I got pregnant with my first child at 21, during the summer following my first year of law-school. I remember walking to the pharmacy in a daze. The pharmacy ran pregnancy tests for $7. That was half the price of the home pregnancy kits!! I soon understood why anyone would prefer paying the extra $7 to get a pregnancy result in the privacy of their bathroom. The pharmacist said: “It’s positive.” I said: “Positive means I’m not pregnant right?” But I knew. I had seen my busty profile in the window of the pharmacy walking-in. I knew for sure.
Despite a few tell-all signs of pregnancy, I had visited a walk-in clinic a few weeks earlier asking for a throat swab. I thought I had strep throat because I was craving popsicles and I was always on the verge of throwing up. I told the doctor: “I have cramps, my periods are 2 weeks late, I’m nauseous all the time. Could this be strep throat?” So he did what any doctor with a clue about the birds and the bees would do: he took a throat swab. That test was negative.
As I was walking out of the pharmacy, I was counting the months on my fingers to see if I could finish my second year of law school. I was due April 17th, during exam week. Well, it wasn’t that bad I thought, I’ll be able to finish my year and write my exams.
I went through my second year of law school pregnant. I was sick as a dog. I have two vivid memories of doing law school pregnant: one where I am uncomfortable, sitting in the lecture hall’s plastic chairs. My regular pants are getting too small. They are riding up my legs and digging into my waist. This is after Christmas, I am almost 20 weeks pregnant and thinking I will either buy pregnancy clothes or kill someone. In the other memory, I am wriggling my way across an entire row of plastic chairs during a lecture on civil proof to go throw-up. I made it.
I made arrangements with the Dean to write my exams after my due-date. I thought that writing exams 3 weeks postpartum would be better than 40 weeks pregnant (pro-tip: it’s not). On my last day of classes, I took the bus back home and someone asked me: “When are you due?” I said “Next week.” That evening, I went to the hospital in labour. My daughter was born with the sunrise the next morning.
What would I say to the young woman finding herself pregnant in the middle of her university education? First, you can do it. It won’t be easy but you can do it. Don’t expect understanding, a red carpet or a special parking pass. You will be facing harsh judgement coming from your peers, your teachers and the administration. Few people will give you favours unless they have to by statute or regulation. Remember those who go the extra mile for you: someday, you will extend the same generosity to someone else.
You are pregnant now, soon you will deliver. Delivering a child will give you a sense of perspective, a new understanding of what truly matters. Being a mother will empower you. This feeling of empowerment will seep through every aspect of your life and give thrust to your studies as you face the challenges at hand. You will take that Queenship of the Universe with you back to University and beat the crap out of your degree.
You will face harsh and underserved judgement. Some people think that getting knocked-up is never an accident, that you should have known better. Some people will not know what to say in the face of an unplanned pregnancy. Many people will look at you with a mix of contempt and pity and ask: “You’re not keeping it are you?” as if you would be announcing a pregnancy you were about to end. Some women, and that’s what took me the longest time to accept and understand, will be angry at you. They will shun you for putting a face on something they thought was impossible. In hindsight, I have accepted that these women were suffering more than I was. But it was so hurtful at the time, feeling like pregnancy made me a leper, an uncool, an outcast. Know that this will not last. For the community of cool that you are losing, there is an equally sleep-deprived — if less fashionable — community of parents ready to embrace you.
You will come out smarter on the other side. You will be working harder when it’s no longer just your ass on the line. You think you will have less time with a baby on your hip but don’t underestimate the time it takes your peers to manage their social life. Motherhood will focus you and give you a new appreciation for what matters: both in small and in big things. You will focus on the essential and perform with surgical precision. You will start your end-term papers as soon as you get the course outline and write 2 pages a day until it’s done. End-term all-nighter cramming sessions are a thing of the past. You will work around it and discover a better, more mature way. Baby will force you to take breaks, sometimes entire days off, and your brain will thank you in your report card.
You and your priorities will change. Don’t sweat the student stuff. I wasted so much mental energy worrying about my inability to take part in moot-court competitions, out-of-town placements, student exchanges and fancy articling jobs in the best Montreal firms. In the end, I graduated with no desire to join the law firm rat race. I oriented my career on a different path. And that’s ok.
Try not to get caught-up in the latest baby gear must-have and other parenting fads. They are costly and unnecessary. A baby’s needs are simple: babies need care and affection. Breastfeed, sleep in the same room, buy a second-hand stroller and a good baby carrier. At some point you will need a second-hand high chair. Financially-speaking, I was fortunate to have a boyfriend-now-husband who had a stable job as a junior military officer: our income was small but reliable and my parents were taking care of my tuition. It will be difficult enough to make ends meet without trying to keep-up with the older, richer, Joneses.
Finally, don’t get angry if academia doesn’t give you any freebies. Just deal. Be a honey badger. The workplace won’t give you any freebies, so you might as well get used to it early.
This week’s podcast is a hodge-podge of topics, from why I went with crowdfunding as opposed to advertising to support my website and podcast, where my novel is at and how we can keep our dreams and fears in check.
