So today I am 33 weeks pregnant, and according to the experts the little baby girl inside me is about the size of a pineapple!
A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a couple of friends, one of which is also pregnant. We were discussing the difference between having a baby boy or a baby girl. The three of us all fervently agreed that it seemed much more daunting to have a little girl…. So much more to worry about, and think about! And the thought that I keep coming back to is: What happens if she grows up to be just like me??!!! Oh good gracious!!
And as recent weeks have passed, I have been pondering one question over and over. The knowledge that a baby girl is being formed in my womb, soon to be a little girl, guided and shaped into a young lady, and one day a woman, is a responsibility I cannot take lightly. As the mother of the life I am about to bring into this world, and as the woman who will be a role model to this precious child, I cannot shake the question: What does it mean to be a woman? And what does it mean to raise a little girl to become one??
I have thought back at the journey I took, remembering people, events and choices that steered the path I forged into my own womanhood. I remember books I read as a child and heroines I heralded, I remember words of those close to me that marinated over my young soul, I remember my successes and failures, I remember the questions I carried. And through it all, it was my parents who influenced me the most. They were the ones who showed me the world first, showed me love first, the ones who guided the beliefs in my young heart. They were the ones who spoke the words over me that mattered the most and demonstrated life to me that impacted me the most. Indeed, wasn’t it Mrs March in ‘Little Women’ who spoke life giving words over her daughter Jo when she encouraged her that she should treasure the beauty that lay inside her, rather than her external looks? Wasn’t it Bella’s mother in the recent rendition of ‘Cinderella’ who gave her the very words she lived by: ‘Always be kind and have courage’. Isn’t it the whispers of our parents that create the symphony which echoes loudest in our hearts?
As I grew older, into double figures and my teenage years I remember the beliefs I had formed, the morals I held dear and the colourful world which felt like it pulled me in different directions like a rag doll with a rottweiler. And as I continued into my twenties life became a whirling roller-coaster of blurred experiences, like a hazed circus ride of light and dark. It was through these years I somehow flailed like a streamer in the wind, away from the blueprint of life I had seen my parents live. In many ways, I lost who I was. My mum had always encouraged me with the verse, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4 verse 23) – some translations say that ‘Out of your heart flow the wellsprings of life’. But amidst the music, the walls of my heart came down, and through those years it was my heart that silently broke.
After my divorce at 25 in I began to enter something new, which spanned a number of years. In retrospect, as I look back and follow the meandering journey I took I can see that these years were filled with a variety of approaches I took in tackling the unexpected single life I found myself in, whilst simultaneously wading through the swamplands of my recovery. It was a somewhat confusing time, a muddled contradiction of a whirling blurring day to day life against the backdrop of a blank canvas future. With all my certainties stripped away I examined the pieces of myself which remained. Without certainties to hold it all together I felt like my insides were falling out, I felt naked in the rain, unsure how to clothe myself again. I felt exposed and small. Humiliated and broken. In the spin-dry cycle of grief I found myself piecing my clay frame back together just to fall apart again, shattering once more into broken shards. Each step forward found one backwards and I met myself again and again, asking the same questions, wrestling with the same demons. In short I would look back at those years and say, in many ways they were a crisis. Ironic in some way, as the physical crisis of painful separation and divorce papers had passed. But the crisis within my little world had just begun. It was not a physical crisis anymore but rather a crisis of my soul, a crisis of being stripped back to my core, a crisis which seemed to demand the answer to the question which ached within: ‘Woman: who are you?’
My continued exploration and plight to discover myself, and be happy in the skin I was in, graced me with the privilege of friendship with women I still greatly admire, swept me off my feet to many other countries, and brought me to my knees in prayer and tears countless times. And through it all, it was my very own mother who continued to show me what the strength of a woman looked like, what the grace of a woman looks like, and what it means to be a daughter of God: loved, forgiven, cherished, blessed, redeemed, made whole, celebrated.
Many years and many seasons later and here I am: an imperfect human still on a journey, but I realize I don’t need to strive to be something I am not. But here I am, with all my flaws and all my downfalls. Here I am with all my triumphs and all my beauty. Here I am, as we all are, blessed with hands overflowing with something unique and incredible to offer to this broken world we live in. I was a woman all along, but it took me a long time to love the skin I stand in, and daily I am still learning and relearning.
What does it mean to be a woman? Stasi Eldredge in her co-written book ‘Captivating’, notes that as women we all have a tendency to feel we are not enough, and too much, all at once. We feel we fall short, we fail and we never quite match up. Yet at the same time we feel too burdensome, too needy, to much to handle. And the truth is that this robs us from who we really are: incredible, irreplaceable, beautiful, strong, graceful, lovely, courageous, unique. When we lose sight of the truth of who we are as women, the world is left in lack of a beauty you alone can give. One of my favourite verses in the bible speaks about a woman being like the most beautiful garden you have ever seen. It is the tale of a man speaking to a woman, but it is also about how God sees us, his people: breathtakingly amazing. And this is who we are as women. I am glad I also have a husband who sees this in me too, and helps me to believe it.
So as I prepare to nurture another little woman, I remind myself, I don’t need to be a ‘perfect woman’ to raise her well (indeed I don’t think there is such a thing), I just need to be everything I am and love her well. I know that in truth this is all I can do. Elikem and I will never be able to fully protect her, or guard her own precious heart, but we can trust that as she grows from the tiny bundle we will soon meet, and one day into her own woman, God will never leave her nor forsake her (Deuteronomy 31 verse 6).
I am thankful for every day that passes, for every move she makes inside my womb, for each morning I wake up to feel her wiggling. Because I am well aware of the many babies that never make it as far as this world, those who never meet their mama but instead go straight to be with their Father God. My heart has broken over the tears of my friends as I have heard their aching stories. And I have read the words of pain expressed by women I don’t even know. I am well aware that each day I have with this little life is precious, and I cherish every one.
And because this is also the fragile nature of our short time here on earth, I also vow to continue to cherish every moment I have with my daughter. I vow to continue to be thankful for every moment God graciously gives us. And as I do, I vow to do my best at raising her into womanhood, in spite of all my flaws and in embracing all I am, and all that she will be too: unique, beautiful, amazing… and a daughter not only of human parents, but a daughter of God.