Some folks have asked if my doctors are putting pressure on me not to have more children. I usually respond with a sound like hoooooo-ho-ho-hooooo (which is not supposed to be a sound like what Santa says, but rather a hearty laugh to indicate, YOU HAVE NO IDEA).
The doctors have said this before, when I was diagnosed with the clotting disorder after getting a deep vein thrombosis during my second pregnancy, but, luckily for my third, fourth, fifth, and sixth children, I knew that they weren’t that serious when they said, “You seriously can’t have any more children.”
But now they’re saying it with extra drama, and there’s nothing like lungs full of blood clots (for me) and lungs full of holes (for the baby) to make me think that they might actually mean it this time.
So what does that mean for me? When I converted to Catholicism, to my great surprise I came to agree whole-heartedly with what the Church teaches about contraception. I do Natural Family Planning (badly), and probably have about eight years of fertility left. Am I still going to stick with it? Am I resentful of these rules? Do I even want to have more kids? If the subject lines of my email inbox are any indication, a lot of folks are curious about this; hey, I would be too if I followed someone’s blog who found herself in this situation.
So let’s go ahead and crack open that can of worms, and I’ll give you my long answer to the question: Your doctors said you can’t have any more kids. What now?
Let’s talk about risk
First of all, let’s remember that when we speak about the dangers of pregnancy or any other undertaking, we’re talking about risk. This is not certainty. Nobody has a crystal ball. It’s all just educated guesses.
This sounds obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget.
You hear a doctor say, “You shouldn’t do XYZ because it would put your health at risk,” and it’s tempting to immediately declare, “‘Risk,’ you say? I SHALL NEVER DO XYZ AGAIN THEN!” But it’s critical to do the best we can to identify what level of risk we’re talking about.
In my own case, for example, I have a responsibility to my existing children not to take unnecessary risks with my life. The word to hone in on here is “unnecessary,” though, because the reality is that we take risks with our lives all the time. I’m thinking about taking a road trip this summer that would involve driving for hours down two-lane roads with 70-mile-per-hour speed limits and no barriers separating oncoming traffic. I would be driving on a weekend, when plenty of people are on the road after having beers at nearby lakes. There is no question that my life would be in danger if I went on that trip; in fact, the danger to my health in that situation is probably not even drastically lower than it would be with another pregnancy. Yet we perceive the pregnancy as being so much more fraught than the fun road trip.
For a variety of reasons, we’re always tempted to freak out and get all fearful when it comes to new life, much more so than in other areas of life. A mother setting out to climb a famous mountain as a personal self-fulfillment project would be congratulated and encouraged, whereas another mother being open to pregnancy despite concerning health conditions would be chided and discouraged, even if the risk to both women’s health from their respective activities were the same.
So, especially when it comes to the question of more children, we need to look very carefully at the question, “How big is the risk?” There are times when we’ll take a closer look and find that the risk is real and huge and deeply concerning; but other times we might just find that the risk isn’t all that much greater than it would be with plenty of other “normal” activities, and that the doom and gloom predictions about future pregnancy were fueled as much by our culture’s fear of life than as by a reasonable analysis of risk.
The hope factor
Every risk has a flipside, and this is another area that is too often forgotten about when we’re talking about pregnancy: the benefits of undertaking the risk.
We have this problem in our society of seeing new human lives as burdens. Instead of celebrating new people, too often we chalk them up to carbon footprints and mouths to feed. We deem others (always others, not people we know) to be “overpopulation.” And I’m not using “we” rhetorically: Seriously, I’m not immune to the mentality either.
The soundtrack to all of my pregnancies is the noise of my whining voice. I always forget about the life of the new son or daughter that I’m carrying, and talk about the huge burden that “the pregnancy” is placing on me. Maybe it’s all those years I spent immersed in secular culture, but I am naturally sympathetic to the frame of mind that wants to immediately shut down the pregnancy train as soon as the doctor says the word “risk.” Especially in the case of those of us who already have a lot of children, why not? After all, how many kids does one person need?
But children are more than a number in the family birth order, and each human life is infinitely valuable. Think of someone you love: When you consider the worth of his or her life, it makes you view the pregnancy that brought him or her into existence differently. It makes you willing to accept higher levels of risk to add a person like that to the world.
