Sarah Page: Motherhood, Jesus and finding gems in the darkness
Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
So I’m delighted to be joined for this episode of the podcast by Sarah Page. We’re going to have a conversation about parenting and motherhood and expectations of parenting; spirituality and what turns out to be different and how you navigate all the trials and struggles of some of that. Sarah’s got some stories and insight and rich experience to share. So thank you ever so much for joining us. Do you want to introduce yourself?
S: Thanks Cath, thanks for having me. So I’m a Mum of 2, I presently have a 5yo and a 7yo at the time of this recording, they’re about to go into their 8th and 6th birthdays in the next lot of weeks, which is exciting. I’m married to Daniel, I work in the education sphere and it’s quite busy and demanding as you can imagine, and I’ve only been doing full time work now for just over a year. Prior to that I was just doing part time as a result of parenting. I’ve been a Christian since I was born, practically, having been raised in a Christian home, but I had a whole season away from God but I came back to God when I was 21, so I’ve now been walking with Jesus for about 23 years now.
C: Fab. So I know that you were single for quite a long time before you got married
C: I’m wondering whether marriage and parenthood were in your image of what life was going to be like?
S: I had always hoped that I would get married, and I had a sense that that was God’s heart for me, so I’d hung on for that, but I didn’t meet my husband until I was in my 30s. We got married, and in our conversations building up to getting married, we’d talked about having children, and he was a little bit *grimace* not quite sure whether that will happen, not sure whether I’m fertile or not, and I was more of the mindset “I’m going to have this 2.4 family with the children, the husband, and that’s what it’s going to look like.”
C: Did you have an image of what you thought that was going to be like? Had you seen other families and thought “I can imagine it being like this, I can imagine bringing them to church?”
S: Yeah, I’d been in a church congregation that had a lot of families, so you see the parents turning up with the kids, the children would go off to kids church, the babies would go off to creche where there’s some nice staff that would help them out, so it all looked like it was quite a beautiful scenario, so I suppose that’s the image I had in my head. My own parents, when we were children, they were the youth pastors in their church, so they ran a Christian youth group, they ran a youth group that was more about widening to people who didn’t know Jesus yet so was more about fun and activities, they ran a bible study at home, they were out preaching, and things like that, so I was part of that scene when I was really little, so I guess that’s how I thought life with kids would look.
C: So then you get pregnant and you’re imagining your maternity leave and your time after that. What were you imagining that would be like?
S: I’d seen lots of women walking around with the bump looking absolutely stunning and beautiful. I was excited about having the bump. My experience of pregnancy was actually more traumatic in that I ended up having pre-natal depression. I didn’t want to get off the sofa, I didn’t want to talk to people, it was a major effort just to get to work. To deliver in front of a class and teach was traumatic for me. I’d come home and want to just hide away. Interestingly, I was vitamin-D deficient, that is what was triggering the issue.
C: Oh, right
S: A friend of mine at work had got a SAD lamp because she had seasonal affected depression, she said “try the SAD lamp and see if that makes a difference”. I tried it for a few mornings, and sure enough I was buzzing off it, it made such a massive difference to me. I was like “I’m pregnant, does the SAD lamp work with pregnancy?” It’s a vitamin-D deficiency, that’s what the issue is, maybe I need more supplements. We eventually called the vitamin-D tablets my “happy tablets”, I took a higher level of vitamin-D, that helped me to function. The other thing I found really helpful that season was writing a list of gratitudes. As I journeyed to work I’d be writing my list of thank yous on my phone and saying thankyou to God for all the things I was thankful for. Likewise when I was coming back I’d do that, and I drew strength from that, and found that that helped me get through that particular season. In my head I knew that babies were supposed to sleep for a long period of time. I was under the impression that they would sleep for 12 hours, and that would be through the night, and then also they would be napping in the daytime. In my education role we’re encouraged to write books and write journal articles and things like that, so I thought I was gonna write a book, that was my plan. I thought “I’m going to have all this extra time, what am I going to do with it? I only need 8 hours sleep, so I should have at least 4 hours where I can write a book. This is gonna be a really productive season, and when I’m not writing the book and I’m not asleep, I’m going to be having lots of fun with my baby. We’re going to be going to all these Mums and Toddlers groups, and we’re going to be having so much fun and I can go anywhere in my car and I can go off and do anything”, and we changed my car to be more baby friendly so I had a car I’d be able to do all of that kind of thing with, so I suppose that was my image, that I was going to have this really rich time with God, one of my Christian friends had told me how she’d set up a bible study and prayer group and the kids would be napping or doing things and they would be spending time with God and how rich that was, and so I was really excited about what that season of life was going to look like.
C: You’ve talked a lot about prayer and connecting with God, so I’m wondering what your spiritual life, what your practice was in your single life and when you were married and not yet with children?
S: When I had come back from my prodigal season, I was an all-in girl, “I’m leaving all the stuff and the partying that I was doing, and I’m just, ‘GOD’. Just me and God.” So I led quite a monastic lifestyle, I would spend several hours in the morning where I would e reading my bible, praying, worshipping, dancing around the house to God, chatting to Him. I would chat to Him in my day when I was at work, I would come home and He was my company in my house by myself prior to getting married, so we’d have time in the evening together as well. If I watched a film or a tv program I would do that ‘with God’ as well. So I’d be like “what do You want to speak to me about?” I treated Him like my best mate. And then I would be at church serving in various capacities, and also at prayer meetings and having bible studies and growth groups and all of that. So I would say my life was very full of God, in terms of what my pattern looked like.
C: Did you do the traditional that we’re all supposed to aspire to, the get up in the morning and pray and – ?
S: Yes, so my quiet time in the morning was get up at 5 o clock in the morning and spend that hour of reading my bible first, then spend at least an hour in prayer and worship, before having breakfast, getting showered, getting out of the house. I used to run 3x a week, so whilst I was running I used to fit in worship music and connecting God through that side of things, so I had what I felt like was a very deep, well connected… and God was my source of strength, my source of wisdom; helped me do my work, and helped me do life.
