6 Rules This Mom Must Follow

When I pictured myself as a mother, I tried to imagine what my voice might sound like when I catch my toddler drawing on the walls. I wondered whether my husband or I would end up as the disciplinarian. I smiled while picturing myself saying “Go ask your father” to a 7-year-old begging for a new toy.

It turns out—at least while it’s still fresh and you’ve got an infant or even a toddler at home—parenting is much more about setting and enforcing rules for yourself than for your baby. Suddenly you’re accountable to a pudgy little person who screeches in your ear at even the slightest mistakes.

So here’s the list of rules I’ve built for myself over the last year and a half. It’s made my mom life much smoother.

1. Don’t be selfish.

This one is absolutely first and most important. It’s also most difficult sometimes.

In this season of life, my family needs my time, energy, and devotion a lot more than I do. I chose these responsibilities. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I love fulfilling them. So when I’m tempted to feel bad for myself because I don’t get to do whatever I want for a whole weekend, or because we can’t just pick up and go out at the drop of a hat, or I can’t have a glass of wine with dinner, I try very hard to catch myself. What is more important: Seeing a movie on opening weekend, or breathing in some already rare cuddles with my growing-too-fast little girl?

Of course, it is critically important to set aside some time for myself each day and each week. But I do those things for family almost as much as myself. Being true to who I am and maintaining my own pastimes makes me a better, more centered wife and mother, after all.

2. Keep things tidy (and that includes yourself).

There are very few things I hate in life quite as much as laundry day. But I know—and I’ve taught myself this lesson many times—that simply ignoring a task doesn’t make it go away. My husband has his tasks, and I have mine—and it’s my responsibility to follow through on them.

Of course, it’s not just cleaning. Everything from keeping an eye on credit card spending to keeping the cars properly maintained requires consistent attention. Same goes for personal care. It’s relatively easy to maintain my health one day at a time; it’s a lot harder to circle back after a week of eating all the wrong things.

The better I am at keeping these simple duties under control, the less stressful they are—and the more time I can devote to more important things.

3. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Especially for new moms and those who stay or work at home, it can be incredibly difficult to let go and watch someone else step in and care for your child. Sixteen months later, this sharing of duties is still difficult for me some days.

For example, my husband took over the bedtime routine not too long ago. He is an amazing father; he’s the best man I could’ve asked for, for my children and myself. But I still itch to tell him exactly how to do things from time to time, despite knowing he’s quite capable of doing them his own way.

I know this is detrimental not just to my husband and other caregivers, but to me and to the baby. When I get this way, I find myself irrationally resentful of all that responsibility—even though I’ve placed it on myself. So when I step back and chastise myself for that self-centered need to see everything done my own way, and admit that I’m fortunate to share the load with some truly wonderful people, I’m a better mom (and probably a much more tolerable wife!).

4. Tell the truth.

Motherhood is overwhelming. Even when I’m not nitpicking every little thing, the sheer number of tasks and the weight of responsibility can be daunting. Add to that the hormonal implications of being shortly postpartum with a newborn (or, later, pregnant with a toddler in tow), the mood swings that come with a lack of sleep, and the frustration of just “trying things out” every time your little one hits a new stage, and there have been many times when I felt I was drowning since my daughter was born.

It’s one thing to follow Rule #3 and admit to yourself that you’ve taken on too much. But it’s quite another to admit it to someone else. That’s what I mean by “telling the truth,” and it’s something I’ve really had to practice. It’s okay to tell my husband I need extra help when he gets home. It’s okay to seek support from a mommy group. And it’s okay to pray for a little more peace when I’ve started running low.

5. Don’t raise your voice.

This isn’t a rule about discipline; it’s one about patience.

Patience is my biggest struggle as a mom. When my daughter was a newborn, the seemingly endless nursing sessions and unpredictable nighttime non-patterns would wear me thin. When she was a little older, the inexplicable crying fits or angry nap strikes would wear me down. And now that she’s a toddler, her repeated tendency to reject every dinner I make for her (and furthermore, throw it all on the floor) wears me out.