Imagine that you were diagnosed with a rare and fatal illness, and you discovered that there was a doctor who had developed a brand new way to treat it. Imagine that this doctor cured you. Imagine the waves of joy and relief that would sweep over you when you found out that he had defeated the disease that threatened to cut your life short. Now imagine that you found out that he was his mother’s seventh child, and that her pregnancy with him went against warnings from her doctors not to have any more children. Would his mother seem crazy for becoming pregnant anyway? Would she seem irresponsible for deciding that adding another soul to her family was worth the risk?
Unfortunately, sometimes we need to remind ourselves what other people can do for us in order to remember the value of their lives.
I’m not suggesting that there’s never a good reason to avoid pregnancy; even aside from health risks, there are plenty of other reasons couples might decide that it’s not a good time for another kid. I only suggest that when we make those decisions, it’s critical that we make them in light of the hope that every new baby brings. When you think of making sacrifices for a nameless, faceless “pregnancy,” it doesn’t seem worth much effort. But the cost/benefit ratio changes drastically when you really think about the worth of one boy or girl’s life.
NFP is worth it
All that said, I do think there’s enough risk in my own situation that I should chill on the pregnancy front for now, maybe forever. In that case, then, wouldn’t contraception or sterilization make everything easier? To put it concisely:
First of all, Natural Family Planning can be an effective way to space children. (I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing and clean up the drink you just spilled on your keyboard.) No, seriously, if you’re willing to invest a little time to learn the ropes, it can work just as well as contraception. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy, and that the challenges that come with NFP are very real. However, it’s not like the alternatives offer problem-free solutions either. As the great Simcha Fisher once said, “When it comes to facing fertility, all God’s children got angst.”
I know a lot of other couples who have given up contraception to use NFP, and not a single one of them has ever returned to contraception use. I’m not saying it never happens, but, at least in my experience, it’s rare. That’s totally counter-intuitive since NFP is a sacrifice-based system, but I think what most couples find when they give up artificial birth control to space children naturally (especially when they involve God in the process), is that the high level of personal sacrifice involved is a feature, not a bug. NFP is not just another form of birth control; it’s an entirely new lifestyle. It makes you see yourself and your spouse and your children entirely differently. It makes you see the meaning of life differently. It even makes you see your relationship with God differently. And once you’ve spent a while living that kind of life, you don’t want to go back.
Intellectually, I don’t think that contraception is a good thing. I’ve come to believe that it takes away women’s reproductive freedom, and, on a societal level, fuels abortion culture. But, when I think of my own situation, I never even get that far in the analysis. Like so many other people who have made the switch to NFP, I simply couldn’t be okay with any form of sterilization anymore, whether temporary or permanent. I don’t know how to articulate it other than to say I just couldn’t do it. On a purely visceral level, in that place deep in the heart where the most important truths about our humanity reside, I know as surely as I know anything else that those Catholic teachings about human sexuality are true and good.
So what now?
As you can imagine, I’ve gotten some flack about all of this lately, especially in light of this disastrous pregnancy. Sometimes I catch myself reacting by saying:
“I didn’t know!”
I mean, yeah, I knew that I had a blood clotting disorder that’s exacerbated by pregnancy, and, okay, there was that one just slightly life-threatening DVT in my second pregnancy. BUT! I thought that it would be fine once I took preventative Lovenox. I didn’t know that it was possible to end up with bilateral pulmonary embolisms when you were on blood thinners — I thought that I was stabbing myself with needles every day to prevent that kind of thing! I didn’t know that a one-month supply of said blood thinners would set me back FOUR THOUSAND dollars. I didn’t know that I’d end up having to undergo medical procedures that were like something out of a bad episode of Fear Factor. I didn’t know that one of my veins would turn black from having over 10 blood draws in the same arm over a few hours. I certainly didn’t know that my baby would have his own, unrelated life-threatening lung issues that would put him in intensive care for two weeks. Sheesh, people, I didn’t know!
The implication there is that I would have done something differently if I had known that I was signing up for a pregnancy that was like something out of a homeric epic.
But would I?
I look down at my sweet baby boy, who is sleeping in my lap as I type, and I am overwhelmed with love and joy at his existence. I am filled with certainty that his life was meant to be. I can barely even remember all the pain I went through to bring him into the world, because that finite amount of suffering seems so utterly insignificant in comparison to the infinite value of his life.
