Our fall favorites are here! 🍂

Photos by Rebecca Tredway

Maralee Bradley

The Christmas season is a difficult time to be a barren woman. Honestly, it’s kind of always difficult to be a barren woman, but Christmas is especially tough. It is so intrinsically a time centered around family that for those not challenged by loss or loneliness or pain, you might not even realize what a hard time this could be. Christmas is especially difficult for the barren woman because what other holiday is so pregnancy-centric? Mother’s Day is a close second, but at Christmastime we spend a full month of Sundays in church getting together to sing songs about pregnancy and childbirth. It starts even before Christmas at Thanksgiving where we corporately thank God for his good gifts in our lives. For the woman grieving a very obvious missing gift in her life, this is a tough time. We struggle to say with Job, “The Lord gives and The Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of The Lord”, but it does not come without great emotional cost.

At Christmas we put displays on our mantle of a peaceful, reverent couple gazing into the face of their precious newborn baby. We listen to sermons about what we can learn from a woman of faith who graciously accepted an unplanned pregnancy. We sit around a tree decorated with ornaments depicting three kings who traveled great distances to honor a baby with gifts and then we give gifts to the children in our lives.

It is a hard time to have an empty womb and empty arms.

I felt this pain intensely for nearly a decade. Before the adoption of our first child, I remember my husband off-handedly asking me what I wanted for Christmas one year. I said, “a baby” and broke down and cried. Each Christmas from the time I learned of our infertility until the time our adoption was completed, I could think of no other gift that mattered. It became easy to feel that God wasn’t hearing my prayers and to withdraw into my protective shell rather than to feel the disappointment year after year when a baby didn’t appear under that Christmas tree. While we could save up and buy other good gifts for each other, this was something only God could do and it brought me intense pain when He chose not to.

Adoption was a vehicle for great healing in my life. We were intentional not to treat the adoption of our children as an emotional band-aid for the pain of infertility, but found by becoming parents much of our sadness at not being able to biologically reproduce had disappeared. There is SUCH joy in holding your child for the first time and in hearing a little person call you “mama” that seems to magically erase years of pent-up disappointment and frustration. With each new addition to our family, that infertility pain seemed farther away until the day my arms were full with three kids ages four, two, and one and we were faced with a choice- a new doctor thought he could fix our problem, but it would require an investment of time and money, two resources that don’t seem so plentiful when you’re raising three toddlers. His testing revealed without dramatic intervention there would be no child born from my body.

We were not unfamiliar with this side of infertility. A previous round of treatment several years earlier had blessed us with a brief pregnancy that tragically ended just seven weeks later. In the intervening years we had experienced one spontaneous pregnancy that had a similarly sad conclusion. We had known the pain of pregnancy and the joy of adoption. The choice seemed simple enough from that perspective and we closed the door on further treatments and the hope we would ever create a biological child. And you know what? We weren’t that devastated about it.

That’s when we learned sometimes God has a sense of humor.

Just a few months later, in April of 2011 a pregnancy test revealed that God doesn’t always need a doctor to work through. An ultrasound revealed this baby- unlike his two siblings before him- had found his way to a safe home in my body where he could grow for the next nine months. A midwife appointment revealed a due date- December 19th.

For nine months I held my breath. Having experienced loss twice before, I couldn’t bring myself to fully embrace the joy that normally comes with pregnancy. I had found God faithful during the deepest of sadness and I was waiting to experience that again. I wanted to enjoy this good gift from God’s hand, but my previous experience told me to take my joy in the Giver of the gifts and to hold the precious days of pregnancy very loosely.

It was easy not to focus on  the pregnancy with three little ones clamoring for my attention. There weren’t many quiet moments spent contemplating this life I was growing. My days were spent trying to figure out how to pick up Matchbox cars with my toes, since I couldn’t bend down any more, or how to tie a shoe you can’t actually see, or how to make food for others when you don’t feel like eating anything yourself. I sometimes imagined what it must be like to be a first-time mom experiencing the full joy of pregnancy without tempering it with fear or business or distraction.

And in the middle of it all, I kept expecting an early delivery. My hospital bag was packed and everything was ready for Baby by the time I was 35 weeks pregnant. I wanted to be prepared and was hoping against hope this baby would have some space between his birthday and Christmas.

And yet again we were surprised by God’s sense of humor and perfect timing.

