Rachael’s Maternity Leave

In case you missed the title of this episode, the big news is that our beloved co-host of The Allender Center Podcast, Rachael Clinton Chen, will be taking some time away as she and her husband prepare to welcome a new baby into their lives. 

Rachael reflects on her journey so far as she chats with Dan Allender in what will be her final episode for the next few months. Please join us in wishing Rachael all the best and, as she says in her closing statement of this podcast: “See you on the other side.”

Episode Transcript:

Dan: Rachael Clinton Chen. We’ve got really good news don’t we? And, and I will speak for myself the good news so supersedes all other news that it’s just, it’s just good. But I also admit on the side that there is some sad news, at least for me and for many of our listeners. So let’s start, I think it’s one of those, let’s start with some extraordinary, good news, which as I said will cause anything that brings loss, it will become opaque in the translucent goodness. That is about to be spoken. So anyway. Good, good to be with you, Rachel.

Rachael: Good to be with you, Dan. You just want me to share my news?

Dan: Oh, well, you know, is there any other way to do this other than to go we’re in a transitional period. Now we can also argue that the entire pandemic has been one wicked transitional period from one, almost one episode to the next, but this feels like such good news that people are like, I think they already know don’t they?

Rachael: The good news is that, uh, my husband and I are expecting a baby girl sometime in mid-August. So we are, at the time of this conversation, well into our third trimester and counting down our days. So there’s a very, very joyous season, one long hope for anticipated labored for waited for, and we are over the moon and our boys are over the moon.

Dan: Good news. Again, I will say in my rather self-indulgent, self-orientedness that has some consequences that we wanna acknowledge right from the beginning. And that is as much as you have urged us to continue working up to the day of your birth and then the next day starting over we’ve been insisting that you take your…

Rachael: Yeah.

Dan: Is that, did I put it well?

Rachael: I don’t know about that, but, I mean, someone did ask me recently, when are you going on maternity leave? And I was like, I mean, when the baby comes? And then I I’ve had to actually repent and do some thinking about what that might actually look like. So

Dan: Well, we’ll, we’ll talk about the implications a little later, other than to say that I am going to lose my beloved, intrepid cohost for probably six months though. I think, I think it will be fair to say that you’ll need to come on at least…

Rachael: No.

Dan: Kind of.. Well then I’ll be at least in the reporting stage.

Rachael: Of see you got these ones once. What Dan’s trying to say is when I have my baby, I am going on maternity leave. Uh, and that is not happening until hopefully August, but you never know, and I will return, but I am not going to be joining him as a cohost anytime during that leave.

Dan: All right. So it was one last effort. And the answer is no, and I fully accepted it, of course, and bless it. But before we go much further into some of the implications, just to begin what, what we really want to cover, is what you have learned, what you’re learning, about what it means to be a mother. You have two stepsons and it has been a glorious as it always would be with sons or daughters, a glorious, difficult, beautiful process. And you’ve done a lot of learning, a lot of growing as to what it means to be a mom, but I’d also add that your presence in the world has often been deeply attuned and containing. In other words, you are a woman, you’re a person who has created incredible attachment, and to our audience as well. I know that from many of our listeners. So I do wanna talk about mothering and how you mother, what you’ve learned about mothering and what you’re anticipating in the expectation of what’s ahead as a mother. So start with that.