For me, being a mom is a constant effort to catch myself before I wreck myself. I have learned to smile when I want to cry. I have learned to redirect when I want to dwell. And I have learned to shut my mouth when I just want to yell. These new habits make for a much happier home life for all of us.

6. Laugh!

Though most of these rules are meant to hold me up when I’m starting to fall down, this last one is for recognizing every beautiful moment that comes with motherhood. It’s not often easy to be a mom, but it’s always an immense blessing—there is no greater joy, when you get right down to it.

So when my daughter does something funny, I laugh. When she reacts with giggles of delight to me doing some terribly embarrassing thing, I do that stupid thing again and again and I laugh right along with her. When I’m tired and want to get frustrated at something irrational she’s done, I laugh instead. And I think every one of those laughs breathes a little more life into us both, and helps solidify these perfect moments into memories.

 

As we all learn, adulthood replaces the simple accountabilities of following your parents’ rules with the complicated necessities of living in the real world.

Pay your bills. Get—and keep—a good job. Feed yourself nutritiously and stay active. Take sole responsibility for your behavior. Be practical. Be frugal. Be self-sufficient. Don’t screw up.

The stakes are high enough when it’s just you; they’re much higher in marriage, and they skyrocket once you become a parent.

For me, this evolution in life has brought about two very important lessons: I literally can’t do this on my own, but I have to hold myself accountable for doing my very best. And that’s what these rules are for.

mommy image

Let’s Talk About Mommy Image

We women are hard on ourselves. We are hard on each other. And moms are often the hardest.

I recently read an article about women who regret becoming mothers. If given the chance, they would go back and choose never to have their children in the first place. Aside from being bone-crushingly sad and sharply heartbreaking, I find this so, so frustrating. Can you imagine what it must be like to wish your own child out of existence? To long for their permanent absence? To wish you’d never met them?

I can’t begin to unpack all of the baggage in those thoughts. To me, there is the obvious conclusion that many of these women could be suffering from untreated depression. How else can you account for such a disconnect with one’s own identity (because motherhood surely does change our identities as women, as well it should)?

There’s also the clear problem of selfishness in modern culture. Although we can’t really know it until we’re in it, we all know that having kids will mean a serious life change—one that puts some of our own pursuits, by necessity, on the backburner. It means we can’t just up and do what we want anymore. There are more important things to worry about. There should be a natural bond in motherhood that makes those selfish impulses less important than the wellbeing of your child. If that’s missing, that’s a tragic problem that deserves attention. But I think, in some of these cases, people are just so caught up in a culture of “Do what YOU want because YOU want to and forget the rest!” that they forget that life can’t be lived that way in the context of a family.

Many of the women who contributed to that article cite societal pressure—to work, to not work, to breastfeed, to sacrifice—to “do right” by their children. They feel “trapped” and “coerced” into a life they didn’t expect. They feel forced to accept a singular identity as mothers. And they feel resentful that their children’s fathers aren’t held to the same standards.

Very little about being a mom is easy. I would venture to say that many new moms cry at least as many tears as their newborns during the first several months of life—and probably at several other stages of life, too. And there is a lot of self-doubt. That’s natural, and in many ways, it’s unavoidable. But it isn’t the doubt or the tears that should be life-changing. It’s the ultimate beauty of it all.

That said, it is incredibly difficult to live a life that basks in beauty when you can’t see the beauty within yourself. And that is where “mommy image” comes in.

Mommy image is the mental lens through which we view ourselves as mothers. Like body image, it is often a skewed perspective that casts a certain shade over the truth—one that is defined by unreasonable comparisons and unrealistic expectations. Whether that shade is warm or cold is up to us, but it is very difficult to see objectively, and it’s even harder to change.

