Welcome Back, Rachael!

We are thrilled to welcome back podcast co-host Rachael Clinton Chen, who is returning to us from maternity leave! In this conversation with Dan, Rachael catches us up on life as a new mother, her experiences with labor and the first few months, and her observations on the incredible burdens that women bear.

If you are a parent or caregiver, we think this episode will be especially relatable, but we hope that all who listen will walk away with a renewed sense of the awe, terror, and joy of the responsibility of caring for those who are most vulnerable in our lives.

Congratulations Rachael, Michael, and family on your precious blessing, and welcome Evelyn Grace!

Related Episode: Revisit Rachael’s final episode of 2022, Rachael’s Maternity Leave

Episode Transcript:

Dan: I had the pleasure of being with six pastors wives this morning and delightful group of women who met when they were at Covenant Seminary and have retained and grown in friendship and love for one another. And from my standpoint, I think the hardest job in the universe is to be a pastor, but the hardest role because most pastors wives don’t have a job as a pastor wife. But nonetheless the hardest role in the world is to be a pastor’s wife. So in this lovely conversation I had to end and say, I’m so sorry, I need to go and do a podcast. And I explained that it’s an exciting podcast because I get to welcome back not only a dear friend in colleague, but my good friend Rachael Clinton Chen. So Rachael, before I say you’re here and people can hear your lovely laugh, two of the women who heard me say that just literally just clapped. It was like, oh, she’s back. She’s coming back. I’m like, yes, she’s coming back. It what a gift, just to have it again, it would’ve been all six, but only two really heard what I was saying. The sense that it was so nice to see people who listen to us, and particularly in this case, to people who have missed you deeply. And I can say, I suspect that there is far many more people who are like, oh God, thank you Jesus, that he is not going to be alone. There will be some amelioration of the edginess by your kindness and grace. So all that to say, Rachael, welcome back.

Rachael: Thank you. That is so kind. That is such a kind, welcome. Also little self-deprecating as well. But that’s okay. We can deal with that. We can deal with that.

Dan: Yeah well, and again, I just thought honestly kind of like, oh Jesus, this meal planned right before we were going to do this podcast. And to have their faces just light up with, oh good. And I did feel a little bit, has it been okay without her? And the answer is not the same. Not the same. So all to say welcome back and there are plenty of people who’d like to know, well, what’s been your life? Tell us about the birth. Tell us about your daughter. Tell us a little bit about what you’ve experienced as a mother?

Rachael: Sure. I mean, woo, what questions? What questions? First of all, I would just say it’s really good to be back and it’s really hard to be back. And both are true at the same time because I’m a different person on this side of things than I was when I left. And we talked about that and I knew that would be true. Man, alive have I had to learn who I am as I’m learning who this little tiny human being is. But I have just had the absolute time of my life. I have had the time of my life and most people would know who have raised a tiny human, whether that was through giving birth to them or adopting them or fostering them, or just being a care provider of a tiny human being, or even a grandparent. There is also it more than anything in my life, that razor edge of joy and sorrow, glory and beauty and hardship and exhaustion. Just being sisters in the same house joined at the hip, just so close. I’ve never experienced a season where those things are just so close. Where one minute. I mean, this is not going to be linear because that is one of the ways I’ve changed. I don’t know how to be tell a linear story anymore because…

Dan: Wait minute, women, I just have to ask. You thought you were linear before?

