Redemptive Motherhood

First Brush with Precipitous Birth

Day 5 ~ First Brush with Precipitous Birth

For weeks, Daddy had been randomly asking me why I wasn’t in labor yet. He was excited to meet the baby, but with him, excitement rarely looks like excitement. He bumps the heckling banter-factor and impatiently but playfully pokes fun at whatever it is he is excited about. He watched me closely at our anniversary dinner on the Seattle Waterfront, enjoying his meal and hoping that I would tell him we needed to head to the hospital to have a baby. Heavily pregnant and more than ready to get things started, I can say it was also my wish to have a first-anniversary dinner-turned-baby’s-birthday, but it came and went with no labor action.

I waited two more days before the pop and gush happened. I bolted up from my bed, where I had been stretched out in the late afternoon, waiting for something resembling labor to rustle up, calling various friends on the brick cell phone I used all through college to pass the time. I called to the other room that my water had broken and it was baby time. He sprang up and I waddled my way out of the room. None of the fluid got on the bed (miraculously), but there was a puddle on the floor, and I left a bit of a trail as I inched to the bathroom, fluid leaking and both of our eyes big. It was finally happening. I was enthralled that the day had arrived, and blissfully naive about what the next few hours would look like.

I called my doctor, and she said to get straight to the hospital, don’t wait. I don’t know if she knew something I didn’t, but I was surprised she was so insistent. I mean, I knew I was going into labor, but I hadn’t had any contractions yet, and I didn’t quite understand what the big deal was. We flurried around, exchanged nervous smiles, and snapped up the bag that had been waiting by the door for weeks, pre-packed with all the things I thought we might need at the hospital, of course, extracted from every checklist I could find in the weeks prior.

We zoomed across town in our little car to the largest hospital in the area. Twenty minutes into the ride, I was not smiling anymore. I stared at the clock on the dashboard and breathed hard. Really hard.


We shuffled through the doors of the hospital and a nice man with badges around his neck whipped a wheelchair around and sat me in it. We arrived in L&D triage a few minutes later. The room was white, several alcoves around a circular nurses’ station, separated by curtains but not all that private. I was connected to a monitor and the nurse tried in vain to collect a sample of the amniotic fluid on a pH paper.

“You’re 3cm dilated,” she says. I had actually been 3cm for a week, so I wasn’t terribly excited to hear that through the contractions that were furrowing my brow and making me more irritated by the minute that they wouldn’t just admit me. They were still trying to decide if I was in labor, because if you are a 23-year-old first-time mom, apparently you don’t know anything.

Ready to swear if I had to, I wanted them to get me to a room, pronto.

When they finally directed us out of triage around 8pm, I couldn’t walk to the room (steps away) on my own. They wanted us to sign papers and put on a gown and settle in, but all I could think was to get myself to the toilet, where I found comfort through the contractions by relaxing my pelvis and rocking back and forth.

For months, I had primed Daddy with all the different techniques I’d read about for labor support measures so he could jump in, but when I was in the thick of things, I couldn’t handle anyone talking to me, touching me, or being too close. I drew intensely inward and had to do this part of it by myself. It was not really a voluntary choice, but the pain and intensity were so consuming that I couldn’t communicate or respond to much, and just waved everyone off.

Later he told me it hurt his feelings that I didn’t involve him more. It was a sorry/not sorry situation. I did feel bad that he felt hurt, but I literally couldn’t do any other thing than what I did at the time. A woman in labor cannot be concerned about other people’s feelings, even if she wants to be. Sorry, dads.

Labor was furiously intense. I spent an hour in that bathroom groaning and swaying with an unsnapped hospital gown (I couldn’t get it all the way on) before they coaxed me out to a birth ball at the end of the hospital bed. I wasn’t totally happy to be on the ball, but I couldn’t move anywhere, so I dealt with it.

I was comforted by the monitor, and Daddy took to announcing  when a contraction had peaked and was on the descent. Finally, a job I would let him do. We kept at that for a little bit. Around 9:30, two and a half hours into labor with my first baby, I was deep in my own world, eyes squeezed shut, shoulders up to my ears to get through the contractions that were coming every 2 minutes with barely a breath in between.

