Mommy is a Surrogate

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If you have a family of your own and you’ve ever contemplated becoming a surrogate, then you’ve probably wondered how you might address this topic with your children.  For me, it was much simpler than what I had expected and I’d love to share some quick pointers or insights on what that was like for us and our kids.  Before I go any further, keep in mind that at the time I was embarking on this journey, my youngest was not quite 2, my middle child was 4, and my oldest was not quite 6.  The way you approach this with your children might look and sound different depending on their ages and your circumstances.  For us, I was carrying for my sister in law who had battled cancer and couldn’t carry her own.  My children saw her go through that battle and they were excited that their mommy was helping her have a family and that they would get a baby cousin.

  1. They accepted the news better than anyone else we told.  Many adults have preconceived notions of how things are “supposed” to work or what they would consider to be “normal.”  To many of us, we define “normal” as how we were brought up or raised.  Children are so moldable and they look to us for a model of how to live.  When we told our kids about this, we simply told them that Aunt Amanda’s belly was broken.  Aunt Amanda and Uncle Reid wanted a baby, but Aunt Amanda couldn’t carry the baby in her broken belly.  Sometimes, when a mommy’s belly is broken, a doctor will take a cell from the mommy and a cell from the daddy to create something called an embryo, which is the beginning of life for a baby.  Since Aunt Amanda’s belly was broken, the doctor was going to put the embryo in Mommy’s belly so Mommy could carry the baby safely for Aunt Amanda and Uncle Reid.  When the baby is done growing, the doctor will take out the baby and give him or her to the mommy and daddy.  My oldest two definitely understood.
  2. If you are uneasy, talk to a psychiatrist or a psychologist.  This was part of the process for us that we couldn’t avoid even if we wanted.  The fertility clinic we went through required all of us to talk to a psychiatrist and a psychologist.  During those sessions, we asked about how we should share this information with our kids.  They were very helpful and reassured us that the kids would likely take it much better than the adults.  They told us that the only reason kids sometimes have issues with surrogacy is because they may fear that you will meet someone else who wants a baby and decide you will give that person one of your children.  She said that thought could be easily prevented as long as we front load our conversation by explaining that they belong to me and my husband and that we will never ever ever give them away.  The baby in my belly was not mine to keep and was made with the cells of two different people, so the baby belongs to them.  My daughters never questioned this at all, but we did make sure we explained this to them ahead of time.
  3. Use children’s books.  We purchased two different books and we used both to help explain what surrogacy is, the process, and the “why” to our kids.  Our kids still pull the books out for us to read them with them from time to time.  When we first told them about surrogacy, we read the Kangaroo one with them and had Aunt Amanda there with us as we all read it together.  (I will link the books we used at the bottom of this post.)  Please excuse my middle child not wanting to share the book in the video below.  She was a full on threenager at this time…  Ha ha!
  4. Turn this into a very visible lesson on serving those we love.  Unfortunately, my sister in law was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at a very young age.  Due to this, she couldn’t carry her baby.  I volunteered to carry for her, and my husband and I explained to our children how this was an opportunity for us to help people we love and care about be able to have a family as well as an opportunity to give a person a chance at life with incredible and loving parents.  We talked about how sometimes, serving others requires sacrifice and an understanding that there are things far more important than our comforts.  We talked about trusting God to bless us through this process and take care of us.  As they continue to grow, I’m going to talk with them a lot more about obedience.  I felt called to do this, but with a calling often comes what feels like a risk.  But truly, I felt like there was more of a risk for me if I wasn’t obedient.  What if I didn’t do this and they never got to have a family and Adalyn never got to have a life?  What if I didn’t do this and I felt like I could have helped and chose not to help?  Living with that seemed harder than the risks associated with following through and embarking on this process.  FullSizeRender 2
  5. Be honest about the process.  We never said the baby got in my belly through magic, or that everything would be easy.  We told them about the sickness I would feel.  We told them I would be on medicines that would sometimes make me feel a little out of control of my emotions.  We told them Daddy would be giving Mommy shots and we let them watch a few times.  They also watched my husband rub my hips after my shots and they tried helping out with that a few times too.  When they asked me if it hurt, I told them it did, but that it was worth it for their little cousin and for their aunt and uncle.  I told them I’d do the same thing for them if I’d had to and that when you really love someone, sometimes you choose to take the boo boos for them.

