For light, for hope, for love

by Grace Ko in ,

I blinked and baby boy turned one.

Last weekend, we celebrated his 돌 (dol: a Korean tradition celebrating baby's first birthday). I was running around like a headless chicken with preparing for the party (remind me, why did I think it would be a good idea to do everything ourselves...?) that my heart and my head were not able to process the weightiness of reaching this milestone.

As I jogged my brain of all the happenings this past year, in the midst of celebrations, my heart felt a strange sadness. "Joy", "wonder", "bliss" - these are often the words used to describe the magic of motherhood. But no one told me how much "grief" would be part of it. A grieving, knowing you'll never have that particular moment, that day, that stage, that season again. And so I have desperately wanted to catch them, document and capture them, encapsulate them into bottles to be stored in my memory's shelves, in the recesses of my heart to be cherished and revisited.

I've grappled with the idea of permanently gluing my phone to my hand as to not miss a moment, while my instincts have whispered gently, "Be present, be fully present." I've struggled with fully "momming" while realizing "mom" is not all of who I am. I've contemplated about "community", what it means, how it's changed, what I want it to look like.  I've struggled with the fact that others may see my life and think "She's got it all", dismissing me of any "right" to share, but inside there are deep questions of identity, calling, feelings of loneliness, anger, jealousy and fear.

I've been at my parents' this past week, resting, recovering from all the festivities and the prepwork leading up to it all. While here, Y and I took J on his first visit to an art museum. Exhibits named "Nostalgia" and "Light" stirred emotions and the courage in me to write this post. We strolled along, reflecting on how with light comes shadow and how light brings things from the dark to the surface. Without darkness, we would not appreciate light.

I've spent much time wondering why I was struggling with so-called "dark" feelings in a season that has been so full of joy. But Henri Nouwen's words in Reaching Out spoke volumes to me:

We do not have to deny or avoid our loneliness, our hostilities and illusions. To the contrary: when we have the courage to let these realities come to our full attention, understand them and confess them, then they can slowly be converted into solitude, hospitality and prayer.
— Henri Nouwen

J was born on Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday. We spent the actual day reading him books on Dr. King's life, listening to his "I have a dream" speech and I picked up my calligraphy brush pen for the first time in a while to write these words:


I leave to return home with heart refreshed and hope restored.

A new year, 2018

by Grace Ko in

As a child, I always followed my parents to 송구영신 예배, midnight service on NYE. We always lived quite far from church so we would leave the house and pack into the car come 10PM, give or take. I never knew the glitz and glamour typical of NYE - confetti and hats, sparkle and dazzle. There was no countdown or champagne or a kiss when the clock struck midnight. Rather, we would meet midnight in quiet meditation and prayer, reflecting on the past year and giving thanks. I grew up never having once seen "the ball drop", and for the longest time I didn't even know what that meant or looked like because growing up, I ushered in the new year often sleeping on my mom's lap in the pews. 

It's funny how in adulthood, you start to long for things you took for granted in childhood. Like home-cooked meals, piano lessons and even midnight church services. 

Since coming to Korea, Y and I have adopted a few of our own New Years traditions - one being praying through different topics and setting goals and visions. I've recorded these things and they've served as benchmarks to be reread and revisited and celebrated. 

During the holiday season in years past, I would carve out time to sit at a cafe with a big cup of joe, pull out my journals and planner and reflect back on the year. I would list out all the year's events, answered prayers and expectations for the upcoming year. But being a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) with a very active, almost-one-year-old child, that's an ideal far from reality. And I'll be honest. I sometimes long for those days of cafe visits, dates with my husband to the movies, sleeping in, being able to go to the bathroom without a little human being clinging to my leg. 

But if I'm going to be really honest, part of me has pushed this task of reflecting on this year aside because of fear it'll trigger too many emotions, that it'll be too raw. 