Everyone in the room (my mom had arrived, a nurse was there) spoke in hushed whispers. I heard the nurse say, “She probably has 4-6 more hours of this,” and my spirit broke at that moment. I could NOT do this for four more hours, I knew it. I blurted out that I needed an epidural. NOW. The anesthesiologist came soon after, stuck me a few different times while I hunkered over during unbearable contractions, and I was blissfully free of pain within minutes after that.

I lay on my back, oxygen mask over my nose and mouth, free of the excruciating pain I’d been in knots about only minutes ago. Within ten minutes of the epidural, I started grunting and involuntarily pushing the baby out. I couldn’t stop it. They urged me to try and wait for the doctor (who whipped into the room about that time), but it was go-time.

With a full-bore epidural on board, I did not feel the pain (or the tearing I had so desperately feared). The doc said I could do it. I could push my baby out. Put my legs here. Tuck my chin. Bear down with the counting. Twenty minutes and there she was; my sweet wonder child with a little nose smashed to the side, born in a wild 3.5 hours from the spontaneous rupture.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17

The Power of Yes: Embracing New Life

Day 4 ~ The Power of Yes: Embracing New Life

We had a deal. I would keep the calendar, and he would always ask if we were in the fertile window. I have a deep-in-my-bones aversion to taking anything, be it birth control, Tylenol, or ironically, prenatal vitamins, so that left us with natural family planning as the most appealing option for sorting out our reproductive lives. Is anyone really surprised that there was an afternoon that he didn’t ask, I didn’t speak up, and biology happened?

Afterward, standing in the shower, I casually mentioned that maybe we might be a little bit close to the fertile window. There was an incredulous, “WHAT?!” followed by a shrug of the shoulders, which is also par for the course in our marriage. We roll with things. It’s the Allen Way. It has served us well and spared a whole lot of unnecessary grief about a great many things.

We still tease each other about the fact that he didn’t ask, I didn’t say a word, and that is why we’re now up to our ears in children.

I know we chose natural family planning and all, but the idea of becoming a mother did not seriously cross my mind until the lines blinked at me. Or I blinked at them with a thrill and gasp and a resounding yes within me. I embrace you, little one, I wrote in my journal that day. I let my usually-heavy heart soar in those first weeks, daydreaming my way through the evening grad-school classes I was taking at the time (and could barely stay awake for because of first-trimester exhaustion). When the semester ended, I bounced from school to turn my full attention to preparing for motherhood. There was much I had to learn; as in everything.

I was nervous, but not really afraid. I take that back, I was afraid of one thing: tearing during birth. The sheer thought of skin tearing—down there—oh dear. I couldn’t handle the thought of it, even though I knew it was pretty likely to happen. When I wasn’t fixated on that, the knowledge that I was going to be a mother and the swell of my belly filled me with a sense of purpose and a will to flourish like nothing else ever had. I pondered how great it might be to be a mom, but I didn’t anticipate the way this growing child would be deeply healing for me; a triumphant declaration that the hollowness I had felt in my soul for years would be filled with the teeming life of a little girl who would win my heart with a nose that was smashed to one side upon her arrival and a personality that still can’t be pinned or pegged into a category. I didn’t realize that what was broken would become life-giving, life-bearing…that what felt fractured in me would prove to be productive, fruitful—a meaningful realization that embracing the new life of a child might also mean embracing a new kind of life for myself. I would not be like the person who counts up all the things they’ve lost or given up in the course of parenthood, but instead be someone who keeps a tally of what has been gained in the full surrender of saying yes to God, yes to adventure, yes to motherhood. There are now a host of tally-marks on my slate.

Saying yes—and living into that yes—was the start of a beautiful, unexpected new season for me.

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word.’” Luke 1:38

“God sets the lonely in families, He leads out the prisoners with singing…” Psalm 68:6a

The Start of Us

Day 3 ~ The Start of Us

He made his very serious intentions clear early on. I was the girl he wanted to love forever. I was not as certain as he was, mostly because my heart came with some hefty baggage dragging along behind, and I was convinced that if he discovered just how messy it was, he’d want out. It’s not that I didn’t recognize at the beginning that he was quite the catch. I did, and that’s what terrified me. I knew this could be it.