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    The rectangles on my belly were Estrogen patches.  The heating pad was providing some relief from the many knots and bruises I had from Progesterone injections. This was also around the time I was giving myself shots of Lupron in my stomach.
  6. Include them in the conversations, the pregnancy, and meeting the new baby.  My oldest went to a couple of doctor’s appointments with me, which led to some deeper conversations with her during the car rides home.  It was a great opportunity for us to talk and for us to learn from each other. As my belly grew by the day, they would wrap their little arms around my belly and hug me.  They talked to the baby, they felt her move, they gave my belly kisses.  We all loved her from day one and we all had the mindset that while the baby in my belly wasn’t ours, she was still ours to love and our responsibility to make sure she was taken care of.  IMG_1786  IMG_2002All 3 enjoyed celebrating the whole time with us – from finding out the pregnancy took, to seeing the pictures from the first ultrasound, to finding out the baby was a girl.
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    The girls loved finding out their little cousin was a girl!

    My parents brought the kids to the hospital the day after Adalyn was born. The kids brought little presents for Adalyn and enjoyed getting to hold her in their sweet little arms.  They love visiting with Adalyn and we look at her pictures and videos all the time.  We are especially thankful for FaceTime since Aunt Amanda and Uncle Reid live a few hours away.

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    Adalyn with her mommy and her big cousins.

To hear a little more about their response to the surrogacy, watch the YouTube video below.  My husband and I did another video about his response to the surrogacy, (click here for that video) where we had some comments from people asking about how our kids responded to the surrogacy.  I asked my daughters if they wanted to do a video, and they jumped off of the couch excited to get started!  So, this video is definitely not the best quality, but it will give you the skinny.  Feel free to share and ask us any other questions you can think of.

Children’s Books:

Sophia’s Broken Crayons by Crystal Falk

The Kangaroo Pouch by Sarah Phillips Pellet

Rejection.

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It never feels good to be rejected.  I have often let the fear of rejection determine the road I take.  Some of the earliest memories I have of feeling rejected were in elementary school, and even at a very young age, I’d let that fear keep me from pursuing something I desired.  “What if I can’t?  What if it won’t work out?  What if people laugh at me when I try?”  We have a crazy amount of opportunities to either be accepted or rejected.

Ask yourself if you’ve ever experienced any of these scenarios below.  Did any of these scenarios ever lead to acceptance or rejection?

  • Asking a friend to play with you as a kid.
  • Trying out for an athletic team or musical ensemble.
  • Applying for a job.
  • Applying for college.
  • Applying for a scholarship.
  • Asking someone to be in a relationship with you.
  • Sharing something intimate about yourself to your family or friends.
  • Being in the “in crowd.”
  • Being a part of a community.
  • Sharing your ideas with your co-workers.
  • Asking for a raise.
  • Applying for a loan.
  • Asking someone to love you.
  • Trying to adopt a child you’ve longed for.

I could’ve continued that list, but if you have ever felt rejected in any of the above scenarios or any others, you aren’t alone.  What I find comforting is knowing that people I love and admire have often been rejected too, but it does not keep them from pursuing their passion.  If anything, it only motivates them to overcome.  If we let rejection define us, we may never reach our potential and we may never experience joy that could have been on the other side.  Sometimes, the answer is “No” and it needs to be no.  If that’s the case, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we were pursuing something that would not have ultimately been fruitful and it’s time to start pursuing something that will be.  Other times, the answer might not be “No,” but it might be, “Not yet.”  It’s so hard to swallow the “not yet” when we feel like we know what would make us happy, but in reality, there’s maybe a better time or some other work in us that needs to happen before the “not yet” becomes a “yes.”

Recently, I was at a meeting for work when I heard someone say that we need to look at our obstacles as “opportunities.”  Maybe you were rejected from the job you wanted.  But, what if there is a reason…  What if there’s something better for you or a lesson you were supposed to learn in order to grow?  Does it mean you should stop searching for a job?  No.  Does it mean you should start searching for a different job?  Maybe.  Rejection shouldn’t put us to a stop.  Rejection should inspire reflection, which should motivate us to action instead of crippling us with fear. 

Don’t let the fear of rejection keep you from pursuing your dreams and goals.  Maybe  rejection isn’t your obstacle, but rather your opportunity for something greater.

Accomplishments vs. Relationships

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We’ve all seen the minivans with “My Child is an Honor Student,” listened to others talk about how their kid was a reader before Kindergarten, seen pictures of the neighbor’s kid winning beauty pageants, and watched our coworker’s child score the winning shot at the basketball game.  All of these things are good things and they truly are something to be excited about.  I just wonder, as parents, how much we focus on the accomplishments rather than the relationships.