Yet I am also sitting here saying that it would probably be best if I didn’t have more children. It leaves me in a place of strange tension: If this baby was so worth it, wouldn’t that be the case for another one? As a mother, I certainly have a duty to my precious children not to take risks with my health; but if I’d followed that train of thought more closely before, most of said precious children would not even exist.
It is when I ponder these truths that I realize: It’s so freaking complicated.
There are no more difficult, complicated, messy decisions in the human experience than the decisions we make about having kids. In no area of life is there more at stake, more opportunities for suffering and loss, and more opportunities for joy and love and connection that will last through eternity.
I don’t have all the answers; many days, I don’t feel like I have any. I have no idea if I’ll ever have another biological child. Today I’m thinking that I probably won’t…but will I feel that way tomorrow? If I’ve learned anything so far this year, it’s that your whole world can be turned upside down in a matter of hours, leaving you with an entirely different perspective on life than you had the day before. Luckily, with NFP, you make these kinds of decisions on a month-to-month, rather than a long-term basis. I’ll have regular opportunities to re-evaluate my choices.
And so when people ask about whether I think I’ll have more children, I usually respond with a responsible-sounding answer about how I am aware of the risks and currently plan to take the prudent course and avoid pregnancy for the rest of my fertile years. But then I’ll glance over at my little blond-haired son, and sometimes his tiny, ink-blue eyes will catch mine, and I can barely suppress a smile as I think: Never say never.
There’s this thing going around where bloggers share five things about themselves that people might not know about them. I just love these posts! Micaela at California to Korea was kind enough to tag me for participation, and since I’m always up for an easy post idea, I couldn’t resist! Here it goes:
Our family has close ties to Mexico, and I always assumed that our kids would grow up spending a lot of time there. My paternal grandfather (the one who’s always cooking for us, even at 98 years old) spent over 30 years living in Mexico and South America, working as an engineer overseeing the construction of refineries. My dad grew up there, mostly in Mexico City and Tampico, and speaks Spanish with a Mexican accent. We often went to Mexico to visit friends in my childhood, and to this day my grandfather talks about how much he misses it.
Joe has a similar background: His grandparents had some orange groves along the Texas-Mexico border, and Joe spent many summers picking oranges all day, then crossing the border in the evenings to hang out in Reynosa. His uncle’s wife is from a small town in Nayarit, and she still has a charming little cottage on the Pacific ocean that we used to love to visit.
Unfortunately, the parts of Mexico where we have the closest ties have been some of the hardest hit by drug violence, so our kids have never even visited. I really hope that one day we’re able to start going down there again, since I think of getting to know Mexico as an important part of our kids’ family heritage.
2: THE COLON CANCER GENE
I’ve done a lot of talking lately about my genetic blood clotting disorder, Factor II, since it’s responsible for all of the recent health drama. However, my family also carries another genetic disorder as well: HNPCC, which is known as the colon cancer gene mutation. People who have HNPCC will almost certainly get colon cancer, and are at high risk for other types of cancers as well (both my dad and his mother had colon cancer because of it, though it wasn’t fatal for either of them). For many years, our family has been involved with researchers at MD Anderson to study this mutation. They’ve gathered lots of blood samples from us, and have been particularly interested in our family tree. It’s fascinating and tragic to watch the gene get passed down over the generations: when you look at one of our family trees that lists causes of death, you can watch the disease snake its way through the family line.
One time when I was at MD Anderson, the researchers spread out a huge map of the United States that was covered with colored lines. The lines were the family trees of all known people with HNPCC, all going back to one man who immigrated to the US from Hesse, Germany in the mid-1700s. Five percent of all colon cancer cases are due to HNPCC, and it all goes back to this one guy. So, if your family is an HNPCC carrier (of if you’ve never been tested but have a strong family history of colon cancer that tends to have its onset when people are in their 40s), then we’re related!
Children of carriers have a 50/50 chance of inheriting the mutation. I was tested back in 2004, when I was pregnant with my first child. Before they would give me the results, they wanted me to talk to a counselor who would help me process the news either way. (I wasn’t upset about it, but that may be because I’m an only child: evidently there can be a lot of anguish if, say, one sibling finds that she does not have it, when her brother does.) I’ll never forget the day they called me with the results. I’d been taking a nap and the phone woke me up. I saw that it was the researcher’s number. I braced myself when I answered, knowing that what she was about to say would change my life. She skipped any kind of greeting and got right to the point: “You don’t have it,” she said. I exhaled and felt overwhelmed with relief that I had just won the biggest coin flip of my life.