Following weeks of conversations and “chance” meetings in the cafeteria and other places around campus, we went out on our first date. We sat on a bench at the top of a hill overlooking the Seattle skyline, I nestled myself in the flap of his jacket to shield me from the stinging November wind. By that point, I had learned enough to know that I was sitting next to a remarkable individual. Unfortunately, I was also sitting in a war zone—caught between a desire to respond to his kindness and attention, and the slightly-more-convincing desire to run. One moment, I hoped he would kiss me, and the next, I stuffed down these frightening feelings and slammed a lid on that in a flash.

The prospect of loving and being loved wasn’t something I was ready for, so I made a valiant effort at maintaining walls around my heart. I kept a tight reign on the love coming in, keeping at a slow drip what would otherwise have been a tidal wave. Too scared and too sensitive to take things any faster, I made him stand in the figurative mud with me for three years before I agreed to marry him.

It seems like it should be easy to receive and bask in simple, uncomplicated love, but that is not so for the broken-hearted. The cracks in my soul sucked in and leaked out what my husband-to-be poured in. There was no reliable reservoir where trust could pool up and show me a consistent waterline, and because I was fixated on proving that I was truly too broken to love, I tried everything I could to sabotage our blossoming relationship so he might give up, and thus validate my fears. Except he didn’t give up (although he does admit that there were times he wanted to, which I don’t blame him for).

People that knew him wondered why he continued to pursue me. I wondered the same thing. He tells me there was something in him that wouldn’t let him quit; the whisper of a voice urging him to not give up on me. I attribute that voice to God, who already knew His plans for us—that we were a good match and that together, we would heal from broken homes, broken hearts, and find a flourishing way forward.

It was slow progress at first because I was not only running from love, I was running from God too. I didn’t yet trust that this man, or the God who had whispered hope to me, would love me (or could love me) no matter what. I thought love was earned, kept by doing all the right things, and was something that hinged on me holding myself together (which I was unable to do at this point). I also thought that— stats against us and confidence shot through—the likelihood of a marriage “making it” was slim, so I wasn’t exactly eager to jump in. Somehow, this incredible guy won me over anyhow. When he asked me to be his wife, I didn’t answer, started crying, and crumpled over his shoulder (while he was still on his knee) and answered with uncontrollable sobs. Does this mean yes? he timidly asked. Oh yes. Yes, through tears. That pretty much sums up most of our marriage, I guess.

At the risk of giving you details you never wanted to know, I’ll tell you about the wonderful wedding gift given to me by years of 90’s purity culture. When I was finally made a wife, I spent my first weeks (and honesty, first years) as a married woman trying to face and overcome the deep shame I had come to associate with my sexuality, a pursuit emphatically marked by me literally throwing up after sex on our honeymoon. It was traumatizing for us both. He was as patient and loving as a freaked-out new husband could be, but for me, that event was an indicator that not only was I an emotional wreck, I was, in fact, actually broken.

This is right about when motherhood came into view. Three months after our wedding, I took a test that gave me back two pink lines. Surprise!

Before we met, I did not desire or plan to have any children. (Insert irony into this all-too-serious-story). I had reasoned that there was just too much risk and pain to bring a child into the world, and at the time, I was all about risk management. After we met but before we married, I decided that maybe we could have some kids after we had been married a while. I knew this guy would make a really great dad. I was right. We had a five-year plan that turned into a first-anniversary baby instead. Best laid plans.

In the years since our humble beginning, I have learned that while there are no guarantees, our marriage will be whatever we make it. The point is not certainty or even a sense of control. The point is daily, faithful commitment to see the good in each other, surrender the offenses we shoulder, ask for forgiveness, and laugh ourselves silly when the opportunities arise.

We are individuals; each regarded with dignity and respected for who we are, as we are…and together we are us, the Allens, on a grand adventure—trusting God to work in us and through us as we forge a legacy that is worth facing our fears to achieve.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Psalm 127:1


Fractured: The State of My Heart Before Motherhood

Day 2 ~ Fractured: The State of My Heart Before Motherhood

I don’t blame anyone for the disintegration of my childhood family. There was broken trust, alcohol, infidelity, and a number of other things that colluded together to rip us apart, piece by piece, but I can’t land on a singular target to blame that makes me feel any better about what happened. I’m not mad and I point no fingers, but the sadness I carry is one that never leaves me. It is the melancholy thread that winds through every one of my days–sometimes blending beautifully into the tapestry, sometimes a jagged, off-colored streak across a swath of a different hue.