We even do it to ourselves.  We’re always seeking more.  Whether we want to climb the corporate ladder or gain more “likes” on a social media post, we strive to keep accomplishing.  But when we prioritize accomplishments over relationships, I think we miss the point.

Think about it…  Who do you want to be around?  Do you want to be around someone who has more jewels in their crown, or do you want to be around someone who will listen when you’re struggling?  Would you prefer to work with someone who is always trying to surpass you, or someone who is working alongside of you?  Do you want to marry the guy who makes 6 figures and comes home and props his feet up, or the one who works hard all day making half of what he is worth, but who will give all of the kids baths, feed them dinner, and sing them to sleep while you have some much needed time out with your friends?

When you talk to your kids, is the focus on accomplishments, or is it on how to have great relationships with others?  We sign reading logs, we pay for tutors, we do all the lessons – swim, cheer, football, all of it and there’s nothing wrong with those things.  In fact, I encourage so many of them and there’s a lot to learn when we focus on these types of skills.  Determination, perseverance, grit, goal setting, reflection, and so much more all can come out of these types of intense focus.  It’s good for us and it’s good for our character.  But while we’re doing all of that, let’s also talk about how to listen.  Let’s talk about empathy.  Let’s talk about putting the needs of others before our own comforts and enjoyment.  Let’s talk about giving up our turn so someone else can have an extra turn. Let’s talk about conflict.  Let’s talk about how we respond when something doesn’t seem fair.

Let’s remember that accomplishments should never require us to sacrifice relationships.

I’ve taught a ton of kids.  I’ll never forget their faces and I could definitely write a book on all of the hilarious things they have said and done.  Some of the most impactful kids I have ever taught were not the kids on the honor roll…  They were the kids who worked well with others, who loved to play and pretend and be themselves with whoever wanted to join.  They were the kids who weren’t afraid to share their ideas, but were glad to change their way of attacking a problem or conducting a project when they heard a better idea.  I’ve taught kids who would give up their spot in line at special events so the students with special needs could see better, be closer, or get the treat first.  There aren’t a lot of bumper stickers for this kind of kid, but this kid will be happy and fulfilled.

Sometimes, I catch myself wondering what my kids will be like when they grow up.  I wonder what kind of job they will have, if and who they will marry.  I wonder if one of them will be a musician, or if one might be a runner or an engineer or a writer.  I have to retrain myself to think a bit differently.  I also want to focus more on what kinds of acts of love they might show towards others.  Instead of wondering if one of my girls will look like me, or become a teacher like me, or play the piano like me, I wonder if they might adopt a foster child that needs a home, or if they might be someone’s date to Jesus Prom. I wonder if my son will rub his wife’s shoulders when she has a hard day.  I wonder if he’ll help the elderly lady put groceries in her car and be able to make friends with the coworker twice his age.  I wonder if my kids will know how to work well with others and if they’ll put others before themselves.  I wonder if they’ll smile at the shy kid when they pass him in the hallway.  I wonder if they’ll choose the kid in gym who never gets chosen.  Instead of wondering so much about the accomplishments they might achieve, I want to wonder more about the character they will have and how their lives might impact the world around them.

What do you want to accomplish?  Goal set and do it.  But more importantly, what kind of relationships do you want to have and how will you leave a legacy for all who know you?

 

 

Validation

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Technically speaking, validity relates to measurement.  You might cook a meal for your family that you think will need more of something.  Let’s pretend we’re talking mashed potatoes (those sound heavenly right now.) One way to test this would be to allow a family member to taste a sample of the potatoes you’ve whipped up to validate whether or not the mashed potatoes are satisfactory the way they are, or if they will indeed need some doctorin’.  If your spouse puts that spoon of potatoes in his mouth and says, “These mashed potatoes are better than Paula Dean’s,” we often swell up with a sense of accomplishment, and boom!  We have validation that we did it right.  If he takes that bite and says, “They’re ok.  I don’t usually like them this chunky,” we oftentimes feel an immediate letdown and our heads are filled with whispers like, “I can’t get anything right.”  That’s validation that we’re no good.

In the emotional and spiritual realm, we often look for validation from those we interact with in order to satisfy us.

During my first year of teaching, I was a mess.  I loved the kids, but I often questioned whether or not I was impactful.  When I didn’t receive any feedback from a particular colleague, I did not feel validated.  I felt like I wasn’t measuring up and it was a constant guessing game in my mind on how I might win this colleague’s validation or approval.  I kept looking for affirmation from her.  I never found it.