Late at night on December 23rd we started timing contractions and in the wee hours of Christmas Eve we made our trek not to Bethlehem, but to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. St. Elizabeth- the barren woman gifted with a son who would prepare the way of the Lord. I felt a kindredness with her husband, Zachariah. A man who couldn’t quite bring himself to believe God would give him the gift of a child after years of waiting. A man who it sounds like may have forgotten he’d even asked for one in the first place. It’s part of the Christmas story that now feels very personal and familiar to me.

Labor was not what I had prepared for. The beautiful dreams I had of a natural childbirth where I would feel empowered and deliver my child with strength and courage turned into a nightmare of unending hours of back labor. A baby who was stubbornly “sunny-side up”. I promise, it’s not nearly as adorable as it sounds. A woman who for ten years had thought if she could just get pregnant, she would handle labor with dignity and beauty, instead learned that when God wants to humble you, He rarely goes halfway. The major lesson I had learned during my barren years came back with a vengeance- I am not in control.

With my husband and my best friend by my side, I may have forgotten this was even about a baby. I felt all I could do was survive. As the situation got more desperate, new and even more humbling options were tried all in an attempt to prevent our worst case scenario- the dreaded c-section. In my mind, it was a symbol of failure and not something I had ever considered. I skipped the c-section chapters in the pregnancy and childbirth books. I’d hired a midwife. I’d trained for a natural labor. I was going to bring this life into the world.

Wait- me? This child whose very existence was an explainable miracle, but now I was going to be in control of his delivery? I should have known better.

Shortly after five pm on Christmas Eve Joel entered the world, battered and bruised from a complicated delivery, but screaming like every healthy baby should. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried harder in all my life. The joy I had pushed down because I was afraid of disappointment now washed over me and I couldn’t stop the tears. The c-section scar would fade with time, but the lessons God taught me through the ten years leading up to this moment and through those intense hours will be permanent.

I learned that God hears our prayers and answers them in better ways than we can even imagine. He heard my cry for a child and answered with three beautiful children through the miracle of adoption that I would have missed if He had just given me the pregnancy I asked for first. He granted my heart’s cry to experience pregnancy and childbirth even long after I decided to stop asking because in my lack of faith I thought He had forgotten my prayers. He showed me He is the author of life through His decisions to take the lives of my first two children, but to spare my life through three complicated pregnancies and to ultimately grant me the joy of hearing my son’s first cries. I learned that God IS GOOD and is working things together FOR GOOD regardless of what looks like goodness to my human heart at any point in time. And I learned God is glorified in my weakness. I was so blessed by Christian friends who rallied around me during my c-section recovery. That was so very needed in ways it might not have been if I had been able to have the natural delivery I planned for. What I had interpreted as failure was what God had meant as a blessing so I would be open to help and would have any judgement taken out of my heart about women who didn’t deliver “naturally”.

So Christmas this year will be very special for The Bradley Family as we celebrate not only the birth of our Savior, but also the first birthday of Joel- our unexpected Christmas gift.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids. Four were adopted (one internationally, three through foster care) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood and what won't fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.

All I Could Do Was Make It to Church Today

In: Faith, Motherhood
Close up of man holding baby in his arms in church pew with kids in background

All I can do is make it to church today. It was the final thought that shut the door on all the other thoughts this morning. The thoughts that said I don’t look good enough. I should put on makeup. I should wear something nicer. I should find a way to paint my nails without them getting smudged up from holding a baby before they dry. The thoughts that said I am not doing good enough. I should have made supper last night. I shouldn’t have used that glass pan that shattered in the oven while trying to steam bake...

Keep Reading

It’s Time to Talk about the Crushing Weight of Motherhood

In: Faith, Motherhood
Mother and three children, color photo

As millennial women and mothers, we have been making waves in the sea of mental health. We have unashamedly and unapologetically shared our postpartum depression and anxiety stories so that future generations won’t feel as though they’re drowning in the weight of it all.  I remember sitting in my living room, staring at my newborn, crying in frustration and fear that I was already failing him.  I remember the pain of trying to use the bathroom for the first time after labor, to have family suddenly stop by, and feeling so embarrassed I screamed and they left, ultimately leaving me...

Keep Reading

Kids Need Grace and So Do Their Moms

In: Faith, Kids, Motherhood, Toddler
Woman touching child's forehead

We were having a hard morning. Our house was overrun with toys, I hadn’t had a chance to get dressed, and my stress level was increasing by the minute. To top it all off, my 3-year-old was having a meltdown anytime I spoke to her. Even looking in her general direction was a grave mistake. It was one of those days that as a parent, you know you’re really in for it. I was quickly losing my patience. My frustration began to ooze out of me. I snapped orders, stomped around, and my attitude quite clearly was not pleasant to...