Rachael: I dunno. Maybe a little bit. I feel like I could tell a story that’s like, here’s the beginning, here’s the middle. I just think logically I should probably start with the birth, but I got to get there another way. I got to get there another way. All that I do feel like that is, I kept asking people, I think I said this before, what should I know about the newborn season? And people to a T all said, I don’t remember. I don’t, don’t remember. And I was really scared about that because I thought, how in the world do you not remember? And now I know sleep deprivation, you don’t remember because you have so much sleep deprivation. However, that sense of yeah, I’ve had the time of my life. And I will say about the birth, I was prepared for a wild story because it was just the nature of my life in general. And our sense of this little one growing inside when she was growing inside of me was that she was just very full of life and very, maybe my birthing class was a mindfulness birthing class, which was really great because the whole premise was basically everything is out of your control from birth to newborn season to raising adult children. Very in line with how we talk about parenting. So it was a great class because it was all about how do you prepare to have everything be out of control and to be present in the moment and to not strive and to breathe and have humor and all these things. And so one of the things they said from the beginning was, you can have a birth plan. It’s a really beautiful thing, but you just really don’t know how things are going to go. And that was true for us. I labored for four days. No, I did not know that was a thing that could happen. And it wasn’t like, oh, false starts. It wasn’t like, oh, contractions started and then they stopped for a day. It was literally contractions started. And I think the longest window of time I had without a contraction in those four days was 13 minutes. It’s, they would progress and then they would back off and then they would progress and then they would back off. So a couple of trips to the hospital and then they say, you know, should probably go home. And I feel very protective of our story. So I’m not going to go into much details beyond that other than just to say 4 days of labor, 40 minutes of pushing. So just a juxtaposition of suffering, waiting. I knew intuitively there’s got to be a reason why when she’s moving down and the labor’s progressing, she’s moving back up. And so it was a long, long labor process, but when it came time to push, it was very fast. And our little one came into our arms and we have been very blessed, very fortunate. She is a healthy lively. Her name is Evelyn, which means full of life. We call her Evie. And she is just so incredibly spirited. She is strong-willed, she is very vocal right now. She’s almost six months old. And so she’s practicing all of her sounds. So she has a guttural growl and she has a high pitched squeal and she blows raspberries and she pretty much talks nonstop. And we can’t wait to learn more and understand more of what it is. We can figure out some things. She’s like, move me here and get this thing for me and stand up and walk around, you peasants. I mean…

Dan: She is royal, so she does have peasants to care from her.

Rachael: And we all in all, I would say again, I have had been very fortunate in the recovery process. And also it’s been really hard. I had a lot of complications with breastfeeding and still going strong. But one thing I will just say is the noise for mothers in our culture is, oh my God, it’s overwhelming. Do you’re doing this wrong. You’re doing this right. Competing ideas, so much shame, so many heavy burdens. So I think the biggest thing I’m most proud of myself for is just pushing back against the noise and learning to listen to my own gut and listening to my daughter and trying to breathe. And I don’t do it great all the time. How I said I was hoping maybe on the side of things I would become really zen.

Dan: Yeah…

Rachael: No, not even in the slightest, I’m way more intense. I mean so much anxiety. Which part of that’s so biochemical, you’re getting this flood of chemicals to keep your baby alive. But I’ll tell a little story and then you can ask me whatever questions you want because I know I’m talking a lot. But turns out when you spend four and a half months with just mostly with a tiny human in your family, you have a lot to say when you kind of emerge out of that.

Dan: And I’m good, I’m good. Look, I’m enjoying. And I think most have that sense of, even for a man, there is a world you’re describing that we get close to, but never indeed have to suffer the way and also have the privilege in the way. So keep talking.