2017 has been quite a year. It started off with a bang, giving birth to baby boy, an answer to many prayers. And since, it's been a year of transitioning into motherhood. A year full of magical firsts that came and went too quickly, leaving me to have to learn to grieve while remaining present so more doesn't pass me by before I know it. A year of living through the eyes of awe and wonder of a child. 

But it's also been a year of tumultuous changes and learning to transition my heart posture. A year of raw, never-before-felt depths of sadness and loneliness. A year of struggling with body image, comparison and fears. A year of coming to terms with expectations and disappointments. A year full of goodbyes. A year often filled with regrets, "should've, would've, could've's". 

But in hindsight, I wish I could go back to those first few days and months after J was born and tell myself, "It'll all be okay..." I wish I could pat myself on the back and say, "You're doing great." I wish I had taken more pictures with baby, not worrying about how I looked or felt like a cow and told myself, "You'll get your body back." 

I can sit and dwell in the regrets of 2017, the things unfinished, things not accomplished. Like, how is the last time I posted on here eight months ago? What happened to documenting baby's growth and development monthly and sharing my journey of motherhood here on this blog? 

But that's also why my heart swells with an excitement for the new year. It's not a blank state starting afresh. But a continuing, a building on, a going from glory to glory. 

It's been a year of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but somehow it always ends with a wake-up call to more thanksgiving and daily reminders to "praise" (Judah). 

Ho Chi Minh City, Dec 2017

Ho Chi Minh City, Dec 2017

Here's to 2018! Here's to finding my song again. Here's to a year filled with more laughter, good books, more travels. (And hopefully more blog posts.) Here's to fullness of joy! 

On beauty and self-love

by Grace Ko

Confession: I have been having an awfully difficult time loving my postpartum body. 

My wonder and amazement at my body during pregnancy, being able to grow and birth a baby, quickly turned into a self-condemnation, a self-loathing. "My hips are too wide, my stomach is so flabby, my legs are still swollen, my face is still puffy."

My body did not (still does not) feel like my own, joints weakened and vulnerable, back and shoulders aching from the constant hunching over to nurse and hold baby. Once I hit the 12-week-postpartum mark and began exercising regularly again, I was met with even more frustration that I couldn't do simple things I once was able to. I tried doing the famous BBG program and began following many moms on Instagram who "got their bodies back" in hopes of getting motivated, but truthfully, I would often only feel discouraged and overcome by a spirit of comparison. 

One day, as I was sitting in my rocking chair nursing baby, I looked over at our all-purpose cart that houses all the necessities: diapers, baby lotion, burp cloths, swaddle blankets, thermometer... On it, held up by a magnet, was a piece of cardstock with a verse my husband had written: 

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
— Proverbs 31:28-30

I got choked up, reading and rereading this verse... because though my husband had told me over and over again that I was beautiful, I hadn't believed it myself. And rather than focusing on fearing the Lord, I spent much of my day obsessing over my weight and my appearance. Rather than being patient with and grateful for this body that grew, nurtured and birthed this beautiful baby boy, I was so anxious to get my body back. Working out was not about getting healthy and fit but solely about losing weight. I would step on the scale daily in hopes that the number had gone down. I got frustrated at myself and even angry at all those that had said the weight would melt off with breastfeeding, because it wasn't. I even avoided going out for quite some time in fear of what people would think of my postpartum appearance. And most recently, with postpartum hair loss, I have found myself frustrated with the strands, clumps of hair left behind in my hairbrush, on the floor, in baby's hand. 

For Baby J's 100th day, a dear friend gifted him a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. Despite it being a classic, I had actually never read it. While baby napped, I read it and was struck by a passage in it that seemed so appropriate, so relevant, so raw and real. 

When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt... Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
— The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

As of late, baby has started this thing where he looks up at my face in the midst of nursing, almost as if to check that I'm still there. He'll look into my eyes, give me a smirk, a smile, sometimes a chuckle and go back to nursing, only to do it again a few seconds later. It's become a "game" of his. 