C: So moving forwards to the point where you’re having your first son, presumably you also had an image of what the whole birthing thing would be like, had you ordered the birthing pool and the choir and the – *both laugh*
S: In preparation for having a baby, my husband gets really freaked out over hospitals, he gets white coat syndrome big style, would pass out, kind of thing, and just panics driving past a hospital, so I made him watch One Born Every Minute. *both laugh* Quite frequently, to desensitise him to some of the issues, but also to help him to think about what might be helpful for when we’re giving birth in the different scenarios and stuff. That was part of our preparation season. I had decided from watching lots of episodes of One Born Every Minute what kind of birth I would like. I wanted a birthing pool, and I wanted my husband who plays guitar and piano and is involved in worship, to bring his guitar and to worship through birth, that was my tranquil image of what I wanted birth to be like. My Mum had given birth really swiftly, she had been like 3 hours and then out popped the baby and no pain relief, so I was thinking surely I would have that genetics! *both laugh* Surely I would have been blessed to be just like my Mum. That was what I was anticipating, but that got a little bit scrapped. At 20wks we got told that our son was brain damaged. We were asked to abort our son. So we then had the rest of the pregnancy where I was having to go for scans every single week, they were monitoring the brain. At one point I was told I was going to have to go to a completely different city to give birth. That it would be through C-cestion, scheduled C-section, and then my baby would be whisked off to the Children’s specialist unit so that all the tests could be done on his brain. The church prayed. We were praying and praying. Week by week in the scans, the brain started to shrink to the size that it was supposed to be and was just – just! – outside of the threshold of what was classed as normal, so the decision was that I actually could then birth locally, so my birthing plans had gone out of the window, because I was going to be going to another city, and then it’d come back to “you can actually have it local”, so I was like “get the guitar! We’ll go back to the first birthing plan, shall we?!” So there was quite a lot of trauma –
C: A lot of trauma, yeah
S: – in those months up until birth, and then I didn’t end up giving birth on the due date, because the due date is invariably wrong, when you’re thinking “Oh, this is the point where…”
C: That’s when we organised the worship session
S: That’s when we bought the birthing pool… . I ended up having to be induced. My situation of being induced was pretty traumatic. I started contracting but not to the point of then being able to go into the second stage of inducement and into the proper maternity area where you would then be delivering. They ran out of beds because there were so many women who were birthing that night. So I had to stay in the induction ward for a longer amount of time, and in that time you can hear all the women giving birth screaming their heads off in the room next door. I got told I couldn’t go home and I had to stay at the hospital, and then finally got put into a room, and then again, many hours, and eventually we ended up with an emergency C-section because my son’s heart rate plummeted. So the next minute I’m waking up, they had to knock me out to do that, and I’m having a baby thrust on me and going *grimaces* Being very tired, after 48hrs of going through labouring and pre-labour and stuff like that in a hospital, it’s a pretty tiring situation. That was my wake up to the world of motherhood.
C: Gosh. I’m just wondering in that pregnancy and those weeks, what walking with Jesus was like in the midst of that trauma of not knowing?
S: Yeah, I think in terms of being told that we had a brain-damaged child, all I sensed God saying was “I’m going to hold your hand through this.”
S: So I didn’t have a sense of God healing our child, I had huge conviction about unconditional love, so if we end up having a child that’s brain damaged, loving, and what loving might look like for us as a family and feeling convicted about my own prejudices and my own image of, I want a child who is fully functioning and able, and what that God was actually pulling at me around my heart and so my assurance was, “I’m holding your hand.” That’s all I could hold onto. Thankfully there was lots of people praying, and covering us in prayer, and the glimmers of hope every single week when we got the scan and we could see the millimetre it had shrunk, because he had an enlarged ventricle on his brain, and one side was particularly large, the other one was mildly larger than normal, and to see it shrink bit by bit by bit was hope-building, that God was doing something, and I really didn’t want to have to go to another city to give birth, and when it got declared that I didn’t have to, it just seemed “God’s got your back. God’s here”. It was a really precious thing. I mentioned that I was having the vitamin-D issues, and so the thanksgiving through that was a real key for me.
C: So it was difficult, but you were maintaining a spiritual practice?
S: Yes, and upping my game in that, in terms of being very specific about thanksgiving, that was something that I was more casual about in my normal Christian practice, but being very aware I need to thanksgive.
C: Were there particular moments within that where you really sensed God’s presence, that God was there holding your hand?
S: I don’t remember as detailed back then Catherine! *both laugh* Lots has happened since then. I can’t remember having lots of charged moments, but I think that you’re body’s doing so many weird things when you’re pregnant that that has something to do with what you might experience.
C: That’s really interesting isn’t it, because actually what feels like a normal spiritual experience is a whole body thing. So what I’m hearing in that is that as your body’s doing all sorts of different things, so your spiritual experience is shifting around that a bit.
S: Yes, and so our hormones do all sorts of weird things to us, and therefore processing God and hearing God and all of those kinds of things change a little bit. For me. For other women they may still have a similar pathway, because everyone’s bodies respond to babies differently as well don’t they? So for me it was different. I can’t remember having the deep senses of peace that I had pre-pregnancy in the same way, but I knew that I had that assurance of Him holding my hand and I knew I was hanging on to that.
C: There’s something very beautiful about that, isn’t there, because God is not requiring you to do a lot, if the job is just to know that God is holding your hand.
C: And in the middle of all of that chaos that sounds like a very compassionate word for you to have walked with.
C: There is something about God/s unconditional love, but also, empathy in that, I think, isn’t there?
S: Yes, it’s very beautiful.
C: So post birth, you’ve had this child put on your chest after this kind of really traumatic time, and I wonder if you had some sort of preconceived idea about the rush of maternal hormones, and the beauty of that moment, and I’m wondering whether it kind of matched up?