Rachael: Well, I have some really strong feelings about the lack of support for women and mothers in our culture at a time when we’re politically bringing incredible restrictions to access to healthcare, but not actually committed to abundant, flourishing life. I have a lot of resource, I have a lot of resources. I have a lot of access to care. This psych idea… So they say, oh, you’re going to have the baby blues because when you are pregnant, you have highest levels of progesterone and estrogen that you basically have in your life. It makes you not for all people. I’ll say for myself, it’s like the happiest most calm I’ve ever been, which is kind of crazy when think about what your body is, is experiencing. I mean, obviously I was exhausted. There was there, I was sick, I was exhausted, I was uncomfortable. But my mental health was actually phenomenal. It’s like the minute you give birth, those hormones plummet to some of the greatest depths that you will ever know. So your body goes from being a fertile oasis to a parched desert, literally in a matter of minutes. And they call this phase the two weeks. They give you two weeks, which by the way is so ridiculous because it’s so much longer the recovery. They say for two weeks you’re going to have the baby blues and the baby blues sounds like so cute. You’re going to feel your hormones are going to crash and you’re going to feel sad and emotional. It was a hot mess, express of chaos. I mean, one minute, literally in the same minute I would be holding her crying because I hadn’t slept in days and more than an hour because you’re in this endless cycle of sleep, breastfeeding, diaper change, sleep, breastfeeding, diaper change. And I would be holding her crying hysterically that she’s going to be a newborn forever. And Michael and I will never go to sleep at the same time ever again, and I’m never going to sleep again. And literally 20 seconds later be crying because she’s going to go to college someday and she’s not going to be a newborn forever and she’s going to leave us. And how do people ever send their children out into the world? And this would literally play out within a two minute period. I felt crazier than I’ve ever felt. And yes, because I have a background in mental health because I take women’s health seriously. I was in conversations with doctors, paying attention to my mental health, not afraid to be honest about the levels of anxiety I was experiencing. And so all that to say I really do mean, it was a razor’s edge of the greatest heights of joy I’ve ever experienced and the most intense exhaustion and sleep deprivation I’ve ever experienced. And I told Michael, he said, what are you most afraid of with a newborn? And I said, I’m a two on the Enneagram. I’m still a recovering codependent and I have survived on being able to attune well to people and meet their needs. I will feel panic if she’s crying and I can’t figure out what she needs. Now. I thought that would be, if she’s been crying for 20 minutes, I’ll panic. No, she would cry for 30 seconds at the beginning and I would flood cortisol, I dunno what she needs. And they say, you’ll be able to read their cries, not initially. Newborns cries. They cry the same cry for everything they need. And it took me such gracious practice to breathe, have my mom come stay with us and be like, you can do this. And I’ve been around a lot of babies. It’s not like I didn’t know how to take care of a baby. It felt in my body, this is a matter of life and death. And this tending to a little human is such a priestly act. It is so priestly. It’s in the dirt. It is, the rhythms could become really small. And I actually loved that. I loved the small cycling rhythm of the newborn phase. I mean, it’s certainly fun when they start smiling at you and making sounds and finding their voice and discovering their feet and learning new skills. And at the wonder of all, yeah.

Dan: It’s glorious. But what you’ve described is brilliantly. So the level of intensity that’s there, not just in the first several weeks, but the reality of there’s at a level to say there’s no one that you care for more in the universe. Again, not questioning the covenantal commitment and oath to your beloved, but there is a reality as a mother that your body shared a body with your newborn. And in that process of the intensity of love and the intensity of fear, and then throw in levels of exhaustion that most people, unless they’re a mother, have had very little experience with. So all that to say, and I know it’s not the easiest question to respond to, but what are you discovering about yourself? That’s new.