In fact, body image is a major component of mommy image—and I think it’s an important and underemphasized one. There is so much pressure for moms to look a certain way. Tabloids are full of photographs featuring celebrities who’ve trimmed down immediately post-baby, and look like they did before pregnancy—or celebrities who haven’t, and are shamed for it.

During pregnancy, we are sold products to prevent stretch marks. After pregnancy, we are sold products to get rid of them. We are told to apply wraps or wear body shapers that will “shrink postpartum bellies.” In short, we are expected by others—and ourselves—to take time away from getting to know our babies and settling into our new roles to implement intense workout routines and carefully crafted diets (which may or may not be breastfeeding-friendly) so that our appearance might “go back to normal.”

But if there’s anything I’ve learned since becoming a mom, it’s that you don’t “go back to normal.” You need to find a new normal. Your life has changed—and so has your body. And that isn’t a bad thing.

Of course, we must do what we can to stay healthy. It isn’t a positive thing to ignore good nutrition and cease being active out of laziness or even distraction. But the focus should be a well-functioning body—not a good-looking one.

The fact is that the female body is not made to be looked at. It isn’t made to fit a Photoshop mold. And it certainly isn’t made to stay the same as life happens.

Though it’s an unpopular notion, the female body is meant to be given. We give ourselves to our husbands in the marital embrace. We give ourselves to ourselves when we maintain a healthy lifestyle and appreciate our appearance. We give ourselves to our neighbors when we spend our time and energy serving them. And, in such a profound and unmatchable way, we give ourselves to our children as we grow, nourish, and protect them from conception and throughout their lives.

When we focus on what we can give—and what we have given—instead of what we look like, it is a lot easier to see the beauty in our postpartum bodies. Those stretch marks and the loose skin exist because your body grew beyond the bounds of itself to accommodate a growing child, and to shelter her, in a warm, safe place, from a world she wasn’t ready for just yet. The extra padding on your thighs is there as a cushion for your child—one that will help nourish her as she grows in the womb, but also give her a soft place to land and hold onto as she learns to navigate life. The breasts that can’t seem to decide on a consistent shape, color, consistency, or size are working hard to feed your little one—and it is okay if this effort permanently alters their look, because it has significantly altered their purpose.

Motherhood has taught me many invaluable lessons, but one of them is to see the imperfections of my body and appreciate the miracle that left them on me. I can’t wish them away without wishing away the real privilege that gave them to me, and I would never want that.

Aside from just the physical, mommy image can haunt our minds with constant questions. Am I doing this right? Should I have tried harder? What will the neighbor think? Why can’t I keep my patience? How many times will I screw this up before I finally just get it right?

It is so, so hard to get past these thoughts. The first step is tuning everyone else’s judgmental questions out—because, like an annoying song, they can easily get stuck in our heads, to be repeated in our thoughts thousands of times until we just can’t shake them. I have had to learn to take advice gratefully, analyze it personally, and set aside what doesn’t work—no complications involved. This exercise both helps ease my doubts (hey, I tried, right?) and tune out the outside influences that make me question myself.

In innumerable ways, many of us feel pressured, judged, and shamed as mothers at one point or another. This is a fault of modern culture—and we need to get better about withholding judgment against one another. However, we also need to know that motherhood is about toughening up and finding your own sense of confidence and natural ability. Do not let others’ judgments affect how you feel about your family and your inner and outer self.

So what does your mommy image look like? Is your view of yourself as a mother tickled pink, mottled brown, or queasy green? We can all work on ourselves, and we can all work on how we view ourselves. You are deserving of your own respect. If you’ve lost it, how can you get it back?

When you find a way—by meditating, praying, repeating uplifting mantras, seeking support from others, or whatever works for you—please own it. Own that self-respect and know that your mommy image is one that you truly deserve. Because you are among the world’s superheroes.

How Motherhood Changed Me as a Wife

Every day I wonder at the tiniest things I manage to achieve during my infant daughter’s naps. Restocked on groceries? Vacuumed? Cycled a load of laundry? Did the dishes? Tidied up a room? Made dinner? Showered? Accomplishing two of those tasks before bedtime is a modest success. Pick any three and my day is made. Four or more done in one day counts as a miracle.

