They Killed You, But They Didn’t Kill You

Sometimes, when your fuzzy hair stands up in all the right places, you look like him—you really look like him.

And, sometimes, when you chuckle that half-smile of a grin that makes your eyes squint round and thin, I swear I see him—I really see him.

 

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I caught a glimmer of a sparkle in your eye today as you rolled to your side, happily kicking your feet (as every baby should), and it made me reminisce about the accomplishments that you, a breathing thing with only four months of living under your belt, have achieved this far.

Four months. The number rings a bell. Four months. The memory comes crashing in. Four months—that’s how old he was, too.

The year was 1987, and that’s how old he was when they’d stuck him with a needle, slapped on some cotton to cover the hole, then sent him home. With a bandaid wrapped over the top, all the while a poison boiled and brewed beneath the surface of his skin. That’s how old he was when his life and breath foamed at the mouth, his four-month-old baby bones rattling like a stretch of railroad tracks shouldering the weight of freight trains more than what their frames could bear.

Oh, Jord.

Four months—that’s how old you were when the serum stole your soul. When it sucked dry every dream Mom and Dad had for you, every high hope the rest of us had for our big brother. That’s how old you were, and that’s how old you’ve stayed. All these years, half a brain—dead. The other half, shooting explosions into gray matter the same way lightening shoots up the skeleton of innocent trees—damaged.

I’ve always been deathly afraid of this moment, of the moment when I’d hold my own man-child. Rock him, sing lullabies to him, hush him to sleep. Only to look into his face and see yours. Only for his drool to stick against my skin like yours did. Only for his hollering cry to send me to cower and cover my ears for fear that his cry might sound like yours did that day, the day They Killed You, But Didn’t Kill You.

I’d always wondered how your two stories would bleed into one another, or intersect to say the least. If I would be able to separate my future son’s story from yours, and yours from his.

But the truth is your memory rests in every corner of our lives and I cannot push or wish it out. And I don’t think that I ever could or should. Your voice joins the chorus of ours when we read aloud the words from all the children’s books you love. That face of yours in the photo of you with the black and white tuxedo, and the wispy hair, and the bowtie (just so slightly crooked) slips across my mind when I hear him giggle—when he makes a face like yours.

Your name rolls off my tongue sometimes, when I mean to say his. I talk to him with the same words, the same vocabulary that I created and spoke for you.

And I don’t mean to bend or twist your story. I do not mean to assign your suffering to another’s life, or to even subject my son to a horror that was not and is not his own.

But, the very parts of you that died too soon live on in the existence of my very own baby boy, my son. And so it is that my son, four months old, will walk and crawl and think and breathe and live in the ways that you were never able to. And there is a part of me that celebrates for him but that grieves your lost opportunities, too.

Sometimes, you do not need a person to pat you on the back and smile. Sometimes you need a person that will dress in black with you and send balloons like prayers into the sky, saying, “We are sad to miss that part about him, too,” and saying, “They might have killed part of him, but they did not kill all of him.”

So when the baby starts to walk, I will think of you and imagine your first steps, too. When he suddenly utters his first words like paint splattered across the face of white canvas, I will hear you. I will hear your first words run off like a babbling brook, too.

And everyday he lives I will think about you. I will think about how you may not walk and talk like he someday will, but how crazy grateful I am that you have breath in your lungs and how they couldn’t take that from you.

Thank God they didn’t take that too.

Give Me All The Sweet Tea (Said The Prideful New Yorker)

I am at Mary Mac’s Tea Room in the heart of Atlanta. I am sitting at a table by myself—the chair across me is empty. A murmur of southern charm fills the air, line by line.

“Here you are, sweetie.”

“Can I get you some sugar?”

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I see that southern hospitality—that southern etiquette my eyes have seen from the movies. Ladies with legs crossed, hands folded over the knees, half-full glasses of sweet tea spritzed with lemon. I hear the drawl, the whispered orders of their favorite, familiar dishes—peach cobbler, fried chicken, shrimp & grits. I watch the orders get dished out.

Goodness, I think to myself. I’ll take a side of that, too.

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I was going to put headphones on to drown out the sound, but I just couldn’t do it—I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t want to miss the sweet ladies with the silver hair and southern charm taking orders around me.  I wanted to soak it in and let it seep in deep. I wanted to plant myself in a moment where I was surrounded by everything that is not me, everything that does not define me. Everything that sounds and smells and looks and talks differently from me.

That’s what I want—I don’t want to easily retreat back into who I am and what I know. I want to drink the sweet tea. And I want to eat the fried green tomatoes.