There is only one thing in my life that I can’t really talk or write about in detail because it was so traumatic, and that’s the year I spent at a bad junior high in Littleton, Colorado. It was a dangerously overcrowded school where most of the teachers had mentally checked out due to their own bad circumstances, and a Lord of the Flies environment had taken over. (Half of the kids at that school went to a high school called Chatfield, the other went to one called Columbine.) We moved around a lot when I was growing up, and I attended eight different schools in a variety of places across the country in my K-12 education, so I’m pretty familiar with what normal kid teasing and bullying looks like. What I saw in Littleton was something else. The actions I witnessed, and sometimes experienced firsthand, were fueled by a kind of cruel heartlessness that could only be described as demonic. When I saw that viral video of the kids harassing the elderly bus monitor, I was saddened but not shocked. There wasn’t a week that went by at that school in Littleton that I didn’t see (or end up on the receiving end of) something like that. To say that that was a formative experience for me is an understatement; it very much impacts the person I am today.
4: 10,000 HOURS
As I mentioned above, we moved around a lot when I was growing up. As an awkward, nerdy only child, it usually took me a long time to meet people at new schools. I’m an introvert and had a good relationship with my parents, so it didn’t bother me too much that I would sometimes go months and months without a single friend (other than sitting alone at the lunch table so much — man, that never stopped being weird).
The most significant thing that came of it, however, was that it launched my love of writing. This was just after word processor computer programs had come on the scene, and so I would pour my energy into writing essays, novels, and even little plays. During summers and weekends, I would sometimes spend six, eight, or even 10 hours a day writing. When I encountered Malcolm Gladwell’s famous “10,000 hours” rule, I was amazed to realize that I had easily done 10,000 hours of writing in my life. I think that makes me proof that having that much experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be a genius at the top of your field; some of us need 10,000 hours of practice in order to be minimally competent.
I was baptized Catholic as a baby. I had no religious upbringing after that (so much so that once when someone responded to me with the rhetorical question, “Is the Pope Catholic?” I had to ask, “Wait, is the Pope Catholic?”), but I am convinced that the grace of my baptism played a large role in helping me find my way home. I wrote more about that here.
* * * * *
Well, that’s a lot about me. Now let me ask you something:
Typing up #3 made me realize that that was the most formative experience of my life outside of my religious conversion, in that it was an experience that has led to significant and long-lasting changes in who I am as a person and how I relate to the world (mostly in a good way). So my question for you is:
What was the most formative experience of your life?
A couple of weeks ago, a beautiful quilt arrived in the mail. And this wasn’t just any quilt: it was a prayer quilt, handmade by a group of ladies who specifically prayed for me while they were created it. Look at how beautiful it is:
The attached label said it was from the prayer quilt ministry at an Episcopal Church in Arizona. I wanted to assure the lady who sent it that I had received it and tell her how wonderful I thought it was, so I went to grab the card it came with to get her contact info. Only it wasn’t where I left it. I was sure I put it on the ledge by the back door. In fact, I had a hazy but firm memory of reading excerpts from the note to Joe, and remarking, “Oh, this just makes me want to — GET DOWN!” when I saw the baby standing in the middle of the kitchen table, holding a Rice Crispies box sideways. I am certain that I tossed the note onto the ledge in that blur of a moment when I lunged toward my child in an attempt to rescue both her and the soon-to-be-emptied cereal box (I succeeded in one of the two). Alas, the card has not been seen since then.
Anyway, in case any of the prayer quilt ladies check in on my blog, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank them for their kind gift. I also thought this would be as good of an opportunity as any to do one of those “day in the life” schedule posts that bloggers like Ana, Dwija, Elizabeth and Grace have have been doing lately.
I love these kinds of posts. LOVE. Maybe it’s the anthropologist in me, but I find that getting an hour-by-hour glimpse into someone else’s day reveals volumes about their lives (which is why I ask readers to talk about their schedules when they introduce themselves).