Before our daughter was born, I was the wife who was capable of accomplishing all of those things around a 9-hour work day and 3-hour commute (when I felt like it), any day of the week. My husband would help if I asked him, but such chores were manageable on my own—he had his own responsibilities, after all.

Things started to change almost as soon as I got pregnant. Homemade dinners went out the window with my appetite in the first trimester; vacuuming became just plain exhausting in the third. And doing the dishes felt rather unimportant on days I felt like crying for no apparent reason.

“I’m sorry,” I told my husband countless times. “Pregnancy makes me the worst wife ever.”

He, of course, always insisted that wasn’t true. And he was right—motherhood has made me much worse at these everyday tasks. (You should see my house on any given Thursday when we’re not expecting company. Yikes.)

On the flipside, pregnancy made him an even better husband than ever. He fed me ridiculous meals when I only had an appetite for one specific thing; he helped me up the stairs when my hips locked up; he woke up every time I got out of bed in the middle of the night to make sure I was okay; he picked up the slack I dropped on housework, on top of working overtime on his own household duties (like home improvements and repairs that would make us more comfortable when our daughter arrived).

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He went to every doctor appointment with me, attended every class, and listened to the intricacies of childbirth. When I cried because our baby was breech at our 34-week appointment and I was scared of scheduling a c-section, he comforted me. When I cried four weeks later because my doctor said we had to be induced and it all just felt so sudden, he reassured me everything would be okay. And when I cried because the pain just wore me out, he made me feel stronger.

So, every day for the last 11 months I’ve asked myself the same question: how would I do this without him? How could I become a mom with a happy, healthy baby who loves her, if I wasn’t already a wife with a wonderful husband who is always, always helping?

I know there are many mothers and fathers out there who manage to parent their children all on their own, and they have my immense respect. It is an impossibly difficult role to fill on your own.

Experiencing this miraculous transition into motherhood has made it so obvious to me why parenthood was meant to follow marriage. There is something divine to being a parent; something that goes beyond our simple capacities for patience and strength and emotion as humans. And that something becomes so obvious when I see my husband cuddling our daughter for a nap, or making her laugh, or comforting her when she’s crying. It becomes obvious when I’ve reached the end of my rope and he comes home from a long day at work, ready and willing to take over for me. It becomes obvious when we’re both overcome with joy to see her smile or coo or learn something new.

So now, while we’re busy baby-talking and wiping up poo, the floors go unvacuumed, the dishes go undone, and the stove goes unwiped. The laundry might get done, but only out of sheer necessity, and only to sit in a basket (possibly unfolded) on our bedroom floor for a week.

But I think I’m finally convincing myself that all this undone housework doesn’t make me a bad wife. Instead, it makes me a good mom. A mom who’s ready to drop what I’m doing to cuddle my daughter when she’s running a slight fever after her first shots. A mom who keeps herself sane and happy by reading or blogging or relaxing with Netflix during some of those daytime naps, instead of fretting over petty chores that can wait another day. A mom who sees perfection in her daughter’s happy face instead of a spotless house, and spends an extra 20 minutes talking to the beautiful girl with that happy face instead of setting her down so I can finish cleaning the kitchen. And being a good mom makes me a better wife.

There is, of course, a fine line between justifiable prioritization and neglect. I can’t just sit on the couch all day, every day—and I still take pride in a happy home, which means ensuring that home is comfortable and reasonably clean. Likewise, keeping a happy marriage requires attention and special devotion. Only so much grown-up interaction can happen around a nursing infant who cries if you’re not rocking her a certain way. That means that I have to be able to lean on my husband for his help without dumping everything on him as soon as I lose my patience, and it means spending time with just the two of us on a regular basis.

Knowing all this, it’s easy to see how becoming a mom has changed how I fill my role as a wife. Motherhood makes me a better wife with a messier house, a weepier disposition, and an even more wonderful husband. So, overall, life is pretty good.

