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Lann is 15!

Yesterday was Lann’s fifteenth birthday. Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting, bedroom and indoor

It has been fifteen years since I started to become forged in the fires of motherhood.

Fifteen years since I brought that first baby to my breast and offered him my life.

Fifteen years.

Mothering has been hard on my personality, but good for my soul. And, this little baby, whose soft head I cupped in the night and cried while worrying he would grow up to be a “bad teenager,” has always been so easy to love (and he isn’t bad at all!). He was a sensitive and high-need baby, who grew into a timid and creative toddler, and then into an energetic, high-spirited, playful, expressive kid, and then now into a still-sensitive, but calm, helpful, easy-going, cooperative, pleasant, kind, creative, capable teenager.

From 8lbs4oz to 5’11 in just a few years, on the morning of his birthday when we measured him to Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sittingsee how tall he is, I found myself crying. And, then I remembered something I wrote in 2011:

The tears that may spring unbidden to our eyes in the future when our growing child makes us remember this potency of early childhood, the very fact that we look back with such a pang, means that we did a very, very good job with the savoring—if we hadn’t savored, we wouldn’t know how to feel so deeply later.

I became an artist because of my babies. When I was pregnant with Lann, I made numerous small needle felted birth goddesses to prepare me for birth. His birth introduced me to the goddess as an embodied reality and I started to consider that the power that I felt course through me as a birthing woman, might just be available to me all the time, not just while pregnant and laboring. With my second pregnancy, I continued to create needle-felted goddess sculptures. During my fifth pregnancy, following two devastating losses, I started to create goddesses in clay as a means to heal my grief, to reintroduce Pregnant Woman into my identity, to give me the courage and trust to birth again, and to create a 3-D journal of my life. These little hand-held goddesses spoke to others too and from that original process of self-exploration, honoring, and healing, the whole of Brigid’s Grove was born. 

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The Last Time

I lie in bed with him, cementing the details in my memory. The way the morning air is heavy and green. The sound of last night’s raindrops continuing to drip from the overfull gutters on the roof. The insistent stab of a single-note bird song in the air. His head nestles in the crook of my arm the way it has done every morning for three years. Blond hair against my nose, breathing in the slightly baby smell of him. “This is the last img_9756time,” I whisper softly. “We are all done after this. This is the last time we will have nonnies.”

This is not the first last time for me, but it is the last, last time.  The first baby was born 14 years ago and gathered to my breast with all the tenderness and uncertainty and instinctiveness of a first, first. “Do you want nursies?” I whisper to that new little boy, and we begin the next steps in our bond, nursing for nearly three years, until one day, six weeks away from the birth of the next baby boy, the first little brother in our family, I decide that we truly have to be done. I am a breastfeeding counselor for other nursing mothers and I feel like I should want to tandem nurse my two boys. I fondly envision their hands joining across my body, the easy love and camaraderie between them blossoming through this shared time with their mother. But, I feel an intense irritation with nursing while pregnant, nearly a sense of revulsion and the almost irresistible urge to shove away my sweet little boy as I prepare to greet the life of another. I talk to my midwife about my feelings and she explains that with her own two daughters, the agitated feeling at nursing the older one did not go away with the birth of the second, but instead became dramatically worse.

After hearing this, I feel panicky and I decide we do, in fact, have to wean. He is a very verbal and precocious toddler and I am easily able to explain to him that it is time to be finished nursing. One night though, he lies in bed with me crying and begging to nurse. He says he really needs to. I tell him, “remember, we’re all done, but if you really, really need me, if you really, really still need to have nursies, you can.” He doesn’t nurse, but instead falls asleep, reassured that while our nursing relationship might be over, I’m still here.

The second baby boy nurses the longest of any. Beginning while still attached to me by his umbilical cord, after a short and intense birth in my alaina005living room, nursing is the comfort tool that soothes the powerful emotions and hot temper of this baby. To him, breastfeeding is “na na’s,” a word he learns to say at only six months old, reaching towards me from his father’s arms and calling, “Mama, na na! Mama, na na!” At nearly three, when snuggled in my lap for comfort after an emotional meltdown and burst of fiery, destructive temper he explains: “Mama, when I’m not with you, I feel like I’m in lava. When I’m not nursing, I feel like I’m in a dragon’s mouth!” When this boy is 3.5, I nurse him for the last time. I am pregnant again and feeling the same aversion and revulsion towards our once-treasured bond that I felt with my first. We talk and I tell him we are all done. I wonder if I will be sorry that I have weaned him if something happens to the new baby, will I be sorry that I cut him off and then don’t have a new baby to nurse? I decide that no, I will not be sorry. In fact, that I am truly desperate to be done nursing him.