I remember singing at church when I was younger and how several adults told me how pretty my voice was.  I felt validated.  I measured up.  A few years later, I sang again and nobody said anything.  I immediately started questioning and doubting my abilities.  Was I not good anymore?  Are they not saying anything because they are trying to be polite by not saying anything negative?  I decided I wasn’t a “solo” person anymore.  All because I was fearful I wouldn’t be validated.

When I had my first child, I went from being described as “glowing” in pregnancy to getting told that if I REALLY prioritized my child, I would find a way to stay home with her rather than going back to work.  Validation during pregnancy that I was a glowing ray of sunshine followed by a feeling of judgment and inadequacy as a first time mom led to me not feeling validated.

When I used the approval of others as my stamp of validation, I always ended up feeling like I was falling short and I never felt good enough.

At one point, I went through a very personal challenge with a relationship that caused me to question where I received my validation.  What tool am I using to measure my satisfaction with myself?  How was I determining if I was enough?

I remember hearing someone say to me in a sermon, “Know who you are and WHOSE you are.” 

What exactly does that mean to me?  That means that I’m designed for a specific purpose and God created me uniquely.  My purpose was so important, that in this world of billions of people, He created me with a very specific idea in mind.  I was physically and spiritually designed to fulfill a calling much more meaningful than what someone else’s desires or expectations might be for me.  I’m not meant to live up to everyone else’s expectations.  It’s kind of a relief to know that I no longer have to live up to the expectations of others, but that I can trust God to equip me with the skills I need in order to fulfill my purpose. 

  • If you feel like you aren’t enough. 
  • If you feel like you can’t measure up.
  • If you feel like you always fall short. 
  • If you are exhausted from what seems like taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back.
  • Where does your validation come from?

Lately, I’ve been asking myself the following when I need to make a decision:

  1. Is it healthy?
  2. Is it life-giving?
  3. Is it a blessing to others and nourishing to my soul?

When I sense that someone is dissatisfied with me:

  1. Is this MY problem?
    • If yes, then how can I learn from it and be better?
    • If no, then how can I release myself from the need of pleasing someone while still being loving and kind?

It’s easier said than done, but know WHO you are and WHOSE you are.

When we let other people define our worth, we will constantly question ourselves and doubt our worth.

Needing validation from others sneaks up on me more often than what I’d like to admit.  I have to remember though, that Jesus Himself had haters.  (That was my attempt at sounding cool while referring to Jesus.)  And as Taylor Swift says, “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.”

Know where your worth comes from.

Strong Women Stories

I’m lucky.  I have been surrounded by some pretty strong women my whole life.  I want to start a movement where we showcase the strong women in our lives.  I’ll show you what I mean…

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My memom, grandfather, and my dad when he was a baby.  1950’s.

This is my “Memom.”  I know it’s not a typical name for a grandmother, but she wasn’t a typical grandmother either.  She was a mother of 5 kids, my dad being the oldest of the 5.  When my grandfather was 40, he passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack, leaving my memom alone to raise 5 children, ranging from ages 5 to 17.  Not long after he passed, my memom invited anyone she knew who had experienced a loss in their family over for Thanksgiving.  She was a widow herself, yet she served each of the families who came to her home and every family left with a pie.  I didn’t know that story about her until after she had passed.  My other grandmother had lost her 18 year old daughter and was one of the women who left that Thanksgiving with a pie on her lap from my memom.  A piece of my memom lives on.  I bet that life wasn’t easy for my memom, but it didn’t keep her from rolling up her sleeves and serving others.  I’m thankful I come from people like her.  She was strong, even when she must have felt weak.

So, who is a strong woman in your life?  Let’s start sharing their stories.  Join my challenge!  Here’s how:

  1. Post a picture on Instagram of a strong woman in your life.  Tell us what makes her strong.
  2. Tag me on instagram using rachel.removetheveil
  3. Use the hashtag #strongwomenstories
  4. Follow me on Instagram.
  5. Search  the hashtag “strongwomenstories” and get ready to be inspired.

 

Mommy Messed Up….. On Purpose.

Mommy Messed Up……  On Purpose.

I.  Lost.  It.  “It” being my sanity.  The event that tipped me over the edge that day wasn’t major.  It wasn’t major at all.  I wasn’t hurt and nothing terrible had happened to me or anyone I loved.  Up to this point, I had made a million mistakes as a mom.  Many were unintentional – just “mistakes.”  There’s a difference between mistakes and sins.  Mistakes are exactly that.  They happen on accident, because we don’t know any better.  I’m willing to bet that millions of us moms are willing to accept responsibility for our mistakes, but how often do we call out our own sins?  Or when we do, do we rename those our “mistakes” as well?  I don’t think “sins” and “mistakes” are in the same category.

