Mourning our Monsters

This face has been plastered across news and social media platforms all week: Brock Turner, rapist.

brock turner

His face makes me cringe — less because it belongs to him, and more because it reminds me of a face I encountered 15-some-odd years ago.

I haven’t talked openly about this man until recently. In fact, for most of my adult life, I have hoped that my memories of him — and of that horrible day — would stay hidden in the dark closets of my mind, never to resurface, never to punish me with the deeply-embedded shame that accompanies an act this horrendous. But as I’ve watched news cycles and newsfeeds flood with images of Brock Turner, and seen everyone from pastors to parents to presidents posit solutions to ending the prevalence of rape in our culture, I’ve also seen my box of memories grow legs and saunter timidly into the light, beckoning me to re-examine a velvet green couch, brown blankets hung over windows, a Snoop Dog video playing in the background, yellow counters and dirty linoleum, his thumb pressed into my arm and his left knee digging into my thigh — all of his weight bearing down to keep me from moving — the shock — almost breathlessness — I felt when despite my cries of “No, wait!,” an uninvited intruder forced himself into my body.

The full force of shame and humiliation, wrapped up in dust-covered boxes, hidden carefully in my mind so that I would never have to revisit a moment I wish had never happened in the first place.

But my memories, as vomit-inducing as they are, have become increasingly important because in all of the solutions that people have proposed, there’s one I haven’t yet heard. And for me, it’s become one of the most important.

We have collectively cried for Brock Turner to earn the sentence that his entitled, monstrous acts warrant. We have sat down with daughters and students, wishing we could empower them with a message of hope and self-care, but instead warning them to avoid alcohol and short skirts just in case they might accidentally provoke the boy/monster-next-door. We have petitioned for the judge to be removed from the bench, and for his father to stop excusing these “20 minutes of action.” Some folks have even (wrongly) prayed that Brock would face in prison the same acts he inflicted on his brave victim. And while I might join my voice with those who demand that justice be swift and righteous, I would also raise my voice in hope for something more.

The reason — or at least one of the reasons — that rape culture persists, I think, is because collectively, we’ve never truly grasped how much we’ve lost by giving in to  social pressures that have created a culture where human beings are reduced to nothing more than body parts with jobs to do and norms to fit. And in my opinion, fights are futile if not fueled with true understanding of what exactly we are fighting against.

And so I wish that, before we grab our pitchforks, we could take a moment to look around — to really look at what we’ve lost — and to weep. To mourn the real monsters in our midst and the remembered monsters under our beds. To weep for the parents who feel so fearfully out of control that no choice exists but to teach their daughters to hide their bodies in order to avoid being touched or ravaged. To weep for what so many boys will lose because they have yet to realize that breasts are functional far more than they are sexual. To cry with the little girls who can’t tell anyone that their uncle/friend/neighbor/father touched them uncomfortably. To grieve the innocence they lost, the “first” experiences that they will never have because someone decided to take them. To comfort young men who believe their “manhood” has been compromised by that one moment when she touched or he intruded.

To acknowledge the secret lives that so many victims — like me — hide in memory closets, afraid of what their stories might mean to who they are and who they wish they could be. And to acknowledge what all of us lose when those stories aren’t — or can’t be — lived as they were intended to be.

Yes, I recognize that mourning and grief are not end points; in fact, I would echo the assertion that they are pointless if not followed by action. But I maintain that action without understanding can be as harmful as understanding without action.  Men and women like me — those of us who have to find the courage to feel our way through dark memories, facing the reality that exploring those memories might lead to intense pain and humanization — need you to look at our grief intently; to truly see what happened, what was taken, what was lost; to sit with us in our grief and weep for the life we can’t seem to find anymore; to acknowledge how dehumanizing sexual assault really is; and to ultimately reaffirm that innately, we’re worth more — that we’re enough.

So today, before you re-post a meme or join a twitter rant, quiet your heart and mind for a moment to really consider what it is you’re fighting against: the dehumanization of people created by God for wholeness, connection, and health. Consider what fighting against injustice, sexual and otherwise, might truly mean: the empowerment of all people to walk in safety, regardless of drink or clothing choice; the opportunity to parent our children as whole, human beings whose worth in their eyes and in the eyes of others has nothing to do with what they look like or what others believe they are entitled to.

The fight against rape culture starts with grief, and as scary and vulnerable as that place may be, it is also the starting point to freedom and recovery for countless victims, here and beyond.

Won’t you join me there?

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Birth and Re-birth: My Rainbow Babies

Lately, I realized that I’ve talked a lot about the birth of my sons, but not nearly as much about the rainbows who followed. And, since telling your birth story is a “thing” now, I thought I’d take a minute to think back on the two most beautiful moments of my life: the births of my sweet girls.

Sophia was born late. Like her temperament, she was happy to wait inside, considering all of her options until someone decided to kick her butt into gear. I always joke that, if they hadn’t kicked her out, she’d still be in there — warm, cozy and content, happy to listen and wait before jumping into action. But alas! The kicking they did.

We checked into the hospital, 41 weeks pregnant, and so anxious to finally meet our living babe. By 6 am, I was hooked up to IVs with the dreaded pitocin quietly pumping into my veins, and at 7 am, they broke my water. “Don’t worry,” my doctor reassured us. “This will go quick. She’ll probably be out by around 2 or 3 this afternoon.”

Little did my most wonderful doctor know that she was full of crap.

