It’s OK to hate pregnancy.

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and it seems like my feelings about pregnancy and the baby change all the time. But this is how I was feeling then:

I’m excited about this baby. Given the title of this post, I should probably get that out of the way right off.

I have prayed for him or her. I can’t wait for the baby to join our family. I’ll revel in that newborn smell, marvel at the baby’s utter perfection and I’ll even find beauty in 4 a.m. feedings.

But the pregnancy itself? Hate is a strong word, so I’ll just say I strongly dislike pregnancy.

And if you’ve ever been pregnant (or Facebook friends with someone who is) you’ll know I’m not alone. We love to complain about pregnancy because, well, there are so many things not to like about it: the aches and pains, the excess gas, the swollen ankles and unattractive body shape. Not to mention being unable to eat sushi, drink wine, or take almost any medication for something as small as a common cold.

I also think how ungrateful it is, to hate (there, I said it) being pregnant. Many women would give anything to be pregnant, and a healthy pregnancy – and baby – is a gift I won’t take for granted.

All the glossy magazines and mommy blogs tell me I’m supposed to love pregnancy. Cherish it. Be grateful for it. But if I’m being honest with myself, those feelings can be difficult to call up.

During my first pregnancy, my twin boys were born prematurely at 28 weeks via emergency c-section. I’ve written in more detail about it here, but the short version is that our son Graham died six days after their birth, from complications of prematurity, and his twin brother Will spent nearly three months in the NICU at Huntsville Hospital before he got to come home. Will saw more specialists that first year than any person should have to see in a lifetime, and the joy my husband and I felt for him was shadowed, always, by worry.

Losing one son and fearing for the life of the other changed us irrevocably. In some ways I changed for the better, and in some ways there was just change.

And somewhere along the way I internalized the idea that pregnancy is a time of fear and worry. Fear sits right above my shoulder, with me every moment, whispering about all the things that could go wrong, all the ways my life could implode at any second.

I suspect these feelings aren’t specific to women who’ve had traumatic birth experiences. From the moment we see the little plus sign on a pregnancy test, we’re taught to worry.

A picture of a blissfully pregnant woman will accompany a news article about how taking aspirin could give your baby ADD, or how eating non-organic vegetables could cause health complications. We’re told all the ways we could mess this up.

Or that it could get messed up for no reason at all.

Confident, glowing pregnant celebrities grace the covers of magazines and we read obsessively about things that don’t matter, like how they’re going to decorate the nursery, or what kind of stroller they’ll choose.

What you rarely see is women talking or writing publicly about the feelings and worries that can accompany any pregnancy, healthy or otherwise. We don’t acknowledge that it’s OK to have fears and worries and doubts about pregnancy, and that it’s OK to talk about them.

Once I finally admitted to myself what I actually feel, I started working through it. Talking helps.

So does letting go of the idea that I can control everything.

I think all of that preparation for a new baby the first time around is partly about control, or to at least give us a feeling of control over something that in reality we have a limited power to manage.

Will & Wyatt

I don’t want to say all of this to scare anyone – especially a fellow pregnant mama. Most pregnancies in our country are healthy and end in healthy births. My second pregnancy was completely smooth sailing and produced a healthy baby – our “rainbow baby.”

I pray for the same with this pregnancy. And still: In the time I’ve been a mother, I’ve met (in person and online) so many women whose pregnancy stories aren’t what they wanted.

While many of us prefer to keep things private, I hope that in the future it gets easier for us to talk openly about the hard things when we need to.

We’re told it’s up to us to have the kind of pregnancy we want. I think once we give up the idea that we can control everything, it gets easier to appreciate the good in pregnancy.

And it gets easier to wait more peacefully and gratefully for the gift at the end of that road.

Weekend reads + some news.

Stories/videos/whatnot from around the web that I enjoyed this week:

1. This is the funniest and most appalling thing I’ve read this week.

These people were elected by someone. They make decisions for my state.

But on the bright side, the reporting and story structure, from a fellow AMG reporter, is brilliant: Things I learned during the Alabama Legislature’s 10 Commandments debate today. By @WarOnDumb.

2. A beautiful blog from Merrimack Hall founder Debra Jenkins about her work with special needs kids in the Huntsville community: Dreaming With Your Feet.

Debra is a force of nature and I knew she was good at a ton of things. I didn’t know she’s also a lovely writer.

3. If you’ve ever been annoyed by cheesy church signs (or like the internet meme), you’ll dig this well-done video (cue the slow claps). Blurred Lines Parody – Church Signs.