S: No. *both laugh* No, it didn’t. I guess I had this image that you see your baby and suddenly you’re like “Ohh!” and certainly you see that on all the programmes that you watch, that there’s this special moment where you embrace your child, and all I kept thinking was, “why the heck did you wake me up from the final point I’ve managed to get some sleep, and I’ve got this baby on me”. And our child screamed a lot. So we had a screamer. It wasn’t this warm fuzzy moment. I wanted to breastfeed, we’d gone to a class that talked about breastfeeding, the benefits of breastfeeding, hearing all the medical information about it, I was like “I want to give that a go”. My husband had naively turned around and said, “if you do the ‘input’, I’ll do the ‘output’ and be responsible for the nappies whenever I’m home”. *both laugh* So we were trying to breastfeed, and we couldn’t latch properly. We were having lots of problems. I was told that his blood sugar levels were out of function, we had to go on a feeding program with him. At the same time I’m having painkiller relief through the hospital, and don’t realise that I’m allergic to it and having reactions to it. My body is shaking and doing all sorts of weird things. We end up in hospital for 10 days after Baby.
C: Gosh, that’s a long time
S: It’s a lonnngggg period of time. I’m really struggling, and it’s not going particularly well. One night I’m just like “Jesus! I don’t wanna be here! And I don’t know what’s going on.” At that point, God told me which medication not to take.
S: I was so tired, I was like “I don’t know if it’s You, or if I’m hallucinating right now in terms of what I’m thinking, but I’m just going to go with it.” The next day when the medication came around, I went “I’m not taking that.” They were like “are you sure?” and I was like “I am sure, I’m not taking that.” Within 24hrs I was back to normal and I’d stopped shaking and doing weird things. My liver function test and everything started to go back to relatively normal. At that point I wasn’t willing to wait to being back to the point of absolutely normal, I said “I’m discharging myself.” *both laugh* I was so desperate to go home, have some time out. We went home and blood pressure instantly, instantly came down. I started to have support and stuff at home. There was problems, I had had an emergency C-section, I kept getting infections. I was struggling with my mobility as a result. And we had a baby that cried non-stop. I didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t fully normal, but this felt odd. When we would put him down to sleep, he would wake up in 20 minutes screaming his head off. I was like, “I thought you just put the baby down and they slept blissfully and you could get some rest” –
C: You were writing a book
S: – I was gonna write a book, and that just all went out of the window. So he was waking and screaming, waking and screaming, waking and screaming, he would go onto the breast and sometimes he would feed ok and other times he wouldn’t, and he would be arching his back and screaming. I was like “what is happening?”, I wasn’t quite sure. Eventually I plucked up the courage to speak to the doctor about it. He was like “it’s your first baby, isn’t it?” I was like “yes, it’s my first baby”. He was like “it’s just colic, get on with it”. He treated me like I was a neurotic first time Mum, which really wasn’t helpful. The screaming was persisting. All the things that other Mums do like that gentle rocking with their baby, didn’t work for my child. I was like “why is nothing working? Why does it feel so hard, so tough?” At nighttime when he would be waking every 20 minutes and screaming, I was like “I don’t know what to do”. So we were in a bit of a pickle. One day a health visitor happened to come round at the point that he was having one of his screaming episodes and instantly went “your child’s got silent reflux”.
S: Phoned my doctor there and then, and told my doctor to medicate, and we started a journey that took us to 8mo when we finally got before a specialist and he finally got some medical treatment that went from him waking every 20 minutes to sleeping for 5hrs in a chunk.
S: Thee consultant had arranged a telephone appointment with me the next morning to find out how it had gone, and I said “he’s slept for 5hrs!” and she said “that’s not good enough, we’re doubling the dose!” *both laugh*
C: You were like, “you’re my new best friend!”
S: Yes, my new best friend the consultant. So we doubled the dose and he slept for 7hrs. Then he would wake up for a feed and he’d go back to sleep for 3 hrs. So suddenly my life changed.
S: Because I was getting sleep and I could function. But for 8 months we had this journey of horrendous no-sleeping, I was averaging 2hrs a day, in a 24hr period, and that 2hrs wasn’t always together. *laughs*
S: It was an incredibly stressful season of life.
C: Where was God? What was your sense of God being with you in that season?
S: I certainly wasn’t having the goose-bump-y lovely moments with Jesus. My times with Jesus would be “God help me”. If you’ve got a screaming baby, constantly screaming, it’s hard to stay sane. It’s hard to focus and to have this really loving rapport with your baby in the same way as all the lovely baby cuddles that you see for some parents. My times with God looked really different, I didn’t have the time to get up in the morning and have those earlies, because I wasn’t actually sleeping in the first place. *both laugh* There was no early morning, there was just perpetual awakeness and tiredness. My times with God would look like me going for a walk with my child, I had him in a sling, because that helped him the best to be upright. It would take me an hour of walking with the rhythm of walking, to get him to the point that he might soothe to sleep, and then I’d have to carry on walking for another hour to keep him asleep. I had to do that several times a day to let him have some naps. In those walk times, I worshipped. And sang songs to Jesus. And I prayed. And my prayers weren’t these deep prayers, they were all kind of “God help me, God help that person”. Simplicity! It wasn’t an eloquent experience in that way. I would often walk off the beaten track, because I would have to walk so far, that I could sing out loud. That was God being my company in the midst of feeling quite isolated. We discovered that journeying in a car, for example, would exacerbate his reflux so much that it wasn’t worth going in the car. So my dreams of going all over the place and having lots of adventures with him went out of the window. We could only keep local. So my journey was different with God that season. When I was breastfeeding he would either be flinging off me screaming, or if he did breastfeed for a long period it would be for a very long period, because that was his way of getting pain relief and self soothing. So I would watch GodTV or another Christian broadcast to get some bible teaching. I’ve always been someone that fed myself on scripture, but I was too tired to actually read my hard copy bible. My eyes wouldn’t stay open. I really felt God saying “It’s ok for other people to feed you in this season, Sarah”. *both laugh* “It is totally ok for you to sit there and listen to someone else’s teaching and to receive from other people and allow them to feed.” I think of, right now as we’re talking, I think of the story in the old testament where you’ve got the feeding from the ravens to Elijah and God nourished him, and that was my season, I suppose, where God was sending ravens to feed me through the tv or through a radio broadcast or through a podcast or things like that. But I also found that I would fall asleep. So we would have, me and my husband, might have an intentional moment where we’d go “right, let’s pray together”. Within a few minutes I would be asleep. *laughs* Because I couldn’t stay awake. That sense of “that’s ok, Sarah. Just in the same way you have a delight moment the second your child does have a little sleep moment, that’s the way that God feels when you as a parent are knackered and you have a sleep moment.”