Rachael: Yeah. Oh, whole new depths of radically accepting I’m human. And that’s, I’ve always been on that journey. But again, that razor’s edge of, I think I’m a really good mother. I think I’m a really good stepmom. I think I am a really terrible mother. I think I’m a really terrible stepmom. When you have sleep deprivation and you wake up in the middle of the night and you… That’s the hardest thing is when you anticipate it and you get in the rhythm, you’re like, okay, you figure out a way to survive it and do it. And I’m someone who has insomnia and all kinds of sleep issues, and I’ve never known. I’ve just never known deprivation like this. And the little human is needing you and crying, and then they poop on you three times and you have to change your outfit four times and it wakes them up. I mean, it’s just the cortisol flooding and the anger. And then you’re like, how can you be angry at and disappointed in a tiny human being who’s dependent on you for their life? And she has a milk protein allergy, and we didn’t figure that out for four months, and she had the worst reflux. And just those, that sense of, oh, I’ve failed you and like you needed me to figure something out to help you digest right. And so I think that I’m learning that that’s just still really hard for me. I think it’s hard for everyone, but I just still wanted to believe if I worked hard enough, I could really prevent her from suffering. If I just worked hard enough, I could minimize suffering. When I still struggle to let her cry, when she and babies cry, sometimes they cry. And I still feel in those moments, there’s something you are horribly failing at and you need to work harder and get this right. So I rescue her really quickly and sometimes she needs to work it out. I am learning that I could actually be very happy as a stay-at-home mom for a long season. And I’ve always seen myself as a, and I do love my work, and I think my work I’m finding as I’m coming back, oh, this is actually helping me open back up parts of myself that I think are actually helped me be a better mom. But I did not have those feelings of, and maybe it’s because we’ve been through covid and I’ve learned to just be in my home, but I just didn’t have feelings of I’m trapped in my house. I’m such a homebody. I was like, this is great. I just hang out. We go for walks because she was born in August, so middle of August. So we had the fall to go on walks and it was beautiful outside. I’m learning that I have still have a hard time asking for what I need and when I need help and letting people help me and not feeling, that’s again, I’m failing as a mother. I am learning a new, I’m learning how to have a new body, having to go to physical therapy to reconnect my core to my legs and glutes and shoulders and back. And that healing takes time. So I feel like I’m learning a lot of things that I’ve learned before, but in a really new way.

Dan: Well, and you’re, you put words to this a while back. So let me bring you you back. You know that the demands of being a mother probably culturally have so much pressure, so many demands, so many accusations. And as you put it there’s just a kind of shame based undercurrent. And sometimes the undercurrent is not an undercurrent. It’s a big wave. And in that, have you pondered… why? Why are women put in a position as a mother of so much warfare?

Rachael: Well, I mean, in some ways we have to talk about patriarchal structures that our world has been built upon from the beginning of time. And that doesn’t exclude other supremacy structures that I’m a part of and participate in and collude in. I’m incredibly privileged. I got to take four months of maternity leave at every turn. When I was thinking about when women have to go back to work four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks. I honestly was like, I can’t imagine right now trying to do that. Not just for leaving your child and what that feels like, having to pay for childcare, find childcare, but also just where your body and mental health is at that place. We don’t have, we’ve lost so much embodied wisdom. I have found myself more than any other season longing for the women in my life to be close, to have help. Knowing I’m not meant to be doing this alone. And part of that is we live in a part of the world where my most core friends live in Seattle, and my core family members live in Oklahoma. And I am also very privileged to have a partner and a spouse, a husband who is an incredible co-parent with me. And I love watching him with our daughter. And I trust him with my life, with her life. And so I have incredible support. And he’s working, working on a PhD. We have older kids who are very active and in a very active season. I just think that women bear incredible burdens. I mean, there’s so much material out there you can read about this. But not only childbearing burdens and childcare burdens, but caring, tending to homes and tending to the emotional needs of the family and tending to the administrative needs of the family and scheduling things and remembering all the details and holding all the things. And yeah, I mean, you’ve talked about this before in different classes I’ve had with you, Dan, that there is such a thing as womb envy and this kind of underlying work of evil that I do think permeates patriarchy and misogyny, this envy that women have the capacity. We don’t always get to live it out. And there’s a lot of heartache to that, but that women in our bodies have the capacity to bear life to co-create with God in a miraculous way.

Dan: Well, and our audience would, if they’ve done a basic psych course and tried to understand something of what generally is called classic psycho-analysis, or Freudian thought a lot did revolve around Freud’s understanding or misunderstanding of a woman’s envy of a male’s penis. And from the beginning of my reflections on this field, and always thought it was ridiculous but what never got addressed is that issue of you gave birth to a human being. There is nothing more intimate, nothing closer than the idea your body had another human being residing in you for the proverbial nine months. And the research has also indicated that Evie and parts of Evie’s body will be in your body up until around the time she’s around 26 years of age.

Rachael: Wow, I didn’t know that.