The silly and petty thing that sent me over the edge was my 2 year old.  She had been potty trained for about 6 months when one day, she just started peeing her pants again.  Constantly.  I was watching kids in my home at this point and it was a brand new thing.  Looking back now, I know she was going through a potty training regression, which is extremely common when there is any kind of change in the home.  For 3 days, she peed her pants at least once per hour.  It blew my mind.  Potty training is a lot of hard work and I worked HARD at getting her trained.  She had been doing so well and all of a sudden, none of my rewards or consequences were working at all.

After peeing her pants for the hundredth time, I put her on the toilet, grabbed the sticker chart I had made for her on the wall, and tore it to pieces in front of her while yelling at her.  She looked at me with eyes full of tears, cowered, and cried.  It was at that moment when I thought, “I’ve just traumatized my child.  What have I done…”  I knew better.  I’ve taught kids all over and from all walks of life and I KNEW behavior management.  I didn’t care, and I lost it.

Part of me wanted to justify my behavior.  I’d worked so hard and I knew she was capable.  I was going through a lot with quitting my job, being a work at home mom, living in a new area that I didn’t know, and struggling financially.  All of those things were explanations for why I was stressed, but they weren’t excuses for bad behavior.

A small voice inside of me urged me to hold her, tell her I was sorry, and tell her I was totally wrong.  So that’s what I did.  I listened to the small voice and I held my small child on my lap in the bathroom floor.  I cried and I told her that Mommy was angry and Mommy was wrong.  Mommy would help her and Mommy won’t hurt her ears anymore.  I asked my little 2 year old girl to forgive me even though she didn’t have a clue what that word meant.  I knew she grasped the concept of forgiveness better than I did when she put her little arms around my neck and told me she loved me.  Isn’t that exactly what Jesus does with us?  Little ones are often times quick to forgive.  I don’t want my kids to lose that.

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I think a lot of us were raised to respect our authority and that part of that was accepting that our authority was always “right.”  I’ve had many teachers, leaders, and so forth who never said they were sorry and if they did, it was often for a “mistake” rather than being deliberately in the wrong.  It’s kind of hard sometimes to admit when we’re wrong to our children.  We want them to think highly of us and to think of us as their model for doing what’s right.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that admitting and taking responsibility for when we are wrong, even when it’s embarrassing, is far more admirable than always being right.  It also models for our children the importance of accepting responsibility and learning and growing from our own shortcomings.

Admitting when we are wrong to our kids is good for all of us.  It teaches them to have mercy and forgiveness, models for them how to take responsibility for their actions, shows them humility, and how to have a growth mindset.  For us, we get a big dose of humility and a chance to learn and grow from our mistakes.  I’ve had the most growth and reflection in my life when I’ve messed up.  When I do something perfectly, I don’t have anything else to perfect.

Remove the veil.

I’m still doing things wrong.  They aren’t always “mistakes” either.  I nag my kids.  I spend too much time on social media and not enough time with them.  I don’t always show them grace.  A few weekends ago, I wanted my middle child to learn that the way she was talking to adults wasn’t ok.  I gave her consequences in an attempt to make her learn her behavior wasn’t acceptable.  In all honesty, it wasn’t acceptable.  But instead of focusing on motivating her to learn and grow, I focused on the punishment.  I could see my lively child beginning to change, but it wasn’t for the better.  I heard her crying in her room and I asked her why she was crying.  She told me it was because she knew she was a mean person and she didn’t want to be mean anymore, but didn’t know how not to be.

What if I had just left her to her own thoughts and had never gone back to check on my 5 year old?  What if all I cared about was that long-running consequence.  Would I have helped to destroy her character instead of building it up?

At that moment, I remembered the sticker chart incident.  I went and held her and I told her that I was sorry I left her alone.  I told her that I was like her when I was her age too and that I still struggle to respond out of love sometimes and instead, react out of anger.  I told her that I wanted us to help each other.  I told her that her behavior wasn’t ok, but that mine wasn’t either.  I told her there was nothing she could ever do that would make me stop loving her.

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The “spice” of our family.  Both of us.

I want my kids to see a solid parent.  I want them to look at me and think I’m strong and that I work hard.  That doesn’t mean hiding my struggles.  In fact, I think it means the opposite.  My husband and I try not to argue in front of our kids, but one of the most pivotal times in our marriage was when he told our daughters that he and I got in an argument and that he said something hurtful to me.  He told them why it made me sad, how it made him feel, and how he should have responded.  He was real with them.  Mommy and Daddy weren’t perfect and we didn’t have a perfect, fairtytale relationship.  We didn’t always see eye to eye and we can’t hide our conflict.  We have to learn from it and be better.  We used this incident to teach our children about conflict, humility, forgiveness, and honesty.  My daughters never thought poorly of him either.  They respected him more, and so did I.