Keep Reading

A Mother Doesn’t Have to Be Prepared to Be Sustained

In: Baby, Faith, Motherhood
Mother cuddling baby on a bed

I feel the warmth radiating from my weeks-old baby girl’s body onto my lap. She sleeps soundly. But I can’t. My jaw is clenched, my forehead is wrinkled, my body is tense. I’ve been in complete survival mode. Our baby girl unexpectedly made her appearance one month early due to some placental deficiencies and was born at three and a half pounds. I wasn’t prepared.  When I saw my sweet girl, my heart was instantly taken over by immense love and immense fear. Fear grabbing me with every thought, every breath. I wasn’t prepared.  She spent some time in the NICU but not...

Keep Reading

A Love That Will Never Leave You

In: Faith, Living
Cover art of book Pilgrim by Ruth Chou Simons

My firstborn spent a semester abroad in his junior year of college. Like any mom who’s separated from her child, I knew the exact distance between him and me those months he was away. It felt like a million miles, but it was actually only 4,533, including one very large body of water. While he was away, we weren’t even on the same continent, and truthfully, I hadn’t expected the ache to be so overwhelming. Thankfully, our weekly chats on video eased the sadness and served to remind me that, in spite of miles and time zones, there was no...

Keep Reading

Thank You God for Everyday Heroes

In: Faith, Living
Firefighter in gear walking, black-and-white photo

Tonight, our family watched a movie together. It was an action-adventure movie where, against unbelievable odds, the good guy saves the day. At some point during the movie, I turned to my husband, and said, “You’re that guy—the guy that is good in a crisis, who saves the day.” Once, when my husband and I were out for dinner, a woman seated near us fainted and was lying on the floor. The waiters and waitresses ran to her aid but didn’t know what to do. My husband is a firefighter/EMT. He had gone outside to grab a sweater, and when...

Keep Reading

I’ll Always Be the One Who Loved Them First

In: Faith, Motherhood, Teen
Family with three small boys standing in kitchen, color photo

I’m no longer the last person he says goodnight to. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Here we are, just raising these boys, hoping and praying things over their futures, watching them grow, teaching them independence and other life skills, hoping they have heard the things we have said, and praying they make our faith their faith and choose to follow Jesus. And then, just like that, without any warning, without asking my permission, there is someone special in his life. Someone he spends hours on the phone with. Someone he wants to spend his time with. Someone who isn’t...

Keep Reading

Dear Daughter, about That Other 4-Letter Word

In: Faith, Kids, Motherhood
Portrait of a beautiful little girl in blue shirt

As my kindergartner came bounding through the door back from the park, she seemed ecstatic to tell me all about her adventure, but what came from her sweet mouth was not the usual tale of making friends or playing make-believe. Instead, she stared up at me and said, “A little boy called me ugly.”  As I tried to assess her thoughts on the matter, her big brother was quickly confirming the story and acknowledging to me that it was not a very nice thing to say. As I looked at my husband coming in the door behind them, I could...

Keep Reading

Let Them Have a Bad Day, and Other Wisdom on Raising Teens

In: Faith, Motherhood, Teen, Tween
Mom comforting teen girl with head in hands

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I have nearly four teens now, and I’ve learned a lot the hard way. I see other parents around me who are just getting to that stage make the same mistakes I did, so I want to share what I’ve learned:   If you want to teach your kids to walk in the way of God, you better not leave out teaching them about forgiveness. That’s a big deal to God. It’s pretty central. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the heaviness that comes when you have teenagers, and they...

Keep Reading

My Baby is Going to Kindergarten and God Will Go With Him

In: Faith, Kids, Motherhood
Little boy with green backpack walking to school

My baby is going to kindergarten, and I am not going to cry. Yep, you read that right.  My blessing baby (aka surprise addition) is going to kindergarten in seven days, and I am not a weepy crying mess. My kind quiet 10-year-old is starting his last year of elementary school, and I am not going to cry about that either.  And my firstborn—the tiny, five-pound baby girl who made me a momma—will be in eighth grade. Her last year of middle school before high school. It all seems like big changes and big moments. But I am not going...

Keep Reading