Why the Worst Well-meant Advice Is Worth Every New Mom’s Time

PSA for Pregnant Ladies: Every piece of advice your friends and family give you before your first child is born will be kindly offered and given in your best interest. In short, they mean well. Remember that.

(The same may not be true for complete strangers. That random person in the checkout line at Farm & Fleet who tells you “You must be due any day, get some sleep and get ready!” when you’re only 29 weeks along clearly doesn’t know your life.)

As soon as you announce your pregnancy, everyone’s got something to offer. It’s as if, once the world knows about that little baby in your belly, a fire hose of happy, helpful insight is turned on and never turns off again. Everyone has a sure-fire way to help you survive your first sleepy, noisy, poopy weeks with a newborn.

Not all of it is what you want to hear. Some of it you just won’t like. Plenty of it you won’t want to try.

Worse, a few things you will try and your heart will break when they don’t work. You’ll resent that they don’t work. Your faith will shake and your doubts will blossom and you’ll wonder what you’re supposed to do next.

If there’s anything I’ve learned by becoming a mom and interacting with others, it’s that kids don’t come with manuals for one good reason: babies aren’t machines. Each is uniquely made, requires their own specific kind of care, and reserves the right to change his or her mind about what works and what doesn’t any day of the week. It isn’t always fun to figure out what works, but it’s how you bond. It’s how you learn to be a mom.

Naturally, with that work behind her, every mom wants to share her best tips with all her mommy friends. Her enthusiasm may come off as over-confidence, but that’s because that feeling she got when she found something that worked was confidence. Extreme confidence. Fight-with-an-angry-bear confidence. Because she did it. She made that baby feel good again. She made him as happy as he makes her in their best and brightest moments together.

Of course, you’ll decide how to raise your child. There is a moral and social compass by which you will learn to parent. But the little things that help keep you sane day-in and day-out are about small moments of peace. And you never know which ones are going to work.

So even when you’re 8 months pregnant and struggling to carry your own weight, let alone the weight of the big bucket you’re using to catch the flood of advice coming from every angle, don’t stop listening. Absorb what you can, because all of the mommies around you really do mean well. They want to share their experience with you so the newness of it all is a little less daunting for you.

Then, if you’re as new to babies as I was and aren’t sure where to begin once you have a newborn screaming in your arms, start by giving your loved ones’ advice a try—even if it sounds crazy. Even if you planned to follow the eat-play-sleep rule, try play-eat-sleep. Try a different swing or a lullaby or a white noise machine. Try the methods espoused by all the conflicting parenting books (and parents) in your life. It might be just what you and your little one need.

A personal example. For me, the biggest thing that didn’t work was one of the most common pieces of advice I heard: “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

Sounds like common sense, right? Limited, interrupted sleep at night + long naps for baby during the day = long naps for Mom, too.

But that didn’t work at all for us.

I’m a terrible daytime napper, and after about a week of being tethered to the couch by physical recovery and frequent nursing, I was going crazy. I needed to get something done around the house—even the littlest things. I needed to feel productive and like myself and not live every second fixating on a mental timer counting down to the next feeding.

As a result, no, I couldn’t sleep when the baby slept. And now, 11 weeks in, I still stay up with my husband for an hour or two after our daughter falls asleep, even if last night was rough and the day wasn’t much better. Because that time with another grownup—more importantly, the time to just be together and enjoy our marriage like we always have—is actually better than sleep. Who knew?

As for what worked? Here’s one: sshhhing a screaming baby. Someone told me that, when she’s crying and I need to calm her down for a feeding or just help soothe her, I should shhhhh right into my baby’s ear, as loudly as she’s crying. It sounded silly to me, but I tried it in a moment of typical new mom desperation/confusion, and what do you know? She stopped. Why such a little thing should help so much is beyond me, but there it is.

