Mothers, Mothers

To be honest, Mother’s Day makes me feel kind of embarrassed. Living in Utah where having large families is common, I sometimes wonder if, with my one child, I have the street cred that the moms around me do.  Yes, we’ve had some unique challenges with Kisan, but overall he’s a well-mannered and affectionate baby. What about the moms I know who have three, four, five, even eight (yes, eight) children? How do my experiences compare with theirs, and how can I possibly merit the same recognition today that they do?

Sure, being a mom has been challenging.  There have been days I’ve been so glad to leave Kisan with the sitter, while I work for a few hours. Or I’ve counted the minutes till nap time.  But you know what?  I always love it when he can be with me again. Funny how even a few hours away from your baby can make you miss him so much. And he is always so, so happy to see me. That unconditional love is like a drug. You can’t help but want to be around your baby when he shows you that much affection and love.

But I get the feeling that, with more kids, your free time shrinks. You don’t get the chance to miss your kids, because they’re always around. As your kids get older, they don’t love you quite as unconditionally.  Sometimes they might think they hate you. If you’re a mom of multiples, there’s so many demands on your time, so many needs to meet, you don’t have any time for yourself. And yet, through it all, you keep giving of your time and  yourself—through sleepless nights, frustration, and sickness—because that’s what moms do.

See, I’m still at the early stages of parenting, when my husband can really help share the load.  If I’m tired or sick, I can take long naps on the weekends (and sometimes during the week).  If I ever get too frustrated, I can bundle my little guy into the car and take him somewhere, because you can do that with just one kid. And since Kisan still naps, I have up to two hours of free time during the day to work on projects, or to rest.  Life has gotten harder since becoming a mom, but it’s still pretty good. I admire you moms who have taken the plunge and had larger families. My friends all seem to do it so well.

My college friends and their adorable families.
My college friends and their adorable children.  We’ve since added more to the bunch!

Having a kid seems like a very irreversible step to me; and I’d hate to get to the point where I have four or five kids and realize, “Holy crap! I can’t handle this!” What if they don’t feel loved and don’t feel important? What if I can’t be a good mom to them, and my kids then hate me forever? (This is the scenario that plays out in my head. Just planning for all contingencies).

You moms—particularly stay-at-home moms—what an immense responsibility you have. You’re the first person who teaches your children to love. Who helps them feel a sense of self-worth. You’re the first line of defense against a sometimes all-too-cruel world, full of bullies and peer pressure and negative media. You make them feel special, simply because they’re your child. That is a huge role to fill, and one I’m only just learning about.

If you have a good partnership, your husband will also rear and influence your children. But since moms are often the full-time caretakers of your children, you’re the ones with the most influence. You’re the ones who internalize every disappointment or hurt your child experiences. Multiply that times however many children you have; it’s no wonder the world feels like they need to honor you, for a day at least.

So, to all my friends and family out there, Happy Mother’s Day.  I hope you’re managing motherhood as well as I think you are. Maybe in a few years I’ll have earned a place beside you.

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Being Pregnant Sucks—But it Beats the Alternative

My first pregnancy was wonderful.  Truly.  Jang & I had been married a year.  I was an avid runner and worked full-time at a local law firm.  Throughout the entire nine months, I kept busy, active and fit.  Sure, I experienced the odd bout of nausea, but it was manageable.  The nausea was only proof to me that I was “really” pregnant.  To be honest, I felt a little bit like this:

pregnancy unicorn
“Gaw, she’s like a magical pregnancy unicorn.”

Now I’m pregnant for a second time.  When I got pregnant, my husband and I had been married four years. I was an avid runner, and somehow balanced work with taking care of a very active toddler.  I kept active and fit.

But oh, how this pregnancy has changed things.

I haven’t been active in months—nausea, weakness and headaches have kept me homebound.  I’m lucky if I can manage a few hours at work every week.  Morning sickness?  I wish.  All too often, I have to stick close to the comforting closeness of my toilet—for the entire day.

If I had to put it into picture form, this pregnancy would look something like this:

"Pregnancy sucks. Making a human being is really hard."
“Pregnancy sucks. Making a human being is really hard.”

This time, I can wholeheartedly say that pregnancy sucks.  It’s really, really hard growing a human being.

There have been many times these past few months when I’d sit and think, “How long can I keep this up?”  And at those moments of depression, vomiting and woe, I have this thought:

It could be worse.  I could not be pregnant at all.

For anyone who’s ever struggled with becoming pregnant, only you will truly understand how terrifying this thought can be.  Jang and I tried for a year to get pregnant this time.  To some, that may seem like a laughably short amount of time; but it seemed so long to us.

All last year, serious health problems kept me from being able to conceive. Sometimes, I’d be in bed the entire day with fever, headaches and nausea (a good primer for pregnancy, but still very discouraging).  And every time I’d get a little better, and we’d start “trying again”, I’d relapse, and our plans would get put on hold for months while my doctors tried yet another course of treatment.  It was frustrating, disheartening, and stressful.