C: Was it psychologically really easy to settle into this new pattern of spiritual life? You’re shaking your head.
S: No, no it wasn’t. It was a culture shock for me. I’d had this really monastic lifestyle, this rich time, and I felt like I was failing because I wasn’t having the same rich kind of picture. I had all these aspirations of wanting to connect with all the Mums in the community and share faith, and this was going to be an amazing season for being able to do that, and instead I felt isolated because we couldn’t go out as much. I managed to go to a local, Christian, church-based Mums and Tots group, and when I would go, sometimes my son might be ok, other times he might scream. *through laughter* so my connection with the other Mums wasn’t so great! *both laugh* And I was too knackered
S: I’d get there and I’d be like, thank God that someone brought me a cup of tea and a biscuit, rather than thinking “how can I reach out to the Mums around me for Jesus?” So everything flipped and everything got stripped away. Going to church became really difficult because that was a car journey for us and we couldn’t do car journeys. So very much I was at home doing Jesus but not doing… I’m sorry, I’ll just clarify one sec, the church that we were part of was a car journey away, the local church wasn’t a church that we were in attendance to on a Sunday. So in this season I did also feel like God was challenging me about being salt and light in the community, as a result of the journey around the community. I was no longer doing any forms of Christian leadership, in terms of bible teaching, I was part of a bible teaching team, I was well connected in with growth groups and things like that, and all of that stuff got stripped back. That’s an identity shift and a half. *laughs*
C: Yes, coz whilst your spiritual life before included quite a lot of just being with God and simply soaking in God’s presence, equally I’m listening to you and thinking there was quite a lot of ‘doing’ for God, quite a lot of performing the role of – I’m not meaning that in a disrespectful way – but quite a lot of performing the role of The Good Christian. So quite a lot of doing stuff. Suddenly you’re in a situation where all of the things that you would have done for God are just not possible.
S: Yes, and my soaking times with God, I very much have learned in life that the more you receive, then the overflow of that hits other people. So part of me wanting to safeguard all of that lovely rich time was because I knew the overflow was for other people and for how it poured out to others. Connected to others. And how fruitful that had been in my life in terms of drawing other people to Jesus. So now I’m feeling like I’m not fruitful. I’m feeling like ‘the peace of the LORD’ isn’t quite overflowing. Instead you’ve got one stressed, burnt out frazzled Mum. I’m not feeling like I’m giving a good feast for other people to eat off. I’m not feeling like I’m able to invest in other people’s lives. I feel like I’m in survival mode. I’m just trying to get by for myself, so that my baby is safe and alive, and so am I *laughs*
S: That’s the reality around it
C: There’s something, isn’t there, about understanding that sometimes it’s alright for us to simply be receiving.
S: Yes. I think I processed the “it’s ok to receive” because I knew that me and God had had this history together, we’d had this tracking together, and I’d had my seasons of diligence in terms of my own study and things like that. He understood me in my moment. So He knew it wasn’t possible for me to stay awake when I wanted to pray, or He knew that I was too tired to actually read my scripture. I listened to a lot of audiobible at that time, as a mechanism to be able to connect with the bible content as well as the preaching and teaching that I was listening to. So He understands us in whatever season of life we’re in. That was releasing for me in terms of “I get you, Sarah. I understand that it’s too hard to get to church right now because of the baby. I understand that you can’t spend hours studying in scripture. I understand that you can’t do these things, I understand that you can’t be witnessing to people in quite the same way, I get it.”
C: It sounds as if there was a bit of a journey to go from “I have this rich spiritual life, and now it’s a real struggle”. To be honest, for a lot of people listening to this, the fact that you were able to still worship and pray whilst walking for several hours, rather than simply walking completely in survival mode. So you were doing quite a lot, but from your perspective it wasn’t looking like it was before. I’m guessing from what you were saying about not having those goosebump moments, that you weren’t getting the kind of feedback from it that you were before, because you were just too tired.
S: yeah, and I think that in terms of me spending time in prayer or singing songs when I was walking, everything else had been stripped away, Cath. God is your source of strength. And when you are only getting 2hrs of sleep every single day, bearing in mind that sleep deprivation is used in some countries as a torture method, and people can’t last for so many nights, so to do this for 8 months with our firstborn was very, very challenging. So I needed every ounce that I could get from God, just to not throw him down the stairs. *laughs* Being real and honest, but I suddenly had this revelation of “oh my goodness, I’ve judged other women before for abusing a child, but actually I’m at breaking point here.” I needed God to intervene, and to be with me in those moments. That for me was about pressing into God every opportunity I could get. I did have other vices. In that period of time I suddenly discovered the world of Facebook. *both laugh* Scrolling on social media. I also became obsessed over Location, Location, Location. There was other things as well. So I don’t want everyone to think that all I did was God. There was other things as well. But pressing into God was my “how am I going to get through this?” The bible says “The joy of the LORD is your strength”, the bible talks about God being my strength, my shield, my rock, my fortress. He was everything in that season to get me through that season. I needed Him, I was acutely aware of how much I needed Him because of what we were going through and how exhausted I was.