So here’s to the moments that click—those precious seconds when the baby stops crying or you wake up feeling actually rested in the morning because that tiny piece of advice came through. Keep trying every tip until you find those seconds. They’re worth all the “bad” advice you tried along the way.

5 Places the Time Goes When You’re a New Mom

Scenario 1: Suddenly it’s been 3 minutes and there are two lines on that test, and the two weeks I’ve been waiting for this moment hardly even existed.

Scenario 2: That surreal day of labor and push, push, push! and first meetings was 2 months ago, and we feel like she’s been here all our lives.

It’s 2016. Where has the time gone? For me, 2015 was a big, wonderful, crazy ball of blazing-fast new experiences. And I think I must’ve asked myself that question a few million times.

So when I really think through it, I can follow the minutes down into these wormholes:

1. Into your body.

I have this theory that time is physically absorbed into your bloodstream. This is how aging happens. And how, when you’re pregnant, every day gets a little bit tougher (the last few weeks are the craziest) and yet spins by a little bit faster.

It’s because your womb is filling up with 9 months of new life. That means all those extra calories you’re consuming, the extra water you’re drinking every hour, and the all-encompassing thoughts of “I’m carrying a baby around with me right now. How is this a thing?” are adding up. The end result is a brand new baby who is much greater than the sum of all those days. Suddenly the last 9 months—which stretched out endlessly in front of you at the beginning—are behind you in the blink of an eye.

(I’m sure it’s also how moms “forget” the work of labor and, soon enough, look forward to a chance to do it all over again.)

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2. To the dogs.

Wasted time is wasted life. For the first few weeks of a new baby’s life, it’s vital for Mom and Dad to do absolutely nothing they don’t want to with the time between feedings. Two hours can pass by too quickly, and when you’ve got a newborn at home, sleeping is a wonderful answer to the “Where has the time gone?” question.

Fast forward a few months, though, and I can’t always forgive myself those wasted hours. Maybelle is sleeping well at night; I should be adulting during the day. If all of those 2-4 hour blocks are spent on nothing much more than Netflix and the couch, it’s my own fault. But if they’re spent on laundry, errands, and maybe blogging a little here and there? That’s a win.

3. Over the rainbow.

Here’s another cliché for you: hindsight is 20-20. Want another? The grass is always greener on the other side. Clichés are clichéd for a reason, and that reason is that they’re almost always true.

When you’re stuck in the middle of an ultra-fussy growth spurt, and suddenly your easygoing baby is inconsolable for hours at a time, and you’re wondering why you have to relearn to be a mom every single day because what worked yesterday isn’t doing the job today, you look back on the last easy week with nostalgic longing. I catch myself doing this all the time. What happened to my happy baby? Why can’t tonight be like last night?

But here’s the thing: Maybelle is the product of every growth spurt’s progress. When the last one was over, she started smiling and cooing at funny faces. The one before that left her opening her eyes to the world, instead of staying cozied up in her own dreams all the time. So what will the end of this growth spurt bring? Being a mom has taught me that no minute spent embracing this moment—even if you’re also looking forward to the next—is wasted.

Even the tougher minutes are worth your love and attention right now. Enjoy them if you can, endure them no matter what, and know that yesterday wasn’t objectively better just because it was easier.

4. Onto the internet (and, hopefully, some paper).

The absurd procrastinator in me is so, so thankful for smartphones and Instagram. If I raised my own family before this century—when parents had to remember cameras, their associated batteries and film/memory cards, getting the resulting images printed, and then sharing those prints with their extended families—I’d be a hot mess of forgotten moments and missed photo opportunities. In that way, the instant gratification and real-time results of social media are a blessing.

Still, nothing beats a thoughtfully composed, physical photo album or a well-documented baby book. And that’s something I need to get better at.

The reality of parenting is that you experience every moment thinking, “Wow, I will never forget this milestone!”—and then, a week later, you can’t quite recall the exact tone of voice that inspired that first smile in your little one. So don’t be ashamed and don’t lose those memories: document everything, and share the moments that fill your heart to bursting. You’ll be glad you did.