For much of the year, I didn’t tell a soul about our struggles.  It was too private and personal to share; especially in a community that considers gossip to be good Christian behavior.  I just didn’t want to be one more topic of discussion for them.

Because no one knew about our struggle, during this time several people in our local congregation would often ask me, “Isn’t it time for another one?” “When do you think you’ll try for another one?” Or, the most blatant comment, “It looks like Kisan wants a brother.”  Most of the time, I’d just smile and make up some excuse.  I couldn’t get mad at them—although the comments were impertinent, they weren’t meant to be hurtful.  But privately, with Jang, I would vent my frustration at their thoughtless words.

And knowing that people really were watching me and wondering at my infant-less state only added to the pressure I already felt to conceive.

Finally, at the beginning of this year, I’d been well enough that Jang and I thought it might be time to try again.  I didn’t want to get my hopes up; I already had so many times.  Imagine, then, how we felt when we found out I was pregnant.  We were happy, excited…but most of all, we were relieved.  It had been a very, very had year for us.

So now I’m pregnant, and it’s been a wretched experience at times.  That’s not to say there isn’t a glimmer of light—recently, the nausea has gotten a lot better.  I’m starting to get back into a regular work schedule.  I even manage to drag myself out of the house for outings with my son.  I’m starting to feel like myself again—rounder, more tired, but essentially me.

I still get pretty ill sometimes.  But during these times, I always remind myself, “It could be worse.  I could still be trying.  I could still be uncertain. This is better.”

To anyone who’s trudging along the long, disheartening road of preconception, I can only say this:  It sucks. Trying to get pregnant is really, really hard.

I only wish I’d found something last year to help me feel more optimism. Please, if you’re struggling to conceive, find something that gives you that hope.  And then write me and tell me what that is.  Because even though pregnancy is hard, I’m pretty sure I’ll try for another.  And Lord help me when I do.

What I Want in my Easter Basket

Like any good American, I celebrate the commercialized Easter with gusto.  With a toddler in the house, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to organize egg hunts, fill Easter baskets, decorate eggs, and dress my offspring in theperfect—Easter—outfit. Growing up, I remember Easter mornings we’d rush eagerly downstairs, finding our baskets packed to the brim with treats and presents.  As I look for gifts and egg fillers for my little man, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for my childhood Easters.

Then I saw all the religious posts on Facebook, reminding me of the seriousness of Easter and killing my holiday buzz—thanks folks.  They reminded me that I’d become distracted from Easter’s true purpose—remembering Christ.  The baskets and egg hunts have nothing to do with the real Easter, they chastised me. And as I clicked on the videos of His Atonement, crucifixion and Resurrection, I couldn’t help but feel like all my Easter gifts paled in comparison to His.

Easter Sign

So, with my irreligious holiday exuberance tapered, I started to think about my Easter basket (my figurative one, of course—no one makes an Easter basket for moms).  What gift would I really like to find in my basket on Easter morning?  Once I gave it serious thought, I quickly found my answer—it was Christ.  I want Christ’s compassion and love in my Easter basket this Sunday.

I thought about His immense capacity to love and to forgive.  The ability to forgive and to love is hard for me, in part because I had a difficult childhood.  In fact, it’s very hard for me to forgive the people who hurt me as a child.  Their thoughtless, cruel actions have left scars; these scars pain me and affect me to this day.  Is it even possible for me to put forgiveness for these people in my basket?

But see, the wonderful thing about a holiday that focuses on Christ, is you get to think about Christ, and what He would do.  And I clearly remember that He forgave.  He forgave over and over again.  Even when he was being tortured and crucified, He asked his Father to forgive the same people who were committing these horrible acts.  I haven’t undergone even a fraction of the pain the Savior suffered.  What excuse do I have to withhold my forgiveness?

This thought inspired me; and, as I reflected on my past, I was surprised to realize that I’ve already forgiven so much of what happened to me.  This doesn’t mean my past doesn’t still affect my life today. One uplifting experience can’t heal a lifetime of resentment.  But even though it will take time to achieve full forgiveness, this Easter holiday, I’m hopeful.  If I try to fill my basket with forgiveness, perhaps, just perhaps, Christ can help me actually feel it in my heart.

Christ Forgiveness

 

How Losing My Sister Changed My Faith

I’m a fervent believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I sometimes post on controversial issues (on Facebook or otherwise), and because of this people often question my beliefs.  It’s a fair question, if you only interact with me in the virtual world.  But I have a deep religious faith.  Because I want you to understand the sincerity of my beliefs, I’ll share a story that, while difficult for me to recount, helped define my life and testimony.