My brothers, my parents; they were my heart, the whole of it for my first fifteen years. When we fractured, I fractured too, shards and slivers scattered and tossed to the wind. I was left with one thing: a gaping wound that could no longer love or receive love in healthy ways without first slaying the demons that stood between me and a future of good things.

I medicated myself with perfectionism and beat the hell out of every class I took, acing tests and pumping out soul-less, formulaic essays that somehow earned me the gratifying straight-A’s I was awarded for seven solid years. It may have looked like I was excelling, but I was trying to escape the menacing darkness that threatened to consume me from the inside. I was hollowed out and out to prove something, deep in grief and partly in denial that I needed help.

I turned to co-dependent relationships, and a string of internet beaus who propped me up while I tried to sort out the mess around me from the one within me. I made many questionable decisions that could have resulted in catastrophic consequences. I nearly drove off a road at 16, returning home from a four hour drive to meet a guy six years older than me that I met on the internet. I didn’t die in a car accident, and I wasn’t raped or kidnapped, although all of the above could have happened that weekend or during any of several other situations I found myself in during those years.

I was lost, broken and on the brink of total despair.

The summer after I turned sixteen, I encountered Jesus in a way I never had before. Despite my inner-mess and private life, I had a reputation for being a “good girl” and a capable student that I rather enjoyed. It’s always nice when you can cover up the parts of yourself that are more unsightly and let people thing well of you, yes?

But standing in front of a literal cross that towered over my head–rough wood, and resolute promise–the shiny outer-shell around me cracked. If I was going to nail my notecard to the cross–scrawled front and back with all the things I wanted to surrender to God, the things I wanted Him to transform and redeem about my life, the things I needed help to let go of–the shiny outer shell would have to go with it and I’d have to come to terms with the real mess in my heart.

That night, I discovered that broken doesn’t mean worthless, and struggling doesn’t mean failure, though it would take me years to unpack what that really means.

Late into the night, I cried myself out with my youth group circled around; stars above and a quiet voice that said to me, “Emily, if you will journey with Me wherever I ask you to go, I will restore you, heal you, and give you a deep and unshakeable joy in place of your sorrow.” I would have settled for anything close to no-longer-hurting, but this was a pretty sweet deal.

I said a quiet, but critical “yes” in my heart, and thus, the journey began.

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’” Jeremiah 29:11-14

“The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.” Psalm 34:17-22



Introduction to Redemptive Motherhood

Day 1 ~ Introduction

There are many things a mother treasures in her heart; a baby’s hearty giggle, the knuckle and elbow dimples of a chubby toddler, the wonder and wide eyes of a captivated child, and the horrified screams of a seven-year-old’s first ride on a roller coaster. That last one happened a week ago, and I’m still laughing about it.

There are those sentimental sorts of things that are etched into my mind of fleeting moments and seasons that tug at the strings in the center of me, and then there are treasures hidden even deeper where hopelessness and heartache have given way to profound healing, clear purpose, and unshakeable joy that I would shelve in the Miracle category, given where I have journeyed from.

I have set out to write this series because I want to trace the lines of God’s faithfulness to mend my deep personal brokenness in unexpected ways through these tender years, so that my children will one day know these stories, and so I don’t forget them myself. It is easy to forget the graces of early, humble days where a foundation is laid and built upon. It is a risk that our stories might be stripped of their original beauty because we have only logged the blur of years flying by.

This series is a pause and reflection; a bucket drawn up from our deep family well; a tale of our beginnings and the restoration of my heart, which I once thought was irreparably broken. It turns out, healing can happen. Hope can triumph over heartache, and redemption…well…

Redemption can come in the form of a baby. Or six babies, in my case; three boys and three girls who have changed me, a husband who has held and strengthened me, and a true and trustworthy God that whispers close to my heart the promise of purposeful surrender to His plans for me.

“After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10