C: So how do you think your thinking changed from the “I’m failing, I’m virtually backsliding because I’m not doing what I was before” to “this is ok”?
S: I think one huge point for me was listening to a Christian leader that I really respected on one of the podcasts that I was listening to, sharing how she felt very called in the anti-trafficking movement, and had suddenly had a baby and been like “ah, but I really feel called to do that” and she talked about the body of Christ and about how she had spotted that there were other people within her immediate fellowship that were really gifted with babies, and they looked after her baby whilst she could do this amazing anti-trafficking stuff for Jesus. I heard another testimony of another significant Christian leader sharing a similar journey in terms of utilising the body of Christ based on giftings, and I suddenly felt that the woman with the super amazing pants on that can do absolutely everything, that it’s ok not to be that woman. *both laugh* I guess the recognition of “babies aren’t necessarily my thing” the recognition of “actually this is a really tough situation, and God knows where I’m at right now and that’s ok”, and the recognition of “actually, you’ve all got different callings and giftings on your life and it’s ok not to have all the maternal stuff going on too.” All of that spoke to me in that season that I had to process what was going on for me, and that it was ok to be in a cave. I had so much more empathy I think when we went through the covid season for all those Mums who ended up at home with newborn babies who couldn’t access the groups. I did that! That was me, and although I had one local group that I could attend and connect with some weeks, not all weeks, I got the isolation, I understood how that would feel. The one thing the health visitor said to me that was really significant as well, was that in being just me and my baby, I knew my baby really well.
S: So I knew when it was distress, I knew when it was a cue for feeding instead of the distress and I knew when there was feeding but there was distress. I knew my child really well. The intimacy of that was also really significant I think. It has helped me to journey with my son and understand his development. By age 2-2.5, he was pretty no-verbal, so we were having speech and language therapy and all that kind of stuff. I knew my child and I knew that we had sung to my child lots, because we did it lots, and I knew we’d read lots because we’d read books and stuff like that with him, because the print on baby books is really big, so my eyes could cope with that, and the books are small. I knew that we had done all of these foundational things, but something wasn’t quite clicking to get the support with that. The health visitor said, had you been a Mum that was running around and doing all these things, you might not have realised some of the stuff going on for your son, because as well as having the silent reflux stuff, he also had food allergies and we were able through that journey to process stuff as well. I also learnt that children don’t behave on cue, so there would be moments like, my parents didn’t live locally, but they would come up and then they would see him screaming his head off and we play ‘Pass the Baby’, and kind of share the load in terms of loving on him. But there was other times that I had some amazing women from church who would rock up and take my son for a walk, and on those times, did he scream? No he didn’t. *both laugh* It wasn’t a predictable journey with him, because the screaming would happen when he was in pain, and he wasn’t in pain 100% of the time, but there would be points where it would be really bad for him. That was an interesting journey, learning about knowing someone intimately, and knowing what the signs of distress are.
C: There’s a parallel, isn’t there, about God knows us intimately.
S: Yes, and He knows our distress cues. He knows all of those bits and exactly what that is.
C: Your empathy for that in your children really feels to me like there’s a real parallel with that in that God is not looking at our distress cues with disappointment or “you ought to get over it”, but with a real –
S: “How do I meet that need?” Yes.
C: – understanding.
S: Knowing that I really had to fight for it with my firstborn. We had to fight to get the medications and to journey through that season. Learning that the Father fights for us. When He sees us in distress, He doesn’t just go “oh well”, but He is proactively fighting and advocating on our behalf in order to create some kind of change as well.
C: Yeah. I really sensed that when you talked about the health Visitor coming and just knowing immediately what you needed. As you were telling that story that felt a lot like God stepping in at the right moment with exactly what you needed with the right person at the right time.
S: Totally, totally. And bearing in mind the visits to the doctor who just thought I was a neurotic Mum. To have someone affirm, “no you’re not a neurotic Mum, he’s actually got serious reflux.” When we finally got to be able to see the specialist at the hospital, the specialist was horrified that we hadn’t been able to get referrals sooner from our doctor and he had me as neurotic. He had really severe reflux. His acid reflux is a really severe case and we should have been able to treat this sooner. She was so empathic as well. She was like, “you have had no sleep, Sarah. If you would like to, come to the ward and have my staff look after him to give you some respite. If ever you need that, it’s available to you.” Suddenly it was like we’re in support and we understand what’s going on because of the medical situation for him. We were so thankful that he responded to treatment and that our journey started to change. We went from a screamy baby to literally overnight, a happy baby. A baby that started to smile. That brought us so much joy. And the language development, the acid in the back of his throat would have had a huge impact in terms of him being able to form words.
C: And just the trauma that he’d been through.
S: Yes, gosh, yeah. In the midst of all of that, Cath, we decided we didn’t want any more children as you can imagine.
C: I can’t think why…
S: Slightly put us off! By the ‘have more babies’ factor. And the God, every time I did then start opening a hard copy bible once the sleep started to happen, it was all about “such-and-such became pregnant and gave birth to a child” and I really felt God was saying “you need to have another child”. We started praying about that because our hearts weren’t in that place whatsoever.
S: God really softened our hearts around it, and the wisdom, coz I was like “why, God? You’ve seen the journey”. And God was like, “You’re so sleep deprived already, it makes sense to carry on the journey”
C: Get it over with
S: Get it over with. So that’s what we really felt that God was saying to us, so we started to try for a baby. At this point the naps had all coincided with being able to reattend church and the reflux was such that we could travel with him now a short distance, so we went back to the church that we were part of, and the very first day I expected to first hear things like “welcome back” and instead it was “God’s saying that you need to have another one”. Yeah. *both laugh* so that was my experience of going back to church. It was awesome to go back to church. Then we ended up conceiving. I was like “this is the baby that God wanted us to have, and we’re so excited about that”. And, different pregnancy. It felt different. And I knew to take lots of extra vitamin-D and those kind of things from before. And then we lose the baby.