My kids are still young.  That means I have a lot more sins and mistakes ahead of me.  I’m going to try to be better, but I’m also going to try to always be real.  I’m their mom.  I think the reason they see me folding laundry and washing dishes, working at their school, and taking them with me on errands 90% of the time (rather than seeing someone who is pampered and polished)  is because they need to see women who work hard and serve.   I don’t want them to grow up entitled.  I want them to roll up their sleeves and serve the ones they love.  I want them to love what they do and work hard.  I want them to mess up and grow.  I’m removing my veil of “perfect mom” and hoping they will remove their veils too, knowing that growth and learning has some of the best impact when it stems from humility and truth.

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My crew.

Body Image.

I’m all about transformations.  I’m awe struck when I see a home that was once a shack looking like a perfect farmhouse (all hail, Joanna Gaines), an incredible weight loss story that rivals The Biggest Loser, a drug addict who is now sober, or the battered and beaten who have overcome and claimed victory.  We read these stories, see these results, and we can’t help but feel happy and inspired for the ones who are living on the other side of the often times painful journey.

For some reason, it’s so easy to be happy for them, but to convince myself that it’s not for me.

Typing that makes me feel and sound ridiculous.

Until I was 9, I never struggled with body image.  What I wore and how I wore it was totally based on what I thought was fun and whatever others thought had absolutely no bearing on whether or not I chose what I chose.

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Matching with my bestie.
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Messy hair, play clothes, didn’t care.
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First perm,  “Do you want your bangs permed too?” Me: “Um, YES.”

In fourth grade, we started reading a book about a girl with an eating disorder.  The book talked about how thin she became and how sick and unhealthy she was due to her disorder.  A boy in my class raised his hand and asked the teacher, “Does Rachel throw up her food, too?”  I remember being a little girl and wondering why he thought I was like the girl in the book.  I remembered our conversations about the book – how sickly and thin.  It was at that time when I started examining myself in the mirror everyday and first began comparing my body to other girls in my class.  I was 9.

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4th grade.  My shirt said, “PANTS” and the 80’s was jealous of my hair.

It didn’t stop there.  As I grew taller in stature, struggled with acne, crooked teeth, and bushy eyebrows, I also had a general lack of knowledge on how to dress, fix my hair, or apply makeup.  I know this all seems like normal middle school struggles that so many of us can relate to, but I wish it wasn’t “normal” to feel ugly.  Words hurt, and I can vividly remember so many of those words.

“I would rather be overweight than to look like you.”

“Why do you even bother to wear a bra?  You don’t have anything to fill it out with anyway.”

“Have you ever heard of a thing called tweezers?”

“You have no curves.”

“You’re not as pretty as _______________.”

“You’re too pale.”

“You’re too skinny.”

“You look sick.”

“You have bird legs.”

“Are those pimples, or chicken pox on your forehead?”

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Middle School.  Fake smile, real hot-rolled hair.

I’m lucky that I had some really good friends, a great church, and very loving parents, but even all of that couldn’t protect me from the hurtful words I endured.  Girls who were my friends as a child all of a sudden would not speak to me in the hallways anymore.  They were popular, and I wasn’t.  I knew in my heart, even at a young age, that popularity wasn’t everything, so I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my morals for a chance at being recognized by a cute boy or a popular girl.  In some ways, I was really strong.  But sometimes, I would get off the bus after school, walk to the side lot beside my house, sit in the grass and cry.

Middle school was hard.  At the same time I was getting remarks on my poor looks, I can also remember being in a 7th grade social studies class when a boy first grabbed me inappropriately and laughed.  I remember being upset about it and embarrassed.  I didn’t tell on him.  I should have, but I didn’t.  Someone said, “That’s just what guys do.”  I was 12.

9th grade came and so did highschool.  I was embarrassed to ever wear shorts because I knew I’d get made fun of for my bird legs.  I had braces that year, and even though I was missing a canine tooth behind those braces, I was ready to go to high school since that meant getting out of middle school.  I didn’t get asked to any dances that year.  Almost all (if not all) of my friends did.  I stayed home and watched TV while my friends experienced that first dance without me.  I was 14.