Rachael: Thank you. Yeah. I think one thing I just, I wanna lead with is, I am so aware even for myself, and I’ll talk more about this. As we get into the conversation, this is just such tender, tender, tender ground. I think for any woman, um, just mothering. Like the word mother, the multitude of stories, hopes, losses, heartaches, joys that our bodies and our hearts hold sometimes in a really multidimensional way, even with just one story, one life, our relationships with our mothers, like there’s just, this is such tender ground. And so I think even to step into this conversation, I just am so aware of the multitude of stories that come into the space, even just with the word mother. And so, you know, to me, I feel like, um, yeah, I have been mothering for a long time and I think that’s something that’s just really important to name that, yes, there is something particular and beautiful and powerful and holy about birthing a child into this world and a mothering in a very biological way. And there are so many other ways that we mother that often go so like unseen and just not honored as well. And that doesn’t at all take away from this experience for me. But, you know, I have, I knew what it was like, I’ve just known different kinds of loss of mothering and the desire to mother. You know, for example, being single for 37 years, that ambiguous loss that is hard to talk about of like, not being a mother because of circumstance, you know, quote unquote, well, as my 12 and 10 year old say technical technically, everything’s so technical, that’s a mothering thing. How to have, have ego strength when young people are telling you you’re technically not right. And haven’t learned inference. Side note, something we’re working on in our home, constantly, and I’m constantly working on my own ego strength to not be like, well, technically this, this and this. So, you know, I just, I think, um, yeah, I think for me, um, that capacity, like I often have said, good pastors, good shepherds are actually good mothers, you know, yes, good fathers, but I would say like, even maybe even more so like good mothers, like offering that sense of attunement and containment, a capacity to repair and being able to create an environment of flourishing. And, um, again, those are, these are categories that, you know, cross over. I think we also, in our journey for this little one experienced, we lost a baby a year ago. So also having had the experience of a miscarriage and I mean, there’s so much more I could say about that, the way it’s talked about the way it’s not talked about the way it’s understood the way it’s not understood how long of a process that is. I think there’s other ways many of us have like been mothering from like really young ages, whether we wanted to or not. And like, so some of those like being good mother skills that you like are grateful for when they can be redeemed, but also have been like really costly, in what you’ve kind of, what’s been demanded or required, or, even I think for me, that’s been such a growth edge in my work with Allender Center, learning when it’s appropriate and good and right to bring these parts of myself and when it’s appropriate, good and right to step back and let other people hold and let other people pastor and, all those good things. So when I think about mothering, and, and obviously, yes, becoming a stepparent is such a particular kind of mothering, and that’s also another podcast episode one, that’s just so such a privilege and such, such a joy and also comes with like a deep understanding of your place. And you know that your kiddos already have a mom and you’re kind of like a bonus mom and learning all those boundaries and, you know, um, so I mean, there’s just, this to me is a realm in some ways I’ve thought about so long and in other ways, because of the heartache of longing to be a certain kind of mother, it’s also a space. I think I just shut out for so long. Because it started to feel like that’s probably not gonna be a possibility for me. And I was definitely, I mean, my dream was to, I mean, I’m Italian come from big Italian families. Like my dream was to have like, I mean, I’m, I’m gonna say this now my dream was to have like eight kids in college. Now, the older I got, the more I understood, like money, you know, limitations on energy. I was like, okay, maybe that is not a bad dream, but maybe not my dream. And so I think there’s, you know, even in this experience, there’s still that reality of, of in these places of just being human and doing things that are at once so ordinary and yet so extraordinary. There’s always such a sisterhood of joy and sorrow.

Dan: Well, it, I don’t know how to summarize and I shouldn’t even attempt, but what I’ve just heard is this is one freaking complicated calling. Yeah. You know, not only do we have mothers that we may have such a dear sense of goodness, but also many of us have far more, a sense of dread and heartache with regard or some intersection of both worlds of dear and dreaded. And then to think particularly what it means to be a mother one, doesn’t have to have children to be a good mother. Right. And you, you, as I have said, you have been a good mother to the, shall we say the entourage of the Allender Center. Uh, and in that I have known you to be a good mother, to me, a good friend, a good colleague, but also a good mother. And in that it, it does hold a kind of the hats change. They’re not all the same. They don’t actually, maybe even look like hats at times, but then to be a stepmother versus now to be biologically coming to a point of birthing a child from your own body. So I, let me just step back and say in the essence of what you see your own being to be as a mother before even having stepsons or your own biological child, what, what has it been to be a good mother? And, you know, you have been a good mother for a long, long season. I’d just love for you to try and put a few words to what you see that to actually look like and be on behalf of others.