This third baby, a third boy, does not ever make it to my breast. He dies early in my second trimester, less than two weeks after I nurse my second son for the last time, wondering if I’ll be sorry about weaning him. Though I am overcome with grief at the loss of my baby, I never regret the decision to wean the toddler. What follows is the only three months in more than fourteen years in which I am not pregnant or nursing anyone. april-2014-022A short fourth pregnancy, less than six weeks in duration this time, fills in another month, and then, I am pregnant with my daughter.

My only girl is born in one sudden moment, whole and healthy, into my hands as I kneel on a futon in my living room. The wild, sweet relief I feel at seeing she is actually alive is the most powerful emotion I’ve ever felt in my life. She is gathered to my breast in the coldness of this January morning and continues to nurse for the next three years, until I am pregnant with her little brother. “Na na’s” become “nonnies” with her and she is finally weaned in the sunny days of spring. We sit in the field by our house, kites flying on a windy day. She cries on my lap when I tell that we have to be done, “remember, this is our last time. We’re all done now.” My second son comes over to us, he of the big feelings and the lava of emotions. “What happened?” he asks. I tell him that she is feeling sad because we are all done having nonnies now and he reaches out to touch her leg. “I’ve been where she is,” he says compassionately, “I know what she feels.”

Much later, as I complain about still nursing her little brother and exclaiming that I just need to be done, she asks me: “why don’t you get a kite?” “What on earth are you talking about?” I ask her, “Why would I need a kite?” She stares at me as if I’m foolish, “so you can fly it and then be done nursing Tanner!” she exclaims.

Tanner. The last baby. The baby I wasn’t expecting, the first pregnancy of six pregnancies that took me by complete surprise. The baby that taught me that blogging about how I was done having children was not, in itself, an effective means of birth control. The baby that challenged me to re-open myself, my heart, my body, and my family after I had mentally and emotionally shut the door on being pregnant again. The baby I whispered to as I knelt in the birth pool in my living room, “We want you, baby, we really, really want you. You can come out now.” It is finally with this baby, become toddler, that I realize that it is not nursing during pregnancy that I find so incredibly agitating, it is simply that I don’t really enjoy nursing someone after they reach about two. I always blamed the subsequent pregnancies on the agitation, the anxiety, the tense unrest, the canine or feline-like urge to nip and snap at my pesky offspring and to stand up, letting my overgrown baby plop to the ground, watching after me bewildered as I walk away, waving my tail. In truth, I simply do get done nursing. This is the first baby for which I have to admit that I am done july-2017-049simply because I am done, not because I am expecting the birth of another.

I do not always feel like a good mother, in fact I have often felt very badly about myself as a parent, and yet on this morning when I nurse the last child for the last time, I do the math and realize that I have put a child to my breast approximately 32,200 times over the last fourteen years. Maybe there are more than 32,000 ways to say I love you, I reflect, and each child has felt that from me day in and day out, in this embodied dance of interconnection, this weaving of cells into souls into life.

I stroke the soft little arm of my youngest son, here in my bed on this August morning as we nurse for the last time. I notice how my thumb and forefinger easily meet around even the uppermost portion of it and my eyes pinch with tears. In the last month he has lost his sweet yogurt-smelling baby breath in the mornings and instead smells a bit sour and in need of a tooth brushing. He unlatches and peers at me in the darkness. “I’m done,” he says, and rolls away from me. I cup my hand on the back of his head, the way I’ve done with each of my kids when they were newborns, feeling the curve of their skull under my palm and marveling how that head rested so easily in the cradle of my pelvis. My cells, my blood, my milk, made flesh. And, I cry.

This is the first time my body will be wholly my own, sustaining no one else’s life force but my own, in fourteen years. My body at 24 years old weighed just 159 pounds the day I gave birth, full-term, to my first eight pound baby boy in 2003. My body now 38 years old, weighs 160 pounds, and is pregnant with no one but herself.