And this isn’t just a lesson for right now, for this very moment. This is a lesson for life: I want to find the beautiful that others have been born into and raised up in. I want to appreciate stories with different beginnings and settings and endings than my own.

There is more to the world than the bridges you are used to passing under. More to the world then the streets that you have memorized. More to the world than your favorite spot in your favorite restaurant with your favorite menu that you know by heart—that same menu that you never stray away from. There is more to the world, if you’d just seek to see beyond the circle of hearts that you know. You have more room in your heart than you know—corridors and corridors of room for new people, and new places.

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The pizza-loving New Yorker in me had to order sweet tea and the fried green tomatoes and the Georgia peach cobbler. It has taken me four years since moving to Charlotte to strangle the thought that, maybe a sesame bagel smeared with cream cheese isn’t the only good thing my tastebuds might encounter in this life.

It’s taken me four years to kick down the thought that, anything different from New York is less than New York.

I want to believe that I can find myself by losing myself. This starry-eyed, native New Yorker, sticking out like a sore thumb in a foreign crowd. Raised on city dogs and bagels, confident and daring enough to drive across bridges jam-packed with urban drivers. Take me out of the city. Take me away from the signs I recognize, the place I call home, and see if I can still breathe. See if my resilient soul still sings like a songbird out in the open sky.

The world is buzzing with wonder, with new life. And if we dare to step outside of what our hearts have memorized so well…we will find it. We will find that it’s always been there. 

We will find that it’s not going anywhere. We just need to show up.

Sit with it.

Order the dish

And embrace it.

A Review: Lactation Cookies by BabaBella’s—Discount Code Included!

Recently, I had the chance to FaceTime with and see the faces behind Baba Bella’s, a new lactation cookie-making startup, based out of New Jersey! A mother-daughter super team, Baba stands for grandmother in Russian and Bella is the name of Baba Bella’s owner’s mother.

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Sweet packaging by Baba Bella’s!

. . .

They were the sweetest ladies, eager to tell me the story of how Baba Bella’s started from sending a care package to a mother struggling to produce milk for her newborn.

They sent me both their Cranberry and Cherry cookies to try and, well, let’s just say I had a hard time trying to refrain from eating more than the suggested serving. Seriously.

My friends all know that I love cookies (and cake, and cupcakes, and basically anything sweet). I can’t keep my dang hands off the sweets! But, the cool thing about BabaBella’s cookies is that they are more than just sweet.

1. They are made with all organic ingredients!
2. They are made with ingredients that can help to boost milk production!
3. They are made with love!

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Sweet ‘Thank You’ note from Baba Bella’s — I should be the one thanking them!

My baby boy, Milo, is 13 weeks old and is exclusively breastfed (we only use MAM Anti-Colic bottles with breastmilk when needed). I do not struggle with my supply; however, after trying just two cookies, I noticed an immediate boost in my milk production—I awoke the next morning engorged, which hasn’t happened to me in weeks.

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If you check out their Instagram (bababellas), you can see their baking process & the milk-boosting ingredients that they use. You can also visit their website to see a list of the organic ingredients that they use.

Right now, they are running a deal! From now until Tuesday, April 24th, BabaBella’s is offering 20% off of any orders for their new Toasted Almond cookies!

Use the code: ALMOND18

Baba Bella’s is perfect for breastfeeding mamas who are trying out cookies to help boost supply or for anyone who simply wants a sweet treat that is yummy and healthy to eat. Their cookies also make a great gift for any new or breastfeeding moms!

Get your cookies here!

. . .

* I did receive these cookies in exchange for a review. All thoughts are honest & my own. *

When You’re Postpartum & The Only Thing Bouncing Back Is Belly

I’ll tell you why we call them stripes and not scars.

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It isn’t because we are orange cats with sharp claws or any other kind of jungle animal with sexy patterns that we like printed all over our expensive shoes and designer bags.

It isn’t even really because of the, quite literal, stripyness of the marks and the rips and the tears and all that stretch.

Mhmm.

It’s because we are like soldiers come home from war—military men who have earned rank and recognition. And just as soldiers sew stripes on their shirts, we sew them on our skin.

And the stripes mark our stories; the stripes mark our strength.

I am stretched and marked, belly beyond recognition. It jiggles and it bounces. Think Santa, without the red suit. Or beard.

But that’s how it’s supposed to be; we are supposed to become something more, someone other than what we once were. And we know this. We know this, we know this, we know this. We’ve been told this, even want and anticipate this, desire this. But, when it actually comes down to this, we are in shock and denial and fear.