Rachael: I’m laughing because, I’m in a, like we’re in a birthing class right now, and it’s actually like a mindfulness birthing class. And so it’s all about like, how do you stay present in the moment to what is, and it’s had me thinking about, I was joking with the birthing class that I actually thought I was a really good mother and really mature and really grounded until I stepped into like marriage and being a stepparent and kind of had like an instant family, because it’s really easy to be. I think I’ve said this on the podcast before. Like it’s really easy to be grounded and aware and mature and kind of be able to come back with, you know, helpful responses when you have like a week to ponder, why you had a certain reaction ’cause you live alone and you have a lot of space then when things are just happening in real time, you know, you just, you lose a lot of maturity when things are happening in real time. And you just don’t have a lot of space to like ponder. Like why did I react that way? And you do, eventually, just not in the moment, always. So in this season I would say being a good mother is having the ego strength and capacity to just constantly repair when you react in ways that although make really good sense and you can be like, totally understand why I did that. Maybe not the best way to handle this situation or maybe, you know, there’s another human being I’m interacting with and they have their own story and they have their own triggers and all of a sudden we’re, we’re having this vision. So when I think about being a good mother, I think about, I mean, first of all, and I think about just, um, the work and labor, it takes to know yourself. And, and I think as women, especially in our world, that’s not necessarily something that comes easy for us socially. It’s not a part of the system where we’re in it’s, it’s something we have to fight for something we have to like really lean into, um, like reach out to communities, seek out resources. So I think that capacity to know something of your own story, to know who you are, to know how you are really, um, because I’m a fairly neurotic person. Um, and you know, in our home they joke like all the time, like my sister asks my stepsons, you know, when you think of Rachael, like what’s like something you like, you like what’s what’s words that come to mind. And both of them at the same time were like, no no, no, no, no. And we all laughed because obviously the fact they could say that meant they felt secure enough to be able to like play with me in that way. And there’s a total truth to it. Like I am the safety first. Like don’t do that. Be careful, you know? No, that’s not good. Don’t dance while you’re eating, you could choke. So, you know, it’s like…

Dan: That’s hilarious. Wait a minute

Rachael: But it’s like real.

Dan: I’ve never heard that seriously. You said don’t don’t eat now.

Rachael: Yes. Yes. Okay. Because our 10-year-old is one of those kids, who’s just got so much fire and passion in his body. So he’ll take a huge bite of food and then he’ll get up and do like karate moves and dances and spin around. But he is got like all food in his mouth and all I can think is he’s gonna choke. And so I literally…

Dan: Okay. I just have to ask, has he ever choked?

Rachael: No.

Dan: Okay. So you, you have a, what we’ll call a proleptic sense of disaster.

Rachael: Yes, I do.

Dan: You, you can configure disaster out of, shall we say a benevolent white cloud passing by a fully blue sky.

Rachael: This is what I’m trying to say, because lest anyone think like, oh, Rachel she’s so zen and you know, being a good mother means you just always have the, you know, like a calm… It’s like no being a good mother means,

Dan: Oh look

Rachael: You know what you bring to the table. And you know, it’s not that like, I, then all of a sudden I’m like, all right, I’m gonna be anti, you know, I’m gonna be anti-myself and somehow become someone who’s not worried. Like that’s just not reality. And so I that’s, what I’m trying to say is like one, know thyself. But I, I do think beyond that, you know, we use this word attunement, but really, it just means paying attention, like paying attention, like actually knowing someone and letting them be a separate self, that’s different than you that might think differently than you, that might relate differently than you trying to make sense of what that is. And I think any person who works with people in general or works with children in general, you would know there’s no rule book for that because every little person is different and how they do those things. So what works for one kid you think, oh, I’m just gonna try this again. Doesn’t work at all. Like doesn’t compute and then again, that’s, you know, honor, I think a lot about honor. What does it mean to bless? What does it mean to honor people? What does it mean to call out their goodness? What does it mean to, to provide boundaries and honesty in the places where, you know, choices are being made that are gonna lead to harm? And to get to be really curious as to what’s at play, but again, I think I would just come back to say blessing honor, knowing someone, celebrating them, delighting in them, but also repairing. And knowing how to say I’m sorry.

Dan: Yeah. Well, what I would add is that what I know of you is there is a ferocity, of goodness, a kind of, almost defiance of, I will bring in spite of the complexity, in spite of all the confounding matters, I will bring blessing and goodness into your world and even your resistance for whatever number of reasons. I will not intrude in a sense of demand, but I will not easily back off from being able to bring something of flourishing and goodness, back to what our dear friend Linda Royster refers to as the Shalom, of a kind of blessing that creates flourishing. Goodness. So that, along with the fact that, you know, if I had to say… Did we, did we, did you, did we mention gender yet? Did you?

Rachael: Yes. I said we’re having a baby girl.