By 3:00 that afternoon, I had progressed from a 3 to an 8 with no sign of moving further. Contractions were intense, to say the least, but not entirely productive. Coming every 1-2 minutes, I stayed committed to avoiding an epideral and worked to focus on breathing, concentrating all of my thoughts on the sound of her tiny heart beating from the monitor.

By 6 pm, I had finally progressed to a 9, but with contractions coming more painfully than ever, my focused demeanor quickly turned to a much louder one. Screaming and crying from one contraction to the next, it took 2 and a half more hours of the most intense pain that I can remember to finally reach a 10 — to finally reach the blessed moment when they told me I could push.

Of course, pushing was a marathon in and of itself: it took 2 hours to get my stuck little love to finally join us in the outside world. But join us she did! Crying instantly, Sophia registered and 8 and 9 respectively on the apgar scale, and she only quieted when she heard the sound of her daddy’s voice, reassuring her that he was there. Laying on my chest, she turned her head to find him until their eyes locked just for a moment.

Sophia birth 1

Even today, words can’t describe the joy — the triumph, really — that we felt when our first little rainbow was finally born. At 8lbs, 3oz, and 21″ long — and with a sweet smile and full head of hair, we were so thrilled to meet and love on our firstborn daughter: Sophia Isabelle (a name which means “Wisdom” “Devoted to God.”)

Sophia and Daddy

Daddy was in love from the first second.

Sophia and Mommy.jpg

And, while I was pretty exhausted from what turned out to be 17+ hours of pitocin-induced, no-pain-relief labor and delivery, no one alive could pry my sweet love from my arms.

Maliyah’s birth was as different as my two girls are. While Sophia waited patiently inside, reluctant to leave her cozy little nest, Maliyah simply waited for the green light — and once she got it, there was no stopping her.

Given my complicated prenatal history, my doctor grew a bit concerned when Maliyah began to move less and less inside. I’ll admit a mix of trepidation and relief when he told me that it was likely best to induce a bit early. So, at 39 weeks and 2 days, we made our way to the hospital.

Checking in around noon, I made a bet with Joseph (and the rest of my family) as to whether I’d deliver before or after midnight. I was solidly convinced that labor would be long (given that I’d never been less than 15 hours for any of my 3 previous births), but my family was less convinced, Joseph and my mom betting she’d be born quickly, while my sisters and I put money on a next-day delivery.

By 1:00 pm, I was plugged in to pitocin and talking with the nurse about my preference for another non-epideral delivery. She was less confident than I was, and looking back, that was for good reason. By 1:30, they had broken my water and there was no stopping that baby: our tiny little miss was determined to plow her way out as quickly as possible.

My first hour of labor seemed to be what I remembered: contractions built slowly and steadily as I moved from standing, to swaying, to hunched over. But with the coming of the second hour, I realized I was in for a much different birth than anything I’d ever experienced. Rather than building slowly, the intensity of each contraction multiplied exponentially, and within 3 hours, the nurse told me that I had progressed from a 3 to a 9 and was almost ready to push. I not-so-quietly thanked God, as I wasn’t sure I could handle the intensity of the contractions for much longer. I really needed a finish line.

However, my relief turned to irritation when my doctor shook his head, saying, “No. She’s only at a 7.” Still, labor was going quickly, so no one seemed to go far as the expectation was that I would deliver within the hour.

This time, they were right.

I screamed, Joseph pushed on my hips, and everyone else stood quietly to the side while I labored on all fours. Finally (and loudly), I screamed to my doctor that she was on her way out and he all but forced me to roll over. Within 2 pushes, our little ball of fire was out and on my chest, crying beautifully as we welcomed our second daughter to the world.

Maliyah birth

Born at 5:11 pm, Maliyah Louise (name meaning “Beloved” “Warrior”) joined us, weighing in at 7lbs, 14.5oz, and 20.5″ long. And from the second she was out, she was the talk of the maternity floor. Her full head of hair and sweet demeanor made every single nurse smile — not to mention mommy and daddy!

Maliyah and daddy

Daddy was enamored with baby number 2 from her first breath, patiently and attentively watching over her through bath times, heel pricks, ear tests, and everything else. I soaked in every moment, thankfully embracing this as my last childbirth experience. Maliyah nursed like a champ, and instantly loved to be wrapped up tightly and held close.

Kraus girls

Perhaps the most memorable moment for me, though, was the moment I got to introduce her to the world’s greatest big sister. Sophia was enamored with her from their first meeting, tenderly holding her, marveling over every detail, and giving gentle kisses on cheeks and nose. It didn’t take more than a few weeks for Maliyah to return all of that love to the sister who has proven to be her most favorite person in the whole world. I’ve said it before and will say it again: if there’s anything better than sibling love, I don’t know what it is.

Joseph and I always knew that we were a “two and done” family. Of course, we didn’t know that it would take 5 children to get us to that place, but the gratitude we feel for our kids can’t possibly be articulated accurately.

first family

Along the way, some have mentioned that we are likely more grateful for our girls because we lost our boys. I don’t think that’s true: no child can replace another because each is so uniquely created and so uniquely loved. What I am thankful for, however, is the term applied to the children born after child loss. Like that which comes after a storm, we call these babies our rainbows — and rainbows they certainly are! Our girls bring endless light and laughter into our lives, and watching them grow into the tiny people they are and the amazing women they will be is, no doubt, the greatest honor of my life.