Deep inside there is a battle, thoughts raging one against another. Contemplative wonderings that we target towards that reflection of a tattered body in the mirror that we want to love, but hate.

Why?

Because we are used to bouncing back, used to working out five minutes longer to work off the five pounds we feel packed on. We are so used to wearing the right shirt to hide the right parts, so used to slapping a band-aid over the cut and saying a prayer to make it heal, faint, and fade. We are so used to lathering the oils and the creams and the concealers and the colors and eating the food and doing the things to make the tired and the blemished and the flab go away.

We are bosses at bouncing back, so much so that we are bothered when we discover it’s hard to bounce back and broken when we realize we’re not going to bounce back.

My battle is not like her battle, just like her battle is not like your battle. And even if she did give birth to a baby only to have her belly flatten faster than it took Jesus to escape the tomb, that does not mean that I can, or that you should, or that everyone will.

Yeah—my size six jeans are in the dresser collecting dust. Yeah—my belly hangs low and it wobbles to and fro. (I can tie it in a knot, even tie it in a bow.) Yeah—I heard there’s wraps and reps to fix that…creams and oils galore to erase it. Yeah—I’m tired of wearing yoga pants, but yeah—maternity clothes are expensive. Yeah—I know you’re going to tell me that I look great, but, yeah—that doesn’t really matter in the whole scheme of things.

What matters, and what we women—what I need most, is for you to tell me that it’s okay if I don’t look great. To tell me it’s okay and expected and perfectly normal if I’m falling out here and there. To let me wear the stretchy pants to the funeral, to the wedding, and to the store. To let me stay home if things aren’t fitting right, even if it takes six weeks. Even if it takes twelve.

What I need is for you to tell me that you’re not looking for the person I once was.

Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially.

I need you to tell me that you’re looking for someone new. Tell me that the body is just a cocoon; just a cover for the metamorphosis taking place in my soul. Tell me that what matters most is not if my belly flattens or if the stretch marks fade, but if I hugged hard and listened long and gave that little life staring back at me every last ounce of love I had.

What we need is for the pregnancy, maternity, postpartum, and motherhood journey to not be centered around how good we can make it look or how strong we can look while doing it or how perfect, or how darling, or how flawless, or how fit we can be through it. What we need is for the focus to be put back on the birth of a breathing baby, flailing and kicking for love in a bright and noisy world.

We don’t need another hashtag or movement or book telling us how and why and what and when. We need the women AND the men in our circles to show us—show us how to make pregnancy, maternity, postpartum, and motherhood all about what it’s really all about and not the glittery sideshow that it’s become—not the fluff and the rattles and the ad-sponsored onesies.

Yeah—it’s all so precious. But it’s not the point. It never was the point.

PRAY WITH US.
BE WITH US.
ENCOURAGE US.
EMBRACE US.

Buy us the bigger shirt that fits.
Make us a drink to soothe the soul.
Send us a card to wish us well.
Sing us a song that says we are strong, and we are tough, and we are resilient, and we are fierce.

Surround us with the stories of your scars.
Your battle wounds.
Your birth.

That life-changing moment from which you’ve yet to bounce back from.

We are not supermodels; we are super heroes.

And we were never meant to bounce back from this, both the skin and the heart—we were meant to never be the same. We’ve made the space in our hearts to love our babies, more space then our bodies made to hold them. There is no bouncing back; there is only falling forward and filling all the new sizes and spaces that we have become for them and that we have become within.

And the skin will not snap back. And the organs will not fit their puzzled-piece selves back into their rightful places.

Everything, everything has been moved. You and I—we have been moved. Deeply, and irrevocably.

Welcome To The World, Milo Kang

Yeah.

He waited long and good and hard, and I have the silver stretch marks on my body to prove it.

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I woke up at 2:30 in the morning on January 15, 2017 with a tightening around my stomach that I’d never felt before. The contractions came in waves—first eight minutes apart, then five, then three. Within two hours, I was breathing through a rippling pain that would come at me non-stop, every two/three minutes for the next 30+ hours.

I labored in the beginning for 12 hours only to find out I was just one centimeter dilated—that’s like working a 12-hour shift with no lunch break and coming to find you’ve only earned $1.00 for your hard and honest labor.

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My desire was to deliver naturally, vaginally, without having to be induced and without the use of pain medication. But, sometimes after 12 hours of getting nowhere, plans change. And that’s okay.

I welcomed morphine through an IV drip and remember the cool liquid slipping into my veins. There was the hand of a nurse on my forehead, the sound of my husband’s voice, and my eyes blinking wide, then waiting, then closing shut.