So I offer my own schedule below, as it may be interesting/revealing/helpful to fellow armchair anthropologists, other moms, people who must read inane blog posts as part of lost bets, criminals subject to punishment by extreme boredom, and anyone who, like the quilt ladies, may have tried to contact me and wondered why they didn’t hear back.
What follows is my best effort to recreate the events of the day that I received the quilt:
~ MORNING ~
8:00 AM: Wake up. Realize I should have gotten up at 7:30. Remember that that occurred to me the night before, but that I simply could not bring myself to set my alarm for that hour.
8:01 AM: Calculate number of times I had to get up to go to the bathroom night before, stew about how much precious sleep time this cost me. Feel certain that some pregnant woman somewhere has put a stop to this nonsense with a large package of Depends. Think that I totally respect that decision.
8:02 AM: Check email on my tablet. In the middle of a snarky reply to a friend, remember that I promised myself I’d do morning prayer first. Discard email and speed read Lauds from the Divine Office app while still in bed. Recite the Canticle of Zechariah like it’s one three-hundred-syllable word. Remind God to look at what’s in my heart and not the quality of my prayers.
8:10 – 9:00 AM: Get the two preschoolers up; get them breakfast; try not to think of how very far away this food is from the food I would like to be serving my children for breakfast; wonder, in fact, if this processed substance even qualifies as “food”; marvel at how long it takes children to eat; throw together the two girls’ lunches (quesadillas, mildly wrinkly cherry tomatoes, and strawberry apple sauce, a.k.a. the Mommy Hasn’t Been to the Store in a While Special).
9:00 AM: My dad arrives to shuttle the two girls to the parish preschool. Thank God for having such an awesome dad. Remember that back before my health problems I always took the girls to school myself, which meant that I had to get all five kids up, dressed, fed, and out the door on time. Shiver at the horror of such memories.
9:01 AM: Make a cup of coffee. Add lots of heavy cream. Assure myself that today I SHALL treat myself to two cups.
9:10 AM: Go upstairs, get dressed, sit on bed to give myself my morning shot of Lovenox. Pick the box of needles up off the floor, realize it’s probably the most expensive thing I own.
9:11 AM: Spend a ridiculously long time trying to find a good injection spot — not the easiest task in the world when you’re eight months pregnant and giving yourself a shot in the stomach. Just when I’m finally about to do it, hear baby cry in next room. Set shot aside, go get baby.
9:15 AM: Holler at my two oldest (ages six and eight) to wake up. Try to put shirt on my
insane spirited 20-month-old but she yanks it out of my hand and flings it across the room. I see that she is trying to engage me in a battle of wills. She wins. Take shirtless baby downstairs for breakfast.
9:20 AM: Gasp for a while after carrying baby down the stairs. Wonder if it’s because of pulmonary emboli, anemia, pregnancy, or generally being out of shape. Try to boost my energy with another cup of coffee. Have one sip, feel instantly nauseated. Realize that, once again, my body has shut off some sort of coffee intake valve. Calculate number of minutes until the end of this pregnancy.
9:50 AM: Supervise the kids’ foraging for breakfast food, tell the big kids to keep an eye on the baby, go upstairs to get this shot out of the way.
9:51 AM: Just as the needle approaches my skin, a knock at the door. Set shot aside again, run downstairs, see that it’s a package. Open package to see a beautiful prayer quilt. Open the enclosed note. Before I can read it, see the baby run into the living room with her bowl of cottage cheese. Wish that she had not just dropped it on the shag area rug. Wish that she had also not just stepped in it.
10:00 – 11:45 AM: After an “A for Effort” cleanup of the cottage cheese (which the carpet beetles undoubtedly appreciated), do homeschool lessons with the two older kids. Try not to mentally calculate how long it’s going to take us to clean up what the baby has destroyed during this time.
11:45 AM: Set the big kids up with their independent school work (worksheets, reading, etc.) Put baby down for nap. Try again to give myself shot. Half way through process, hear shouting that involves the word “BUTT!” coming from the supposed-to-be-working kids downstairs. Can’t yell threats at them because baby is trying to sleep in next room. Rush through shot, inject medicine too fast, feel like I’ve been bitten in the stomach by a snake.
11:50 AM – 12:00 PM: Grabbing stomach in pain, I get kids back on track, then go to read the note from the quilt ladies. Just as I reach for the card, the phone rings. It’s Yaya. She is furious, demanding to know why she can’t click on the box after she mashes the button where you type the word. After a few minutes of tech support she can open her email again, and we chat about neighborhood intrigue.