In 2006, I went to serve as a missionary for the LDS Church in Arequipa, Peru.  I entered the Arequipa mission with all the optimism and joy of a newly called missionary.  The mission was a prosperous one, as far as gaining converts was concerned.  My companions and I had no shortage of people to speak to, and we taught several missionary lessons daily.  Seeing large numbers of inactive members, we visited them often, and soon our small branches started to grow.  After six months, I had gained enough experience to become a senior companion.

Tacna, Peru, 2006.
Tacna, Peru, 2006.

The brightness of these early days soon dimmed, however, with alarming news from home.  In October 2006, my mom wrote that my sister, Jennifer, was experiencing some severe pain in her hip.  Soon, the doctors came back with a terrifying diagnosis.  Jen had soft tissue sarcoma.  I cried when I heard, and immediately started fasting for her.

It wasn’t long before my sister and mom had scheduled a barrage of tests and arranged a treatment plan for Jennifer.  Surprisingly, I was able to still focus on proselyting and find joy in the work.  I remember sincerely feeling that, if I worked hard, God would bless my family and maybe, just maybe, Jen’s cancer would go into remission.

Jennifer had surgery to remove her tumor in December 2006—but the cancer had invaded the bone too deeply, and the doctors also had to remove her leg.  When I spoke with her on Christmas Day 2006, she seemed well, although I’ve since learned from my family the time after her surgery was immensely painful for her.

Then, on February 14, 2007, I received a brief phone call, summoning me see to the Mission President in Arequipa.  I was in Puno, high in the Andean mountains.  My companion and I took the six-hour bus ride to Arequipa and I was ushered into the President’s office.  He quietly told me my parents had called with bad news about my sister; then he left me alone to call them.  Moments later, I listened to my mom say, in a trembling voice, that Jennifer’s cancer was terminal.  She had little time left, a month at most.  I started to cry, and I’m crying writing this now.

Later I learned Jennifer had asked my parents to hide from me the seriousness of her cancer.  Up to that point, I had hoped that she would still beat the disease somehow, that I would be able to see her when I got home from my mission.  I just remember my mom kept repeating, “It’s all right, it’s all right, she’s suffering so much anyway, I’d prefer she go.”

I immediately asked my parents when I could come home to see her.  Their response shocked me—“Don’t come home.”  Jen wanted me to stay in the mission, they explained, and I had to stay in the mission I’d been called to.  I still don’t think any of them knew what they were asking of me.

After hanging up, I called Jen.  She was medicated and couldn’t speak much. I mostly remember telling her, over and over, that I loved her.

Of course, I started fasting for Jen the next day.  After a lot of prayer, I asked the President if I could visit Jen, before she passed. I had also made a very difficult decision—if Pres. Galli’s answer was “no”, then I would stay in the mission God had called me to.  I knew I was supposed to be there, helping some very unique individuals to come to Christ.  President Galli’s response was direct:  if I visited home, I would have to stay there, and I may or may not be reassigned to a stateside mission.  It was exactly the answer I didn’t want.  But I had received a confirmation from God that I was to stay in Peru and finish my mission there. 

Pres. Galli also gave me permission to call Jennifer and my parents when I wished; but every time I called Jen after February 15, our conversations were always short.  She became progressively less coherent over time.

That period was so difficult.  Although I didn’t waver in my decision, I frequently worried about my sister and family.  Saying this, I do know that as many times as I felt grief, I also felt spiritually quieted.  Constant prayer and a priesthood blessing brought me moments of peace and consolation.  The Spirit reconfirmed my decision to stay in the mission more than once, and although I could not feel true joy, I found solace in my work as a missionary.

On March 10, 2007, Jennifer died.  Both her husband and my mother were by her side.  It hurt all of us, so much.  But it was a small comfort to know she was no longer in pain.  Because she had served in the military in Iraq, many of her fellow soldiers attended her funeral—”a sea of green” in the crowd, my parents later told me with pride.

I had some hard times after Jen’s death.  But I, and my companions, continued to teach, and some of these people were baptized.  I grieved, but I also felt a strong desire to focus on my mission. I think I wanted to make our sacrifices (both Jen’s and mine) count.  Many times, I reflected on the Plan of Salvation.  I was so grateful for my firm belief in the Plan, and its core principle—that families can be united forever in heaven.  What an amazing doctrine!  When Jennifer died, I knelt down and thanked God for this Plan, and that we could be together again.

While I don’t know why these struggles came to us,  I do know this experience profoundly shaped my belief in an all-knowing Heavenly Father.  During this time, I came to know and love Him as He comforted me time and again. His guidance helped me develop a deep and abiding faith in His Gospel, the Plan of Salvation, and personal revelation.  By the end of my mission, I had changed into someone who held these beliefs close to my heart. They’re an indivisible part of me—knowledge I’ve bought with pain, and loss, and sacrifice.

Jennifer Ball Cooper, my sister
Jennifer Ball Cooper, my sister.