I awoke hours later, tired and in a daze. But I was 6 centimeters dilated. Rest, just like my midwife suggested, had been a good idea for me. I spiked a fever, and though my eyes had that short bit of sleep, the rest of my body felt like one big whirlwind of weakness. I clutched my husband’s shirt…barely having the strength or attention span to speak in the short time that passed between contractions.

I asked him what he’d think of me if I took the epidural. Would it render my experience any less natural, my story any less strong?

I silenced the voices in my head that said I’d be a bad mom or a weak woman if I chose to have an epidural—6 to 7 to 8 to 9, my body lingered as long as it could at each stage and,  I?

I hated that I didn’t feel one bit of it.

But I was stable and I was present.

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It’s hard to connect my present back to the past—that moment I gave birth. It was a blur; it happened fast and yet, at the same time, dangerously slow. I remember the faces of strangers—women I did not know, and I had no choice but to welcome them in. I let them be and sit and stand and watch in the presence of my bare and naked body. They were the voices that spurred me on in my pushing. They didn’t even know me, and yet they screamed for my success—they yelled, they cheered, they pushed me to push my son.

I never felt more loved, known, supported, empowered.

I didn’t know I’d come out the other end of birth holding a special bond with my midwife. I kept my eyes glued on her for the hour and fifteen minutes that I pushed. She spoke calmly, encouraged strongly. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the feeling in the moment, but looking back now, I know what to call it.

I felt trust. 

That’s what I remember most about my labor and delivery. Not the pain, not the fear, not the apprehension, or the dread, or the joy, or the love or the needles. But the trust. I remember sitting on a bed and trusting every person examining my most intimate insides. I remember laying my arm out for the IV needle to be poked through my skin, trusting that she’d get it right—even if she had to take it out and do it all over again. Trusting the person putting medicine in my body, the person pulling Milo from my body, the person injecting the needle near the spine of my body, trusting my husband’s whispers before drifting off into deep sleep, trusting the God who created my body to safely and sacredly deliver the body that had been created and formed within my own.

A whole 30+ hours of recklessly letting go of every last bit of self-sufficiency and dignity that I had left. No time for fear, no time for backing out. There was only going forward and pushing until a life was born and that hollering baby cry was heard, until he was in my arms—until we met.

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Milo Sahn Kang

January 16, 2018
12:13PM
7 LBS & 20 INCHES

His first name, Milo, means mild, calm, peace. And that is exactly what Shin & I feel (and trusted that we would feel) when we are watching him and holding him. His middle name, Sahn, is Korean for mountain. His name is our hope & prayer for his life—that he might grow to have an unshakeable faith in God, as firm and as secure as any mountain.

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That, everyone who meets him would wonder at what he might grow up to be. That, all would see the Lord’s hand is upon him.

Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.

—Luke 1:66

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That, he would have a fire in his heart to find God, in his own way. That, he would be fearlessly bold in declaring such a found faith.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.

Romans 1:16

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No one told us we would want to die for this child.

No one told us that, everything we once thought we knew and understood about love would be shattered and built back up with new bricks and new clay, all within the first moments of looking into his eyes.

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No one told us our hearts would flood with crippling anxieties and irrational fears. No one told us we were going to feel anger, that we were going to feel joy. And peace, and guilt, and that we were going to want to be everything, do anything for him.

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We’ve heard the horror stories. The crazy births. The fond memories, the shocking confessions. We heard about the 12:00AM diaper changings and feedings and the vicious cycle of laying down and waking up only to do it all over again at 12:05AM.

But how could we have ever known about the kaleidoscopic movement of swirling colors and shapes that would soon twist and bend in our hearts, showing us sights we’d never seen before, angles and spaces we couldn’t even fathom into existence?

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We are smitten.

Overwhelmed, completely.

In awe, in wonder.

Still swirling in the changing shapes and colors of our hearts.

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And we hope that ten years down the road we are still swirling.

That we never stop swirling—seeing the newness, the fullness, the richness and the depth in all this.

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Welcome To The World, Milo Sahn Kang.

We are wild about you.

We love you and we bless you and thank God that we get to have and hold and share you.

Always.

Mom & Dad

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[Photos by Shin Kang]

I Need You To Dream Until Your Last Breath

Martin Luther King Jr. was not a dreamer—he was a doer.

He was a walking, talking, reading, studying, speaking, preaching, traveling man…not a sleeping, wishing, thinking, hoping man. He was a doing man; he went for and did the things he dreamt.

Even if it meant someday being a dead man.
Even if it meant someday not living to see the dream reach its promised land.

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And I wanna tell you to be like him.