Something happened over the summer of my 9th grade year.  I got my braces off, and I gained a little weight.  I got better at applying the makeup and I started to look a little more like a growing woman instead of an overgrown kid.  When I went back to school for the fall, a boy told me on the first day of school that he had to look twice to realize it was me.

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My 15 year old self going to a dance with one of my best friends growing up, Todd.

For a while, I felt like most of the comments I received were based on my looks.  How I’d gotten prettier, or how I’d “blossomed.”  I was introduced to a beautiful tool called a hair straightener and I’d learned that there were other lipstick colors other than “rust.”  As far as appearances go, life was better.  I remember after dating Micah for a few months, we were going through a box of my old things and we found my freshman badge from high school.  He saw it and said, “Who is this person, and why do you have her badge?”  I said, “Read the name.”  He couldn’t believe it was me.  I looked totally different.  I’d put a picture of that below, but I’m pretty sure I burned that thing years ago.

I had a serious high school boyfriend, but it didn’t keep boys from making comments about my body.  Some of those comments were meant to be flattering, but they were often inappropriate.  Some were still rude.

“You have the hairiest arms I have ever seen.”

“Your hair is in a pony tail.  You must be on your period because you obviously didn’t feel like trying today.”

I was 16.

In college, I was told by strangers frequently that I looked just like Jennifer Aniston.  Going from 8th grade Rachel to Rachel from Friends was quite the transition.  I spent a lot of time visiting the tanning bed and I never left my dorm room without applying eye liner.  I got comments on my looks frequently.

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I’m going to remove my veil now and tell you that this boost in encouragement from those around me also turned into a boost in my ego.  I began to focus too much on my looks and I liked the attention I received around my physical transformation.

Then, something weird happened.  I went back home over the holidays and saw a family member I didn’t see regularly.  This person put her arm around my waist and pinched my side saying, “I can’t believe you, out of all people, have put on some weight since going away to college.  You used to be so skinny.”

Used to be?  Do I look bad?

I watched a video of me teaching shortly after for my student teaching assignment and all I could focus on was my mid-section.

Guys, I was 5’8″ and weighed 112 pounds.  In other words, I was tiny.  So tiny.  I pretended to be confident.  I’d take selfies with friends, I’d spend so much time trying on outfits and putting on makeup and I’d still compare myself to the girls across the hall from me in the dorms – never feeling like I was measuring up.  I was super insecure and pretended not to be.  I was 19.

Time went on.  I got married.  During my first year of teaching, I gained 20 pounds.  I was  extremely stressed with my new job.  I was down on myself a lot and the extra 20 pounds of weight was on top of about an extra 20 pounds of stress.  It was my first year of marriage too.  That was hard.  Neither of us were perfect.  We were 21.

A few years later, I had my first child.  During pregnancy, everyone told me how cute I looked pregnant.  Confidence boost again.  I felt good about how I looked when I sported that baby bump.

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Then, she was born.  My cute bump turned into what looked like a deflated balloon and the comments shifted from, “You are so cute with that bump,” to, “‘She spits up a lot.  Do you think it’s because you are eating too much dairy?  You should probably cut back.”  I was often met with questions on my parenting and the choices I had made about my “birth plan,” choices I had made regarding schedules or routines for my new baby, and a huge dose of hormones that left me feeling inadequate and small.  I was 25.

In the meantime, I got better and went on to have 2 more children.  After my third child was born, I went back to work and was also pumping a ton of breastmilk.  He was sick with a rare viral disease and I was a stressed out, working mom with a lot of insecurities.  I was struggling in several areas of my life.  I lost so much weight from nursing and getting too busy to pay attention to the food I was not eating.  I went down to 109 pounds at 5’8″.

“Are you ok?  You are so thin it worries me.”

“Are you depressed?  You look so frail.”

After I quit nursing, I started putting some of the weight back on and I started eating healthier and working out.  I was doing much better and getting much healthier.  My little boy was on the mend and so was I.  I was 31.

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I began really feeling led to offer myself as a surrogate for my sister in law.  As we went through that process, I began a lot of hormones in order to prepare my body for IVF.  In a matter of 5 months, I gained 15 pounds.  The pregnancy took and I gained another 30.  But this time, I didn’t care.

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I looked at my body in a completely different way.  My body was carrying the life of another so that someone else could have a baby to call her own.  I watched my body change and I did it as an act of service for a child that wasn’t mine and for a sweet couple who would have otherwise not had an opportunity to hear the pitter-patter of tiny little feet in their home.  All of a sudden, my body wasn’t mine and what I was doing wasn’t for me.  As uncomfortable as it was to grow and swell, I was finally comfortable with this body I had.  I received a ton of encouragement about my body, but in a completely different way.