12:00 PM: Stomach still throbbing from shot. Calculate number of minutes until the end of this pregnancy.
~ AFTERNOON ~
12:30 PM: With the baby down for nap, the six-year-old and eight-year-old doing school work, and the toddlers at preschool for another hour, I have some time to get a few things done. Sit down in front of my computer in a confident and purposeful manner, some important thing I needed to do firmly in my mind. After the third time I have to yell out into the living room that “THAT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE SCHOOL WORK TO ME,” I’ve forgotten what I sat down to do. End up listlessly replying to a few emails.
1:20 PM: With 10 minutes to go until the two girls are home from preschool, remember that I have a post due for NCR tomorrow. Thaaaat’s what I sat down to do. Frantically dash out a rough outline with my remaining time.
1:30 PM: Preschool kids home. Thank dad profusely for his chauffeur services. See note from quilt ladies on counter, but the toddlers are tired, and the big kids need me to look over their work before we can declare school over for the day. One of the little kids has begun scribbling over the six-year-old’s spelling worksheet; six-year-old reacts as if these scribbles had been placed upon an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. After trying to simultaneously break up that fight while grading worksheets, have forgotten about card again.
1:35 PM: Kids expressing desire for food. Rioting breaks out in pantry. Oh, that’s right, lunch! Somehow I always forget about this meal. The prospect of making real food that all five of the children will eat overwhelms me. Scatter some cheese sticks and crackers on the table, dump out the fruit basket, tell the kids to go crazy. Snicker that even though half of this stuff is processed and full of dyes and preservatives, I can count it as a “paleo” meal for the ambiance alone.
2:00 PM: Beginning to feel profoundly exhausted. Muscles ache with a weird, lack-of-oxygen kind of feeling. Daily bout of painful nausea coming on. Eat something. As always, food makes nausea worse. Wonder how I’m going to survive the day. Calculate number of minutes until the end of this pregnancy.
2:30 PM: Babysitter arrives, which reminds me that I have an appointment with my obstetrician. Startle older kids by telling them to get their shoes on NOW-NOW-NOW because we have to leave in three minutes. Run around frantically looking for my purse, a sweater, and my tablet as the kids ask in vain where we’re going.
2:33 PM: Drop two of the kids off at Yaya’s (since all five is way too much for any mortal babysitter to handle), rush to OB’s office.
2:45 – 3:45 PM: See OB (the high-risk specialist I’ve been seeing for years, not Dr. K whom you met in Minor Revisions). Visit is nice, though the contraception / NFP issue is becoming an increasing source of tension as this epic pregnancy nears the end. We’ve been dancing around the details, but I have the sneaking suspicion that at least one of my doctors’ heads may explode when the cards are all on the table. Once again, I boldly defend my principles by…making a few vague statements and asking if we can talk about it at the next appointment. Leave office feeling stressed.
4:00 PM: Pick up kids from Yaya’s. Go back to house. Walk in door, behold noise and chaos, wonder how I ever do this. Nausea and shot-in-gut feeling now getting severe. Tell babysitter through exhausted gasps to holler if she needs anything, drag myself upstairs, flop onto bed, and stare at the ceiling while thinking about what to write for my NCR post. Calculate number of minutes until the end of this pregnancy.
5:00 PM: Babysitter needs to go home. Lie on bed, unable to move. Am reminded of that Jerry Springer episode where the guy was so heavy that they had to tear down a wall and back an ambulance basically up to his bed to get him out. Think that might need to happen here. Realize I’m on the second floor. Try to imagine the extensive system of ropes and pulleys that would be required to hoist me downstairs.
5:00 – 6:00 PM: Eventually drag myself to the living room to say goodbye to babysitter, resist urge to stand in front of the door and forbid her to leave. Some kids go outside to play, some watch Netflix. I hope that this means that I can zone out and/or work on my NCR post. I am wrong. Every fives minutes I have to jump up and stop the baby from destroying something and/or pulling someone’s hair. Every time I feel a little closer to death.
~ EVENING ~
6:00 – 6:30 PM: The kids do their evening checklist of chores, which includes picking up toys, sweeping, and vacuuming, with only minimal yelling involved. I clean the kitchen (read: finally put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher). House looks great. Think of how amazed Joe will be when he sees how tidy everything is.