Dan: So your body still carries her and will for decades. So that kind of, and again, union, intimacy, passion, and oftentimes tragically in marriages, this doesn’t get addressed at the level of a man’s envy that now your focus, your life, your joy is in your child and no longer in our relationship. So there’s always a sense of some degree of competition, some degree of loss, but even more so it’s that union of creation that no man, no matter what, you have created the largest business in the world and you’re a multi, multi-billionaire. Nothing is comparable to the creation, the holding, the living, the breathing of birthing and tending as a mom. So I do think you are accurate to say, at least if we can put words to the fact there is envy. Envy of what you have suffered and who you are as a result. And some degree of jealousy contrasting envy and jealousy because they’re not the same. Jealousy that that child to some degree now is my competitor. So there is a failure in the structures of patriarchy that move us actually into misogyny in terms of an actual violence toward women. When a woman’s pregnant, she is four times more likely to be a victim of domestic violence. So we just have to be able to say the relationship between a man and a woman in this context often changes enough that it’s the beginning of a lot more complexity.

Rachael: Yeah. I’m still sitting with, I mean, what you named about caring parts of her for 26 years like I did. I’ve never heard that before. And it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprise me. Yeah. I mean, that is part of the heartache. And I think I’ve, I’ve always been a fierce mama bear to the people in my life like always. I mean, that’s just a part of, I’m a fierce protector for the people I love and feel called to protect. And whether that’s the people I’m pastoring, family members, friends, loved ones, those I’ve been called to join in this work of doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly. But man, the ferocity of, my body’s increased mama bear nature in this season. Yeah, it is that feeling of I would will kill someone if they try to hurt her. And I’ve always again had that kind of verocity, but it feels like it’s on new levels, and it is making me feel, find my voice in a different way around the realities of our world. And what is the world that she is going to inherit in the season ahead?

Dan: Well, what words come as you begin to ponder, what will she and her face and her body, bear, that may not be the same that you’ve had to bear?

Rachael: Yeah. Well, my precious baby girl she will bear realities in the world that I have not had to bear. And perhaps even her father hasn’t had to bear, though, will both have a taste of different things to be able to join her because she is biracial, she’s multicultural in her body. She has ancestry, European ancestry, she has Taiwanese ancestry. So that ethnic, ethnic multiethnic reality. But I think in our racialized society, she will bear realities of being a biracial woman and trying to find where she belongs and where she fits in the conversation. And there’s so much more, I could say, what the Asian American community is facing right now with such a tremendous increase in anti-Asian, hate what Asian women bear in our culture. The exotification, the oversexualization, the harm and abuse. I mean, there’s going to be realities that she has to face, that it will be our job to reach out, to create a greater community, to be a resource for her, to be protection for her, to help her find language for her reality in this world, even her reality in our family and what it is to have a face that bears resemblance to everyone in our family, to her brothers, to her papa to me, but also to be different and to be other. And so we talked about these realities before she even existed just as an idea. And she’s a woman, she’s a young woman. And to help her, she’s a young woman. She’s a tiny little, he fierce little human being who’s very physically aggressive. And I have to just take a side note and say, I just love that God gifted me a little girl who is maybe a hundred times more fierce than I am. Everyone keeps saying, well, did you expect anything less? And I’m like, listen, people, I don’t think you really understand like how feirce she is. So I just call her our warrior princess all the time because she, she yells, she growls, she pinches, she slaps, she puts her finger on her mouth, on your finger and goes and shakes her head. It’s a little rag doll. I mean, it’s like she’s just a fierce little human being. And I want to help her love that ferocity in her and also want to protect her. I feel so protective. So I do feel nothing I feel is new. There’s nothing I’m feeling as a mom, a new kind of mom that feels like, oh, this is a revelation. I think the intensity with which I feel protective, with which I feel like I had just had zero Fs to give, where people are being foolish and diabolical and giving their hearts over to evil in a way that I want to shake people and be wake up. And maybe that will calm down as my hormones keep balancing. I don’t know. But I don’t know if I’m ever going back. I mean, going back, I almost have said going back to a place where I don’t care as much, but I don’t think I’ve ever

Dan: Yeah, thank you. On the podcast itself I didn’t want to particularly critique and go, well, that was a crazy sentence, but thank you for doing the work for me.

