Dear Baby Girls,
Yesterday in the grocery store, the kind cashier asked me, “When are you due?” But I misheard her and thought she asked, “What do you do?” When she corrected me, I was briefly annoyed that, once again, my voluminous pregnant belly is the first (and often, it seems, the only) thing people notice about me. But then I thought again.
My answer to the question, “What do you do?” would have been, “I’m a graduate student at Vanderbilt.” I probably wouldn’t have said that I’m a mother, because, honestly, people don’t put much stock into the real work of parenthood. Saying that I’m getting a PhD feels a lot more comfortable to my fragile ego than admitting that I spend the majority of the hours of my week chasing a toddler, while my “real [professional] work” gets squeezed into the limited hours I have help with childcare.
Here’s the truth, sweet daughters. When I can put aside my hang-ups with social recognition, I know that raising you is the most important work I’ll ever do. And while the work I do as a mother certainly has slowed my progress on my dissertation, I will never regret the timing of my pregnancies.
Truth be told, being your mother has inspired my academic work like nothing else. I research and write about women’s voices in the Bible and how people of faith have heard or ignored those voices. I write about how women’s lived experiences of suffering inform the shape of Scripture. I write about how birth, breastfeeding, sexual assault, and child loss are matters of theological import because they matter so much to God.
When I write about these things, I’m always thinking about you—what being your mother has taught me, and what I yearn for your experience of womanhood to be. In some small way, by resuscitating biblical traditions of women who bravely “spill[ed] out [their] hearts like water in the presence of the Lord” (Lam. 2:19), I hope to take part in making a world where your voices are more readily respected as authoritative as well. I’m certain the passion I have for the “other” work I do flows straight from the passion I have to see you grow into strong women of faith.
It may be awhile before strangers ask me what I do for a living again. My pregnant belly is huge and distracting, after all. But when they do, I’ll say with pride, “I work at home raising my two daughters. And I’m getting my PhD in religion.”