6:30 – 6:45 PM: Start dinner (a frozen meal brought by a friend), rummage through the pantry for a side dish. Have to sit down three times to rest and catch my breath.
6:45 PM: Go back to the living room, see that the baby has dumped out a box of toys, removed most of the books from the kids’ bookshelf and thrown them around the room, and scattered the carefully-organized shoes from the shoe rack. Before all-consuming rage takes over, have a brief flicker of awe that she could undo half an hour’s worth of work in just a few minutes. Call Joe, leave an impassioned voicemail that begins with “I DON’T KNOW WHY I EVEN TRY,” and ends with a solemn promise that I am “never, ever even attempting to clean this house again” and a suggestion that maybe I should legally change my name to Sisyphus.
7:00 PM: Joe home. After I’m done seething, show him the beautiful blanket. Remember the card, go to read it. The kind words bless me so much, and I say to Joe, “Oh, this just makes me want to — GET DOWN!” Baby is standing in center of kitchen table with a box of Rice Crispies. Throw card in the general direction of the ledge, grab baby, but not before she dumps the contents of the box onto the table. Look from the pile of cereal to Joe, confident that this vindicates my dramatic voicemail.
7:00 – 8:30 PM: Clean up mess on table. Eat dinner mostly standing up, as Joe and I have to play waiter since someone seems to need something every two minutes. Send big kids to shower, give little kids bath. Getting to pick the bath water color with these dye tablets is the highlight of the evening for the three-year-old…though it’s a little weird when she picks yellow.
8:45 PM: Three little kids in bed. Big kids want to watch a show, but house is so small that they’ll wake the little ones if they watch it on the main TV. Send them to the pantry/laundry room with my tablet to watch Netflix on it, since that’s the only downstairs room that’s away from the bedrooms and has a door they can shut. Realize that the pantry has become a sort of rec room. Wonder if that’s a sad statement of the overcrowding in our house or a Pinterest-worthy example of efficient use of space.
9:00 – 10:00 PM: Joe cleans kitchen by himself while I give myself my evening Lovenox shot, then we head to the living room to hang out. When we realize that we’re both watching an episode of Barney that was left on from earlier, we give up the charade of having quality time together and call the night a loss. Joe goes to bed and I get back to my NCR post.
~ NIGHT ~
10:00 PM: Send the big kids to bed. Finally get to work on post. As usual, being able to write effects me like Valium or a good glass of wine. Am so, so, so thankful for blogging, as blog posts are the one thing in my life that I can create that will not subsequently be destroyed by the kids five minutes later.
10:10 – 11:00 PM: Big kids come downstairs approximately 9,887 times while I’m trying to finish my post. At some point they remind me that we never did night prayers. I close my laptop and do my best impression of a spiritually mature mother who is delighted to have her long-awaited and desperately-needed down time interrupted so that she can send up prayers to the Lord with her precious children.
11:00 PM – 12:00 AM: [Fall into a time warp where this hour mysteriously disappears.]
12:00 AM: Schedule NCR post to run. Look at the clock and am shocked to see that it’s midnight. Admonish myself to get to bed immediately. Remind myself that this is serious: I really need as much sleep as I can get. No joke. Really. I must get in bed and turn out the lights this instant.
12:00 – 1:15 AM: Read blogs on my tablet.
1:20 AM: Just before I drift off, think of those wonderful ladies who took the time to make the prayer quilt for me. Remind myself to thank them. Realize with an ominous feeling that, just before I went to bed, I did not recall seeing their card on the ledge where I thought I left it.
* * *
There you have it! For those of you who have not fallen asleep or committed seppuku, you now have all the details into a typical day around here.
So thank you to the ladies who made that beautiful quilt for me, as well as all the others who have sent me kind emails, letters, and gifts. It blesses me more than you know, even if I am often so overwhelmed by the craziness of daily life that I’m terrible at expressing it.
WOW have I been reading a lot of blogs lately. My Google Reader list almost doubled after reading through all your recommendations. Combine that with my awesome tablet and newfound free time for reading, and I’ve been a blog-post-consuming machine these days.