5. Into your family.

All that time I spent fretting over what I did (or didn’t) eat and drink, what vitamins I took and when, how I clocked in my exercise—all of that resulted in a healthy, happy baby born at term. The time my husband spent fixing up little things in our house, keeping me happy and comfortable during the pregnancy, and looking forward to fatherhood resulted in a wonderful foundation for our growing family. And the time we spent enjoying each other’s company—just the two of us—while we still could resulted in a stronger, happier marriage and a partnership that has saved us both more than once.

The time we share with others results in the most growth. When I obsess over myself for too long, that’s when my anxiety jumps, my energy plummets, and my confidence wavers. But when I focus on making my husband as happy as he makes me, helping my baby grow, and giving my family the best chance for bliss, that’s when we all come out on top.

 

The question only gets bigger from here. In 2015, my husband and I decided started trying for a baby, learned we were expecting our first child, enjoyed a healthy pregnancy, welcomed our daughter into the world, and began learning how to be parents during her first two months of life outside the womb. In sixteen years, I know we’ll look at her and wonder when this little baby disappeared and a young adult began to emerge.

Here’s the funny thing about life: the bigger the milestones, the smaller the clock. Love them—and live them—while you can.

(Photo taken by Roni Rose Photography of Huntley, IL. Roni and her husband are magicians with cameras; check them out!)

I’m Not a Feminist, But…

I am anti-abortion. I am also pro-life.

So when I hear politicians, super PACs, and activists say things like “women need access to abortion” or see blog posts like “10 Reasons to Have an Abortion – Illustrated by Adorable Cats,” I get sick to my stomach worrying about the value we place on healthy, happy, well-informed women.

The groups sharing those opinions often fight against informed consent laws that are designed to teach women in a vulnerable, emotional position the science behind their pregnancy. (A 14-year-old girl who’s frightened out of her wits—and uneducated on both pregnancy and the procedure of abortion—shouldn’t be denied a guaranteed opportunity to learn more about them before she decides to abort. Still, in many states, she is. If that’s not backing young women into a corner, I don’t know what is.)

Similar groups also fight against notification laws that are designed not just to protect young women from rash decisions and protect parents from losing influence over their children’s lives, but also to protect victims of rape and incest from continued abuse. They say they want abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare,” but they virtually never support initiatives that would make that last one true—and, in fact, they fight actively against those efforts. More than 3,000 abortions take place every day in the United States alone. The number of abortions that have occurred in America since 1973 exceeds the number of U.S. military deaths in every war we’ve ever fought combined. There’s nothing rare about that.

The most outrageous among them claim that pregnancy is an “unnatural” or “unhealthy” state, which is a direct insult to the biology of the feminine genius. To suggest that our anatomy makes us “unnatural” or “unhealthy” is the most perversely anti-feminist thing I’ve ever heard.

The fight for abortion uses the same shaming I’ve mentioned before: it forces women to feel their ability to open themselves to the physical intervention of scalpels, suction, and chemicals is what will protect their health and independence, and help them avoid social judgment. It makes pregnancy shameful and pushes women to make them fit society’s opinions of who and what and how they should be. The argument that “women need access to abortion” seeks to force women’s opinions with perceived normalcy and education. It pretends to be the smarter, more forward-thinking majority. It says: “Trust us when we say you need a reactive way to ‘solve’ your problem—and it is your problem, since you’re the one who’s pregnant. We’re here to tell you what’s best for you now that you’ve gotten here, because you can’t be responsible for proactive options, and you shouldn’t have to think of anyone but yourself. It’s not selfishness; it’s independence.”