4. And speaking of church, if you’re a femenist-y type of Christian like I am, you’ll dig this funny and spot-on post from Rachel Held Evans: If men got the Titus 2 Treatment.

My favorite lines: “Nowhere in Scripture is a man of God described as sitting at a desk in an office building from nine to five.  Nowhere. So men who wish to honor God with their lives and humbly submit to His will should make physical labor their primary occupation, and resist the urge to give in to our culture’s glorification of “white collar” work, which is a departure from biblical principles of masculinity. ”

5. Here’s a helpful read for fellow journalists, shared on FB by fab journalist (and soon-to-be author) Carla Jean Whitley. It’s one of those “I need to bookmark this good stuff” kinds of posts: 10 Tools for Entrepreneurial Journalists.

6. One of the more ridiculous things I’ve written for AL.com in a while, but it got a lot of response on FB and from reader emails, so that kinda justifies it for me: What’s in your purse?. (I was waiting all day for the “this is the stupidest article on AL.com” comments, and felt perversely gratified when one finally came.)

7. Also, I’m pregnant. And on a whim I turned the announcement into a post for AL.com.

Happy weekend, everybody.

 

So I’m not alone in writing procrastination.

I’ve shared the heck out of this on social media, but you’ve got to read this piece on TheAtlantic.com by Megan McArdle: Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators.

If you’re a writer who procrastinates most when it comes to actually writing anything – like me – then you’ll feel like the first half of the article is describing you. (It totally describes me.)

But she takes it further than the lighthearted headline suggests, touching on parenting and the millennial generation, and some makes-you-examine-yourself stuff from a psychologist on “fixed mind-set” versus “growth mind-set.”

I found the story through Ann Friedman‘s newsletter (where else does anyone find great articles online?) but it ended up being one of those pieces I love so much that I have this need to be an ambassador for it.

Charming anecdote: When I was in college, I once wrote a 32-page paper in one night and got an A on it. Another semester, I never finished a single book I had to read for a British literature class and still got an A in the class. These things are kind of awful when you think about them – and about what I missed by procrastinating – and just further’s the “fixed mindset” the author describes.

In defense of Santa. Or, Why Jesus doesn’t kill the fun.

As an adult, every year I struggle with capturing the special-ness of Christmas. I’m going to an Advent Bible study this year, I muse over the meaning of carol lyrics, read my Bible. I try to concentrate on the birth of Jesus because, really – Best. Gift. Ever.

This year it dawned on me that in the (recent) past I’ve tried to (in my mind, at least) not enjoy the *other* (read: secular) parts of Christmas too much – presents, decorations, cheesy music – because I didn’t want to cloud the “reason for the season.” The War-On-Christmas folks have drummed that pretty deeply into my psyche, I guess.

I mean, a real Christian would spend all of December just meditating on the awesome circumstances of and meaning behind Christ’s birth, and talking constantly to her kids about it. Right?

This is a more recent worry for me. When my sister and I were growing up, my parents didn’t (and still don’t) seem to be at all troubled about whether Santa bringing presents at Christmas was going to make us forget our Savior.

Annnnnd it didn’t.

My parents had us at church every time the doors were open, my dad is a deacon and my mom is the longtime church organist. Our faith was a central, immutable part of our upbringing.

And now as adults, my sis and I both have solid relationships with Him. I try to keep Jesus at the center of my life. I don’t always succeed because I’m not perfect, but I know what He’s done for me and I know that I love Him more than anything.

But you know what I also know? That I have fond memories of lying awake way past my bedtime on Christmas Eve, wondering if Santa had come yet. Giggling with my sister at the top of the stairs Christmas morning while my dad got the video camera rolling, and then racing down the stairs to see what Santa brought us.

I treasure those memories, and I’d like for my sons to have similar ones. But it’s paramount to me that they have strong relationships with Jesus as they grow up, and Jeff and I are raising them as best we can to instill that.

And yet I don’t want them to see Jesus as the fun-killer. I don’t want them to see that we don’t get visits from Santa or the Easter Bunny or whatever because those (fictional) characters take away from the true meaning of those holidays.

I don’t mean to say any of this as an attack on people who choose – especially for religious reasons – not to have Santa visit their kids. I know several parents who’ve chosen this; they’re my friends, and they are people I love and respect.

It’s just that I see so much online — mommy blogs, you’re always the culprit — about the faceless “they” who are trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. (ugh, I hate that phrase.) And how if we’re good parents, we won’t let our children be confused and distracted by the big guy in the red suit.