Dan: Okay. I’m okay. Got that. So, given that, I’m not going to ask you what names you’ve chosen. Yeah.

Rachael: I won’t tell you.

Dan: Oh, of course. So for lack of a better way, I’m gonna call her little Danny or Danielle. No,

Rachael: No. No. See part of being a good mother is being a fierce protector so…

Dan: Of time and naming minimally. So the name to be revealed her presence in your body, what is it? What is, what have you learned so far about this sweet child?

Rachael: You know, it’s really interesting because, um, so much of like preparing for so much of pregnancy honestly, is just terror and discomfort because at every turn, especially if you’ve known loss and especially if you’ve known trauma and you know, you don’t necessarily have that innocence, that everything just works out. So in some ways it has actually been a labor to stay present in the moments and to just try to breathe deeply. And it’s taken a lot of like EMDR and, and support and reaching out and talking with my midwives, at every stage. So I think it’s, it feels sweet to feel like I have some sense of her cause it’s taken a lot of labor to not just wanna rush to the end and, um, and to let this season of growth and development unfold as it’s meant to, but something that, you know, I think Michael and I both sensed from the beginning is that she’s just very full of life and that feels like a grace from God. And it’s interesting, like even doing this podcast, I can feel the parts of me that are like, you are putting this out there so publicly, now loss is gonna come and you’re gonna have to come back and publicly talk about that. So I’m just, I just wanna name that’s there with me, but she’s so full of life. And I know like a lot of babies in utero are, but like when we got a 12-week, ultrasound, she was like bouncing in the womb. She was like, like on a little trampoline and then midwife was laughing. Like I, they definitely move, they kind of jerk, they do things, but I dunno if I’ve ever seen a baby, like a rhythmically bounce. Um, she is, I, you know, my primary care physician was talking with me and just said, you know, something that’s important when you think about your birth plan, cause that’s something they, you know, you have to kind of think about like, how do you wanna do this thing is just that you don’t really know how it’s gonna go because this little human being has a way they wanna be born. And it’s not that they’re just at the mercy of you. And I think there’s something really true. Um, whether I can say, oh, these characteristics are true of her. I do have the very strong sense. She is her own person and I think she’s very fierce. She’s very strong. She kicks real hard and punches real hard. And um, and I mean that she’s coming into a very fierce, strong family, full of a lot of intense people. So I kind of feel like , you know, there’s something of that there, but that liveliness and you know, one of our favorite things about her was when we did our 20-week anatomy scan, she just abated at every turn. And at first I thought, oh, it’s just coincidence. But by an hour and a half later, when they still were trying to just get a peek at her heart or her kidneys or her hands, and she would just constantly just cover the area they were trying to look at at the exact moment, even though they kept switching up the order, you know, they wanted look at her hand and she’d put up a fist and they wanted to look at her profile and she’d turn her head away. And I just thought there has to be some mystery there has to be some mystery to this. So whether that has like deep meaning or not, there was something, you know, even though…

Dan: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Don’t, don’t go that direction at hour and a half of attempting to get data where every single moment that they’re moving that form of a stethoscope around your pregnant belly, uh, I think is a little bit more than coincidence. And so what we can, what we can say is, you know, this child is rising out of the soil of your very being and character and, you know, Russo, populated the world with the idea of, of a child is born tabula rasa. A unmarked slate that we shape entirely on the basis of how we parent or educate and the data certainly over, like a lifetime, like a, a few millennia, but nonetheless, over the last 20, 30 years is that a child, is even in interuterine life, listening to your voice, responding to some degree to your own stress, and the complications, but also the benefits that without stress there, isn’t an engagement. So you’re, you are hosting in and through your own body, a character like and different than you. And I mean, is that a fair way to begin?

Rachael: I mean, I definitely think so. I laugh ’cause there are things she does that really remind me of Michael, like, you know, she’ll be kicking, kicking, kicking, I’ll have my hand on my belly. I’ll be like, Michael, you gotta feel this, the instant he touches my tummy. She stops. Like just goes silent. And whether it’s ’cause it’s soothing or, but there’s something very playful and he, he is definitely someone that’s like, I will not perform for you. I won’t be exploited by you. So just there’s these funny interactions we have that just feel like, is that intentional? Like, is, is she like, does she really sense that like I’m trying to get you to have this experience and then she’s like, no, I’m just gonna be quiet now. And then he’ll take his hand off almost instantly, as soon as the hand goes away. So, you know, there is such a mystery and I, I think just a deep curiosity for us as to who she will be. And, and it’s really sweet and special to be doing that when you have like a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old who also have been in a over decade-long process of becoming and you know, just who they are so distinct and different and connected and also yeah, like their own, their own people, their own person. And so I think we’re all very excited to, to get to know her.