I won’t even get into how much this hurts the men involved, who have played an equal role in starting a pregnancy—with total consent from both sides, the vast majority of the time—and yet have no weight in the argument over whether that pregnancy can continue. Removing fathers from the equation hurts women, too. It puts those women into a very lonely place, wherein one of the most impactful decisions of their lives must be made alone because society tells each of them that the man’s opinion doesn’t matter, and this must be her choice and hers alone. That makes it her ‘problem’ to solve, as if she’s solely responsible for both its creation and “cleanup.” It is isolating, terrifying, and unfair for her to endure that struggle on her own.

Those are the insults to womanhood that make me feel like a feminist. Those are the claims that devalue me as a female member of society, fully capable of understanding my body, controlling my impulses, and sharing my life.

We should be teaching each other to understand the way our bodies work. We should be encouraging each other to make the safest, healthiest decisions to protect our wellness and accomplish our goals. When unplanned circumstances come our way—even when they’re by our own actions—we should be supporting each other the whole way through, not shaming each other for the decisions that have gotten us there.

The vast majority of the time, women seeking abortions are healthfully pregnant by their own—and the father’s—shared choices. We are too smart to be telling each other that’s not the case. We all know that sex is a procreative act. We all know that birth control fails. So to say, “I consented to sex, but I didn’t consent to pregnancy” is a fallacy and an example of profound ignorance. And we are too smart to tell each other that abortion doesn’t end a life, or that its graphic violence is ever our best or only option.

We are all called to love and respect one another and ourselves. So why can’t we do a better job of helping each other do just that? Pro-lifers should support mothers and babies, as the sincere ones do, both before and after a decision is made. Even if a tragedy occurs, we should be there to hope for and help support healing. And advocates for abortion should welcome conversation, equal education, and support into the equation before a decision is made.

Women need each other as much as they need the men in their lives and as much as those men need women. We are social beings and should not isolate ourselves or each other. That’s not how we were made to be. Instead of subjecting ourselves to shame, objectification, violence, and ignorance, we should stand hand-in-hand in our toughest moments. Those are the moments of history that people remember, and that inspire us to be better. We must make a decision to support our most frightened, most vulnerable, and most unprotected—whatever that looks like.

Christmas Isn’t Over Yet — It Never Is

Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love it because it’s a season, not just a day—and it gives us all an opportunity to remember what’s important in life.

I think we’ve all noticed the way people brighten in December. I think it’s hard to ignore people donating to the Salvation Army outside of the grocery store; how our offices host food drives and local schools; how our churches gather extra donations for local families in need.

On the one hand, it’s true that we should behave this way all year long—we should always be thinking of our neighbors first. On the other hand, we are imperfect. And the fact that a society so proud of its secularism still recognizes this season as a time of authenticity and selflessness is a reassuring one.

I love the nativities everywhere I look. I love the glimmering trees in big bay windows, the lights on gables and doorways, the jingle of bells. I’m not a fan of kitschy Christmas music, but I love the fact that the radio is full of it—and that so many people out there love it.

I love that everyone I love wants to be near me—and our whole family—during the Christmas season. Above all, I love that this is a time when those who feel generally uncompelled to visit the Church are called to join in Her celebration.

Half of the battle is won in Christmas: people know that there is a cause to be championed and a world to be loved. The rest of it is won in each one of us.

To help you fight the battle, I’d like to share this story adapted from our Christmas homily this year.

One morning, Mary went to her husband, Joseph, and told him a story. “I had a strange dream last night,” she said, with a faraway look in her eyes. “There were people all over the world celebrating our son’s birthday. They smiled and laughed and shared stories. They made feasts and shared sweets and enjoyed each other’s company.

“But before that,” she said, “they spent weeks shopping—spending so much money—for trinkets and toys. They worried over bills and travel and legers. They compared presents and goals and boasted long lists of gifts for strangers. They counted values and wrote them down for next time. They decorated big trees and big houses with lavish things.

“On our son’s birthday, Joseph, they all gathered around those trees, in those houses, and they exchanged gifts. They gave each other these presents, big and small, and rejoiced in receiving their own—but not a single one brought gifts for our son. On his birthday, Joseph, our son received nothing—he wasn’t even invited to the party.”