So I wanted to write, as an imperfect but wholehearted Christian, in defense of Santa. In defense of the stuff that shouldn’t matter: twinkle lights and presents and elves (except this one) and reindeer and the North Pole. Maybe you’re thinking those things have enough proponents. And they do, but maybe not in Christian circles. You’re asking: What about the baby, poor and ignored, who was born in a barn?

He is the center. He’s the reason. But he didn’t come to kill all the fun stuff.

Early Christians co-opted pagan holidays in order to bring the Good News to the masses. That probably didn’t go over well with the purists of the time, who probably thought (and rightly so) that Jesus deserved his own holidays uncluttered by secular festivities. But it helped spread the love of Christ.

And isn’t that what we’re all here to do?

This Christmas I’m working on not feeling guilty about enjoying the fluff stuff or about talking excitedly with my boys about Santa. We’re talking about Jesus just as much or more (I hope) than Santa. My 3-year-old sings “Away in a Manger” beautifully. My 17-month-old loves “Up on the House Top.” We’re singing both around our house.

Jeff and I decided to try this year having Santa only bring three presents for each of our sons – to represent the three gifts from the Wise Men. They’ll still get gifts from us and our extended family.

In this case, Santa was the one killing the fun. (Photo by Jeff White Photography)

My boys visited Santa earlier this week. In this case, Santa was the one killing the fun. (Photo by Jeff White Photography)

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, no matter who does (or doesn’t) come to your house.

Missed my calling as an evil dictator.

dr_evil

A couple of years ago, I got the chance to participate in a 9-month leadership program for YPs in my community. It was a very SGA-type atmosphere (you know what I’m talking about) but it was fun, challenging, and I met loads of great people.

At the opening retreat, we all had to take the Myers-Briggs personality test. I scored as an INTJ.

The info they gave us indicated INTJ wasn’t a super-common personality type (like 0.8 percent of all females), so I wasn’t sure whether to feel special or like a big weirdo.

I chose special, naturally.

And then a few weeks ago, someone posted a link on FB about how your MB personality can determine your paycheck.  This is when I discovered that if I were only an extrovert (an ENTJ), I’d be the highest paid of everyone. Sigh.

Then one of the commenters below that shared the Star Wars Myers-Briggs test. I’m not a sci-fi geek but I married one, so I’m familiar with the Star Wars (and Star Trek, for that matter) universe.

I eagerly clicked, thinking I’d be someone awesome, because I was so special and all.

Except I wasn’t. I was….

palpatine

 

Emperor Palpatine.  A.k.a. Darth Sidious. Yeah. The most evil guy on the whole chart. There’s not another baddie on the chart (if you don’t count Darth Vader, who is redeemed eventually, so I don’t) except Palpatine.

Awesome.

I don’t *feel* like an evil dictator, but I guess maybe there are worse things to be. Like Jar Jar Binks.

And again, there it was: If only I were an extrovert (ENTJ) I’d be Princess Leia. Sigh.

So then I found the Harry Potter Myers-Briggs test.

OK. Time for redemption.

I have a deep and abiding love for Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling. Surely I’m at least someone darkly awesome, like maybe Sirius Black?

No.

dm

Draco freaking Malfoy.

I was tweeting with a fellow female INTJ, who sent me this description of INTJs, which is clearly designed to make you feel better about your personality, and I’m guessing the site’s M-B type descriptions are similarly rosy no matter which type you are.

I tried to ignore the post’s photos of notable INTJs – Vladimir Putin (seriously?), and Walter White from Breaking Bad (SERIOUSLY???) – and came across this gem:

 INTJs are often seen as highly intelligent and perplexingly mysterious.

Now there’s a tagline.

“Hi, I’m Anna Claire. I’m highly intelligent and perplexingly mysterious.”

If you see that pop up in my Twitter bio, you’ll know why.

When you sweat the sad stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, I was assigned a story about a 14-year-old girl (I’ll call her D) who had just died of Leukemia. D was a force of nature, one of those incredible people you hear about but rarely get to meet. I never got to meet her, though I knew her name because she was active in a local dance program for developmentally disabled kids and teens.

I interviewed her dance program director just a few days after D died. It was sad, but manageable because the director is a fantastic lady, warm but professional, and someone I’ve interviewed for other articles.

The next day, I interviewed D’s parents.

I thought I’d mentally prepared as much as I could. Their daughter had died four days before, and the funeral would be that weekend. Interviewing grieving parents is something most journalists have to do, and of course it’s never easy but it comes with the job territory.