C: Oh, gosh
S: So we go through a miscarriage. In the midst of that questioning God and “God, you wanted us to get pregnant! And we got pregnant. And now we don’t have the baby.” I remember sat in the doctor’s surgery waiting for some of the tests that I was having, and I could hear the Frozen song Let It Go. I just really felt the Holy Spirit saying that you can’t stay in a grief. You need to let the grief go, and wait and see what happens. 4 months later I’m pregnant again. My heart is in a good place because we’ve let it go, and we end up having our son. That’s a real special kind of “Wow factor” to Him. And the pregnancy’s great, it goes really well and I’m able to still run up until about 5 months pregnant, 3x a week
S: Everything’s good. We’re not told that the baby’s got brain damage, or anything like that. All is well. And we get to do the whole birthing pool thing. Minus the guitar, because Dan was like “I’m not lugging a flippin’ guitar around the hospital with me, Sarah! That’s not going to happen.” So, playlist. And that’s God’s restorativeness in that season and then being able to have Baby. It got to the point in the birthing pool that we’re pushing, I’d been pushing for a very long time, and Baby’s head is stuck. I end up getting told that it’s twisted and so they need to get forceps in to turn Baby’s head and then to pull Baby out. I got told I would be prepped for a c-section just in case they need to do an emergency c-section and that I’ve only got 2 pushes max to get Baby out. I’m praying as they’re trolleying me down to theatre, coz the theatre was a place of trauma for me previously, so I’m saying, “Jesus, please turn the head coz that sounds painful!” I’m really not down with this forceps thing, and the turning of the head particularly doesn’t sound great. We get to the room, they’ve prepped me, I’ve had all the medicines I need to have to be able to do what they’re about to do. And Baby’s head’s turned! I was like “Thank you Jesus!” In my head I’m thinking “do we need the forceps at all?”, but that was already then happening. So sometimes things get out of your control, unfortunately. So I’m told “this is it”, and he flies out with the forceps and unfortunately rips me to shreds. As a result I end up with a prolapsed rectum and bladder and told I can’t do high impact sport ever again. So that is a new journey in terms of the new baby scenario. Sure enough he gets reflux too. We have another baby and we can spot the signs. But this time no resistance from the doctor. Instantly the doctor’s like “we’re doing medication”. You have to do some kind of basic medication steps before you can get onto the more substantial goods when it comes to silent reflux, so we process through that really quickly, we get to the drug that worked for our firstborn, and he’s allergic to it!
C: Oh no!
S: The difference between the two boys on the sleep front is that once he was medicated, Timothy would sleep, he just needed to be ata raised 40 degree angle for him to be able to get some sleep. For our son Benjamin, bless him, we didn’t realise he had sleep apnoea as well, so he actually had to be physically upright on me, and I had to sit up, to allow him to get some sleep at night. I could sleep for a 5hr period like that, so I would have to stay like that for the whole 5hrs, and then I would swap with my husband and then my husband would hold him and I would get some sleep. So it was sleep deprivation of a different kind. That went on until he was 2.5. At 2.5 we realised with medical help that he definitely had a sleep apnoea and then they needed to take him in for surgery. That would resolve the sleep apnoea, but by that point he was so practiced in wakes that we still had to journey for quite a long season of him still having some wakeful moments. So I think my perception of babies sleeping so I could write a book, well and truly, after sleep deprivation of many years, well and truly went out of the window!
C: It strikes me listening to you that in terms of your walk with God there has been almost that paradox of being some really tricky things that you’ve needed to walk through, some really difficult stuff, and also God intervening really quite miraculously at other moments. So you’ve journeyed with that tension, that mystery, haven’t you, of there’s quite a lot of suffering and yet God is with us too.
S: Yeah, yeah. And God doesn’t do things to our orders. He’s God! And learning I suppose that some of the things that people do as Christians that think that’s gonna treat God like a fruit machine that you do x,y,z and this ends up being the product, that He’s God, that that doesn’t work. I can remember with Timothy not sleeping, a Christian coming up to me and with a whole list of ‘sleep scriptures’ and implying that I’m just not speaking these verses over my son. I’m like, “it’s not a magic wand, dude! That’s not how it works!”