Crossposted at Feminism and Religion and Brigid’s Grove.

Talk Books: Liberating Motherhood

liberatingmotherhood“Women’s liberation must be mothers’ liberation or it is nothing.”

–Germain Greer, in The Whole Woman, quoted in Liberating Motherhood

Since I have three homeschooled children (ages 6-13) and one toddler (2) who are all home full-time, as well as a home business, I often fell asleep with the book Liberating Motherhood in one hand and december-2016-001my nursing toddler asleep on the other arm. However, the mark of how much I liked a book can be told most reliably, not by my eventual typed review, but by the number of pages whose corners have been turned down. In case you can’t tell in the picture, that means that Liberating Motherhood is a winner. Complex. Witty. Wry. Assertive. Bold. A detailed manifesto of maternal feminism.

Liberating Motherhood is a fairly heavy read, made readable and engaging by Vanessa’s deft way with words, sharp wit, and clear explanations. It covers broad themes and weaves together issues of justice, ecofeminism, politics, and socialization in sections titled A Mother’s Body, A Mother’s Mind, a Mother’s Labour, and a Mother’s Heart. The core of the book is the argument that many mothers wish to actively mother their young children and yet are wholly unsupported in doing so. Patriarchy’s answer is subordination of women into a caregiving role that has no monetary or economic value or respect. Contemporary feminism’s answer is “full female employment” and outsourcing of childcare into a universal daycare system. Olorenshaw is assertive that the answer to the “problem of mothers,” is not more daycare, but rather more social and economic support, including a basic income. She is willing to tackle the classist assumptions that work outside of the home is inherently fulfilling for women, noting that the ability of women in the upper socieconomic status to “lean in” rests fully on the backs of lower paid, overworked women who are doing the work that no one else wants to do. However, she does not glamorize or romanticize the role of a stay-at-home mother either, exploring in-depth the economic and social vulnerability that women are placed in by depending on the income of a partner and exploring the potential for abuse and exploitation that results from this common social model.

I have consciously self-identified as a feminist since I was 13. After giving birth for the first time at september-2016-01124, I became immersed in the writing and world of “mother’s rights,” and at this time, became rebirthed as a maternal feminist. My spiritual path is that of a goddess-feminist and I have been also immersed for years on a goddess path that is firmly feminist in orientation. Since my feminism has been entwined for a long time with my mothering and with goddess-spirituality, I sometimes found that Vanessa was arguing against a type of feminism which I find mostly unrecognizable, or almost more of a caricature of feminism than that which I have found in my work in the world. In fact, one of my favorite quotes from a book of feminist thealogy is feminists make the best mothers. (Charlotte Caron, To Make and Make Again). I also write for the feminist blog, Feminism and Religion, and while there have been a few notable exceptions, the majority of writers there seem to embrace a maternally-inspired/influenced feminism, unlike some of the writers and leaders encountered by Olonrenshaw. I don’t find that as many contemporary feminist thinkers and writers ignore the issues of mothers and maternity as much as she asserts. I would also have liked to see some coverage of the life structures and experiences of women like me who find their solution combining mothering while working for themselves. I have long said that I am not looking for an “or,” but for the “and,” mothering while also working on other tasks!

Published by Womancraft Publishing, Liberating Motherhood takes on not only the patriarchy, but neoliberal capitalism and modern feminism as well in a complex brew of social critique, call to action, values-exploration, and manifesto. Unapologetically assertive and with a large dose of wry wit and candor, Olorenshaw explores the many ways in which an insidious social and cultural web is woven that simultaneously devalues and ignores women’s unpaid work, yet benefits greatly from its fulfillment.

“The problem is, for all the talk of women’s liberation, when it is predicated on liberation from motherhood, it is no liberation at all. When feminism is based on ideas of equality which ignore the actual reality of her life, her deep wish to care for her children, and deny the value of caring, a mother is in chains. We need to get going on liberating motherhood. We can say loud and clear that: ‘I don’t need liberating from motherhood: motherhood needs to be liberated from a system which devalues it, devalues us and devalues our children.”

–Vanessa Olorenshaw, Liberating Motherhood

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Happy Birthday, Tanner!

