I'm largely proud of this "good behavior." Feeling it's my duty as a good mother, and even a decent disciple. I mean, He is entrusting me with Much. Right? I've got the financial resources... I really should eat organic... and the inner dialogue goes on...
To date, I've appreciated all the additional knowledge our tech-filled society offers. And I've said more times than I can count, "knowledge is power."
I guess I've believed that power was positive, until recently.
But this, my 'operating system' seems to have failed me. My hard work at perfect mothering has failed four fetuses.
And so, I've come to feel that "knowledge has both saved and burdened us" (Atul Gawande, Checklist Manifesto). I've found I can't be "responsible" if I don't know when I'm ovulating, but tracking ovulation makes me obsessive. I want to avoid pregnancy and give my body and soul a break, but how do I do that without taking pills? I don't want to take pills because then I am really not letting God do His work, I'm using medicine to control it according to my fears and desires (future blog topic/get ready!)... and I'm not certain how to balance all this. Where is the middle ground between being afraid of taking an Advil (NSAIDs also have controversial evidence and recommendations in pregnancy; mostly negative and probably to be avoided) when I've got a headache in the latter half of my cycle, and knowing that alcohol in pregnancy is clearly irresponsible? My sense is that many of my Type A like minded friends struggle with this as well.
Thus, knowledge is power...ful. And while the word "power" often carries a positive connotation, I'm venturing to say that in this instance it's crept into the negative. As with so many things pertaining to parenting in this information age, many I know are overwhelmed with all the guidelines we are 'supposed' to follow. While Gawande refers to the practice of medicine in the Checklist Manifesto, I'm not sure parenting is any simpler. And right now, conception and carrying miraculous life feels even more challenging than navigating the pitfalls of modern medicine. Where does Gods path cross with good stewardship of my gifts, and practice of the powerful knowledge I acquire and have access to?
A question previous generations did not have to face, I'm hopeful that we'll trudge through this toward a more well defined and less guilt-ridden path for our children when they become parents.
Until then, I'm relying on prayer, and devotion, to help me through this.
Dear Lord, today and everyday, I'm faced with news articles and blog posts with advice. Some of this is well founded and some of if seems deliberately fear-mongering. Guide my choices daily. I need You to help me find Your way. I feel burdened by the knowledge I've gained in medical school and on the Internet. My friends, family, and I all cope with this in different ways, but I've gone from feeling empowered to engulfed. Take away this guilt. I am doing my best. Now I need to trust that You are here to protect me, and mine, no matter how small. Lord, replace my fears and guilt with peace. In Jesus' name. Amen.