0:00:00 to 0:08:00 – Why I’m using crowdfunding as opposed to ad revenues to support my website and podcast.
0:08:00 to 0:30:31 – My novel: what it’s about, where it’s at and my current struggles
0:30:31 to 0:33:41 – On the blog: what I’m currently writing.
0:33:40 to 0:46:02 – Keeping our dreams alive even when they don’t make sense
0:46:02 to 0:51:00 – Fear as a measure of the importance of our projects
0:51:00 to 1:05:05 – Confidence in ourselves as a gift to others
In this podcast, I share my thoughts on my failed Kickstarter campaign, my writing workshop in New-York City, meeting Seth Godin and not expecting my creative work to pay-off. You can find the podcast show notes and links to stuff I talk about in the podcast show notes by clicking on the earphones.
Today marks the launch of my long-awaited website Fearless Family Life.The vagaries of life in a large family tend to stretch every possible timeline beyond recognition but I also suffered from an uncomfortable want of knowing where to take this train.
Over the last year, I have had countless opportunities to reflect on the direction I wanted to move in. At first, I did what most business-minded writers would do and looked at popular parenting blogs. Parenting seems to be as divided as politics, from the more liberal “it’s ok to suck, you have it so hard” to the more conservative “parenting is a war to be won”. In between lies the world of listicles: 10 reasons why your toddler is a jerk and Why good moms start drinking before 9. As an educated woman with both a love for my children and a struggle to be the best person I can be, I found these messages confusing and wholly uninspiring.
The truth is that parenting is hard but we are all stronger than we think. Whether we started our journey from a position of strength or a position of weakness, whatever our challenges are, we can always push ourselves a little farther. Strength builds in increments: fearless family life is about taking the next step on our parenting journey, from wherever we currently are.
In family life, our fears are too often born of our own judgment. We love to read about overcoming mommy-guilt but women are crumbling under the weight of their own expectations. Being fearless is refusing to be guided by our fear of inadequacy. It’s about challenging ourselves without judgment.
Fearless Family Life is my gift of encouragement to you. It’s here to tell you that you can do this. It’s here to share the most important lesson I learned in 20 years of family life: that you love your children better than anyone. Fearless Family Life is about allowing yourself to be guided by love rather than fear, by hope rather than shame. It’s about stepping into the world of possibilities and looking up to where you are going instead of down and around on everyone else’s journey.
Imagine that you and your family are in a boat. You can work together to get somewhere or you can work against each other and sink. Whatever you decide, you’re in this together.
In the pantry, a jar sits on a shelve, lonely and unused. Its bright red colour livens the mess of spices and aromatics standing at attention in a practical array. Bird’s Eye chili peppers, dried to a dusty crisp, artifacts of a summer’s past.
We had planned a large garden, tilled long and narrow mounds on which we planted gourds, lettuces and root vegetables, our knowledge of gardening inversely proportional to our enthusiasm. Seeds of hot peppers thrown on the edge of a row of romaine lettuce testified to our inexperience. They should have been sprouted indoors while the deep brown earth laid dormant under a crust of snow and ice.
Shortly after laying our cornucopia underground, we had seen our own little buds sprouting deep inside the warm comfort of the womb. Twins. Bed rest. Our garden was left to fend for itself as we fought the forces of chaos on the home front. Within a few weeks in July weeds choked everything but the sturdiest squashes, potatoes, and zucchinis. “No wonder that’s what the pioneers ate,” I thought as I laid hatching. The spring rains gorged the edible plants as well as the weeds, the summer sun ripened them. The children picked what could be salvaged and eaten raw and the twin buds rested and grew. Summer lingered into September, then exceptionally into October and the weeds got more luscious. The twin buds matured and bloomed and I was released to the garden just in time to harvest a late crop of red hot chili peppers before fall threw its blanket of frost, smothering weeds and herbs alike. I strung the peppers on a thread with a sewing needle and hung them to dry in a south-facing window, letting the summer rain evaporate from the taunt red flesh.
Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, the sequence of a year. The peppers adorned our window for a year, long dried but too hot to complement our family’s dishes. Some were rehydrated with boiling water, cooked with oil and garlic and made into chili garlic sauce following Margaret’s authentic Malaysian recipe. We used it by the drop, careful not to breathe deeply while the jar was open.
The house and the garden wrapped their weight around our necks like a boat anchor, dragging our family into a wake of debt and fear. When we decided to sell our house to pay off all our debts the peppers were duly packed into a glass jar, wrapped in packing paper, and moved to our new landing, a relic of the dreams we left behind as we looked up and ahead. The peppers remained untouched as we welcomed our ninth child and moved again when we made our home in the highlands.
Here they live, a vibrant reminder of a summer past when we learned the wisdom of letting things grow as they must.
Hey! Thank you so much to those of you who are still reading these posts and watching the clips while I work on re-launching my blog. We’re making some progress, with lots of ideas and little time to implement them. But we’re moving forward, which is always better than the opposite.