C: Yes, apply the right bible verse
S: Yeah, God’s God, and we don’t understand sometimes the journey and we don’t understand the difficulty, but God in the midst of that is turning things around for good. To have a really well understood connection with your child is a turned-around-for-good moment. To have now empathy for Mums that are sleep deprived is really good. And for me to no longer be quite the judgemental woman that I was for a woman that might have thrown their child down the stairs, is a really good outcome in terms of that process. It’s also helped me, in terms of turning around to good, understanding church’s response to parents, and church’s response to how children behave in church. Because not every child comes to church and is able to cope with the journey, so you are going to have Mums who can’t go to church for a season, it clashes with naptime or there’s a health need that the baby has that you can’t do that for. So do we expect Mums to come to us, or do we go to Mums? Do we meet Mums where they’re at? My church were brilliant in terms of feeding us for a few weeks after we had given birth, for example, and so I have a real heart now if a Mum’s having a baby, so it’s given me a slightly different perception and expectation I suppose on women, and how can we serve women and how can we help women through what is a lifechanging season, and isn’t always rosy. It can be incredibly hard for women, and when it’s incredibly hard, and you’re reading the books that tell you that the baby should be sleeping and if they don’t get 12hrs then aren’t you an awful parent? All those things are so challenging for women. To relieve them of that guilt and that awkwardness and to recognise that there’s a different story for some women is really helpful. I think it’s amazing when women do manage to maintain doing Christian service, are able to lead and do lots of things in church, and to have that adventure, and to recognise that we’re a really diverse church, there are women at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, and everywhere inbetween. If we’re doing church family we need to recognise that and not expect my baby to behave exactly the way someone else’s baby is behaving and not expecting me to be able to function in the same way as that Mum who is getting some sleep. I’ve spoken to Mums who have been able to write that book, they’ve had that much time. To say that actually there’s this walk and we’re all in this together and we can help each other. Maybe when you’re a Mum that’s in a place of thriving, you can help the woman that’s surviving. When we had Benjamin, our second child, I was in a season of “yes it was tough, but it wasn’t as tough as the first time”. It didn’t feel as tough as waking up every 20 minutes for 8 months. We were able to get 5hrs of him sleeping with me sitting up. Yes that was really hard for me and I still had sleep deprivation, because you can’t really sleep when you’re sat holding a baby, but it was a different season, and I realised that the strength I had gained from the first time, actually I was stronger than I thought I was and could endure that bit more. To be able to then sow into other Mums, and that was then my season of being able to say, let’s gather a few Mums together and I was involved in Alpha course for Mums and ended up doing a Mums group where we met every week and some amazing women in the church ran a little creche and looked after our kids while we were able to talk God and have some prayer time and be real about, this is what parenting is, and to start the journey of what parenting for faith looks like. How do you raise your kid to be a Christian?! What kind of things can you do? We did the Parenting For Faith course as a Mums community and supported one another. I also recognise God in the journey of sometimes we feel like we’ve been robbed. The first time around I felt like I had been robbed for quite a lot of things. Robbed from having the birth that I wanted, robbed from having those connections in the community. The second time around God restored all of that and did something in the midst of the challenge, in the midst of still having some sleep deprivation. God is a turn-around God and He always restores what’s been robbed. I guess that’s been my journey, and wanting to see more and more in church. Recognising that we’re this imperfect family and we don’t have to have this performance mentality that my child is going to sleep through the service perfectly and isn’t going to scream their head off. Because actually my kids couldn’t control their screaming when they did have a reflux bout. When they weren’t having a reflux bout, they were having a delight moment, but if they were having a reflux moment, there was nothing that would console, so what do you do for that Mum that needs to have time out from the service, what can you do to be helpful? And what can you do for the Mum who can’t get to service?
C: Or the Mum for whom getting to service is just not worth the hassle.
C: Because the payoff is just not there, to be frank.
S: Yes. So that’s been my journey, and now my kids are older, still primary age, learning how do we do all age worship? For the kids that don’t actually want to sit down and be quiet.
C: I’m thinking a couple of things. A) you’ve got boys, and they are quite boisterous, and also you’ve got boys who’ve had quite a difficult start.
C: They have been through some stuff.
C: So I am imagining that they will be working though some of that, and that will be coming out in ways that SOMETIMES don’t make you look like a perfect parent.
S: Yes. We’ve got 2 very different children in terms of their personalities and how they behave. One of my children is quite sensitive and likes everything done in certain orders, and so will quite happily have a melt-down moment. We’ve been leading worship and my husband has decided to do a chorus again or something and that’s sent him into a tizz. He’ll scream at us and say “you’ve done this wrong”. Oh, this is an awkward moment. There’s other times that they’ll be involved in worship and will be helping with maybe the percussion instruments or whatever, and it all looks like we’re this beautiful family that’s got it all sorted. Then there’s other times that we demonstrate to the church that we so haven’t. And that it is a mess.
C: You give the gift of letting other people feel a bit better.
S: Yes, yeah, and I think we do both. I’ve really tried to keep it real. To be honest about “this is what it looks like” for other parents. I don’t think me and my husband really, we had the fantasy of what it would be like, but we didn’t have the reality. I think it’s helpful to understand what some of that reality can look like for some families. Not for all. I’m sure for those families that have got it all going on, together and it’s all wonderful, it’s great, but I haven’t met lots of those families. I’ve met lots of families that are trying really hard and have moments where it all looks like it’s going on, but there’s a back end of every story of all the challenges and the meltdowns and the this-that-and-the-other and the battles that you go through.
C: Because we have this imbibed, don’t we, this picture of a perfect family, or what family ought to look like, which means that it’s really difficult sometimes to talk about the fact that it’s not the way you thought it was going to be or that you think everyone else thinks it ought to be. You were talking about that huge spectrum from those who never get married, to those who have what looks like the perfect family, the ones that you can do the Christmas letter about. They’re learning viola and going to university.
S: We write that Christmas letters to everybody in that this is the highlights of the year, coz that’s what we do, don’t we? We share the highlights and when we’re on facebook or social media accounts, whatever yours is, you share these are my highlights. Parts of my keeping it real is that I’ve been determined on my social media accounts to be the warts and all. I will share with you the beautiful moments because I think they’re to be treasured and they’re to be captured, and it’s kind of like a diary documentation for my kids in the future, but I also want to share some of the challenges that we’ve gone through. I know one person that defriended me because I was talking about sleep deprivation so much with my children. This is my journey! If it’s putting you off children, sorry, that’s not my intention, but actually let’s have some reality, if your child is gonna be sleep deprived this is the journey that you’ll have. I hope that you don’t have to have that journey, but this is part of the reality. I wish that I had had some more of that reality before having children, so that I could maybe not be so shocked by my stark contrast. I think that I had been watching far too much Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons. In terms of this romanticised picture of family life.
C: Even when it’s not romanticised – I’m going off on a tangent now – even when it’s not romanticised there is often this sense that “there will be an easy answer”. So there’ll be the documentary like SuperNanny. So there is a problem, but then SuperNanny arrives, and it’s all sorted out. And in the Christian world you have “well, there’s a problem, but then we pray about it, and then Jesus arrives, and it all gets sorted out”. So actually to talk about the reality, “keeping it real”, you said, and your story is all about that. For people to hear each other’s stories about how it actually is, because it is different for everybody, and it’s alright for it to be different for everybody.
S: Yes. There’s sacrificial love, isn’t there, in parenting, and I think for me it cost us a lot. It cost us in sleep deprivation.