The thing is, baby doesn't care if I'm losing my hair. Or if I still have quite a bit of baby weight to shed. He looks up at me with amazement and love so real. And he's teaching me to love myself, not for how I look, but just because of who I am. I may be "loose in the joints" and looking a bit "shabby" with dark under-eyes and all, but I am still deeply loved.

I'm still tempted to step on that scale from time to time. I'm still tempted to base my worth or beauty on my outward appearance. But I'm learning. I'm learning to love myself. 

100 days

by Grace Ko

They say the first three months of baby's life is essentially "The Fourth Trimester" when baby is rapidly changing and developing to adjust to life outside the womb. They say to swaddle and shush baby to emulate life in utero. 

Well, baby recently reached that three-month-mark and also turned 100 days! 

백일 ("baek-il"- 100th day) is a milestone of great significance here in Korea. It used to be that illness was common and survival rates of babies were low, so when a baby made it to 100 days in good health, it was met with thanksgiving and celebration. Nowadays, people in Korea often talk about 백일의 기적 ("The miracle of 100 days") when baby suddenly is no longer a newborn, when baby visibly seems to have adjusted to the outside world, when baby sleeps better. And though his sleeping has gotten worse, not better, it's still every bit of a miracle, watching this baby grow, learn and change each day. 

We celebrated this momentous occasion at home, small and intimate. My parents came up for the weekend; on the day of the celebration, they watched baby while Young and I went out for a doctor's appointment and a quick, efficient stop at the flower market. Once home, we set the 백일상 (100 day table), dressed baby in a dapper little outfit and snapped photos to cherish for years to come. 

These past 100 days have been filled with the discomforts of postpartum recovery, all kinds of emotions, sleep-deprivation, anxiety of being a new parent, desperation and humility like never before. It has also been filled with deeper levels of joy than I have ever experienced, a sense of wonder through the eyes of a newborn, and an embracing of this new identity in motherhood. 

Leading up to his 100th day, my dad gently suggested I reflect on these past three months and celebrate the developments and adjustments we've made in becoming a family of three. So in celebration of his 100th day, here's a brief recap of the past three months: 

At 1 month, baby:

  • Loves diaper changes and will let us know when he needs one
  • Loves baths, reading and music
  • Has a husky voice

We spent the first two weeks of baby's life as a family of three at a 조리원 ("joriwon"), a postpartum care center. With nurses around the clock, "room service" of three meals and three snacks, laundry done for you, room cleaned for you, we had it good. But it was a time of a lot of tears, being in a chronic zombie-like state not yet adjusted to the sleep-deprivation. Coming home was a bit daunting but with the love and support of my mom and my mother-in-law, I was able to learn how to take care of a newborn while resting and recovering. 

At 2 months, baby: 

  • recognizes mommy and daddy's faces
  • loves playtime and is happiest when he wakes up in the morning
  • loves music books 

Month two was filled with a lot of learning, on both baby's end and mine. I was (and still am) learning to love myself, to show myself grace, to fight mom-guilt. A lot of learning happened through trial-and-error, especially pertaining to breastfeeding. So many friends were saying, "Do what's best for you guys" but even figuring out what that meant required learning. Y and I also had to start learning what it's like to work on a marriage with a baby front and center. Unfortunately, this looked like a lot of arguing, miscommunication and misunderstanding for a bit until we realized we needed to take time to appreciate and affirm one another and communicate, even if that meant a little less sleep. 

At 3 months, baby:

  • is learning and growing so quickly. He discovered his hands, began smiling big, started laughing, talks up a storm, grabs things on his own. He loves being outside and looking up at the sky and trees, and staring at mobiles and lights. 
  • loves "swimming". We bought a tube that goes around his neck that allows him to float and occasionally we fill up the bathtub for swim time. Most recently, he started to splash water with his arms and kick to spin around. 
  • is getting better at tummy time. He now is able to hold his head up 45 degrees. He likes to turn right more than left. 