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I actually got the perfect picture this morning of our birthday boy! Tanner is TWO! He says: “I’m two!” He speaks in 2-3 word sentences and adds words every day. He can basically say anything. He loves tools and fixing stuff and “working” with mom and dad. He watches closely enough that he even blows on the tops of the heads of tiny goddesses when he sits down with them and tries to work on the tops of their heads. He likes cars and trucks. He is the first kid to run to help when someone says, “help,” including trying to be the other side of furniture moving. Loves swings and big boots and running fast. Is observant and attentive and clever. Likes knives (too much!).

Falls asleep in my arms each night, just like he did the day he was born.

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His birth video is here and his birth story is here

We having his birthday party tonight and going to a Halloween party. He has a dinosaur costume as well as a karate kid t-shirt so he can be Johnny, the blond kid from the Karate Kid movie (he was Draco Malfoy last year. Apparently, I can only think of blond-hair-related costumes and bad kids in movies are blond?!) I have made a non-professional-looking pumpkin cake with super yummy pumpkin cream cheese icing.october-2016-076

I can’t image a world without a Tanner in it! He is a powerhouse, a dynamo, and an inextricable part of our family.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

26717489411_9d767fc783_o…See your worth
hear your value
sing your body’s power
and potency
dance your dreams
recognize within yourself
that which you do so well
so invisibly
and with such love…

(via: A Prayer for Mothers)

As I consider mothers, women, and women’s power this weekend, I have some resources and thoughts to share with you:

May you celebrate yourself this week and in the year to come.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Eighteenmonthababy!

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The serious little face. The fishing pole. The lactivist-baby t. The tiny Crocs. The blond hair.

This is what an eighteenmonthababy looks like.

I feel inspired to share a quick update post about our little Tan Tan and his adventures in becoming March 2016 012Boy instead of Baby. He is adding new words constantly. I cannot keep up with them all. We’ve skipped right past the stage at which I can keep a list of the words he knows how to say, because he can say anything (albeit with limited range of enunciation. So, most words are not clear, but you can ask him to say anything or repeat anything and he will do it. He will also follow instructions like, “go find a dinosaur and bring it to me.”) He is also starting to do a few two word combinations: “big car,” “yes, dog,” “Daddy, outside.” We are lucky in that he’s been able to shake his head for yes and no for many months now, which eliminates lots of frustration and confusion in communicating with someone with limited vocabulary. This month he has begun verbally saying, “yeah” as well though.

He adores going outside and would live outside all day long, in whatever weather, if he could. He April 2016 043loves playing on the trampoline and runs around on it in impossibly fast circles with blond hair sticking straight up all around his head. He also runs very fast inside and there his hair flops up and down in an adorable fashion. He has begun using the potty with some regularity on his own accord. Often wakes up with a dry diaper and will even pull at his pants saying, “pee pee, potty,” sometimes.

He has to do a lot of keeping up with everyone in the house and has a tendency to run after me/get left behind while I’m doing whatever it is that needs my attention. Falls asleep for nap each day in Ergo and sleeps by my leg in the bed, waking instantly if I try to get up without him.

Fascinated by the cats and enjoys the fact that we have baby kitties right now for him to study. Stares with delight. Says, “wow!” and “yay!” and “uh oh” liberally and has a most indescribable twinkle in his eye + the most impish grins and expressions of any toddler I’ve ever seen. Climbs on stuff. Jumps off stuff. Uses my body as jungle gym. Is a wrestling act to even keep him in the air while holding him, as he writhes and twists and climbs my body instead of just sitting on my him. Wants to be on counters and tables March 2016 007constantly. Desperate to “help” with all business elements like packing orders and attaching jump rings. It is hard to take good pictures of him because he is constantly in motion. I’m not sure if it is the fact that I’m older than I used to be, or that I have four kids now, or that I have a business to run, but it is extraordinarily tiring to parent this small delightful whirlwind of a person. I feel literally worn out and worn down by him at the end of every day. It is physically exhausting just to hold him. And, even exhausting and a physical strain on my body just to nurse him while wrestling his other hand around from my other nipple and holding myself up as he flops from side to side, kicks and twists his legs, stands up, etc. while also nursing. He has a huge presence in life and in our family. He is good at “rolling with it” in terms of noise and chaos and people suddenly swinging him up into the air. He is funny and clever and a tiny problem solver and “engineer.”