C: And pain and the physical stuff.
S: And the sacrifice. For both of my children they also had food allergies. So I had to be gluten free, dairy free, soy free and egg free for them both whilst breastfeeding. And so there was a cost. And I just think, Jesus went through the cost of suffering on the cross, He went through excruciating pain, for the joy set before Him. And the joy was us. When we go through seasons of immense pain and suffering with our children, and remembering that each scenario is different, you might be going through an even worse pain than mine in terms of what’s going on for you as a listener, but recognising that when we go through that that it’s for the joy set before us. There’s gonna come a point where things get maybe slightly easier, or we just earn to handle it in a different way, that helps us to get through it. That there is the joy set before us. There is the you being a parent and it being sacrificial love. Jesus did that sacrificial love for each of us, that we might have life in God, that we may experience joy that strengthens us that helps us when we’re sleep deprived. There’s a deposit and there’s a sacrifice that God has made. That’s His parent-heart that we may have life, and for us when we sacrifice for our kids, we do that so that our kids may experience some life.
C: As you were talking then I was thinking about the people for whom it doesn’t feel like that comes to an end. Because there are people, for example if you have a child who’s terminally ill then there isn’t an obvious “there is a restoration”. Or people who live with kids with long term mental health difficulties or long term disability. So for some people the journey is darker, and whilst I know that with God we can find light and we can find the gems in the darkness, everybody’s journey is different, and sometimes there is more darkness than others.
S: I think that’s really important. I talked about the spectrum; my spectrum is actually in a pretty good place in comparison to some people’s journey. Likewise it’s pretty awful in comparison to some other people’s journey.
C: It’s not a competition.
S: It’s not a competition. And recognising that there is that spectrum and that God is holding your hand. If we come back to that, that wherever you are on your journey, God knows, and He’s holding your hand. He wants the burden to be light, and He puts us in community to help that burden to become lighter. For the women that took my child for a walk, for the women that cooked for me. He puts us in community for that. I think sometimes we’ve got a rigid sense of what that support looks like. Like, come to the Mums and Tots group and we’ll give you a cup of tea. Well, maybe I need the Tots group to come to me.
C: Yes, because you can’t drive, for instance, without chaos happening.
S: Yes. So I think there’s something about us learning to love the whole spectrum and not just one part of the body of Christ really well. I think we do really well at loving a certain group of parents that are able to do things. But there’s this whole group of parents that can’t do some things because of the needs that their children have in their context. How do we love those? How do we go the extra mile to express the love of Jesus? I think that’s a challenge for us as church. I remember many years ago being asked to write a chapter for a youth manual. I got asked to do the one that was for children with special and additional needs, and how do we do youth group with them? I spent time talking to some experts in the field, I didn’t class myself as as an expert, and went and talked and came up with this kind of package of what we would need to do as church for it, and the people that were editing the whole piece came back to me and said “I’m really sorry, Sarah, this is gold standard, but we can’t expect our churches to do this”. I was like “what do you mean, you can’t expect your churches to do this?” And they pulled lots of good practices out of the manual to try and make it
*both together* easier for the church.
S: Rather than thinking, we need to make it easier for these families who are experiencing pain and suffering at a whole different level, and I think when Jesus talks about “sharing my sufferings with Me”, that is us learning to share in the sufferings with people and to come along and be a comfort and to be a help. I’m not sharing that in the place of “I’ve got that all together”, but it keeps it real for me about how are we willing to stretch our parameters of how we’re willing to love and what we’re willing to love. That unconditional love, that love whatever, to enable families to function with church. And with Jesus.
C: And there’s something about listening deeply to somebody’s story, isn’t there, and finding out what, for this family, for these people, who are unique, and will be bringing unique gifts into our community. And actually some of those unique gifts are going to be about what that draws out of us as we stretch ourselves in order to support those other people.
C: Really interesting listening to the level of passion that you have for that, so one of the fruits of what you’ve been through and actually that sense of passion and call to speak prophetically into church about some of the things that need to change. And how to be a bog part of that answer.
S: Yeah. We’ve been as a family now on a journey of exploring all age worship. What does the service on a Sunday need to look like in order to help families to engage, and for children that can’t just sit still and be quiet.
C: Are you saying that it doesn’t work to have an ordinary service where they all sit quietly and nicely for 10 minutes at the front?
S: I’m saying that children might need to run around and that children have got different ways of expressing themselves and we need to be able to connect with children. Jesus said to His disciples about not stopping the kids coming to Him, so for me it’s about saying where are the things that we do because it works for us grownups, what are we doing that actually stops a child coming to Jesus? It could be that the song lyrics that we’re singing aren’t easy enough for a kid to grasp. It could be that expecting children to be quiet in a prayer time doesn’t work for them. Maybe there needs to be some loud, actually. Or maybe there needs to be some creativity, something active and tactile and stuff like that. What about for the Mum that’s having the screaming child that I would have had at times, what space do you provide for that Mum? Just thinking about how we love each other in the context of doing church. Yes, adults may want to have that moment like I had when I had my monastic lifestyle, but how do we meet everybody’s needs in that moment, to allow everybody to connect with God. Because ultimately we wanna come to church to connect with Him. For parents, you talked earlier about the payoff of going to church, and sometimes there isn’t. I can remember many times going to church and thinking, “what am I actually getting from this? I need refuel, I need something, but I can’t engage with anything, and instead I’m feeling like I need to make my child quiet or I need to make them do x,y,z, and that’s so much pressure!” On top of everything else that you’re feeling. So how can we take some of the pressure away? Take down some of those barriers for families, so that it’s easier for them. So it’s not always the parents feeling that they have to change and change the kid. But actually how do we as church change, so that everyone’s welcome?
C: Thank you so much, that’s been great, and thank you for sharing so honestly, and for keeping it real. It’s been good.
S: Thanks for having me.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.