“I know myself linked by chains of fires,
to every woman who has kept a hearth.
In the resinous smoke
I smell hut, castle, cave,
mansion and hovel,
See in the shifting flame
my mother and grandmothers
out over the world.”
“If we don’t take care of mothers, they can’t take care of their babies.” –Jeanne Driscoll
At our La Leche League meeting this month we started out talking about breastfeeding and intimacy. This led into a discussion about breastfeeding and fertility and moved on to decisions about family size as well as feelings about motherhood in general. We talked about postpartum adjustment, about the frustrations of parenting, and about the seemingly endless struggle between being with our babies and “getting things done.”
At the beginning of the week a mysterious box arrived in the mail and I opened it to discover a gigantic pile of vintage LLL publications that I had told another Leader several months ago that I would take off of her hands. When I opened it, my first reaction was to feel slightly horrified—I’m in a declutter mode lately and have been thinking about getting rid of some of my own old papers and magazines, so taking on someone else’s stash seems like an ill-considered idea. However, then I started looking through the box and while I’m still shaking my head over my own tendency to hoard information, it is really a treasure. There are issues of the old LLL News (with headlines like: “Can La Leche League really be 20 years old?” [it is now pushing 60]) and New Beginnings and Missouri’s En Face newsletter, as well as old editions of the Leader journal, Leaven. While the formatting and style were very different and clearly read “vintage,” most of the content is remarkably timeless. The questions raised in the few issues I paged through could have come from my meetings today. The articles about mothers’ struggle to balance baby-raising and their own creative pursuits could have been written by the mothers who were at my local meeting just this month. This chain of mothers is timeless. I was amused by this “quiz” and read it aloud during the meeting:
I felt a little bit like crying, looking at this stack and the voices of women represented. The moments now passed. The babies now grown. The stories now boxed up and forgotten. The chain of mothers with their chain of timeless stories and timeless voices have reached off many pages to me many times in my ten years as a parent though. They reached out at my LLL meeting this week and they reach out from blogs and online articles every day. When I shared the link to Noah’s miscarriage-birth story on Facebook on his birthday, I was touched to receive many comments about how our story had helped others and thanking me for my openness in writing and sharing it. I was in turn helped by reading the reflections of a mother’s reflections on the stillbirth journey she experienced:
Because something helped me hear the muffled words that sometimes bounced off the sheer rock cliffs of my pain. I began to hear the voices in the cemeteries I visited—voices of mothers who murmured that if I could just keep breathing long enough the tunneled darkness might begin to lift. I began to see the anguish of my cancer patients in terms of cells defying death. I began to connect myself to a humanity bound up with suffering—plague victims, war dead, road kill, religious martyrs, and most of all a long line of women who had keened over children in caskets.
I returned to a saved article from Birthing Beautiful Ideas:
Sometimes, boys, my motherhood is all too human.
All too imperfect. All too messy. All too flawed, terribly flawed.
All too unlike that specter of motherhood, that perfect, inhuman motherhood, that haunts the very concept of what it means to be a mother.
I, my children, am all too human.
Mother, all too mother.
Sometimes I try to look back on our journeys together, and my mind yearns to create a revisionary history of us, mother and children.
Erase the loud, the frenzied, the desperate. Amplify the sweet, the tender, the beautifully organized and attentive and calm.
But I know this is not me. I know this is not us. I know this is not what we have always been, or what we will always be.
I know that my motherhood has been indicative of a human, all too human person.
I know our intertwined histories betray any such revisionism.
Sometimes I’ve tuned you out when I could have, perhaps should have, been paying more attention to you. Sometimes I’ve played dumb games on my phone when I could have been playing engaging games with you. Sometimes I’ve encouraged an hour of glazed-eyed television watching just so that I could do something wholly unproductive and time-wasteful and selfish. Sometimes I’ve taken you to the playground so that you could play away from me: not with me.
Sometimes I’ve even begged, “Please, please, no one say ‘Mommy’ for ten whole minutes. Please.”
But do you know that there are times where I think that my whole body and soul are attuned to each of you?
I’ve raced out the front door to save you from running into the street, outpacing everyone who was fifty steps closer to you. I’ve jumped into a pool, clothes on, and pulled you out of the deep water, even though two people were already in the pool, moving to rescue you. I’ve plumbed the depths of my empathy, seen straight into what moves and shakes you, and quieted your inner beast just by understanding you…
I also returned to one of my own past articles after having shared a story about it during my meeting:
At one point when my first son was a baby, I was trying to explain my “trapped” or bound feelings to my mother and she said something like, “well what would you rather be doing instead?” And, that was exactly it. I DIDN’T want to be doing something instead, I wanted to be doing something AND. I wanted to grind my corn with my baby. Before he was born I had work that I loved very much and that, to me, felt deeply important to the world. Motherhood required a radically re-defining of my sense of my self, my purpose on earth, and my reason for being. While I had been told I could bring my baby with me while continuing to teach volunteer trainings, I quickly found that it was incompatible for me—I felt like I was doing neither job well while bringing my baby with me and I had to “vote” for my baby and quit my work. While I felt like this was the right choice for my family, it felt like a tremendous personal sacrifice and I felt very restricted and “denied” in having to make it. With my first baby, I had to give up just about everything of my “old life” and it was a difficult and painful transition. When my second baby was born, it was much easier because I was already in “kid mode.” I’d already re-defined my identity to include motherhood and while I still chafed sometimes at the bounds of being bonded, they were now familiar to me…
One of my new pewter pendant sculptures is of a yoga tree pose. I describe her like this: My sculptures were created as a 3-D “journal” of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood and were created to communicate the deep experience of the childbearing year. I view Tree Pose as a fitting metaphor for motherhood—you must find your center to stay in balance (and balance can look lopsided, but still be rooted and strong). The Tree Pose metaphor is explained in more depth in this past post:
…I also thought it might be of interest to the other mothers out there who continually teeter on the edge of finding that elusive and possibly-not-actually necessary “balance” in their work tasks and mothering tasks. I have a friend who describes balance not as making things “equal,” but as being like tree pose in yoga—you want one leg to be firm underneath you so you can stay standing up, but your two sides do not have to actually be “equal” in order to be balanced. Today, my balance is weighted towards the work-at-home tasks, but it will shift again and I’ll still be standing. Find your center. That is the mental reminder that instantly pulls my own literal tree pose into balance for me during my (formerly daily, now erratic) morning yoga. Find your center…
I took Alaina down to the woods with me for my daily spiritual practice and while there, I took this picture:
“I feel deeply connected with mothers everywhere. A million stand behind me, having birthed and raised their babies before I had my own. That current of Motherhood feels palpable. It’s a kind of ancestor work that makes sense: I want to honor them and ask for their wisdom. I want their energy to be a part of my life, not something that I access only when the veils are thin.” -Kira at Earth Mama Prime (via Pagan Families)