The director had told me the parents planned to go shop for a burial outfit for D after they met with me. It broke my heart because I remember doing that exact thing a few days after my son Graham died. They were even using the same funeral home we did.

Her parents were lovely people, weighed down with raw grief, who said many beautiful things about their daughter. I tried to stay as professional as I could be, but of course I lost it a couple of times, when they did. Near the end of the interview, I made the decision to share with them that I’d lost a child, too. No grief or situation is the same, of course, but I thought it might help to know there are more of us out there. After Graham died, right after his funeral as we were standing outside the church, the man from the funeral home told Jeff and me that his own son had died a few years previously. I remember at the time I appreciated that empathetic word from a stranger who wasn’t trying to make us feel better, but was just sharing in our grief, a little.

After I left D’s parents, I got into my car and I hadn’t even made it out of their driveway before the tears started. I took the long way back to the office and cried and cried. Mostly it was because of the unfathomable unfairness of parents having to live without their children. I’ve made my peace about Graham’s death. All my faith rests firmly on a powerful, loving God I don’t always understand. But living with loss still sucks.

I had to write the article that day; the page designers were waiting on it, and ended up running it on the front page of the paper that Sunday.

I felt unsatisfied with what I wrote. I kept thinking if I’d stayed more objective and got less emotionally involved, it would have been a better article. If you’re objective, you can look at the story arc and pick the best, most powerful parts without the cloudiness caused by grief or the fear of not giving a dead girl and her parents the story they deserve.

The next week, I was talking with a coworker, a career journalist and features writer who has done her share of “life stories” (as they’re euphemistically called in our organization). She’s one of those people who seem to invite confidences; you find you’ve told her half your life story after talking with her 10 minutes. She said she thought getting emotionally involved wasn’t something to avoid. It’s nearly impossible anyway, she said, and she believes it actually makes the story better.

I still don’t know, but that made me feel better about it. And the response to the story was incredible, much bigger than anything I’ve written before. D’s life was powerfully inspiring. It’s like she can’t help but affect everyone she touches, even after she’s gone.

Still, I’m genuinely curious about whether getting emotionally involved makes an article better. I couldn’t say one way or the other yet, and maybe never will be able to.

What I do know is the stories whose subjects have me emotionally invested stick with me much longer – they’re my favorites. It’s hard to be objective about your favorites.

 

Trying not to be a creeper.

Recently, as I sat across a table interviewing a nice person, I started to worry I might be staring into his eyes and/or at his face too much. (Not in a romantic way.) Was I coming across as a creeper? But then when I tried looking off in the distance or over his shoulder, I worried I looked like I was bored with what he was saying. The interview was on a deeply personal topic (why yes, it was cancer) and he was super interesting.

Luckily he mostly looked other places as he was talking, which seemed normal, so maybe my intense (?) staring wasn’t freaking him out, but when he did look at my face, I felt like maybe there was too much mutual staring going on.

I’m so awkward sometimes! At least, I frequently feel awkward. Feeling awkward probably means I am awkward. I tell myself it’s because I’m a writer and writers are sometimes lacking in finer social skills, but it’s probably just me.

How often should you look directly at someone’s face while they’re talking? What about while you’re talking? It seems to me that if you’re the one doing the talking, it’s OK to look away because obviously you’re engaged in the conversation if you’re the one talking. But if you aren’t the one talking, maybe it’s incumbent on you to look at the other person while he’s talking?

So after a while I decided to look at his chin instead of in his eyes, but then I felt like maybe I was overthinking the whole thing and he’d wonder if he had something on his chin. So I went back to looking at his eyes, which sounds weird but I swear I wasn’t trying to be.

I got back to the office and on my Facebook feed was a Mashable link to this article about how it’s generally not a good idea to look someone in the eyes.

Great.

In my defense, I used to have this friend who never, ever looked at me when we were talking. She was always looking over my shoulder, as if she was looking around for someone more interesting to talk to. It was off-putting.

I know what you’re thinking: she was probably trying to avoid your creepy-intense eye contact! But I did mention her weird habit to mutual friends and they all experienced the same thing. So it isn’t just me. Really.

Which leaves me with the question of where to look during interviews. Any help from you non-creepers out there would be appreciated.

 

Writing about cancer and stuff.

I’ve been on a two-week stretch of writing about people with cancer. I know you want to keep reading this post now, right? It’s been breast cancer mostly, with ovarian cancer thrown in, liver cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

During those weeks I also, maybe coincidentally, was reading John Green’s A Fault in Our Stars, which is about kids who have cancer (lung cancer and osteosarcoma).