Not in a suit and tie kind of way, and not in a preacher-behind-the-pulpit kind of way. But, be like Martin, like how he was in the soul—in the fire pit of his heart, with crackling wood that never gave in, never burned out, never hissed that expiring smoke and sound.

I wanna tell the you that dreams to be like how he dared and did.

That, your dream won’t live until you’ve died, until you’ve fought to push air into its lungs, even when that meant no breath left in yours. Even in the face of beatings, in the face of prison walls, in the face of big stones cast through small panes of shattered glass.

You might not have a sermon to set the captive free, but there’s a song in your heart and you better sing it. You might not have a speech to knock down White House walls, but you have a degree and it might be the key to holding meetings that will knock on the right doors. You might not have a message to write off radicalism and racial divides, but you’ve got a warm meal and a table with empty chairs that won’t choose sides.

You’re not allowed to call it a dream unless you’re willing to actually do for it, die for it; not allowed to say that it’s impossible or that it can’t be done if you’ve never really reached for it or went for it.

It might not change the world; it might only change you. You might not live to watch it come to pass—you might not ever see the end in sight; it might, even, be the end of you.

But I need you to dream until your last breath, need you to dream until you gave your all. I need you to dream and dare and do until every valley in your life is exalted, every hill and mountain made low—until the rough places are made plain, and the crooked places are made straight. 

I need you to burn forceful and long and fierce until all that’s left is thin smoke rising, like the faint whisper of some old negro song.

Free at last.
Free at last.
Thank God Almighty—
I’m free at last.

Always a new year, never a new you.

Yeah.

Every new year works like a charm, works like magic in a show, tricking the eyes into seeing what is never going to be there.

And we let the magic work for a moment.

But the glitter and the glamour of the new year never stay long enough. They sweep away like New York City streets, dead in the middle of Times Square, no trace of the worldwide sparkle or confetti.

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And what I really mean is that, some of us fell asleep to the sound of clinking champagne glasses only to wake up to the same bills piled up in the mailbox, or the same appointments for in vitro fertilization written out on the calendar, or the same empty fridge that’s never filled with enough to feed all three kids, or the same 30 pounds choking the curve out of all our edges.

Some of us woke up with the same depression and diagnosis to carry, day in and day out, even though we take the candy-colored pills, even though we see the man with the glasses and the yellow-stripped notepad. Some of us still woke up to the same loneliness and confusion and reality that it’s always a new year but never a new you.

Always a new year, never a new you.

And no one can take the struggle away, no one can make the hard come easy or the long wait go fast. No one can turn the power on in the pills, or say secret spells to make it disappear.

“Evanesco. . .”
I’d whisper, if I had that elder wand. . .

And, if I could, I’d take that fancy elevator up to the ninth floor office where you work, or drive my car across back roads to your front door, or meet you at a table in the nearest café where the barista knows your drink by heart and hand: double shot of espresso, soy milk, and one pump of that favorite syrup.

I’d sit you down in that wobbly chair and start saying something about the days being strung into weeks, strung into months, strung into years, and I’d tell you how they slip by crazy fast and how you came from there to here in just three hundred and sixty-five sunrise-to-sunsets and how you are not the same, and how you are new in the many different mirrors of your heart. I’d go on about how you have grown—how you’ve been broken and how you’ve healed and how you’ve failed but how you’ve learned to fly again. . . how you’re not as shattered as you used to be and how that’s more than all the newness cradled in one ball dropping in front of the millions upon billions standing in a frigid Times Square and watching through a screen.

I’d tell you about how it really is always a new year, swooping in fast like a secret agent, swift and silent, and how you have to know, have to believe that it is always a new you, even when the bank account is low and you can’t afford the new shoes; even when you’re waiting on the new organ; even when you’re stuck in that old relationship, that same old apartment with the same stain on the floor; even when the debt rolls over and doesn’t disappear at the stroke of midnight; even with that body that won’t conform to the ever trending models found in hashtags and Hollywood.

No hardcore tattoo, no whimsical graphic, no quote-embedded planner will ever whisper the words deep enough. No glass, or bottle, of wine can ever drown the lie long enough.

There is only choosing to believe the truth beyond the televised message, even if we are already seven days past the first of the month and the high is already gone, already dead.

It really is always a new year and it really is always a new you—even when the scale doesn’t say so, and even when the brain chemicals won’t let you believe so. So don’t give up on that resolution that you vowed over your heart eight days ago—don’t give up on yourself, or the year, just yet.

You have your health to conquer and your heart to reclaim and new, and old, dreams to unveil.

The calendar doesn’t call the shots for this one. You do, my friend.

You do.