Rachael: I think I’m maybe more emerging. I’ve been in a season of a lot of gestation for a long season because as I talked about, we also had a pregnancy loss prior to Evie coming to be in our world. And so it’s been a longer season of intentioning gestation and moving inward in a really intentional way and getting quiet in a really intentional way. And wrestling with my calling around having a very public presence. And I just wasn’t sure how I would emerge on the other side. And I think I just find my voice getting clarified and a kind of fierceness that is, I feel compelled. I can’t not. So yeah.

Dan: Evie will be part of this podcast for as long as you’re doing the podcast. And so I think in that sense, we are so grateful that she is here. Alive. Well, and again, I don’t celebrate your exhaustion. I don’t want to normalize it, but it is normal. And in that process, it’s shaping you. Yeah. So before we end your ferocity, her ferocity, your husband’s ferocity. Yeah, your son’s ferocity, all to say, this is part of the family emblem, but it’s also going to create, as you… you will be fierce, you will protect her. But there will also be so much more ground and requirement to surrender. I just would love, before we end, yeah. What have you come to name with regard to what waiting and surrender has begun to teach you?

Rachael: Yeah. I mean, surrendering to this whole process has been a journey in and of itself that I think I will continue to need to process for many years to come. Surrendering your body, surrendering your plans, surrendering your sense of control. I mean, I think that’s, that for me is the biggest one. And I will just say I’m not opposed to all the supports that are needed to help that surrender. Whether I think many women need medical support. I think many women need therapeutic support, community support, medical help with our bodies. So I surrendering to the reality that I need help, that’s one of them. I’m not superhuman and I’m not meant to be. And that actually is not in any way going to be a help to my daughter or to my family or to my personhood. Surrendering to the lack of control that I can work hard to prevent suffering. I can work hard to protect, and there are many things that are out of my control. That’s the second. And then I think the third is that divide. The divide of to be a working mom is a built-in division. And not, I don’t feel like I’ve given my heart over to like, well, it is what it is and everyone can deal with it. But I think surrendering to the reality that to be faithful to who I’m called to be as a mother, as a wife, as a stepmom, and as a pastor is to repair, is to keep coming back to when do I need to put a little bit more energy in any one direction. And all of that feels connected to surrendering control and asking for help and being really human-sized and honest about my limitations and capacity. So I don’t have to do it all. I’m not called to do it all. And there is no way around being human. And I think I, I thought I was there. I knew that to be true. And I think I’m confronting, again, the parts of me that want to find a way around being human.

Dan: Well, millennia, millennia, families were in some sense raising children together. And in that process, not fundamentally divided by plots of an acre or even huge separations between one apartment building and another. And so the reality is in the atomized, individualized, in some sense, fully focused capitalist structure, there is a loss that the agrarian world had at least some prospect of a shared communion in raising children. And that reality that we can’t just go back in time and reset in most occasions, creates in and of itself the systems that we’re in and also our own unique family, let alone our bodies all have to be taken into account. So I think two predictions. One is your ferocity that has been sweet and deep with regard to looking at systems that violate human dignity will actually grow. And so our podcast will get, shall we say, sharper and rightfully so. But as well, I do think just even as a dear friend, I will say I’ve seen more joy and in one sense, more awareness of the loss, the heartache and loss of even moments that are precious but will not come again. That your capacity to hold joy has been deep, but also grief. So the issue of extremity there will be a growth of extremity that will also be the realm for even deeper surrender and deeper deeper trust of the Spirit of God. So this is good. And I will say, again, on behalf of our audience, it is so good. Good for us. And may it be good for you. And so for Evie and for Michael, and for your boys that you are back.

Rachael: Thank you, Dan.

Dan: Look forward to what’s ahead.