“What you are doing is amazing.”

“I’m so inspired by what you are doing for your sister in law and brother in law.”

I began to think that I’ve been viewing my body wrong all along.  Do I look at my daughters and make statements about how their bodies look?  Or do I make statements about how what they are doing with their bodies inspires and amazes me?

I want to be amazed at what my body can do – whether that is carrying my own child, carrying the child of another, doing a pull up, or hiking to the top of a mountain.  Our bodies are described as our “temple.”  What am I putting in that temple and how am I using it?

 

I’ve never been “athletic.”  I was told that I wasn’t by my middle school PE teacher and I believed it.  I was one of the last ones picked in the lineup in gym class and I wasn’t the “sports type.”  For this reason, I never tried out for a team, got anxious anytime I was given the opportunity to play physical games of any kind, and so forth.  I wasn’t made to be an athlete, but I was made to be healthy and to try my best.  I’m working on being stronger and I’m not letting an old definition of me get in the way this time.

I had never been a surrogate, either.  When I decided to do it, I came up against some opposition from a few people, but I knew God was calling me to do this and I trusted that he would not only get me through it, but that He’d bless me through it.  My body did something amazing.  I wasn’t made to be a surrogate, but I was made to serve others and to use my body for good.

Here’s the honest truth.  I’m inspired and empowered by my recent journey to believe that I can overcome the barriers.  I don’t have to label myself with the comments I received about my body and athletic abilities in the past.  I can do anything.  I’m going to stop comparing myself to the other women out there and I’m going to start comparing where I am today to where I was yesterday.  Am I doing what I can to be healthy?  Am I pushing myself physically to become stronger?

This whole physical transformation that so many of us long for will not fulfill us until the physical transformation brings about a spiritual transformation.

I’m making baby steps.  I’m writing this to tell you about my issues and letting you know how not perfect I am.  I’m going to the grocery store with no makeup on and my hair pulled up in a pony tail – not caring whether or not it looks like I “tried” today.  I’m letting my daughters see my imperfections and I’m paying more attention to the words I’m using to affirm them, trying to focus much more on the hard work and effort they put into a task rather than the way they look.

I’m still struggling too.  I tell my husband that I’m sorry I don’t look like I did when he married me 10 years ago, when he reminds me that my body has done some pretty amazing and admirable things these past 10 years.  I analyze my figure and change my clothes when I think a part of me is emphasized that shouldn’t be or when I’m afraid what other people will think.  I’ve got to stop sucking it in and start living it out – being comfortable in the body I’m in.

I’m a work in progress, and my body image is a hundred times better than what it was, but I’ve still got work to do.  I’ve seen 26 year olds who have had tummy tucks, implants, Botox, and lip injections and they look beautiful and happy.  I see these women and say things to myself like, “A lot of women do it these days…  I wonder how much this procedure would cost…”  I compare myself to these women.  Ultimately, I know that for me, going through a procedure to alter my appearance won’t fulfill me or ultimately bring me joy.  I know how much I admire those who aren’t afraid to age gracefully.  My Mamaw had the softest hands I had ever felt.  She used those hands to knead the dough for the rolls she made for anyone who wanted to join her at her table.  She used those hands to work on her farm to help provide for her family.  She used those hands to hold my sweaty little face and tell me she loved me.  She had the most beautiful hands I’d ever seen, sun spots, wrinkles, and all.  I loved those hands.

So, here’s my plea to all of you who might be reading this.  What do you value in a person?  We cannot stop the aging process.  With time, our bodies will age, but our character can continue to grow.  Let’s start looking at our bodies differently.  Let’s be inspired to challenge ourselves physically and be empowered to use our bodies for good.  Let’s worry less about the bathing suit and focus more on the fun we can have when we jump into the pool with our kids.  Let’s stop comparing ourselves to the bodies we see on social media and let’s love the skin we are in.  Let’s focus on health instead of skinny and strong instead of clothing sizes.  Let’s take care of our bodies so that we can be healthy and live life to the fullest, but let’s not allow our appearances to determine our contentment.  Let’s stop commenting so much on people’s looks and start commenting more on their hard work and character.  What’s more beautiful…  well applied makeup and perfectly curled hair?  Or, the friend who is picking up your groceries when everyone in your house is sick?  I love makeup, and I love doing fun things with my hair, but a heart for service will always trump the latest fashion trends.

As I become older, I’m becoming stronger.  So here’s my transformation.  It might look backwards to some of you, but this transformation feels so good, and I’m still transforming.    Here’s 32.

 

 

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