He also loves his shovel.

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I can hardly believe he is one and half already and yet, he is so here with who and how he is, I forgot that he hasn’t always been in our family.

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My Rainbow Girl is FIVE! (plus, pandas)

January 2016 036Five years ago today I was snuggling my new baby girl on my futon nest in the living room. It is hard for me to even describe what joy and healing she brought to me. When I look back at pictures of myself from the days following her birth, I see such radiance. While I have exulted in the births of all my children and they all rank as the most transformative, meaning, joyous, and loving occasions of my life, Alaina’s birth was possibly the most truly, bone-deep sensation of relief and happiness that I have ever experienced.

I feel like I have missed out on a lot of the last year with her after having Tanner. We were a tight-knit little unit until he was born, she would fall asleep with her head on my arm every night, we played and read together every day, we cooked together and did laundry together every day, and I often did little fun and special things with her. I felt like we actually had a “balanced” family in the sense of “mom and Alaina” + “dad and the boys.” Tanner’s birth changed a lot and she had the hardest time adjusting to the “displacement” of a new sibling of anyone. My boys have each other. They give each other attention. They are each other’s best friend. They play and talk and learn together. They have each other’s backs. While it is an adjustment to make room for an additional brother, their tight bond and unity is intact and unchanged, basically impervious to the addition of more siblings. Alaina, fifteen months after Tanner’s birth, still gets upset about whether or not she can go to sleep with her head on my arm (if he’s nursing, she can’t, she has to snuggle by my back and gets sad and dejected. If he isn’t nursing, she can and is happy). She spends a lot of time waiting for me to play with her and often seems very attention “starved,” in a way that makes me feel sad, guilty, and irritated all rolled up in one. In the family structure now, there are the brothers, mama and Tanner, and then Alaina, kind of floating around by herself wishing for someone to play with her or read to her or pour milk for her, etc. (Apparently, Mark is also displaced in my family structure sense right now!)

There never seems to be enough time for me to give her everything she needs and wants and even though she is still pretty little herself she often has to wait for Tanner to be helped, or has to put things away because he is destroying them, and so forth. We are finding Tanner to be a super high-need and pretty destructive toddler and in the “need hierarchy,” he ends up “winning” even when she legitimately needs things too. I find myself feeling a real sense of almost grief at the disappearance of the last year of my other kids’ lives. I have long been frustrated by “you’ll miss this when they’re older”-style commentary, but it has become even more poignantly evident to me lately as Lann rapidly catches up with me in height, that the specters of “missing this,” often seems to be raised only with regard to babies and young children. I rock at the baby-momming. I don’t miss anything. They sleep on me, ride along with me, feed from my body, and are a part of me. I cherish them daily—drawing up long breaths of their hair, admiring their little hands and chubby bodies, cradling them to me, but as I do this very thing, make sure I am not missing out on any tenderness of baby-momming, I am actually, in a very real sense, missing out on what it was like to have a four year old girl in the house. The only four year old girl who is ever going to live in my house as my little daughter is now five instead. I am also missing out on what it is like to have twelve and nine year old sons. They are older and while I’m not dwelling fruitlessly in my memories of their baby selves, I am actually missing their current selves. It is passing me by right now, because I have a one year old December 2015 012who simply needs me more, requires more from me, and is quite literally more in my face. I feel like the people who say to “enjoy it now, it passes so quickly,” when they see me with Tanner, are completely missing out on the fact that I have three other kids who are also passing quickly by. Is it only babies and toddlers that we fear missing out on? Not cherishing enough? Forgetting what it is like to have? I feel like comments like that actually devalue older children—like, aren’t they good enough and interesting enough now that I don’t need to pine back for their babyhood?

Luckily, in the last two months, Alaina and Tanner have started playing together. They push doll strollers around, play with pretend food, play a chasing + laughing game, play in boxes together, build with blocks, and she also likes to bundle him up and pushes him around on an office chair. I Lann's Phone 390hope they are soon going to be on the same “team” and be buddies who can count on each other, rather than obstacles in each other’s path.