I don’t know whether this is a curse or a blessing, but my web marketing and development background means that it’s impossible for me to read blogs without at least a little bit of analysis. I look up how many readers the author has, think about how that compares to the readership of other, similar writers, and notice which posts seem to get the most traffic among his or her readership. I also follow a handful of mega-bloggers (folks who have millions of pageviews per month); not all of their writing is to my taste, but I read them out of curiosity to observe what it is they do that seems to touch a nerve with such vast numbers of people.
I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, and in that time I’ve accumulated a lot of data. And for a long time I thought that it was mostly useless, because there simply didn’t seem to be any clear set of rules that would apply to all top-notch blogs. For every tip that was commonly accepted as a best practice, there were plenty of blogs that had great readership yet did the opposite. “Include lots of pictures,” “have a good design,” “write concisely,” “do numbered list posts,” were all good ideas, yet didn’t seem to be implemented consistently among blogs that actually gained traction.
Even the disreputable traffic-baiting techniques didn’t seem to work all that well. I’ve heard the lament that it’s impossible to have a widely read blog unless you trash other people or share graphic details about your intimate life or swear like a pirate or pen divisive political tirades, yet (to my relief) that’s not what I found when I looked at the data. Folks like the Pioneer Woman, Leo Babauta, Design Mom, Glennon Melton, and Sarah Mae all built sites that attract tens of thousands of loyal readers without resorting to any of those tactics.
So for years I just shrugged my shoulders, the analyst in me annoyed and perplexed that I could not seem to find a single thing that all the big personal bloggers had in common.
And then, on this latest reading kick, something finally clicked. It’s embarrassing how excited I was when I realized that I actually did see one — and only one — thing that every single person with a widely read personal blog has in common. It’s something the Glamourai and BooMama, Donald Miller and Alice Bradley, Michael Hyatt and Kelle Hampton share. Yes, even Ann Voskamp and the Bloggess have it in common. And it’s this:
They are all wholly, unapologetically themselves.
Kelle Hampton, for example, is passionate about taking pictures to share the beauty in her daily life. So is Ann Voskamp. And you can tell from the energy that exudes from the pages of their blogs that they don’t post these photos because they read in some tips list that it’s good for traffic; it’s the natural outpouring of a genuine, white-hot passion in this area.
I’m guessing that BooMama doesn’t write her laugh-out-loud funny posts because she read somewhere that quirky Southern humor helps build a readership, just like Donald Miller probably didn’t decide to focus on spiritually-based life improvement tips due to a market potential analysis. Instead, they were both honest about what they most enjoy writing, and followed where their energy naturally flowed.
Some people are very open and just can’t hold back on all the details of their personal lives; others are more formal and reserved. Some absolutely love creating beauty and couldn’t imagine a blog that wasn’t filled with big, beautiful pictures and a lovely design; others would be happy with a bare bones style where the beauty is in the words alone. Some people feel most passionate when they can write long, wandering posts that release all their thoughts on a subject; others naturally lean towards sharing their ideas quickly and concisely. Some find that they’re never more in the zone than when they express themselves through visuals; others prefer words alone. Some have lifestyles that allow them to update frequently and predictably; others don’t — and their readers still love them.
It doesn’t matter which category you fall into, or whether your own passions are in line with what the experts say you need to do to have a big blog. The only thing that’s really important is that you know who you are, what you love, and which unique charisms God has give you, and you express that on the page.
This idea is summed up beautifully in one of my favorite quotes, from Howard Thurman:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Especially in this disconnected society where there’s so much loneliness, I think that we all naturally gravitate toward people who strike us as deeply human. In the age of digital living and on-screen personas, we’re desperate for that unmistakable sense of connectedness you can only find when you’re around people who are honest with you about who they are. We’ll even listen to the ideas of someone whom we otherwise wouldn’t agree with, just to be in the presence of a person who is passionately comfortable in her own skin.
And so, if I were to write a “tips for bloggers” list based on my 10 years of analysis and as many years of having my own blogs, I think it would only have one item on it. I would simply say:
BE YOURSELF. Be wholly, unapologetically yourself.
This doesn’t mean rationalizing bad behavior or navel gazing or wallowing in self-indulgence; instead, it means digging deep to find that unique combination of interests and talents that only you can offer the world, and sharing them with as much energy as you can muster. To paraphrase St. Catherine of Siena, be who God meant for you to be, and you’ll set the blog world on fire.