Dan: Well again, one of the things that I would underscore as the gift of a good mother is somebody who reads you well. But read you in a way in which there is always room for vastly more knowledge, more understanding, and that holds a certain degree of paradox to be read well. And I know you. On the other hand, I know, I don’t know you and that openness, to being surprised to having new revelation shape a new understanding at not just through developmental sequences, but a sense that even in the womb, you both are studying her learning how to engage her with a sense of, we know something about how she engages, but we also know there’s so much more and that openness, but confidence, confidence, openness, and the intersection between those two. I certainly have seen in your engagement with me and others. So when you think about where you are going to be, surprised, where your own neurotic processes that you described earlier are going to be disrupted, have, have you begun to think a little bit about what the future holds?

Rachael: Yes. Because you can’t be someone who finds impending disaster in a beautiful white cloud and not be thinking a lot about all the potential pathways of the future. So yes, I was joking with my midwife. I mean also think it’s part of being 40, like I’ve, this is not my first rodeo. It’s my first rodeo in this body, but it’s, you know, I’ve been… I’ve journeyed with many friends and family, through this kind of baptism and threshold. So yeah, I’ve thought a lot about it. That’s why I’m taking a mindfulness birthing class. Cause they’re like these skills will help you well into the future, you know, when you’re constantly at your margin. I mean, I have a good friend who had twins a year ago, a little over a year ago and she was like, you know, the newborn phase was great, but it’s like, now that they’re walking and, and like moving and like throwing food, like I really feel like I’m losing it. And you know, Michael just laughed and said, yeah, when, if you’re not used to being like constantly disrespected at every turn, that will certainly push you past your margins. So, I mean, I think about this, these things a lot, and it’s where I feel a lot of gratitude. I mean, you might have to check in with me six months, a year, two years from now. It’s where I feel a lot…

Dan: Oh, we will.

Rachael: A lot of gratitude for, I think the amount of grace I have, I’ve cultivated for my neurosis and, and the skills I’ve been given and have cultivated around how to sooth, how to like, hold that kind of complexity because absolutely, you know, like I, Michael and I were talking about what we’re most afraid of and I, it, for him, it was throwing his back out, which definitely revealed our age because that wasn’t the, I was like, you’re worried about throwing your back out, but he’s done this before. So he is remembering how often you’re bending over. And I, you know, I said, I’m scared of the moments, right? No matter how much you attune, no matter how much you think, you know, um, you can’t, you can’t offer the soothing you want to. You can’t protect in the way as you want to. And how that I think will just spike my cortisol to levels of unending degree. And, you know, so I think in the early days when a baby’s crying and you’re trying to figure out what is it that you need and they can’t, they can’t speak to you with words and you’re still learning and just how scary that will be. So, yeah, I think about, I think about, I think about a lot of things, you know, I think about a lot of things, but I, you know, I also am like, that’s part of the adventure, it’s part of what I love about working with people. It’s part of what I love about doing healing work. It’s part of what I love about pastoring. Um, that there, there is a, you not like you, you’re talking about a good mother, like know like sees and knows deeply and also leaves curiosity and room that you don’t know. And I think that’s really just really what love is like is knowing and not knowing.

Dan: We don’t have much time. So let me just be blunt here. Given your sports consumption, is that a fair word? Consumption addiction?

Rachael: I mean, I don’t know if I’d call it.. I don’t..

Dan: Idolatry.

Rachael: I don’t have.. No, I don’t have a lot of time in these days to just be like watching sports all the time. So not I reject your words.

Dan: But it’s built deeply into your very being, is it not?

Rachael: Yeah.

Dan: So given that you grew up in a particular world and have a strong sense of loyalty to certain teams, let’s say in the state of Oklahoma, and your husband, as a Philadelphia bound sports aficionado, how will your daughter be brought into the world a play?