While I have managed to scrape up a little bit of time to play with her almost every day since he’s   been born, it has often been distracted, hurried, or halfhearted. However, we have started a new thing just this month in that we have specific playtime together every night after dinner. We are having tons of fun and she seems relieved to have some time to count on getting with me, rather than just waiting and hoping I’ll get to her. She seems charged up afterward and is thrilled to get to that part of the day. The irony of having a home-based life in which we spend almost all day in the company of all family members is that focused time together is rare—it is diffuse, scattered around, fragmented, because everything is always happening at once, in the same space. There are no boundaries between our lives, work, relationships, etc. This saturation factor means it both feels like we all spend “too much” time together, while also not Lann's Phone 423quite having enough time for one another.

Interestingly, this morning she slept until 11:00, just has she has been “programmed” to do since birth. She was born at around 11:00 in the morning, actually, rarely went to sleep before midnight through her entire infancy (often being awake and happy until 1:00 a.m.), and usually sleeps until 10 or 11 in the morning, after falling asleep between 11:30-12:00. Due to this night owl bedtime, Alaina and I have also found some time for us at night after everyone else has gone to bed. After I’ve read to all the kids at bedtime and Tanner has fallen asleep nursing, Alaina and I stay up sitting in my bed, Tanner sleeping next to me, and we color in coloring books or make bookmarks or cards, and chat and talk. She likes to choose an oracle card with me and write a Womanrunes symbol on her arm. I mostly just listen to what she has to say and agree and exclaim at the right places and she colors and colors, content in my finally undivided presence.

So, anyway, this five-year-old girl. She’s tall. We checked her height on the door frame compared to brothers and she is the same size or taller than they were at her age. She wears 6-7 size clothes, but is extremely choosy about them. Pants are an issue because they can be loose at all, so she is fond of pairing size 6 shirts with size 4T pants that are faded and high-water. She has definite ideas about what clothing meets her criteria for comfort and stylishness and we almost always just let her choose and decide her own ensembles for the day, unless we are going to town, and even then, I usually say, “sure, too small striped leggings will be great with that dress!” because, truly, it really doesn’t matter as long as she feels good in what she is wearing. After visiting an exhibit about China at the Magic House last year, she fell in love with pandas. She likes wearing black and white clothes and calls December 2015 035herself Panda Girl. My mom adopted a World Wildlife Fund panda for her for Christmas and she carries the stuffed panda the adoption came with around with her everywhere. My aunt got her a great panda hat that she loves to wear (along with a [non-panda] poncho my mom crocheted for her and a handwoven silk scarf that she helped my mom weave. When I feel guilty about not doing all the special things with her I’d like to do every day, I remember that she also has lots of opportunities, including helping to make and glaze real pottery cups and bowls and weave on full-sized looms using silk yarn with her talented grandma, that many little girls her age never have!).

We planned an epic panda birthday party for her yesterday. I labored over homemade marshmallow fondant icing the day before, even using specially ordered non-artificial black food coloring that cost me $12. I ranted extensively as I kneaded and kneaded the fondant the about how I could instead be one of “those people” eating frozen Taquitos and watching TV and what possesses me to always overperform and overdo. I yelled at the kids, had to have Lann come drag Tanner away of me as he hung from my legs crying while I couldn’t pick him up because my hands were covered in black powdered sugar cement). Why do this to myself and to the household atmosphere?! I’ve said before that I’d rather be the mom that does cool and fun stuff with her kids and sometimes yells while doing it than a mom who doesn’t yell, but who doesn’t do cool stuff because she’s afraid she might yell, or maybe because she doesn’t have ideas to share with her kids. (Of course, an awesomer option, would be to be the mom who does cool stuff and also doesn’t yell, but I’m not holding my breath on that one!)

After I constructed the first tiny panda and saw how cute it was and how excited she was about her cake, I felt such a sense of thrill and triumph. I thought that if I hadn’t decided to do it and make it easier on myself, sure, I wouldn’t have yelled, but I also wouldn’t have felt the empowering sense of having done exactly what I imagined doing and I would have taught my daughter to give up on hard things and new things and trying it anyway. And, isn’t that just like her birth, in the end? I could have done it differently and maybe more easily, but nothing compares to sinking down on my knees in my futon nest holding that rainbow baby girl in my own bloody hands. Those pandas too, while less earth-shaking and life-changing, were birthed from my own love and effort into my black-icing hands, and my willingness to do it myself, for the ones I love.

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Happy birthday, dear one!

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