Aside from partially convincing myself I have a stomach tumor – which would explain my wider waistline, which in no way could be the baby weight I’m still carrying from my son who was born over a year ago - I’ve enjoyed the interviews and also been a little emotionally exhausted by them. Which feels ridiculous to even mention since anything I’m feeling is nothing compared to the exhaustion (emotional and otherwise) of someone who has cancer.

I’m also feeling my way through the best way to interview people who’ve gone through something so life-changing. You have to be sympathetic but still keep sight of the story you need to tell. I’m not an emotional person generally but I got choked up during an interview with an ovarian cancer survivor when she started talking about her mom, who had died of ovarian cancer when the woman was in her teens.

I haven’t done human interest reporting since college, but in some ways I feel more prepared now than I was then – and with a heart that breaks a little more easily. After going through the death of my son three years ago, I feel better equipped to talk to people weathering personal storms, even though there are as many kinds of grief as there are grievers.

Whew. Even so, lots of times lately I can’t help comparing myself to other journalists who are writing hard news, uncovering corruption, being political watchdogs, covering complicated issues. Their work is so important and, to me, intimidating. But then I can’t help but think: regular people going through extraordinary circumstances are important, too. We crave stories about people who are like us and facing something we pray we never have to – how do they do it? Maybe all journalism comes down to the same thing: that people matter.

This week is over.

Lois Lane by Kate Beaton

I’m coming off a heck of a week. My husband was out of the continental U.S. on business all week, there were two after-hours work events for me to attend (on top of our family’s usual weekly activities) and I’m still trying to find my groove as a reporter.

As to the first – I don’t know how single moms do it. And after this week I’m fairly certain they couldn’t possibly know either. My not-quite-walking toddler and my not-quite-potty-trained preschooler who’s firmly entrenched in the fit-throwing depths of the Terrible 3s did a number on me. I almost wept with relief when Jeff came straight from  his 8-hour flight to help me with the boys during the first of two birthday parties we attended today. I’m fully aware that many people have more kids than me, less help than me and kids with more needs than mine but…I’m just worn out from herding two chimpansloths all week. I’ll have my priorities in order tomorrow.

And for the second – the after-hours work events. They were super fun, both Tuesday night and Thursday night. It was great to hang out with my coworkers – I love them – and show off our new digs. And yet … there was this mortifying moment Tuesday night that involved my unfortunate habit of using my hands when I talk, and holding a beverage, which may or may not have sloshed spectacularly on someone much higher up the org chart than I am. There’s nothing else I can say about that moment except that the person was supremely gracious. I wanted to lock myself in the vault.

And the third: The deadlines! The deadlines have changed! How did I not remember how much faster-paced reporting is than magazine work? I need to post more often and I need to write more quickly. Gotta stay on top of social media. And keep my eyes out for my next story ideas. I love everything about my job –  the stories I get to write and the people I meet and the ones I work with. It’s just been a steeper learning curve.

I may or may not have ordered a too-expensive (but gorgeous) pair of leather riding boots this week. I blame the stress. They’re supposed to arrive Monday so I’m looking forward to kicking butt and reporter-ing like a boss this week.

Becoming a reporter the second time around.

katebeaton_loislaneSeptember means change. It marks the beginning of fall (to me, anyway – it’s football season!), my entire office moved to an awesome downtown building a couple of weeks ago; my 13-month-old started Mother’s Morning Out for the first time and my 3-year-old started preschool.

And earlier this week I started a brand new job.

Sort of. I’m still working at the same place, but my role has shifted completely: I’m a reporter again.

I’m sad my magazine was tabled indefinitely; it was work I loved. But I’m also – surprisingly, even to me – completely stoked about going back to full-time writing. I’ll be a features and human interest reporter, which is exactly what I want to write. Meeting interesting people and learning their stories and crafting them into compelling prose – I geek out on that stuff.

It’s just different now. I’ve spent the last several years editing and managing and directing other peoples’ writing. Getting back to generating multiple stories weekly for our online news site and the newspaper is challenging. I haven’t done it since college, which was a long eight years ago.

It helps to work with a killer set of coworkers who are generous with leads and lavish in their encouragement.

So now I’m on to a new chapter in my working life. I’ll try to be a bit jaded, like any good journalist, keep my eyes and ears open, and remember the most important advice I got (and had to memorize) from Prof. Williams’ JRNL 1100 class: “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise.” And make “every word tell.”