Month three has been filled with much silliness and laughter. Mommy and daddy have been caught doing all sorts of crazy things to get baby to smile and laugh. We have gotten into much more of a groove, each day starting with lots of baby babbling and smiles while FaceTiming grandparents. We have been trying all types of tactics to get baby to sleep a bit better, a bit longer so we can sleep a bit better, a bit longer - white noise, rocking, shushing, swaddling. We still haven't figured it out yet but we keep being told it gets better! 

Present over perfect

by Grace Ko

Baby is napping (quite a feat in and of itself considering he has been fighting sleep the past few days) and as I sat down to quickly shovel my lunch in my mouth and grabbed my current read Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, I thought it was about time I come back on this blog. 

It has been over two months since my last post and my world has been rocked, flipped upside down. It's as if I have a fresh pair of glasses that has changed my perspective, my view. I see things in a new light. It's a strange thing, motherhood. One moment you're merrily on your way, living life and the next, you birth a child and instantly a mother you become. 

Baby is already 12 weeks old and time is odd, in a slow and fast kind of way. I'm beating myself up over not having documented these past 12 weeks better but cheers to starting!

There are so many things I could write and process about: labor & delivery, postpartum recovery, breastfeeding, mom guilt, monthly updates... the list goes on. But this book, Present over Perfect has got me thinking, reflecting, re-evaluating, recalibrating. And I'm about to get real for a second on FOMO. Yes, you read that right. FOMO. Fear of missing out. 

Being a new mama, I know a thing or two about FOMO. There have been times when I was breastfeeding in the other room, missing out on almost the entirety of people's visits- visits to see me and baby. There have been moments I've browsed through my Facebook or scrolled through my Instagram inundated with photos of overseas travels, foodie adventures or elaborate social gatherings only to be reminded that I hadn't left the house in a week. I've looked through pictures of my pregnancy or life before baby and secretly thought, "Oh those were good times..." or "Man, was I skinny... Will I ever get my body back?" I've even looked at my bed at 2 AM, feeding baby and thought, "Will I ever sleep again?" The struggle is real.

But the joy is real too. 

Now I understand why parents take a million photos of their child. Now I understand why all my friends said one smile from your baby will make you forget you're utterly exhausted and severely sleep-deprived. Now I understand why people say, "The days are long but the years are short." 

I still can't believe baby is almost three months. And I'm yet again reminded of the importance of embracing my season, of being present. I'll be the first to profess that this is no easy task. I've always been a lover of lists, planners, organization, structure - whatever you'd like to call it. But it's been getting the best of me not having much structure to this life with a newborn. It has felt like a part of me was withering away, my days blurring into one another. I haven't touched my beloved planner in weeks;I have no plans/dates/to-do's to write in my planner mainly because I do the same things over and over again, everyday: feed baby, play with baby, change baby, putting baby down to sleep (or at least attempting to), repeat.

In hopes of having more structure to my day, I frantically tried to get him "on a schedule" because I thought it would give me some sanity. My Pinterest became flooded with pins of "How to sleep train", "How to get your baby to sleep through the night". I found myself awake at the wee hours of the morning clicking on these pins out of sheer curiosity only to fall into a rabbit hole of comparison, anxiety and frustration. It began robbing me of joy and taking me away from being present. I decided I would let go and just "go with the flow", following baby's lead. I confess, I still don't have much structure to my days. And I'm lucky if I get out of the house for a walk with baby (thank you, Seoul air quality. You stink.) But I have more joy in my heart and I am learning to be more present. 

cherry blossoms.jpg

It's a fight to stay present. It's a fight not to long for the bygone days or to eagerly await upcoming seasons. But it's a fight worth fighting.

To be present means reveling in the small victories and relishing in the now luxuries, like a shower, a few minutes to read, sitting with a cup of tea. To be present means being okay with holding and rocking baby to sleep because he will only be this little for so long. To be present means cherishing every one of baby's smiles.