Rachael: You know that again, you have to honor people’s personhood, so you can invite, you can help them see how like your team is clearly the best team and they have to, they have to follow. I mean, I think with sports, like you have to have your own love affair. Like you have to have your own adoption of like, I feel a connection to this team. You can’t force that. So, I mean, I feel like, I don’t know, I’m trying to, I’m a little outnumbered here in Philadelphia. I’ve got three Eagles fans in my home, so I’m trying to prepare myself. I mean, Michael did ask me, I have a very serious question for you. And I was really scared and he said, would you be willing to become an Eagles fan for our baby? And I was like, this is manipulation of the highest degree. And I’m gonna have to say,

Dan: Okay, well, where did that go?

Rachael: No, I said, listen, I’m still, Seahawks are still my, my top, my top team. And I don’t know if that’s ever gonna get like, you know, what’s the word dismantled, deconstructed, but I am open to becoming hospitable to the Eagles.

Dan: Okay. So a moderately serious question and then a little bit more before we end. So if we, Becky and I, get you get unnamed little Danielle…

Rachael: Oh my goodness.

Dan:  A Seahawks onesie that will not be like too offensive.

Rachael: No. 

Dan: Too… Good. All right. So the other side to this is what’s your sense of what this daughter is going to invite you in to play?

Rachael: Well, I mean already I think a deeper embrace of the unknown. And, yeah, I mean, honestly, I think that’s probably the biggest thing I would say. And getting over myself and my, I mean, I feel like I’ve had to let go of my ways of needing like a plan that’s that’s been, that actually has been disrupted in really holy, good, ways over the past decades, several decades, but, you know, I’m, I think like any child she will invite, and I’ve seen this with my stepsons as well, an invitation to be present in ways that will disrupt my loyalties to work to, cleanliness, to order, to you know, being able to anticipate people’s needs ahead of time so that you can like preempt, you know, anything. So I do feel like, um, there will be an invitation to a different kind of priestly tending, especially in these early years. Um, that will be very disruptive to ways I’ve ordered my world to ways I make sense of the world and myself, um, to ways I, you know, we’re, you know, already we’re like, all right, what are the things we won’t be able to do for a long season? But I, think any, I think any openness to another human being and to being loved by them and to loving them changes you.

Dan: Yeah. Well, I, like many adultified children. The two things that I think my children, my grandchildren have invited me into that. I’m not sure I would’ve ever known the way I know now and not to say I know it well, but, innocence. I did not have in many ways the privilege of, a long season of innocence, nor did I have the opportunity to, in one sense, be a child, you know, an adultified child, having to parent a parent often leaves you in a position where you, you have to be wiser, stronger and more adept than your body or your mind, or your soul has the capacity. So you end up at least in my case, feeling like a constant imposter. I have to be older. I’m not. I have to be better, stronger. I’m not. But I have to appear to be. And that is a rumination of any sense of the integrity of being young, which is another word for the word innocence and what I, what I would wish for you having been something of an adultified child that you would, in one sense, have a Renaissance of innocence and play. And that’s why we will hold, particularly the first six months, sacrosanct, even with my punitive effort to get you back on for five minutes. I think I would’ve had enough integrity to have resisted that at a later point. But that’s, that’s my wish. And I think on behalf of our audience, if you would let me pray for you. and for Michael, and for this little one, as well as your sons, we are gonna miss you. It really will be hard, uh, for atleast for me, to not have that pleasure of interacting with you on this weekly, on the other hand, such good news, that easily can be celebrated even with the anticipation of you returning.

Rachael: Thank you, Dan.

Dan: So Jesus, we thank you for Rachael and her goodness. We thank you for Michael and for their family and for their sons and for this little one, oh, Jesus. We pray that she will transform this family as she already has and will continue to do so. And we simply pray for a glorious birth and for safety, and, such a measure of your protection and provision. But again, we pray that there would be joy. Joy through this process, the kind of joy that leads again, to the humility of knowing that we have so much more to know than what we know. And yet what we do know is something of your goodness. And so we pray that goodness over this family and for all of us who are so indebted to Rachael for her life, for her love, for her mothering and her goodness, we pray that in your name. Jesus. Amen. Well, my friend, thank you.

Rachael: Thank you.

Dan: And, that sounds almost a little too perfunctory, but have a great birth.

Rachael: Thank you. See you on the other side.